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We dedicate this issue of "The Braille Forum" to the memory of Anne Fesh, who passed away on August 23. There is an empty space in our office and a sadness in our hearts that will be impossible to fill or to heal. We may find others who will fix our computers, install our software, answer our phones, hang posters and photos on our walls, update our resource lists, ease the stress for folks waiting in line to register at ACB conventions, and be there for countless blind and visually impaired men and women who call seeking answers and hope. But none of those "replacements" will be Anne whose quiet humility and non-judgmental compassion and empathy for others are the standard against which all who attempt to fill the void will be forever judged.
Anne, we miss you. In friendship and sadness, and with gratitude, we dedicate this issue of ACB's "Braille Forum" to you.
Anne Fesh and Bernell Grell staff the registration office at the Louisville convention. (Copyright 2000 by Ken Nichols)
Anne Fesh, far right, and fellow office staffers Jessica Beach, Jennifer Sutton, Laura Thomasch, Sharon Lovering and Nolan Crabb smile for the camera before leaving for the 1994 office Christmas party. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Lovering)
Our American Council of the Blind family has lost a dear friend, a valued member and a tireless worker who lifted us all up by her dedication to carrying out her duties without concern for how hard or how long it would take. Anne Fesh passed away this morning (Aug. 23, 2001) and while her physical battle was lost to the disease that took her life, her spirits never faltered nor her caring for all of us who she has had to leave behind.
While Anne Fesh was mostly in the background of all our work at the national office, she stood in the foreground of the very reason for ACB's success. Anne Fesh did her job and did it well. She took every building block and placed it at the foundation of our efforts.
Thank you, Anne. Thank you for being who you were and making us in real ways who we are. Thank you for not complaining when resources were low or when you had a right to be upset. Thank you for staying the course and showing the rest of us that with all of your education and knowledge, it is really the small but steady things like keeping on task and being there that count and make a difference.
ACB and all of us at the national office will miss you and there will be times when we will not really know what to say except you have earned our respect as a person, our love as a friend and our admiration for just being who you were. We pray for your peace and rest.
We give you this final tribute not for the day or the moment, but for all the days you shared with us and for all the days to come in which you will not be forgotten.
(Editor's Note: Below are just a few of the messages of condolence which came to our office as we attempted to cope with the illness and loss of our friend, Anne Fesh.)
Thank you for your openness, your caring, your dedication and your spirit. May God keep you in His arms. -- Rob Hill
I have known Anne ever since she came to work at ACB. In fact, I think I was President at the time. I respected Anne very much for what she did in our office and for ACB.
Anne was the person who did much of what I call the grunt work. She did whatever she was asked to do and many things that other people in the office wouldn't do. It has been some time since I have worked with Anne but this is how I remember her.
Anne will be missed by all, and it is a sad day. -- LeRoy Saunders
I only knew Anne through a couple of phone conversations, but the tribute to her contained in this e-mail says a lot about how her office colleagues felt about her. Hugs to all of the national office staff as you deal with the loss of a friend. -- Berl Colley
Any time you lose a valued member of staff day-to-day default that you know is always there for so many years, it breaks up the family. We must regret her passing, and never forget to be gentle with each other. -- Lynne Koral
Hi everyone! I was sorry to hear that Anne Fesh passed away. The tribute written by Charlie was really touching. I went through a bout with cancer four years ago so understand some of what she experienced. ACB has indeed lost a good employee and friend. It will be hard to carry on even though that's what we must do. -- Kathy Brockman
Dear Charlie and Penny and all ACB staff,
Anne's passing is a loss to us all. Your tribute to her was touching and so appropriate for all our feelings about her. Please share with us if a special fund or donation as a memorial is being planned. The camaraderie and love shared and expressed by all of you are a blessing to all of us. Thank you. -- Teddie-Joy Remhild
I visited Anne in the hospital yesterday and just wanted to add that her partner, Kathi Wolfe, told me that Anne has requested memorial tributes go to ACB. Many members don't know Anne, but she knew all of you. She worked on the membership certification and she kept our computers working and she worked in the registration office at the ACB conventions. Besides that, she managed the office procedures, things like seeing to shipments and deliveries and technicians for the fax machines and technicians to fix the phones. She stayed on top of all that work, and still had the understanding to stay on the phone talking for half an hour to someone who was terrified because they were going blind. She stayed with them as long as they needed to talk, and then she stayed late to get her other work done. She worked until the last day she could work until her illness stopped her. ACB was honored to have someone like Anne Fesh for those brief years she gave to us. -- Billie Jean Keith
I remember the first time I met Anne Fesh. I was the new kid in the ACB office, back in late July 1993. She was fairly new herself, having been hired as the office manager just weeks earlier.
We learned the ropes of the database together -- on an old 286 machine that was set up in the printer room at the back of our old office. There were times when we'd curse it together, too, when it acted up, ate data or gave us garbage data.
And we grew in our roles at ACB as well. Anne taught me a number of things, including how to make the copier survive with however little toner it had in it. She always made sure to check with me about supplies for the disk edition of "The Braille Forum."
We enjoyed and endured Metro rides, staff meetings, luncheons, birthday parties, staff changes, working at conventions and Christmas parties. I learned how little she liked to be reminded about her birthday. Recently we found a picture of Anne standing between Bernell Grell and Jim Olsen from the Minneapolis office, and noticed something we hadn't before: she was wearing a second name tag on her waist that said "Imagettin" on the top line, and "Imagettin Tired of Convention" on the second line. On her face was the biggest grin I'd ever seen.
Back in late December, Anne was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. I felt as if I'd been punched below the belt. I also remembered how close I'd been to that stage myself. (I've been battling endometriosis since I was 13; had a precancerous grapefruit-sized growth removed from my right ovary in 1995.) She'd had surgery, chemotherapy and numerous follow-up appointments and check-ups, and had been in remission for a while. When her leg swelled, she received radiation treatments, which made her hair fall out.
A week or so ago, Cindy (my sister), Barbara, Patricia and I went to see her at home. We'd been told by Kathi Wolfe that the cancer had spread throughout Anne's system, and that death was drawing ever closer. She was still able to respond, and thoroughly enjoyed the flowers we'd brought, the pictures, and some conversation.
Earlier this week (the week of Aug. 20), she had been moved over to Hospice's facility in Arlington, Va. The tumor in her brain was growing, and she was unable to respond verbally or otherwise. Yesterday Kathi called to inform us that Anne's death was imminent.
I woke up this morning at a quarter to five with the sense that something was happening or about to happen. I couldn't figure out what it was. After I'd been at work a while, Kathi called with the news that Anne had died at 5:23 a.m. And that's quite a testament to how well you know someone after working together for eight years.
WASHINGTON, September 12, 2001 -- Today I sit with still fingers resting upon the home row of the computer keyboard and long for the wisdom to write something that can help readers make sense of events which are totally unacceptable. A radio plays softly in the background of my consciousness. The news is devastating. Alison Aubrey has just told Neil Conan, who is hosting NPR's "Talk of the Nation," that she has heard an estimate that as many as 40,000 people may have been killed yesterday by terrorists whose identity is as yet unknown. Conan says, "I have never hoped so much that an NPR reporter is wrong," and Aubrey, with voice shaking, agrees.
We cannot comprehend such a tragedy. My children ask, "Why did this happen? How could anyone do a thing like this? Will we go to war? Who is our enemy? Who are our friends?"
As I struggle to find answers, for them and for myself, I long to be able to tell them that life will return to the easy way we took our safety and security for granted just the day before yesterday, but I know that I must tell them the truth and that life will, in fact, never be the same for any of us again.
Today there are military officers, wearing camouflage and carrying weapons, stationed, with a hum-v, at the corner down our street. Today, the only planes in the skies overhead are fighter planes. Today we think about friends and ACB members who we know live in New York City; we worry about their safety and pray for it. Today we answer e-mail messages from kind friends and supporters in the United States and across the world, thanking them for their sympathy and their concern. Today we resolutely came to work to assure anyone who might doubt it that we will continue being the people and the organization and the nation that we have always been, that, yes, we will continue working to make life better for people who are blind and visually impaired, and traveling the streets of Washington, DC because they belong to us.
Today, when Charlie Crawford, Krista Merritt, Melanie Brunson and I were meeting with folks from AFB and NIB to discuss issues on a legislative agenda which seemed this morning to be a relic of another era, our building began to fill with smoke and fumes. Quickly, we and everyone else on staff and in the 11-story building evacuated. We're all on edge, and our immediate presumption centered on the likelihood of a terrorist attack. Firefighters arrived, along with news crews from local TV stations and photographers from our across-the-street neighbor, "The Washington Post."
No, it was not another terrorist attack. Just a rather routine occurrence. While testing the building's heating system, fumes from the boiler, which had not been turned on since April, had escaped into the building's ventilation system. Eventually, we put our cell phones back into our pockets after reassuring relatives and one another that it was a normal day, a minor happening in the scheme of things. Knots of building tenants who had gathered in nervous groups along the sidewalk across the street from 1155 15th Street gradually dispersed. We crossed back over 15th Street and came back to work, struggling for normalcy and security in the routine of e-mail, legislative strategy sessions, and the casual discourse of people who care about one another.
Yet we, like all of you, are not the same people we were the day before yesterday.
We at "The Braille Forum" extend to all of you who have lost loved ones, and all of us who will never again be the innocent people we were before September 11, 2001, our sadness, and a kind of desolate, shared sympathy for which there seems to be no word in the English language. We are grateful to be members of the ACB family, for we can find among our friends and colleagues, our brothers and sisters, our role models and our mentors the strength and support which nurtures us in moments of sadness and sustains our spirits as we pledge to preserve our way of life. Like all other Americans, we bow our heads in sadness, ask God for help and understanding, and pledge to survive the tragedy of a country at war, lives lost, and innocence and complacency vanished. God bless us all, and God bless America.
