The Braille Monitor
Vol. 40, No. 6
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
on cassette and
the World Wide Web and FTP on the Internet
The National Federation of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230
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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
Vol. 40, No.6 June 1997
Historic Victory at Last
for The National Federation of the Blind and Blind Vendors
by James Gashel
Price, Tax, and Gratitude: Doing Business with Telesensory
It Is About Guide Dogs: But It Is About More Than Guide Dogs
Can Braille Change the Future?
by Denise Staulter
What We Can Expect From a Commission
for the Blind
by James H. Omvig
Who Are the Experts? Comments on Pregnant
Women and Blind Consumers
by James H. Omvig
Blind, 88, and on the Rocks
by Heather Harmon
Vision Stimulation: Is the Tide Turning?
Carnival Magic for a Federationist
by Julie A. Russell
More About Braille Remote Learning
Copyright 1997, The National Federation of the Blind
[LEAD PHOTO #1: Doris Johnson stands at the banquet podium speaking into a microphone. She has her hands on the plaque she has just received, which is lying on the lectern. PHOTO #2: Doris Johnson is carrying a stack of baking trays toward a commercial sink unit, obviously intent on washing them. CAPTION: At the 1994 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Doris Johnson received the Jacobus tenBroek Distinguished Service Award (above) for her hundreds of hours of volunteer service at the National Center for the Blind. An active member of the Baltimore Chapter, Doris continues to serve selflessly wherever and whenever an extra pair of hands is needed. (Pictured below, Doris Johnson works in the kitchen at the National Center for the Blind.) This April the City of Baltimore honored Doris with its Volunteer Award for Continuing Service. Although a number of such awards were presented, Doris has the distinction of having both the Baltimore Sun newspaper and a local television station do stories about her and her work with the National Federation of the Blind. We who know and love Doris have always recognized the value of her cheerful, tireless service to the organization. It is fitting that the City of Baltimore has acknowledged her value as well]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dennis Groshel]
Victory at Last
for the National Federation of the Blind
and Blind Vendors
by James Gashel
From the Editor: When the Randolph-Sheppard
Act was last amended in 1974, it was the National Federation of the Blind that
insisted upon having legal safeguards in the law to prevent violations by both
federal and state agencies. The principal safeguard is the right to arbitration
of disputes and the opportunity to take an unresolved violation into the federal
courts if the arbitration is not successful.
Although the entire process can become somewhat lengthy and expensive to all parties, the case discussed here by James Gashel shows that justice can eventually prevail. In his capacity as Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, Mr. Gashel was asked to represent the State of Minnesota and Dennis Groshel, a blind vendor when the dispute with the Department of Veterans Affairs started at the arbitration stage several years ago.
Events surrounding this case, now known as the Dennis Groshel case, have been recounted in the Braille Monitor on the occasion of each major decision on the long path toward a final resolution. (See the January, 1989; February, 1993; and June, 1994, issues of the Braille Monitor.) The battleground in this particular dispute has been a vending facility, consisting entirely of vending machines, located at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The question has been whether a blind vendor, by virtue of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, should be
given a priority over commercial vendors in operating the vending machines as a small business under the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act at that location.
While in one sense the immediate issue of a particular vending facility in St. Cloud, Minnesota, should have been quite narrow, the implications for both the Department of Veterans Affairs, on the one hand, and the entire national program for blind vendors, on the other, are broad and substantial. This is why the struggle and the litigation underlying it have been so contentious and protracted.
Under any other conditions a blind vendor, standing alone, would have been forced to abandon the effort years ago. But Dennis Groshel has had the National Federation of the Blind by his side all the way. It should also be recognized, however, that we have benefitted greatly from the cooperative leadership of the state licensing agency for blind vendors in Minnesota--the Minnesota Department of
Economic Security. This agency, the attorney general of Minnesota, and all of the staff and officials involved deserve great credit for standing firm on behalf of Dennis Groshel and all blind vendors in this instance. With that as a backdrop, here is Mr. Gashel's explanation of the events in this case, followed by the final and binding decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit:
The federal Randolph-Sheppard Act directs that "priority" be given to blind persons in the operation of vending facilities on federal property. This mandate applies to all departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of the United States. Nonetheless the Department of Veterans Affairs and its Veterans' Canteen Service (VCS) have been particularly stubborn in refusing to abide by the law. The Department operates 171 medical center facilities throughout the country. Each state, with the exception of Alaska, has at least one of these centers, and several states have many more.
In theory there should be no doubt about whether the veterans facilities are subject to the Randolph-Sheppard Act, but for many years that has not stopped the Department of Veterans Affairs from resisting the application of the priority for blind vendors. The Department has contended that the VCS has the exclusive right by law to serve patients, visitors, and others at the medical centers which it operates. The National Federation of the Blind has held exactly the opposite view.
Dennis Groshel is a licensed blind vendor in Minnesota. He is also a long-time member of the National Federation of the Blind. Beginning in 1985, he was assigned to a vending facility, consisting entirely of vending machines, at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center located in St. Cloud, Minnesota. These vending machines had been serviced by a blind vendor since 1977. This was an exception to the Department of Veterans Affairs' general rule.
The arrangement between the VCS and the Minnesota Department of Economic Security--the licensing agency for blind vendors in Minnesota--was an ordinary commercial vending contract. In agreeing to this arrangement, the VCS was not conceding that the Randolph-Sheppard Act would have any applicability at the St. Cloud medical center or at any similar site. From the VCS's point of view it was irrelevant that the machines were being serviced by a blind vendor who was licensed under the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
A commercial vending contract differs from an agreement under the Randolph-Sheppard Act in at least two respects. First, a contract has a limited term, normally three or five years, with two noncompetitive extensions allowed for satisfactory performance. The Randolph-Sheppard agreement, technically referred to as a "permit," is for an indefinite period, subject to cancellation only in the event of non performance. Second, commercial contracts require vending machine operators to pay a commission fee based on sales. No commission is charged for sales made by blind vendors under Randolph-Sheppard permits.
In 1985, when Dennis Groshel took over the St. Cloud medical center vending machines, the contract was due to expire in 1987. It was uncertain whether he would be awarded the contract after that time. Also Dennis was required to pay an amount equal to 17 percent of his gross revenues directly to the VCS as a sales commission. The contract required this payment. These conditions--the periodic termination of the contract and the sales commission--were not imposed upon other blind vendors in the state. The situation raised questions about basic fairness and about the applicability of the law.
To its credit the Department of Economic Security concluded that Dennis Groshel should be treated like all of the other vendors in its program. Therefore the licensing agency asked the VCS to issue a normal Randolph-Sheppard permit for the continued operation of the vending machines at the St. Cloud medical center as the time for the contract to expire approached in 1987. The application for a permit was filed in 1986, and soon thereafter the written response came back. The VCS refused the state's request for a permanent agreement, or permit (rather than a contract), with the stated reason that the medical center (and by implication all of its other medical centers) are exempt from the priority provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
At this point the battle was joined. The legal question was whether the priority provisions of the Randolph-Sheppard Act apply to property served by the VCS or whether that property is exempt from the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The Department of Veterans Affairs correctly pointed out that vending machines on property served by the VCS are exempt by law from the income-sharing provisions which would otherwise apply. The Department then argued that, by extension, Congress implicitly provided an exemption from the Act for all VCS activities. These arguments are grist for the ongoing mill of the federal courts, but time was running out for Dennis Groshel. The immediate concern was what would happen to his vending facility in mid-1987 when the contract was scheduled to expire.
Under the Randolph-Sheppard Act a state licensing agency may file a complaint with the Secretary of Education if it finds that a federal property-managing Department, agency, or instrumentality is violating the law. An arbitration panel is then appointed to conduct a hearing and decide whether the act has been violated. The Minnesota agency filed its complaint early in 1987, but the normal arbitration of such matters can take as long as two years. In order to protect Dennis Groshel's business during this period, we advised the state to seek a federal court injunction which would maintain the existing contract until the legal dispute was resolved. Officials in Minnesota, including the attorney general, agreed.
They sought and obtained an injunction, which placed Dennis's livelihood out of harm's way while the legal proceedings moved back from the federal district court to the arbitration panel. Panels appointed under the Randolph-Sheppard Act are composed of three members--one chosen by the state licensing agency, one chosen by the federal property-managing agency, and a third member who serves as chairman and is appointed by the other two members. On this panel I served on behalf of the State of Minnesota. That was, of course, the official, legal designation; but I also served on behalf of Dennis Groshel and, in a broader sense, on behalf of all blind vendors who might someday be affected by the decision in this case.
It would be an understatement to say that the proceedings before this panel were convoluted. The hearing record was more extensive than that developed in any previous Randolph-Sheppard arbitration. Well over one hundred separate documents were placed before the panel as evidence during the first of two hearings. As matters evolved, the dispute was divided into three phases with a temporary (initial) ruling made in 1988, a supplemental decision made in 1989, and a final decision made in August of 1991. In all three rulings the panel unanimously confirmed the view that the Randolph-Sheppard Act does apply to property served by the VCS.
The purport of this decision was that the state of Minnesota and Dennis Groshel must be given priority to provide vending machine services at the St. Cloud medical center. The panel was divided, however, on several questions relating to the terms of a continuing agreement between the VCS and the state which would implement the statutory priority. The most pronounced disagreement revolved around
money--would the VCS be entitled to receive a commission from sales made from vending machines operated by a blind vendor?
In its initial ruling the panel unanimously declared that the commission fee of 17 percent, which had been charged to Dennis Groshel based on his gross sales, was "an inequity." The panel then ordered that no commission should be charged by the VCS until all of the legal questions had been resolved. The effect of this decision was an immediate doubling of Mr. Groshel's net income from approximately $13,500 to about $27,000. The difference was the amount that he had been paying to the VCS.
This is how the case stood until August 14, 1991, when the panel issued its final decision and award. In a surprising turn of events, two members--a majority of the panel--reversed themselves on the commission question and found that a 17-percent commission rate would be acceptable at the St. Cloud medical center. They expressed the view that this did not violate the Randolph-Sheppard Act. I disagreed, arguing that the Randolph-Sheppard Act does not allow the VCS to impose a charge for providing a vending facility opportunity to a blind vendor. To permit a commission to be charged would be inconsistent with the panel's firm opinion that the Randolph-Sheppard Act applies to property served by the VCS just as it does to all other agencies. Still the vote was two to one.
Court action was then necessary to appeal the arbitration panel's final ruling. In the fall of 1992 the
District Court upheld the panel's unanimous view that the Randolph-Sheppard Act applies to the medical center and then reversed the panel majority on its view that a commission could be charged. (See the February, 1993, issue of the Braille Monitor for the text of this decision.) The Department of Veterans Affairs appealed this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Throughout these proceedings the National Federation of the Blind continued to represent Dennis Groshel's interests by formally intervening in the case on his behalf.
On March 11, 1994, the court of appeals ruling was handed down. It has stood as the final decision in the issues raised in this dispute, at least to that point. The Department of Veterans Affairs decided to abandon further appeals over the questions of commissions or Randolph Sheppard priority. However, it was pretty clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs had not undergone a change of heart. The decision by the appeals court was binding throughout the states covered by the Eighth Circuit-Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota--and was precedent-setting for the rest of the country.
But it didn't take long to discover that the VCS and the Department of Veterans Affairs had no intention of lying down and tamely giving in. As far back as the arbitration panel's decision of 1991, the VCS had been told that it could not install vending machines to compete with Dennis Groshel's operation at the St. Cloud Center. But, ignoring this part of the arbitration ruling, the Department of Veterans Affairs decided that a permit for Dennis Groshel to continue to work at the St. Cloud facility would be granted only if VCS would also be allowed to install vending machines to compete with Mr. Groshel's. The National Federation of the Blind and Minnesota officials said no, and with that the parties were back in district court, where our position was once again upheld.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is nothing if not stubborn, so, when it lost that decision, it went back immediately to the Appeals Court for the Eighth Circuit on October 23, 1996. The appeals court's decision was filed on February 26, 1997. It was a total victory for Dennis Groshel. The court ruled that the VCS could not install vending machines unless the Secretary of Education made an exception in the clear mandate given by Congress to Randolph-Sheppard vendors. Because of its importance to all blind vendors, we are reprinting both the letter to President Maurer from our attorney describing the decision and the decision itself. Here are both documents:
March 3, 1997
Mr. Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Re: Minnesota v. Riley/Groshel v. Corley
Dear Mr. Maurer:
Victory! Enclosed is a copy of the 8th
Circuit's decision, which affirms the district court's finding that
VCS installation of competing vending machines would limit Dennis Groshel's ability to earn a living and is therefore forbidden.
Potentially, the VCS could ask for an exemption from the Secretary of Education or could petition the Supreme Court to review the case. I think both are unlikely, and even less likely to be granted.
On the other hand, we will probably file a request to recover at least a portion of the attorneys' fees and costs you have paid. The court reached this decision in the appeal of the State's case (in which Dennis was also a party), and therefore dismissed our separate case as moot, and I am not yet sure how that affects our chances for fees. Also, because our opponent was the federal government, the standard for recovering fees is not simply did we prevail, but was the government's position substantially justified? The Eighth Circuit's description of VCS's behavior as "stonewall[ing]" and a "scorched-earth campaign" will help with that. The precedent should also help force other VA hospitals to create facilities for blind vendors.
Whatever happens on fees, the bottom line is a very sweet victory and a guarantee that Dennis will be able to continue to operate without competing machines. I know he is grateful for the Federation's help, without which the VA would long since have succeeded in driving him out of business. If you have any questions about any of this, please call me.
Andrew D. Freeman
United States Court of Appeals
for the Eighth Circuit
Minnesota Department of Economic Security State Services for the Blind and Visually Handicapped
Plaintiff-Appellee, Dennis Groshel, Intervenor Plaintiff-Appellee,
Richard Riley, United States Secretary of Education United States Department of Veterans Affairs; James B. Donahoe, in his official capacity as Director, Veterans Canteen Service, Defendants-Appellants Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota
Submitted: October 23, 1996
Filed: February 26, 1997
Before Fagg, Bowman, and Hansen, Circuit Judges. Fagg, Circuit Judge.
The Randolph-Sheppard Vending Stand Act, 20 U.S.C. (Section Signs) 107-107f (1994) (the Act), gives blind persons licensed by a state licensing agency priority to operate vending facilities on federal property. This dispute began more than ten years ago, when Minnesota's licensing agency, the Minnesota Department of Economic Security (formerly the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Training) (Minnesota), applied under the Act and its corresponding regulations for a vending permit for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota (VA Medical Center). Minnesota's application was rejected by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans' Canteen Service
(collectively VCS), which claimed to be exempt from the Act. Minnesota sought arbitration, as the Act provides. See 20 U.S.C. (Section Sign) 107d-1(b). The arbitration panel (the Panel) held the VCS was subject to the Act. The VCS and Minnesota then jointly submitted five disputed issues for the Panel to resolve. Only two are relevant to this appeal. The Panel decided Minnesota's licensed blind vendor Dennis Groshel should pay the VCS a commission on vending sales, and the VCS does not have the "right to install and operate its own vending machines" at the VA Medical Center.
Minnesota sought judicial review in the district court, which decided commission payments violate the Act. The VCS appealed to this court, and we affirmed. See Minnesota Department of Jobs & Training v. Riley, 18 F.3d 606, 608 (8th Cir. 1994). We held the Act applies to the VCS. See id. at 608-09. We also held that commission payments, like any limitation on a blind vendor's operation, are unlawful unless approved by the Secretary of Education. See id. at 609; 20 U.S.C. (Section Sign) 107(b). Although Riley paved the way for Minnesota to receive its vending permit, the VCS continued and continues to stonewall Minnesota and its blind licensee. Ignoring the Act, the Panel's decision, and our opinion in Riley, the VCS offered Minnesota a permit, but only if Minnesota agrees the VCS can install competing vending machines at the VA Medical Center. Minnesota returned to the district court, which granted Minnesota's motion to enforce the Panel's decision. In doing so, the district court recognized that "installation of vending machines by the VCS is undoubtedly an attempt to limit the income of the blind vendor which must be approved [by] the Secretary of the [Department of Education] prior to
implementation." Although the district court characterized its enforcement order as a preliminary injunction, we agree with the VCS that, for the purpose of review, we should treat the order as a permanent injunction because Minnesota and the VCS disagree only about the law, and nothing remains for the district court to resolve. Likewise, we agree with the VCS that we review the disputed questions of law de novo. See International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, Dist. Lodge No. 19 v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 850 F2d 368, 374 (8th Cir. 1988) (en banc). On appeal, the
VCS once again claims exemption from the Act. Our earlier opinion in Riley forecloses this claim.
Echoing its argument in Riley, the VCS contends it need not comply with (Section Sign) 107(b), which prohibits any limitation on a blind vendor's operation unless approved by the Secretary of Education, because the Veterans' Canteen Service Act independently authorizes the VCS to operate vending machines at the VA Medical Center. See 38 U.S.C. (Section Sign) 7802. Further, the VCS asserts that when it operates within the parameters of (Section Sign) 7802, neither an arbitration panel convened under 20 U.S.C. (Section Sign) 107d-1(b) nor the district court can hold the VCS answerable for violations of the Act. In Riley, however, we held the VCS must comply with every provision of the Act, and that includes (Section Signs) 107(b) and 107d-1(b). See 18 F.3d at 608-09. We have never questioned the VCS's authority to operate canteens, install vending machines, or do anything else the VCS's enabling legislation empowers it to do. But in Riley, we held the Act precludes the VCS's
exercise of its statutory authority when that exercise would limit a blind vendor's operation, unless the Secretary approves the limitation. See id. at 609-10. Here, the VCS does not challenge the district court's finding that "competing vending machines will...undermine or...destroy [the] blind vendor's ability to obtain what is already a small income." No less than commission payments, competing machines would limit the blind vendor's operation. Riley rules out both, unless the Secretary decides otherwise.
