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Submission deadlines are the first of the month.
Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Ardis Bazyn at the above mailing address. If you wish to remember a relative or friend by sharing in the council's continuing work, the national office makes printed cards available to acknowledge contributions made by loved ones in memory of deceased friends or relatives.
Anyone wishing to remember the American Council of the Blind in his/her Last Will and Testament may do so by including a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, contact the ACB National Office.
For the latest in legislative and governmental news, call the "Washington Connection" toll-free at (800) 424-8666, 5 p.m. to midnight Eastern time Monday through Friday. The Washington Connection is also posted and updated on the ACB web site at http://www.acb.org.
In the January article regarding award nominations, we left some information out. You may nominate people by writing a letter (500 words or less) and send it to Awards Committee, American Council of the Blind, 1155 15th Street NW, Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005. You may also e-mail your nomination letter to Terry Pacheco, whose e-mail address is: [email protected] Please state "Award Nomination" in the subject line. Or you may FAX your nomination to ACB at (202) 467-5085. All award nominations must be in by April 14, 2002.
You've heard the headlines. Blind folks are increasingly more independent, more knowledgeable and able to get work because of access to computers. Right? In fact, it has virtually become a necessity to use a computer in almost every work environment and even at home. So it appears that we're in the race, but are we winning?
Certainly the cost of getting a powerful computer and linking it to the Internet has dropped significantly over the past decade. In short, many are winning the struggle to get online, get connected, and enjoy the instant access to information and entertainment that is waiting for everyone, from the dial-up modem users at the lower end of high-speed Internet service right on up to those who use cable modems or DSL connections that can move information at lightning speeds. The good news ends there. Here's the bad.
Getting access to computing is a costly proposition and it is not getting much better for the average blind person. If we are lucky enough to get the state or an employer to pay for our access technology then I suppose it does not matter all that much, but what about people who live on limited incomes and are not vocational rehabilitation clients or beneficiaries of outside resources that can make ownership of computers and access software possible? What about the people who have computers at work, but can't afford to have them at home?
While the benefits of technology are impressive, the fact remains that it costs money for assistive technology vendors to develop screen readers and other technologies. And guess who has to pay for it? Even worse, once we have gotten the resources together to buy what we need, we hear of a new operating system like Windows XP and we find that the upgrade costs associated with our speech or other assistive technologies are astronomical.
Here we are not talking about luxury goods. Increasingly the nation is moving to online access and at last count over half of all families had access to the net from home. This figure is likely to grow and the service industry along with it. Now add in gaining access to other technologies that are also becoming essential, must-have items if we are to be active participants in the real world -- things like talking sign receivers, specialized radios, closed circuit televisions, electronic canes, color identifiers, label readers, magnifiers, electronic book players, and so on. Are these items high-tech toys or independent living aids?
Fortunately our community has had pretty good advocacy over the years and we have reached a point where we can expect at least a minimal level of technology to make it into our hands. Much like the larger society, we are reaching the point where we must develop a clearer consensus about which technologies are going to be required for day-to-day living and what may be left to the realm of those who can afford it. Once that set of priorities is understood, then we will need to develop strategies that will not only address access to technology from a user point of view, but also the cost issues.
For now, I think I'll take an old fashioned walk, breath some fresh air, and maybe have a chat with some other humans without a computer, a chat room, an Internet map of where I am going, and a Palm Pilot to make appointments. You know what? I might even turn off the cell phone.
Though recognizing that taped and scanned material convey much information to readers, the annual Getting in Touch with Literacy conference focuses only on ways in which blind and visually impaired people, especially students, read for themselves. The California Council of the Blind (CCB) has a history of interest in this gathering, having cooperated in sponsoring it when the group met in San Francisco in 1999. In 2001, the state organization was particularly eager to be represented because the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) had arranged for a morning-long program to show and discuss the Unified English Braille Code (UEBC). CCB believed it was important to be a part of that discussion so that the other side of the story would be heard.
The conference occurred in Philadelphia from November 7-11 at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel, beginning with the pre- conference gathering of 51 people to study the proposed UEBC. The examination of Sampler 1, the one most concerned with literary braille, proceeded without much reaction; but Sampler 2, consisting of an extensive print document with simulated braille and a two-volume braille book, was composed entirely of technical examples and provoked considerable comment. On the plus side, both samplers are beautifully planned and produced, each example being preceded by a careful listing of the new symbols and practices involved and, in the case of the technical material, with an expression of the same symbols in the Nemeth Code. Both the literary and technical braille samplers are available free of charge from the National Braille Press, (888) 965-8965. Braille transcribers, readers, students, and teachers should order, study, and react to these documents.
Eileen Curran, who directed the explanation of the material, was, as always, patient and respectful of all who asked questions or offered comments. A number of those present pointed out what they considered to be complicated and lengthy UEBC ways of rendering technical material which could be done more efficiently in the Nemeth Code.
Actual registration for the conference was held on Thursday evening with a formal introduction and a keynote address on what is involved for children to learn to read and why some have difficulty acquiring that skill.
Over the three days, four types of activities were held: the Showcase consisting of subjects of general interest to the entire gathering; workshops, of which there were more than 40; exhibits where vendors showed their products; and Poster Sessions which offered a unique opportunity to allow an individual to show something he or she felt would be of concern to a more limited segment of those attending the conference. For three hours on Friday afternoon, posters were displayed and material was laid out on tables at which presenters explained their projects, answered questions, handed out materials, and behaved pretty much like the product exhibitors who rented space in the same room for the several days of the conference.
Kathy Krause, a long-time braille teacher and skilled transcriber of several braille codes, and I wanted to make sure that those who learned about the UEBC also understood the problems it presents. Our poster was the only fully accessible one at the conference, for all the material was in both large print and braille. It contained a dissenting statement about the UEBC and then 13 comments on the problems which would be caused if it is adopted. We distributed the statements also in print and braille to anyone who wanted them. I was surprised that, after 11 years of discussion of this subject, a number (probably 10) people asked what the UEBC was and had never heard of it before. What does that say about the exposure the professional journals have given to this extremely important consideration!
Two of the Showcase sessions I found particularly interesting dealt with well-known professionals and present students who began their education using large print. Many of us who have used braille all our lives think of the large print user as someone who "passes" -- i.e., a person who can in many ways enter the world of the sighted in a manner impossible for braille users; but we learned of the frustrations such students know: their sensitivity about the glasses and magnifiers they must employ, their efforts to run up after class to see the blackboard and copy what they had missed during class, the weariness of toting those huge print books, and, in many instances, their increased necessity for braille. They now employ each medium for specific purposes, often isolating things like reading the amounts on bills for print use but having to know exactly what line or colored box to look for. While they have the advantage of two media, they rarely experience the ease with braille that is known to students who learn it early and employ it extensively.