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" is not responsible for the opinions expressed herein. We will not print letters unless you sign your name and give us your address.
A message from Spain
Dear Mr. Edwards,
In the name of the President of the General Council of the
Spanish National Organization of the Blind, Mr. Jos‚ Marˇa
Arroyo, I wish to express to you, your organization and all blind
people of the United States our deep feelings of solidarity in
the moments of hardship and sorrow you are going through.
With our warmest regards,
Manager of International Relations
From the moment I agreed to write this until now, the deadline to submit, I have struggled. How does one begin a tribute? What does one share? Do I have writer's block? Today the truth hit me. I just haven't accepted the loss of Nelson Malbone. Perhaps we were too close; when we met there was an instant bonding. We shared each other's hopes and dreams. We helped each other through personal challenges.
As our friendship and respect for each other grew, I became more and more involved in the process of building a strong Virginia Association of the Blind.
VAB was truly Nelson's calling. I think as Nelson's eyes were fading to darkness, his mind was thinking 20/20. For Nelson never did anything with VAB on a small scale; always looking to the future, he made sure that VAB rose to prominence on the local, state and national scene.
When VAB got an 800 number it was a national, not an in-state number; when VAB started raising money, Nelson chose a national promoter.
At the recent VAB 20th anniversary banquet, there were many tributes to Nelson. I wanted to speak, but not alone. Peg Wild, Gail Henrich and I spoke together, and that was as it should have been. With Alice and Nelson, we three had spent hundreds of hours at the Malbone apartment. For in the early years, VAB depended on volunteers and bourbon to get the work done. See, Nelson worked hard, but he played hard too.
As Peg, Gail and I spoke about our friend, I gazed around the room. The VAB banquet this night was larger than the first state convention that I had attended. In the early years, sometimes we couldn't get a quorum for a monthly meeting. Now there are 5 VAB satellites throughout Virginia with plans for more.
Even now, a month after Nelson's passing, I'm having difficulty writing this. I always knew that I respected Nelson, I always knew that Nelson was my friend and mentor. I just never realized how much I loved him.
Go forward on your journey, Nelson; you have trained us well. Many people are stepping up to the challenge of operating the Virginia Association of the Blind. We miss you, we love you and some day we will join you. The stories we will share!!!!
Assunta Zoia was a friend in grade school and high school, during the depression era job search and other youthful adventures. Assunta Lilley continued to be a loyal friend and co-worker throughout her life which ended on August 27, 2001.
Readers of "The Braille Forum" should remember Assunta as one of the pioneers. She was among the first to serve in what are now many of the well-established organizations concerned with the welfare and independence of people who are blind. She was active for many years in ACB, was a charter member of the Missouri Federation of the Blind (now the Missouri Council of the Blind), a charter member of RITE (Real Independence Through Employment), a Missouri Council affiliate and of the MCB Credit Union. She was a member of the Alumni Association of the Missouri School for the Blind and served for some time on the Advisory Council of MSB. She was a member and past president of the Mid-Town St. Louis Lions Club who presented to her the Melvin Jones Award. A devout believer in her religion, she never failed to make time for service in her church, where she took her turn as reader at Sunday mass. This may have been the first time her fellow parishioners had ever seen braille in use.
Assunta was not just a joiner, she was a worker. Whenever a project was afoot she was there with slate and stylus, typewriter, tape recorder, telephone or whatever it took to get the job done.
Her personal work history is one of a life-long determination to earn her way as independently as it is possible for a blind person to do. After high school she attended the Mound City Business School in St. Louis. But in the late thirties and early forties jobs for blind young women in the world of business were not merely unavailable; they were unheard of. So her first job was that of proofreader of braille books on a WPA project. (For further information about WPA you may consult a very elderly relative.) During World War II she was among those of us who found employment in the factories that were doing war work. After the war other doors began to open, and Assunta found a position as typist in a state welfare office. This was followed by 30 years of employment as transcriber of records for the Federal Civil Service Commission.
Assunta was never too busy to enjoy life. When in school she sang in chorus and glee club and played piano and organ. She loved parties as guest or as host.
Assunta was loyal and generous with time and talent. She made friends wherever she went, as many readers of the "Forum" may remember, especially those of you who were fortunate to enjoy her company at ACB conventions in cities all the way from Boston to San Francisco. She knew how to work and how to play, how to serve in any cause she believed in and how to celebrate the companionship of friends. I am sorry to have lost her and truly grateful to have known her.
I want to announce in this message ACB's bold new initiatives regarding our Internet presence. We are well under way with the work of maximizing the power of today's Internet and the world wide web for our organization, its members, and friends.
As many of you know, we experienced a huge crash of the ACB web site in August. The ACB web site was down for five-plus days, has had varying degrees of stability since coming back up, and some data was irretrievably lost. In addition, there has been a degrading of our list services in the past several months, and the software that runs our lists is seriously out-of-date by today's computing standards. ACB is now poised on the brink of major changes in how we work with the Internet, partly because of these events but primarily because we are in a position to take several major steps forward in this arena.
Within the next month, ACB will move most of its Internet activities to equipment wholly owned and supported by the organization and located in an environment that maximizes connectivity to fast, reliable Internet channels of communication. ACB will manage and fully implement the capabilities of ACB.org as well as utilize this new architecture for a base to increase web-based and Internet radio services. Finally, we will significantly upgrade and change how we handle list management for lists such as ACB-L, ACB-Announce, and ACB- Leadership.
I'm sure you can appreciate the magnitude of this move and its undertaking. At the moment, we are in the process of finalizing some equipment orders, and waiting for other equipment to arrive that allows for a solid connection to the Internet. Once the equipment has arrived, the work of loading and configuring the ACB Internet system must be done. Then, we must organize a smooth transition from our current situation to the use of the entire ACB.org domain and its wide array of new possibilities for the organization. There will doubtless be a few hiccups and snags as we move through this work, so I ask for your patience while things get organized and put together.
I want to thank and acknowledge the work, now and in the near future, of the core group involved in this effort. Members are: Earlene Hughes; Jonathan Mosen; Matt Campbell; and Charlie Crawford. I also want to thank Scott White and Penny Reeder for their support and involvement during these past several weeks.
I know that, as time passes, and ACB.org becomes the exciting and reliably stable Internet resource we expect it to become, we will all be able to celebrate the most informative Internet resource about blindness and blind people on the world wide web.
I met with Sen. Tom Harkin immediately prior to the opening session of the ACB annual convention, where Harkin was slated to be the keynote speaker. I was a little nervous and out of breath, having lost my way in Des Moines' skywalk system on the way over to the convention center, and having admired and respected the senator since he entered my consciousness about a dozen years ago because of his outspoken advocacy for people with disabilities. He put me at ease immediately, and during the course of our interview, with hordes of people and dogs and canes swirling and tapping and converging around us, he made me feel as if I was the most important person he had ever spoken with. I am grateful to him for granting me this opportunity to interview him, and ACB this opportunity to get to know one of the most effective advocates for disability rights in the U. S. Senate today.
Q: I know that your brother, whose disability influenced your own resolve to help people with disabilities, was deaf. I wonder, have you known people who are blind and visually impaired?
A: Well, I didn't really know any blind people when I was growing up here in Iowa. It wasn't until later on that I became acquainted with people who were blind. One of the first was an attorney from right here in Des Moines, John Wellman. I hope you'll be able to meet him while you're here, because he's one of the really great trial attorneys here in Iowa. He's a very capable individual.
Q: You have been instrumental in bringing about many of the special education laws which guarantee that children who are blind and visually impaired can expect a free, appropriate public education. What do you think the future holds for special education laws like IDEA? Can you comment on the proposed discipline amendments, and the general lack of support we perceive today for children in special education, sometimes from administrators, sometimes even from mainstream teachers who may have qualms about having a disabled child in their classrooms? Certainly there has never been enough funding for special education. How do you think we can tackle issues like these?
A: Well, first of all, even as we're doing this interview, we're making progress. Along with Senator Hagel (R-Neb.), I offered an amendment as we're re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which gets the federal government up to the point where we're fully funding special ed.
Q: What chance do you think that amendment has for passage?
A: We got it passed in the Senate. Now we have to go to conference with the House, and we're going to fight to keep it there. I think we have a reasonably good chance of keeping it there.
We've been hearing from all the sectors. We've heard from the disability community of course, and we've also heard from state governments who recognize that, if the federal government doesn't step in and do something, then the funding for special ed. will fall on the property taxpayers. If the states can get more money from the federal government, then they won't have any reason to say they can't afford to provide adequate services any longer.
The discipline issue is always a tough one, but I'm hopeful that we'll be able to reach some compromises on that issue. The one thing that I will dig my heels in on is to make sure that no kid can be summarily dismissed from a classroom just because a teacher doesn't want him or her there.
We're going to set up the laws to say explicitly that before a child can be removed from a classroom, there has to be a hearing with the IEP team, as there is today. And there have to be due process protections in place.
Secondly, I'll never give up on the principle that specialized services cannot be ceased.
If a kid with a disability is truly disruptive, and that's not a manifestation of the disability, and he or she is receiving all the services, and because of the behavior issues, the kid must be removed from the classroom for a while, the school system cannot cease providing those services.
On the other hand, a lot of times we find that kids act up because they really aren't getting the support services they need, and we just can't allow that to happen.
Q: Let's switch topics a little bit and talk about the Americans with Disabilities Act. What do you think of the Casey Martin decision?
A: Of course I applaud it loudly! At seven to two, it was a very strong decision.
Think what this means for all people with disabilities! Some people may say, "Aw, it's just a golf game..." But the essence of the decision was this: No longer will it be permissible to deny someone a reasonable accommodation simply because it's "tradition," or "That's the way we always did it!"
Q: And, on the other side of the coin, can you talk about the Garrett decision?
A: Well, of course, the decision was disappointing. But, we have to remember, that was a narrow decision, and furthermore, it applies only to state governments. Besides that, it only applies to one's ability to collect damages. So, while I wasn't happy about the decision, it's important to note that Garrett is a narrow decision.
