THE BRAILLE FORUM is available in braille, large print, half- speed four-track cassette tape and computer disk. Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for publication should be sent to: Penny Reeder, THE BRAILLE FORUM, 1155 15th St. N.W., Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005. Submission deadlines are the first of the month.
Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Patricia Beattie at the same address. If you wish to remember a relative or friend by sharing in the council's continuing work, the national office has printed cards available to acknowledge contributions made by loved ones in memory of deceased people.
Anyone wishing to remember the American Council of the Blind in his/her Last Will and Testament may do so by including a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, you may contact the ACB National Office.
For the latest in legislative and governmental news, call the "Washington Connection" toll-free at (800) 424-8666, 6 p.m. to midnight Eastern time Monday through Friday.
All photos in this issue copyright 1999 by Ken Nichols.*****
You must indulge me! Actually you don't have to. You can choose not to read this. What I should probably say is that my December message, as it has been wont to be in the past, is a mite strange. This time it is a series of little pieces that I have thrown together to make you think about the season.
A few of my very oldest friends may remember a tape I made many years ago that collected Christmas music that you were unlikely to hear on the radio and that shed light on elements of the season that get overlooked. One song on my tape is an old one written by Woody Guthrie about a Christmas party that the copper bosses turned into a conflagration, killing innocent women and children in the process. Another is a plaintive and compelling picture of people who are alone at Christmas time written and sung by Stan Rogers. The last song I will bore you with is one that many of you may remember. While Simon and Garfunkel sing "Silent Night" in the background, a news broadcast filled with man's inhumanity to his fellows conveys a host of gruesome tidbits that are a stark contrast to the peace and joy of the song. So look for songs that speak to you at this time and pay attention to the words.
If music has always been a part of Christmas or the holiday season, so has fiction. I am saddened by the decline of Christmas fiction. Sure, there is lots that gets published but so much of the material that appears is slickly packaged and the pictures mean as much as the words. More than that, there are very few opportunities for us to find fiction for Christmas any more. Over the past few years I have read all of Dickens' Christmas books which are, by the way, available as downloads from Project Gutenberg. They convey so much because they are first and foremost great stories and only secondarily are they about Christmas. If you have the chance, try to find "The Chimes" or "A Cricket on the Hearth" and enjoy Christmas with the Pickwicks as well.
I had actually thought for a fleeting moment that I would like to write a short, short story but just thinking about how many great stories have already been written about this season, I decided that talent ought to be a prerequisite for writing. Pure, unalloyed presumption just isn't enough!
However, you don't get entirely off the hook. I have written a 12-line poem about this season which is also a puzzle. There is a message hidden in the poem which I encourage you to try to find. It's a pretty simple little puzzle and most of you will probably solve it with no problem. It was fun to write and I hope you enjoy the puzzle and can stand the poem. I have taken enough of your busy December so I will end this message by urging all of you to take some time to think about yourselves this season. You are the most important person in your life! And now, for better or worse, here is my little poem.
Holidays are fast approaching.
All of us will rush around.
Packages we'll all be broaching
Puffed with joy by what we've found!
Yearning for some peace and quiet;
Needing time to stop and think;
Each of us through all the riot
Woozy from the food and drink!
Yuletide logs and Jewish candles
Each are emblems of their day
And symbolize a joy that vandals
Really cannot take away!
(Editor's Note: What follows is a compilation of information from ACB Executive Director Charlie Crawford. This information was originally distributed via ACB-L, the organization's Internet mailing list. These weekly e-mail notices are intended to be informal brief summaries of weekly activities in the ACB National Office. We include them here for the benefit of those who do not currently have access to ACB's Internet mailing list. If you would like to view these notes on a weekly basis, visit the ACB web page, http://www.acb.org. Scroll down to "News Notes" and select it. You will then be at the page where "News Notes" is housed. It will let you choose the current issue or whichever back issue you would like to read. Please let us know your opinion of "News Notes.")
After 14 years of struggle, it looks as if we are on the verge of seeing a real event in the development of access to video programming on TV and video tapes. After last week when we found out that the Federal Communications Commission staff had sent a draft of a notice of proposed rules to the various commissioners at the FCC, ACB and its partners swung into action. We have listed the alert to our electronic lists, made phone calls to all ACB affiliate presidents, met with one of the FCC commissioners and are arranging to meet with the others. In addition, other groups are moving to provide support to the effort.
It looks as if the public voting of the FCC commissioners will happen on November 18 and we will be looking to get as many blind folks as can come to the event. Then ACB and its friends will make sure we get the views of blind folks clearly out there for descriptive video including those emergency video flashes of information that come up on the screen.
After hearing requests for the legislative seminar to move up a week in order to avoid a conflict with the national Sagebrush conference, ACB is pleased to announce that we can accommodate those requests. All systems will be go on this and we only ask that folks coming in on March 17 don't drink too much green beer from those Washington Saint Patrick's Day celebrations.
A bit over a week ago, the National Federation of the Blind proposed amending language to the Fair Labor Standards Act which would prohibit employers from paying less than minimum wage to a person solely on the basis of that person being blind. National Industries for the Blind expressed legitimate concerns for transition periods for those few industries who currently pay under the minimum wage, and for the need to have evaluation and training programs exempt from the prohibition.
ACB has been in the thick of these discussions to support the long standing position of our organization which is in agreement with the central point of the NFB effort. While agreement has not yet been reached on the final language about the issues of evaluation and training and transition time, it looks as if these can be done early next week.
Not surprisingly, there are now opposing voices from the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped and others. This may turn out to be a dog fight, but looks like the blind consumer groups are together on this one.*****
How often have you heard blind folks talk about how busy they are or how they just don't have the time for our organizations? Or have you heard how organizations of the blind are not as needed as they used to be? Are they right? Can it be that the million reasons why not really make sense as we leave the century in which the organizations were created?
An honest appraisal of our modern situation as blind people living in the United States as contrasted to even 40 years ago would clearly tell a story of great success and change. A young blind person today looks forward to a career that he or she has chosen. We now visit and enjoy many places of public accommodation without a thought of any challenge to our being there. We even reasonably expect accommodations to be made which allow us to more fully participate in the mainstream of American life. In short, have we now sufficiently reached our goals as a community as to not really need the kind of consumer organizations we once relied upon? Apparently, many blind folks have decided the answer is "yes."
Despite all the above, there are many moments of truth that point directly at organizations of the blind as the foundation upon which we all must rely. Whether it's a software change at the company that locks out the blind professional, a denial of housing or transportation, a print notice requiring action, a widening of a street crossing with new traffic patterns controlled by computers that couldn't care less about blind pedestrians, a voting booth where you do not control what happens, school activities or even academic opportunities offered to all but you, or the sudden and sobering realization that you are alone in a world that expects you to see, there is no question that the organized blind movement remains a source of strength, vitality and fellowship that makes the difference.
Why then do so many blind folks choose not to join an organization? There are a million reasons why not, and only one reason why. When we are asked why we belong to ACB or another organization of the blind, the answer is simple: because we have our individual lives and we are a community that flourishes together and diminishes apart.
With this knowledge of ourselves as individuals pursuing our own lives and as members of a community that supports us, let us now tell the story of ACB to all who need to hear it. Let them know that their struggle with access is ours. Let them hear that they are not alone and we stand with them. Give them a chance to hear about how we value their views and want them to join with us in defining our advocacy in the next century. Most of all, let them know they belong and we can build a future together that we can only dream of alone. *****
The editorial staff reserves the right to edit letters for content, style and space available. Opinions expressed are those of the authors, not those of the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the opinions expressed herein. Regarding resolutions
I am writing to remind my fellow readers about Resolution 98- 08, passed at the ACB convention in Orlando, Fla., in July of 1998. This resolution commits the membership of ACB to work for greater federal research funding for blindness.
The visually impaired community has lagged behind other medical groups in voicing its concerns to elected officials for research money. The unfortunate result is inadequate government support for visual research. The difference between federal research money for blindness and for other medical concerns is so glaring that it has been the topic of television and radio talk- show programs. A December 6, 1996, ABC 20/20 program suggested that blindness research is perhaps the least well-funded government medical research. Since this broadcast, the National Eye Institute has fallen even further behind the other 22 divisions of the National Institutes of Health -- repeatedly ranking second from the bottom in funding increases. In the past 14 years, the rate of growth of the National Eye Institute has been one-third the rate of growth of the average National Institutes of Health division. This disparity is no accident. Other groups with medical concerns have voiced their concerns to the federal government.