In truth, the VCS has done far more than merely limit the blind vendor's operation at the VA Medical Center. Congress assumed federal agencies would respect a blind person's vending enterprise and willingly comply with the Act. See 20 U.S.C. (Section Sign) 107d-2(b) (2). Instead, the VCS has tried to drive the blind vendor out of its domain. Testifying before the Panel in 1988, a VCS official said:
Basically as long as this dispute lasts,
the guy who is going to suffer over it is going to be [the blind vendor] because
prices are going to continue to go up, and we are going to continue to hold
until this is resolved. The longer it goes on the less money he is going to
Nine years later, the VCS is still at it, demanding the right to install machines that would, as the district court found, destroy the blind vendor's livelihood. It is time for the VCS's scorched-earth campaign to end. Although Minnesota, in securing a permit, must work within the Act's regulatory scheme, Riley makes clear--and we hold today--that unless the VCS gets the Secretary's approval, the VCS may not insist Minnesota accept the presence of VCS vending machines at the VA Medical Center as the price of Minnesota's permit.
Finally, the VCS raises two other issues. First, the VCS contends arbitration panels convened under (Section Sign) 107d-1(b) have no authority to order remedies for violations of the Act. See Maryland State Department of Educ. v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 98 F3d 165, 169-71 (4th Cir. 1996); Georgia Department of Human Resources v. Nash, 915 F.2d 1482, 1491-92 (11th Cir. 1990). The VCS's argument is misplaced. The Panel never ordered the VCS to take any remedial action but simply decided competing VCS vending machines at the VA Medical Center would violate the Act. The Panel did exactly what the statute authorizes. See 20 U.S.C. (Section Sign) 107d-2(b); Maryland State Department of Education, 98 F.3d at 169-71; Nash, 915 F.2d at 1491-92. Indeed, by insisting on a permit condition at odds with the Panel's decision, it is the VCS that ignores its statutory responsibility to bring itself into compliance with the Act. See Maryland State Department of Education, 98 F.3d at 171. Second, the VCS questions whether the Panel's no-VCS-machines decision continues in force because the Panel's reasoning interweaves that decision with its overturned ruling on commission payments. If the two decisions were as mutually dependent as the VCS now claims, it is surprising the VCS did not say so when the commissions issue was before us in Riley. Nevertheless, the argument is without merit. The VCS itself, together with Minnesota, asked the Panel to resolve two separate disputed issues, commission payments and competing machines. In deciding
against the VCS's vending machines, the Panel took into consideration that the VCS would receive commissions. The Panel never said, however, that if Minnesota pays no commissions, the VCS may then go ahead and install its machines. Rather, the Panel said yes to commissions and no to competing VCS vending machines. The Panel's decision was the final word on what the VCS must do to comply with the act. See (Section Sign) 107d-1(b).
The VCS is no different from any other steward of federal property. If the VCS wants to impose limitations on a blind vendor's operation, it must get permission from the Secretary of Education. Of course, if the Secretary approves installation of the VCS's vending machines, the VCS need not share its income with the blind vendor. See (Section Sign) 107d-3(d). We affirm the decision of the district court.
A true copy
U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit
You can create a gift annuity by transferring money or property to the National Federation of the Blind. In turn, the NFB contracts to pay you income for life or your spouse or loved ones after your death. How much you and your heirs receive as income depends on the amount of the gift and your age when payments begin. You will receive a tax deduction for the full amount of your contribution, less the value of the income the NFB pays to you or your heirs.
You would be wise to consult an attorney or accountant when making such arrangements so that he or she can assist you to calculate current IRS regulations and the earning potential of your funds. The following example illustrates how a charitable gift annuity can work to your advantage.
Mary Jones, age sixty-five, decides to set up a charitable gift annuity by transferring $10,000 to the NFB. In return the NFB agrees to pay Mary a lifetime annuity of $750 per year, of which $299 is tax-free. Mary is also allowed to claim a tax deduction of $4,044 in the year the NFB receives the $10,000 contribution.
For more information about charitable gift annuities, contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
Price, Tax, and Gratitude:
Doing Business with Telesensory
Every time one of my children uses my
microwave, I receive an earful of teasing about its decrepit condition and my
obvious and immediate need for a new one. I hang on loyally to my poor old microwave
because it has given good service for a dozen years and because I dread trying
to find one today that I can actually operate. I feel real hostility when I
am forced to think about what appliance designers have done to blind people
by installing flat touch pads and burgeoning menu options.
So, although I have never used an Optacon, I can understand in small part the anger and frustration of those who have depended for years on this portable, flexible method of reading print. Telesensory has decided to stop making, and in the foreseeable future to stop repairing, Optacons because too few people are buying them. Marketing decisions must be made based on sales figures, and consumers must live with those decisions or see producers go out of business altogether.
But Optacon users have not lain down and taken Telesensory's decision passively. Understandably they feel betrayed and abandoned. No other piece of technology provides the kind of print access the Optacon does, and those who need that particular ability face very real inconvenience and inefficiency.
So what happens when disgruntled users respond angrily to a notice that in six months their Optacon maintenance contracts will no longer be honored? As it happens, we have an answer to that question. Cindy and Gerry Handel, leaders of the NFB of Pennsylvania, are both longtime Optacon users. What follows is a transmittal letter from Cindy to Ted Young, President of the NFB of Pennsylvania, and the letters she received from Telesensory and her response. Telesensory Systems, Inc., has changed its name several times during the past twenty years. People are still apt to use any of them when referring to the company. Here are the letters:
March 15, 1997
Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Mr. Ted Young, President
NFB of Pennsylvania
I know that Telesensory is not one of your favorite companies. So I thought you might be interested in the information I've enclosed. Jerry and I received the enclosed letter from TSI this week. They are no longer going to offer service agreements for our Optacons. However, they will still repair them, at cost to us, which I'm sure will not be inexpensive. We have always been captive when it came to their prices and services. Now it's just getting worse. The most frustrating part is that we seem to have no power to do anything about it. The only option, which is coming much sooner than we thought, will be to use some other type of reading device. While they are good, they don't offer the same flexibility that we have with Optacons for some uses. Additionally, replacing this equipment will be costly for our own personal use at home. Then I'll have to figure out what to do about work.
Hope you will read the information and offer any suggestions you might have about how I can further deal with them. There is probably nothing more to be done because there never is. Just thought you should know.
Cynthia E. Handel
March 10, 1997
Mountain View, California
Gerald & Cynthia Handel
Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Dear Mr. & Mrs. Handel,
Thank you for your past purchases and continuing support of Telesensory.
Due to increasing cost and limited availability of service parts, we regret to inform you that we cannot offer an extension to service agreement contracts for some of our products that are out of production.
Therefore, when the current service agreement contract expires on your Optacon I, Model number RID-02 on September 30, 1997, any repair or service that you have Telesensory perform on this unit after that date will be billed to you.
Please be assured that we will continue servicing these units as long as replacement parts are available for them.
If you have any questions in regard to the above, please do not hesitate to contact me at the following: phone (415) 960-0920, extension 3327, Fax (415) 960-0277, Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jill E. Vickers
Lead, Order Administration
Blindness Products Division
That was the letter the Handels received from Telesensory, and its notification of increased repair costs and inevitable cessation of all Optacon repairs led to frustration and anger. After all, the Handels had hoped to keep their units going through maintenance contracts for a good while longer. This is what Cynthia wrote:
March 15, 1997
Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Ms. Jill E. Vickers
Lead, Order Administration
Blindness Products Division
Telesensory Systems, Inc.
Mountain View, California
Dear Ms. Vickers:
My husband Jerry and I are both Optacon users. I have had mine since February, 1974, and Jerry has used his since March, 1977. So you can see that we are not new to our relationship with Telesensory Systems. Over the years, however, the business relationship has always been provider oriented. We, as consumers, had no choice and very little say about how the services were provided and fees levied. If we were to continue to use our Optacons, we had to agree to the terms set by TSI.
During the mid-1970's, Telesensory Systems offered regional service centers. Optacon users could send their Optacons to a repair person, often within their own state. The turn-around time was short, and convenience was a priority. Then, apparently, this became too costly. So all services were moved to your headquarters in California. Indeed you paid to have the machine sent back to us, but we had to pay to ship the product to you for inspection or service. Having it insured for its value and shipped second day air, which you recommended, became costly--recently as much as $50.
Then we must consider the cost of service. I, unfortunately, had the bad experience of having to have an array replaced while my Optacon was not covered under a service agreement. This cost me approximately $1,700--nearly half the cost of the piece of equipment. Since then, in approximately 1981, Jerry and I have spent the money, apparently wisely, to purchase service agreements for our Optacons. We have probably paid you somewhere in the area of $8,700 over the past fifteen years for service on two Optacons.
I don't have a problem with paying for a service agreement and wish that you still offered them. We received your letter this week indicating that, because of the "difficulty in obtaining parts," you are no longer going to offer a service agreement on our Optacons. You did not say that you cannot repair our Optacons, but just that you will charge us for the service. I do have a problem with this position.
I work for the Better Business Bureau. We are constantly advising consumers to be wise shoppers and
compare prices and services--look for the best buy. If they are charged what they believe is too much for a product or service, in most cases they have only themselves to blame because they had the opportunity to compare ahead of time. We do not have that option. Telesensory Systems is the only company, and has always been the only company, in the country, and for that matter in the world, who sells and services Optacons. When we've needed service, we have had no idea whether all the parts and adjustments which have been performed were really necessary. We have to take your word for it. We cannot get a second opinion or tell you that we don't like the outrageous fees you choose to charge for your precious service.
When I was told that my array needed to be replaced, I was shocked. I had been using the Optacon and didn't notice a problem with it. I simply sent it for a check-up and got hit with that bill. How are we now to know, when we have to pay for service because you have eliminated your service policy, that we will really be getting the quality service we need and that we will be charged fairly? Are you going to publish a parts price list and labor schedule for us to examine before we ask for service? I think not.
So, finally, you have made the decision about what we will do for the privilege of using our Optacons. Admittedly, ours are older models. Perhaps the new models made in collaboration with Cannon, would cost less to repair, but then that's understandable because, although the retail price didn't come down much, they probably cost less to make. The quality certainly isn't there. But then you didn't want to hear that, either, when Optacon users told you about it.
So in your letter you said that we should feel free to contact you with any suggestions. My biggest question is, whatever happened to the supply-and-demand concept of service provision? Yes, the service will be provided on these machines for some limited period of time, but at what cost to the consumers? As I understand it, the Optacon was the first product TSI produced. Now that you believe it is less convenient for you to provide products and services to Optacon users, you're just going to drop it and move on to something else, until you tire of that one. Think of this: although Braille can now be produced with computers and many people use other means to read because they've been told that Braille is slow, Perkins Braillers are still being produced. They are sold and serviced through many companies across the country. While prices may not vary drastically,
we still have choice. Perhaps Telesensory should take a lesson from that and consider serving their consumers rather than dictating to us.
I am sending copies of this letter, along with your letter to us, to a few people who may be interested in what is happening with TSI and your services. They are listed below. I would appreciate hearing from you if it is not simply a public-relations-driven form letter. I've read them and am not interested.
Incidentally, I did read your letter to me with my Optacon.
Cynthia E. Handel
cc: Marc Maurer, President
National Federation of the Blind
Ted Young, President
National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania
Barbara Pierce, Editor
There you have Cynthia Handel's letter. Understandably it was not well received at Telesensory--it is never pleasant to be on the receiving end of anger and criticism. It cannot have helped that accusations similar to those implicit in Cynthia's letter have been made against Telesensory by many over the years. In any case something seems to have snapped in Telesensory's corporate psyche. The Handel letter apparently made its way to the desk of Larry Israel (Chairman, President, and CEO of Telesensory). He undertook to write a response defending the company's decision to stop production of the Optacon, praising the ability of his employees, and criticizing Mrs. Handel for hurting their feelings. While not particularly professional or understanding of the strain the corporate decision had placed on those dependent on the disappearing Optacon technology, Mr. Israel's response is chiefly astonishing for its condescending lecture on the Handels' ingratitude for all the years of faithful service the Optacon technology and Telesensory employees have given them. While generally accepted conventions of civility require that our dealings with one another be courteous, the concept that those buying products and services from producers have an obligation to feel and express gratitude for the privilege of enjoying what they have bought is at the very least novel. Here is Larry Israel's letter:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Larry Israel, Chairman, President, and CEO of Telesensory Systems, Inc.]
March 25, 1997
Mountain View, California
Cynthia E. Handel
Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Dear Ms. Handel,
Thank you for your letter of March 15 to Jill Vickers. Because of the importance of the subject you've raised, I felt it important that I respond to you on behalf of Telesensory and its employees.
For more than twenty-five years our company has worked diligently to provide useful products and services to its blind customers around the world. For the most part I think we have succeeded, although I can acknowledge that we make mistakes, as does any company (or any human being, for that matter). If we had not served our customers well, for the most part, we might well have disappeared by now.
For twenty-two years, you and your husband received substantially uninterrupted use of your devices, and they are still going strong. How many times did you write to thank the people supporting you for all these years? Have you ever heard of a consumer product operating and supported by the manufacturer for that long a period of time? (You should ask your colleagues at the BBB for examples of such companies.) Others have expressed their appreciation to people like Teresa Lee at Telesensory for more than twenty years, and who personally and lovingly assembled the last one to be built. If you have any thanks or appreciation for the contributions Telesensory has made to your quality of life, your letter is strangely silent about that.
Your letter is unfair to the 200 plus employees of Telesensory, many of whom have dedicated ten to twenty years of their lives to serve you, the customer. Telesensory is not one evil person. It is a group of hard-working people who do the best they can.
I am offended by your letter, as are others of our employees who have seen it, because it indicates a flawed attitude about our company and our employees which is wholly unwarranted, to the extent it is based on the facts and circumstances you offer. Your letter also seems to suggest that you believe Telesensory should meet your needs without regard to whether it is profitable to do so.
We are a for-profit company and are not at all ashamed or embarrassed about that. Without profits companies do not survive nor prosper, and grow and develop new products to benefit their customers, nor offer their employees a fair living, nor reward their shareholders for their investments which made it all possible, unless someone subsidizes them (whether it be government or by charitable donations).
Your contention that our business has
always been provider-oriented, and that you (as consumers) have had little to
say about it, is flatly untrue, except in the very limited sense which is true
with respect to any unique product. The fact is that many, many blind people
are unwilling to purchase Optacons today, whether because they do not highly
value its functions, do not want to undertake the extensive training required,
or think that it is too high-priced. Those people have made consumer choices
and have strongly influenced what we do. The number of people who wish to buy
Optacons is very small and continues to diminish each year. That represents
the voices of consumers delivering a message to Telesensory, and the message
is: "Do not produce Optacons any more."
Yes, I understand that you and your husband, among many others, have expressed an opposite opinion. But you are in a distinct minority, and there are simply not enough interested customers to justify continuing product development or production of Optacons, regrettable as that might be. The consumer has spoken!
Regarding service agreements versus charging for that service on a case-by-case basis: if we offer you a service agreement, we have a legal and a moral obligation to maintain a reasonable supply of parts to meet our service obligations. If we cannot be assured of a reasonable supply of parts, it would be duplicitous and deceitful of us to offer service agreements, and we might well be subject to legal action from consumers.
Please refer to Ms. Vickers's letter to our customers, in which she states: "Please be assured that we will continue servicing these units as long as replacement parts are available for them." On a chargeable service basis, which is the current situation, you may request service, and we may unfortunately be unable to provide it due to unavailability of parts. After the product has been out of production for ten years, I find nothing about such a policy to be reprehensible, immoral, or poor business practice.
There is a reality here related to what is humanly possible for us to do, which cannot be overcome by wishful thinking.
I also deeply resent the implication that we have in any way cheated you because you cannot get a second opinion regarding the costs of service. You never were presented with a bill you had to pay. Your approval was always solicited, after our technicians advised you of what, in their professional opinion, was necessary to permit the product to function properly. Since we are the only manufacturer of the Optacon, there is no rational way in which we could make it possible for you to get a second opinion, but that is hardly a sound basis on which to impugn our integrity as a company or the integrity of our individual employees.
You say that your biggest question is, "Whatever happened to the supply-and-demand concept of service provision?" The answer is that it is still alive and well, and we do our best to respond to the demand for service and will do so as long as that is reasonably possible for us. In fact, we go well beyond that, because we accept a certain level of moral obligation to continue to provide service for this very important product. If we were to make our decisions based solely on economic considerations, we would have given up servicing older Optacons many years ago, since it is not profitable for us and does not yield significant revenue.
In most of our product lines we do have very strong competition, and our customers do make choices about what products they will buy. We are very sensitive to what our customers feel and believe and try to pay much attention to that. That is the primary reason why I have written this quite lengthy letter to you, because I believe that I have as much obligation to honor and respect the contributions of our employees (and prevent their integrity from being unfairly impugned) as I have an obligation to give very careful consideration to the interests and needs of our customers, such as yourself.