And we'll find ways perhaps to modify the ADA to minimize the negative ramifications.
Q: Would you open up the ADA for amendments?
A: No. But we're going to have to make some changes in other laws to provide for people to sue state governments and get damages.
Q: We're a little worried at ACB that the disability community in general hasn't seemed to react to the Garrett decision. We don't seem to have re-grouped to respond to the decision. Do you think that there's something that the disabled community should be doing to bring everybody along?
A: People with disabilities need to help us figure out how to draft laws properly.
Q: Do you actually need more evidence of discrimination, as the court suggested as justification for their decision in the Garrett case?
A: We had all kinds of evidence! In our amicus brief that I filed with Sen. Dole, we gave them so many cases, we showed the hearing record from the hearings I had held when I was chairman back in the '80s, we had more than enough evidence on state discrimination!
The court just got hung up on this constitutional concept of separation, and I think there's a way around it, and we're going to work to try to find it.
Don't forget about the Olmstead decision, which, in many ways, is the most encouraging decision concerning disability rights to come down from the court. The court said that you have to provide [services] first, i.e., that the money follows the person, and not the program.
Q: What do you see in terms of the future for people with disabilities? Do you think we'll be able to overcome the opposition to equal access we continue to see every day in the media? Do you think we can solve our unemployment problems?
A: It's not going to be easy. It never has been for people with disabilities. But we've come a long way in the last few years.
Today a child with a disability can hope and can dream, and can plan for a future! Our children have IDEA to back them up, and they have the ADA to back them up.
And we're changing society. Buildings are changing; they're more accessible -- to everyone. People who are blind are now finding that our buildings today are easier to navigate around than they used to be.
Q: And when we start getting "Talking Signs" in important buildings like the Capitol?...
A: That's going to happen!
And another thing that gives me hope is the new technologies. The new [assistive] technologies are going to enable people to do things they never even imagined before! For example, even a few years ago, the thought that a person who is blind could use a computer, that would have been unimaginable!
Q: My final question, as we get closer to that opening bell for tonight's convention session, what about your future?
A: I'm up for re-election next year, and the Republicans are putting up a tough opponent here in Iowa, so I'll have a tough re-election campaign. But I plan to run for re-election, and I plan to continue to expand horizons for people with disabilities.
I really want to tackle better job accommodations, and using technology to accomplish job accommodations.
Q: Technology is so expensive. That's just about the first thing a potential employer will tell you.
A: We're going to have to find ways of providing for tax credits and supports for employers so they don't have that excuse to make for not hiring a person who needs the accommodations.
Another focus I will continue to have is on accessibility to voting. I have seen the technology, and it works. I have seen one voting machine that literally anyone can use! If you're deaf, if you're blind, if you can't speak the language -- anyone can use this machine!
So I want to push ahead on voting access. I don't want to have a "mish-mash" of machines and systems; my dream would be that we have one [standard] machine for the whole country, and one set of voting laws that makes the process accessible for everybody, no matter what their disabilities, their abilities, or where they live.
At this point in our interview, we noticed that the crowds which had been converging at the doorway in front of us had diminished markedly. Reluctantly I stowed my tape recorder, and the senator and I went into the opening session of ACB's 40th annual convention, he to the speakers' platform at the front of the hall, I to a seat near the front so I would be sure not to miss any segment of this historic occasion.
When Harkin spoke to the assembled convention a few minutes later, he expanded on themes we had spoken about together a few minutes before. He held the convention alternately spellbound and on their feet with exuberant applause as he said, "I pledge to you that I will fight for the funding necessary to help every American who is blind to achieve independence."
About the Mi Casa legislation, introduced once again in this session of Congress, "Money that comes through Medicaid should go directly to the individual who needs the health care."
And, "We must never forget that prohibiting discrimination is not the same as ensuring equal opportunity. There is a great deal more to be done."
(Author's Note: The story I am about to relate is a true one. I tell it not to disparage anyone's faith or personal religious experience, but just to share my own personal experience and to bring attention to a topic which may be important to those of us who are blind.) Introduction
I was about 15 years old, and I was attending a summer program for the blind, where I was learning how to use a long, white mobility cane and some basic skills of daily living, such as simple cooking, cutting up food, etc. I was one of a handful of students. Some were older than I was and had partial sight. There were even a few quite elderly students who were deaf and blind.
I became friendly with a deaf-blind woman named Maria. Often, when we had free time, I would painstakingly spell into her hand, using the manual alphabet. She would respond by talking to me with her voice. Because her deafness had occurred later in life, her speech was quite good.
"I am going to Lourdes to ask God to heal me," she confided to me one day.
I was quite surprised. "How do you know God will heal you?" I asked her.
She began explaining about Jesus and how he had healed the sick. She was so sure of getting what she wanted that her voice rang with authority.
When I met her again after her return from Lourdes, I learned that she had gone through thousands of dollars to make the trip, because she had had to travel with a companion. She was, as far as I could tell, as deaf and as blind as she had been before the trip.
When I asked her what had happened she said, "Well, I didn't get my hearing or sight, but I did get a miracle. My son contacted me. I got a letter from him and I haven't heard from him in a long time."
This seemed to me to have been a very high price to pay for a letter, but even at my young age, I knew it was best to keep my opinions to myself. The Seeds of an Idea
I was having a hard time in school. I was 15, and I was blind and overweight. I had few friends, and felt desperately lonely. I found myself daydreaming about what life would be like if I could see.
If only I hadn't been born prematurely... I wondered if I would have lots of friends. I wondered what it would be like to walk about unassisted. What would it be like to read my favorite books, or to choose books from the shelves of a library or bookstore?
The next summer, I went to a music camp, and one of the campers, Jean, became a good friend. She told me that her mother was "into the supernatural," and when I visited Jean after camp was over, her mother read to me from a magazine that contained articles about people who communicated with the dead, and who saw ghosts in their bedrooms. I loved these articles. One day, she read me a story about a famous faith healer. It said that this person had cured many people, and had helped the blind to see and the lame to walk. Something about this article made an impression on me, and I wondered if it would be worthwhile to go see this famous person who could actually "heal" a disability like blindness.
Jean's mother made a copy of the magazine article, and I gave it to my mother.
Soon I forgot about the article, and went about my daily routine of school, homework, and listening to recorded books. Once in a while, I would turn on the radio and hear a sermon about healing. One radio evangelist would scream at the top of his lungs and make weird sounds. He told people to put their hands on the radio, so that God's power could reach through the airwaves to touch their bodies and heal them.
It certainly wasn't difficult to place my hand on the radio. Sometimes, I thought I even felt some heat, but nothing of earth-shaking importance ever occurred. Secret Plans
About two months before the end of the school year, my mother asked me to take a walk with her. She told me she had gotten in touch with the faith healer, and that we would be going there for a personal consultation. This would involve taking a plane, and my mother was particularly worried that my father would find out and forbid us from going.
"This is against everything I have been taught to believe," she said. "I don't believe in Jesus, I don't believe he was the messiah, and Jews never talk about healing the sick through a person's intercession with God. But I would give you one of my own eyes if it would help you see, and I feel we must try this. If it doesn't work, we have lost nothing except time and money."
The next weeks were kind of like planning for a surprise gathering, where you are trying to keep from others what is going to be happening. My mother told my father that we were going to look at a college for me, and she did make plans for us to visit a college where we were going. I had been told not to discuss this trip with anyone, but I did ask some of my schoolmates if they had ever heard of this particular faith healer.
None had, and this heightened my excitement. My mother reread me the article from the magazine, and I knew it practically by heart. What would this person be like?
The plane trip was uneventful. My mother was very quiet, and I was very bored. We spent the night at a hotel and my mother's snoring kept me up. The Consultation
The next morning, we went to meet the faith healer. She welcomed us warmly.
I can remember that meeting as if it were yesterday. Her voice was beautiful to my ears, and she had a way of pronouncing her words that entranced me. There was almost a sing-song quality to her voice, which added a magical sound to it, and made me pay attention to each word, to each breath she took. I was absolutely seduced by that voice, and paid attention to every word she spoke.
"Robert, your mother has told me what a smart boy you are and how much she would like for you to have physical sight. But you know, Robert, you see things we don't see. You feel things we don't feel. You hear things we don't hear. You smell things we don't smell." I listened as if seduced by magic. What a brilliant woman!
She put her hand on my arm and I felt like fire had touched me and I jumped. She then began talking about another world to come. "The lion will lie down with the lamb, Robert. There will be peace and harmony among all God's creatures. We will all have perfect bodies."
"I do not have the power to heal you; only Jesus has this power." She made the word Jesus into a long word, which lasted about three seconds. "Yes, Robert," she said, "Jesus can heal you if He chooses to do so. But, Mrs. Feinstein, 'no' is also an answer. And whatever God wills we must accept."
Then she put some oil on my head, and began to pray that I would be healed. She asked that the darkness be lifted from my eyes. She asked that I see God's beautiful creation, especially the rising and the setting of the sun. She asked that God's will be done, and that whatever the outcome, my mother would find peace.
Then she said, "Remember, I have documents from the original time of Jeeeeeeeeeesssssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuuusssssssss!!" Something in this statement made me shiver uncontrollably. I was filled with awe and absolute terror. I scarcely dared to breathe.
My mother thanked her, and we left the room. We took a cab to the airport and took the plane home. I tried to talk about the events of that day, but my mother told me not to discuss them, even with her, and we'd have to see what would happen. The Benefit of Hindsight
I am now 51 years old. My parents are both dead. I am still blind, but now I can evaluate what happened on that day with a bit more clarity than I could as a young boy.