The workshops covered a wide variety of subjects: teaching the deaf-blind, literacy for students with autism, strategies for using video magnifiers, criteria for competence in braille literacy, surveys on producing material in specialized media and training braille transcribers, historical trends in grade 1 and grade 2 braille, and so on. A workshop on preparing the student for his/her first job dealt with items I'd never thought about, like the fact that many of them have not seen a check, don't know what a bank statement looks like, never completed an application of any kind, have no familiarity with job benefits or what they should cover, have an inadequate appreciation of the importance of appearance and social demeanor, and lack a realistic understanding of how much help they can expect from the people with whom they will work.
Another workshop concerned the preparation of braille teachers and of transcribers. Of the teachers present, only one has as many as four students, and most have two with many working with only one. The vast majority of children with severe vision problems also have other physical, mental, or emotional disabilities which seriously limit their educational possibilities. Teachers who do not have a braille student for a year or two find review essential; and it is for them that increased use of the braille competency test developed by the National Library Service and the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired may be of particular importance. Unfortunately, however, many states, including California, do not require that teachers pass that test.
Surveys were done on teacher preparation in 1989 by Stuart Wittenstein and last year by Sheila Amato, and it is encouraging to note the increased emphasis on learning the Nemeth Code and the use of the slate and stylus.
Thank you to the California Council of the Blind for giving me the opportunity to learn of educational developments in the blindness field and to inform others about the UEBC.
Imagine yourself as an artist, a painter in fact, with a growing reputation among fellow artists and critics, and gallery owners, and the "circles" in which artists move. Imagine that you're a person who revels in the subtle variations of color, texture, form; a person whose studio is filled with the scent of turpentine, gesso, and tubes of pigment collected over years of travel, catalogued and kept at the ready for waiting canvases.
Now imagine that the owner of a famous gallery has contacted you and invited you to mount an exhibition on the walls of her prestigious space, and imagine that you have to tell the famous owner of the famous gallery, no.
No, you cannot supply the number of paintings she requires.
Not now. Not next spring. Not ever. Because you cannot see well enough to paint any more.
This is the scenario that describes the life of Andy Potok in the late 1970s. Potok was a man who loved color and art and the act of creating on canvas, who could no longer see well enough to travel safely without using a mobility cane, who had spent time out of necessity at a residential training center to acquire the skills of blindness. Potok had taken all the steps to change his career -- from that of a talented visual artist to that of a counselor for other people with impaired sight. He owned a talking book machine, a CCTV, an array of magnifiers, talking watches, check guides, and mobility canes. He even led a support group for others who, like him, were attempting to cope with the vision loss caused by the progressive congenital disorder called retinitis pigmentosa.
He listened, and sympathized, and empathized -- the man who was also by now legally blind himself -- guiding others through the predictable stages of denial, grief, anger, and eventual -- what, resignation? Hanging onto each treasured micron of daylight, serving on the board of a foundation which sponsored research to conquer RP or slow it down or minimize its effects, hoping and hanging onto each discovery, each prognostication of an emerging cure -- the man with the new career, the man who had acquired all the documented skills of blindness, the man whose daughter was already showing the signs in adolescence that she had the disease as well, Potok was a man who would have done nearly anything to escape his fate.
When he read in London's "Sunday Observer" about a woman who claimed to cure RP with the venom of bees, Potok put aside all reason. He transferred his support group over to the care of someone who was not as needy of support as he and traveled to England and spent month after miserable month there, submitting to the stings of hundreds of nasty, angry, venom-filled bees and the crazy rantings and paranoid ravings of the woman who said that her bees could reverse the ravages of the RP and give people back their sight. Potok became ill from the bee venom. Sometimes he imagined that his vision was improving, sometimes he knew that it was not. Yet he was desperate to recapture the perceptions of daylight and color that had allowed him to succeed as an artist, a breadwinner, a man who could remember a past when disability was a blessedly distant abstraction.
Potok's wife, who had reluctantly accompanied him on his quest for regained sight, returned to the states to resume her own career as an artist. Yet he stayed, desperate and alone. He brought his daughter to London to experience her own wretched encounters with the angry bees and their venomous, maniacal mistress.
Finally, having failed to regain his sight but succumbing to a kind of desolate resignation, Potok returned to the U.S., and gradually settled into the life of a blind man, a former visual artist, searching for a different kind of creative outlet. He found it in writing. He set about writing an account of his despairing search for a reprieve from blindness.
His book, "Ordinary Daylight," was published in 1980, and that same year, he came to Louisville, Ky., to talk to other blind people like himself about his experiences of blindness and his nascent adjustment to it. If you were at the 1980 ACB convention, you may remember hearing him speak.
In 1980, I was in the throes of my own struggles of adjustment to blindness. I had not yet discovered ACB, and, in fact, even reading a talking book on tape seemed out of my reach as a stay-at-home mom of three young children, learning to function in a world without definite shapes, devoid of the pleasures of reading print. Too bad that I didn't discover Andy Potok back then when we were sharing so many of the same experiences, raising so many profound questions (I can't see who's driving the car; will he, or is it she? Will they think I'm a total snob if I don't wave? What if I wave to every passing car? Won't that invite some unwanted complications?) These are the questions that people who used to see struggle with. Potok carried me right back to that place and those dilemmas when I recently read his 1980 book, which is still available on four-track tape from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and the NLS.
Twenty years ago, Potok's life was one of duality. Sometimes he was a blind man, sometimes he had friends who were blind, sometimes he even allowed himself to enjoy their company. But there was his other life too, the one with the normal people, the ones who could see, the ones who discussed art and letters and events and considerations far removed from blindness. He didn't know how to live concurrently in both worlds, and he felt like a poser in each, one who was "passing," about to be found out, in both realms.
Today, Potok has found a peace and acceptance of blindness that reminds me of the state of mind that it has also taken me 20 years of experiences and relationships to acquire. Potok has written a new book, about coming to terms with the disability of blindness and the people and the relationships that have allowed him to get to a new contented place, a place where the day-to-day struggle with disability can be damned annoying, but a place where there is contentment, serenity, friendship -- yes, the shrinks would say "adjustment."
Like Potok, I learned to cope by trying and failing and sometimes succeeding, day by day, to do things with alternative techniques. I will never be a "super blind person," I won't read braille at 200 words a minute; probably by the time I figure out how to operate a four-track player without mixing up all the tracks and controls and speeds , forgetting where I was when I fell asleep and never being able to find that page again, four- track tapes will have finally been replaced by CD-ROMs or memory cards or something else more or less daunting; with a cane and with a guide dog, I still lose my way virtually every time I get cocky enough to think I know where I'm going. No, I won't be a super blink, but who among us will?
Like Potok, I learned from others. I learned from my friends who are blind and visually impaired. I have made friends with people who have an assortment of disabilities and abilities. We have all learned from one another. I learned from a rehab teacher, and from an occasional rehab counselor. I learned from sighted friends and neighbors, and kids, from a supportive family, from students and teachers at George Washington University, from colleagues in ACB, from writers and readers and mentors both known and waiting to be contacted in person. Like Potok, I have been intrigued by policy makers and the increasingly vocal disability rights community; I realize what I owe each of these people and am humbled and grateful for all they went through and the milestones, like the ADA and IDEA, that resulted in no small part from their struggles and their determination. I have been liberated by a talking computer and screen readers, by braille, by improving mobility skills and a guide dog who keeps me safe and makes me feel confident.