While we clearly disagree on some important issues, I do respect your opinion. If you have other thoughts on this matter which you would like to share, I would welcome hearing further from you.
Please feel free to forward copies of this letter to Mr. Maurer, Mr. Young, and Ms. Pierce, if you wish to do so.
Larry Israel, Chairman/President/CEO
Telesensory Systems, Inc.
That was Mr. Israel's letter, and it speaks for itself. We close this exchange of letters with Cynthia Handel's cover letter to the Braille Monitor when she forwarded the correspondence. Here it is:
March 30, 1997
Willow Street, Pennsylvania
Mrs. Barbara Pierce, Editor
Dear Mrs. Pierce,
I've enclosed a copy of the letter I received on Saturday, March 29, 1997, from Larry Israel, President of Telesensory Systems, Inc. This is in response to my letter of March 15, 1997, to Jill Vickers. Mr. Israel has taken my letter very personally and has obviously read a lot into it that wasn't there. For example, he believes that I have had the same Optacon, working well, for the past twenty-two years. In fact, I have had it replaced once, and the array, which is a major part of the equipment, replaced on the first Optacon I had. He also appears to think that, if I believe that his staff has gone out of their way to perform a service, they deserve thanks and praise for doing their jobs in addition to payment. However, I have never been in that position with TSI. Although they generally do an adequate job repairing Optacons, you wouldn't know what they actually did, since their handwritten service slips are difficult to read and written in code so that an average person who does not work for TSI does not know what the abbreviations mean. Finally, despite what Mr. Israel believes, I have never had a real choice about whether or not to pay one of their bills. My only choice has been whether or not I wanted my Optacon to be repaired so I could use it again. If I ask that they repair it, I am expected to pay my bill, and rightly so.
So, although I don't intend to respond to Mr. Israel's protestations, I believe you should have his letter and these few thoughts. His letter does make me wonder, however, if I will receive their high standard of service on my Optacon when I send it for a check-up for the final time before my service agreement runs out.
Cynthia E. Handel
It Is About Guide Dogs:
But It Is About More Than Guide Dogs
From the Editor Emeritus: In the October, 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor we extensively discussed the use of guide dogs as a means of mobility for the blind. Despite some initial fireworks, I think that discussion was constructive and worthwhile. Its consequences are still being felt.
When we were preparing that issue of the Monitor, I received a thoughtful article from Karla Westjohn, but I got it too late for inclusion. Now, over a year later, she has written me again, and this time it is not too late for inclusion. What she has to say is about guide dogs, but it is about much more than that.
In late January of this year "Dateline NBC" aired a program about a blind person and a guide dog, and Karla didn't like it. No, worse than that. She thought it was absolutely terrible--miserable--benighted--and any other uncomplimentary term you can think of. She not only thought, but she acted. She wrote a letter to me; she wrote an article for the Monitor; and she wrote a letter to "Dateline NBC." We are printing all three.
I disagree with a few of Karla's comments, but that doesn't matter. What counts is that most of what she says is right on target and that all of it is thoughtfully put and said with civility. It has the ring of sincerity without the stridency of bigotry. Our problems would be made easier if more of us behaved that way--speaking up with courtesy, firmness, and determination when we encounter misconceptions.
Here is Karla's letter to me, followed by her article for the Monitor, followed by her letter to "Dateline NBC":
March 28, 1997
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, President Emeritus
National Federation of the Blind
Dear Dr. Jernigan:
In late January "Dateline," one of NBC's news magazines, did a particularly awful story featuring a blind woman and focusing primarily upon her use of a guide dog. Before watching it, I did not believe that every stereotype about blindness could appear in a single broadcast. I know better now.
To make matters worse, a representative of the NBC affiliate for Champaign-Urbana contacted me the day before the segment aired. The "Dateline" story dealt with guide dogs, the gentleman said. Specifically, it dealt with the long and cumbersome process of getting a guide dog. Would I agree to do a brief interview for the local affiliate, which would follow "Dateline?"
Never wishing to bypass an opportunity to present accurate information about any and all aspects of blindness, I replied that I would be happy to discuss the matter, but I did not find the process difficult at all. I further stated that guide dog schools have every right to check out applicants--as does any other educational institution.
I provided factual information about guide dogs and blindness. Specifically, I discussed the responsibilities of being a guide dog handler and stated unequivocally that cane skills are invaluable. When the reporter inquired if my dog had made it possible for me to do things which I could not
otherwise have done, I said that she certainly enhanced efficiency in travel but that, whether or not I used a dog, I would have accomplished whatever I set out to do. Parenthetically, the same could be said of white canes.
My responses were nonexistent in the piece. With the exception of about five seconds, the reporter spoke the entire time during the local broadcast, ratifying the vapid "Dateline" interpretation and stating that I "entrusted my life" to my dog.
During the interview I noted the advantages of guide dog use. Not surprising, since I have worked dogs for more than ten years. I also indicated that my dogs have provided vital information. I hope so! If I never derived valuable information from my Seeing Eye dogs, working them would be pointless! That is hardly the same as mindlessly entrusting my life to my dogs.
Suffice it to say that I was a prop in the local story, and I didn't appreciate it! Visions of false light privacy invasion complaints danced in my head. Currently I am operating my own law practice and trying to return to government service as a prosecutor. I have taught legal courses at a community college and would like to teach at the Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois. The kind of garbage disseminated in the "Dateline" broadcast destroys opportunity for blind people, and I have no desire to perpetuate the destruction.
Furthermore, people who believe such insipid, sappy drivel make terrible guide dog handlers. Theirs are usually the dogs who cause problems and complications in public. At best, they send their dogs back--confused, traumatized by poor handling, potentially ruined for anyone else. At worst, when the dogs fail to be caretakers in canine form, the disillusioned owner vents her fury and frustration by abusing or neglecting the dog.
Work kept me busy for several weeks, but I have written to NBC to complain about the broadcast. I have also contacted WICD TV, the local affiliate which interviewed me. In addition, I wrote an opinion piece about guide dogs for the Champaign News Gazette, the local newspaper. The Gazette has accepted my piece for publication, and the editor informs me that it will appear within the next few weeks.
I submit that article and my letter to
NBC to the Braille Monitor. I have also included my photograph, since
the Monitor routinely prints portraits of the authors appearing in its
pages. If the Federation has not protested to NBC about the program in question,
Here is Karla's article for the Monitor:
Guide Dogs Are for Grown-ups
by Karla Westjohn
"I like your technique," the policeman says. "That's a nice Lab, too." I smile and thank him. As it turns out, he is a dog handler. An attorney, I am at an unfamiliar courthouse on business, and the door I plan to use is locked. I instruct Jodie, my Seeing Eye dog, to "follow," and the policeman directs me to another entrance.
With respect to guide dogs, fact is infinitely better than fiction. In the public mind blindness is a
debilitating, shameful curse, slightly mitigated by the heroic exploits of a dog. Some assumptions are just too specious to go unchallenged.
Guide work may be the most complicated job that trained dogs perform. Guide dogs have mastered general obedience commands--mandates like "come," "sit," and "down." They obey basic guide commands--"right," "left," and "forward." They find entrances and exits. They locate important objects in strange or familiar areas--counters and elevators, to name two. They work beautifully in snow, a cane user's nightmare because it obliterates ground textures and mutes echoes, both of which provide vital environmental clues. Guide dogs avoid obstructions of all kinds--including overhead obstructions that a cane cannot detect.
Most difficult of all, they disobey commands if obeying them would be hazardous. Good guide dogs have performed life-saving tasks without being told. The traffic check is perhaps the most obvious example of intelligent disobedience or unsolicited work. Both Jodie and Jazz, her predecessor, have responded to rogue vehicles before I heard them: stopping on a dime, jerking me sideways, or backing up. I have simultaneously followed my dog and discovered the reason for her actions. At such times reacting to the errant vehicle when I actually heard it would have been a dangerously late response.
A well-used guide dog permits unparalleled speed and ease in movement. Only joggers pass me on uncrowded sidewalks. Moving that fast with a cane would be unthinkable. Despite proper cane technique, momentum can cause nasty collisions. Rapid motion generates a ferocious cane tip. If that frenetic tip gets between the feet of another pedestrian, the luckless person falls like an axed tree. Conversely, a properly handled guide dog moves with slow deliberation through a crowd, painstakingly avoiding mishaps--no more inadvertent ankle whacking.
Beware the pitfalls!
Mature, assertive people with strong travel and interpersonal skills succeed as guide dog handlers. Getting a guide dog because one lacks orientation skills, friends, or basic self-esteem is a prescription for disaster. The best guide dog cannot assist a mistress who is hopelessly lost most of the time. At first the dog tries to guess what her mistress wants. Eventually she stops guiding because working conditions are impossible.
The white cane is usually the bedrock
of orientation skills, social success, and a positive attitude about blindness.
It instills the abilities to visualize an area and to ask good questions in
unfamiliar surroundings. Using a cane provides a solid understanding of traffic.
Impeccable traffic checks and intelligent disobedience happen because a guide
dog handler possesses that knowledge and usually gives proper commands to his
dog. A guide dog who is continually misdirected in heavy traffic ultimately
In addition, cane users tackle negative attitudes about blindness head-on. If she wants a social life, a cane user must be comfortable with her blindness and must put others at ease, too. Often sighted people see the cane, imagine all the wrong things they could say, and remain silent. The cane user makes friends as a competent human being, not the appendage of a wonder dog.
In the hands of a savvy owner, a guide dog is a social asset. A clean, well-behaved, pretty dog is more striking than a white cane. Such a dog provides a safe entree for a sighted person meeting a blind person for the first time. Discussions may start with a reference to the guide dog, but they need not end there.
On the other hand, a guide dog in the hands of an inept owner is a social detriment. A poorly groomed animal, wandering loose or sniffing, unchecked, at the end of a leash, connotes the most pathetic and antiquated images of blindness. Cutesy behavior--dogs that vocalize in public or who are otherwise conspicuous and disruptive--paint a portrait which is little better. People tolerate such nonsense because, after all, this annoying creature takes care of one even more helpless and pitiful.
Certainly one member of the team needs care. The dog must be fed, relieved, groomed, bathed, and examined by a veterinarian. Her owner must eradicate fleas and other parasites. Regular obedience exercises maintain discipline. Regular play sessions build the equally essential bonds of affection.
Like all dog owners, guide dog handlers must cope with an occasional transgression. A housebreaking mistake or some inappropriate chewing is common in the early months of a partnership. A flawlessly trained dog can be sick--at home or in public. Solving such problems requires self-control and perspective. Without anger a guide dog user must be able to reprimand his dog when necessary. Public accidents are embarrassing. Confronting them requires poise and courtesy. An apology is always in order--along with an offer to clean up the mess or to pay the cleaning bill.
The maudlin mythology deters responsible guide dog use. Some blind people act upon it. Consequently, they are bitterly disappointed when their dogs fail to fix their lives. At worst, such dogs suffer abuse or neglect by their owners. At best, the disheartened owner sends the dog back to the school from whence he came. At the other end of the spectrum are those blind people who, though they could benefit by using a guide dog, are vehemently opposed to the practice--largely because of the widespread misconception that the dog acts as their keeper.
Proficient guide dog handlers know better. Guide dogs lead the way, but they look to their owners for leadership. Being entrusted with the life and well-being of these magnificent animals is a privilege and a responsibility which should be clearly understood.
Here is Karla's letter to "Dateline NBC":
March 28, 1997
New York, New York
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On January 22, 1997, "Dateline," one of your network's news magazines, featured a story about a blind woman with the primary focus upon her use of a guide dog. Virtually every stereotype about blindness manifested itself in the piece. Such press coverage does immeasurable damage to blind people by perpetuating misconceptions and negative attitudes about blindness. Discrimination against the blind is rampant--in education, employment, housing, and every other significant facet of life. Stereotypes should be shattered, not buttressed.
Dennis Murphy, the reporter who handled the story, describes Desiree Stan, the subject of the feature, as "inspirational." Her blindness is portrayed as a traumatic, terrifying curse, imprisoning her in her home. Ms. Stan tearfully states that [upon becoming blind] "the pills were in my hand." She laments her inability to see color and faces.
Blindness is a characteristic, not a curse.
Certainly sight is a significant asset, and blindness is sometimes a formidable inconvenience, but that is the extent of it. Trauma, or at least grief, is present at its onset. Parents of a blind child or adolescent are terrified about their son or daughter's future. An adult who loses eyesight is afraid for the same reason. Still, with proper training and equal opportunity, the physical effects of blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance.
Blind people, including those of us who have never seen, do not live in a dark, desolate world. We use our memories, our other senses, and our powers of analysis to apprehend visual phenomena and are by no means indifferent to beauty--even visual beauty. Culture, more than visual appearance, determines what is beautiful.
For example, Cleopatra, at four feet nine inches and at least 150 pounds, was a knockout in ancient Egypt. A modern American woman of similar stature would not be considered pretty. If visual appearance, not culture, were the primary determinant of visual beauty, standards would be far more uniform.
If "Dateline" wished to describe blindness or portray daily life for a blind person, Mr. Murphy should have interviewed someone competent in the skills of blindness and confident in the knowledge that it is respectable to be blind. Unfortunately, Desiree Stan demonstrates neither competence nor healthy self-confidence. Braille and cane travel, two of the most crucial skills of blindness, are depicted as arduous to learn and inferior to sighted techniques.
Ms. Stan describes the difficulty she encountered in learning Braille, recounting finishing a few paragraphs and being unable to recall what she had just read. No neophyte is adept at the skill she is learning. Experience remedies this problem. Braille is a highly efficient method for reading and writing. It can denote all languages, music, mathematical and scientific notation. Braille's shorthand code was, in large part, responsible for getting me my first real job as an adult--a secretarial position between college and law school.
As has been the case with many other blind professionals, I have found that Braille has facilitated
most of the important events in my life: graduating from college in the top quarter of my class, getting a law degree, passing the bar examination on the first try and under the same conditions as my sighted peers, practicing law, and teaching at the college level. Deplorably, however, only nine percent of blind students read Braille today. Many adults who become blind receive inadequate Braille instruction from rehabilitation professionals. Seventy percent of working-age blind people are unemployed. Eighty five percent of the working blind read and write Braille proficiently.
Hmm ... Could a news story be lurking amid those statistics? One which actually informs the public?
Similarly the white cane, far from being ineffective and connoting pathos, is a tool which every blind person should know how to use. Cane travel teaches environmental awareness as nothing else can. With a cane an individual can move safely and independently, interpreting ground texturesand sounds, which are every bit as informative as street signs. She learns to visualize surroundings and to ask pertinent questions in unfamiliar areas. She comprehends traffic patterns and traffic laws.
More important, the white cane instills the realizations that the blind person is a capable human being
and that it is okay to be blind. A white cane forces a blind person to confront negative attitudes about blindness head on. He deals with unabashed staring and unnerving silence at his approach. She learns to initiate social contacts. Nobody starts conversations by complimenting a white cane, but nobody assumes that the cane is in charge of the man or woman using it either. Friendships are based upon mutual respect. The cane user is not the human appendage of a wonder dog.
I for one was appalled to hear Desiree Stan say that she threw her cane away! The story implies that a guide dog handler need never use a cane. Do guide dogs never become ill, never suffer injury, never die? If, like other living creatures, they succumb to these maladies, are their owners then marooned at home?
I have been a guide dog handler for more than ten years, and I highly value my cane skills. The myth of the guide dog as caretaker must go the way of cave dwellings. It demeans the blind. It entices incompetent people to use guide dogs while dissuading potentially excellent dog handlers from doing so. In reality guide dogs are intelligent, magnificent working dogs, who, like their contemporaries in police, search-and-rescue, and military work, need care, love, and direction from their owners.
We who are guide dog handlers derive numerous travel advantages by working our dogs--faster travel, improved obstacle clearance, and heightened reflexes, to name three. These benefits elude the individual who cannot give specific, authoritative commands to his dog. The handler must know where he is going and how to get there. If he does not, guide work degenerates into aimless wandering, and the dog chooses more rewarding endeavors--like sniffing trees and chasing squirrels.
Mishandled guide dogs are generally incapable of intelligent disobedience, too. Perhaps the most
misunderstood aspect of guide work, intelligent disobedience, occurs when a guide dog disobeys an improper command. As they pass a construction site, the dog's mistress directs him to go forward. A gaping hole yawns before them, so the dog maneuvers to the left around the hole. A guide dog and her master are standing at a busy intersection. The parallel traffic indicates a green light, so the master directs his dog to go forward. The dog does not budge. A car shoots from the stream of parallel traffic and speeds around the corner in front of them, turning right on red without yielding to pedestrians.
Veteran guide dog handlers tell stories like those with pride, but such potentially life-saving exploits do not occur because the dog is omniscient and the handler is oblivious. They happen because the handler usually gives the proper commands to his dog, and the dog thus knows what to do. A good handler also reprimands the dog for mistakes and administers regular obedience exercises. Guide dogs who are continually misdirected become unreliable, as do those whose handlers tolerate misbehavior.
Ms. Stan and Mr. Murphy make much of the social advantages of guide dog use. Advantages exist, but not those they mention. A clean, well--behaved, beautiful dog makes a positive statement about her handler's capabilities and, by inference, the capabilities of blind people generally. A reference to a guide dog can be a safe entree for a sighted person meeting a blind person for the first time. Working a guide dog can spark an interest in other realms of the dog world--animal welfare, obedience and conformation competition, and other canine professions. Several of my friends are dog lovers who share a major interest with me and who, at least partly because of my dogs, see me as an equal.
