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On a cold, foggy December evening, I was walking from my office, heading to the streetcar station to meet some friends near San Francisco's famous Haight Asbury district. About half a block from the station, a familiar voice called to me from a car on the street and moments later, an acquaintance jumped out of a car and came over with a greeting. He runs a restaurant in my neighborhood and sometimes drives a taxi as a way to make ends meet and be able to afford San Francisco's high cost of living. I have eaten many times in his restaurant and have occasionally rented an upstairs room for large dinner gatherings and meetings. We greeted one another warmly and he offered me a ride in his taxi as he was already carrying some passengers in the general direction I was heading. They didn't seem to mind, so I began to get into his taxi: a very large, wheelchair-accessible van.
It was then that the situation took a bizarre turn. My friend insisted on following me into the van, helping me with the seat belt, and suddenly, for some inexplicable reason, began acting concerned about my ability to find the seat, use the shoulder harness, to generally function inside his cab. His concerned reaching for half the belt and trying to help me become positioned properly in the van, my simultaneous reaching for belt and clip, the proximity of the other passengers and their luggage; all these circumstances led to a difficult and awkward situation.
Finally, the belt was fastened, and I seemed to be where I needed to be to make my friend feel satisfied that we were both ready to continue with the ride. But then, to my utter amazement and chagrin, he proceeded to pat my arm, and say, "There we go. Everything's fine."
For extra good measure, he elected to provide me with a second reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Good boy," he said with a sound of relief in his voice having satisfied, I suppose, his need to reassure either himself or me, who knew for sure?
For the remainder of that ride, I made every effort not to feel the stunned disappointment that that "good boy" comment had engendered. Coupled with the pat on the shoulder, it made me feel more like my friend's dog than his colleague or acquaintance. I wondered, was this really how he perceived me? Was it possible that all of our business dealings and cordialities in his restaurant had conveyed nothing to him about me as a person, or about blind people more generally?
Perhaps most readers who are themselves visually impaired have had a similar experience. Perhaps you have felt the disappointment and personal devaluation that comes with such an episode, even if only for a moment or two. Never before had I been struck quite so keenly or was I so unprepared for an event like this.
Afterwards, as the days passed by, I asked myself, "What experience"? A slow realization came to me that while I was attributing a specific patronizing attitude to my friend as what I supposed his experience of me was, it was, in reality, my own interpretation of what I imagined his experience to be that was bothering me. Perhaps I was correct, but perhaps not. I did not really know what he had thought or felt during that 15-20 second seating process. English is not his first language, and perhaps the struggle for words and the need to get out of the middle of a busy street had something to do with his choice of words, too. Might not a lifetime of other experiences, mostly in a country and culture far removed from mine, have taken over and governed his actions in a moment of pressure and concern?
We are so often faced with embarrassments and experiences that can range on a "scale of annoyance" anywhere from petty discriminatory acts all the way to major instances of discrimination, and sometimes it seems virtually impossible not to confuse the discriminatory actions with the perpetrators of those actions. The fight not to be angry or defensive can be as hard or harder than the battle of securing our rights as bona fide citizens.
When faced with a situation where advocacy is needed, what do we find usually succeeds the best? Is it that momentarily satisfying flash of anger and discontent, or is it diplomacy? When we meet with those who take actions that are harmful to the blind community, do we succeed more often by approaching them from some common ground, or from the perspective of anger and resentment? It is so hard not to feel that anger and resentment. And yet we know that if we can find or kindle that spark of understanding within a group of people, we can, by degrees, bring the entire group into a position that engenders actions favorable to us as people who are blind.
Take the case of a traffic signal we want to be made accessible. Very often, we write and call and find ourselves facing rejection from a traffic engineer or a local bureau that is acting according to some already established community policy. As we wait to learn whether our request for an accessible signal will be granted, we continue to cross dangerous intersections and feel a growing anger and resentment toward the person or group that comes to personify our difficulties at this particular intersection. By the time we meet those responsible for these feelings, it is very difficult not to burst out in outrage over a situation that has been simmering in our own minds toward the boiling point for months. "This is not a discussion," whispers our adrenalin-filled psyche, "this is my life!"
But at the same moment, we know from other experiences that a rational, considered approach to many situations lends itself to far more positive results. Nobody likes being yelled at, after all, and there is an overwhelming need to provide people with the facts about a given situation in order to help them judge what is possible and come to a decision based on knowledge rather than tradition, or instinct or fear.
It is when we can step back and approach situations with calm, rational, considered words and demeanor that we are at our best as advocates. It is for this ability to communicate and exchange information that we strive every day as advocates. Sometimes, change happens so slowly that it almost hurts, and yet, in many cases this is how change comes. Yes, sometimes a good, old-fashioned lawsuit doesn't hurt either. But let's face it. Those dramatic legal victories don't come that often. The long-term changes usually come incrementally in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities. They come because reasonable people like you and me take the time and spend the energy to educate our neighbors and help them take reasoned and reasonable actions.
I haven't seen my friend since that miserable December evening. But soon, I know I will go to his restaurant, meet him once again, and sit down to a nice meal. For now, I'll probably avoid the taxi because that memory and the feelings the incident engendered are just a little too fresh in my mind. But the restaurant will still be the venue where we have shared convivial experiences together. We can talk amiably together there. Maybe we will find a way of discussing whatever created the incident in the cab. Maybe I will discover it really wasn't worth thinking about or dwelling upon at all. Surely though, we will work to keep establishing a better and better ability to communicate together as human beings, different, but with an equality that may transcend many differences, if given the time and energy.
On January 8, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in yet another case involving provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The issue in this case, Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Ky. Inc. v. Williams, was whether Williams, an employee in Toyota's Kentucky plant, was a qualified person with a disability, as defined by the ADA, and therefore, entitled to accommodation in the form of a change in her job duties under Title III of the act.
Ella Williams, who began working as an assembly line worker at Toyota's plant in Georgetown, Ky., in 1990, developed carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis in her hands and arms as a result of using pneumatic tools. Her doctor recommended a variety of restrictions, including no repetitive work with hands and arms extended at or above shoulder level for extended periods of time. Toyota accommodated these restrictions by assigning her to the body paint inspection group, where persons with disabilities or medical restrictions were placed. However, after she had worked in that group for almost three years, Toyota added new duties to her job, including gripping a wooden-handled sponge to wipe down cars. Williams stated that the carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis in her hands and arms then flared up again even more severely, and she also developed tendinitis in her shoulders and neck. She asked that she be allowed to return to performing only paint inspection duties, but Toyota refused to grant this request. Eventually, she was fired after not showing up for work and a lawsuit followed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that she was disabled, stating that despite Williams' testimony that she could brush her teeth, wash her face, bathe, tend her flower garden, fix breakfast, do laundry, and pick up around the house, she was still substantially limited in her ability to perform manual tasks related to her work, and that limitation was sufficient to allow her to bring suit against Toyota for violating Title III of the ADA. Toyota appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Sixth Circuit finding that the lower court had used the wrong standard to determine whether Williams was a person with a disability according to the standard found in the ADA. Writing for the unanimous court, Justice O'Connor points out that the ADA defines disability as an impairment that substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform one or more major life activities. "Substantially in the phrase 'substantially limits' suggests considerable or to a large degree, and thus clearly precludes impairments that interfere in only a minor way with performing manual tasks. Moreover, because major means important, 'major life activities' refers to those activities that are of central importance to daily life. In order for performing manual tasks to fit into this category, a category that includes such basic abilities as walking, seeing, and hearing, the manual tasks in question must be central to daily life. If each of the tasks included in the major life activity of performing manual tasks does not independently qualify as a major life activity, then together they must do so."
The court notes that it is not sufficient that the manual tasks are performed only at work, because the ADA applies to a variety of situations that are not work-related, such as access to public accommodations and transportation. The definition of disability then must be broad enough to encompass all of an individual's life activities. In this case, therefore, the high court held that the lower court erred in failing to ask whether the respondent's impairments prevented or restricted her from performing tasks that are of central importance to most people's daily lives, and thus did not properly determine whether she met the definition of disability found in the ADA. Justice O'Connor wrote, "Household chores, bathing, and brushing one's teeth are among the types of manual tasks of central importance to people's daily lives, so the Sixth Circuit should not have disregarded respondent's ability to do these activities." The case was sent back to the lower courts for reconsideration under the proper standard of review.
This case does not stand for the proposition that carpal tunnel syndrome is not a disability. It simply states that in order for it to be a disability, this impairment must have an impact on one's ability to perform a variety of tasks including those that are major activities of daily life. When an individual case is evaluated according to this standard, it could quite easily rise to the level of a disability. What we have here is a strict interpretation of the language of the ADA itself. As such, it has narrowed the class of covered individuals somewhat, but not enough to seriously undermine the integrity of the law, as some had feared it would.
There are a number of other ADA cases pending before this court and we will publish details of the decisions in those cases as soon as they are available. In the meantime, rest assured that the right to reasonable accommodation in the workplace provided for in Title II of the ADA stands intact for qualified persons with disabilities across the United States.
Just after the holidays, there was a lot of discussion on the ACB listserv regarding the right of blind and visually impaired shoppers to receive assistance with their shopping from store personnel. The specific question that arose concerned the legal obligations of merchants to provide assistance. The discussion that followed convinced me that folks might be interested in some information about what the law has to say on this subject. Since this magazine reaches a broader audience than the ACB listserv, I decided to provide this information here. I hope it will be of use to many of you as you go about your business in the new year.