Now I know the despair my mother must have felt to have a blind child, not so much because of my blindness, but because of the lack of acceptance I faced in school. I kept telling her how I wanted friends like the other kids, and I wanted to be able to go places with friends and do things with friends. My mother realized that her company was no longer enough for her blind child, and she ached like only a mother can for the loneliness I felt and the need I had to be a part of a group of kids my own age. Because my mother did not know what to do to help me, she did the unthinkable -- she went to a faith healer. I firmly believe, as evidenced by her reaction to the whole ordeal, that she knew it was a waste of time and money. Yet, she felt she did not know what else to offer her son, and so she decided to give this a try, just in case ... just to see if, possibly, there was a remote chance her blind son could be helped.
Now I feel that it is very wrong for people to promise healing, or even claim that they will try to heal someone. What the clergy should do is help people accept what they have been given rather than give people false hopes. I cannot speak for what this particular faith healer really believed, but I can say that in my case, a lot of money, and more important, a lot of hopes were wasted.
If people choose to attend a church or synagogue to be uplifted, that is one thing, but false promises should not be made by clergy. There are people who have psychological illnesses, and these people may be helped by believing they were healed, but this is very different from a real physical healing.
It is quite interesting that documentation concerning so- called "faith" healings, as far as I know, is vague at best. Had I been given my sight back, it truly would have been a miracle, since my retinas are no longer attached, and my optic nerve is probably dead. Someone like me will never be healed in a church or anywhere else by the laying on of hands.
These so-called "faith healers" can put people in dangerous situations. What if a diabetic person believes he has been healed and refuses to take his insulin? Who is liable when he dies? In my opinion, religious leaders should not play with people's lives in such a haphazard way, and false promises of healing should be dealt with skeptically at best.
The healer who saw me and my mother did one thing that I must respect. She said from the beginning that she could not promise I would be healed. I give her credit for this, but I wish that my mother had had the insight to forgo the whole experience.
Still, I will never forget that voice, with its incredible highs and lows, for as long as I live. Epilogue
I would like to add one important point to my account of the experience of meeting the faith healer. As I mentioned, her comment that she had original documents from the time of Jesus filled me with awe, wonder and a bit of fear. When I was in college, I became friendly with a student whose father was a minister. This student knew of the faith healer I had visited. When I talked to him about the experience of meeting her, he told me that it was impossible for her to have possessed documents from the original time of Jesus, because such documents did not exist. This really surprised me and showed me the importance of listening to words and not just to how words are spoken.
Today I am a happy man in middle age. I travel with a yellow lab named Harley. I have friends and goals, and I have come to terms with my blindness and the impact it has on my life. I am grateful to have had a mother who was so willing to go to such lengths to make me happy, and although our trip to the faith healer did not work out as she and I had hoped it might, the love upon which that sacrifice was founded still sustains me today.
On May 2, 2001, President George W. Bush issued an executive order establishing the Commission to Strengthen Social Security. According to the White House, the mission of this 16-member, bipartisan commission is to submit to the President recommendations for modernizing and restoring fiscal soundness to the Social Security system according to the following principles.
(a) Modernization must not change Social Security benefits for retirees or near-retirees;
(b) The entire Social Security surplus must be dedicated to Social Security only;
(c) Social Security payroll taxes must not be increased;
(d) Government must not invest Social Security funds in the stock market;
(e) Modernization must preserve Social Security's disability and survivors components; and
(f) Modernization must include individually controlled, voluntary personal retirement accounts, which will augment the Social Security safety net.
The commission's goal is to have a report to the White House some time this fall. We anticipate that the White House will submit its proposals for Social Security reform to Congress early in 2002. Thus, the debate is rapidly escalating in Washington as to the meaning of the principles set forth in the president's executive order, and the feasibility of implementing them. Questions abound. How much of the system will be "privatized," if any? How will the scheme be implemented? What will be the impact?
However, regardless of which side one takes in the debate over Social Security reform, it is noteworthy that there is little evidence that participants in this debate are paying adequate attention to the impact of their proposals on Social Security beneficiaries who receive disability benefits. More than one-third of Social Security benefit payments are made to non-retirees, including nearly seven million people with disabilities. These beneficiaries include disabled wage earners, and disabled dependents and survivors of wage earners. Further, according to a statement released recently by the Consortium for Citizens With Disabilities Social Security Task Force, a person who is 20 years of age today has a 1 in 6 chance of dying and a 3 in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. Therefore, it is imperative that Social Security reformers address the impact their proposals would have on this population.
For instance, with regard to proposals that would create individual personal accounts, will these proposals provide workers who have been disabled for part of their working life with adequate benefits once they reach retirement age? Currently, once disabled workers reach retirement age, their benefits convert from disability to retirement benefits. If the benefit amount is made dependent upon how much the worker has contributed to an individual account, and how much interest has been realized on the worker's investment of those funds, the worker may reach retirement with much less than he or she would have under the current system. The proceeds from the individual's account would necessarily be limited because while disabled and not working, the worker made no additional contributions of either principal, or investment return, to the account. In addition, a substantial number of disabled adult children of wage earners would have very small, or no accounts at retirement age, because of the limits their disabilities place on their earning capacity. A comprehensive Social Security reform plan must address these concerns.
Will the proposal provide adequate protection by requiring workers to purchase disability insurance? Some of the proponents of individual account plans have attempted to address the need for disability coverage by providing that users of the accounts would have to purchase disability insurance. However, to my knowledge, disability insurance is never indexed for inflation, and no disability insurance policy is available today which pays benefits to members of a disabled worker's family, as Social Security does. Moreover, people who already have disabilities cannot buy disability insurance.
These are just a few of the questions being asked of the White House, members of Congress, and the Social Security Administration, as they grapple with Social Security reform. I will attempt to examine these issues more fully, and to address others as well in a series of articles regarding this issue, which will appear over the next few months. It is my hope that we can make the issues understandable and provide you with information that will enable you to express your concerns to your elected officials. Stay tuned!
America Walks, a non-profit coalition of community-based groups dedicated to promoting walkable communities, sponsored the first Congress of Pedestrian Advocates in Oakland, CA from August 16 through 18. I was privileged to stand in for Julie Carroll, chair of the ACB environmental access committee, as ACB's representative at this most exciting and historic event. I believe it is important to share with others in ACB the promising mission and achievements of this coalition of pedestrian advocates, as well as the role that ACB can play in making the world a safer place for all pedestrians. My report on the conference follows.
First, I want to commend the California Council of the Blind for sending a delegation of seven to represent its constituents. Bernice Kandarian, Jane Kardas, Dan Kysor, Gene Lozano, Roger Petersen, Barbara Rhodes and the CCB treasurer, Peter Pardini, who was always at the right place at the right time to lend a hand, were advocates of whom all of us in ACB can be very proud. In addition, the state of Oregon was ably represented by Patricia Kepler and Judy Wilkins. Ken Stewart, president of CCLVI and a member of the Public Rights-Of-Way Access Advisory Committee (PROWAAC), represented people with low vision, and the state of Illinois was enthusiastically represented by Bill and Sylvia Van Dyke.
The America Walks leadership did their best to meet our program access needs, and with no prompting from us, the ACB Pedestrian Safety Handbook and a link to the Access Board web site were included on a CD that was distributed to each participant. America Walks President Ellen Vanderslice serves on PROWAAC and edited the report that was submitted by the subcommittee to the Access Board for its consideration.
Although most attendees had no real working knowledge of our unique issues, I must say that all of us representing people who are blind and visually impaired have rarely seen a group of people more open and willing to learn. There were many opportunities for interaction as all congress attendees walked and took mass transit to reach the event locations.
During my presentation, I took workshop participants on a virtual walk in which we ran across every troublesome street and signalized configuration that I could think of. I cannot begin to tell you how many people came to me exclaiming that they had never realized the challenges that we as people who are blind and visually impaired face on America's streets. Without exception, each pedestrian advocate said with great feeling now that they had glimpsed the hostile environment of the streets and highways that we face every day of our lives as American pedestrians that they were committed to learning more and to including our access requirements in their future local initiatives. Not even one of the many advocates who sought me out expressed concern that inclusion of our issues might negatively impact work on their own projects.
John Z. Wetmore, host of the cable TV show "Perils for Pedestrians," asked to use the video of my presentation and of course I happily consented. I also had the opportunity to speak with Mark Fenton, who will be hosting a pedestrian show on public TV, and I truly believe that ACB now has a valued ally in him as well.
One of the most exciting occurrences was an opportunity to speak with Dan Burden, a pedestrian friendly design guru of international acclaim. After Gene Lozano and I had an opportunity to spend a bit of time with him, he promised to have an ongoing dialogue with us in order to learn more about our issues to insure that his plan for America is truly a plan for all of her citizens. Burden's pedestrian and bicycle design, where implemented, is already weaving the magic, one street at a time, of turning impersonal towns and cities into beautiful, friendly villages where people are free and safe to live and move and congregate and where the plan to get from point A to point B is predicated, not on the need to move automobile traffic, but rather on making the experience itself one that promotes human interaction, safety, good health in an environment of beauty and universal access.
If we can catch the vision of the goals and dreams of America Walks, towns and cities all over this country and Canada will feel like home to us. Dan Burden's designs include wide, clear, well-maintained sidewalks, separate wide, safe bicycle paths and fewer driving lanes which, while meeting the requirements of drivers, will necessitate their slowing down. His belief is that as towns become more walkable and automobiles are slowed, more people will decide to walk. His design places business and merchant entities within a quarter mile of home. As folks begin to spend more time out of doors in the village setting, they will be come healthier and more congenial and community-oriented. As this takes place, towns and cities will become friendlier as we spend less time isolated in our air-conditioned cars and homes and more time on sidewalks and on our front porches. Mass transit will be reliable and move frequently in order to enable us to travel distances too great for walking. A "Share A Car" plan will allow folks to have access to a car when it is really needed while freeing up funds which were formerly allocated to purchasing, insuring, fueling and maintaining personal automobiles.
Although much of what this group espouses borders on the Utopian, all of their goals are achievable now. Many of the local groups who made presentations at the conference are already doing amazing things regarding street design and walk to school programs and other walking ventures in their cities and towns.