I do not begrudge any of the money spent on medical research. Often research in one field gives insights into other medical disorders. Medical research is certainly more deserving of our tax dollars than many of the excessive and wasteful government spending programs.
Other medical groups -- including AIDS, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord, Alzheimer's, and breast cancer groups -- have lobbied successfully over the last few years. The visually impaired community cannot afford to be the only group which does not advocate for its share of research dollars.
Right now there is an opportunity to make a difference. Recognizing the poor funding for blindness research, Congresswoman Mink of Hawaii introduced the National Eye Institute Authorization Act of 1999 before the U.S. Congress. This act, also known as H.R. 731, would double allocation to the National Eye Institute over the next five years.
Many promising ideas need money to advance from the laboratory to human clinical trials. We need to know whether some of these ideas can restore vision. Together we can make a large difference in federal dollars for promising visual research.
Make an appointment with your representatives and senators to advocate for blindness research -- as well as for needed services and employment rights. If you cannot make an appointment, at least call, e-mail or write a letter. Making our presence known to the United States Congress as a strong advocacy group is necessary for progress as we approach the next millennium.
-- Sandra Haas-Radin, Virginia*****
California Council of the Blind is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Educational Testing Services for failing to provide braille materials and other reasonable accommodations to people with visual impairments taking the Graduate Record Exam. ETS administers and provides course preparation materials for the GRE and for many other standardized tests used for college and post- graduate admissions, including the SAT, AP, GMAT and TOEFL. Performing competitively on these exams is a prerequisite for gaining admission to most colleges and graduate schools.
For us to effectively pursue this important case, the California Council of the Blind needs input from members who have experienced similar difficulties with ETS. If you have confronted barriers when attempting to obtain accessible arrangements on the GRE or any other ETS-administered exam, please contact Joshua Konecky. Joshua is an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, the organization which filed the case. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] and by phone at (510) 451-8644. *****
The American Council of the Blind offers 30 scholarships, worth a total of nearly $90,000, to visually impaired students who are furthering their education at post-secondary academic and vocational education institutions. Individual scholarships vary as to amount, but the criteria for qualifying does not. Scholarships are awarded to visually impaired students who have maintained a grade point average of at least 3.3, and who participate in extracurricular activities on their campuses or in their communities. There is even a scholarship for a blind or visually impaired person who is employed full-time and wishes to attend a post-secondary educational institution, to increase skills or make a career change.
ACB began sending out scholarship application packets in November. If you are a member of the National Alliance of Blind Students (NABS), you should have received a scholarship application packet in your mailbox already. If you would like to receive an application packet, call the national office at (202) 467-5081. You may also download the application forms from our web site at http://www.acb.org. The deadline for submitting your application is March 1, 2000.
We are very pleased to announce that the Kurzweil Foundation will award to each ACB scholarship winner a Kurzweil 1000 Reading System, if appropriate, and a cash award of $1,000.
March 1 will be here before you know it. Why not use your winter break to complete your application form and send it to the ACB national office?
The scholarship winners of 1999. Back row: Bryan Garaventa, Michael Stahl, Mark Woolsey, Bryan Cecil, Ben Siple, Terrence Murphy, Dr. John Buckley, and a representative from Kurzweil. Middle row: Chris Ann Cuppett, Michelle Burke, April Shinholster, Jennifer Voelzke, Leanne Forrest, Lucille Stern, and Mazen Basrawi. Bottom row (seated): Marlena Magee, Nicole Davis, Heidi Pfau, Colleen Burns, Jamesie Morgan, Sarah Jahn, and Ramah Leith.
Laptop computers are heavy and hard to lug around, and if you should drop that expensive piece of assistive technology ...Well, you know the sad consequences!
What? You can't live without your e-mail? Do you go through e-mail withdrawal when you're traveling for business or pleasure? Does the thought of e-mail messages queuing up in your inbox lead you to drum your fingers uncontrollably on any available surface (even Fido's long-suffering forehead)? When your computer's in the shop, does a longing for ACB-L cause you to offer your spouse or your child to the repairperson in exchange for a quick fix?
Well, we have a deal for you!
Access your e-mail with your touch-tone telephone -- even your cell phone -- and make a financial contribution to ACB at the same time. All you need is a phone and an e-mail account to use the Mail-Call service. In most cases, you can use your current e-mail address, or, if you don't already have one, Mail- Call can provide one for you. Ten ACB members are already happily dialing and e-mailing away. Here's what you need to know to sign up and get your e-mail by phone. What Does It Do?
Mail-Call can receive your e-mail by computer voice; send your e-mail messages to any fax machine in the world; allow you to reply to any e-mail message just by speaking into your telephone; set up and organize your personal Mail-Call address book; send, or forward, an e-mail message to anyone in that address book; delete any e-mail message; and set up and control a personalized user preference file.
All of your email messages will remain on your incoming e- mail server for later retrieval at your desktop computer as unread mail -- unless you have exercised your Mail-Call option to delete specific messages. It's Easy!
When you register for Mail-Call, you can request instructions in braille. The braille "cheat-sheet" costs only 75 cents, which covers the cost of its production. Meanwhile, here's a mini- tutorial. Just follow these easy instructions:
1. Use your touch-tone telephone to dial the toll-free number which gives members of ACB access to Mail-Call: (877) 456-7275.
2. Mail-Call will ask you to enter your personal account number. (You will have created this personal number during the registration process, when you entered your 10-digit telephone number (including your area code) along with a four-digit pin number, chosen by you).
3. Press the star key to access the standard system demonstration. If you've already figured all this out, just press the pound key to bypass the demo and begin.
4. General controls are:
* Press the star key to back up. (This returns you to the previous menu.)
* Press the pound key to advance. (This stops reading the current message and advances you to the next message.)
* Press 1 to hear all your mail headers, e.g., sender's name, date, subject, etc.
* Press 2 to hear any message by message number. All of your messages are numbered. The latest message has the highest number -- i.e., the third message in an in-box which contains three messages will be numbered "3."
* To read a message, enter the number of that message, and follow with the pound key.
* Press 3 to hear all your e-mail messages.
* Press 4 to fax your email message to any fax machine. Then, enter the message number (e.g., message number "3") followed by the pound key, and then enter the fax number, including area code, and follow with the pound key.
* Press 5 to activate a voice response to any message. Select the message by number; then, after you hear the tone, record your response. When you have finished recording, press the pound key to send the message.
* Press 6 to send a new message to someone in your address book. Then, select an address by number. You can press 0 and the pound key to hear a review of your address-book entries and their corresponding numbers. Then speak your message for up to three minutes; follow with the pound key to send the message.
* Press 7 to forward any message to anyone in your address book. Select a message by number, and select a forwarding address by number (from your address book).
* Press 8 to delete any message. (Remember, if you delete a message, you cannot get it back again!)
* Press 9 to adjust your user preferences. Listen to the prompts to choose a particular synthesized voice and adjust the words-per-minute speed rate.
5. Press the pound key to exit the system, or simply hang up.
6. There are four options for creating or updating your address book:
* Go to the Mail-Call website, which is at http://www.mail-call.com. Tab to Preferences. Enter your account number, and click Login. Enter a nickname and e-mail address for each person you are adding to your address book on the same line. When you have completed all of your entries, click save changes.. These addresses will now be available to you whenever you call the Mail-Call service.
You can call Mail-Call's toll-free number, (800) 299-4722, and tell the person on the other side of the phone your address book list.
You can e-mail your address book list to [email protected]
You can fax a copy of your address book list to: (913) 438-2819.
7. You can review the names and addresses in your address book at any time by pressing "00" and the pound key when you are using the address book feature. The system will read you your list of e-mail addresses by nickname. How Much Does It Cost?
There is a one-time set-up fee of $2.50. After that, you will pay 30 cents per minute. There are no monthly minimums, and you do not have to contract for any extended length of time. You are billed only for the number of minutes you use (including elapsed times for spoken replies). Sending a message to a fax machine in the USA is billed at 50 cents per page; faxes sent to other countries are billed at prevailing calling rates. All monthly charges will be billed to a credit card.
ACB Benefits Too! A portion of the proceeds from every minute of use comes to the American Council of the Blind. So, while you're getting your e-mail -- calming your jittery nerves and communicating with friends and relations electronically -- you're also helping ACB do all the things that are important to you.
How Can I Register? Call (800) 299-4722, and talk to a real live person. He or she will sign you up, and answer any questions you may have. You'll need to give that person ACB's special identification number, which is ACB6299. If there's no one available to take your call, you can leave a message in Mail-Call's voice mail, and a registrar will call you back.