Nevertheless, using a guide dog neither insulates one from rudeness nor ensures a social life. If anything, guide dog handlers must be better able to blend courtesy and assertiveness than our cane-using counterparts. Without permission--or even after being explicitly told not to do so--people try to pet or feed a guide dog. Those same people often speak to the dog without uttering a word to his owner. Despite the fact that it is illegal, guide dog handlers encounter even more discrimination than other blind people in housing, transportation, and public accommodations.
The legend of the canine nanny actually impedes proper guide work and may promote abuse and neglect of guide dogs. Sighted people, realizing their own competence and believing that the guide dog handler is even less capable than her dog, try to "rescue" the team by directing the dog. The dog has no reason to obey the stranger, and such interference only distracts her from legitimate guide work. The well intentioned but wrongheaded third party may not even be using commands that the dog knows.
The consequences can be even worse when the blind owner believes such drivel. In the best case scenario, the disheartened owner does not resort to inhumane measures. She merely sends a confused, forlorn dog back to school. What a needless waste of time, effort, and money!
Mistreatment of guide dogs is extremely rare, but it happens. As with other forms of cruelty, the perpetrators usually lack basic self-esteem. Often, an abusive guide dog owner lacks the skills of blindness too. Therefore, when his dog fails to be the mythical guardian that magically fixes his life, the human teammate cannot cope. Guide dogs have been kicked, beaten, starved, and chained for days at a time.
The NBC story also indicates that Desiree Stan obtained her guide dog after a friend talked her into it. Apparently Mr. Murphy believes that blind people cannot make any major decision--even one as intimate as the choice of travel tool--without sighted intervention. Like all major commitments working a guide dog should be the idea of the person who will actually do it. Guide dog handlers must feed, groom, and bathe dogs regularly. Just as regularly we clean relief areas, control parasites, and schedule veterinary visits. Without the care and affection of her mistress, a guide dog has no incentive to work. A guide dog handler must like dogs well enough to have one near her virtually twenty-four hours
a day for eight to twelve years. She must be mature enough to face difficult decisions at the end of her dog's life. Euthanasia is often the most merciful option, but that does not make it easy to do.
"Dateline's" brief allusion to the fact that "some partnerships don't work out" is, to put it kindly,
inadequate. The problems related to guide dogs could be solved or prevented if the people involved had a positive attitude about blindness. Sappy drivel keeps many fine candidates for guide dogs from using them. Many blind people are unalterably opposed to the whole concept because of the misperceptions which surround it. Often such individuals have excellent travel skills, which the use of a guide dog could enhance. Frequently they are also discerning and thoughtful--traits which make for good dog ownership of any kind.
Most distressing of all is the pervasive contempt with which Ms. Stan and Mr. Murphy seem to regard blind people. Ms. Stan receives Mr. Murphy's adulation when she says that blindness cannot "have me"--whatever that means. Undoubtedly blindness does not define her entire life, but whether she
likes it or not, Desiree Stan is a blind woman. Mr. Murphy describes Ms. Stan as a "scrapper." If her blindness is irreversible, Ms. Stan has two choices: live with it or die. She's living with it. So?
After accomplishing some rudimentary independent travel with her dog, Ms. Stan proclaims, "Not bad for a blind woman!" If this was supposed to be a joke, many of us are not laughing. Unfunny, self-deprecating comments and anecdotes about blindness are as unflattering as the performances of black vaudeville stars of a bygone era. Fortunately for all America, those hideous displays stopped when courageous black actors and actresses refused to shuffle and grin.
Describing her fear, Ms. Stan says, "I thought we [she and her children] would end up living in a basement on public assistance." She did not need to finish her thought; her meaning was glaringly clear. "I thought I would be on public assistance like all those stupid blind people to whom I am superior."
Desiree Stan would do well to get to know some of those blind people--including some who have had the misfortune to need public assistance--before thrusting her nose into the air. For me, at least, the best advice, assistance, and support in meeting the challenges of blindness have come from other blind people. Many blind people who receive public assistance do not do so by choice or because they lack skills and ability. They have been forced to accept a government check because discrimination against the blind, statutes notwithstanding, continues unabated. Other blind people work in vending facilities or sheltered workshops for the same reason. Despite despicable treatment, many of these folks volunteer in their churches or synagogues or do other community-based charity work in an effort to leave the world a little better than they found it.
That, too, would be an interesting issue for "Dateline" to tackle, but it would require the rest of society to do some unpleasant soul-searching. No more cliches. No warm fuzzies to make the majority feel wonderful while a minority lives in abject and unrelenting poverty.
Even blind professionals suffer. Though we may have fine credentials, too few people believe that a blind person could actually attain that sort of success. To illustrate, take the case of a young, blind woman lawyer. She had received some academic recognition during law school and had written a winning appellate brief when she had less than a year's work experience. At the time in question, she had about four years of work experience in the public and private sectors, doing civil and criminal work. Thinking of trading her solo shingle for an associate's job at a law firm, she tested the waters by sending application materials to several large, well-respected establishments.
To her delight, she received a letter from one of the oldest, most respected firms in the city. The firm was not officially hiring, the letter said, but the senior partner would like to meet with her at her earliest convenience. Enclosed with the letter was a brochure about the firm. The young lawyer perused the brochure with great interest and anticipation.
The big day came, and the attorney carefully followed the rules of workplace etiquette. She was punctual, clad in the requisite business attire, carrying the obligatory briefcase. Along with extra copies of her resume and writing samples, the briefcase contained client files for the work she had to do after the meeting.
She soon discovered that the senior partner had relevant questions on his mind. "You're very attractively dressed," he observed. "Tell me, how do you put your clothes on in the morning?"
Under the table, the lawyer's scrupulously clean Labrador Retriever lay like an ebony statue, evincing no unappealing sights, sounds, or odors.
"Does your dog have control of her bodily functions?" the senior partner asked next.
He provided the lawyer with a motion, which he wanted her to evaluate within forty-eight hours. The lawyer analyzed the material within twenty-four hours and called back as requested. The senior partner refused to take her calls--uninterested, apparently, in the Erie Problem and other conflicts of law.
He told me how much he admired me, too.
The potential for harm by this and similar broadcasts cannot be overstated. All people deserve to fulfill their dreams without having to jump arbitrary hurdles. Every individual deserves the chance to win real respect, not the saccharine sentimentality accorded to those from whom nothing meritorious is really expected. Tragically, NBC really blew it this time.
P.S.: For accurate information about blindness, contact the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, (410) 659-9314.
Braille Change the Future?
by Denise Staulter
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the March, 1997, Michigan Focus, a publication of the NFB of Michigan. Denise Staulter is an experienced teacher of blind students. She has received and read NFB publications for some time now, but the Michigan affiliate's fall convention last year was her first actual contact with members of the organization. It is obvious from the following article, however, that, like many others of us, she was a Federationist long before she joined the organization. This is what she says:
As an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired, I often teach my students for many years. More than four years ago, I met a lovely little girl in her second year of school who had very little usable sight for reading. Before she came to me, she had the use of a closed circuit television (CCTV) and other magnifying equipment but was not doing well in school because of her lack of sight and inefficient skills for coping with this visual impairment. The first six months we worked together she constantly talked about quitting school as soon as she turned sixteen. She hated school so much because she couldn't do anything.
I started teaching her Braille as intensely as I thought she could handle. I knew that, when she had something she could actually use in school, she would begin to enjoy academics like her classmates. After a year and a half and the acquisition of a great deal of Braille knowledge, she was able to read books like the rest of her peers. She finally began to enjoy school. She was still behind academically and struggled with school but insisted every time the class had a particular book that she also have it in Braille so she could "read it like them." She now delights in showing sighted peers how to read Braille in her books and write Braille words on her Brailler. This has also become quite a self-esteem builder.
She is also a very accomplished typist for her age. Typing is a skill she needs right along with her Braille, so she can produce work for her regular education teacher and turn it in along with her peers. When her regular teacher asks her to write something, she does not hesitate to go to her computer and generate her work, knowing she can do the work as her sighted counterparts do.
This student has progressed from constantly talking about quitting school to chatting about going on to college, just because she knows she can get the material she needs and do the work like others. I often wonder, if she and other students like her had begun Braille when their sighted peers learned their letters at age three or four, how much more successful might she and they have been?" Would she have suffered constant struggle and hatred of school for two to three years because of her lack of the essential skills needed by a visually impaired student? Such speculation is fruitless. We must not look back; we must look forward in order to help other pupils.
As teachers we must constantly look into the future of our students to make sure they will have the skills they need to be successful people. Our ultimate goal is, "...The success of all children through appropriate educational practices, equipment, and technology."
[PHOTO/CAPTION: James Omvig]
What We Can Expect From a Commission for the Blind
by James H. Omvig
From the Editor: This paper was originally presented by Jim Omvig at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan at which there was a discussion concerning the Michigan Commission for the Blind. The paper was reprinted in the Braille Monitor in 1983 and was updated in July of 1996. Jim Omvig is a long-time leader in the National Federation of the Blind, and since its first publication this article has been a popular and useful compilation of Federation thinking about the importance of the commission model for service delivery to blind consumers and the most effective methods for carrying out rehabilitation. We thought that it would be helpful to reprint it now that the super-agency model is threatening to undermine such progress as has been made in improving the quality of rehabilitation in a number of states. This is what Jim says:
I am extremely pleased to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak with you concerning what blind consumers should reasonably expect from the Michigan Commission for the Blind or, for that matter, from any other state agency for the blind.
First, let me provide you with a thumbnail sketch of my background since it will demonstrate that the opinions which I am about to express are not hypothetical or fanciful but based upon considerable experience and proven practices.
As most of you know, I am blind and have been for thirty years. I was a client of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and a student in its adult orientation and adjustment center. Therefore, I have had the experience of receiving services from an outstanding state agency. Following my experience as an orientation student, I attended college and law school as a blind student. Then I experienced the struggle of finding a good job as a blind person. I was the first blind attorney ever employed by the National Labor Relations Board. I worked for that agency in both Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Then I returned to Iowa to enter the field of vocational rehabilitation for the blind. I worked for the Iowa Commission for the Blind for the next nine years, first as a rehabilitation counselor and then as Director of the Orientation and Adjustment Center, in which I had previously been a student. Finally I served as Assistant Director for Staff Development for the entire agency.
In 1978 I left the Iowa Commission in order to become Director of the new Handicapped Employment Program of the Social Security Administration in Baltimore. I am working primarily to create greater employment opportunities for the blind and disabled within SSA itself.
In addition to this formal background and experience, I have been attending and speaking at NFB state conventions now for the past fourteen years. I have visited most states and have had the opportunity to become familiar with most state programs for the blind, both the good and the bad.
By visiting the states, incidentally, one can conduct quite accurate and meaningful surveys and studies. There is only one way properly to assess the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of a given program for the blind. Just take a look at what has happened to the blind people who have been served by the agency! Are they employed in meaningful jobs, jobs which are commensurate with their abilities and qualifications? Are they successful? Are they full of self-confidence, and can they function efficiently and independently? Can they travel well, going where they want to go when they want to go there? Are they active in their families, their churches, and their communities? Are they happy?
If these and other similar questions can be answered, "Yes," then the services are good no matter what the agency structure may be, and if the answers are "No," then the services are bad, no matter what the agency structure is.
Now let me turn for a moment to some comments about blindness and a philosophy about it. In this area the National Federation of the Blind has learned well what some professionals in the field either cannot or will not understand at all. The NFB has learned the shocking truth that blind people are normal people, simply a cross-section of society at large, and that blindness is merely a normal, physical characteristic like hundreds of other human traits, no more nor no less.
Like other characteristics blindness sometimes has its limitations. Very often, of course, it does not. It all depends upon what you are going to do in a given situation. In those few instances where limitations because of blindness really do exist, alternative techniques can be used to overcome those limitations. An alternative technique is simply a method of doing without sight what you would do with sight if you had it--Braille, long-cane travel, etcetera.
We of the Federation have come truly to understand and believe with our emotions as well as with our minds that blind people are normal, ordinary human beings who, given proper training and opportunity (and these are large provisos), can compete successfully with sighted people. We can compete successfully on the job, and we can compete and participate fully in the affairs of family, community, state, and nation.
And, finally, we have learned another fundamental truth: namely, that it is not our blindness but rather
society's attitudes about it which have kept us down and out through the years. In other words, blindness is primarily an attitudinal problem, a social problem, not a physical one. To be perfectly blunt about it, most people--blind and sighted alike--still think of us as helpless and hopeless and unable to compete or even participate in the real world. Most people continue to think of us as beggars and rug-weavers rather than as lawyers, machinists, chemists, or college professors.
It is this attitude, then, and not the physical fact of blindness which we must face and overcome. And, since those who are now blind and those who will become blind have involuntarily assimilated the negative public attitudes about blindness, this attitudinal problem is what must be addressed by an agency for the blind if it hopes to be effective in working with its clients. The blind have the right to expect that the agency knows what it is doing and can give proper service.
With all of this background in mind, let me turn to a discussion of the agency for the blind--what should it be? What agency structure is best? And, most important of all, what do the blind have the right to expect from the agency?
Turning to structure, experience has shown over and over that blind people have the best chance for good services from a separate agency or commission for the blind. Funding is always better. There is at least the possibility of developing a staff which becomes expert in blindness, there is at least the possibility that responsibility can be pinpointed, and staff members and administrators do not get themselves sidetracked on other issues or in other areas of personal interest or preference.
On the other hand, I am not aware of a single case in this nation in which blind persons get a fair shake under the so-called super-agency structure or where the blind are served in the same agency with all other disabled people. We are such a small minority in the disabled community that we always get the short end of the stick. No emphasis is given to programs for the blind or to our unique rehabilitative needs, and administrators are quite often interested in some other disability group. Also it is simply not reasonable to expect that a general rehab counselor can be expert in all areas, including blindness. Therefore the separate agency always offers the best possibility for successful rehabilitation.
But we must always be mindful of this: There is no magical formula which says that services from a separate agency will always and automatically be what they should be. You can have the best structure in the world and still have service which is not only poor, but borders on being criminal, if the agency continues to be administered and staffed by some of the great minds of the eighteenth century!
Attitude and philosophy are everything! The agency must believe in blind people, believe that it is respectable to be blind, and it must be willing to do as much work as it takes to pass on that positive belief to its blind consumers and to the community at large. Therefore, to have superior service you must have both the proper philosophy and the right governmental structure, and the blind have the right to expect both.
Now I want to turn specifically to a discussion of those ingredients which have brought success in good programs for the blind--ingredients such as a proper agency philosophy, a committed board, a knowledgeable and committed staff, a willingness to advocate for its clients, and a quality adult orientation and adjustment center.
1. The agency must have a constructive and positive philosophy. It has been said that, "Philosophy bakes no bread." But it has been said with equal wisdom that, "Without a philosophy, no bread is baked." Incredible as it is, I know of some agencies for the blind in this country which proudly proclaim that they have no philosophy about blindness and whose only apparent philosophy seems to be "to serve the blind." How? What are its goals and objectives? What hope does such an agency offer blind clients?
The agency must have a strong, positive, constructive philosophy about blindness, and it must be committed to that philosophy. The blind have the right to expect that the agency will develop a philosophy best equipped to put hope and meaning into their lives.
The only philosophy about blindness I know of which really works is that of the NFB. I have spelled it out above in some detail. I know of no other constructive philosophy which an agency could adopt and espouse. The sad fact, of course, is that even those agencies which say they have no philosophy really do. Although not expressed, by all that they do they tell their blind clients that blindness is an unmitigated disaster, that blind people are helpless and incompetent, and that blind people can never expect to compete successfully or participate side-by-side with sighted people, but that we should be grateful anyway for what they have given us.
2. The commission board of directors must be a meaningful part of the program. (In the commission form of agency, the governor typically appoints a policy-making board which hires the director, and the director then hires the staff.)
While it is true that the board should meet periodically to set broad policy for the agency, good board members will also take the time to learn about blindness and to develop a real understanding about philosophy and services. Board members should be willing to use their time and personal contacts to help sell the program to the general public and elected officials and to talk with employers about hiring qualified blind people. I think that it is appropriate for a board member to lean a little on a business associate if doing so might get a job for a blind person.
3. The staff must consist of persons who truly believe in the blind and who are committed to doing whatever it takes to pass on that belief to others. In other words, the staff members must have the proper philosophy about blindness, and they must recognize that the sole purpose for their jobs is serving the blind, not protecting their vested interests.
At the Iowa Commission we developed some extremely sound and interesting practices for building and training a staff. If a blind person wished to join the staff, he or she must first have successfully held some other job in competitive employment to demonstrate, both to that individual and to others, that regular, competitive work is possible for the blind. Because of this experience such a blind staff member was in the best possible position to give real help and guidance. He or she could then serve as a role model for blind clients and was much more credible when advising blind students.
I tell you of this unique Iowa policy knowing full well that most agencies send some bright young blind persons to school, help them get master's degrees, and then hire them to help others. I shudder to think of the help such inexperienced professionals will give.
I suppose I don't need to tell you what chance for employment at the Iowa Commission any blind person would have had if he or she continued to be so ashamed of blindness as to refuse to carry a cane, use Braille or other alternative techniques, or even refuse to admit to being a blind person. None! Again, we were selecting a staff to serve the blind, not to provide employment for those who couldn't get jobs some place else.