Ellen Vanderslice, America Walks President, stated, "I'm very pleased with the success of the first National Congress of Pedestrian Advocates. The principal goals that America Walks set for the congress were to spark new pedestrian advocacy groups and strengthen existing ones, and we feel we really met those goals. We also hoped to build our strength as a mainstream movement by reaching out to new constituencies and including a diversity of interests. I think we had some success there, as well. Finally, the planning of the congress was an exercise that helped develop the leadership within America Walks itself. But, in the end, what really made the congress work was the energy and enthusiasm that all who came brought to the gathering. Now our challenge is to take our success, build on it, and really get to work making things better for pedestrians across the country."
If you've been longing for something to do to assist ACB, I encourage you to find out if your town has a pedestrian and bicycle group and join it and become involved. I found that if one shows a willingness to learn and to work in coalition with others, these pedestrian advocates are more than eager to reciprocate. If you don't have a group in your area, find out the most efficient way to advertise a start-up meeting for anyone who shares your interest in pedestrian and bicycle issues. These advocates for pedestrian rights and safe communities are our friends, and our issues have, for the most part, a friendly fertile place to grow in their world. If during your work with a group you should run into difficulty, there are people in ACB and America Walks ready and willing to assist you.
I believe that while ACB continues to work with the Access Board and to involve itself in other national initiatives, local efforts will bear more fruit than we can ever imagine.
Catch the vision, make the dream a reality! How to Contact America Walks
Write to America Walks, P.O. Box 29103, Portland, OR 97296-9103; call (503) 222-1077, or fax (503) 228-0289.
During the summer of 2001, the recently formed Southern Maryland Council of the Blind elected officers for a full two- year term. The president is Bob Kerr, vice-president is Antionette Ward and secretary-treasurer is Lisa Kerr. Also, the Northwest Council of the Blind has applied to become a new chapter of ACB of Maryland. At a recent meeting in Westminster, Gary LeGates was elected as president. Other officers include Gerry Cutler as vice-president, Ninette LeGates, secretary and Richard Cutler as treasurer.
The Virginia Association of the Blind-Shenandoah Valley chapter recently announced the winner of the 2000-01 Nelson Malbone Award: Ken Lovern, president of the chapter. Lovern received the award in appreciation of his work, dedication and support to VAB in an awards ceremony in Roanoke Sept. 10, 2001.
The Nelson Malbone Award was established to honor the founder of the Virginia Association of the Blind, and to honor recipients who exhibit the same type of dedication to blindness issues. Lovern's contributions to the local chapter include the initial organization and startup of the chapter in 1999, and work as the president in membership recruitment, fund-raising, adaptive technology, education, transportation and membership support.
The New Jersey Council of the Blind will hold its annual convention on Saturday, October 27 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Days Inn, 1073 Route 206, Bordentown, N.J. The hotel phone number is (609) 298-6100. Room rates are $49 per night plus tax for up to 4 people in a room. Hot topics at the convention include low vision & blindness high- and low-tech accommodations; your rights; and volunteers: how to get them and how to work with them to keep them. The keynote speaker will be Jamie Hilton, the director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. For additional information contact us through the national ACB web site or by e-mail to [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected] You may also fax (732) 291-7215.
The Georgia Council of the Blind has a long history as a place where what needs to get done to make the world a better place for people who are blind and visually impaired is done--and with style and celebration! At their convention, which opened with a beep ball game, complete with hot dogs for the fans in the stands, and closed with a membership meeting where plans were initiated for next year's 46th annual state convention, GCB members celebrated the accomplishments of long-time members as well as youthful leaders. Gerald and Geraldine Pye were honored for their many years of service to Georgians, including an annual barbeque which they host. Last year's barbeque raised more than $3,000 to further the work of GCB.
In his report to the state convention, ACB national convention first-timer Roger Keeney told the group that the ACB national had been a wonderful, exhilarating experience. "I was so impressed by the range of technology on display at the convention," Keeney said.
No wonder he was impressed -- he was the winner of the PulseData Voice Note, a note-taker with speech output and Windows CE operating system, which has a value in excess of $3,000!
"Things really began to happen for me," said Keeney, "watching the political process of ACB in action, being able to actually ask questions of the candidates who came to our state caucus, and then the election itself, hearing people standing up on the floor for the candidates they supported, and then hearing the votes being tallied up. I think we have some very capable folks who have taken office, and I am proud to be a member of the GCB and of ACB."
Encouraging chapters to continue to raise funds to send first-timers to the national convention, Keeney said, "Once a person goes, he gets hooked!"
Other highlights included a report on the positive impact of making physical education accessible to children who are blind, a focus group where Kay McGill, the administrator of Georgia's Chapter II program to assist older people who lose vision, asked members to help her figure out the best ways to spend limited funding to make the world a friendlier place for as many older folks who are learning to cope with blindness as possible; a discussion of RFB&D's new foray into the arena of making textbooks accessible in electronic, searchable formats; conversations about ups and downs in Georgia Industries workshop and customer service employment programs, and creating rural transportation programs that really work for blind people; an update on the unique cooperative effort among all of Georgia's blindness-related groups to save specialized services for people who are blind and visually impaired; a talent show and an auction featuring some great entertainment, including a tabletop tap dance by Georgia President Jack Lewis; a worship service conducted jointly by two ordained ministers from the Council ranks; and a banquet presentation by a dynamic Paralympian named Lilo, who was as beautiful and motivating as she is successful on the field of competition.
Thank you to the members of the Georgia Council of the Blind for allowing me to share the spirit and the camaraderie of your state convention. I met new friends and found a commitment to advocacy and democracy which make me feel good every time I remember the weekend I spent with you all in the beautiful city of Athens. Go Bulldogs!
The announcement of products and services in this column is not an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its staff, or elected officials. Services and products are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products and services mentioned.
To submit an item for "Here and There," send an e-mail message to [email protected] You may call the ACB toll-free number (800) 424-8666, and leave a message in mailbox 26. Please bear in mind that we need information two months ahead of actual publication dates.
The e-mail address for "Dialogue" Magazine and Blindskills, Inc. should have been listed as [email protected]
** EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SOUGHT
The Miami Lighthouse is seeking a new executive director to be responsible for its $2.5 million center-based programs. Available January 2002. Salary negotiable. Excellent benefits. Mail resume to: Dennis McCarthy, Chair, Executive Search Committee, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, 601 SW 8 Avenue, Miami, FL 33130.
** STUDENTS TO DESIGN TALKING BOOK MACHINE
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) and the Industrial Designers of America (IDSA) are challenging student designers to create the next generation of digital talking book playback machines. The student design competition will begin January 1, 2002, and awards will be made during the national conference of IDSA in July 2002. The goal is to design a unique product that will help thousands of people who are visually impaired or disabled enjoy books and magazines. A million new machines will be produced in the first 10 years after introduction. The digital playback machines will be specifically tailored for people with disabilities, and must adhere to the principles of universal design. For more competition details, visit www.idsa.org.
** DAY PLANNER WORKS WITH MOUSE OR KEYBOARD
Day by Day World Edition is an easy-to-use daily planner program for Windows. It can be used as a diary, planner, appointment organizer, bill tracker, and anything else you may want to schedule. The cost is $22.95 from www.blindsoftware.com. For questions, e-mail [email protected]
** EMONOCLE READER
ION Systems, Inc., a developer of Internet software for simultaneous use by sighted, low-vision and blind users, has released a beta version of its eMonocle Reader.
EMonocle Reader's patent-pending technology allows text and graphics to be resized and reflowed by individual users for maximum readability. The eMonocle Reader can resize text from 4- point to 144-point font sizes, exceeding the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act for low-vision users. The eMonocle Reader performs standard word and phrase searches using either keyboard or mouse commands. The eMonocle interface is designed to work with most existing Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems, and can open any OeB publication for free. Future releases are planned to include interfaces for existing braille readers and connection to ION Systems' www.GalaxyLibrary.com e- publishing and e-commerce service.
ION's eMonocle Reader is available for free to the end user. Readers can find a free download and demonstration of the ION eMonocle Reader at: http://www.ionsystems.com/emonocle/.
** MEET YOUR MATE
There's a new listserv called "Meet Your Mate," a discussion group for singles who are blind or visually impaired, and who would like to meet that special someone. To join this group, please send a blank e-mail message to [email protected] After you have subscribed, please send an introductory message providing your real name, age, city and state, your interests, the qualities you are looking for in a person and a way for people to contact you. You may want to check out the singles telephone conferences held every weekday evening at 10 p.m. (Eastern time), 9 p.m. (Central), 8 p.m. (Mountain) and 7 p.m. (Pacific). To take part, phone (561) 939-1800. And when you meet that special person, remember you read about Meet Your Mate in "The Braille Forum!"
** UEBC SAMPLERS AVAILABLE
The Braille Authority of North America has produced sample materials on the proposed Unified English Braille Code (UEBC) for braille readers, educators and transcribers in the United States and Canada to review and provide BANA with feedback. If you are interested in receiving a copy of either Sampler 1 or Sampler 2, and haven't already received one in the mail, you may request a braille or print copy from the following sources:
Sampler 1 (literary braille, non-technical material and simple math) Braille edition: Kim Charlson, Braille and Talking Book Library, Perkins School for the Blind, 175 N. Beacon St., Watertown, MA 02472, phone (617) 972-7249, or e-mail [email protected]
Sampler 2 contains examples of technical material including algebra, calculus, chemistry, and computer programs written in the UEBC. To request a braille copy of Sampler 2 produced in two braille volumes contact: Eileen Curran, BANA Chair, National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115, phone (888) 965-8965 or (617) 266-6160 extension 17, or e-mail [email protected]
For a print edition of either Sampler 1 or Sampler 2 (including original print and simulated braille examples) contact Frances Mary D'Andrea, American Foundation for the Blind, National Literacy Center, 100 Peachtree St., Suite 620, Atlanta, GA 30303, phone (404) 525-2303, or e-mail [email protected]
Canadian residents may request either print or braille copies from Darleen Bogart, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind Library, 1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8, phone (416) 480-7530, or e-mail [email protected]
** JOBS THAT MATTER
The book "Business Owners Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired" is one of a series written by Deborah Kendrick, an award-winning journalist who is blind. This book demonstrates the wide range of careers and talents that can be pursued by people with visual impairments. Each profile features a successful individual who has accomplished his or her dream of business ownership. From a lawyer and an accountant to a florist and a gourmet cook, the range of engaging stories will inspire young adults with visual impairments and their parents, teachers, and counselors. Other books in the series are "Teachers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired" and "Health Care Professionals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired" (to be published later this year by AFB). Each book is available in paperback and cassette, and the teacher volume is available in braille. The cost is approximately $22 per book.