Or you can register online. Go to http://www.mail-call.com, and follow the link to the secure sign-up page. When you click "submit," if any of your information is missing or incomplete, someone from Mail-Call will telephone you to complete the registration.
What are you waiting for? Pick up your telephone and experience the next incarnation of electronic mail!*****
"An accessible database management system? It can't be done."
"None of the other agencies have accessible management information systems."
"We've decided you will not use the new network; you'll use a stand-alone computer."
"If we do it for you, we'd have to do it for all disabilities, and you're the only one who asked."
"A federal official said the computer system does not need to be accessible."
Before I encountered these statements, and others like them, I thought I had a pretty good self-image personally and professionally. At work, staff treated me as a colleague. My disability was evident, but it did not constitute an overriding presence. My workload was the same as the others in my unit, and I was called upon to handle cases which were considered to be highly volatile or controversial.
When the agency announced that it had received a $50 million federal grant to develop a statewide network database to replace paper case records and outdated management information systems, I naively assumed that all I would need to do to ensure that the new system would be accessible to me was to bring it to the attention of those in authority. Once so informed, I supposed, the Information Technology (IT) Director and the private contractor's programmers would work to ensure that the new system was accessible to employees with disabilities. I was wrong!
My initial efforts and those of my supervisor to address the need for incorporating accessibility into the system design were met by a total lack of response. Instead, I became embroiled in a two-and-a-half year process which required personal introspection, calm, determined advocacy, and persistence.
The first thing I learned was that the quality of one's professional worth does not necessarily factor into the equation when a contract worth millions of dollars is involved. Professionals whom I thought respected me, or at least had a neutral opinion about me, made rude and discriminatory statements in an effort to dispense with my advocacy. An attorney knowledgeable about legal requirements under ADA and other laws informed me in a large staff meeting that I would not be using the new network because if they made it accessible for me they would have to do it for all disabilities, and I was the only one who had asked. I felt humiliated, devalued, and angry. Those in control seemed to try to exert their authority by ascribing blame, and I began to internalize this alleged culpability and to feel like a victim.
Finally, it became clear to me that I was being shaped by these negative attitudes, but that I had the ability to transform both my personal reaction and the work environment. The reality was that an inaccessible network system would close new employment and internship opportunities for blind people or others with disabilities. Lack of access would likely lead to the termination of working disabled people who could not continue to perform their job duties. With increasing frequency, blind employees in diverse fields had already faced this fate. This knowledge motivated me to proceed with non-adversarial yet hardball advocacy. I made a conscious decision not to act out the negative stereotype of a dependent victim and surrender. Despite nagging feelings of inadequacy, I resolved to maintain my professional identity with confidence, accord respect to all my colleagues, and in turn command theirs. I concentrated on my job responsibilities, sought support from my closest friends, and avoided making general complaints at work about my predicament. Only from this position did I feel able to press for system change.
This was a momentous decision for me. I had never before initiated or led an unpopular advocacy effort. Normally, the state commissioner for the blind would have intervened with the agency head, but this time -- as my husband was the commissioner -- conflict of interest laws prevented him from becoming involved in my case.
In an attempt to transform negative attitudinal barriers toward accessibility, I enlisted the involvement of experts in the field of adaptive technology. When the IT director proclaimed that it was not possible to make the system accessible, I asked to read the system analysis report. There was none. "On what basis," I asked, " had such a conclusion been made?" There was no answer. I asked the agency to seek an assessment by the state's assistive technology partnership program to identify whether accessibility could be achieved and at what cost. Nothing happened. Finally, at the suggestion of a friend, I went beyond the scope of my job duties, and arranged a series of meetings at work. I invited the IT director, private contractor staff, the ADA coordinator, my superiors, and experts from the adaptive technology field. To my amazement, they all came!!
Their resistance to accessibility, however, remained strong. At one meeting, the IT director noted that nothing had changed. A federal official, he said, had informed the agency that it did not have to make the interactive network system accessible; rather, the agency could provide a reasonable accommodation -- like readers.
The director of the state assistive technology partnership program corrected this premise, and followed up with federal authorities to address this point. Other legally blind employees and their managers joined the work group. The involvement of assistive technology experts provided not only technical expertise to the agency, but ongoing support for employees with disabilities. In time, the agency did request an assessment by a leading adaptive technology expert, and contracted with him to begin to make the changes to the network system design, which by that time was nearing completion.
Periodic follow-up with the adaptive technology experts and agency and contractor staff was absolutely necessary to prevent the process from becoming stalled by bureaucratic inertia. But when the agency, under considerable pressure to roll out the new system, turned on the network without accessibility, those of us who could not use the new system looked outside for additional partners. The Bay State Council of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind responded with positive support. Three of us employees who are legally blind went with documentation in hand to the state office on disabilities and made a formal request for intervention.
The subsequent negotiation between the office on disabilities and the agency resulted in an agreement by the agency to make the necessary changes to ensure accessibility to the database management system. After more than two years of what appeared to be resistance and half-hearted efforts, the agency embraced fully its responsibilities, and within nine months, completed the design changes which enabled employees, not only with blindness but other disabilities as well, to have effective access to the new system. The agency also provided training on the new network database and adaptive technology.
Oppositional attitudes, which slowly began to diminish, appeared to transform remarkably upon the accomplishment of accessibility. When the agency activated the accessible network, negative attitudes seemed to evaporate in the midst of success. The attitudes transformed into pride in the agency's achievement, enthusiasm for accessible information technology, and expressions of appreciation to disabled employee advocates. I realized that I, too, achieved an attitudinal change from that of a victim who might have succumbed to discrimination to that of a person capable of creating individual and corporate change. Early in the process, the IT director gave as an excuse that none of the other states had accessible network database systems, to which I responded, "Then Massachusetts shall be the first and lead the way!" She was not impressed. But when the accessible network became a reality, the agency took rightful and enormous pride in becoming the first in the nation to create an accessible statewide management information system for the delivery of child-protection and family services. The goal was an accessible computer system, but the outcome reached beyond to transform oppositional attitudinal barriers into supportive partnerships. The empowerment resulting from access and affirmation strengthens both the individual and the corporate organization. What an opportunity! *****
The Client Assistance Program (CAP) was authorized by Congress in 1984 as a federally mandated program whose mission is to provide advocacy services to all clients and applicants of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Every state and territory of the United States has a Client Assistance Program. Your state's CAP program may be independent of VR or may be integrated into the state department of vocational rehabilitation. No matter how the CAP program is structured, it is an advocacy option for clients who disagree with decisions made by VR and who wish to appeal those decisions.
Having been a client of vocational rehabilitation myself on several occasions, and having worked as a CAP advocate for the last three years, I have observed that the blind community seems to lack knowledge about CAP, and that blind people, in general, seem to make little use of this advocacy option when they have disagreements with vocational rehabilitation decisions. We all need some help from time to time -- particularly when we become consumers of public services and programs. Probably one of the more important agencies that many of us with visual impairments will have to deal with is our vocational rehabilitation agency. Getting our needs met in attaining our vocational goals is critical. It behooves us to know about the CAP which can help us resolve disputes and reach our personal vocational goals.
Many blind people become clients of VR because they need to gain access to computers or to update their computer skills. In today's employment world, a computer is the link to competitive functionality for blind individuals seeking gainful employment or upward mobility. Requests for access to computers are often denied on the basis of financial means testing, or policy directives to explore access to technology through computer labs on college campuses. Blind consumers of vocational rehabilitation should be aware that these denial decisions can be appealed. The Client Assistance Program can be very helpful in overturning equipment denials, as well as mediating other types of disputes.
Having a CAP advocate on your side can mean the difference between frustrating failure and successful achievement. If you have not been told about the CAP program by your rehabilitation counselor, ask about it. Find out where your CAP program is located and learn about the services its advocates can provide. CAP is a program available to all individuals with disabilities and that includes all of us in the blind and visually impaired population. *****
The September 1999 ACB board of directors meeting was called to order by President Paul Edwards at 8:40 a.m. Central time on Saturday, September 18, at the Radisson Hotel in Schaumburg, Ill. All board members were present, as well as staff members Charlie Crawford, Jim Olsen and Terry Pacheco and several guests.
After the minutes from the pre- and post-convention meetings were read and accepted, the board's first order of business was to disband the Committee on Aging and Blindness. ACB's newest affiliate, the Alliance on Aging and Vision Loss (AAVL), which was chartered at the July convention, will assume the roles and responsibilities which were formerly the province of the Committee on Aging and Blindness.