Potok's connections with other people with disabilities and with the accumulated accoutrements of independence, like JAWS for Windows, a guide dog, and a sense of humor buoyed by relationships with caring family and friends, that taught him, liberated him, allowed him to be at home in a body with failed eyesight, are captured in the chapters of a new book, "A Matter of Dignity." The first chapter of that book, which follows, will allow you to meet Andy Potok and to have an appetizing taste of his ability to write and to capture the people and the sentiments and the essential character of all of those people and movements and organizations that allow people with disabilities not merely to"succeed," but to thrive.
Here is the preface of Andy Potok's book, "A Matter of Dignity," published in late January by Bantam Books/Random House, and available at your local bookstores right now.
Recently, on the edge of a quiet Vermont lake, some 20 of us were wiling away a perfect late September afternoon. We had all paddled from the boat landing to this spot in a half dozen kayaks and as many canoes. Birds were calling from every direction as a gentle breeze rustled the yellowing leaves. There was Danny, telling jokes, some of which he had already e-mailed around. Knowing him, he was in shorts, the struts and flanges of his new prosthesis gleaming in the sunlight. Probably a couple of streamers with lightning bolts were hanging from the socket. Steve and Claire sat by themselves, smoking, getting ready for fishing. Geoff and Peggy were playing Go Fish with their 9-year- old. Etsuro, who was blinded in a car accident in Japan and emigrated to avoid ostracism for his bad karma, was posing a la some oriental martial art, his white cane aloft in place of a javelin. My guide dog, Tobias, watched intently at Etsuro's heels. The rest of us were lying about, sunning and schmoozing. Hard-boiled eggs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were being shared or traded for some newly concocted Vermont cheese.
After an hour or so of lolling about on land, I folded myself into a one-person kayak and pushed off, leaving my wife Loie, my friends, and my puzzled dog on shore. As I began paddling, I relished the surge, the wantonness of my water freedom. The pleasure of being out there where there is no fear of collision or danger or embarrassment had few parallels in my earthbound life. The feeling was delicious. I picked up the pace and shot out into the middle of the lake. I hit nothing for there was nothing to hit, no shoes or chairs to trip over, no half-open doors, no wine glasses at the edges of counters to sweep away. My friends' voices, like the late-summer buzzing of flies, became indistinct, then wafted lazily into earshot again. Geese were honking high above. I heard someone calling my dog's name, followed by squeals of laughter.
On this glorious day, in perhaps the final third of my life, I found myself taking stock. What brought me this freedom and this comfort? How to plot the rugged terrain I'd traveled to get here? Derailments and detours have nudged and shoved me off- center in the course of my life, some as a result of war, some via disability. Of the more recent dislocations, who among the friends on shore, some blind like me, some not, had traveled a similar route to mine? And who had made the trip easier? I pondered living in this country, at this moment in time, pondered how technology, a privileged position in the world, and evolving attitudes toward disability enabled me to have this much independence, accessibility, mobility, and dignity. But I knew that in spite of that privileged position, to be sanguine about disability and attitudes toward it was simplistic. I knew very well that even here, in well-endowed America, the disabled are grossly unemployed, unequal, untended.
For much of my life, I gave no thought to this. Like most people, I had grown up with the accepted pathological definitions of disability as conditions that limit human motor, sensory or mental activity. A vague noblesse oblige attitude defined my occasional encounters with anyone outside the scope of my trajectory. I should have known better, but, though a refugee from war when I was a little boy, I had been quickly and thoroughly Americanized, and I not only thought that there was no limit to my possibilities, my responses to others who seemed less fortunate were often bounded by conventional stereotypes, by sentimentality, by the familiar inclination to dismiss and marginalize those who were outside the tribe of "the normal." Only recently have I begun to see disability politically, as another form of ethnicity.
Drifting in my kayak, I felt a powerful urge to explore the quiet ways that people embrace doing work that lies outside the sanctioned selfishness of the times. And some of those people doing this work were picnicking on the shore of this lake, the tech specialist, the rehab teacher, the counselor. Starting in my own backyard, I resolved to let that surge of energy lead me elsewhere, everywhere. I wanted to go off to meet them all, disabled or not, those who engaged in work and thought, technology or public policy, prosthetics makers and trainers of guide dogs, people who were devoted to independent living and civil rights. I wanted to learn what motivated people to make better tools, to take better care, to help change laws and attitudes. I knew a little about some people's need to be rescuers, about others' religious or ethical imperatives for service, not heroes or saints but those engaged in what I had come to think of as doing an honest day's work.
A breeze must have blown my kayak toward shore for I was brought back to the present by a voice to my right. "Watch it, Andy," Carolyn yelled. "You're drifting toward the waterfall." Just to be sure, she had posted herself mid-lake to keep an eye on the kayak antics of those of us who thought we were utterly safe.
When I was back on shore, Scott, a mobility instructor, said, "I never see any of you like this. It makes me think of sea turtles, so graceful and elegant in the water and so clunky on land." Tobias jumped onto my kayak and licked my face, then ran to show me his new friends. Happy to be temporarily off harness, off leash, this sable-colored smallish shepherd is one of the joys of my life.
But not all of my blind friends want a guide dog. Some are revolted by the idea. For Joe, a cane user, who has pulled out his new ukelele to strum the "Ode to Joy," dogs simply don't fit his compulsively neat lifestyle. A woman I know in Boston dislikes the sentimentality dogs evoke in others. "I hate it when they think the dog is brilliant and the blind person a hopeless klutz," she said.
The world is organized for a kind of average person designated normal. When this vision of ourselves is nudged off center by disability, the new, skewed picture undermines our established expectations and values. We must figure out all over again how to be and how to face others. We were once quick and deft, rich in potential, and now we are becoming fragile, diminished, even repellent to some. Roles are reversed, friendships come undone, loves bend and break, confidence is lost, ideals erode. We begin to live in a new reality.
But what a diverse population we are, as different from each other as from the able-bodied, different not just inside our disability but in what we bring to it. We can be rebellious, obnoxious, proud, or combative. Our disabilities may feel comfortable, isolating, challenging, infuriating or ordinary. And how differently we respond to each other and to the informed or innocent entrance of non-disabled people into our lives.
According not only to the able-bodied but to many within the disability community, people with disabilities have a certain obligation to be docile, unprovocative, undemanding. If an able- bodied person crosses over into disability space, he expects a warm welcome. "No one likes to be blown off by a nasty blind guy," a friend once confided. Though no one likes being insulted by a sighted person either, the blind guy elicits certain deep, perhaps primordial responses, unmediated by complexity or wonder, arising from cultural expectations of how humans should look and act. Perhaps avoiding the disabled runs deeper than simple social ineptness or lack of empathy. Perhaps this one is zoological, based in the laws of natural selection, a built-in evolutionary tactic of favoring what most resembles us, with every body part functioning, every system quivering with static energy, ready to spring.