To order, phone (800) 232-3044, fax (412) 741-0609, e-mail [email protected], or write to AFB Press, P.O. Box 1020, Sewickley, PA 15143.
** AMERICAN LITERATURE ON CD-ROM
Here's a chance to own and read classic American literature, published before 1920. The collection contains 360 books of prose and poetry, including westerns, in plain text. There is a comprehensive html index page with links to all the texts for easy navigation. The table of contents for the American literature CD is available at http://www.samizdat.com/amlitcd.html. For the children's collection, visit http://www.samizdat.com/childcd.html. Each CD costs $29 (less than nine cents per book). Disks cost $10 each.
Send your orders with payment by check or credit card to: B&R Samizdat Express, P.O. Box 161, West Roxbury, MA 02132, phone (617) 469-2269, e-mail [email protected]** DESCRIBED VIDEO GUIDE
"Making Theatre Accessible: A Guide to Audio Description in the Performing Arts," is a new publication of Cultural Access Consortium (CAC) and the Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB). This guide, targeted to theaters and various performing arts organizations, is also a valuable advocacy tool for access coordinators, education and outreach personnel, and advocates in the blindness community. While it contains some resources specific to the New England audio description community, it will be valuable for anyone in the United States or other countries looking to establish a new or enhance an existing audio description program.
The guide's contents include: what is audio description; why audio-describe theatre from the perspective of a member of the blindness community, an audio describer, a theatre producer, and a regional theatre education and outreach director; a brief history of audio description; outreach initiatives for audio description education; a step-by-step program plan which includes a chronological and categorical listing of process steps, fund- raising, marketing, box office, and production elements; appendices including information resources, examples of program book inserts, signage, sample describer's contract; and a glossary.
Guides are now available for $6 per copy in braille, large print and on computer diskette. Checks or purchase orders are accepted and should be payable to the Bay State Council of the Blind. The guide may be ordered from Kim Charlson, Bay State Council of the Blind, 57 Grandview Avenue, Watertown, MA 02472- 1634. Call (617) 926-9198 or e-mail [email protected]
** ROMANCE ROMANCE
For readers of romance novels, find original romance books and a collection of short stories and poems on 3.5-inch diskette in MS-DOS format by going to http://honeypot_pub_books.tripod.com/honeypotpublications/. Select the "emotional literature" page. Other pages include erotic novels, erotic books on cassette and all catalogs of braille books from TFB Publications. Write to 238 75th St., North Bergen, NJ 07047, phone (201) 662-0956, e-mail [email protected]
** REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE
Emmanuel S. Ezekwe needs a Perkins brailler, a typewriter, a braille watch, a white cane and a four-track tape player in order to further his education. If you have such items, please send them to him at Eziowelle Postal Agency, Idemmili North Local Government Area, Anambra State, West Africa.
** BLIND FAMILY LISTSERV
A new listserv called blind-family focuses on discussion of issues specific to family relationships (i.e. spouses, siblings, parent/child) when one or more family members are blind or encountering eye diseases. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to [email protected]
** CURIOUS ABOUT BLINDNESS LISTS?
Learn about the various blindness-related mailing lists! Join BlindList-Announce! Send a message to BlindList-Announce- [email protected] and the computer listbot will take care of the rest.
** PC TALKING TYPING TUTOR
The PC Talking Typing Tutor is designed for people with disabilities. It teaches touch typing skills using speech and text instructions. The tutor features 14 lessons to learn the keys on the QWERTY computer keyboard, and allows you to practice typing skills by typing letters, words and sentences. It also gives feedback on typing speed and accuracy. The program, which is compatible with Microsoft Windows 95 and 98, has speech output using Microsoft SAPI Speech Engines with the sound card of a user's computer. Learners can adjust fonts, colors and speech. The educational version supports multiple students. For more information, visit http://www.talktypetutor.com/.
** FREE CLASSES FROM MIT
According to an article by Will Woodward, education editor of the Guardian newspaper, MIT is planning to offer its courses free on the Internet. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world's foremost universities, is pushing back the boundaries of education by making nearly all its courses freely available through the Internet. Over the next 10 years, MIT will offer assignments, reading lists, outlines and notes on 2,000 courses on its web site. The venture is intended to counter what MIT calls the "privatization of knowledge." The university will not give degrees to those using the material on the MIT OpenCourseWare site. But the innovation could revolutionize e-learning and threaten the plans of universities which have seen Internet courses as a source of revenue. The MIT president, Charles Vest, said: "It will provide an extraordinary resource, free of charge, which others can adapt to their own needs." About 500 courses are likely to be made available within two years at a cost of $7 million to $10 million. The ultimate cost is expected to be about $100 million.
** KNITTING PATTERNS ON AUDIO TAPE
Crocheting and knitting patterns are available on audio tape. Patterns are read by a knowledgeable craftsperson with row-by-row guidance. Select from our pattern library, or send your favorite pattern. Contact Janet at (215) 412-0466, or e-mail [email protected]
** THREE VISUALLY IMPAIRED STUDENTS WIN TRIP TO FRENCH PERFUME SCHOOL
L'Occitane, Inc., creator and retailer of fragrances and personal care products, and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) sent three visually impaired American students to L'Occitane's perfume school in Provence, France. The school's objective is to alert the human senses to the scents and traditions of Provence; to promote the perfume of that region; and to provide an opportunity for students to consider perfumery as a career.
AFB administered the essay contest. The three American students selected attended a three-day course at the perfume school in late summer. The contest winners were: Cassie R. Lucarelli, 16, West High School, Madison, Wis.; Sarah Sykes, 18, graduate of North Platte High School, North Platte, Neb. and Carla Valpeoz, 17, Blanco High School, Blanco, Texas.
L'Occitane was a winner of a 2000 AFB Access Award for placing braille labels on its products.
** FREE GIFT OPPORTUNITY
Want to earn some free gifts? Sponsor a Fuller Brush and Stanley demonstration. For more information, call Alice Crespo at (718) 545-1529.
** LISTSERV FOR ALL COOKS
Even though there are many cooking lists available, this one is a bit different. On some cooking lists, posted recipes can be overwhelming. With this list, we want only recipes you use and really like. Also, we hope you can help list members locate specific, hard-to-find, or unique recipes, such as real Memphis barbecue sauce, or the Neiman Marcus famous cookie recipe.
If you wish to join, send a blank message to [email protected] Hope to see you and your recipes there.
** NEW CATALOG AVAILABLE
If you have someone on your holiday gift list who loves cooking, knitting, crocheting or tatting, the new Horizons for the Blind products catalog is just the ticket. Cooks will especially find our new, seven-volume "Recipes From Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars" a most welcome addition to the kitchen, while the crocheting crowd will enjoy our new Cro-Hook Instructions. With the holidays fast approaching, our holiday crafts and learn-how books may be just what you'll need to get ready. To order this free catalog, telephone (815) 444-8800 (voice/TDD); fax (815) 444-8830; e-mail [email protected] Please specify whether you prefer braille, large print, or audio cassette.
** GREAT CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Usborne Books offers over 1,000 high-quality children's books and other products in its new fall catalog. Fiction, reference books, and innovative and imaginative nonfiction in all subject areas. Packed with great pictures and lots of action; creative puzzles, experiments, activities and crafts. Great kits and sets for gift-giving. Books for kids of all ages; many titles in large print. Some print/braille available by special order. Request regular print or cassette catalog. Fund-raisers and work-from- home opportunities also available. Contact Carla Ruschival, Independent Educational Consultant, Usborne Books at Home, 148 Vernon Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206; phone (866) 266-5743; e-mail [email protected] For on-line catalog and secure shopping cart, visit www.learnwithusborne.com.
FOR SALE: Optelec CCTV low vision magnification system. 12" black-and-white screen with reverse contrast setting and swivel screen. Like new. $1,000 or best offer plus shipping. Artic Transtype 1997 model. Lightweight and easy to carry. Includes case. Hardly used. $500 or best offer plus shipping. Will consider trade for working braille embosser. 486 DX computer with 17" color monitor. Currently runs DOS, but with a memory upgrade could run Windows 95 if you can get a copy. No accessible technology included. $150 plus shipping or best offer. Call Donna Rose at (734) 747-6466.
FOR SALE: Braille 'n Speak 2000. All manuals, cables and connectors included. Asking $900. Last updated September 2000. Please contact Holly at (503) 761-3133 (evenings after 6 p.m. Pacific time) or e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Have you been looking for an all-in-one portable laptop computer with a built-in braille display? Look no more; here's the Superbraille. It consists of a laptop Pentium computer with full Internet access, Microsoft Office and Excel, running braille and speech; a terminal, when connected to a desktop computer running braille, and a text editor notetaker, scientific and financial calculator, and calendar/clock running braille. $5,000 or best offer. Call Jim at (650) 756-1333.