The applicable federal law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title III of the ADA (42 USC 12182) prohibits anyone who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation from discriminating against any individual based on that individual's disability. The term public accommodation includes: sales establishments such as grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, shopping centers and bakeries; most places of lodging such as hotels, motels and inns; establishments serving food or drink such as restaurants and bars; places of entertainment or exhibition such as motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, and stadiums; places of public gathering such as convention centers, auditoriums and lecture halls; service establishments such as laundromats, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, gas stations, pharmacies, hospitals, offices of accountants, lawyers, insurance agents and health care professionals; certain public transit facilities such as terminals, stations and depots; places of education including nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate and postgraduate private schools; places of recreation such as parks, zoos and amusement parks; places where social services are provided, such as day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks and adoption agencies; places for exercise such as bowling alleys, health spas and golf courses; and places of public display or collection such as libraries, galleries and museums.
The ADA describes several types of conduct which are considered discriminatory and are therefore prohibited. Obviously, the most direct form of such conduct is to deny an individual or class of individuals, the opportunity to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges or accommodations normally offered to the public by one of these establishments, based on the disability of an individual member of the public, or a class of such individuals. According to the ADA, it is also discriminatory to provide an individual, or class of individuals who have disabilities with goods or services that are not equal to, or are different from, the services provided to other non-disabled individuals, unless different goods or services are in fact necessary in order to insure that people who have disabilities will receive goods and services that are as effective as those provided to other members of the public. It is also discriminatory to fail to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to insure that people with disabilities will be able to gain access to the proffered goods, services, facilities etc.
The only exception to this rule involves an instance where the entity can demonstrate that making such modifications would "fundamentally alter the nature of" the goods, services, facilities etc. Finally, it is considered discrimination for an entity covered by this section to fail to take steps to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services which would otherwise enable the person with a disability to access those goods and services. Auxiliary aids and services are defined elsewhere in the ADA as including: "qualified readers, taped texts, or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual impairments." Here again, an entity which fails to take steps to accommodate an individual under these circumstances has only one defense. Such failure is not discriminatory if the entity can demonstrate that taking such steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations being offered, or would result in an undue burden on the entity. Note that the statute does not say burden, but an "undue" burden. That means there must be more than inconvenience involved. There must be a degree of burden that makes it highly problematic for the entity to accommodate the needs of the person with a disability seeking accommodation.
So, what does all this mean when you want to go shopping, or visit a doctor, or make a bank deposit? Well, first of all, these are covered entities and if you are blind or visually impaired, you are one of the individuals who is protected against discrimination by these entities. The ADA says they cannot refuse to serve you on the basis of your disability. Further, they cannot give you inferior service, and they cannot treat you differently than they do other customers or clients, except in those instances where some different treatment is necessary to ensure that you have access to the same goods or services they provide to other customers. A good example of this would be the provision of an assistant to go through a store with you and help you select items off the shelf. Most stores would not do that ordinarily, but as an accommodation necessitated by the fact that they do not have another way of letting you know what is available and where those items are located, this is an appropriate means by which they can ensure that you have access to their goods and the ability to effectively transact your business with them. In fact, the provisions of the ADA which I summarized above would require that a store provide this kind of assistance.
The ADA does not discuss whether it would be legal for a business to ask a customer to call ahead and arrange assistance in advance, or to come at certain hours of the day, or to bring an assistant with them to an appointment. However, it does say that businesses and other places of public accommodation are required to make their goods and services available to persons with disabilities, and to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that such individuals are not discriminated against, unless to do so would "fundamentally alter the nature of" the goods or services provided, or would be an "undue burden." This seems to indicate that requiring an individual to make such arrangements with the business would in fact be a violation of the law.
Requesting it may arguably be warranted in some circumstances, particularly in the case of a small business with a very limited number of personnel on the premises. However, my reading of the ADA leads me to believe that a blanket policy requiring all customers or clients of an entity to make such arrangements would not pass the "undue burden" test set forth in the ADA. Rather, it would be considered prohibited discrimination. In any case, Title III of the ADA indicates that no establishment which offers goods or services to the public can legally refuse to provide goods or services to people with disabilities, on the grounds that they simply don't have time to provide such assistance or other accommodations. Anyone who experiences this type of blatant refusal to serve customers with disabilities should contact the U.S. Department of Justice and file a complaint against the business establishment. This is not a complicated process. All you need to do to file a complaint is to send a letter to them describing what happened to you, giving the name and location of the business, and the names of any employees or other individuals you spoke to if you are able to get them. The Justice Department is supposed to investigate these complaints and help resolve them. They have two addresses to which you can send these complaints. The first is: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, Disability Rights Section, PO Box 66738, Washington, DC 20035-6738. Another is: US Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, New York Avenue Building, Room 4023, Washington, DC 20530.
At this time, much of the department's mail is being re- routed due to the recent anthrax scare in Washington, so if you have occasion to write to them within the next several months, I would suggest you send your letter to both addresses. You might also send us a copy at the ACB national office, so that we can contact them as well and let them know we are aware of your complaint.
In addition to providing a means by which we can help to hold those charged with enforcing the ADA accountable for doing their job, this kind of information is useful to us as we work to try to educate the public about the kinds of discrimination blind and visually impaired people face as they live their daily lives.
Though much has changed in Washington since September 11th, the American Council of the Blind will continue to lead our nation's visually impaired community to guaranteed equal rights and full participation in society. The right to an education that gives blind and visually impaired students the same opportunities as their sighted classmates continues to be absolutely essential. The ability to participate as voting members of our democracy, including the right to independently access a secret ballot, must be afforded to ALL of America's citizens. Ensuring our opportunities to work, play, and participate FULLY in the activities of daily life continues to be at the top of our national agenda.
These are a few of the issues you will learn more about at this year's ACB legislative seminar to be held March 3, 4, & 5, 2002 at the Holiday Inn Capitol, 550 C Street SW, Washington, DC.
Hotel reservations may be made by calling (202) 479-4000. Be certain to mention the American Council of the Blind Legislative Seminar to be assured our special rate of $139 (plus tax) per night per room. We have blocked some rooms for Saturday evening, March 2, for those who may be arriving early.
Our session will begin on Sunday at 1 p.m. and will wrap up with a cocktail reception that night (cash bar). Meetings will continue throughout the day on Monday. We will hold our annual banquet with guest speaker Monday evening. Tuesday will be devoted to Congressional visits on Capitol Hill.
Increased security considerations have necessitated the following changes on Tuesday.
1. You will be able to enjoy breakfast at your own pace that morning. Dining facilities at the hotel open at 6:30 a.m., so you will still have plenty of time to fit a good breakfast into your schedule.
2. The hotel is located about six blocks from the Capitol, so you will be able to take a taxi from the front of the hotel or walk. If the weather cooperates, it could be a pleasant brisk start to your busy day.
3. We will be making arrangements with the hotel for you to leave your luggage at the bellstand, as you will not be allowed through the security checkpoints at the House and Senate office buildings with luggage. Keep this in mind when planning your return flight, as you will need to go by the hotel to pick up your bags before heading for the airport.
4. At this time it appears that you will be able to go between the Senate office buildings that are open using the underground tunnel system, and you will be able to go between the House office buildings using their underground; but you will NOT be able to go between the House and Senate sides of the Hill underground. Keep this in mind when making your appointments. Try to get all of your House appointments scheduled together and do the same with your Senate ones so you have to traverse the Hill only once. If you should have an appointment in the Capitol Building itself, you must get prior security clearance. That process should be available from the office you are visiting. Also, be sure to check with your senator's staff as to their exact location since your senator may have been moved because of the Hart Building's being closed. You may wish to check with your affiliate president to coordinate your appointments.
Registration forms are available from either the national office or on our web site. They must be submitted with your $50 registration fee by February 20, 2002.
At this time we are planning an optional special evening of fun on Saturday, March 2. Please contact Terry Pacheco for more details.
(Note from California Council president Cathie Skivers: Juliet Esterly, an educator, advocate and mentor of many blind and visually impaired people, passed away Dec. 20, 2001. Her longtime friend and bookkeeper Frances DeAtley has prepared a piece which will serve as Julie's obituary and which will also be circulated to various publications in agencies where Julie served for so many years.)
Juliet Esterly died on December 20, 2001 after a short illness. She was born May 31, 1912, in Los Angeles. Although she was legally blind, and lost her sight completely as an adult, she attended Scripps College on a four-year scholarship and graduated in 1934. When Scripps established a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Juliet was invited to join and represent all previous alumnae. She later completed graduate studies in social welfare at U.C. Berkeley.
Her first job was as a social worker for the blind at the Alameda County Welfare Department. She was later employed by the state of California for nearly 30 years as home teacher of Braille with a territory covering California's 50 northern counties. During this time she wrote the first real "how to" handbook for blind people, which was published in 1952 by Macmillan Publishing Co. and later translated into Braille and talking books.
Juliet was a strong advocate of Braille and attended a conference in London in 1989 to deliver a paper on the changes in the Braille code. In 1971 Juliet married Everett Esterly and moved to Rossmoor; she was widowed in 1981. Juliet was a charter member on the board of directors for the American Council of the Blind and was given its Ambassador Award in 1973. She also served as president of the Associated Blind of California, the first California affiliate of the ACB. When this group merged with the California Council of the Blind she also served on the new board of directors. She was a three-term president of the Retired Public Employees Association (RPEA) in Contra Costa County and the Rossmoor Residents Association. She was given the Rossmoor "Citizen of Merit" award in 1985, and was named "Most Valuable Member" by the state of California RPEA in 1993.
She also was presented a certificate of appreciation for good citizenship by the Walnut Creek City Council the same year. She was a member of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Rehabilitation Teachers, a professional organization, and in 1994 the national organization presented her with an award for "service over and above the call of duty."
She had been living in a retirement home since 1994. She requested that no services be held. Any memorial donations should be made to the Juliet King Esterly Scholarship Fund (income to benefit a blind student), Scripps College, 1030 Columbia Ave., Claremont, CA 91711-3948.