Sighted staff members had to be willing to undergo training as blind persons--sleepshades, cane travel, and all. They had to come to understand blindness and to know from personal experience that NFB philosophy really works. In addition, when they were practicing cane travel alone on the streets of Des Moines, members of the sighted public assumed they were blind and treated them accordingly. It was
helpful for them to experience and cope with the things that happen to us every day. And, of course, both blind and sighted staff members were given extensive philosophical training before they ever came into contact with a blind student.
4. The agency, from the board and director on down, must be willing to listen to what blind consumers have to say and to work in a spirit of partnership with the organized blind. We are the ones affected by the services, and we have the right to a voice in what those services will be. Through our collective experience we know well what works and what doesn't, what is good and what is bad.
Again, as bizarre and outdated as it is, some agencies continue to operate on the worn-out theory that, "We know what is best for you." This type of thinking should have vanished along with the nineteenth century.
And when I said that the partnership should be with the "organized blind," I meant exactly that. Some agencies refuse to listen to us, preferring to get their consumer information from blind individuals specifically not affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. While one can elicit expressions of any attitude or opinion desired through careful selection of the respondents, such a practice has no place in an agency with the best interests of the blind at heart. There is no reason for unaffiliated people to have any useful knowledge of what the entire range of blind consumers need. Meaningful information and opinion can be gathered only from those who have had the good sense to join together and to share ideas and experiences--the organized blind.
5. The good agency must be an advocate
for the civil rights of all blind persons in the state. It must be willing to
become involved and to have confrontations if necessary. However, it must be
mindful of the fact that it does not represent anybody. Only those elected by
the group in question can do that.
6. The good agency must operate on the presumption that all blind people are capable, that everybody can do something, and that blind people have sufficient intelligence to choose wisely what we can and want to do. Incidentally, like sighted people we should also have the freedom to choose unwisely. The agency's role should be to help the blind person develop sufficient self-confidence and skill that the individual can decide what he or she wishes to do. Once the blind person makes this decision, the agency should help the person prepare for the employment objective. Frankly, who cares what the agency thinks an individual can or should do. Therefore testing and evaluation should be kept to a minimum.
7. The heart of any good rehabilitation program for the blind is an effective orientation and adjustment center. The purpose of a good center is to assist blind people to become independent by teaching self-reliance and self-confidence; by teaching needed skills; and by teaching the students what the social attitudes about blindness are, why they are what they are, what will happen to them every day because of society's erroneous attitudes, and how to cope effectively with the unjust or painful things said or done to them.
This center should be pre-vocational in nature. That is, it should be a place where individuals can learn how to be blind. Later vocational training should be purchased or provided wherever sighted people receive it. This vocational training must be integrated with that provided to sighted students since, presumably, blind graduates will work alongside sighted ones for the rest of their lives.
Such a center must be an attitude factory, a place where blind adults from across the state can come to live for some months to build hope and self-confidence, to learn that it is respectable to be blind, and to learn basic skills and alternative techniques. The atmosphere must be such that, twenty-four-hours a day, seven days a week, the student is being told, "Come on, you can do it, you can do more." And blind staff members must be available who can serve as role models and who, when a student says, "I can't do it," can say, "Look, my friend, I'm as blind as you are. I know what can be done and how it can be done, so don't say you can't; just do it!"
The goal is to help the student get to the point where he or she can say, "Yes, I am blind, so what? I like myself, and I'm OK! I can do anything I want to do." If an adult rehabilitation facility does not build self-confidence and self-esteem, then nothing else it can do will make any difference.
Incidentally, training facility staff should call students "students." Some rehabilitation facilities refer to trainees, clients, or even patients. It is important to use the most positive word possible--"student." It's much easier for a blind Iowa resident to leave his home to be a "student" at the "school" in Des Moines than to be a patient or client in some state institution.
I have listed the objectives of a good orientation and adjustment center. How can these objectives be accomplished? The answer to this question is simple if you understand that the problems connected with blindness are primarily attitudinal, and if you really want to do something constructive to solve these problems.
Everything done in such a center must be related to this constructive philosophy. Here are some of the
ingredients which are absolutely essential in any good center:
(a) Blindness must be discussed, and the word "blind" must be used and stressed. If we are ever to accept our own blindness, we must first admit that we are blind, and the agency that simply reinforces and perpetuates denial of the fact is useless. Like black people of another generation who attempted to solve their problems by pretending they were white, blind people who pretend they are sighted are fooling only themselves and are ducking the central issue of their lives. Blacks ultimately worked to solve their problems by making it respectable to be black,and we will solve our problems only when we make it respectable to be blind. Therefore, such phrases as "unsighted," "sightless," "hard-of-seeing," or "visually impaired" should not be used when referring to people who are legally blind.
Frank individual and group discussions about blindness must take place. Students must intellectually learn the positive philosophy about blindness through discussion. Then, to transform those ideas into belief and conviction, students must be required to do all kinds of things which will teach them emotionally that they really can function and that a normal, happy, and productive life really does lie ahead. In Iowa we used such varied techniques as water skiing, grilling steaks, running power tools, and cutting down trees to supply wood for our fireplace.
(b) The center must be located in a busy, urban area. I know that many centers are currently found in secluded locations, away from people and possible danger. However, if the purpose of the center is to help blind students become a part of society, then training should be where the action is. The facility should be near enough to restaurants, stores, theaters, churches, and bars so the students have
reasons to leave it. Much confidence-building can be achieved simply by going out into the world.
Under no circumstances should an orientation and adjustment center be housed together with a sheltered workshop for the blind. Where this is done, the work of a good center is lost. You can present the best philosophical training in the world in the center, but the blind students will see and identify with the blind people who have been beaten down and placed in the shop.
When a center is being constructed or renovated, center personnel should contact and work with state officials to have the center exempted from accessibility requirements such as those calling for detectable warnings at the top of steps, etc. Blind students must learn to rely on the white cane to give them needed information about steps or other obstacles. The creation, in the name of safety, of an artificial environment in the training center will actually place students at greater risk when they are traveling and working in the real world. If the training has been done properly, students will be perfectly safe in the world as it is.
(c) The students should be treated like adults, not children. Therefore, there should be no hours or curfews at the center, nor should there be bed checks. Adults come and go as they please.
(d) The same training should be required for all students at the center. Some centers have one kind of
training for the totally blind and another for the partially blind. If you understand that the major problem of blindness is attitudinal and if you intend to teach positive philosophy, then all students must have the same training.
All students at a blindness training and adjustment facility, regardless of the amount of their residual vision, should be required to use long, non-folding canes at all times. In some centers canes are used only during travel class. However, students who wish to travel well and to become independent must use the cane over and over until its proper use becomes a reflex action. In addition, use of the cane helps to build self-confidence and helps students admit and accept the fact that they are blind since, by using it constantly, they are telling the world that they are blind. Denial is eliminated as a method of coping.
(e) The blind students with some remaining usable vision should use sleepshades during all training. The great temptation for students with some vision is to attempt to use that vision even when it is inadequate. These students are also tempted to pretend that they are sighted by using sighted techniques. The reason for this is simple; people yearn to be normal. They believe it is normal to be sighted. They fear that, if they use blindness techniques, they will not be seen as normal. False logic, but that is how our minds work until someone intervenes with the truth that normality is not defined by visual acuity.
Those who are blind enough to be at the center are blind! Their limited vision will not be useful in many situations. Therefore such students must learn blindness techniques, learn that they work, learn not to be ashamed of using them, and learn during training to use the combination of blind and sighted techniques best suited to their individual visual limitations. Having received this type of training, the student with residual vision will forever after be in the best position to know when to use sight and when to use a blindness technique. Putting this another way, when sleepshades are used, the partially blind student can actually learn for the first time how to use his or her remaining vision efficiently.
(f) All students must be trained to use Braille. While some students with a little vision may argue that they don't need Braille, everyone should be exposed to it. The student may well learn that it is more efficient than he or she had thought and that reading large print at twenty or thirty words a minute isn't particularly efficient.
(g) Proper practices must be established concerning meals and eating. No, I don't mean spreading butter, cutting meat, and pouring cream. To assume that all students need classes in good manners and etiquette is insulting and demonstrates a negative philosophy rather than a positive one. Sometimes students do need help in this area, particularly students who have come from residential schools for the blind. When this occurs, staff members should work with this individual quietly and privately.
I am referring to a particular problem and an interesting Iowa policy: Many newly blinded people feel
conspicuous eating in front of sighted people. Therefore they are quite content to have someone serve them in the seclusion of a group dining room. To solve this problem, at the Iowa Commission we had a public cafeteria, where the students could buy their breakfasts and lunches if they wished. They went through the line themselves with the other customers. However, we closed the cafeteria during evenings and weekends. Moreover, we had a rule that students could not cook in their rooms, nor could more experienced students bring meals to the new ones. The obvious intent of this practice was to get students out into the public to find food and to get used to being seen. The only way to overcome the fear of moving and eating in front of others is to do it over and over again until one feels comfortable.
(h) The good center should have no psychologists or psychiatrists on staff. Students should be assumed to be mentally fit. The intent of the program is to overcome stereotypical thinking about blindness. Society is already filled with negative attitudes about psychologists and psychiatrists--"Only crazy people see them." So the student who is forced to see one on a daily or weekly basis quickly
concludes that things are even worse than he or she had thought.
Am I saying that I am opposed to all psychologists or psychiatrists? Of course not! Rarely a student may develop emotional problems. When this occurs, that student should be sent to a competent professional. Care should be taken to choose the professional wisely. If this has not been done, the professional will most likely try to help the student adjust to blindness in a manner which will help no one. If the orientation staff can't tell the difference between a normal fear of blindness and a real emotional problem, the staff had better be replaced. But don't use such a problem as a reason for bringing in the psychologists or psychiatrists.
(i) There should be no house mothers or baby sitters in the center. The students' time is valuable, and they should have competent staff members available to work with them during evenings and on weekends. Therefore staff members should be available at all times to help solve problems, give counsel, and talk about blindness. I know that in most centers this does not occur, and house parents are on hand. I must say that I was particularly dismayed when I learned last night that the Michigan center has nurses on duty to care for the trainees. This practice can only lead to a belief on the part of students that they are sick patients in some kind of state institution.
(j) The students should be exposed to organizations of the blind and to successful blind persons. This point surely speaks for itself and needs no elaboration.
8. Now let me take a few minutes to round out what I believe the blind have the right to expect from a good agency.
(a) Competent home teachers and rehabilitation counselors who truly believe in the blind and who can
motivate blind people from across the state should be on staff. They must be persistent. That is, if a newly blind person refuses to accept services from the agency after only one or two contacts, they should keep returning and trying. Of course this effort should not be confused with trying to force the blind person to accept services which he or she truly does not want. Very often, however, people who are newly blind will mistakenly assume that there is no hope and that nothing useful can be done. A person has the right to informed choice, but such a choice can be made only after the individual has learned enough to be informed.
(b) Then there is the matter of vending facilities. Blind vendors should truly run the businesses. In many states the agencies actually run the facilities and in reality the blind are only glorified cashiers. If agency personnel truly believe that the blind can function competitively and independently, they should be permitted to run the businesses. Let them do their own hiring, firing, purchasing, price-setting, bookkeeping, etc.
(c) The state library for the blind should
be part of the state agency for the blind. Experience has shown that the service
is much better and more coordinated when this is the case. The rehabilitation
agency gets referrals through the library, and vice versa. Also Federal rehabilitation
dollars can be put into the state library when it is a part of the state agency.
(d) Finally, let me speak briefly about employment. Suitable job placement is the final step in the
rehabilitation process. Job placement is handled in two different ways around the country. In many states a job placement specialist is assigned specifically to work on placements. In others, including Iowa, the counselors do their own placements. Since I know that this system works well, I guess I favor this model.
Agency rehab counselors (or placement specialists) should spend a good part of their time in getting to know business owners, personnel officers, department heads, etc., within their territories. These counselors should work to create a positive atmosphere so that, by the time the individual blind consumer is ready for employment, interviews and possible jobs will already be available. The ultimate objective in any state should be that any blind person who wants to work and who is willing to undergo proper training can get a suitable job.
The second major part of the job placement issue has to do with employer and public education. In Iowa, virtually every day of the year (and often many times a day) a Commission employee or the center students were speaking and presenting programs for Lions and other civic organizations, churches, schools, business men's associations, fairs, etc. The effort of the agency must be to create an atmosphere in which blind citizens are accepted as normal people and can find good jobs when their training has been completed and they are ready for employment.
These, then, are some of my thoughts concerning what blind consumers should be able to expect from a good agency for the blind. Since the best governmental structure is known, since the proper philosophy is known and proven, and since the best teaching and rehabilitation service techniques are known, tried, and tested, I believe that the expectations outlined here are reasonable. I hope these opinions and experiences are helpful as you assess the value of a Commission for the Blind in the upcoming session of your state legislature.
Who Are the Experts?
Comments on Pregnant Women and Blind Consumers
by James H. Omvig
From the Editor: This article was first printed in the August/September, 1983, issue of the Braille Monitor and was updated in 1996. Because it follows so closely on the reasoning of the preceding article, we are reprinting it here. Here is what Jim Omvig says:
An ancient proverb says that, when the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into the ditch. Apparently the minds of some of the great thinkers of the past were about as out-of-touch on the subject of blindness as some of the so-called great thinkers of today. For, in truth, even though we are often told differently, it was only when the blind began to lead the blind that we started the climb out of the ditch together.
In that climb from the ditch we have come together in an organized way, and we have shared common experiences and ideas. We have pooled our thinking and have developed a sound philosophy and a vast body of knowledge on a variety of major issues concerning blindness. Among other things we know what it takes to operate a quality rehabilitation agency for the blind.
Since the recent publication of my article about what the ideal
agency for the blind should be if it is truly to make a difference in its consumers'
lives, I have been involved in several interesting and lively discussions on
the topic. The most recent of these occurred at our Minnesota affiliate's state
convention, where we discussed the subject yet again.
The panel discussing the issue included an official of the Minnesota state agency for the blind, who spoke before I did. From comments he made, it is clear that he has a deep interest in what is happening to blind people in America today and that he is an enthusiastic supporter of the National Federation of the Blind.
Even so, he went on to remark that the topic of "what constitutes the ideal agency for the blind" is a very difficult one. He described several problems which exist within the current service-delivery system, but he never really offered his notions of what the ideal agency should be; he just maintained that it is a difficult topic--what lawyers call a "knotty problem."
In my presentation I told the previous speaker that I do not regard the topic as difficult at all. In fact, it is simple, well-known, and clear-cut: The best governmental structure for a state agency is known; the ideal philosophy with which an agency should operate is known; what should be taught at an adjustment center and who should teach it are known; the proper role for the agency professional is known; how best to educate employers and the rest of the sighted public about blindness is known; and it is also well known that certain existing agency practices hurt rather than help blind consumers and should, therefore, be eliminated. In other words, the solution has been tried and tested, and it works! (Since my views on this topic appear in the article, "What We Can Expect from a Commission for the Blind," I shall not repeat them here.)
I went on to say, however, that, while describing the ideal agency for the blind is not difficult at all, a different question is very real and very difficult--"How can we get the professionals who run the agencies to listen to the blind and to accept and understand the information which already exists? And after that how can we get them to use this previously tested and proven knowledge in the agencies which they administer?"
At this point our discussion shifted from the ideal agency topic to the question of "consumer input," and ultimately I presented an analogy which, while a bit fanciful, is instructive:
Let us suppose, I said, that we have a group of doctors (obstetricians) who have decided to gather the best available data on the topic of the techniques and medications most effective for childbirth: general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, prepared child birth, underwater birth, or something else.
Suppose further that these doctors truly wish to provide the best possible care and treatment for their patients. And, finally, suppose that they are a remarkable bunch who are completely objective and open minded--no bias, no prejudice, no vested interests to protect, no axes to grind, no political agenda clouding the discussion, no pseudo science to be defended, and no fragile egos (with their accompanying feelings of superiority and condescension). Wouldn't it be a joy to encounter this group?
This enlightened, if unusual, group would have various choices to make in determining how best to acquire the desired knowledge. First, they could simply decide to discuss the issue among themselves and reach a consensus, or they could be democratic and take a vote. But this process would give only a limited view based upon their own attitudes and experience.
Of course, they could put the question to the professors in their medical schools. But, while some new thinking might be forthcoming, for the most part this would be the same old stuff, since the college professors would be the very people who had taught them and who had, therefore, given the doctors their current information and attitudes.
One forward-looking doctor might say, "Well, then, let's
ask the man on the street." To which another doctor, probably a woman,
might reply, "Why ask men? They haven't had babies! They actually don't
know the first thing about it! I think we should ask women!"
After some discussion some member of this enlightened group would see the next logical step and say, "But you can't just ask any woman, since not all women have had babies! No, I think that the only really valid source of information will be those women who have had babies and can discuss their actual experiences."
It might take a little time and discussion to move beyond this plateau and to arrive at the final point in this chain of logical thought. But, ultimately, the real thinker in the group, probably the woman, would say, "As I think about it, I don't believe it would be enough simply to raise our question with women who, while they have had babies and received our services, remain isolated. As individuals many women who have had babies still have never really had the opportunity to think about what is best--they only know about what has happened to them. They may have no familiarity with the methods and procedures which they have not experienced. Many times, because of their limited experience, such women would not even be aware of the various techniques which have been developed and tried by other doctors and other women in other places."