In fact, not all disabled people are nice. I take a perverse delight in my own and others' anger, entitlement and rebelliousness. I know a quadriplegic who prides himself on mowing people down with his wheelchair. At airport elevators, he nudges his way toward the front, knocking people about. He reports that often they are ready to scream at him until they look down to see his pitiful condition. "Oops, sorry," they nearly always end up apologizing. "I feel like a little kid," he says, "testing to see what I can get away with." Once though, as he forced his way toward the front of the elevator line, he smacked a blind guy and had to pay. "Can't you see that man is blind?" a pregnant lady in line yelled at him. And then he understood that even in the disability world there was a certain hierarchy of entitlement.
I wondered about the very definition of disability: who was disabled and who was not. The thought of disability elites seems ludicrous in spite of a kind of blanket permission in the air these days for most anyone to take the role of victim. Nonetheless, the blind have long been considered, perhaps unjustly, to be on top of the disability pile, receiving more services and perks than any other disabled category. Perhaps this is because being blind is most people's worst nightmare, perhaps because everyone loves the idea of Milton or Homer or Stevie Wonder. But a wise elderly man with post-polio syndrome commented that to him it seemed clear that, in the final analysis, hierarchies among the oppressed don't mean a thing. If the eugenicists or other racists come upon us to decimate all the blacks, all the Jews, or all the disabled, lightness of skin color, the percentage of Jewishness or the category of disability will not matter much.
When Penny Marshall, the Hollywood director, was considering making a movie of my book, "Ordinary Daylight," which chronicled the early stages of my blindness, she came to Vermont to check me out. After dinner, we sat in my living room sipping brandy. "My friends say I can't keep making affliction movies," Penny Marshall said, weighing the issues. "They also say I don't know a thing about blindness but they are dead wrong. I just got my first pair of glasses and suddenly I became middle-aged. I can't see a damn thing without glasses. Flirting isn't the same." It took me a few moments to regain my composure, yet it is true that our possibilities do slip away with age and its decrepitudes. I know as well as anyone that the best flirtation is nimble, unencumbered, subtle and quick, and most likely isn't helped by peering over spectacles. Among the litany of losses that had once caused me grief, flirting had been near the top of my list.
A few years after Penny Marshall's visit, the wearing of glasses happened to be the salient issue in a case before the Supreme Court testing the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court was asked to decide if a woman denied a job as an airline pilot because she wore glasses was covered by the anti-discriminatory provisions of the ADA. Even though she didn't consider herself disabled for wearing glasses, she had been refused employment on the basis of a perception of disability. The Supreme Court, interpreting the ADA narrowly, denied her claim, drawing a distinction between workers whose disability can or cannot be mitigated by corrective equipment or medication, squeezing the definition, narrowing the circle of disability. Thus the ADA's safeguards might well vanish when individuals make themselves more employable through ways of overcoming their limitations. Here were a new bunch of catch- 22's. If disabilities do not include conditions that are correctable with medication, prostheses, hearing aids, insulin, perhaps even guide dogs or wheelchairs, then people with these conditions may not be granted "reasonable accommodation" -- any modification in physical access necessary for employment -- one of the more interesting and forward-looking concepts of that amazing piece of legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Inclusion or exclusion of people who wear glasses in the perception and definition of disability is a more interesting question than it appeared to be at first laugh. When lawyers were initially writing the ADA they assumed a very broad definition of disability, one that included anyone with any serious illness whether it could be fixed or not. They toyed with the concept of glasses, knowing on the one hand that without glasses a lot of people couldn't see a thing, and on the other hand suspecting that the general public would probably not accept such an inclusion, mostly, because this country seems to feel a need to make a clear line between "them" and "us." It is still difficult for most people to conceptualize a spectrum of physical abilities and disabilities which all of us are on. As for the ADA framers, they turned out to be wrong in thinking that people would not be discriminated against for wearing glasses.
But even defining myself as blind is not without some ambiguity. I have been legally blind and getting worse for some thirty years, yet now that I have only light perception and at times can detect some movement, I have begun to paint again.
"Your painting is a tour de force," a friend said to me.
"It is not!" I said with a shudder, imagining it hanging in the lobby of the Lighthouse, judged only among the "very special."
"A man who can't see, painting," she said. "What else can it be but special?"
"Forget I'm blind," I told her.
"But ... but," she sputtered. "No one can forget you're blind for chrissake."
It's a dilemma, wanting my painting to make commentary on, say, the human condition. I tell myself that diversity doesn't simply add superficial variety to the human mix. It can improve the mix, add new ways of knowing, of creating and interpreting the world. Some say that being different means being less, others that it has the possibility within it of a new synthesis, a new paradigm. And it can provide the joys that attend transformations. Philosophy or anthropology or psychology might well take on fresh meanings when viewed from some new, unique slant. Skiing blind or on one leg can be ecstatic, the sensuality of surrender unparalleled. And so, I tell myself, it will also be with painting.
A while back, I sat at a friend's dining table across from Oliver Sacks. I thought that now I had the perfect opportunity to add my bit of weird disability behavior to the lists of exotica he chronicles with so much gusto and imagination and insight. I'd not only eagerly read the tales of his neurological curiosities but I've taken a lot of pleasure reading elsewhere about artists who not only worked in spite of their impairments but probably counted on them as the sources of their artistic uniqueness. I reveled in Van Gogh's glaucoma, Renoir's myopia. I scavenged the literature for retinopathies, uveitis, my disease retinitis pigmentosa. The writing or music of manic depressives and schizophrenics holds a special interest for me. I'm beginning to belittle nice, normal eyes or brains going their dull way through the world, observing and commenting like Boy Scouts about sexuality.
I told Oliver Sacks that, after a 25-year hiatus, I was painting again. "It has required weird adaptations and innovations," I said, describing how I'd measured out the room to avoid collisions, the easel a bit more than an arm's length in front of me and, to my left, just below my elbow, a table spread with brailled paint tubes, jars and bottles of oil and turpentine. I told him how I wiggled my gloved left hand to locate the canvas, how I'd left pushpins in the canvas to mark where my brush had just been. He nodded and went on eating. I continued, telling him excitedly about the confusing role of intentionality, about accidents and unintended gestural clumsiness.
He was polite and seemed happy that I was doing what I wanted to do, and then proceeded to tell us about people with Williams syndrome, the color-blind of some tropical island, some high- functioning autistics who were obviously in a very different category than a painter trying desperately, perhaps foolishly, to keep on painting.