We are happy to report that as of the beginning of 2002, there are now more than 2,000 talking ATMs installed across the United States. At last count, 30 states had talking ATMs, and the number of machines and states will continue to grow throughout this year. Talking ATMs can be found at bank branches, airports, college campuses, and at retail outlets such as grocery stores and convenience stores. These machines provide audible instruction through an earphone for a wide variety of ATM functions, including account balance, deposit, withdrawal, transfer and stamp purchase. And talking ATMs now speak Spanish in several locations!
This article will list all the banks and other institutions we know about that have installed talking ATMs as of December 31, 2001, and all the states where they are installed. To find exact locations, contact the bank by phone or check the web site. If you know of other banks with talking ATMs, or want information on how to encourage other institutions to install talking ATMs, please contact Lainey Feingold at the e-mail or phone listed below.
You can help our talking ATM effort by using the machines in your communities and helping to spread the word about their importance. Most banks will gladly set up a demonstration for a local meeting or send a speaker to a statewide convention. Local media has been very interested in this story, especially in states where there has been little or no coverage. If you have a newsletter, e-tree or web site, work for a radio reading service or an agency serving the blindness community, try to do a story, list locations, and encourage use of the machines. And talking ATMs aren't just for blind people! Anyone with difficulty reading an ATM screen will benefit from the technology, so spread the word in your local disability community as well. The talking ATMs we have today are the result of a national grass roots effort by the blindness community. That effort will not be over until every ATM location has an accessible ATM. Please do your part to help us reach that goal.
Banks/institutions with talking ATMs as of December 2001: Bank of America; Bank One; Citibank; Diebold; First Union; Fifth Third; Fleet; Hibernia; Mellon; National City Bank; San Francisco Federal Credit Union; Union Bank of California; US Bank and Wells Fargo.
States with talking ATMs as of December 2001: Arizona, California, Connecticut, D.C., Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
Lainey Feingold has represented ACB and its affiliates across the country in efforts to obtain talking ATMs. For further information, contact Lainey at [email protected] or call (510) 548-5062.
Several times each month, I read or hear a book review that is so enticing, I know if I could read print, I would head right for Amazon.com, or Borders, or Barnes and Noble, and plunk down the dollars that would put the book in my hands. There are novels, and books about current events, recent and ancient history, biographies, cookbooks, and science fiction; they're all calling me, and I want nothing more than to pick each of them up and start reading. There's only one problem: I can't read print, and in most cases, a trip to the bookstore in search of an audio version of the latest best sellers would yield only an apologetic shrug from the bookseller behind the counter.
So, I attempt to file away a list of all those books whose reviews have enticed me. I save the list and add to it and save it and add to it and save it. Sometimes after 18 months or so, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) will list one of those books on my personal "Must Read" list among the newly available titles on audiocassette, but by then, a hundred or so other books have joined my "Must Read" list. Often the buzz about a book has died down by the time the NLS makes it available, so even if I notice the title in "Talking Book Topics," chances are that, when I finish reading the novel or the history or the biography, there won't be too many people who will still have much interest in discussing it.
Don't misunderstand. I think that the service the NLS offers is a very worthwhile and liberating one, and I am on a first-name basis with the librarians who take my calls and attempt to fill my orders at my local Special Needs Library. But I long for the immediacy of a bookstore, and the gratification of reading a book at the same time lots of other people are reading it.
I have been a patron of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic since their only audience for recorded books was people with visual impairments. Remember those "disposable" disks? We used to have to weigh the "tone arm" on our Talking Book Machines down with a couple of quarters to make them play, but they were lifesavers for college students, and the quality and diversity of RFB's recordings improved steadily throughout the years. RFB&D still provides a wonderful service, of which I take advantage as often as they have the books that attract my interest and attention. RFB&D was particularly helpful in supplying books in a very timely manner when my daughter and I participated in a mother/daughter book club while she was in middle school.
E-books offer much promise, and the nearly worldwide adoption of the DAISY standard and the acceptance of the very similar NISO standard in the USA are very encouraging developments indeed. But, we're far from the day when people who are blind can access electronic copies of best-sellers, college textbooks, or the newest cookbooks that rate reviews in the cooking magazines or newspaper food sections. I believe that the day is coming, and I'm already saving my pennies for a Victor or a BrailleNote, which promises to make the e-texts which can be accessed with Microsoft Reader software available to users of those devices as well. I look forward to a time when a portable device will make reading digitized books as easy for me as it is for others who can smell the ink on the pages of the books they purchase from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. However, according to an estimate I read last year, less than one percent of all books are available in any accessible formats today. A New Approach from Bookshare.org
A new approach to making books available to people who cannot read standard print is just about to emerge. The project, which is the brainchild of Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, Inc., is called BookShare. Here's how it will work. People who use optical scanner recognition (OCR) systems to convert print to digital text so as to read them with a screen-reader or a dedicated system, like the Kurzweil 1000 or Humanware/Freedom Scientific's Ruby or Open Book, will send the scanned text to a central location (at BookShare.org); there, other people will evaluate the scanned texts for completeness, readability, authenticity, etc.; and then, the books will be made available for BookShare subscribers to download as digitized text and enjoy for themselves. Bookshare.org is a lending library which represents the kind of thing that all of us mean when we talk about "community."
Approximately 50,000 people and organizations are using optical character recognition and scanning systems to access printed texts which are not otherwise available in accessible formats.
Scanning a book can take several hours, and proofreading the resultant product can take several more. Until now, this process has been repeatedly accomplished on many of the same books because, until now, there was no way to share the results of scanning and converting books into accessible formats. Bookshare.org will change all of that -- in mid-February 2002. What about the copyright laws?
It is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies of a previously published, non-dramatic literary work if the copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other people with disabilities. Bookshare.org will provide an Internet-based mechanism to allow users with reading disabilities and the organizations that serve them to legally share books and other copyrighted documents.
All the books which will be made available via Bookshare.org will meet the following criteria: Copies may not be reproduced or distributed in a format other than a specialized format (i.e., Braille, audio, or digital text) exclusively for use by blind or other people with disabilities; must bear a notice that any further reproduction or distribution in a format other than a specialized format is an infringement; and must include a copyright notice identifying the copyright owner and the date of the original publication. Who Will Be Able To Use the Site?
Only blind or other people with disabilities that affect their ability to access print, or organizations serving them, such as schools, will be permitted to download copyrighted books. Bookshare will follow the same procedures and standards now in use by the NLS. Therefore, a Bookshare user will have to register and supply a signed certification completed by an appropriate professional in the field of disability services education, medicine, psychology or a related area. The certifier must be a recognized expert who can attest to the physical basis that limits the applicant's use of standard print. Appropriate certifying experts may differ from disability to disability. For example, in the case of blindness and visual impairments, an appropriate person to certify the disability could be a physician, ophthalmologist, or optometrist. In the case of learning disability, a neurologist, learning disability specialist, or psychologist with a background in learning disabilities might provide the appropriate certification. If you have already been certified as a qualified user for RFB&D or the NLS, that certification will entitle you to become a member of the Bookshare.org community. Bookshare.org's Approach to DRM
Recognizing that the copyright law exception is a valuable privilege for people with disabilities, and that their commitment to protecting the rights of authors and publishers has helped to enlist support within the publishing industry for their accessibility efforts, Bookshare.org will implement a digital rights management (DRM) plan which will include the following seven components: Access to Bookshare.org will be restricted to only qualified entities and people; each e-book will contain copyright and limited access notices; each book will be encrypted for each specific user; each downloaded book will contain a "watermark;" each user will be required to sign an agreement to abide by the copyright law; Bookshare.org will put in place a database for tracking potential abuse, including posting a downloaded book to other web sites; Bookshare.org will maintain a security watch system to flag potential misuse. These measures are designed to make it easy for qualified users to get access to the books they want to read while making it very difficult for the system to be misused or to violate the copyright provisions which make the whole system possible. Books Will Be Provided By Members of the Disabled Community
Blind and visually impaired readers scan thousands of books and periodicals into electronic formats every day. Former ACB president Paul Edwards has scanned and made thousands of books available for his own personal reading pleasure on various versions of the BrailleLite during the last several years. Fruchterman told me that Edwards has already contributed more than 3,000 books to the community, and that, in fact, Edwards is the biggest single contributor to Bookshare.org. A Range of Options in Terms of Quality
Bookshare.org cannot guarantee the quality of the books it will make available, but the organization has faith in the members of the disabled community who will be scanning and contributing the books to the online facility. Jim Fruchterman told me, "People need to understand that there is a quality difference between scanned books and the books they get from NLS and RFB&D; these entities invest a lot in quality control. What we're trying to do is not to deliver a set of books with the highest quality. Instead, we're delivering books right away, and really cheaply."
Fruchterman told me that he expects this method to produce a library of tens of thousands of high-quality books and periodicals shortly after its launch this month. Many of these publications will be carefully proofread, providing high quality full text, with structure and audio, and books that meet appropriate criteria will be identified as "Proofread," among the list of available titles. The great majority, however, will simply be scanned books, redistributed in a digital format.
Thousands of disabled people invest many hours to scan a book each day. The opportunity to instantly get a book equal in quality to a personal OCR scan will lower a major barrier to access. Text to Speech and Braille
Bookshare.org's approach relies on users' having a text-to-speech product such as JFW, WindowEyes, or Connect OutLoud, to read the text aloud, or a Braille product to present the text in Braille. The book format will be based on the DAISY/NISO ebook format, which is an XML standard usable with a variety of adaptive technology software products. Therefore, books will be readable by all the leading screen-reading and text reading programs. For Braille readers, a grade 2 Braille extension using the BRF format will be implemented. When I spoke with Jim Fruchterman in mid-December, he told me that Benetech was in the process of negotiating an agreement with Visuaide, the company which markets the Victor, to include with each subscription to Bookshare.org, a version of appropriate software for reading downloaded books with that device. What Are the Advantages of Bookshare.org?