FOR SALE OR TRADE: I have an Alva 3 series 80-cell braille display in excellent condition which I wish to sell or trade to obtain a Braille Note 32 or a Braille Lite 40. I am taking this action because I need both a portable notetaker and a braille display with my computer. The machine was purchased in 1995 and has never had to be repaired except for one cleaning. I have all manuals and cables and the carrying case available.
If you have a Braille Light 40 or a Braille Note 32 in good condition I will make an even trade and send you my machine. If you wish to purchase the machine, I am asking $7,000 or best offer, the machine cost $12,000 when it was originally purchased.
You may contact me at home at (716) 288-7195 between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern time, or you can call me at work at (716) 347-9055 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. You may also send e- mail to [email protected] or to beth.hatch- [email protected]
FOR SALE: Used Perkins brailler. Barely used; in excellent condition. Comes with cover and paper, among other things. Asking $250. Contact Penny Canell at (308) 345-3803, or via e- mail at [email protected] or [email protected]
WANTED: A bowling guide rail in good condition. Reasonably priced or donated. E-mail [email protected] or call Caroline Ward at (828) 297-5346.
The scene is a familiar one. While sitting in a restaurant waiting for service, gently and discreetly examining the objects on the table to make sure I knew where the utensils lay and where the glassware had been placed, I was suddenly and without warning provided with a free, albeit uninvited cardiac stress test when someone shouted into my ear, "May I help you?"
Startled and embarrassed (I was certain everyone in the restaurant was now looking at me) I blurted out, "I'm not deaf!" The waiter's voice lowered and audibly tightened as he curtly asked, "What can I get you?"
If I were not blind, the room would probably have gone dark at this point as I realized that the usual social banter between customer and waiter had been pre-empted. As it was, my head reeled as the following thoughts cascaded through it:
Why did this happen? Wouldn't life be easier if I'd just stayed at home? Why had I reacted so quickly and so forcefully? Why did the waiter speak to me so loudly? What would I have wished the waiter to do instead? How can I ask him for a braille menu now, knowing that, if the restaurant does not have one, I will have to ask him to assist me? I wonder, would it be better to be deaf than blind? In short, what's going on here?
Gathering my wits, I turned my face toward the waiter's voice, smiled, and said, "Sorry, you startled me." Smiling back, the waiter apologized and told me that he hadn't known how to get my attention since I didn't appear aware of his presence. I indicated that, without drawing undue attention, he might have gently touched my arm or shoulder and identified himself to initiate our conversation. I explained further that not everyone might wish to be touched and, instead, he could have simply tapped the table before speaking. The waiter agreed.
Since, as I anticipated, the restaurant did not have a braille version of the menu, I asked the waiter to read me the print one and, guiding him along, made my choices. The rest of the meal proceeded smoothly.
Settling into bed that night, I reviewed the "incident." First, I had to deal with anger toward myself. "How could I, a trained rehabilitation counselor and student of psychology, have reacted so inappropriately?" In the quietness of my home, I calmed myself and my thoughts grew clear. I realized that the issues are difficult ones and dealing with them requires absolute honesty. I admitted to myself that my reaction to the incident arose from fear and uncertainty, not unlike the waiter's reaction toward me. I concluded that if we, as people who are blind, are going to understand sighted people, then, first of all, we have to understand ourselves. In turn, to best understand ourselves, we need to analyze how we react to those who trigger our fears and uncertainties.
Perhaps, I mused, as blind people we're sometimes ambivalent about waiters and others talking loudly to us because on the one hand we have to rely on clear, sometimes even loud voices to get so much of the information we need in the world, while on the other hand, we fear even the hint that we might be losing our hearing. If this is true, our deepest anxieties might be triggered by deaf and, more certainly, deaf-blind people. In analyzing our reactions to the specter of deafness and deaf-blindness, we can better understand how sighted people might react to us. Finally, I concluded, if we as blind people make efforts to overcome our anxieties about loss of hearing, then we can set an example for sighted people regarding ways to control their anxieties about loss of vision, thus helping to achieve a more inclusive society.
Although I occasionally wonder if it wouldn't be easier for me as a blind person to simply cloister myself in my apartment or limit the places I go or my activities, life is too full of things I really want to do. Figuring out how to deal with occasional awkward and stressful events appears to be my only real option. In the scene described above, I was able to reduce the emotionality of the encounter (by smiling, apologizing, and explaining, even though not required by the nature of the social "transgression") , and this allowed the waiter and me to meet each other halfway. The waiter returned my magnanimity and an uncomfortable situation transformed itself into a pleasant experience.
When blind people venture unaccompanied into the sighted world, they seem to raise sighted people's anxiety levels, be it the little things, such as ordering an espresso at the local coffee shop or the big ones, such as crossing a four-lane boulevard or interviewing for a job. Their image of our teetering on the edge of disaster, or, perhaps being a danger to them, causes sighted people to feel unconsciously defensive. Their reactions suggest that, at a minimum, they need to alleviate the cause of their anxiety by either avoiding us, eliminating or reducing the danger they believe we face, or by making us aware of their presence.
Sometimes sighted people react to us by retreating to the cover of politeness ("Nice day, isn't it?"). Frequently, they invoke the image of the super-achiever ("I really admire you people..."). Occasionally, as we have all experienced, bewilderment reigns ("I don't know how you do it!") or genuine fear is given voice ("I don't think I could do what you are doing."). Some outrageous behaviors by sighted people we encounter as we attempt to go about living our lives, such as suddenly grabbing us by the arm and moving us bodily against our will, leaves us shaken and angry. However, most of the reactions we encounter, although less intrusive, still leave us with the deep feeling that we are somehow different from sighted people.
As blind people, we occasionally and unintentionally even contribute to the social isolation we face by falling into unavoidable double-binds. For example, making eye contact conveys the message to some people that we have made a visual connection, leaving many sighted people distracted as they wonder if the blind person can actually see them. Conversely, while avoidance of eye contact decreases confusion for sighted people, it causes other problems, namely, anxiety and, hence, alienation from people accustomed to using their eyes for purposes ranging from giving directions to flirting. This added strain increases the probability of social exclusion as many sighted people simply opt to avoid contact with blind people altogether. And let us not forget our partially sighted friends who, when they fail to acknowledge unseen non-verbal signals, find themselves dubbed snobs or worse!
These social dilemmas can be eliminated once people communicate directly and come to understand each other. In the example above, a simple conversation between the waiter and me clarified an ambiguous situation and the interaction became satisfying for both of us. Thus, sighted folks need encouragement to approach blind people verbally and, in situations requiring discretion, to do so quietly.
In a spirit of reciprocity, blind folks need to remember to encourage social contact through appropriate body language and verbal communication. In the scene at the restaurant, for example, I might have made things easier for both of us by turning toward the waiter, greeting him with a grin, and speaking in friendly tones.
How is it that even experienced blind people get caught off guard and react defensively or even with outright hostility to situations like the one I experienced with the waiter? Most people, when confronted with a sudden and strong stimulus, react by being startled. The body's natural defensive "fight or flight" systems momentarily take charge. Even if alert and anticipating contact (as I was when seated in the restaurant), people experience a sudden rush of adrenalin when shouted at. The subsequent belief that others are now staring causes embarrassment, exacerbating the situation. It takes effort to remain calm. For example, in an effort to regain composure, I might say to myself, "relax, take a deep breath, focus on improving the situation, don't think about all those people around you."
We can understand the situation even better if we consider the possible points of view which some sighted people may have. Unfortunately, many of them misjudge blind people on the basis of outward appearance. They misinterpret our occasional and relative lack of facial expression to mean that we're incompetent, or worse, incapable of handling most situations. Sometimes our mannerisms appear strange and sighted people often attribute them to mysterious causes. Since too many of them have neither nurtured nor come to fully appreciate the richness of the auditory and tactual senses which blind people have, because of necessity, come to rely upon, many sighted folks make incorrect assumptions about us.
As he approached me in the restaurant, for example, the waiter probably observed me touching the objects on the table and facing straight ahead without looking at anything in particular. Had he not been forced to overcome his initial reaction in order to serve his customer, he might not have engaged me at all. Fortunately, given the opportunity, I was able to change the waiter's outlook first by speaking to him in affable tones and then by focusing my attention upon him and the matter at hand -- ordering a sumptuous meal.
Still, many sighted people think of blind people -- if they think about us at all -- as immersed in some kind of "inner world" experiencing stimulus deprivation. They often conclude that a stronger than usual jolt is required to get our attention. Thus, they speak loudly.
Although we know it is unfair for anyone to nonchalantly judge the inner life of another, it happens all the time. It will take active effort on the part of blind people to erode the image of "mental inwardness" etched in the minds of many sighted people. We must educate our sighted colleagues and acquaintances about how, by using auditory and tactual information, we not only comprehend, but even anticipate what occurs in our environment.
More difficult will be the task of convincing sighted people that blandness or reduced facial expression does not equal inattentiveness. We should take every opportunity to engage in conversations with sighted people that reflect our awareness of the world around us. Keeping in touch with current events and reflecting this awareness in social encounters will subtly change what is most likely an unconscious impression sighted people have about people who are blind. For example, I have found it useful to listen to public radio, "surf" the net, read electronic newspapers and recorded magazines, and subscribe to several e-mail lists to keep up with the world around me.
In the same vein, we need to remember that not all sighted people are fearful, ignorant, or uncaring -- traits we sometimes attribute to them. When socially appropriate and in specific situations, to reduce these reverse misperceptions, we should ask sighted people about how they use their senses to apprehend the world around them. For example, I took advantage of an opportunity to expand my own knowledge when asked to go bird-watching. I agreed and, seizing the opportunity, engaged my sighted friends in conversation about how they train their eyes to see birds hiding in the trees. This gave me the chance to explain how blind people train their ears to hear and recognize bird calls and, by extension, most sounds in the environment. They understood. This reinforced my belief that, given the right opportunity, most sighted people are well-intentioned and willing to learn about us.