At this point we might have the final breakthrough. Another doctor might say, "I think I've got it! If we really care about what is best for our patients, we can't just sit here and decide among ourselves by taking a vote; we can't seek advice from men; we can't seek the opinions of women who have never had babies; and we can't even turn to just any women who have had them! The solution for us is to find a group of women who have borne children and who have also seen fit to join together with others to discuss the variety of issues concerned with motherhood and childbearing. By bringing together those women who have experienced a variety of procedures and techniques into a group where the issue is freely and openly discussed and debated, a body of knowledge would surely exist based upon the best thinking of those who have experienced our services in the past and who have seen fit to join together for concerted action. This group would surely know best what services our patients bearing children need and deserve."
Another doctor might wrap it up by saying, "Well, you are all aware of the existence of the National Federation of Mothers Concerned with Childbearing. They have been around since 1940, but I have always been told that they are too militant and that I shouldn't pay much attention to what they have to say--after all, it has been pretty generally understood in the field that they are just women who have had babies, not professionals like us, so what could they possibly know? But I've got to tell you that, after our discussion here today, I'm all for talking to those organized women! I'm convinced that they could give us reliable data."
End of analogy; end of parable; end of parallel.
In no way am I suggesting that blind people who receive services from state agencies are patients needing doctors. Far from it! We are simply ordinary, normal human beings who happen to be blind and who may be in need of effective training if we are to achieve success and full participation in the ordinary pursuits of life.
What I am suggesting with this parallel is simple--as it is
with expectant mothers, so it is with the blind. If you are the professional
who has an honest desire to provide the best possible assistance to the greatest
number of blind people you serve and who really wishes to know what is best,
you will not simply discuss the issue of quality or ideal services in a vacuum.
Nor will you try to find all of the answers in a meeting of professionals. You
will not seek your counsel from college professors or from sighted persons on
the street who have no knowledge or experience of issues concerning blindness.
You will not seek your counsel from persons who, while they are blind, have
never been the recipients of independent living or rehabilitation services for
the blind, and you will not put much stock in the advice which you might receive
from those blind people who have received services but who are limited, isolated,
and totally lacking in broad knowledge and experience. If I don't know what
services other blind people have had, if I don't know what happens in other
states, if I don't even know what can be done under the law, what possible value
can my opinions have?
No, if you truly have an open mind and an honest desire to acquire the best possible information about services for the blind, you will go to the source possessing a vast body of knowledge based upon actual experience and the pooled and distilled wisdom and thinking of thousands of blind people. You will seek out the organized blind.
The information about the ideal agency for the blind exists, and it works. Wouldn't it be a tremendous breakthrough in the field of work with the blind if we were to encounter a remarkable group of rehabilitation professionals like those enlightened doctors in my analogy-completely objective and open-minded, no biases, no prejudices, no vested interests, no axes to grind, no political agenda, no pseudo science, and no fragile egos.
I suppose it will be a long time before those of us who are blind will have the opportunity to encounter such a remarkable group--at least, as a group. However, we must be gratified in the knowledge that more and more individuals involved professionally in work with the blind are coming to see the light and to know the truth.
So who are the experts who should counsel the professionals? Why, they are the blind, the organized blind, the National Federation of the Blind!
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Heather Harmon]
Blind, 88, and On the Rocks
by Heather Harmon
From the Editor: If one convention speaker could have been
said to steal the show at the 1996 NFB Convention, it was Heather Harmon. She
charmed her audience on Thursday afternoon, July 3, with her lively personality
and unassuming sense of humor. Having lived a life filled with travel and intellectual
stimulation, she thought her life had virtually ended with her sudden blindness
at the age of eighty-six. Characteristically for her, she decided to start reading
about what had happened to her, and in doing so, she discovered the National
Federation of the Blind. The rest is the story she told that afternoon. Here
There is always a question about where to begin a story--because my story is true. But one must set
parameters. Alice, when she went to Wonderland, learned the answer from the walrus. He said to her, "Alice, do you have a story?"
She said, "Of course, I have a story."
"Well tell it."
"The problem is where to begin," She said.
The walrus said, "Well you begin at the beginning, and when you get to the end, you stop." So I'm going to set parameters. We're going to begin the day I became blind. That was two years ago, very rapidly, unexpected too. And we're going to stop as of today.
When I became blind, I immediately cast around for something to do. One must have a career of some kind. I couldn't find anything. The car was gone from the garage; I couldn't get a license to drive it. I couldn't work in the garden because I couldn't tell a flower from a weed. I could not read the piano scores. I could not read the organ scores. What about Shakespeare? What about the opera? I had a house full of books, and I couldn't read them. What to do? I couldn't even go for a walk, because I was timid about crossing the street. I thought, "I'm going to end up an unidentifiable mass of bones and blood." So I didn't know what to do.
My friends were still my friends. They were the same people, but after a while, when they also realized that my condition was irreversible, they thought they should step in--invade my privacy--and tell me what to do. They did preposterous stuff. We've all been through this haven't we? Preposterous! Then, when we don't do what they want, what do they do? They pity us. Well, I thought this sort of thing was too insidious. It was creeping up on me. I was becoming very dependent, not capable of doing a single thing, so I thought, I must take matters into my own hands. I called my travel agent. I said, "I understand you are planning a trip to Fez. I want to go."
"Oh," she said, "Wonderful. Wait a minute; I'll punch you into the computer." She did. She said, "Any changes over there, the same thing?"
I said, "Exactly the same--Oh, except that I'm blind."
She said, "In that case you can't go. It would be impossible."
Now, to quote Shakespeare--and Shakespeare has a quote for everything--My life was "at sixes and sevens." It was finished. One of the things I enjoyed was the cassettes from the Library of Congress. I had requested a report of a multi-national meeting in 1993 of blind organizations in Toronto. It was a long report, very interesting. (I didn't know this sort of thing was going on. The countries on this planet are getting together to help us. I didn't know that was happening. It was very exciting.)
Before the tape was over, there was another thing that really intrigued me. It was a story about a little boy who was blind, and he was put in the blind school. Now I knew all about this because in Canada as children we had studied Charles Dickens, and we knew these places. We knew that children ate from trestle tables. They ate out of wooden bowls with wooden spoons. Poor Kenneth. We knew all about that. Well, I just loved the story. It was sad, but there was a lot of humor in it too. At the end of the tape there was a name and an address. I wrote to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. [applause] I thought, what a beautiful life. If that Kenneth is this little Kenneth, he is making a beautiful life. We can be proud of him and are grateful to him.
I wrote the letter, and a few weeks later I had a telephone call. The caller identified herself as Pat Maurer. She said she was from the Federation. I said that I was so glad she had called because I would like to know about your Federation. Well, she said that she would like to send me some information, and she did. One of the things she sent to me was a Kernel Book. I read it. It was beautiful. It was the Kernel Book that did it. I called her back. I said, "Pat, this is fascinating. I did not know all this was going on."
She said, "What are you going to do?"
I said, "Well I thought I might get a modem so I could talk with the outside world."
She said, "Why don't you come down to see us? Our Mr. Ring has a room full of computers. He will help you." I thought that sounded great, so I said I'd do it. Then she said as an afterthought, "Come down for the Washington Seminar."
I said, "Great, I'll do that." So I did. That's another story. We're not going to touch on that one.
At the end of the last day of the seminar, we were rather late getting back to Baltimore. We were standing in the reception area, where the telephone switchboard is. I had just gotten my cane. Lorraine Rovig was standing there looking at me. I sensed that she was rather critical of me, but I didn't know what she was criticizing. I didn't ask her. Just then Scott LaBarre came in. He is our resident attorney. He had been with his peers all day long--and you know how tiring that can be! Lorraine said, "Scott, show Heather how to manage her cane. She doesn't know how." With all the graciousness in the world, as tired as he was, he instructed me. He hung in with it until he was sure that I knew how to manage it--very, very gracious.
Then Mrs. Thompson--Mrs. Thompson and I liked each other so much we thought we'd get related to each other, so I'm her grandmother. She's started something because all the children at the Center in Denver are now my grandchildren.
The next morning Pat said, "Let's talk." I said that I had five questions. The first four we settled easily. We both agreed on our answers. But the fifth one was about blindness skills. I didn't even know that term; I had never heard it. So we talked a little while, and she said, "Let's go across the hall." So we went across the hall and saw Marc, who happens to be her husband and our president. He talked for a little while. Then he picked up the phone and talked with someone he called Home--the author of the epics, you know. Well, after a while Marc said to me, "Pick up that phone over there. Homer will talk with you."
So I picked up the phone and I said, "Yes, Homer."
He said, "Yes, Heather, we have quarters for you if you can get here right away."
I said, "I'll do that." So I was there. I got there in time for a belated Valentine's Day party. The love in that place--the place was filled with so much love! It was palpable; you could feel it.
A few days later we had some very nice guests. Mary Ellen Jernigan came and Priscilla Hudson. We had a lovely conversation. One of the things that Mary Ellen mentioned to me was Walking Alone and Marching Together. I said that I didn't know anything about the book but that I would like to. So a few days later in the mail I got a package. You can guess what it was.
The teachings at the Center in Denver are on several levels. The student takes all the levels necessary to meet his or her needs. The first level, as I figured it out, is the level of cane travel. That's very important. We are taught to use our ears instead of our eyes. Then we come inside, and we are taught Braille. We learn to use the ends of our fingers instead of our eyes. We go to the talking computer, and it's much the same thing. That is one level. These are the compensatory skills. Compensation, that is a good word, an important idea.
Then there is another level of teaching at the Center. (The Center is very new, you know.) Diane McGeorge is there to help us. She intuitively knows what the students need to make progress. She knows what we need, and she is capable of giving it to us. She gives it to us without our even asking.
That is another level of teaching--teaching the art of living. If you want to change the "l" in that word to a "g" that makes it giving, and that's what she does. Without saying a word, she teaches us the art of living and the art of giving.
There is yet another level of teaching, and that is something I discovered from a book its author titled Transcendence. The author is the second director of the Colorado Center. Diane was the first director. I like that word--transcendence. I like the prefix t-r-a-n-s. It suits well this age we are living in, the age of quantum physics. The author is Dr. Homer Page. I marvel at the great economy of words in his book. The search he must have made for words of great meaning makes me think of Abraham Lincoln and Gettysburg. Every word in that book means something. I've gotten permission to quote loosely from this book. It is just a few lines, but they bear thinking about. "My blindness is a great source of strength. I love more. I give more freely. I receive more graciously. My blindness is a source of great strength." Those are the words.
From those words we learn the art of living with ourselves. So you see in the beginning we master these compensatory skills. Then Diane comes along and teaches us the art of living. Finally we find the art of living with ourselves, knowing ourselves better. All this insight and experience came out of a Kernel Book. Would you believe it?
We're coming to the end of this story, and there is just one thing more. You remember the walrus? He said, "When you come to the end of the story, you stop." So I'm going to stop.
Vision Stimulation: Is the Tide Turning?
From the Editor: The following editorial first appeared in the January, 1997, POBC News and Views, a publication of the Parents of Blind Children Division of Colorado. Here it is:
Editorial: For many years the professionals in the field of visual impairment have held that visual skills could be taught--that children with impaired vision could be trained through focusing and tracking activities to use better any residual vision they might have. For just as many years the National Federation of the Blind has argued against this philosophy, believing that the time spent trying to stimulate the use of vision through therapy involving darkened rooms and flashing lights is better spent enriching the child and guiding him in the use of alternative techniques in visually based activities. But more than just a waste of time, the NFB has suggested that underlying such programs is an insidious implication that the better you see, the more valuable you are as a person. In a 1986 article from Future Reflections, (Vol. 5 No. 2, 1986; page 25) entitled, "Learning to Look," Barbara Cheadle wrote:
"Putting aside for the time the question of how valuable vision stimulation programs are (or could be) for the blind or low-vision child, there is a greater concern. Like drugs or a common kitchen knife, even useful educational tools can be turned into dangerous weapons that destroy instead of nurture."
Meanwhile, as recently as 1995, the National Association for the Parents of the Visually Impaired presented an article entitled, "Sensory Development, Vision, Focusing & Tracking." The article stated:
"Using his/her vision is a learned activity for the child who is visually impaired. It is not automatic, so you must teach your child that using his/her vision will be beneficial to him/her. For example, instead of handing your child a cookie, you should hold the cookie and ask the child to reach out and take it. That way, he/she is being rewarded for using his/her vision." (Awareness, Winter Issues, 1995, page 6)
What does such an approach teach the child? The child is rewarded for seeing the cookie and made to feel inadequate for failing to see it. The child is set up for failure and diminished self-esteem. Instead of valuing and appreciating the usefulness of alternative techniques, the child is being taught that it is better to do your best with whatever vision you have and hide your inability to see than to use a alternative technique of blindness.
We all agree that enriching the environment with color and shape is extremely important for a visually impaired child (as it is for any child), but enriching the environment and trying to teach visual skills are very different matters. It is dangerous to try to teach vision, for you have then placed a value on seeing versus not seeing which can have damaging psychological implications.
Happily, there is evidence that the vision professionals may be reevaluating their stand on the value of visual stimulation. A recent article published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (Vol. 90, No. 5, Sept-Oct, 1996) entitled "A Call to End Vision Stimulation Training" by Kay Ferrell, Ph.D. and D. William Muir, M.A., questions the efficacy of teaching visual perceptual skills.
"The cautions against using vision stimulation are significant. The main ones are 1) the research to support visual skills training is ambiguous at best; 2) the procedures violate the principle of normalization and diminish the self-esteem of children, families, and teachers; and 3) the training consumes time better devoted to instruction for real-life demands."
Ferrell and Muir also say: "Children may think that they are not good enough and that visual impairment is indeed a loss, rather than a learning characteristic requiring adaptation."
Dr. Ferrell and Mr. Muir are highly respected professors in the Division of Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado. However, it may take some time before their fellow professionals are willing to abandon what they have long considered best practice. At the very least one can hope that their students, future teachers of the blind and visually impaired, will be entering the professional ranks not as vision teachers, trying to teach vision, but as teachers of the blind and visually impaired. Thank you, Dr. Ferrell and Mr. Muir, for seeing the light and providing a beginning to the end of visual skills training.
[PHOTO: Julie Russell is standing, holding her cane, and wearing her Bards of Bohemia crown. CAPTION: Julie Russell]
Carnival Magic for a Federationist
by Julie A. Russell
From the Editor: The lead photographs in the March issue of
the Braille Monitor were of the Bards of Bohemia parade and ball at the
1997 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, in which Federationists took part.
Julie Russell of Louisiana was one of the maids in the Bards of Bohemia court.
Here is her account of that magical day:
Three blocks from any New Orleans parade route one can hear the crowd cheering, the bands playing, and the noise of Mardi Gras trinkets falling to the ground. At the parade one observes two groups of people: those in the parade and those scrambling for the trinkets and dancing to the music that beats like the heart of the city.
It was in January of 1997 that I discovered I was to be one of seven Federationists to ride in a Mardi Gras parade. I was to be a maid in the Royal Court.
I had heard hundreds of stories about riding in a parade in the dozen years I have lived in New Orleans but very few about being a member of a Royal Court. I asked friends, but few knew about the events of the Court. I knew it would be an extraordinary day, but I was not sure what form the surprises would take. During the next few weeks my excitement built as I gathered more and more information.
On February 10, 1997, I served as a maid in the Bards of Bohemia's Royal Court. Now I have my own thrilling story as part of one of the most exciting events on earth. Within the intricate structure of Mardi Gras Krewes lies the Royal Court. King, queen, captain, and maids are only a few of the titles that a handful of individuals prize so highly. "I have waited years to be a maid," said one maid. "First I was a page, then a junior maid, but this year is really it."
That Monday was a full day that will become one of my treasured memories. "Remember ladies, this is your day," said Captain Larry Smith at the day's inception. And it was. I met the other six maids at a rehearsal early Monday morning. Our day had been mapped out for us from the rehearsal of the presentation of the Royal Court all the way through to the breakfast served at midnight during a magic show. The day was packed with exciting events.
The rehearsal went well, learning where and when to curtsy to the other members of the Royal Court. My biggest worry, in common with the other women, was whether or not I was going to trip on my floor-length white gown as I climbed the stairs at the center front of the stage. Together we shared the fear of forgetting our roles or forgetting which song each of us was to march to. We were truly acting the part of maids in a royal court.
After rehearsal we rode to Commander's Palace, a world famous local restaurant, where the Queen's Luncheon was to be held. We opened our party favors, but more important, we received our crowns, which were to be worn for the remainder of the day. Throughout lunch we listened to the jazz band
and toasted one another and the Krewe, which had been rolling since 1932.
A television station came to the luncheon and interviewed me for the evening news on what it was like to be blind and in the Bard's Court. I do not think mine was a different experience from the other women's, but I am not sure if I conveyed that to the ABC reporter. My concerns were not unique to a blind person but characteristic of anyone in my position.
The interview with the journalist brought up a previously untouched topic, my blindness. As a result I felt that I should say something to my fellow maids. "A bunch of us from the National Federation of the Blind are in the parade," I said. "We show people that we can compete on an equal basis with everyone else." One maid said she had read an article in the Times-Picayune that morning about me,
referring to the piece that had run that morning and that was reprinted in the March issue of the Braille Monitor. I spent about five minutes answering questions before we moved on to other, more immediate topics, such as the ball to be held that night.