Bookshare.org offers a number of advantages to its users. While the quality of many titles may be inferior to that of books produced professionally by entities like the NLS and RFB&D, some of the advantages the Bookshare option will provide include these: Bookshare.org ebooks will be available in minutes, not days or weeks. Bookshare.org ebooks should be available for many more titles than are currently available.
Bookshare.org ebooks should be as good or better than scanning books oneself. Educational institutions with the responsibility to provide accessible materials will benefit greatly from the products of Bookshare.org, for they will be able to obtain texts with minimal effort or cost by collaborating with schools across the country. A Multitude of Users
A recent survey conducted by the NLS found that two million people with some type of visual impairment may be eligible to take advantage of the services they offer, and an other million with physical conditions such as paralysis, missing arms or hands, lack of muscle coordination, or prolonged weakness could benefit from the use of reading materials in recorded form. Benetech's own research leads them to believe that there are 100,000 eligible individuals who actively utilize computer technology to access publications. These individuals, coupled with the client base of organizations like the NLS will serve as the core of the Bookshare.org user base. However, because the copyright law exception that Bookshare.org is relying upon is currently an exception only in the United States, Bookshare.org will not be available to users outside the USA. Modest Subscription Fees
Bookshare.org has modest financial requirements, since a web-based service powered by volunteer/users offers tremendous cost savings. Jim Fruchterman told me that Bookshare.org plans to offer books for download as a modestly priced subscription service to qualifying users and the organizations that serve them. There will also be an opportunity for financially disadvantaged users to earn reduced fees by providing scanned books or proofreading services. The financial objective for Bookshare.org is to be operating at a break-even level after two years of operations, to ensure its long-term viability to provide its services to the disabled community.
As of mid-December 2001, he told me that between 12,000 and 14,000 books had already been submitted to Bookshare.org. At that time, nearly 100 volunteers and the not-for-profit's six employees were processing books at a rate of 600 per week. Sign Up
Bookshare.org is expected to be operational and ready to accept your membership applications in mid-February 2002.
You can sign up with http://www.bookshare.org for $25. Then, it will cost $50 for an annual subscription, which will entitle you to download as many books as it's possible for you to read. (We'll check with Paul Edwards in about a year to find out exactly how many books that may turn out to be.) Just go to www.bookshare.org, fill out the application form (which is, of course, accessible with your screen-reader), mail in the certification documentation, and the fee, and you'll be set to go.
And if you're one of those people who has been obsessively scanning and reading books since you first laid hands on a scanner or Kurzweil 1000 or Open Book, and if you were a diligent and careful scanner who remembered to scan every single page, including the page that contained the copyright, then you probably already have a wealth of materials to contribute to this site. For guidance about scanning books and submitting them, turn to the web site for comprehensive, easy to follow instructions.
Maybe the next time I hear an interesting author on the Dianne Rehm show, or "All Things Considered," or I read a review of a fantastic new cookbook that allows readers to prepare nutritious and delicious meals in a matter of minutes, I'll be able to search for and find the title within a day or a week or so, and be reading the book or trying out the recipe along with everyone else who has heard the review or read the newspaper article. Let me go plunk another quarter into that piggy bank named Victor. I think the day when I can read what I want, when I want to read it is just around the corner.
Are you working full-time? Do you want to take a course or two? Are you having trouble finding the extra money to pay for those evening classes? Why don't you apply for the John Hebner Memorial Scholarship? It is a $500 award specifically intended for people like you.
We at ACB are also privileged to administer dozens of other scholarships, many in memory of longtime ACB members and friends. The Dr. S. Bradley Burson Memorial Scholarship, for example, is available to a student in the pure science fields. Eunice Fiorito's family has established a scholarship in her memory for students who want to continue working in her cherished field of advocacy for people with disabilities. The Duane Buckley Memorial seeks to assist a student who has overcome extraordinary circumstances. If you live in Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, or South Dakota, there are special awards just for you. Freedom Scientific Corporation has enhanced our scholarship efforts this year with $20,000 in merchandise awards. We will be presenting these coveted awards to a number of people who win ACB scholarships, during our national convention in Houston, TX on July 2.
So whether you are in school preparing for your career or looking to improve your skills for that big promotion, ACB is ready to help. Applications are available from the ACB national office or can be submitted on our web site, www.acb.org. They must be submitted by March 1, 2002, and all supporting documentation must also be received by that date.
Are you interested in competing for several of our
scholarships? Don't worry, you need to complete only one
application. We will do the rest of the work to determine which
scholarships best fit your circumstances. For any additional
information, contact Terry Pacheco by phone at the national
office, (202) 467-5081, or toll-free at 1-800-424-8666; or by e-
mail at Send E-mail.
The scholarship committee, chaired by Patty Slaby of Wisconsin, will be considering applications and interviewing finalists in April and May. All winners will be guests of ACB and presented their scholarships at the national convention in July.
When I accepted the position of ACB convention tour director late last summer, I had no idea of what was in store for me. What I've gotten is tremendous cooperation from the national office and host committee, and a sneak preview of some great tours. I'm going to let you in on this sneak preview, with the hope that each of you will circle at least one tour on your convention pre- registration form.
First, some additional details to supplement the January Forum article on Galveston. We will enjoy dinner at Landry's, a well-known establishment which specializes in seafood. We will then go to an amphitheater, where we will enjoy an outdoor production of "No, No, Nannette." Astute baseball fans will recognize this as the play which caused the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and brought the curse to the Red Sox. Broadway enthusiasts will recognize it as a nostalgic return to the 1920s featuring such catchy tunes as "Tea for Two."
You will have two opportunities to learn more about your convention week home by taking a Houston City Tour. Buses, complete with experienced, enthusiastic guides will depart the Adam's Mark on Saturday and Sunday morning at 10 a.m. You will visit Herman Park, pass through downtown Houston and the fashionable River Oaks District, enjoy lunch at a cafeteria with an endless supply of delicious food, pass by Enron Park (home of the Astros), and more. Don't worry, we haven't forgotten that you need time to collect souvenirs. Our Greyline Tour representative assures me that ACB's 1997 visit to Houston is fresh in her memory, and that she and the other guides will provide the narration and assistance you need to make this a quality tour. Expect to arrive back at the Adam's Mark by 3 p.m.
On Monday, you will have the chance to choose between two tours: the Museum of Natural Sciences and NASA. Because we know that so many of you will want to take advantage of both, we have arranged a repeat of the NASA tour on Thursday. If necessary, we will do the same for the Museum of Natural Sciences.
Your tour of the Museum of Natural Sciences will start with a trip through the Butterfly Center. As you walk through this rain forest, you will have the chance to touch such things as a caterpillar, cocoon, and a variety of exotic plants. Next comes my personal favorite: a visit to the insect museum, home of Bug Daddy Don. With his '60s holdover look and genuine love of insects, Don has become somewhat of a museum icon. You'll be amazed when you hear him talk to "his" insects as if they were the family pet, and even more amazed when he drops a millipede into your hand! There's nothing quite like having a prickly insect crawling up your arm as you listen to a docent describe another museum attraction, the Madagascar hissing roach. Don't worry; I've been assured that all of these insects are harmless. Finally, you will spend some time at the paleontology museum, where you will learn some history about ancient reptiles. A shark's jaw and dinosaur tooth will be on display for you to touch. Rumor has it that the brave souls among you will be able to meet an alligator. If you prefer the less dramatic, hang out with Sidney the iguana. He goes nowhere fast, and you'll enjoy checking out his strawy spine. This tour, which departs the hotel at 1:30 and returns by 6, is great for kids and for those of us who wish we still were!
Kids and grownups alike will also enjoy the trip to NASA. This tour will be offered on Monday, and again on Thursday. Both tours will depart the hotel at 12:30, and return by 5:30. A snack bar will be set up immediately outside the convention hall, so you will have enough time to grab a sandwich before boarding the bus. For those of you who did this tour during the 1997 convention, it's worth repeating! Watch a show which talks about life in space, then go on-stage to touch some of the objects which the astronauts use. If we're lucky, they will have a spacesuit available. Move on to the Imax theater to watch "Being an Astronaut." We are working hard to make sure that this show has audio description. Next, you will have the chance to examine and climb into a replica of the space shuttle. Then, you will listen to a history of the space program, and learn about our current space mission. Those of you who like hands-on experiences will really enjoy the rest of the tour, which will first take you back to the '70s. By pushing a button on a kiosk, listen to a recording of a historical moment in our space program, then reminisce about the good ol' days with a song from the year in which it occurred. Next, it's on to the exhibit hall, where you can touch things such as a lunar rock. In the plaza, enjoy the "robot circus" exhibit, experience 1/6 gravity, and talk to Mission Control. The folks at NASA are excited about our visit, and I'm confident that they will make it a great learning experience for everyone.
Those of you who believe that there is nothing in an art museum for blind persons will have a change of heart if you take our Tuesday afternoon tour to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. We will depart the hotel by 1, and have you back shortly after 5. The tour will begin in the old section of the museum, which opened its doors in 1924. In the Asian art gallery, docents will describe various pieces of artwork. As you touch the pottery, you will be impressed both by the craftsmanship and by how well it has been preserved over the centuries. You will be fascinated by the collection of gold which predominates the African gallery. Though you will not be able to touch these pieces, I believe that you will find learning about their history to be very satisfying. Be sure to ask about the linguist staffs, which feature a crafted gold shape at the top depicting a moral. As you walk to the new section of the museum, you will be treated to a description of a contemporary art exhibit. You will then have the rare experience of being able to touch four impressions of a painting in various stages of its development. As a totally blind person, I was thrilled to be able to form a mental picture based on something other than someone else's description. Once the formal tour has concluded, you will have time to stroll through the sculpture garden, browse the gift shop, or relax with coffee and a pastry at Caf‚ Express.