Tail between my legs, I went home to accept what was really going on. My painting was a private pleasure only and, aside from being a relatively old guy trying to recapture his youth, inhaling again the sweet smells of oil and turpentine, or perhaps acting out a previously unconfessed desire to be super-crip, I finally realized that painting might best be left to the sighted.
The afternoon was beginning to cool on our beautiful Vermont lake and we climbed into our canoes and kayaks again, heading back toward the landing. We yelled across the water to each other with directions and jokes. We'd arranged to ski together in a few months. In our car, driving a couple of exits south on the interstate, I admit to Loie that, until now, I have shown only curiosity, not involvement, in disability issues. Now, I say, I want to understand what some disabled people mean when they talk of "disability pride." Personally, I don't look at blindness with a lot of good cheer, though there are the cheerful blind who are able to chirp their way through this whole mess, considering blindness an inconvenience only. "I just don't get it," I tell my wife. "Blindness, all serious disability is so big, so life- changing. Still, given that we are stuck with it, I suppose it's better to claim the damned thing than to angst about it."
"If nothing else," she says, "not angsting probably prolongs life."
There is something else to it too. Will claiming it tie me to disability, making it the focus of my existence? How strange our lives, the turns that have made blindness and disability define me more than painting or architecture. Not only as definers but the main preoccupation, the career, the mark made, the thing left behind.
Claiming disability has other pitfalls as well. It challenges our insulation from others who are making equal claims. It pushes us into membership in a larger community of people like ourselves, and this has not always been easy for me.
Many years ago, in front of the doors leading into a low vision conference in Boston, I watched a bunch of blind demonstrators march clumsily in a circle. Everyone who had business inside had to fight his way through them. My business, the first of such occasions for me, was to give a talk on low vision, in contrast to total blindness. Back then, that was a lively insider issue. I have no recollection of why the demonstrators were there, but watching them, I was horrified. They stumbled over each other's heels, knocking placards out of one another's hands, looking foolish, unseemly, pitiful. I was on the road to being blind like them, and they were more than threatening. They filled me with fear and loathing and shame.
Since that time, I've perceived my rejection of those natural ties as misguided. Even though I don't particularly seek the company of disabled people, I recognize more and more that there are now fundamental life experiences which I can share with no one else. Sharing them, feeling understood in one's differentness, eases the loneliness that comes with being an outsider. In a similar way, I don't seek out other Jews, but sharing stories, humor and a history brings me a deep sense of belonging.
But my feelings of terror before disability and incapacity in the guise of a few clumsy blind demonstrators plagued me for years to come. At the time, though, I wove my way past them and entered the spacious, marbled halls of the conference center. Exhibitors beckoned me with a dizzying excess of goods piled high, here a table of talking watches, there talking carpenters' levels and scales and adding machines. The screen-reading devices for computers, still in their infancy, looked essential to my future well-being. There were white canes with sonar attachments to alert the user to the smallest obstacle, braille slates, tapes and punchers, devices that transformed printed letters into electrical impulses of brailled dots. There were magnifiers of every kind, closed-circuit TV systems that enlarged the printed word, monocular telescopes, infrared devices used for night- killing by the army or night-wandering by the night-blind like me. This was a veritable blindness mall, a low-vision theme park. And then, in a booth to one side, a man was handing out leaflets about a guide dog school he represented. His own harnessed shepherd lay quietly at his feet. More than anything else displayed there, this got me, really got me. I wanted one of those.
This cornucopia of ingenuity, these goods and services, that dog, were enough to satisfy anyone's consumer addiction, but I also remember the nausea that came over me, the mix of revulsion and attraction to forbidden objects. Touching the talking book tape machine that would, from then on, be my primary reading source was like touching poisoned mushrooms, dangerous but inviting. I wanted to take it all home, all the gadgets, like a new wardrobe.
As it turns out, I have benefitted from almost everything exhibited at that conference, things magnified and voice- activated, things projected, enlarged and transformed. Now I'm dependent on taped books and screen-reading computer software, while my mobility is tied inextricably to guide dogs, three so far.
In those early years of my advancing blindness, I did take care of myself by learning new skills but, while in the middle of a doctoral program, I also bolted the rational world to pursue an insane "cure" offered by a woman in London who claimed she could cure retinitis pigmentosa with bee stings. My attempt to obliterate my unacceptable limitations cured me of ever looking for "cures" again. Finally I have come to realize that many of life's essential problems aren't soluble. Misery doesn't always lend itself to remedy. As a matter of fact, this kind of attitude, I have come to believe, misunderstands what makes life interesting. Being cured of one's disability, one's peculiar psychology, one's angst, though sought avidly, runs the risk of leaving a residue of dullness and uniformity. All of this must seem silly to a society intent on ease, comfort, normalcy, a desire not to stand out in nonconformist ways, as crazy, poor, disabled, loud, different. But just as tragedy is not due merely to error, every question is not answerable, every ill is not always curable, everything does not always come out well in the end. "Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick," Susan Sontag has written. We are all a little bit able-bodied and a little bit disabled. The degree to which we are one or the other shifts throughout life.
That afternoon on Waterbury Reservoir with friends and colleagues pushed me to want to explore the work and thought of people who do not consider disability to be a curable medical problem but a social one, people who train guide dogs and make computers speak. I wanted to connect with people who have showed up on the barricades, taught, written, reached others who seemed beyond reach, and those who have not only changed our domestic laws and priorities but have changed the lives of people in other parts of the world as well.
I realized that I needed to learn about the legislative and legal aspects of disability as much as I did about our feelings regarding wholeness, beauty and ugliness, about the state called normalcy, about liberating technologies and therapies, about the role of the disabled in history and literature. And what could better inform and enlighten me than contact with people who help to create access, who elicit change via care, support, teaching and study as their life's work? As it turned out, I have learned from them that, in spite of the American addiction to youthfulness, "normalcy," virility, activity and physical beauty, diversity in all its forms provides not only fascination but strength. Uniformity tends toward dullness and extinction, diversity toward higher forms. What could make more sense than to value all that is diverse, unexpected and exuberantly impure?
It has been quite a while since I have been asked to chair a committee for the American Council of the Blind (ACB). When Chris Gray asked me to be chair of the Durward McDaniel Fund I was honored and delighted. I knew Durward well and we worked together for many years. He worked hard for us as a national representative and I was one of the many people he taught and encouraged to become involved in ACB.
Durward could work longer and harder and get more people to do the same than anyone I think I have ever known. I met him in Louisville, Ky. in 1965. I had just become president of the ACB affiliate in California and I came to the ACB convention in Kentucky. We had a few conversations after which Durward told me he thought I would be an asset to the board of directors of the ACB. In spite of my insisting that this was not possible because I hardly knew anyone at the convention and that since they did not know me my running for a seat on the board would just be a waste of time, finally I decided not to argue with Durward, because I was sure I would not be elected anyway. For the next several days Durward introduced me to every delegation and I don't think I ever shook more hands before or since. To make a long story short, I got elected that year and for 10 more after that. Durward encouraged me to run for CCB president in 1995 and 1996, and finally I was elected president here again in 1997. Being a member of the ACB has been a wonderful experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have been active there and of course in my own state of California.