After discussing and approving the meeting agenda, the board got down to business. LeRoy Saunders, chairman of the American Council of the Blind Enterprises and Services Inc. (ACBES), reported that he had some good news and some not-so-good news. On the positive side, he said, the ACBES board was planning to meet on Sunday, September 19, to consider establishing a new ACB thrift store in Des Moines, Iowa. Pending the board's approval, ACBES hoped to have the new store open by the beginning of 2000. Another item on the ACBES board's agenda was expected to be approval of relocating the Knoxville, Tenn. thrift store to a better site in the city by the beginning of the new year. In addition, Saunders announced that the opening of the relocated store in the city of Indianapolis was expected within just a few days.
On the not-so-good side of the ledger, Saunders indicated that ACBES's financial performance has not lived up to expectations for the current budget year. One reason for this has been the declining prices -- hence, decreased revenues -- ACBES has been able to obtain from selling rags.
In addition, ACBES management believes that flaws in the store managers' profit-sharing plans have led to decreased thrift-store revenues -- i.e., some store managers have been cutting down on certain items, like routine maintenance and repairs, in order to maximize their profits. The managers have been doing well financially, but their stores have not. Therefore, the store managers' profit-sharing plan has been revised. A major component of the new formula will be the percentage of increased sales. ACBES expects that the revised plan will motivate store managers to elevate gross sales, and therefore, bottom-line profits.
In response to questions from ACB board members, Saunders reported that salaries for store manager trainees and incumbent store managers were raised recently, with store manager trainees making from $24,000-$29,000 per year while store managers, depending upon profit-sharing bonuses, can generally earn between $30,000-$40,000 per year. He then asked Jim Olsen to review some financial figures with the ACB board which confirmed what Saunders had reported.
In response to an inquiry from a board member, Jim Olsen indicated that while certain ACB thrift stores have accepted automobile donations, our experience with such donations has been sporadic from state to state. Olsen pointed out that the thrust of the auto donation program is to work with specific state affiliates and not with ACB at the national level. A drawback to pursuing this revenue source is that, when one of our thrift stores receives an auto donation, we must find an auction house which we can reliably expect to turn the donation into profit. There are also concerns about title ownership and liability insurance, which make automobile donations problematic as a major fund-raising focus for ACBES thrift stores.
Saunders wrapped up his report by expressing optimism about ACBES attorneys' continuing attempt to procure a zoning variance from the city fathers in West Allis, Wis., where ACBES hopes to relocate an existing thrift store to a bigger, better location.
The ACBES report was accepted by the ACB board of directors. Following the report■s acceptance, the ACB board voted to recess its own meeting and to reconvene itself as a meeting of the corporate shareholders of ACBES.
When the ACB board of directors reconvened after lunch, members of the ACBES board reported that Pam Shaw and Johnny Granger had declined to stand for re-election to the corporate board, and that one of the ensuing vacancies had been filled by Dawn Christensen. It was further reported that the ACBES nominating committee intended to make one or more nominations for the remaining vacant seat, and that ACBES expected to fill the vacancy, by election to be conducted by mail ballot, in early October.
It was further reported that ACBES had decided to create the position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and to appoint James R. Olsen to fill this position. Olsen, who will report to the chairman of ACBES, is expected to perform the duties of his new position while continuing to fulfill his current responsibilities.
The ACB board of directors then adopted a parallel motion, whereby the position of Chief Financial Officer was created for the American Council of the Blind. James R. Olsen was appointed to fill this position as well. Olsen, who is expected as CFO for ACB to report to the president of ACB, will have responsibility for administrative and financial aspects of running the national convention, as well as the ACB scholarship program.
The next order of business was the president's report. Paul Edwards reported that he too had some good and some not-so-good news. First, he noted that, because of the hard work of his fellow ACB officers, the process of appointing committees for the coming year had been completed. He said that he expected the finalized list of committees to be available from the national office within a week or two. Edwards said that he had adopted a couple of new policies with regard to committee appointments, in order to distribute the workload more equitably and to guarantee that more members will become involved in doing the work of ACB: First, ACB board members will serve on only one standing committee. Second, no member of the American Council of the Blind may serve on more than two committees. As a result of these policy changes, there is representation from at least 35 states on ACB committees this year. Furthermore, at least 12 individuals who had never served on ACB national committees before are now participating on committees.
President Edwards reported that he has been invited to go to New Zealand in October to participate in the convention of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand and to make a presentation to the governing board of the agency which serves blind people in that country.
Edwards noted that ACB, as well as other organizations in the blindness field, have been actively involved in developing a major bill which was expected to be introduced by Congressman Capuano of Massachusetts and which will, if enacted into law, provide that the services of rehabilitation teachers and orientation and mobility instructors for the blind will be eligible to be paid for through the Medicare insurance program. He concluded his report by reminding the board of the challenges which we still need to meet and overcome -- including GSA's closing of the Federal Supply Service depots, which constitutes a major threat to the jobs of blind workers. The board accepted the president's report.
Charlie Crawford was the next presenter. Crawford expressed his view that staff members in the national office must work together in a less compartmentalized, more collaborative manner, in order to deal with the complex sorts of issues which they are called upon to address. He discussed the development of the "Call to Action" document regarding the Randolph-Sheppard program. He told the board that the document has come to serve as an agenda-setting focal point for discussion in recent meetings among numerous organizations regarding the future of the vending program. ACB has come to occupy the leadership vacuum which existed, Crawford said, and ACB is setting the agenda for future discussions.
Responding to board members' needs for braille copies of various documents, Crawford said that he and Debbie Grubb would coordinate their efforts to make braille copies of the updated brochure available to board members. In addition, Crawford indicated that braille and large print versions of the 1999 convention resolutions and the revised constitution and bylaws would be made available no later than November 15. Braille copies of the most recent board and affiliate presidents lists were then distributed. The board accepted Crawford's report.
Next, Patricia Beattie, ACB's treasurer, presented her report. She indicated that, at the end of the seventh month of the budget year, ACB was running a deficit of $147,000. However, Beattie indicated that this deficit was in reality $109,000 less than that which had been anticipated for this point in time in the projections for this budget year. "Thus, in actuality, while running a deficit, we are slightly better off than we were expecting to be, based on budget projections." She believed that ACB would end the year with a deficit which is smaller than the $170,000 which was anticipated in the 1999 approved budget.
After discussion and reaching agreement on several routine administrative and budgetary matters, the board voted to designate Price-Waterhouse to complete the audit of our 1999 fiscal year financial records.
The next topic for discussion was the cost of ACB national conventions, which have -- for several years -- been costing considerably more than the revenues accrued for that purpose. Olsen reported that ACB lost more than $26,000 on the Los Angeles convention. Although much of this shortfall was attributable to the last-minute and unanticipated necessity of moving convention exhibits to the Marriott Hotel, the trend is, nonetheless, disturbing.
Since the discussion had turned to convention matters, President Edwards called upon LeRoy Saunders, newly appointed ACB convention coordinator, to make his report on behalf of the convention committee. Saunders began by reassuring the board that he intends to do a thorough and exhaustive analysis of the available financial data in an attempt to learn and then report precisely how much it actually costs ACB to conduct national conventions. He said that as a result of his discussions with the leadership of both the Kentucky Council of the Blind and the Blue Grass Council of the Blind, he wished to recommend designation of the Kentucky Council of the Blind as the host affiliate for the 2000 convention. The board adopted this recommendation. Saunders assured the board that an appropriate role would be found for the Blue Grass Council to play in the convention proceedings, after consultation with that affiliate.
Saunders indicated that, despite his inclination to arrange an overnight tour to Nashville, the Kentucky Council has expressed an adamant desire to keep all convention-related tours inside the commonwealth of Kentucky. He expected to iron out these details during the course of the coming year. He reported that, although the Galt House Hotel in Louisville can provide all the major facilities required by our convention, there is one drawback: there is no way to divide the ballroom. Nonetheless, the hotel, which contains adequate space for exhibits elsewhere in the facility, can be expected to meet all our convention needs. With respect to future conventions, Saunders made a commitment to consult with the leadership of state affiliates where conventions are contemplated before presenting finalized proposals to the ACB board.
Next, Edwards called upon former ACB president Otis Stephens to give the history committee's report. Stephens reported that after some halting starts and stops, Jim Megivern, editor of "The History of the American Council of the Blind," has in recent months produced approximately 400 manuscript pages of very high quality. The committee believed that a complete manuscript could be produced by the end of the current calendar year. The committee is now seeking a university press which may be willing to publish the ACB history, and if things continue to go smoothly, the finished history could be published by convention time next year.