By Wednesday evening, we'll all need a break. Treat yourself to some well-deserved R&R at George Ranch. This is a true Texas experience! We'll head out at 5:30, and be back by 11:30. Learn about the history of a prominent Texas family by taking a tour of the house. Go to a cattle-roping demonstration, which will have full description. If you go to the chuckwagon, bring your Braille cards. A cowboy just might entice you into a game of poker. Enjoy a full Texas barbecue dinner as you're entertained by strolling musicians. The great part about this tour is that you can be as busy as you choose. Take in all four events, or spend your time at the chuckwagon listening and singing along to guitar music.
As you can see, there's something for everyone who comes to Texas for the 41st annual national convention of the ACB. Whether you're interested in the lives of the cowboys (and girls) or traveling through space as a "rocket man (or woman)," you'll find a tour that can tickle your fancy and make you glad to have spent the first week in July 2002 in the Lone Star State. Believe it or not, I still have a few more details to share, so keep watching the pages of "The Braille Forum" and be thinking about circling several of those dates on your convention registration form.
The American Council of the Blind Radio Amateurs is conducting a membership drive. If you want to be included as a voting member of our affiliate, we must have your dues paid into our treasury no later than March 1. There is only a short amount of time left to get your dues in. We will be holding a program at the convention, as well as a business meeting and our annual breakfast get-together. This is your invitation to join us. You'll have a great time meeting other people whose interests are similar to yours. Come meet other hams and swap experiences with ham radio. To join or re-join our group, please send $10 for the year to: Robert R. Rogers (K8CO), 1121 Morado Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45238.
Visually Impaired Data Processors International is conducting a membership drive. To be included as a member of our affiliate, you must get your dues and membership information to us no later than March 1. The time is running out. If you want to be a VIDPI member, please get your checks in as soon as possible. Frank Welte, our vice president and program chair, is working hard to put together a good national convention program of technical, and not so technical, seminars. During the year, we have a Sunday night chat room meeting weekly on www.for-the- people.com. To participate, contact us through our VIDPI affiliate page on www.acb.org/vidpi.
If you would like to join or rejoin, please rush your dues to Mary Abramson, as follows: $20 for full voting membership or $10 for associate membership. Mary Abramson's address is 0 N 032 Ambleside Dr. #2402, Winfield, IL 60190-1904.
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.
This is a comment on the information in the October "Braille Forum" in the article reporting on the September board meeting. In the section concerning guide dog relief areas at conventions, the actions which are being proposed for the future were listed. In my opinion, these actions are woefully inadequate.
As a guide dog handler who is conscientious about picking up after my dog, I don't use the relief areas. I choose to pretend that they do not exist. Why? Because no matter how well they have been handled, they have been stinking, disease-festering, filthy messes. This is not due to the valiant efforts of those who have tried to have them be otherwise. It is because both the plans designed by the convention committee and by GDUI and the financial resources allocated to pay for those plans have been so inadequate as to be ludicrous.
I believe that the only solution which would solve the problem of unusable relief areas is to have them supervised 24/7. They must be cleaned and disinfected continuously. In addition, those who do not clean up after their own dogs should be warned after the first time and then removed from the hotel after that. In my opinion, there is no excuse for not cleaning up after your dog. If someone is unable to perform this function, and there are people who can't, they should provide themselves with the support they need to assist them.
Will this relief area care cost more money? Of course it will. Should everyone who goes to conventions pay the cost? Absolutely. One dollar added to everyone's registration fee would do the job just fine. If that isn't enough, other sources of support can be found. Let's get to it right away!
Though no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.
There are two very divergent, but equally sound viewpoints on Social Security privatization. My work career was from 1950 to 1995. For most years I paid the maximum amount into Social Security, yet my return on investment is a lousy 2 percent. Many retired government employees have been able to opt out of Social Security during their work career, and both their and their employers' 7.65 percent contributions went into mutual funds that paid an average 11 percent annual return instead of the lousy 2 percent of Social Security. If many state and local employees can opt out of Social Security that provides an average $35,000 per year in retirement benefits instead of the maximum $14,500 that I now receive at age 66, why can't all employees have this same freedom of investment choices?
During my work career, each of my five employers provided disability insurance as a part of my pay. When I became legally blind from normal pressure/low tension glaucoma in mid-1994 and took medical disability retirement in early 1995, my Reliance Insurance disability paycheck until age 65 was reduced by the Social Security Disability Insurance payment of about $14,000 annually. In summary, if my 45 years of Social Security had been invested in a privatized account I would have received my entire Reliance Insurance Disability check, without a Social Security payment deduction, and my privatized Social Security would have continued to accrue at the rate of 11 percent annually until I started annual withdrawal at age 65 at a $35,000 annual rate instead of the actual current $14,500 non-privatized Social Security rate. Social Security is a lousy deal for those who work a full career.
In retirement my Social Security, after tax, does not even cover my $17,000 annual health care costs. If I had been able to invest my Social Security at the prevailing mutual fund rate, as I did with my savings, I would have about $275,000 in my Social Security privatized fund and I could amortize that at a payment rate of $35,000 annually instead of the current $14,500 annually.
Since my Social Security only provides 10 percent of my last five years of employment gross income, it is only because I did save and invest in privatized funds that I am able to enjoy retirement. Yes, since the economic downturn that started April 2000, I have lost about 30 percent of my total combination of mutual funds, municipal bonds, AA bonds, and money market funds in investments, but that's only 19 months in 45 years that a loss has occurred. Each year my funds in Social Security return less than the rate of inflation. Since 1995 my medical costs have increased at a rate triple the rate of inflation. A fixed Social Security payment, adjusted for only about 1/3 the rate of medical care inflation, does not cover medical costs.
I absolutely agree that those who have vision have a responsibility to save, invest, and also to insure that they are covered by disability insurance during their working career.
I hope that in part 2 of the article on Social Security privatization, "The Braille Forum" pursues a balanced discussion, not just a biased Democrat's opinion. If people are too illiterate to invest, give them economic training. If people don't want to invest, give them the option of continuing under the low investment return of the current Social Security system, or at least assure that everyone gets a return equal to that available in the U.S. Treasury long-term market. That has been a 7 percent average these past 45 years.
Though an active member of the National Federation of the Blind, I subscribe to "The Braille Forum" -- which, with "The Braille Monitor," could be an excellent testimonial of how the blind in this country could work together harmoniously on the national, state, and local levels.
In the convention issue, you referred to the ACB as "the leading consumer organization of blind people in the USA and the world ...." "Just about a thousand people were gathered in the convention center," you said, "... astonished to be in the midst of so many other people who were blind and visually impaired."
That is all well and good. But I have been to NFB conventions with 2,000 to 3,000. That is no display of superiority; it is just a fact. So before calling yourself "the leading consumer organization of blind people in the USA and the world," would you please read at least one of our convention issues of "The Braille Monitor"? You will enjoy it.
I know this letter will offend some of you, most predictably founding members, who seem to literally hate us in the Federation passionately. I don't have that attitude toward you in the Council, especially not toward my good friends therein.
While I don't agree with everything in your magazine (for instance, your political liberalism is a thorn which we have to contend with in the Federation -- but we have conservatism), I look forward to it each month.
Christian Services for the Blind is a non-profit organization that sends out tapes for several magazines, and we are on a very limited income, as most of our income comes from donations. So used or new cassettes would be appreciated.
I have students from the South Pasadena school system that come over and receive the credit for doing their civic duties as they are required to donate so many hours per semester to one of the community groups. This would be a project for the students, to inspect the tapes and sort them according to length. All workable cassettes would much be appreciated. And if you could get the word out, we would more than be pleased to receive the cassettes.
Send the used tapes to Christian Services for the Blind, P.O. Box 26, South Pasadena, CA 91030-0026. If you have questions, you may contact us by phone at (626) 799-3935, by fax at (626) 403-9460, or by e-mail, [email protected]
If any of your readers are interested we have a library of braille books and tapes available for borrowing. They can write to us at the above address. We have a catalog available, free for asking. We do have a large list of blind and deaf-blind that subscribe to our books. So all of your readers are welcome to apply for our services. We are trying to keep the braille edition available for those readers that would like to receive our materials in the braille format.
So if you have any questions, please call me at the phone number listed above.
I wish to comment on the article with regard to employment which was written by Darian Hartman in the November 2001 issue.
In this article, first of all, she states that 70 percent of working age blind people are unemployed. The figure cited by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Department of Labor and the National Federation of the Blind is 74 percent at the present time.
Hartman states that "we can't change people, but we as blind people can change." Other minorities who are oppressed do not take this stand. Why should we? She also says that there is a self-esteem issue here. This may be, but there is also a prejudice issue, a discrimination issue, a bigotry issue, an issue of intolerance, and a hate issue, although the latter is not an absolute.
The reality here is that so many blind people who have skills and good appearance and qualifications just don't get jobs. Skills and appearance don't matter. It is a case of lowered or diminished expectations on the part of the ignorant sighted public, and also projection. This latter point is cited in the book "The Nature of Prejudice" by Gordon Allport.
Other minorities cite reparation as their goal or objective. We should, too. Other oppressed people say they were not paid for their work. This is true, and they should get paid. We, on the other hand, were not allowed to work, or to earn a decent wage. And just because I am working, and may get a better position, doesn't mean that I cannot come out of my ego and see the world from the point of view of those who are less fortunate. Peace!