One of Durward's main goals was to increase membership in ACB. The goal of the Durward McDaniel Fund is to do just that. Each year one person from east of the Mississippi River and west of the Mississippi River is eligible to win a trip to the ACB national convention, and that is where you come in. The members of the Durward McDaniel Fund Committee are Dr. Ed Bradley, Stephanie Hall, Lucille Fierce, Milly Lillibridge, Carl McCoy and Gerald Pye. We will be meeting by teleconference immediately after the mid-year meeting. We'd like your ideas on what kind of fund-raisers you think might be good for us to try, and what we need from you most is for you to encourage people to make application to be one of the lucky winners to come to Houston in July.
If you would like to come to Houston at the expense of the Durward K. McDaniel Fund, all you need to do is write a letter about why you would like to attend our convention, and how you think it might be of benefit to you. Send your letter by April 1, 2002 to the ACB national office, to the attention of the Durward K. McDaniel Committee; the address is 1155 15th Street NW, Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005. You will be notified in plenty of time to make your reservations if you win. If you have never been to a convention I assure you it will be a tremendous experience. If you have been you already know how great that is and you should share that with your friends who have not had that good fortune. I hope at mid-year to meet with some of my committee members who will be there. We'll then get in touch with the others and I hope that when we get ready to review letters from those of you who would like to come to Houston that we'll have lots of work to do. A lot of people can't afford to contribute to all the organizations that request it. I am hoping that even though you may not be able to send a lot of money to the Durward McDaniel Fund that many of you will participate in our committee's project that you will be hearing about very soon. Many of us giving a little can make quite a difference. It is a worthwhile project in memory of a man who gave so much.
I have served on ACB's Information Access Committee for several years. The scope of this committee's responsibilities is so broad that I won't even attempt to list them here for fear of missing something major. Nevertheless, one area that falls well within the scope of the Information Access Committee is access to Microsoft Windows and applications that run under Windows. Debate rages:
Is Windows accessible or not?
Does the responsibility for accessibility lie with the operating system, the application vendors or assistive technology vendors?
Should we, as end users, really care who implemented the technologies that provide us access or not?
Should we, the end users, care what underlying technologies are used to bring us access?
What is the definition of the word "accessible" anyway?
As I am a software engineer developing Windows products, I certainly have an interest in all these gory details. Nevertheless, I understand that most sighted users don't know or care about the different underlying components that make up their user interface. Similarly, neither should we.
It is one of the Information Access Committee's current goals, therefore, to develop a list of highly specific things that blind and low vision computer users cannot do. Working with others in the disability and software arenas we will then prioritize these tasks and bring them to software vendors in an attempt to draw attention to our issues. You can help
In fact, if this is to work you must help! In order to compile and prioritize these tasks we must hear from you! What do we need? Basically, we need anecdotal evidence from real people doing real work. Have you lost a job due to the inaccessibility of software? Have your job duties been limited because of inaccessible software? Do you perform your job duties at a level below that of your coworkers because you cannot produce at the same rate and/or with the same quality as your coworkers? Are you advancing at a slower rate than your coworkers? If you're a student, how has software inaccessibility affected your class work?
Please provide specifics! While it is useful to know that you can't schedule meetings, it is much more useful to know that you can't schedule meetings using Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, or some other product. It's even better if we know the version of the product you're attempting to work with.
And don't forget about your assistive technology vendor. The complexities of accessibility are such that a task which is difficult, time-consuming, or downright impossible with one screen reader may be much easier to do with another or with magnification software. Again, version numbers help! It will be important to know as much detail as you can provide about what products you are using!
Please provide us with contact information so that we on the information access committee can contact you for further details. Under no circumstances will your name or contact information be forwarded to any outside organization without your prior consent! Send details of your difficulties to us via e-mail at [email protected] as soon as possible. By the time you read this, work on this project will be under way.
The American Council of the Blind once had a fine working relationship with Microsoft. Over the past couple of years, and through nobody's fault, that relationship has, regrettably, lapsed. The best way to rebuild that relationship is by proving ourselves useful to Microsoft by providing them with specific goals we would like to see met. In the past they have responded well to such input. Additionally, we recognize that Microsoft has done a great deal in the area of accessibility and, while we wish they'd do more, we know that they've gone far beyond the efforts of many other companies. Therefore, we will address accessibility with other vendors as well. To do this, we must have the feedback of computer users who have been negatively affected by inaccessible software. With your help, we will be able to attract the attention of software developers and improve accessibility to Microsoft Windows and the applications running under Windows.
The 15th annual Iowa Council of the United Blind state convention will be held May 3, 4 and 5, 2002, at Hotel Fort Des Moines. Room rates are $59 per night plus applicable taxes. Call 1-800-532-1466 for room reservations.
We will hold our opening session on Friday evening followed by hospitality (snacks, beverages and a great time). Saturday will be full of programming with a luncheon and a banquet in the evening. Again, the hospitality suite will be open for your enjoyment. On Sunday we will hold our business meeting and conclude the convention around 1 p.m.
If you have any questions about the convention or hotel, please e-mail Donna Seliger at [email protected]
The Badger Association of the Blind will hold its annual convention on Saturday, April 6th. We will present several panels. One will include representatives from nearby states, and another will include staff members who will cover some of the developments and program changes within our organization.
Expect to be kept busy and interested for the whole day, from our continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., through the call to order at 9:30 and the concluding social around 4 p.m. We have monthly membership meetings but this April meeting focuses on our affiliation with ACB. Our association business will be incorporated into the ACB Day program along with a number of speakers, legislators and several panels.
If you have questions, please contact Kathy Brockman at Badger Association of the Blind, 912 N. Hawley Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53213; phone (414) 615-0107, fax (414) 615-0168 or toll-free (877) 258-9200.
Are you interested in the details of the digital playback machines that the National Library Service will be developing over the next several years and how those machines will relate to players being developed by other recording entities? Do you want to know why the books available on Web-Braille cannot be downloaded for speech programs? Are you one of the AAVL members who want to see "Modern Maturity" offered as one of the magazines provided nationally? Do you want the names of authors spelled at the beginning of cassette books? Would you like to see book annotations in "Talking Book Topics" and "The Braille Book Review" listed in alphabetical order by title or author rather than by the catalog number? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, or if you have other concerns about books and equipment available through the National Library Service (NLS), then you will want to be in touch with Sharon Strzalkowski and Jill O'Connell, who will be representing the ACB at upcoming meetings of the NLS committees that deal with these subjects.
Each year, representatives from the ACB are invited to sit on two NLS committees to discuss equipment, collection development, and other aspects of the service that the library extends throughout the country through its regional and subregional libraries. Each committee is composed of reader representatives from the main geographical regions, members of the consumer groups of blind people, and librarians, each of whom is permitted to serve just two years in order to ensure participation by as many different individuals as possible.
