American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Convention 2016 AWARDS
Presented by James Gashel
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, August/September 2016, Volume 59, Number 8
James Gashel: Thank you, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. The presentation of the Jacob Bolotin Awards is a high honor that I have on behalf of this organization, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. A biography entitled The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story by Rosalind Perlman is a must-read for all of you. It really should go down among our Federation literature. It is available from the Independence Market. Get it, and read it by next year, okay?
Jacob Bolotin's story defines what it means to live the life you want. He was born in 1888, and he lived to be age thirty-six. But during that short life, he fulfilled his dream of becoming the first blind doctor--blind since birth. And he wasn't just a psychology doctor; he was a heart and lung doctor. Nothing wrong with psychology doctors, now, but this guy got right into it.
After graduating from the Illinois School for the Blind, Bolotin supported himself and his family as a door-to-door salesman in Chicago. He sold kitchen matches, brushes, and typewriters. The hours were long and the work was hard, but Bolotin persevered, and he even saved up enough money to put himself through medical school. There wasn't any vocational rehabilitation back then; there wasn't any section 504 or ADA back then. In the spirit of Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Jacob Bolotin was, in fact if not in name, a Federationist.
Supported in part by a bequest left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and by the National Federation of the Blind, the awards we give include money that each recipient will get. They also include an engraved plaque and a medallion. Here's the text on the plaque:
Presented to [name of the recipient] by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation
The text on the obverse side of the medallion suspended above the plaque says this: "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award" with our logo under that, and it says immediately below the logo, "Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." Now the reverse side of the medallion says "Dr. Jacob Bolotin," and then there's a depiction of his bust below that text. Below the bust are the years of his birth and death, with this text below: "Celebrating His Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
And now for the 2016 Bolotin Awards.
Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, ABLE started more than fifty years ago, mostly as a Braille transcription service, but audio services were added soon thereafter. In 2013 the service was further expanded to fill requests from teachers for more than just textbooks, including accessible Braille versions of daily math and science materials and Spanish and German materials for foreign language classes. Assessments, quizzes, and exams were included; books and short stories for literature classes are now included; and raised-line drawing of charts, graphs, and pictures are done by ABLE. With a sound studio that is now equipped for the NLS [National Library Service] program, ABLE now produces audio books by Wisconsin authors that are not included in the national NLS program. If you want to visit a museum exhibit that's accessible, visit Crossroads of Civilization at the Milwaukee Public Museum. It was made fully accessible by ABLE.
Meeting the standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, ABLE is providing services of the highest quality. Excellence is only the floor, not the ceiling at ABLE. Here to receive the award is Cheryl Orgas, executive director of ABLE.
Cheryl Orgas: Good afternoon. As executive director of a creative and innovative volunteer staff team at ABLE, I am deeply honored to receive this Jacob Bolotin Award. ABLE creates quick-turnaround materials such as hundreds of math and science tactiles for a rising junior in his international baccalaureate program and books that can be downloaded on BARD [Braille and Audio Reading Download] by the 550,000 individuals and organizations that are a part of the program. We have a signature relationship with the Milwaukee Public Museum; Crossroads is accessible, but we're moving on to the butterfly exhibit and to the dinosaurs. Even bigger than that is what ABLE has done in partnership with the Milwaukee Public Museum. We've changed their paradigm from "Just look, don't touch" to "How can we make exhibits accessible from the ground up?"
And I can tell you, we are not stopping there. We've moved on to the Urban Ecology Center. Because of our work at ABLE, and because of our passion and commitment, blind people are going to be able to live the lives they want. My deepest gratitude to James Gashel, Ron Brown, and Mary Ellen Jernigan for this wonderful gift of money, and may I also say the greater gift of having ABLE associated with such a great man, such an exemplary leader as Dr. Bolotin. Thank you from my family: Bill Meeker; and Christopher, our son, who is in Utah fighting fires right now. As blind parents we taught him to live the life he wants! And to our great friends and leader President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer, and all of you, my family, thank you.
Jim Gashel: Now you say, "What is Oskar and Klaus Publishing?" Well, I'm going to tell you. Mick Szydlowski and his wife Bethany adopted a six-week-old blind kitten named Oskar. This was five years ago, and Oskar was adopted to join their adopted sighted cat named Klaus. They didn't know what to do except just to stay out of the way while Oskar basically found his way around his new home. He was fearless, running around the place, navigating through. And Klaus didn't know what to do either, so he just stayed out of the way. Compared to Klaus, Oskar was the first one to show up at mealtime. He was climbing Bethany's leg as the cans of cat food were being opened, while Klaus just sat back and watched.