After the luncheon we raced back to the hotel for a toast to the King and Queen with all the other riders. We then awaited limousines to bring us to our float some six miles away in Uptown New Orleans. Soon we were out in the wind, wondering how we would ever stay warm in the unexpected cold.
As we waited for the parade to roll, we organized our boxes
of throws and shared excited comments about the day. It was adrenaline that
kept us warm since the business suits we were instructed to wear on our float
offered little protection from the cold.
I had beads and cups to throw to the eager masses. Soon the wall of cheers engulfed all those who rode. The crowds desired any trinket, and I had many. The Mardi Gras throws are both prized and collected. Beads are pushed to the back of closets, and cups are stacked in high piles at the front of many kitchen cabinets.
The cups I threw bore the proud logo of the National Federation of the Blind, complete with our address. I showed one to the maid next to me. "You are not what I think of when I think of blind people," she said.
Before I could ask her why, a mother of a blind eight-year-old, came to my float. She had seen the article in the paper that day. I invited her to our next chapter meeting. She had come in from an area called Violet, far from the beginning of the parade, just so she and her son could see me on the float as we began to roll.
Another reporter came onto the float. She had seen the article in the paper. She and her cameraman filmed a small piece and rode with me for a few blocks before dropping back to the float which held other Federationists.
The parade itself is beyond description. We threw Mardi Gras merchandise to the screaming mobs, up to ten people deep. Again and again I heard, "Hey Misses, throw me something!" Many of these people now drink from a plastic cup that bears the National Federation of the Blind's logo and address. Unlike the maid next to me, when they think of blind people, perhaps they will think of the National Federation of the Blind.
Less than half an hour after the parade halted at the end of Canal Street, the maids congregated with the rest of the Royal Court behind the stage in the ballroom. Long white gowns hid the tennis shoes of the two smart women among us. We all laughed nervously with one another.
Soon we were lined up with our escorts to walk pair by pair down the center of the room in a bright spotlight. My escort had to be on my right--the hand with which I usually cane, so I transferred the cane to my left. I am pleased to report that no one suggested I leave it behind.
I represented the "world of the circus" that night. When my song began, I started my walk, curtsied four times, then took my position on-stage.
I stood with the other members of the sixty-fifth Royal Court; our theme was the world of entertainment. Finally we marched down the stage in the Grand March with confetti cannons sprinkling the ballroom.
What that final reporter had had trouble understanding was that my enjoyment of the day was no different from anyone else's. I cannot remember what I thought about the blind and how they enjoyed things before I became blind myself. What I do know now is that my blindness defines neither my activities nor the manner in which I enjoy them.
I was lucky, though. I met the National Federation of the Blind soon after losing my sight. Finding an environment in which I could continue to dream and learn the skills to pursue those dreams has made all the difference in my life. The training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind allows me not only to continue my life but to push onward into unknown areas, such as Royal Courts.
Without the news article and the two TV reporters my day would have been identical to that of the other maids. Today we need to broadcast news like this so that even more people will know about the Federation. But won't it be a grand day when a blind person in a carnival parade is not newsworthy?
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Curtis Chong]
More About Braille Remote Learning
From the Editor: In the March,
1997, issue we reprinted an exchange of correspondence which had first appeared
in the Winter, 1997, edition of Computer Science Update, a publication of the
National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, an NFB division. It was
between Curtis Chong, division president, and Robert Gotwals, a computational
scientist with a strong commitment to Braille literacy and an interest in determining
whether or not it is possible to teach Braille on the Internet. The intended
audience was to be students working to become teachers of blind children and
those intending to qualify as transcribers.
The problem was that blind people can and do obtain certification in both these fields, and from what anyone could tell there would be no way for a blind person to access the Web pages where the course materials were to be located. It was necessary to use a graphical Web browser, and so far there is no way for a person using speech access or a refreshable Braille display to use such a browser. Poor Mr. Gotwals must have thought that the very hounds of Hell were after him when the e-mail messages of complaint began. Curtis tried to put the entire matter into perspective for him and to suggest that it would be advisable to warn people up front that the intended audience, at the moment, at least, was sighted Braille students. He assured Mr. Gotwals that the experiment he was conducting was important and everyone wished him well because we certainly do need competent Braille teachers who are excited about the code.
As often happens in such exchanges, misunderstandings occurred, which one hopes have now been resolved. Mr. Gotwals and his colleagues are to be commended for their commitment to teaching Braille and for their intensive efforts to make their Website as accessible as possible. In an attempt to make the current situation as clear as possible, we print here an exchange of correspondence between Robert Gotwals and Curtis Chong that took place between April 21 and 23. Here it is:
April 21, 1997
From: Bob Gotwals <email@example.com>
Subject: March Braille Monitor
Saw your article in the March, '97, Braille Monitor. I'm a little disappointed that nowhere was it stated that the course is and has been accessible since day one. When you and I were having our conversations, the materials were in development, and we expected to not be able to have them readily accessible in time for the initial testing of the materials.
We were able to get them ready, in spite of the fact that we did so at our own expense. Your comment "What I do know is that in its present form Braille Remote Learning is not accessible to the blind--nor is it meant to be" is therefore in error. Have you looked at the pages?
If you wish to chat about this, I can be reached at e-mail or at (919) 490-1626. We are both interested in increasing the awareness and literacy levels of Braillists, especially folks capable of providing that skill. Are you helping or hurting that goal? Want my opinion?
Robert R. Gotwals, Jr.
The Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.
Computational Science Educator
Durham, North Carolina
(919) 286-1911 (V/TDD) Fax 286-7876
The next day Curtis Chong replied to this memo. When Mr. Gotwals received Curtis's letter, he made comments throughout the text. Here is Curtis's letter with the Gotwals interpolations printed in italics:
April 22, 1997
From: Curtis Chong <Chong99@concentric.net>
To: Bob Gotwals <firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: March Braille monitor
I am sorry that you were disappointed by what appeared in the March edition of the Braille Monitor regarding Braille Remote Learning. The information I had when the article was written was that the course would not initially be usable by somebody who could not see pictures of Braille output on the screen. As far as I am aware, this is still correct. If you have information to the contrary and if you have made additional efforts to make the course accessible to the blind over the Internet, please do provide me with that information. If I was wrong, I will certainly work to see that a correction is printed in the Monitor.
I appreciate that there is often a delay in getting stuff published, and I am sure the Monitor is no different. Three months in the print world is actually quite fast. In the electronic publishing world, three months is an eternity.
The course is accessible, and has been since day one. We expended considerable resources to ensure that the course was accessible to all users. We had to take that time away from other Braille development work, but we were glad we were able to make the materials available. As I had mentioned before, we had proposed that the accessibility work be done after the materials had been developed, the bugs had been worked out, and the courses were ready for production. Having to do it sooner rather than later did make our task more difficult, but we are grateful for the visually-impaired folks who are actively participating; they are providing substantial assistance to our efforts.
I hope you realize that I can only work with the facts I have in hand. I still do not have any information that would indicate that Braille Remote Learning is a tool that is usable directly by blind persons on the Internet. This does not detract from the value of the course as a learning tool for Braille transcribers. God knows we need more of them.
I would have hoped that you or someone from the Monitor might have checked. Again, my guess is that the scenario of events was that you submitted your article in December after our e-mail exchanges, then did not see the article again until it hit the streets. I was mostly disappointed that no one bothered to ask. It's not like I'm hard to locate. The pages are also easily accessible, and any page that uses graphics says "Text Version" at the very top of each page. We've checked pages using Lynx and have run a number of pages through some of the few accessibility checkers, such as Bobby.
I think that with the facts I had, my presentation in the Monitor was fair and balanced. I understand and respect that you may not see things that way. I have not said, nor do I intend to say, to anyone that Braille Remote Learning is a project without value. It most certainly has value. However, as I said in my article, I do not know whether a blind person can really learn Braille if auditory output is the only means by which information is provided. Other material needs to be available, e.g., hard-copy Braille samples, refreshable Braille, etc.
That's part of the experiment. We're doing this work partly because we are scientists and partly because we're trying to provide a service. We won't know if this delivery system will meet a variety of Braille literacy needs until we do the experiment. The course actually was never intended to teach Braille to visually-impaired folks, but if we can figure out how to make that happen, we'll do so. We don't do anything in terms of reading readiness, i.e., tactile discrim exercises, etc. We've toyed with providing Duxbury files that folks can download, but there has not been lots of demand for the ones we have made available.
I had thought that we had ended our correspondence on a fairly positive note. I am sure you thought so as well. I regret that what appeared in the Monitor did not meet with your approval. However, without additional information, my comments still stand.
Me too. I didn't even know about the article until I got several pieces of e-mail from folks not even involved in the program who saw it and weren't too happy. Some of the comments I received were not happy with the NFB. I chatted with Allison Scheuermann at the NFB and conveyed my impressions. The article did suggest at the beginning that the conversations were friendly, but there was still sort of a negative overtone to the article. We can't do the experiment of investigating online Braille instruction without students, including visually impaired ones. Anything that discourages that community from participating takes the opportunity out of our hands.
I don't want to suggest that the journalism was irresponsible, but perhaps it could have been a little tighter.
I like to think we're both on the same side, and both want the same thing. I certainly don't mind criticism. That's how things get better. However, I have little patience with criticism that is unwarranted. My students know that I've been at the receiving end of lots of comments, and we've worked hard to fix what they have suggested. All in all, however, we think things are going pretty well.
Curtis Chong, President
NFB in Computer Science
and to you! Thanks for your reply.
PS. I'd encourage you to submit this conversation as well. Ask Barbara not to wait three months, however, to publish it! She also might want to solicit the opinions of the 80 or so folks currently participating in the program. E-mail to Braille-shodor.org will reach all participants, program staff, and observers.
Robert R. Gotwals, Jr.
The Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.
Computational Science Educator
The following day another exchange of correspondence took place. Again Curtis wrote a letter, which Mr. Gotwals returned with comments interspersed throughout it. Here is the letter with Mr. Gotwals's comments italicized:
April 23, 1997
From: Curtis Chong <Chong99@concentric.net>
To: Bob Gotwals <email@example.com>
Subject: March Braille Monitor
I have been giving considerable thought to our exchange of correspondence over the last two days, and I must tell you that I am trying very hard not to come away from that exchanged feeling annoyed and more than a bit put out with the way in which you have chosen to deal with me. In all of my communications with you, I have tried to engender good will.
Moreover, I have encouraged members of the National Federation of the Blind to support your efforts instead of dogmatically insisting that Braille Remote Learning be 100 percent accessible at the outset.
I actually think (or perhaps thought) that we were on the same page. As you have no evidence that our stuff is accessible, I have no evidence that you've been encouraging support, but I'll take you at your word!
Do you remember the bashing you took when you first announced the project? Many people criticized the work you were doing because participants were required to use a graphical web browser. One of the things you said in defense of your work was this:
This Braille ed program is, by the way, part of a larger VI masters degree program that is being developed at North Carolina Central University. The idea is to make a large part of that program accessible over the net, and the Braille course is the first test of that concept. We sure would like
a chance to make it work....again, if there is a demand that the effort be made to ensure 100 percent accessibility in the experimental phase, we can pretty much ensure that the experiment will fail.
Yep. And as initially designed, it was pretty much inaccessible. We did a re-design (to some degree) and spent much more time up front looking at making it accessible than we had planned at that stage of the project.
Under the terms of the grant, we were not funded nor committed to accessibility that early on, but I felt, especially after conversations with you and others, that it was important to do things earlier rather than later. But what if technologically it had been difficult to do so, and the insistence had continued? What would have been our options? Were we willing to risk a lawsuit under ADA or some other statute to continue to do the work? I seriously doubt that my board of directors or executive director would have supported our continuance of this work if that had been the case. You as a computer scientist understand that the technology doesn't always maintain pace with desires, dreams, wishes, and best intentions. As it is, our technical solution is adequate, but that's probably all I can say for it. Fortunately, other people are looking hard at the accessibility issue of Internet resources, and we hope to be the beneficiaries of their labors. We're not charged with that end of the technology.
I interpreted this to mean that during the initial phases of the project your attention would be focused
primarily on making the program work as opposed to making it fully accessible to blind Internet users. After all, I reasoned, the program was aimed primarily at transcribers and teachers. Hence, when I wrote to you, I was trying to clarify our position that accessibility by the blind to your project was, for us, a secondary concern. In short, I was trying to mitigate some of the criticism you were receiving.
That was the original intent of the program. I didn't get the sense that it was your position that accessibility was a secondary concern...I'll certainly go back and re-read correspondence, but I'm not sure that position came through...
If you recall, one of the recommendations I made was this: "I think it is important that your promotional materials clarify that Braille Online is not now accessible to the blind. You might even take this notion a step further and clarify that the target audience for the program consists of sighted people who will be teaching or producing Braille."
Your response to this recommendation was a simple "Done." You raised no objection to the statement that "Braille Online is not now accessible to the blind."
And, again, we changed that position. When you and I were conversing in December, that was a true statement. When the course was opened in January, it was not. Christmas holiday wasn't!
Since that time I have received no word from you--no e-mail, no phone call, nothing. Moreover, none of my colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind reported reading anything from you on any Internet mailing list about any change in emphasis for the project. Based on all of the information I had in my possession, there was no reason for either me or the editor of the Braille Monitor to do any
further checking. Exactly what should we have done differently? I would have thought that you, knowing that I lead a national organization of blind people dealing with computer access issues, would have taken the trouble to let me know that a significant effort had been made to make your course accessible to blind people. Certainly, if you had written to me, I would have done everything possible to change the article which ultimately appeared in the Monitor.
Guess we're both at fault. For my part, if I had known our e-mail correspondence was being published, I would have taken the steps to ensure that authors/editors were aware of changes. I had no idea that the article had been published (guess I gotta start reading the Monitor, huh?) until my mailbox exploded. For your part (or that of the editor), I guess I would have liked to have had someone contact me letting me know the stuff was going in, and/or have looked at the pages.
I take exception to your implied criticism of me and the National Federation of the Blind for the way in which we portrayed your program in the Braille Monitor. You say that the journalism could have been tightened up a bit. Frankly, I don't see how. As far as we were concerned, all of our information was current.
As above. Again, three months is a long time in the Internet business, as I suspect you know as a computer science professional. On both of our parts two minutes worth of work would have completely removed all of this time (and bad feelings!) that we're spending on this conversation.
I hope that you will not misunderstand what I am saying here. I have no quarrel with the work you are doing. I am very glad that you and your colleagues have taken the time and effort to work on accessibility concerns. You should be commended for this effort. Because I believe that the work you are doing is important to the blind community, I would like to know more about what you have done to make it possible for blind users of the Internet to participate fully in your program. Those of us who are proficient Braille users are keenly interested to know how Braille (which is essentially a tactual experience) can be taught using speech output. I would also like to know the specific actions you took to ensure accessibility to the project during the early stages.
Thanks for those words, and again I think (or hope) we're on the same page of Braille! We don't know if it will work either; that's what we're trying to find out! If it works, we'll extend and publish. If it doesn't, we'll publish why not. Again, we're hoping that the work of others to improve the accessibility of Web pages will have an impact on what we're doing. If not, we'll forge our own path as best we can!
Please be assured that all of this correspondence is being forwarded to Barbara Pierce, Editor of the Braille Monitor. Moreover, if you supply me with more specific information about how the program is accessible to the blind today, I will send that along as well.
Appreciate that extra effort. Simply, any page that has any kind of graphics on it (examples, sentences, exercises, etc.) has a text version that is the first link on the page. Other images have the appropriate "alt" tags embedded. We're encouraging as many visually impaired students as we can, as much as we're encouraging any participation--we've advertised to two or three listservs and have plenty of participants.
That's not to say we don't want more, but beginning this summer we'll complete some evaluation work and then promote the course more aggressively.
In closing, I would like to say that you and I should communicate with each other more often and under better circumstances. I think that both of us can do a lot to improve our relationship. I will always endeavor to ensure that the information I send to the Braille Monitor about your work is complete and accurate. I don't have a lot of time to read the hundreds of messages per day generated by the many blindness-related mailing lists. So please understand that anything you distribute to those lists will probably not be seen by me unless somebody happens to forward a particular item to me. Therefore, I trust that you will continue to keep me informed about the work you are doing by writing to me personally.
Will do. Likewise, it's hard to keep up with the listservs.
Robert R. Gotwals, Jr.
Computational Science Educator
The Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.
Editor's postscript: In an e-mail exchange of my own with Mr. Gotwals in early May, I told him that I intended to publish his comments and Curtis's responses. I also explained that, when articles are reprinted in the Braille Monitor from affiliate or division publications, I do not as a rule conduct further research or interviews. In his response to me he did not add anything more to what he had already said to Curtis. We both ended with complimentary statements about the efforts the other was making to improve matters for blind people. We can all hope that both parties are successful.
This month's recipes were submitted by
members of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Margie Watson]
by Margie Watson
Margie Watson is an active member of
the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. Her daughter Katie is a vivacious
and confident member of the fifth generation of the Federation.
1 16-ounce box elbow macaroni
2 small cans little shrimp
1 rib celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Method: Cook elbow macaroni according
to package directions; drain. Rinse shrimp in cold water, drain. Add salt, pepper,
celery, and onions. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add mayonnaise and mix together.