Debbie Grubb and Kim Charlson then reported on the outcomes of focus groups which were conducted at the July national convention. Focus groups had come up with five mandates for the membership committee's investigation and recommendations: (1) Coordination of communication from the national organization; (2) Development of leadership training manuals; (3) Development of public relations tools; (4) Fostering connecting activities between members and the national organization and among the respective affiliates and subgroups within ACB; and (5) Affirmatively publicizing the benefits of membership in ACB. The board authorized the membership committee to take whatever actions it deems appropriate to implement these suggested courses of action.
Brian Charlson reported that the ad hoc job line committee, which had been formed at the post-convention board meeting, had not been able to complete its assignment. He also indicated that he had asked Sandy Sanderson to assume the chairmanship of the ad hoc job line committee, and that Sanderson had agreed to do so. This committee hopes to make its report at the mid-year meeting in Louisville.
Next, M.J. Schmitt reported on recommendations of the ad hoc committee which she chairs. The committee was established to meet the needs of ACB members who may feel disenfranchised by giving them a communications channel to ACB's elected leadership. Schmitt reported that the committee recommends scheduling a two- hour meeting on the future of ACB on Monday evening of convention week in Louisville. The committee proposed that the meeting be facilitated by a panel, including one national officer and one board member who are designated by ACB's president; the ACB executive director; one state affiliate president and one special-interest affiliate president also designated by the ACB president. The committee anticipated that, at this meeting, ideas for change and improvement would be entertained one at a time, and when consensus is reached concerning any idea which may be deemed particularly meritorious, that proposal will be referred to an appropriate committee, or one of the panel members will agree to assist the presenter in preparing a resolution to be referred to the resolutions committee, and, eventually, to the convention as a whole. The board approved the committee's recommendation and accepted its report.
Edwards asked to be allowed to substitute Sanford Alexander for himself on the president's rights and responsibilities committee, and the board approved this request. Edwards indicated that he would inform the committee chairman, Mitch Pomerantz, of the substitution, and would ask Pomerantz to recommend to him any other committee substitutions where individual committee members have been unable to fulfill their committee responsibilities. The committee's goal is to produce a newly revised document regarding rights and responsibilities for review and discussion at the mid-year meeting.
Charlie Crawford then gave a report on the national office's progress toward implementing resolutions passed by the national convention. Crawford said that national office staff members met shortly after the convention to discuss priorities and make specific assignments concerning the ACB resolutions. He believed the vast majority of the resolutions which were passed at the L.A. convention are well on their way toward implementation.
Crawford reported to the board on actions which had been taken to implement resolution 99-40. On September 7, Crawford and Julie Carroll, counsel for the Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America (RSVA), met with Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services, Fredric K. Schroeder, and Judy Heumann, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to discuss the perception of certain Department of Education biases toward the NFB which had led the ACB convention to pass the resolution.
It became apparent at the meeting that Heumann was unaware of some activities cited by Crawford and Carroll including the May 1996 memorandum from Schroeder encouraging recipients of Rehabilitation Act funds to use such funds to subscribe to the NFB's newsline program. In response, while the federal officials did not concede any wrongdoing on Commissioner Schroeder's part, they did offer a five-step plan to counteract the perception of bias. Schroeder agreed to be interviewed and photographed for the "Vendorscope," the official publication of RSVA. Schroeder also agreed to be interviewed for "The Braille Forum." Crawford said that these interviews had already occurred. In addition, both Schroeder and Heumann offered to meet with the ACB board in order to resolve any perception of favoritism toward the NFB by the Clinton administration. Schroeder also made a commitment to invite representatives of RSVA to attend all regional training sessions or other seminars and workshops sponsored by RSA. In addition, Crawford reported that Schroeder and Heumann had agreed to make every good faith effort, if and when invited, to attend functions or events sponsored by RSVA and/or ACB. By consensus, the board then agreed that Schroeder should be invited to attend an ACB board meeting in conjunction with the upcoming Louisville national convention, and should in addition be invited to address the national convention next year. Crawford then expressed the viewpoint that resolution 99-40 had been fully and successfully implemented. While some board members took issue with Crawford's characterization that we had achieved all that could have been expected from implementation of resolution 99-40, a majority of board members voiced the view that Crawford had achieved important initial steps toward resolving the favoritism matters raised in resolution 99-40.
A wide-ranging, lively discussion focusing mainly on the issue of the expenditure of federal tax dollars to support the NFB's newsline service then ensued. Sue Ammeter and Chris Gray agreed to send to all board members the final version of the newsline position paper which the board had approved in principle at its post-convention meeting.
Edwards then made a brief report on the subject of certain recommendations which had been made by the advocacy services committee, at the direction of the convention. He reported that the committee had authorized ACB's signing on to a brief in the case of Amos v. Maryland Department of Corrections. The brief will argue in favor of the constitutionality of the ADA -- against the Tenth and Eleventh Amendment arguments being mounted by the state defendants. While the committee did not consider any of the cases presently before the U.S. Supreme Court to be the right case for ACB to intervene, they had designated four priority areas involving the ADA to recommend to the board. First, ACB, in appropriate cases, should be prepared to intervene or argue as amicus curiae in favor of the ADA's constitutional vitality and against the arguments of constitutional invalidity being mounted by certain states under the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments. Second, ACB should develop a position paper which state affiliates can use to counter the Tenth and Eleventh Amendment arguments which may be raised by certain state attorneys general. Edwards reported that Melanie Brunson has already been asked to work on such a white paper. Third, ACB should, in particular, look for ADA cases which raise the issue of the availability of necessary program materials in accessible formats. In fact, Edwards reported, Melanie Brunson will be working with some ACB members in Michigan regarding just such a case involving Ameritech. Finally, the committee recommended that ACB give priority to ADA claims which involve transportation issues. The board approved the recommended ADA priorities.
The next order of business involved filling vacancies on the budget committee. The three vacancies on the budget committee were filled by electing Pat Beattie and Alan Beatty, and appointing LeRoy Saunders by acclamation. It is expected that the newly constituted committee will select a chairperson from its membership.
Next, Chris Gray presented an idea to the board. Gray explained that, in his capacity as moderator of the ACB-L listserv, he had become acquainted with Jonathan Mosen of New Zealand. Mosen has been using audio software to run, from his home, a 24-hour, seven-day radio service, MBS-FM, over the Internet. Gray believed that for a minimal investment, ACB could run a similar Internet radio service which would attract a national audience and serve as a public relations and communications vehicle for ACB. He then moved that ACB approve the concept in principle of Radio ACB, that ACB make an initial seed money contribution to the project of $1,000, and that he and Brian Charlson be authorized to seek financial support for the project from ACB affiliates, and to seek out the right individual to head up the project. During discussions which followed introduction of the motion, Gray indicated that he believed it would be possible to have the radio service up and running -- perhaps for just four or five hours a day, initially -- by the end of the year. The board approved the motion.
Gray also brought Mobility International's request for financial assistance to purchase assistive technology for several groups of blind people in Costa Rica to the board's attention. Alan Beatty suggested that he would be willing to work with Gray, through Lions International, to locate Lions Clubs in Costa Rica to respond to this request. The board agreed to send a letter to Mobility International stating their willingness to use their good auspices with Lions International and other parties in an attempt to respond favorably to the request.
Sue Ammeter then reported to the board about an issue which had recently been brought to her attention. Apparently, in some instances, the U.S. State Department has refused to accept blind people's state photo identification cards as proof of U.S. citizenship when the cardholders had attempted to apply for or renew American passports. Charlie Crawford agreed to investigate this matter further and to report back to the board at the February 2000 mid-year meeting.
M.J. Schmitt then reported that she and the Illinois Council of the Blind had been successful in their efforts to persuade the state agency for the blind to endorse and accept the thirteen principles of consumer cooperation set forth in ACB resolution 99-22. In response to inquiries, Crawford agreed to send to all members appropriately formatted copies of the "Thirteen Principles of Consumer Cooperation," as well as the "Randolph-Sheppard Call for Action" documents.