Guide Dog Users, Inc. is proud to announce the availability of the first edition of "The Team, The Attack -- A State Legislator's Handbook on Guide Dog Protection." This free, 12- page booklet clearly identifies and explains the critical issues that guide dog teams face when confronted by a loose or inadequately controlled dog and presents recommendations for how effective guide dog protection laws may be crafted.
"The Team, The Attack" is a great source of information for state legislators and local government officials who are interested in developing laws to combat the growing problem of dog attacks on the nation's estimated 8,000 guide dog teams as well as the general public.
According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC), 4.7 million Americans suffer dog bites each year, and almost 800,000 bites per year are serious enough to require medical attention. Experts suggest that a combination of irresponsible dog owners and the rising popularity of large, fierce breeds sought for protection rather than companionship is primarily responsible for this alarming trend. The sad truth, though, is that any dog -- regardless of its breed or size -- can pose a threat to the health and safety of people, or other animals, if it is allowed to roam loose or is inadequately controlled by its owner/handler.
As widespread as the problem is, however, guide dog teams suffer a disproportionately larger risk from loose dogs than the general public. While the CDC's figures indicate that the average American stands a 1 in 50 chance of being bitten by a loose dog, the best estimates today are that 1 in 3 guide dog teams will endure some sort of encounter with an aggressive, uncontrolled dog. Moreover, even without injury, unprovoked attacks on a guide dog team can not only make it impossible for some dog guides to continue to perform their tasks, but can also rob the blind handler of the ability to travel freely without being fearful of subsequent attacks.
GDUI recognizes that tougher enforcement alone won't stop dog attacks. But state laws with tough consequences for those pet owners who negligently or maliciously create the problem must be a component of any effort to effectively combat the needless harm and waste that improperly controlled dogs inflict upon a guide dog team.
If you are interested in getting copies of "The Team, The Attack" for state and local officials in your area, please contact the GDUI national office via phone, toll-free, at (888) 858-1008 or send e-mail to [email protected]
You can view an on-line version of the "The Team, The Attack" at the following page on the GDUI web site: http://www.gdui.org/handbook.html.
For a list of states with existing guide dog protection laws, as well as the text of those laws, see this page on the Guide Dog Users of Arizona web site: http://aztec.asu.edu/azcb/gduaslaw.html.
I tested a device last summer that I am quite excited about, called the Bookworm. This device is for reading books using braille and braille only! It has no speech. The Bookworm is approximately eight inches long and about three and a half inches wide and about one inch tall. It uses four rechargeable nickel metal hydrite batteries. They can last up to 20 hours. This device is extremely portable as it will fit in a suit coat pocket, briefcase or purse. You can take it on trains, buses or anywhere you so desire. It is a nifty little device made in Germany and sold in North America by Handytech of Canada and AccessAbility in San Francisco, Calif. How it works
The Bookworm does not go out on the Internet and retrieve your books for you. You must first download your books from the National Library Service, the braille book international booklist or whatever source you're using. These books can be in NLS grade two braille or HTML format. The Bookworm will convert HTML format to grade one or grade two braille. So once you've downloaded the book to your personal computer, you then hook up the Bookworm and run a program called "BWcomm." This program sets up the protocols, does the translation and uploading to the Bookworm. Once this is done, you're ready to sit and read.
The Bookworm has four controls: forward, backward, escape and enter. These four controls can be used in conjunction with one another to give you a surprising array of control features. They're easy to learn as well.
The Bookworm's manual is already loaded on the device, so you can read things at any time. Let me list some of the many features of the Bookworm.
1. Autoscroll. You can set the Bookworm to autoscroll the braille display while you read at a steady pace. This pace is user controllable. (The Bookworm has only eight "elements" or braille cells.)
2. You can automark your place. When you stop reading, it will resume exactly where you left off.
3. You can move from chapter to chapter, paragraph to paragraph, page to page, line to line.
4. You can delete pages, chapters, individually.
5. You can load at least eight or nine volumes of braille.
6. You can use the Bookworm as an emergency braille display in both DOS and Windows!
7. You can load books using JAWS or Window-Eyes.
8. The Bookworm works well with Commo.
9. I used the Bookworm with WordPerfect 5.1 as a braille display.
10. The Bookworm is "the working man's braille display and braille reader."
11. It costs only $1,695, of course!
12. You can use four AA batteries, although you must take caution not to attempt charging while using these ordinary batteries. The Bookworm should work well with Windows 95 and 98. But please note that a Windows driver is being developed at this writing and will be available to all Bookworm owners free of charge when it is available! (It could very well be available by the time you read this.)
I just wanted to share information about a special device with everyone. If you don't ask for it, the manufacturers will remove it from their arsenal of adaptive devices. I believe this is a "must-have!" You owe it to yourself to check this out at Handytech's web site or at AccessAbility's web site. Handytech's site is http://www.handytech.com. AccessAbility's phone number is (888) 322-7200, and the web site is http://www.4access.com.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA -- The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier and The Fiji Times are working on a joint venture to set up a Braille newspaper as a community service. Braille is a system of raised dots representing letters that can be read by the visually impaired. The announcement was made at a recent Pacific Island News Association (PINA) convention. Both newspapers are part of the News Ltd. group headed by Rupert Murdoch. The project will be headed up by Post-Courier publisher Bob Howarth, who has spearheaded similar Braille newspapers in Africa, Asia and Australia. He will work with his predecessor, Tony Yianni, who is now publisher of The Fiji Times in Suva. (PINA Pacific Media Nius 29 Oct 2001)
(Reprinted from "The Commercial Appeal," November 6, 2001.)
Shoney's and Captain D's restaurants have agreed in a court settlement to ensure that guide dogs and other service animals accompanying disabled customers are allowed into eateries, the government announced Monday.
The consent decree settles a lawsuit by Myrna Bell, a blind patron who was told last year by an employee in a Captain D's restaurant in Memphis that her guide dog could not remain on the premises. Captain D's is a subsidiary of Shoney's.
The defendants agreed to provide training to employees and to post signs in restaurant kitchens and entrances announcing that customers with service animals are welcome.
Bell also will receive $8,000.
The U.S. Department of Justice joined Bell in the suit.
"We are very interested in trying to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act," said assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Vanasek. Federal lawyers here are working on a number of cases, he said.
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. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products and services mentioned.
To submit an item for "Here and There," send an e-mail
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.
New from National Braille Press: print/braille Valentine's Day Cards! Let your classmates, friends, teachers and loved ones know how you feel with print and braille Valentines!
Choose from two different packets. The small packet contains: 30 small valentines with the message "Happy Valentine's Day," 2 larger valentines with the message "You Are Special," and 32 envelopes. The large packet contains: 20 larger valentines with the message "You Are Special" and 20 envelopes. Each packet is only $10!
Supplies are limited, so order now! To read more about these cards -- and to read about the history of Valentine's Day -- visit our web site at http://www.nbp.org/valentine02.html. To order a set of print-braille Valentines, send $10 to National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115-4302. Or call toll-free and charge it, (800) 548-7323 (call 617-266-6160 ext. 20 outside the U.S.).
Over the past year or so there has been a bit of interest in the North American market in having some degree of Linux access with the BrailleNote family of products. Many of you are familiar with Braille TTY, a Linux-based Braille screenreader which provides access to a Linux box. The Pulse Data Group is pleased to announce the arrival of a Braille TTY driver for the BrailleNote family of products. This driver enables the user of the BrailleNote to access a Linux Box using his/her BrailleNote as a Braille display. It should be noted that this version of Braille TTY is still in public beta and is expected to be released shortly. In addition, Braille TTY is a free downloadable program. Therefore, neither HumanWare nor any other agent of the PDI Group will be offering technical assistance for you to install or use this driver. The Braille TTY project can be found at http://mielke.cc/brltty. From this location select the download link and download the 2.99z beta. This beta, which has support for both the 18 and 32 braille cell models as well as the Braille qt models, contains all sources and documentation. The project maintainer is Dave Mielke, [email protected]
This list serves as a venue for discussions among consumers and audio description amateurs and professionals, as well as members of the Audio Description International Organization. Topics include standards, techniques, current events and other subjects of interest to the audio description community. To subscribe, send a blank e-mail to: [email protected]
Nardin Park Braille Transcribers will braille any greeting card at no charge. Send the card in the envelope, unsealed, stamped and addressed to the eventual recipient. Mail in larger envelope to: Nardin Park Braille Transcribers, 33542 Argonne Rd., Farmington Hills, MI 48335. Allow time for the brailling process.
The Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Southern Maine offer online certificate programs in Accessible Information Technology. Accessible information technology enables on-site computers, as well as all Internet web information to be accessible to users with various disabilities. For information about courses from the Rochester Institute of Technology, send an e-mail to [email protected] For information about courses from the University of Southern Maine, send an e- mail to [email protected]
When Nuria Del Saz takes her seat to read the television news, she is fulfilling a childhood ambition. The 25-year-old Spaniard has good reason to be proud of her achievement. Other newsreaders get help from the studio autocue, but she cannot see it because she has been totally blind since age 13.
Before losing her sight, Nuria pretended to be a newsreader, writing news scripts and broadcasting to her parents. She pursued her newscaster dream into journalism school, and while working in a student radio service, she was selected to receive television training.
"The problem was speed," she said. "I would write my script in braille, but it takes much longer to read than ordinary text because each letter is touched. So I began almost to memorize the whole broadcast, reading and re-reading before I went on air. Now I read the first part of a sentence and deliver the rest from memory while I move onto the next lines with my hands."
Many people have written to tell Del Saz how her achievement has inspired others. "A grandmother rang me up in tears to tell me about her two-year-old grandson who is blind. She said it gave her hope for his future. As you can imagine, that made me feel pretty good."
Bank One announced today that it has installed 25 talking ATMs in Louisiana, creating the first ATM network in the state to help visually impaired customers conduct their banking transactions.
With the Louisiana ATMs, Bank One now has more than 100 talking ATMs nationwide.