The Library Users of America (LUA), ACB's affiliate concerned with libraries and the reading interests of its members, chooses and suggests to Charlie Crawford, ACB's Executive Director, individuals to fill the committee positions. Sharon Strzalkowski is this year's ACB representative to the National Audio Equipment Advisory Committee, which meets April 3-5. If you have suggestions for issues you want discussed at this meeting, please direct your comments to Sharon as follows: 127 June Street #3, Worcester, MA 01602; phone (508) 363-3866; [email protected]
Messages concerning books and magazines you would like to see produced by NLS should be sent to Jill O'Connell, ACB's representative on the Collection Building Committee, by May 15, for the committee meeting May 22 through 24. Contact Jill at 279 Church Lane, Carlotta, CA 95528-9715; phone (707) 768-3254; or e- mail [email protected]
Reports on past meetings of these committees as well as articles on many aspects of libraries both public and private, can be found on the LUA Web site, http://libraryusers.tripod.com.
We invite you to join the Library Users of America by sending $9 dues to Patricia Price, Treasurer, 5707 Brockton Drive #302, Indianapolis, IN 46220-5481. We also invite you to attend our annual LUA meetings to be held Monday and Wednesday afternoons as part of the American Council of the Blind 2002 national convention in Houston, Texas.
About two years ago, organizations of and for the blind in California formed the Blind Alliance for Rehabilitation Change (BARC). Both the consumer organizations the California Council of the Blind (CCB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB) were joined by many of the major organizations of and for the blind in an attempt to improve services for blind and visually impaired people in our state.
We conducted a lot of research and discovered that states where there were specialized services through departments or commissions for the blind and visually impaired seemed to have better employment opportunities. We learned that California ranked 48th in terms of positive outcomes for blind people in the United States. This was shocking news to those of us who had been around in the days when, if anybody wanted to know about great programs for the blind whether they were in rehabilitation, education or social services, California was the place to go. Finding that we had slid so far down the ladder caused our determination to grow, and we vowed to change things.
We wanted to establish a commission for the blind. State sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco) introduced SB105 for us. Suddenly, however, California's great economy plummeted and we learned that no bill which contained an accompanying appropriation would have a chance of even making it out of the legislature. Further, we learned that our governor, Gray Davis, does not look favorably on boards or commissions of any kind.
So we held numerous meetings where representatives from the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), the bill's authors, staff, and BARC got together; we amended our commission bill into one that called for the creation of a division for the blind with line authority. Our bill has had some opposition, regrettably from some disabled groups. They feel that somehow our bill jeopardizes some of their programs. This is not true. All we ask is that the money which is supposed to be used for services to blind and visually impaired people be spent to hire trained counselors and that these counselors be supervised by people who believe in blind people and know how to assist them. We believe this must be done with line authority and that the provider of our services must have direct access to the director of the DOR.
Dr. Catherine Campisi is currently director of the DOR. Catherine is herself a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair. She happens to be married to a very prominent attorney in Sacramento who is blind. She has made many positive changes in the department and is working toward making improvements. However, one of the weaknesses in our department is that every time we have a new governor we get a new director of rehabilitation. Therefore, no matter how many accomplishments she makes in the direction of improving services, we know that when she leaves the department, we will be back to square one.
SB105 was heard before the Governmental Organization Committee and passed by a vote of 8-0. Then we went to the Appropriations Committee and it passed there by a vote of 12-0. On January 30th the bill came to the Senate floor and passed 36- 0. It was hallelujah time in California.
In our various meetings with DOR they keep interjecting their estimates of the supposed cost of our bill. We disagree with their numbers and believe we can prove that our estimates are correct. As we now begin making our way through the state assembly this is what we will have to do. While we are ecstatic over our success in the Senate, we are mindful that there is a road ahead that we hope will lead to a successful conclusion. In any case, the organizations of and for the blind in this state know that we must have specialized services and that they must be provided by qualified professionals who are appropriately trained and supervised. The fact that our bill also requires reports to the legislature is most important and necessary. I am writing this to encourage those of you in other states who are attempting to get your specialized services in your state to keep fighting the good fight. There are a few states where specialized services are in jeopardy. The American Council is a strong organization with many, many knowledgeable people. The most important thing of all is that we have learned to fight through the years and when we know what is right, nobody is going to beat us. I hope the next time we talk about SB105 we will be able to tell you that we have done it and that California is once again on its way toward the top. That is where we are accustomed to being and we are going to keep going until we get there.
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.
I want to personally thank the ACB and Charles Hodge for the eloquent and beautiful "In Memoriam" message about my mother, Marie Boring, in the January issue of "The Braille Forum." As a child, I did not fully recognize her strengths as a person or her many accomplishments in life. As I grew up, I began to realize that she was truly a remarkable person. She will be deeply missed by all her friends and family. She was so proud of her work with the ACB and was delighted to be recognized at your national convention last summer. Thank God she left so many hand- and footprints for posterity. Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Since the events of September 11, we have taken six flights and have reached some conclusions that might be of interest to your readers. Although most of these ideas are probably not new, we believe the increase in security and other changes that have been implemented may add relevance to our conclusions.
1. We prefer to deal with travel agents when buying airline tickets. They will not only inform the airline of your special needs, but will also obtain paper tickets which will speed the process of check-in.
2. Call the airline the day before you travel and remind them of your specific needs. Double-check your flight schedule, since many flights are being changed on short notice.
3. We recommend that partially sighted people carry a cane. The cane identifies you as a person who may need assistance, and you can avoid lengthy, time-wasting explanations.
4. Be gracious when you are offered more help than you really need. A short ride in a wheelchair won't kill you.
5. Place a printed label on all luggage showing the complete address and telephone number. This can improve your chances of having any lost luggage returned to you.
6. Have your ID card readily available. You will need to show it several times.
7. When you have completed the check-in process, remind the gate attendant if you will need assistance retrieving checked luggage at your destination.
8. It is best not to lock your luggage. The airline has the right to search it. Keep all valuables with you.
9. Have some dollar bills available for tipping skycaps and other ground personnel who assist you. This simple kindness is remembered and appreciated.
10. Whatever your views on the use of a rigid cane, we find it helpful to use a folding cane during the flight.
Air travel has become more of a hassle during recent months. We think these tips will help your readers have a more pleasant trip.
Recently I was diagnosed with at least two herniated disks in my back, and a serious injury to my left shoulder. I was forced to give up my guide dog, and I probably won't be physically able to work a dog again, even after the injuries heal.
I am having a hard time dealing with additional disabilities -- blindness is enough for me! Now I've lost my independence, probably for good. At this time, a cane is not an option because of the strain the repetitive back-and-forth motion puts on muscles and nerves.