Next, John Buckley presented a recommendation from the scholarship committee to the board. Since 1995, ACB scholarship guidelines have required scholarship winners to attend national conventions for reasonable periods of time, except in situations where job conflicts arose. However, the issue of compulsion and ACB's resulting potential liability in situations where scholarship winners are younger than the age of 18 have caused Buckley's committee to take another look at the policy guidelines. The scholarship committee therefore recommended that the scholarship guidelines be amended to create an exception to the general rule of attendance at ACB conventions -- which would make convention attendance optional for scholarship winners under the age of 18. Buckley made a motion to this effect, which was duly seconded, and the board adopted the recommended policy change.
The next topic for discussion was Kim Charlson's possible candidacy for a board position within the International Council on English Braille (ICEB). The board voted to support her candidacy.
The next item for discussion was presented by Edwards. He said that he and Charlie Crawford had arrived at two areas upon which they hoped ACB could establish priority during the coming months. First, Edwards said, ACB needs to do a better job of communicating its governmental and individual issues to decision- makers in the Congress and at the federal, state, and local levels. Secondly, ACB must do a better job of promoting itself - - and its ongoing programs -- by improving training of its members and by enhancing communications between affiliated organizations, between officers and board members, and among all members. The board voted to approve these priorities for the national office and the organization as a whole.
Jim Olsen regretfully informed the board of the untimely death of new ACB life member and former president of the Missouri Council of the Blind, Ken Emmons, which had occurred in early September.
Edwards then brought up the ongoing situation which had resulted from the General Service Administration's July announcement that it was closing the eight Federal Supply Service depots. The announcement had led to an immediate and drastic reduction in government orders under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act, and the very disturbing likelihood that as many as 1,000 blind workers in the National Industries of the Blind affiliates might lose their jobs, or have their hours drastically reduced. Edwards said that ACB had been working hard to address these issues, and that he intended to put these matters on the agendas for the affiliate presidents' meeting and the board meeting to be held at mid-year in Louisville.
As the meeting came to a close, board secretary Cynthia Towers announced Sanford Alexander's intention to get a to-do list of items which had emerged from the preceding discussions out to the board as soon as possible. The September 1999 ACB board of directors meeting was adjourned at 6:45 p.m. Central time. *****
In recent years, ACB banquets have featured a variety of speakers, including a man who worked in radio special effects, a former hostage, Theater by the Blind, and a tribute to Oral Miller. This year's banquet featured a comedian who involved the audience in his act -- and kept listeners amused.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the banquet of the 1999 convention of the American Council of the Blind!" said Paul Edwards, ACB President. Following the invocation, California Council of the Blind President Cathie Skivers welcomed everyone to California, and asked, "Have we made you feel welcome?" The answer echoed throughout the room: "Yes!"
"California usually has a great ... week; we do a lot of entertaining ..." Skivers said, and noted that the night would include 12 door prizes. "Welcome, have a good time, and thanks for coming to California." Edwards then introduced the head table, including Cathie Skivers, Charlie and Sue Crawford, Michael Simpson, and the evening's speaker, whom Edwards said he would keep a surprise until later.
But before the audience got to hear the speaker, Edwards had to draw the name of the winning affiliate in the ACB quilt raffle. The winner: Bay State Council of the Blind. Then Nancy Marie-Luce performed Gershwin's "Preludes 1 and 2."
Finally, it came: the time to learn who the speaker was. "Our speaker is a nationally known comedian who's been on television many times, who the California Council of the Blind members have had a chance to hear many times, but for whom American Council of the Blind folks he will be new," Edwards said. "It gives me great pleasure to introduce someone who's not only funny but happens as well to have the other good quality of being blind, a comedian par excellence, a blind person of major impact and a person who we are proud to welcome to the American Council of the Blind■s microphone this evening, Mr. Kenny Johnson!"
"That gentleman that was just introduced will not be here, so you have me now," Johnson said. "I don't know who was on all of the different committees that put this thing together, but I'm sure they did a lot of work, and I want to give my thanks to the food committee. That meal is a hard act to follow. I'd like to also give thanks for being in a room this evening with Mr. Edwards and Charles Crawford and a number of the people I've met ... So can we have a nice hand for all of the committees who put this together please?"
Following that round of applause, Johnson got down to the business of laughter. "This is the last convention of the century. This is it! This is as good as it's going to get for the century! I love that!" He mentioned that he'd been born blind, and grown up being blind, "and it's just such a trip."
"Growing up when you're blind, you know, you don't really think of race or color or that type of thing, you know, you're just out there," he said, "and it can be a shock to you when you find out what color you are. I know what a shock it was for me. But you know, I actually should've had a clue because every day people would come up to me and say, 'Hey, brother, how you doin' today, brother?' ... 'Brother? Well, I'm not related to you!'
"Guys comin' up to me tellin' me basketball stories: 'Hey Ken, how about those Bulls?' I hate basketball, OK? I don't even watch basketball. So I asked my buddy, I said, 'Hey man, what's with the basketball scores?' He said, 'Ken, you're black and you don't check out basketball?' 'What? I'm black?! Oh man, I'm gonna have to quit listening to those Barry Manilow albums!'"
Johnson talked about what life was like in the 1960s in Chicago. "You know, back then in the '60s all the black guys was talkin' about what it is, what it is. I was too busy tryin' to figure out where it is ... I know what it is as soon as I find it, all right? But you know, actually, I have turned on basketball on the TV once, you know, and it was like, all I heard was squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak ... I'm thinkin', man, what does that have to do with a ball? And then I accidentally turned on women's tennis one day. And all I heard then was uuh, uhh, ooh, ooh, ooh ... I left that on about two hours, all right?"
Mom was great, he said, "but she was one of those mothers, she raised eight kids and I was the youngest and by the time I came along it was like I was the only kid in the house. But she kept her old ways ... My mother was a thrower. She caught you doin' something wrong the first thing she'd do is pick up the first thing she could and throw it at you ... I'd be over there doing something I knew I didn't have any business doing, and she's like, 'Kenny, put that down. Kenny, what are you doing?' and if I didn't do it right away it's like, pssh pow! Right upside the head with a shoe or something ... Now that was OK for Mom, but see, I couldn't duck, so it was hard on me ..."
He also talked about his school days. "You know, comin' up through the school system in Chicago was really hard and ... that's how it came out that my sight was going bad ... Earlier today somebody asked me, 'Are you visually impaired?' and I said, 'No, I lost that impairment a long time ago. I just can't see anything right now!'
"But anyway, I was in fifth grade and I■d be there tryin' to do my work and the teacher would say, 'Kenny, could you read that problem on the board?' and I'm like, 'Uh, no, I can't see the problem.' She's like, 'Well, can you see the board?' 'Uh, no, I can't see the board.' So she would move me up a little closer and it was like, 'Well, now, I'm just a little closer but nothing's changed, OK?' So this went on and so they failed me and I had to repeat the fifth grade. ... Went through the summer like a little kid ... came back to school the next year, she'd talked with my parents and everything, and so it was the same thing: 'Kenny, can you see the problem?' 'No.' 'Kenny, can you see the board?' 'No.' 'Kenny, this is the same thing you said last year.' So they thought I was using that excuse to get out of work, doing my work at school ... So they took me to the eye doctor and that's when the tests started. ... So I went through all of the tests and everything, and so I came out, and it was very hard for my parents to accept. My mother was a little more cool about it, but my father had a problem. 'Cause you know how fathers are, that macho thing, 'This is my son; he■s going to follow in my footsteps.' He had a trucking business. ... So he was going to teach me how to drive. Now about this time was when I was losing my sight, but Dad didn't know. So he was teaching me how to drive, I was all over the road in this truck ... He just thought I had a bad driving problem ...
"I tried to tell him, 'Dad, look, no, it's not the driving ... I know where the brake and the pedals are.' And then he realized he was in the car with Mr. Magoo. I think Dad got the message at that point.
"Now my mother, she took it a little bit better ... They said I would be totally blind by the time I was 19 years old, 'so Mom'll let you do a little bit more.' At least mine did. And I would be out playing with the rest of the kids ... we played football out on 77th Street. ... And Mom would sit in the window and watch us, so it had to be hard for her not to come out and stop me when she saw that I was going to run into the bumper of a '57 Chevy ... I thought that was great because that gave me the inspiration to get out there and do whatever I'm doing right now, and I love that about her."
But, he added, his mother would still ask him if he could see family pictures. And she'd wonder why he didn't have any lights on in his basement apartment. She'd tell him to turn them on, and "it didn't change anything." And sometimes she'd run him into a tree or something, forgetting that he was blind. "No, Mom, you keep reminding me I am!"