More information about Bank One's talking ATM program, including the locations of Bank One's talking ATMs nationwide, is available by calling 1-877-241-8665.
Bank One Corporation, headquartered in Chicago, operates 200 banking centers and approximately 400 ATMs in Louisiana. Bank One can be found on the Internet at www.bankone.com.
Talking ATM Locations in Louisiana
Baton Rouge/New Orleans: 3428 Drusilla Lane; 729 Harrison Ave.; 1312 O'Neal Lane; 6900 Martin Drive; 3759 Perkins Rd.; 5700 Read Blvd.; 6170 Jones Creek; 1530 Robert E. Lee Blvd.; 3554 S. Sherwood; 615 S. Carrollton Ave.; 250 W. State St.; 601 Poydras St.; 4400 General DeGaulle Drive.
Carencro: 5001 Prytania St.; 4506 N. University Ave.; 285 LaSalle; 31 McAlister.
Chalmette: 910 W. Judge Perez Drive
Ruston: 400 N. Trenton St.
Chauvin: 5444 Highway 56
Slidell: 1431 Gause Blvd.
New Orleans: 1340 Poydras St.
Zachary: 1440 Canal St.; 4431 Highway 19; and 3201 S. Carrollton Ave.
These signs are made of cedar wood and look, feel and smell wonderful. Each sign is created by blind craftsman Allan Golabek, and made for the outdoors. They will weather to a rustic look. Specify the message to be engraved, e.g., last names, pet names, business names, house numbers, children's name plates, or any creative idea to be custom-made. All signs are treated with oil for a smooth, shiny finish.
Order from Mr. Golabek at A.G. Originals. Signs cost $55, including shipping and handling in the continental U.S. Prices vary depending on the message to be engraved. Please make checks payable to Allan Golabek, 70 Greenwood Ave., Bethel, CT 06801, phone (203) 743-9238, e-mail [email protected]
Horizons for the Blind offers catalogs filled with items on cooking, knitting, crocheting and tatting. Cooks will enjoy the seven-volume "Recipes from Boxes, Bottles, Cans and Jars," while the crocheting crowd will enjoy the "Cro-Hook Instructions." To request a free catalog, call (815) 444-8800, fax (815) 444-8830, or e-mail [email protected] Specify a braille, large print or tape catalog.
Access software tutorial writer John Wilson has produced a recorded guide to the fundamentals of Windows-based computing titled "VIP's Introduction to Computers." The two-cassette recording costs $20, including postage. It is designed to provide information needed by newcomers to computing. One hour of the three-hour guide provides an introduction to different types of computers and peripherals, particularly keyboards. The following hours provide a step-by-step demonstration on using the most basic, important concepts and utilities of Windows. The guide serves as a demonstration of various types of screenreaders such as JAWS for Windows, HAL for Windows and Window-Eyes. For more information, e-mail [email protected], or if telephoning from the U.S. or Canada, call 011 44 113 257 5957.
This service provides you with all the recipes you want, in the format of your choice. For $25 a year, you will receive five recipes a month in your choice of braille, cassette, large print, computer disk or e-mail. Also, you'll receive unlimited recipe search and transcription services. If you need a recipe in braille or other format, let me know and I'll send it to you. Or send me a printed recipe, and I'll transcribe it.
To join, send a check or money order (or pay pal credit card through the Internet) for $25 payable to Maureen Pranghofer, Recipe of the Month Club, 4910 Dawnview Terrace, Golden Valley, MN 55422, phone (763) 522-2501, e-mail [email protected]
Friends who are blind have said how much they like this Panasonic phone. The model is KX-TG2680N, and when Panasonic e- mailed the user manual in text version, it was time to tell Forum readers about it. The phone is a 2.4GHz GigaRanger Elite SST Cordless Phone with Talking Caller ID. The Talking Caller ID plays through the speakerphones in both the base and the handset. It announces who is calling using text-to-speech technology. A Panasonic representative indicated the button layout on the base is very tactually friendly, with the speakerphone button off to the side and a large triangular shape. The 12-keypad buttons are large oval buttons, with a nib on the 5 key. No other buttons are this size or shape. Buttons are grouped by function. While there is not the same ample space on the handset, size and shape are discernable.
Other features include: all-digital answering system (15-min.); dual digital duplex speakerphones (on base and handset); dual keypads; call waiting caller ID; 50-station caller ID (memory and dialer); station phone directory and dialer. Several buttons speak their function when pressed. The price for this phone ranges from $250 to $350.
This service is organized by a blind person who called the ACB national office recently. The service is intended for people who are blind or visually impaired. For details, please call Rosemir Rodriguez at (925) 969-9744.
Free shipping when you buy two slim line canes during February. Also, a free cane tip of your choice is included. These canes are made with the same durable carbon fiber as are our other fine canes. To order, or for information, contact California Canes toll-free at (866) 489-1973, e-mail [email protected], visit the web site, www.californiacanes.com, or write to 25611 Quail Run, #125, Dana Point, CA 92629, fax (949) 489-0996.
Mr. Cory Jackson has a degree in computers and is very knowledgeable in the field of adaptive technology for people who are blind or visually impaired. He has excellent skills at trouble-shooting and solving computer problems. Contact him toll-free at (866) 222-9046, or e-mail [email protected]
Cathy Anne Murtha has gathered all the blindness-related lists she could find and placed them in a comprehensive indexed list for those who may be interested in joining a new list, or want to see what is available. More than 300 lists have been indexed and can be visited at http://www.accesstechnologyinstitute.com.
Medicare now provides a new glaucoma benefit. The benefit includes coverage of a dilated eye examination with an intraocular pressure measurement, and direct ophthalmoscopy or a slit-lamp biomicroscopic exam for individuals at highest risk of developing the disease.
Better labeling on products to help visually impaired shoppers has been recommended by at least two reports in the United Kingdom. Similar reports have emerged in the USA. A study by academics at the Manchester School of Management found that people with partial vision are often unable to see vital information such as price, sell-by dates, storage instructions and ingredients.
The report, published in the December issue of Consumer Policy Review, identifies seven areas where packaging could be improved. These include increasing the size of the lettering on products, an area on the label with clear black text on a white or yellow background, clear number and price information, and symbols to help distinguish between products. While the outcome appears to be a no-brainer, the report goes on to state that the grocery industry does not take the recommendations seriously and nothing has been done in the matter.
All this seems to be a no-winner, no-improvement study, but remember how pressure in this country forced food and grocery manufacturers to print clear nutritional facts on all food items marketed in the USA.
Through the Looking Glass, a national resource center for parents with disabilities, is conducting a nationwide project to learn more about families in which a parent with a disability is raising a teen (11-17 years old). The project is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, part of the Department of Education.
Surveys are available in various formats, or can be completed by phone. Teens may also participate and receive $5 for completing the teen portion of the survey.
If you would like to take part in this survey, please contact Nancy Freed by phone at (510) 848-1112, ext. 174, toll-free (800) 644-2666, TTY (800) 804-1616, e-mail [email protected], or visit the web site, www.lookingglass.org.
(Reprinted from the "Colorado Springs Gazette," October 12, 2001.)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The cash register and credit card machines at Maketi Mua look the same as in any other retail store. But they don't sound the same. They talk.
And Maketi Mua co-owner DeAnna Noriega listens. It's the only way she could make a sale.
Noriega, who lost her sight from congenital glaucoma when she was 8, needs the audio devices to run the imported handmade craft store at 2403 W. Colorado Ave.
Noriega believes her lack of sight has never held her back from owning and operating a business. Actually, it's just the opposite.
In retail, "You can organize the way it best suits you, and you're not having to fit into a pre-existing mold," Noriega said. "You're a little more in charge of things."
Noriega has a sociology degree from California State University at Stanislaus, but after college, she couldn't get interviews and paperwork for social work jobs to work for her.
Noriega said it was easy to land job interviews. But when she showed up, the line of questioning turned into something different.
"Suddenly it's like, 'Who braided your hair? Who matches your clothes? How did you get here this morning?'" Noriega said.
That eventually led Noriega and her husband, Curtis, to open up a take-out pizza parlor in Grants Pass, Ore. They eventually opened another store, and it became so successful that a Papa Murphy's franchisee ended up buying the two stores. By that time, the Noriegas were grossing more than $1 million a year.
They moved to Colorado Springs four years ago because one of their daughters was attending the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Although she's not much different from your average shop owner, Noriega does use some tools a seeing business owner probably can't imagine. When she slides the bill under one machine, it says "20," or "five" or whatever the denomination of the bill.
And she has a Braille laptop, which transfers downloaded information into Braille. Small pins at the bottom of the device pop up and down to spell out what sighted people would read on their computer screens.
Although all of that equipment is expensive -- the talking cash register alone is $3,400 -- Noriega said it's necessary for her to remain competitive and operate efficiently. She does, however, have some help.
"Customer service is my strong point, and numbers are Curtis' strong point," Noriega said. Guide dog Griffin is the security system.
She and her husband also are involved in their community, which Noriega said is vital to a successful business. She's helping to open an outreach center for the blind in Colorado Springs and is the local spokeswoman for the American Council of the Blind.
"You don't want to stand on the outside looking in and just be taken care of," Noriega said. "Blind people want to contribute and be a part of the community."
All of the store's profits currently go back into the business, but Noriega said a year from now they might be able to employ a staff. That would let her and her husband travel more so they can look for more crafts.
FOR SALE: One disk drive for Braille 'n Speak or Type 'n Speak. Asking $250. One Kurzweil reading machine model 7315. Asking $2,000. Contact Mark Montgomery at (716) 836-0822 extension 105.