Oh, Klaus accepted his new companion. Through their play and wrestling about, it was clear that Oskar was in charge, and Klaus was just following along--that's the way it ought to be. Mr. President, the blind should be in charge! Yeah, let's hear a Federation cheer for the blind being in charge! [Applause]
Fascinated by the antics of their blind cat and their much more timid sighted cat, Mick and Bethany started posting pictures and videos on the internet, and the thing just went viral. That's when they called on their friend Travis Bossard to help out. Travis is now part of this business to manage the growing social media. This includes not just appearances at the local pet shelter, which they've had, but on national television shows such as "Good Morning, America," "Ellen," "Fox and Friends," and others.
Now the adventures of Oskar and Klaus are being recounted in books. Two books are out, and a third one is in process. You can get these books at <https:www.oskarandklaus.com>. Just follow the link for books. Or you can order them on Amazon.com. An audiobook of the first book, which is Oskar and Klaus: The Search for Bigfoot is available, and a Braille version of the second book, The Mission to Cataria, is the same price as it is in print, and that is supported by the American Action Fund. Barbara Loos, president of the Action Fund, is consulting on the text.
Now meeting the standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Oskar and Klaus Publishing is reaching a worldwide audience of adults and children with a positive image of blindness. Just imagine that: through the fun and frolic of their fearless blind cat Oskar and his timid sighted companion Klaus, the world is learning that we can live the lives we want. So here to accept the award on behalf of Oskar and Klaus is Mick Szydlowski, father of Oskar and Klaus.
Mick Szydlowski: Thank you for this incredible honor. I stand before you today as one man, but I'm also accepting this award on behalf of my longtime friend and partner in Oskar and Klaus Publishing, Travis Bossard, who is unable to be here today. We are grateful to have been recognized by the awards committee and thankful for the opportunity to attend the National Convention. Our time in Orlando has only strengthened our commitment to creating a book series that aligns with the goals of the Federation by challenging readers to live lives full of limitless adventure, free from the burdens of society's prejudices, misunderstandings, and low expectations. Although we would love to think of the Bolotin Award as the prize at the end of a long journey of self-publishing, we know that it serves as the milestone marker to celebrate our first steps. It's both a signpost that shows that we are traveling in the right direction and a gust of wind at our backs pushing us forward. Travis and I both read the biography of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, and we understand that it is the power of will that propels one to achieve great things in life. We shall thus carry on writing and take comfort in knowing that the NFB is by our side. Thank you again for this honor; we are moved, we are encouraged, and we are very proud to be part of your family.
Jim Gashel: Winston Chen may not be a household name, but perhaps you'll know our next awardee if I just say, "Voice Dream Reader." Winston Chen is the father of Voice Dream Reader. If you're blind and have an iDevice--like an iPhone--you probably already have Voice Dream Reader--I do. If you don't have it, you're definitely missing out.
Here are just a few details about Voice Dream Reader. In text-to-speech it has one premium a cappella voice, your choice of several other free a cappella voices, and thirty-six iOS voices in twenty-seven languages; in-app purchase of two hundred plus premium voices in thirty languages; and a corrections dictionary so you can correct pronunciations. All voices play in the background, and even when the screen is locked--do you like that? I like that! And, by the way, it's optimized for VoiceOver. Supported file formats include PDF, plain text, MS Word, PowerPoint, RTF, GoogleDocs, web articles, DRM-FREE ebooks, Bookshare books, Daisy text and audiobooks, and other MP3 and MP4 formats. Other features, such as text navigation and text annotation, are available. In short, if you're looking for a high-quality reader, this reader does just about everything.
You know, Winston is truly an interesting guy. In 2011 he was firmly established in a software company as an executive in Massachusetts, but Winston and his family decided to take a year off from this great career in the United States. The entire family moved for a year to a remote Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle. There in the dead and dark of winter, Winston had to have something to do, so he created Voice Dream Reader. Really an interesting guy--you've got to meet this guy!
Meeting the standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Winston Chen has raised the bar in accessible reading for blind people. Through his single-handed efforts in creating the Voice Dream Reader app, Winston Chen is making lives better for all blind people so we can definitely live the lives we want. Here to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award is Winston Chen.
Winston Chen: Thank you, Jim, and thank you NFB. You know I feel really lucky. I get to wake up every morning and work on products that really make a difference in people's lives. Sometimes customers email me, "My life has changed because of your products." When I think about it, it's not luck. Thirty-two years ago I immigrated to the United States from China. America welcomed me with open arms, gave me a terrific education in a public high school and a public university, and that's how I learned how to write software. Then you have the Apple ecosystem, where one guy can make products, and everybody in the world can enjoy and benefit from his work. And because of that, I can make sure that the products are affordable, and also I can support my family.