When Johnson started high school, he started getting out in public more, "and I actually should've been carrying my cane at that point, but you're in high school, you gotta, you know, 'macho man,' so you didn't carry anything. ... My sight was going very slow. ... I would run into something that I wouldn't run into the year before. Like I'd run into this pole, and I'd say, 'Oh wow, I wouldn't have ran into that last year.' ... When I walked into the side of that 747, I knew then it was time for me to carry my cane."
He worked in the vending stand program at one point. Some days he'd meet a friend at a bar after work, and sometimes he'd get to the bar early, and strike up a conversation with other patrons. He'd be there half an hour or so, and after a few beers he'd pull out his cane and go to the restroom, "but I'd go to the restroom and come back and all of a sudden everything changed. Now he's telling me where my beer is. Now he's telling me where the peanuts are. 'Oh, I didn't know you were blind. I'm sorry, I didn't know!' ... This was fascinating to me. I mean, what happened? I mean, did he forget that we had been sitting there for 45 minutes conversing? Now all of a sudden I'm really blind? ... Then you got the other people who didn't know what the cane was. Some of you guys run into that?" The audience mumbled "yes." Johnson noted, "Especially in Vegas. Anybody from Vegas here, or you been to Vegas? ... They don't know what the cane is; they think it's a new gambling device up there."
He talked about the time he went to Las Vegas with his cane. "I ended up with $30 in my cane pole like nine times a day," he said. "I made money when I went up there. They thought it was a new slot machine!"
And then there's the other type of person, Johnson said. "I was in North Hollywood ... how many Californians do we have here? ... and I was going to go to the 7-Eleven, which was a couple of blocks from where I lived, and this guy, you know, says, 'Wait wait wait wait wait! There's a car parked here and the curb is broke up here, let me help you.' So he takes my arm, he says, 'OK, now let's walk here to the left, let's step up on the curb, OK, now this way a little bit, now right around this, OK, now you're back on the sidewalk, everything is fine, are you OK?' I said, 'Yes, I'm OK, but I'm just trying to locate the 7-Eleven. Would you know where that is?' and he said, 'You see down there about half a block? You see that yellow car?' What happened? All of a sudden I could see?"
Another subject he touched on was guide dogs. His wife, he said, had just gotten a guide dog. "First of all I have to say that I don't like animals, never grew up with them ... I know that's a bad thing to say in this room, but please put your cigarettes away. Don't attack me .... But anyway, never grew up with animals, pets of any kind, none in my family, so I hated animals. She went to the training, brought this dog home, I'm in love with the dog. I think I'll keep him, get rid of my wife." The audience laughed uproariously. "But there's still a lot of education ... when I was still going in stores and seeing people that we know, they thought that when she got home with the dog that I could use it too. 'So, sometimes Ken, when you come up here, are you going to have the dog too?' And I'm like, 'No. It's not like a family car, OK? She's gone to get a guide dog, not a Toyota, OK? ... It's her dog.'"
Johnson also talked about marriage. He asked about the number of married men in the room, shown by applause (a fair number). "How many of you've been married two years? Five years? Ten years? ... I got a lot of sympathy cards to buy, I tell you. But you know when something's wrong with your wife just by the way she's acting when you come in the house, at least I can ... 'What's wrong, dear?' And she gives me that classic answer, 'Nothing.' Now I know something's wrong because she rearranged the furniture on me three times this week. 'Don't tell me nothing's wrong and I look like Dick Van Dyke comin' in the house every night, OK?'"
Johnson also talked about shopping. "Aw man, it was just wild vehicles and men cuttin' up small animals, and crazy drivers, it was hot, it was cold, ... people tryin' to take your money all over the place. That was just double coupon day at the supermarket, OK!" And then he brought up the cord -- the bungee cord. "People wonder about us getting thrills. Have you guys heard of bungee cord jumping?" "Yeah!" "How do you come out with bungee cord jumping? It's fun!" He asked Pam Shaw whether she was married; she said yes. "Good. How many times [have you jumped]? Just once? Well, how much fun was it if it was only once? Where did you do it?" "Jamaica," she replied. "I admire you for that, because I don■t know if it's something I could do, but I mean that guy really had to be bored who came up with bungee cord jumping," he said. "What was he doing, sitting around his house one day going, 'Hmmm. Man, you know, I need something to do. Let me see ... here's a big rubber band, there's a bridge, I think I'll go out and scare myself to death.' Let's see, if I want to get that same kind of thrill, all I gotta do is go out and cross a four-way intersection."
Blind people get asked a lot of questions, and one question Johnson gets asked frequently is, "How can you do that, and you're blind?" He mentioned his love of barbecuing. "'Oh, you just turned that meat. How can you do that, and you're blind?' Because the organizations like the ACB told me I could!" He also hears the question "How do you dress yourself?" frequently. "After Saturday night, I wonder that myself!" And one question people ask without fail is, "'What is it like going through life without vision?' Well, that's kind of like being a Republican ... but with a much higher IQ." The audience laughed and clinked silverware against glasses.
"There are 10 good things about being blind," Johnson stated. They are: 10. The smog in LA never blocks my view of the mountains. 9. I never have to watch the Clippers play basketball. 8. I can't tell the difference between Ross Perot and a donkey. 7. It's real easy to get blind drunk. ("That's one of my favorites.") 6. I can always get a job in major league baseball as an umpire. 5. I truly read "Playboy" for the articles. 4. I have an excuse for driving too slow on the freeway. 3. I never have to worry about paying my light bill on time. 2. If my wife asks me "Does this dress make me look fat?" I can honestly say, "No." 1. Michael Jackson still looks black to me.
"I guess he still looks black to a lot of you people too, huh?" Johnson said. He mentioned that it was his 10th wedding anniversary, and asked what the appropriate gift was. Someone in the audience said, "Rubber." "That's the last time I'll ask the question at a convention! ... If you would've asked me what I wanted to do on my 10-year anniversary, the last thing that I would've said was to be at a convention. Now, the first thing I will say for my 20th is to be at a convention."
He wished he'd had this kind of thing when he was growing up. "... The word 'blind' was not mentioned for a long time. I didn't even know what it was, I didn't know any blind organizations, and there's one blind organization that I will not mention by name that I wish I didn't know, but their initials are NFB ... I really think that the strides and the accomplishments that ACB is making is really fantastic. This is the last convention in this century, and I am darn glad we will have them in the next one. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!"
Comedian Kenny Johnson talks about growing up blind in Chicago. "What? I'm black?! Oh man, I'm gonna have to quit listening to those Barry Manilow albums!"*****
(Editor's Note: Copies of the ACB constitution are available in all formats from the national office. In addition, the constitution and bylaws are accessible at the ACB web site, http://www.acb.org.)
Article IV, Section E was amended by inserting the following sentence at the beginning of the section: "The quorum for business meetings of the Board of Directors shall be twelve."
Article IV, Section J was amended as follows: In substitution for the first sentence, the following sentences were inserted: "If a vacancy should occur between annual conventions in an elected position on either the Board of Publications or the Board of Directors, except in the office of President and First Vice President, the Board of Directors shall, by a majority vote, elect an individual to serve in the position until the next annual convention. At this convention, if necessary, the membership shall elect a successor to serve for the remainder of the term."
Article IV, Section J was amended, as a matter of housekeeping, to read: "An officer, director, or member of the Board of Publications, elected or succeeding to a position under the provisions of this section, shall assume the duties of that position immediately upon election or succession."
Article IV, Section K was amended to read: "An evidentiary hearing shall be conducted upon receipt by the president of a petition signed by a minimum of seven members of the Board of Directors. Removal from office shall require an..."
Article V, Section D-2 was amended by striking from the first sentence the words, "currently an officer of the American Council of the Blind." The new wording is, therefore: "No person who is actively seeking election to the American Council of the Blind shall serve on this committee unless such person is the only voting member present at the convention from the affiliate he or she is to represent." The new wording allows current officers to serve on the committee.
Article V, Section D-2 was further amended to read "All nominating committee meetings are closed to those not on the committee. Late arrivals shall be admitted after each nominee is chosen, and before consideration of the next position begins."*****
In Arlington, Va., police chief Edward Flynn stepped out of his office in the county court house, exited and met with a small group gathered outside, which included an orientation and mobility instructor, representatives of the local media, and a handful of blind and visually impaired people. After speaking with the group, and getting some quick instruction from the O&M instructor, he slipped off his glasses, slid on a blindfold, grabbed the cane and said nervously, "Let's go."