FOR SALE: Telesensory color CCTV (a Chroma model) with 14- inch monitor for $800. The color and resolution are extremely sharp and from the numbers, we learned this model is about eight years old. It cost $3,000 when new. Please send an e-mail to [email protected] or phone (703) 528-4455 to arrange to see the CCTV at my home in Arlington, Va.
FOR SALE: Parrot Plus voice recorder. Includes leather carrying case. Unit is a little over a year old, little used. Can be used as calendar, alarm clock, address and phone book, etc. Asking $150. Send e-mail to [email protected] or call (612) 695-6991.
FOR SALE: Aladdin Personal Reader. Permits those with limited sight to read and write. Original cost $1,895 in 1998. Warranty left 1 year 8 months. Asking $995. Contact James Hood, PO Box 417, Douglasville, GA 30133, phone (770) 949-4607, e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Two Visualtek CCTVs, black and white. Best offer accepted on each plus shipping and handling. Sixteen boxes of One Touch test strips, 50 strips per box, plus free meter. $336 or best offer plus shipping. (Estate sale.) Call M.K. Leets at (703) 938-0172 before 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.
FOR SALE: Internal DECtalk PC card. Comes with drivers and external speaker. Asking $300 or best offer. CCTV, only 3 months old. Has 21-inch monitor that sits on top of unit with movable table. Asking $1,200 or best offer. Call (804) 353-1128 or e- mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Aladdin color CCTV. This unit works with your computer monitor. Asking $1,400. Works well; about two years old. Contact Cathy Beemer at PO Box 43, W. Terre Haute, IN 47885; phone (812) 533-2877.
FOR SALE: Aladdin reader. Purchased in 1999; barely used. Comes with manual and all parts. Perfect working condition. Best offer. Contact William Casto at (614) 298-9584 or by e-mail at [email protected]
FOR SALE: Telesensory Ambassador Pro stand-alone reading machine. It's the latest model and is in excellent condition. One of its many attractive features is the ability to scan and read at the same time. Asking $1,500. Call Rob Turner at (408) 554- 9474, evenings and weekends, Pacific time. Or send e-mail to [email protected]
WANTED: Good York Singalodeon double cassette with microphone and headphone jack, AM/FM radio, all cords etc. Contact Walter Chavira at (661) 833-8668.
WANTED: IBM compatible 486 computer with monitor and keyboard. Perhaps other extras. Contact Ken at (662) 690-6699 or e-mail him at [email protected]
(Reprinted from The Washington Post, January 10, 2002.)
Could a blind person ever "see" a painting?
Maryland sculptor Street Thoma believes he has found a way to make it happen.
He takes famous paintings and makes three-dimensional versions of them for museums and traveling exhibits. The usual message in museums is "Don't touch!" but Thoma's art is meant to be stroked and traced, with fingertips and palms. "It is a wonderful moment, when you see a person who is blind smile and you know they are really 'getting it,' experiencing a piece of art in a way they may never have before," said Thoma, who is the Americans With Disabilities coordinator for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
On a recent afternoon, bits of one of these projects were scattered around his Jessup studio: headless Barbies, hairless Barbies, Barbies with shaved-down bottoms. Thoma was using them to create a sort of diorama version of a painting of a seated woman, holding a child.
"I got her propped in the chair and she was three-sixteenths of a inch off and it messed everything up," said Thoma, who was trying to make all the proportions on his diorama match those in Cecilia Beaux's "Last Days of Infancy."
Thoma's 3-D version, which will go to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, has cool-to-the-touch wood-paneled walls, a tiny ceramic vase that feels smooth and a swatch of oriental carpet on the floor that is bumpy. The figures are draped in crepe and cotton.
For a touchable version of Van Gogh's 1888 "Portrait of Camille Roulin," Thoma used lumps of plaster to match each of the thick paint daubs. You can feel the pointy nose, the deep eyes, the jacket button.
Thoma was inspired to do this work in the mid-1980s after making a raised Christmas card for a blind friend. It was a Mondrian painting done in felt, with a Braille message.
"I had thought art was never going to be a part of my life," the friend told him.
What Thoma designs is a three-part process, which he demonstrated with his interpretation of an 1832 Audubon painting of a kind of wading bird, the snowy egret.
First, the person listens to Thoma talk: he tells about the artist and vividly describes the painting. Then the person touches diagrams of the main shapes in the painting, made with a special paper, known as "swell paper." When heated, lines on the paper swell up. These raised lines, some fat, some thin, form a black-and-white version of the painting. Guided by Thoma's voice, the "viewer" explores them. Sometimes, Thoma gently reaches out and moves the person's hand or fingers to help. The final experience is to touch the 3-D version. The egret is carved out of wood. Fishing line and feathers are used for its plumage. Electrical wire conveys the bumpy texture of the bird's long legs.
Trying to make visual art accessible to people who cannot see has been an interesting challenge for Thoma. He shows color differences by representing different colors with different textures: big bumpy dots for one shade, small bumpy dots for another, stripes for a third. What about light and shadow? Think of light as being like the spray of water in a shower, he tells people. When something is bathed in light, it's like the water hitting your face and the front of your body. Shadow is like the places that aren't getting wet, along the back of you.
"All you need is something to get the person thinking," Thoma said, "some way to get them into what the artist was after."
(Reprinted from the Washington Council "NewsLine.")
"Don't get in a snit," my mother used to say when she'd see my face all puckered up in disappointment. But her favorite expression was, "Why don't you throw a fit and fall in it?" In some parts of the country, folks have a "hissy fit." But the best of all is when we throw a "snit-fit." "Who, me?" you ask. Yes -- you and me. We all do some of it.
For the past several months, I've been involved in a couple of chat groups on Evoice, the telephone's answer to e-mail. From all corners of America, large numbers of blind people are using Evoice to network, exchange information, share dreams, develop new friendships, and yes, to throw snit-fits. A good amount of time is given over to venting our indignation and outrage. A woman caller, her voice still seething, relates that she and her sighted husband visited a local restaurant for dinner. Upon placing her order, she requested that her food be cut up in the kitchen. The waitress loudly announced that neither the cook nor she had the time to do that.
"That's what you have a husband for," she declared. The caller was outraged and promptly threw a fit and fell in it. How dare they refuse her request, and just who were they to tell her what she had a husband for? Then she ordered the waitress to comply. The ensuing standoff caused the woman to believe she was being discriminated against and that the restaurant failed to provide her reasonable accommodation. She felt she should file a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
A young man grumbled into the phone that his vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC) refused to purchase a Braille 'n Speak for his use in note-taking during college. "They don't care if I make it or not," he complained. "If I fail, it won't be on my head."
During a lengthy discussion on how we as blind people should respond to questions and comments by the sighted public, a very angry lady shouted, "I'm sick and tired of answering the same stupid questions over and over. Why do I always have to play the teacher? I don't go around asking them stupid, nosey questions."
And so it goes, story after story of blind people being abused, neglected or misunderstood. It's just one snit-fit after another. "If you think you have anything to grumble about, hey! Listen to what happened to me..."
As I said, certainly there are times when all of us feel picked on, put upon or just plain pushed around. But what is troubling are the numbers; the vast multitude of voices spilling out their tales of woe and misery, and the small number of folks offering reasoned advice, counsel and instruction. What it tells me is that in our blind community nationwide, there is a growing sense that we are disenfranchised, hopelessly cut off, with no recourse but to complain. And in our complaining, we have no expectation of anything ever coming of it.
When I was a boy, someone said to me, "If you're going to be a man, act like one." I was probably having a snit at the time. Anyway, growing up to be a man turned out to be a lifetime job. But I am where I am in the process by observing and copying those attributes that I desired to see in myself. It seems reasonable to me that if we blind people want to be first class citizens, we ought to begin by playing the part. In my mind's eye I hold up an image of me as an equal participant in my community. I visualize how I want to conduct myself and how I see others responding to me. As time passes, I shape this image, adding or improving as my understanding and ability expand. Taking responsibility for my actions is probably as good a place to start as I know.
When we have a snit-fit, we are playing the role of the victim. "Poor me, I'm unloved and misunderstood." Sometimes it's very tempting just to be out of control. "It's not my fault. They're the ones to blame." But if that's the part we choose to play, we cannot expect others to treat us as equals. Victims are to be pitied and given handouts. You never hear anyone say, "Hey, my lucky day. I hired a very highly qualified victim to head up my sales staff," or "He was such a pathetic victim I just knew he'd make a wonderful husband."
Can it be that in our culture, the words "blind" and "victim" are synonymous? It would go a long way toward explaining some of our knee-jerk responses. A simple act of kindness, "Here, dear, let me show you your seat," will be seen by a victim as condescending. "Get your hands off me! I don't need no help!"
The victim is always out of control. Relationships are always unequal. But if we remove the word "victim" and insert "different," making "blind" and "different" synonymous, we create a more neutral relationship. "Here, dear, let me show you your seat," becomes a gesture of kindness. "Why, thank you so very much."
Establishing ourselves in the role of "different" calls for building a new mental image of who we are. It is now possible to be "different, but equal." Being different carries with it considerable responsibility. We do find ourselves in the role of teacher. We are the experts in being different, therefore it is on our shoulders to educate others as to what exactly "different" means. We expect people not to know about us and we take great pleasure in explaining all about our differences. We are in the business of bringing our sighted partners up to speed in what blindness is all about.
Of course, being human, we reserve the right to throw a little snit-fit from time to time.
94 RAMONA AVE.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94103
FIRST VICE PRESIDENT
825 M ST., SUITE 216
LINCOLN, NE 68508
SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
1027 DUNLOP AVE
FOREST PARK, IL 60130
3912 SE 5TH ST
DES MOINES, IA 50315
500 S. 3RD ST. #H
BURBANK, CA 91502
IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT
20330 NE 20th Ct.
Miami, FL 33179
Billie Jean Keith, Arlington, VA