As blind people, we can learn a great deal by looking at those things that cause us to react toward others the way sighted people react toward us. Concerned about our image in the minds of sighted people, we often find ourselves guarding against negative stereotypes. Proud of the effort we have made to overcome our disability, we routinely attempt to counter traits erroneously attributed to us. For example, the negative reaction we have to being spoken to with excessive loudness stems from the fear that, despite facts to the contrary, we will be judged as possessing either a hearing impairment or a cognitive deficiency. (I once failed miserably in my attempt to counter negative stereotyping by asking a sighted person if she really thought I didn't know what was going on around me. She answered by labeling me with a psychiatric diagnosis I will not mention here! Indirect approaches often work best.)
Even though we know that sighted people may speak loudly to us to get our attention (in the same way visual cues appear to draw their attention), we still react strongly. What accounts for this reaction? In analyzing my own feelings, I have concluded that, like many blind people, I fear deafness. Attempting to understand what it might be like if I were deaf has led me to consider which would be better, blindness or deafness.
Most people agree that vision provides the user with faster, easier, and richer information than hearing and in a wider variety of situations. Certainly no one argues against the desirability of possessing a faculty that permits easy access to everything from printed information to the location of an object in the distant environment. However, blind people, having learned to fully appreciate and relish the richness of sound, make convincing arguments that they compensate for lack of vision quite well through the auditory sense. We engage effortlessly in conversation, derive aesthetic pleasure from music, AND absorb information from tape recorders, speech synthesizers, lectures, and public address systems. In short, hearing is our ticket to the world around us.
Many deaf people report that lack of hearing causes them much difficulty in developing communication and language skills, using telephones and other mainstream telecommunications devices, enjoying public lectures, and other experiences we blind people take for granted. In fact, some people who are deaf or hearing impaired believe that immersing themselves in deaf culture lessens the strain of social isolation, providing them with the greatest opportunity for personal fulfillment. While most people who are deaf or hearing impaired choose an approach to social integration that works for them, I strongly suspect that they also jealously guard and relish their vision as both a powerful information gathering tool and a necessary modality for reading lips, driving cars, using sign language, and, in general, compensating for lack of hearing.
In the end, the relative undesirability of blindness or deafness proves so threatening a notion for both deaf and blind people that neither group dwells for very long on what life would be like if they were to lose the other sense. Analyzing our specific disabilities, it seems clear that both deaf and blind people face equally challenging problems in the areas of education, employment preparation, hiring, telecommunications, recreation, social integration, and more. What sets us apart is the fact that the specific solutions needed to solve these problems often differ in fundamental ways and rarely overlap or complement one another.
While there is some evidence from the recent census that deaf and hearing impaired people are employed at a higher rate than blind and partially sighted people, ultimately, the notion that the grass may be greener for the deaf is specious. How could we ever know who truly has it worse or who should get more special treatment?
Since blind people rely upon hearing and deaf people upon vision, both groups may instinctively fear each other.
Blind people's fear of deafness (and, by extension, deaf-blindness) is often compounded with real-life experience. Any blind person who has stood at a street crossing in the midst of loud construction machinery realizes what life would be like if he or she were deaf. Recently, when I approached an intersection filled with jackhammers and churning truck engines, I was frightened when I realized that I couldn't handle the situation without my hearing. How would I navigate or even begin to make sense of my environment? What would I use if I couldn't rely on my usual tactics?
My immediate reaction of fear and frustration stemmed from my inability to use my faculties to either deal with the environment or extricate myself from it. Of course, with some coaching, experience, and practice, I learned to reverse course, find alternate routes away from the deafening noise, and to solicit assistance. However, the experience, indelibly etched in my mind as a real-life excursion into deaf-blindness, left me shaken.
We blind people react to the unknown just like everyone else. After all, we belong to the same culture and, although generally more sensitive to individual differences than many, we too are subject to fear and prejudice. If blind people fear deaf-blindness, how does this fear manifest itself? What can we learn from how we deal or fail to deal with people with deaf-blindness that will help us overcome this fear and, at the same time, serve as a model for how we would like sighted people to treat us?
Generally, blind people imagine that deaf-blind people constitute a homogeneous group who experience profound silence and darkness. We wonder how we could ever communicate meaningfully with them.
In fact, deaf-blind people vary in the amount of vision and hearing they possess and when they use hearing aids, specially designed "communications books," tactual and American sign languages, and devices that use braille, speech, and print, they can effectively communicate not only with each other, but with the general public (including other blind people).
Thus, we blind people may need to undergo our own cultural transformation. The task will require us to rise above our fears to an even greater extent than we may have already. In doing so, we can show the rest of society what it means to be truly enlightened.
The first thing we will have to accomplish to achieve a general "cultural transformation" is a change in the outlook we have toward those who inspire fear in us. Generally, blind people already accept differentness more easily than many in our society. Because we have had to overcome many fears, we have developed skill in doing so. Taking this quality to the next level will mean accepting without trepidation notions of differentness such as those we encounter when we meet people who are deaf and blind. To accomplish this, we will need to engage deaf and deaf-blind people more often, more willingly, and more publicly.
We blind people are in a unique position to show sighted people that a model for optimal human adjustment includes the notion that people must deal with life both on their own terms and in concert with the greater society. For example, blind people succeed best when tackling life's challenges through auditory and tactual approaches and not simply by using visual analogs to meet the expectations of a sighted culture. Since our approaches have proven effective for solving real-world problems, full integration can take place if we convince society to allow our methods to reside alongside everyone else's. A familiar example to blind computer users is the way screen-readers, while enabling us to use mainstream software, perform their functions in a manner rational to those using their sense of hearing, not only to mirror the visual screen image, but to aggressively utilize the power of auditory perception. Sighted people intent upon pointing and clicking often find the use of keyboard commands a refreshing new way to look at the computer screen.
Once sighted people understand how blind people experience the world and function within it, they will adjust to different approaches more easily and they will feel less estranged from us. Recently, for example, I interviewed several employers who hired blind and visually impaired people and they unanimously agreed that having blind people in their work place upended their preconceived notions, taught them that there is more than one way to do a job, and made them realize that relying on traditional methods can actually stifle productivity.
In accepting people on their own terms, society will embrace their endeavors to deal with the world in a way that is best for each individual. Far fewer blind people, for example, will feel alienated from society if sighted people incorporate into their repertoire habits like verbalizing body language, considering universal design principles when building the environment and devices that help us function within it, learning to be appropriately helpful, and approaching differentness in people with openness instead of avoidance. In order to realize these ideals, we must steadfastly continue our efforts to educate the public and, when necessary, to advocate for ourselves.
By understanding why things happen, we can move to change how we react to them and find ways to change those conditions that cause us discomfort. Through self-awareness, we can find the strength to overcome our fears and conquer our anger. Through education, we can find hope in that, with time and mutual interaction, we can fully integrate with the greater society -- not only because we have acclimated to societal norms, but because society has re-defined those norms to embrace people with needs and ways of being that reflect a wide range of existence. Ultimately, we will find joy in the thought that in our diversity comes strength and the promise of a bright future.
PASADENA, Calif., June 4 (Reuters) -- For the blind child who once asked, "What is the sky?" educator Benning Wentworth now has an answer: a tactile book called "Touch the Universe," based on the cosmic images made by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The book features some of the most famous Hubble pictures of planets, galaxies and other cosmic objects, in color, but with plastic overlays that have raised lines, bumps and other touchable textures to allow those with vision problems to feel what they cannot see, Wentworth and others who worked on the book said on Monday. "The detail with which the eye takes in an image cannot be matched at all with the fingertips," Wentworth said in explaining what the book might be like for the blind. "However, the concept now of what was before just auditorially described to them, now they can take an image and paint an image inside their mind."
The book is a braille-and-print work, made to be used by both the sighted and the blind. "Touch the Universe" was created by astronomer Noreen Grice, who had already crafted an earlier work for the blind, "Touch the Stars." That was based mostly on sketches of constellations and other features; the new book is based on actual Hubble images. These include pictures of the Ring Nebula, the Eskimo Nebula and close-up images of Saturn and Jupiter.
Grice was first moved to make accessible astronomy books for the blind 15 years ago when she watched a group of visually impaired students attend a show at the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston -- and leave bored. "I thought it really wasn't much of an experience, they didn't get much out of it. And I thought ... why shouldn't astronomy be made accessible to people with visual difficulties?" Grice told a news conference at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena. Kitchen table engravings
Grice started working on the "Universe" book at the urging of Bernhard Beck-Winchatz of DePaul University in Chicago, who suggested using the Hubble images. At first, it was very much a homespun effort: Grice did the original engraving on aluminum sheets on her kitchen table. But she then sent the tactile plates to Wentworth, a science teacher at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind.
Wentworth's students evaluated the engravings, often with voluminous comment, and their feedback shaped the final product, expected to be published later this year and to sell for about $40.
When Wentworth's students read the first prototype of the book, they were "blown away" that anyone had made the effort to communicate this information to them. "Once they got over the awe of someone doing this, then they sat down and said, 'This I don't understand, this is confusing,'" Wentworth said.
Each image is accompanied by Braille text and a key so that readers know which texture represents which color or object. For example, a colorful image of Saturn has the explanatory paragraph, "Different shades of blue indicate variations of cloud size and chemical components. Green and yellow indicate haze. The different colors are represented by tactile stripes across the planet. The rings are shown with a bumpy texture."
The lines and bumps do not replicate every change in color of the visual image and that is by design, Wentworth said, adding that simpler images seem to work better. Wentworth, who has worked on an accessible astronomy course at his school, said those who are blind from birth experience astronomy differently. He recalled a blind child who visited the Colorado school and walked into a dome-shaped tent where workers were setting up a touchable astronomy exhibit. When told that one worker was gluing stars to the sky, Wentworth said the child then asked, "What is the sky?"
"How do you describe that?" Wentworth asked. He said he was still "groping" for an answer to this question.
94 RAMONA AVE.
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Billie Jean Keith, Arlington, VA