With the instructor by his side, the media ahead, and the group of blind and visually impaired people behind, he negotiated the walk from his office building to the corner of N. Courthouse Road and 15th Street. He stopped, listening for traffic. Overhead an airplane flew noisily in the direction of National Airport; across the street came the sounds of construction, including an extremely loud jackhammer. Along the street, passengers in cars gawked out their windows; other pedestrians stopped and took a second look. Still Flynn waited, listening through three changes of the traffic light to be sure it was safe. Only then did he cross.
When he was safely across the street, he took off the blindfold, put his glasses back on, and told how he felt. "[You] try to do the right thing and listen to the traffic, but all you can hear is the jackhammer," he noted. Flynn hadn't realized how hazardous the intersection was until he couldn't see it. At first, he'd been worrying about stumbling, tripping and falling. But, "I stopped worrying about making a fool of myself and started worrying about getting from point A to point B." All in all, he said, it was "quite a dramatic lesson."
Arlington County, he said, is trying to make intersections more pedestrian friendly, but it will take a while. The county is growing, and getting more cars and pedestrians. Longtime residents know they're supposed to yield the right-of-way to blind pedestrians, but there are so many residents from other places who don't know that's what they're supposed to do. "Nobody's got air bags in their pockets," he said. The county has implemented a program to try to reduce the number of accidents that occur in it. One person makes a difference in Indiana
(Editor's Note: This portion was reprinted from the ACB of Indiana "Focus.")
In Indiana, Nellie Kelly learned that one person can make a difference. She wrote a letter to the editor of the "Evening World" addressing the fact that the current Indiana Motor Vehicle Handbook fails to address state and federal laws concerning yielding the right-of-way to blind pedestrians. As a result of her letter, and contact with state officials, the next revision of the driver's manual will find the appropriate changes being made to address Kelly's concerns. In her letter, she explained, "Those of us who are blind or visually impaired, yet are able to be fairly independent with just a little consideration of others, would appreciate having the right-of-way law brought to the attention of all motorists. None of us will dart into a street without first ascertaining, to the best of our ability, whether or not a car is approaching. This is sometimes made difficult by cars parked nearby with the motor running, or a car may veer around a corner without slowing." The current driver's manual instructs drivers only to "respect" pedestrians with a white cane or guide dog, but state law requires that "A person who drives a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a blind pedestrian carrying a white cane or accompanied by a guide dog."
She also sent the letter to state representative Vern Tincher and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Kelly later received a reply from BMV Director of Driver Service, Linda M. Datzman, who wrote, "While the current wording references any individual who may have difficulty in crossing streets, including the blind, I agree with your concern as to requirements by law. In that regard, I will make appropriate changes to the driver's manual with the next revision."*****
The announcement of new products and services in this column should not be considered an endorsement of those products and services by the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products or services mentioned.
NEED A JOB?
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is seeking applicants for the position of Director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. This senior management service position is responsible for administrative and professional work in directing statewide program services for the blind and visually impaired. It requires six years of responsible experience in the field of human services, including four years in an administrative, consultative, or supervisory capacity providing services to the blind or visually impaired, and a bachelor's degree, or an equivalent combination of experience and training. Qualified applicants should submit a resume and cover letter by December 30, 1999 to Robin Mills, Bureau of Personnel, Department of Labor and Industry, 1418 L&I Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120.
SGA & COLA
According to a recent announcement in the "Federal Register," there will be a 2.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits effective this month. SSI recipients will also notice an increase in benefit amounts in 2000: $512 for an eligible individual, $769 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, and $257 for an essential person. The monthly amount of substantial gainful activity for blind individuals will be $1,170 in 2000.
Looking for a fortune cookie with a fortune you can read? You■re in luck! The Lucky Touch Fortune Cookie Company, run by students of the California School for the Blind, have fortune cookies with braille and large print fortunes. You can customize your order to fit the event, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, birthdays or anniversaries. To order, call Judith Lesner at (510) 794-3800. Ask about special holiday packages.
From now until December 31, Kurzweil 1000 is available to owners of other reading systems for $395. For more information, call (800) 894-5374.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children has its 2000 catalog available. It includes many new books in braille, as well as print-braille-and-picture books, braille shirts and totes, and books that are going out of print. To request a copy of the catalog, call (800) 777-8552, or write to Seedlings, PO Box 51924, Livonia, MI 48151-5924.
Applications for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic's annual scholarships are now available. RFB&D's Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards are given to nine blind or visually impaired seniors at four-year U.S. colleges or universities. The Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards are presented to six high school seniors with learning disabilities. Competitions are open to active RFB&D members who have been registered for at least one year prior to the deadline, either individually or through their school, and who demonstrate outstanding scholarship, leadership, enterprise and service to others. For more information, call (800) 221-4792. The application deadline is February 21, 2000.
Do you know your choices for receiving SSI or other federal benefits? It's not just about getting a check in the mail. You can do a direct deposit, where the funds will go directly into your bank account and you won't have to worry about the weather or being sick. Or, if you don't have a bank account, the U.S. Treasury Department has a new choice available: an electronic transfer account, which is a new low-cost federally insured account. The account allows at least four cash withdrawals and four balance inquiries per month from a teller and/or ATM at the option of the financial institution. Or, if you prefer, you can still receive your monthly check. To learn more about your payment choices, contact the different agencies as follows: Social Security, (800) 772-1213; Veterans Affairs, (877) 838-2770; Office of Personnel Management, (888) 767-6738; or Railroad Retirement Board, (800) 808-0772.
PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS
Outstanding female K-12 public school teachers can receive up to $9,000 for professional development and projects designed to advance girls' achievement in math, science and/or technology. The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation awards funds to women teachers individually or as lead members of teams that include other teachers or administrators, men and women. Approximately 25 Eleanor Roosevelt Teacher Fellowships are available for the 2000-2001 school year. Applications must be postmarked by January 10, 2000. For applications, call (319) 337- 1716, or visit http://www.aauw.org/3000/ertfapp.html.
The AAUW also has community action grants to support innovative programs designed to promote education and equity for women and girls. One-year grants provide seed money for a clearly defined activity that must be innovative, community-based and related to education and equity for women and girls. Two-year grants require a focus on activities supporting K-12 public school girls■ achievement in math, science and/or technology, as well as school/community partnerships. Applications for these grants must be postmarked no later than February 1, 2000. For applications, call the number above, or visit http://www.aauw.org/3000/cagapp.html.
LARGE PRINT SHABBOS
The Jewish Heritage for the Blind now has the ■Shabbos Siddur■ in Hebrew available in large print free of charge for the visually impaired. Mail or fax your request, along with a note from your doctor confirming that you have a vision problem and need large print, to Jewish Heritage for the Blind, 1655 E. 24th St., Brooklyn, NY 11229; fax (718) 338-0653. Supply is limited to one per family. The Hebrew/English large print edition will be available shortly.
FOR SALE: Office 97. $100 or best offer. Portable Panasonic CD player, $50 or best offer. Contact Monty Cassellius at (309) 454-6097, or via e-mail at montyjc @davesworld.net.
FOR SALE: Type 'n Speak new edition, never used. No reasonable offer refused. Call Tamara Rorie at (404) 298-0108.
FOR SALE: Perkins brailler, like new. Only used a few hours. Asking $400. Contact Ed at (909) 637-8867, or e-mail him at [email protected]
FOR SALE: IBM computer with Windows 95, JAWS, ZoomText, and a printer. Asking $1,500 (includes shipping). Call Rosemir at (510) 233-6105.
FOR SALE: Voyager CCTV model VR2A. In excellent condition. Asking $1,000 or best offer, plus shipping. Contact Barry DeGardner at (612) 786-1372 or via e-mail at [email protected]*****
(Editor's Note: Sing the following to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," with apologies to Robert Burns. Best wishes for a happy holiday season and a peaceful, uneventful Y2K!)
What will you do on New Year's Eve
They say that Y2K will strike
As we're singing "Auld Lang Syne."
They can't agree just what will be
For now, it's a mystery.
Stay on your toes! Your bank might close!
Or you'll have no electricity.
Will all your acquaintances be forgot?
Will you be mean and rude?
When groceries are scarcities
And they come to beg for food?
What problems lurk when computer chips don't work?
Perhaps your car won't start.
And what about that pacemaker
you depend on for your heart?
You'd be insane to board a plane
Or walk through a hospital door.
Don't use an elevator
When you go from floor to floor.
It's Y2K, me-dears,
Or so the experts say.
Will things just go on normally
Or will it be Judgment Day?
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SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
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ELIZABETH M. LENNON, Kalamazoo, MI