Voice Dream exists because of America's generosity toward immigrants, and it exists because of this global economy. Now these things are increasingly becoming contentious around family barbecues and in ballot boxes around the world. I would just like to add that hopefully my personal story will add a perspective to it. There are a lot of benefits that come from these things. Thank you, thanks everyone. I feel like I haven't earned this honor, and I promise to work hard and make the products better and earn this honor. Thanks.
Jim Gashel: For our fourth and final award (this is a group), we call them the Semitic Scholars, and their award is $20,000. Now, Jacob Bolotin knew that blind people can compete on equal terms, given the right tools and given opportunities. If you've ever considered becoming a Biblical scholar, then you have found that that understanding the Semitic languages such as Biblical Hebrew, classical Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Akkadian, and Ugaritic--I can't even pronounce these languages--it's a real challenge. It's especially a challenge if you use Braille. The group we call the Semitic Scholars includes three very bright, very creative, and very devoted blind people: Sarah LaRose, Dr. Raymond McAllister, and Matthew Yeater. Through their combined efforts, and with help from David Holladay and Caryn Navy at Duxbury Systems, the Semitic Scholars have built the tools needed to convert ancient languages and ancient content into Braille.
Sarah LaRose graduated from Anderson University with a master's degree in divinity and developed the Braille tables for using JAWS with Biblical Hebrew, Syriac, and polytonic Greek. Dr. Raymond McAllister earned his PhD in Hebrew from Andrews University, and he discovered how to make ancient texts accessible by opening the text in Microsoft Word and then converting the ancient characters into modern characters, and then opening this hybrid file in a BrailleNote. Consequently he could read hundreds of ancient documents in ancient languages on the BrailleNote--something that had never been done before. Matthew Yeater built on these accomplishments by creating the code to access primary source materials for both the Old Testament and the New Testament. He worked with McAllister further to develop the code for three strands of ancient Syriac. Through contacts with a publisher, he then made it possible for downloadable files of these Braille materials to be available so blind students anywhere can study along with their sighted colleagues. [Applause]
This is ground-breaking stuff these guys have done. Meeting the standards set by Jacob Bolotin, all three of our Semitic Scholars have demonstrated pioneering success in breaking down barriers and opening new fields of study for blind people, both today and tomorrow. Through their combined contributions, these three scholars are walking in the footsteps of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, and they are helping to make it possible for all blind people to live the lives we want. So I have the first of the Semitic Scholars, Sarah LaRose.
Sarah LaRose: Hi, guys. I want you all to imagine receiving emails that say, "Is it possible for a blind person to succeed in Biblical studies?" And another email that says, "My college exempted me from this subject and suggested that I change my program to a master of arts in ministry because I cannot take Biblical languages." That's the type of emails that I used to receive from people who wanted to study Biblical languages. That is why I do this. I want to say thank you to the NFB for this tremendous honor. And we will not stop this work, because there should be no more exemptions for anybody who wants to study these languages.
James Gashel: Next is Dr. Raymond McAllister.
Dr. Raymond McAllister: When I wished to work on my PhD, I had to use technical documents with a lot of symbols in them that aren't in your usual Braille Hebrew Bibles. So I used these computer code texts that are really a pain. That's what I had to do to read my Bible the way I wanted to. Well, now we've got better texts, we've got them in Braille, and I helped code the Hebrew accents so they can be readable. They're being distributed to the blind who get hold of these organizations. What we want to do with this award is make more ancient Semitic documents and more ancient languages digitized so that they can be converted into Braille.
I want to thank the NFB for helping us to be able to push this vision further. I want to thank my wife, Sally, for supporting me, and I want to thank God for making all this possible. I'm going to leave you with a hearty thank you very much in Hebrew. Thank you very much in Hebrew is "todam ode."
Jim Gashel: The last of the three Semitic Scholars is Matthew Yeater. Matthew, here is your plaque, and you're going to say thank you very fast, please.
Matthew Yeater: Thank you. The beauty of the Biblical language profile found on Duxbury (it's available there) is access to the critical apparatus of Biblical scholarship. The critical apparatus has a bunch of weird symbols that stand for abbreviations, and it has a multitude of languages on the same page. What's really cool is that through this project we can have a multitude of ancient languages on the same page and convert them all into Braille at the same time. And it's available in 147 different languages. Thank you, National Federation of the Blind, for pouring into me your philosophy; thank you Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary; Paul Kine; Lauren Johns for helping us write the code; Duxbury, David and Caryn--you guys are the greatest; Brent Graber--you guys are awesome; thank you, Bolotin committee. God bless you.