Hot Chili Bean and Corn Salad
by Margie Watson
2 16-ounce cans hot chili beans, drained
3 cups frozen corn with red and green peppers
4 medium ribs celery, thinly sliced (include leaves)
1/2 cup picante sauce
fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
Method: Combine beans, corn, celery,
and picante sauce. Set out at room temperature one hour before serving. To serve
immediately, defrost corn in microwave. Cook on high for half of recommended
cooking time or cook in boiling water according to package directions. Drain
and cool slightly before adding to salad. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves
No-Egg Butterscotch Cake
by Mary Sheire
Melvin and Mary Sheire are new members
of the NFB of Wisconsin. Melvin is the chairman of the scholarship committee.
Mary is an excellent cook.
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup butterscotch chips
Method: Mix flour, sugars, and butter
in a bowl. Remove 1/2 cup of mixture and set aside. Add vanilla and milk. Stir
in remaining ingredients. Mix well. Pour into 9-by-13-inch pan. Place butterscotch
chips on top and sprinkle over cake the cup of butter mixture you set aside.
Bake forty minutes at 350 degrees.
by Mary Sheire
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
dash of salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Method: Prepare cake mix according to
package directions. Mix until smooth. In a separate bowl mix cream cheese, egg,
sugar, chocolate chips, and salt. Fill muffin trays 3/4 inch full of cake batter.
Pour one tablespoon of filling in the center of each muffin. Bake fifteen to
eighteen minutes at 350 degrees. Store muffins in refrigerator.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Bonnie Peterson]
Chocolate Chip Cookies
by Bonnie Peterson
Bonnie Peterson is the President of the
National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin.
1 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups chocolate chips
2 to 3 cups very finely chopped walnuts
Method: Cream butter and sugar in a bowl.
Add eggs and vanilla, stir or beat until creamy. Add flour, salt, and baking
soda. Mix well. Fold in walnuts. Add chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoonfuls
onto lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for ten minutes.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Bill Meeker and Cheryl
by Bill Meeker
Bill Meeker and Cheryl Orgas are leaders
of the Wisconsin affiliate. Bill reports that this chicken recipe
is Bonnie Peterson's favorite way of preparing chicken. Bonnie agrees and says that she bought her husband a grill identical to Bill's in the hope that he could replicate this chicken. But so far Bill is the only one who does it to perfection.
One grill with separate firebox and smoking chambers
at least 5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 or 2 bottles of Gates Bar-B-Q sauce (may be ordered by calling (816) 923-0900 with your Visa or MasterCard number or writing Gates Bar-B-Q, 4621 Paseo, Kansas City, Missouri 64110)
Method: Preheat grill to 350 degrees
using charcoal and one apple wood log or other wood of choice. Sear chicken
over fire for two minutes. (I use a long-handled wire grill basket in order
to sear a number of pieces at once and turn them at the same time.) As chicken
is seared, throw it into a large bowl containing the sauce and let it sit several
minutes. Remove chicken from bowl and place in smoking chamber. Pour excess
sauce from bowl over chicken in smoking chamber. Cook forty-five minutes or
until done. (This varies with amount of chicken and fire temperature. A grill
with a thermometer helps.) With experience you will be able to judge the correct
heat of the smoker by feeling the outside of the smokestack or the body of the
smoking chamber or the smoke coming out of the stack. Don't worry if you don't
have a thermostat or a meat thermometer. When cooked, remove chicken from smoker
and enjoy. Note: I use either heavy leather gloves or welding gloves to handle
wire baskets and to adjust the fire, consuming one bottle of Wisconsin seasonal
beer during cooking. If you don't want to sear the meat, try marinating it in
sauce from four hours to two days. Experiment with variations of your own as
I did. It's hard to go too far wrong with a smoker.
by Cheryl Orgas
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 sticks butter
Method: Mix all ingredients until dough is sticky and firm. Pat into standard pie pan. Place in preheated 350 degree oven for fifty minutes. Let cool before cutting. These cookies are simple to make but delicious.
New Web Services Available:
The Greater San Antonio Chapter of the
National Federation of the Blind of Texas is pleased to announce the start-up
of its World Wide Web Site. You can visit us at http://www.txdirect.net/users/sdyer/nfb/
As a service to the blind community part of this site will contain a list of
Braille transcription groups. In the short time we have had the site online,
we have posted a number of interested individuals and Braille-producing organizations
on our site. The best part is that the service is free.
Part of this site is also a bulletin board where blind people who wish to post their resumes on the World Wide Web can do so free of charge. You need not be a member of the NFB in order to avail yourself of this service. Supplementary material in the form of task descriptions (information detailing how you have done or will do the job you are seeking), photographs, midi files, audio files, or film clips with a maximum length of 30 seconds are welcome, and we will post them as disk space permits. You could also send us the URL of the site where this material resides so we can link to it. Our only other requirements are that your audio or video material be directed toward getting a job and that it be in good taste (something that everyone can enjoy).
If you would like to list your business or your resume on our site, please send the information to us in an ASCII, Microsoft Word 6.0, or HTML file on a 3.5-inch diskette. We will put you on the web as quickly as possible. You can e mail us at pdonahue-texas.net Our postal mailing address is Peter Donahue, Secretary, Greater San Antonio Chapter, National Federation of the Blind of Texas, 100 Lorenz Road, Apt. 1205, San Antonio, Texas 78209, phone, (210) 554-9454. Please leave us a message, and we will return your call. We hope these services will benefit you. The San Antonio Chapter looks forward to serving you.
Braille Music Transcription Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Dancing Dots specializes in Braille music transcription. Their software-based service is much, much quicker than traditional methods. Dancing Dots can transcribe a printed score or your MIDI or Lime notation files. Contact them for details, a rate schedule, and an order form. In most cases your Braille music will be returned to you in two weeks or less.
The translator has been designed to provide music Braille that conforms to the standards set by the Music Committee of the Braille Authority of North America. Send your print score, Lime notation file, or MIDI file. They will use GOODFEEL to convert these files to music Braille. They will input print scores into the Lime notation editor and then translate the resultant Lime file using GOODFEEL. Transcriptions can be returned as embossed Braille or as an ASCII text file. All first-time orders will receive a discount.
$3.25 per Braille page transcribed from computer files, $4.75 per Braille page transcribed from print score, $3 minimum handling charge per order, $20 per hour rate for set up (prorated to the quarter hour, typically fifteen to thirty minutes). $2 per volume, optional binding fee, $.75 per page for additional copies. Written estimate provided for large jobs.
For more information contact Dancing Dots, 130 Hampden Road, Third Floor, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania 19082-3110, (610) 352-7607, fax (610) 352-4582, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org URL: http://www.netaxs.com/~ddots
Lois Montgomery, Secretary of the Bix Beiderbecke Chapter of the NFB of Iowa, reports her chapter's election of new officers. They are Deb Smith, President; Mary Hartle Smith, Vice President; Lois Montgomery, Secretary; Mike Smith, Treasurer; and Teresa Gregg, Board member.
Children's Books in Braille Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The following books are available in Braille from the Louis Braille Center: A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, $10; Winnie-the-Pooh, $15; The House at Pooh Corner, $18; and When We Were Very Young, $10; all by A.A. Milne. Ask for a free catalog in Braille or print. Please note our new address is Louis Braille Center, 320 Dayton Street, Suite 125, Edmonds, Washington 98020 3590. Phone (206) 776-4042, fax (206) 778-2384, e-mail: lbc email@example.com
Useful Audio Tapes Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
For people who find conventional explanations of computer operation or the Internet bewildering, there is good news now in the form of a two-cassette audio package that can make the basic concepts and terms of computers and the Internet understandable to virtually anyone. Internet Explained--Short & Sweet, new in September, '95, is for people who want to understand what the Internet phenomenon is all about, whether they choose to become cybernauts or not. This often humorous one-hour audio tape explains the Internet concept in terms clearly understandable to the non techie. $12.95.
60 Minutes Towards Computer Literacy makes basic computer concepts and terms understandable to virtually anybody through a series of non-technical, non-threatening, and highly imaginative analogies to which everyone can relate. Praised and recommended by publications such as PC Novice, Home Office Computing, Library Journal, Modern Office Technology, and Law Practice Management. Used by thousands of individuals, business and professional offices, libraries, schools, and governmental agencies, $12.95.
To order, call BusinessFilm International at (800) 260 7717, fax (203) 968-2255, or write 1397 Hope St., Stamford, Connecticut 06907.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
For sale, Braille 'n Speak, Classic, without calculator, used very little, in good condition with carrying case, line cords, tape tutorials, manual, Braille cord book. $600 or best offer.
Contact Phil Copeland at (216) 324-2520 or (216) 365 7970, or write to 110 Indiana Avenue, Elyria, Ohio 44035.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Peggy Chong]
Useful Chapter Project:
Peggy Chong, President of the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota, reports that her chapter took time during its March meeting to tell each other about products and services they had found useful. They then compiled Braille and print lists and distributed them at the April meeting. Very few of the products or services had anything to do with blindness, yet they were useful alternatives that many of the chapter members did not know about.
It all started when one chapter member wanted to visit relatives over Thanksgiving in a small Minnesota town. But she could not get a Greyhound bus there. After talking with the Chamber of Commerce in that town, she discovered a van service that would take her from the Minnesota/St. Paul Airport to the little town. She then passed that information on to other members of the chapter.
Soon more ideas were being shared. The list turned out to be six print pages long. It included transportation alternatives, grocery stores that deliver, the phone number for the movie information line, catalogs that carry talking items, transcribers in our area, a source for 5-by-7-inch Rolodex cards, and much more.
Peggy says, "Everyone got involved. It was a fun project for our chapter, and we learned a lot about our community."
Searching the Internet with AltaVista:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Now available from National Braille Press, The AltaVista Search Revolution: How to Find Anything on the Internet (three volumes), $18.99. Millions of users are already taking advantage of this powerful search engine-which also happens to be accessible with speech or Braille.
Perhaps you are plagued by a few words of what may be a song or a poem or a passage in a book. You don't know who wrote it or when. With AltaVista, you just enter the words you know, and it finds what you are looking for anywhere on the Internet. AltaVista is a web site, not a piece of software. If you have access to the Net, you have access to AltaVista.
Order from National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115 or call toll-free (800) 548-7323. Major credit cards accepted.
Reading on the Air:
WRBH is sponsoring a Braille-on-the-air week. WRBH is a non-profit radio station broadcasting twenty-four hours a day translating the written word into the spoken word. We read everything from the TV Guide to the daily newspaper; best sellers; our book of the month; and articles from various magazines, including the Braille Monitor.
If you would be interested in reading on the air, please contact the station for a copy of an audition page that you can read onto a cassette. Read in a clear voice and include your name, address, and phone number and send it to Diana S. Ahern, 3606 Magazine St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70115, or call (504) 899-1144 or (504) 888-5509.
This opportunity will do a lot to promote the use of Braille; and, who knows, some of you good readers may find a new career. We also include children, so submit your audition tapes.
Unabridged Audio Fiction Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Dercum Audio is a company producing quality unabridged audio fiction. Their offerings fall into five main genres: mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy, and classic literature. Authors in the collection include Dickens, Poe, Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, etc. Dercum Audio also has exclusive anthology collections, including four all new editions and the first ever audio edition of Ayn Rand's classic, Anthem. Dercum Audio is known for its quality recordings. These are now being further enhanced by digital re-mastering, so Dercum titles will sound better than ever. A new catalog of titles has just become available.
To order call (800) 327-5113 or check out the Web site: http://www.bookbase.com/dercum
The Greater San Diego Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California reports its April 1, 1997, results. The new officers are Brian Miller, President; Joseph Lopez, Vice President; James Lyons, Treasurer, Dominique Platero, Secretary; and John Miller and Ivan Weich, Board members.
Grant Award Made:
We recently received a press release announcing the following information:
Bayer Animal Health, a division of the Bayer Corporation, has awarded a grant to Ed and Toni Eames to continue their mission of educating veterinary students about the needs of clients with disabilities, particularly those partnered with guide, hearing, and service dogs. The grant will underwrite the costs of lecturing at six veterinary schools in 1997.
Ed Eames, Ph.D., and Toni Eames, M.S., are adjunct professors of sociology at California State University, Fresno. They have co-authored a book about guide dog training programs in the United States and Canada. Their publications as columnists for Dog World Magazine have earned them top awards from the Dog Writers Association of America. A number of these columns will appear in a book, Partners in Independence, to be published by Howell Book House in 1997.
In their endeavor to sensitize the veterinary community about disabled clients, Ed and Toni Eames have visited thirteen of the twenty-seven veterinary schools in the United States. Bayer's grant will enable them and their golden retriever guide dogs, Echo and Escort, to travel to programs not previously visited. It will also enable them to return to previously visited colleges where a new generation of students has enrolled.
Bayer Animal Health is pleased to make this grant as part of its mission of fostering the role of the veterinarian in enhancing the human/companion animal bond. Toni and Ed Eames can be contacted at 3376 North Wishon, Fresno, California 93703-4832, (209) 224-0544.
Alyce Bouy and Clint Hickman of the Pueblo Chapter of the NFB of Colorado, report the chapter's recent election of officers. They are Alyce Bouy, President; Clint Hickman, Vice President; Don Kayganich, Secretary; and Treva Bright, Treasurer. The Board members are Elaine Kayganich, Christine Daniels, and Mike Massey.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Donna Siebert, 1945 to 1997]
Sharon Gold, President of the NFB of Sacramento, writes: I am saddened to tell you that Donna Siebert passed away on April 1, 1997, from severe diabetic complications. In early 1980 I received a telephone call from Richard Edlund, who was then President of the NFB of Kansas. Dick told me that Donna and her husband Richard were moving to California, that they were active members of the Kansas affiliate, that Donna was a good NFB worker, and that I should meet her and put her to work as soon as they arrived in California. I did just that. Over the years Donna served on many NFB of California committees and as the Treasurer of our state affiliate. She was a leader in our Diabetic Chapter and the National Diabetic Division. She also served as the President and Treasurer of the NFB of Sacramento. For many years Donna made a weekly trip by light rail and bus from her home in Carmichael to the NFB of California office, where she prepared literally thousands of envelopes, cassette tapes, and other pieces of mail for the NFB of California. Donna's health began to fail several years ago, which forced her gradually to curtail many of her NFB activities; however, unless Donna was in the hospital, she and her husband Richard faithfully attended chapter meetings. While Donna's presence and faithfulness will be forever missed in the NFB, Rich continues to be active; in fact, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the NFB of Sacramento. Our condolences go to Rich in his sorrow.
Tandem Bike Rental at Yosemite:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The bicycle rental concession at Yosemite National Park has acquired a tandem bicycle for use by blind or visually impaired persons. You must provide your own sighted pilot. Since only one tandem is available at this time, advance reservations are strongly encouraged. For further information and reservations, contact Joe Alfano at (209) 372-1208.
Kurzweil Introduces a Free Demo Disk for Omni 1000 Software:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc. (KESI) announces the release of a demo disk for its Omni 1000 software. Now, anyone with the proper hardware can try the Omni 1000 free of charge and realize the benefits of this advanced PC-based reading system for people who are blind or visually impaired from Ray Kurzweil.
"Twenty years ago, I founded the reading technology industry with the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first print-to-speech reader," said Mr. Kurzweil, KESI Chairman and CEO. "Now KESI is reinventing reading technology with Omni 1000. We see opportunities to give people who are blind or visually impaired greater freedom, independence, and enjoyment by providing a reading system that is easy to use and more technologically advanced than any other product currently available."
A fully-functioning version of the actual software, the Omni 1000 demo disk will run for thirty minutes at a time for two full weeks. After that, it will automatically de install. Omni 1000 is the only system with a talking dictionary, document management capabilities, batch scanning, and the ability to read multi-column text easily. Additional features include highly accurate opticalcharacter recognition (OCR), twelve reading personalities, the clearest synthetic speech available, and voice commands.
Please note that for the demo to perform at its optimum level, the following hardware is required: a pentium processor, 32MB of RAM, 1.2GB of hard disk storage, a floppy drive, a CD-ROM drive, a 17-button keypad, a color scanner, speech synthesis, speakers, and a microphone.
For a free demo or more information about Omni 1000 and other leading-edge reading solutions for people with disabilities, contact KESI at 411 Waverley Oaks Road, Waltham, Massachusetts 02154, (800) 894-5374, and fax (617) 893-4157. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit KESI's Web site at www.kurzweiledu.com
Larry Povinelli, President of the Potomac Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, reports his chapter's April 9, 1997, election results. The new officers are Larry Povinelli, President; Seville Allen, First Vice President; Jerry Yeager, Second Vice President; Cathy Schroeder, Recording Secretary; Carol Cooper, Corresponding Secretary; and Bob Hartt, Treasurer. The Board members are Melissa Ressnick, Rajiv Shah, and Michael Reese.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Victor Gonzalez (left) stands with NFB of West Virginia President Ed McDonald (center) and Progressive Blind of Clarksburg Chapter President Jack McIntire (right).]
Forty Years of Board Service:
In March, 1997, the Clarksburg Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia celebrated its fortieth anniversary. The Board of Directors of the West Virginia affiliate is comprised of representatives from each chapter. In 1957 Victor Gonzalez was elected as the Clarksburg representative to the Board. He has served in that role ever since. In addition, he has held every elective office in the chapter and, since 1960, has chaired an NFB committee that meets regularly with the state agency serving the blind. Congratulations to Victor Gonzalez for a long and distinguished career of service in the West Virginia affiliate.