I would be interested in hearing from others or about others who have found their blindness complicated by additional disabilities. How do you handle the loss of independence and dignity, the boredom, the well-meaning remarks from non- disabled people, and the uncertainty of not knowing when or if the additional disability will heal, and what functioning will be possible, or what restrictions will be forever? I am not coping well, and I am not getting the right kind of support. Please contact me at 1232 E. 6th St., Apartment #7, Loveland, CO 80537.
I have enjoyed reading "The Braille Forum" in large print the last couple months, and hope it keeps coming regularly.
I did not know how much a proper donation was to keep receiving the news, so I am enclosing a check for $25 to start. Please let me know if this is not sufficient. I plan on making more donations, but money is a little tight where I live at the moment. Although I cannot make any conferences or local meetings, I still hope to be a part of the ACB. As an example, I have written to a gentleman in West Africa as a result of seeing it in "The Braille Forum." That sort of a tidbit would be a good thing to do every issue. There are always people in need who genuinely need the help.
Thanks again for the great publication. Keep up the good work!
Dear ACB Members:
Christopher Gray's presidential message in January's "Braille Forum" has prompted 22 ACB members to call or write me at De Witt & Associates concerning our Internet portal, EnableLink.com. Most have felt that our company has, as Mr. Gray put it, "chosen to discriminate specifically and directly against the American Council of the Blind." EnableLink.com and De Witt & Associates has always and always will serve all people who are blind and visually impaired regardless of whether or not they are members of any organization.
We never said to Mr. Gray or Mr. Crawford that we would never include the ACB or its members as participants on our site. We did tell him that we had embarked upon a limited scope, short- term market test and that when and if our idea of developing a donation program seemed practical that we would let Messrs. Crawford and Gray know. Mr. Gray's presidential message did not mention those aspects of our conversation with him. Therefore, I understand why members of the ACB feel they are being excluded. I accept that you feel slighted and am sorry for that impression.
It is not in my personal character to offend. In the 24 years that I, as a blind person, have worked professionally in the blindness field, not once has anyone ever complained of my motives or actions as being discriminatory.
Each month over 1,900 people log on to www.enablelink.com and read the articles specifically written for us, many by blind authors. Many also shop using our carefully designed easy-to-use shopping cart for products useful to us as blind people.
I appreciate the opportunity offered by your editor to publish this letter and trust that past mistakes or hurt feelings are just that: past. Thank you for reading this and rest assured that all blind and visually impaired people are important to me personally and to our company.
(Editor's Note: Chris Gray asked us to include the following letter in response to the letter above.)
Both in this response and in other communications with ACB members, Mr. De Witt emphasizes that his company's contribution program, which exclusively benefits the National Federation of the Blind, is a test or pilot program to determine whether such a contribution plan will prove economically viable and beneficial for his company and NFB. Yet, when this contributions program was announced and promoted on various e-mail lists, there was no mention of the program's being a test or pilot. Only after ACB leadership contacted Mr. De Witt and requested an opportunity for equal participation in the program did Mr. De Witt put forward his pilot program explanation.
Even accepting the pilot program explanation at face value, we must point out that Mr. De Witt has never indicated the time frame within which the pilot program will be assessed and evaluated, nor has he revealed under what standards or criteria the success or failure of the alleged pilot program will be judged.
In addition, in his replies to other ACB members, Mr. De Witt has argued that he is well aware of the conflicts between NFB and ACB, and that he values both organizations and their supporters. Then he goes on to contend that by suggesting ACB be included in his company's contribution program on an equal basis with the NFB, our members are forcing him to choose sides in a conflict between NFB and ACB. Nothing could be further from the truth. By excluding ACB from this program and making NFB the sole and exclusive participant in and beneficiary of that program, Mr. De Witt has already dramatically demonstrated his choice of sides in whatever conflict he perceives to exist between these organizations.
The explanations and rationalizations advanced here and elsewhere appear to be a form of artful dodging and a clever attempt to construct an artifice to mask or cover an ongoing set of discriminatory, entrepreneurial tracks. In conclusion, I urge ACB members and friends to continue to contact Mr. De Witt to hold his proverbial feet to the fire with respect to his asserted pilot contribution program, and I am still in hopes -- albeit fading hopes -- that Mr. De Witt will see that including all national organizations of blind people is a far more sensible and business-like manner with which to approach our community as a whole.
More on $50 computers
I am writing to thank you for helping to make our computer offer known. It was an overwhelming success. We have had more requests than we can handle. We are taking every step to get the computers and training to those who want them.
We did not get some telephone calls that were made with messages placed in voice mail, and some computer material was lost or damaged in the mail.
Therefore, I am writing to ask those who are waiting for something from me: Please contact me to get what you need. Contact the Texas Center for the Physically Impaired, 11330 Quail Run, Dallas, Texas 75238; phone (214) 340-6328.
In July I was very excited to be one of 12 delegates chosen to represent the United States in a cross-cultural exchange to Costa Rica, Central America, with the goal of sharing perspectives on disability with our Costa Rican friends. Our journey gave all of us great opportunities to experience Costa Rican culture, food and the struggles that people with disabilities face day to day in another part of the world.
One of the most memorable and enjoyable aspects of my stay in Costa Rica was spending time with my homestay family. There, I had the unique opportunity to see how one member of a Costa Rican family with a disability approaches life in her native country and the many ways that the family works together to help that person.
When I first met my host mother, Domaris Solano -- wife, mother of two and school counselor -- I knew immediately that she was a strong woman and a unique and beautiful person. Many nights we stayed up laughing and talking about our experiences growing up with a disability and comparing life in the US and Costa Rica. My host mother was intrigued by my Hopi heritage and confessed that she had never before met a native person who was proud of her culture. I learned that in Costa Rica there is a stereotype that native peoples are poor, uneducated and alcoholic -- a stereotype not uncommon in the US either. My host mother told me that she was very proud to have me in her home and that I had changed her perception of America and native peoples in particular. My host mother's energy touched everything and everyone around her. I will never forget the mornings that she wheeled down the hallway, singing and checking on each of her children -- of which I was now one. Each day I was greeted with "Andrea, buenos dias" and a big smile. A woman I knew absolutely nothing about before arriving in Costa Rica had not only become an inspiration to me but a friend, teacher and second mother.
There is no other experience that can compare to all that I learned and shared in Costa Rica. I hope that other people with disabilities will seize the opportunity to travel because it is opportunities like this that can help you to discover yourself and become a role model for others. This is true not only for people with disabilities but for all people.
Young people have been having experiences like this one as Mobility International USA travel scholars since 1983. For more information on the 2002 Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Disability Exchange Program, please contact MIUSA via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (541) 343-1284 (voice/TDD). Updated program information is also available on MIUSA's web site, www.miusa.org. About the author
Andrea Siow was a delegate on the 2001 US/Costa Rica Cross- Cultural Perspectives on Disability Exchange Program, sponsored by the DeWitt Wallace/Youth Travel Enrichment Fund.
Siow works with the Office of Special Needs on the Hopi Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona and is a member of the Hopi Girl Power Committee. She is also a volunteer with the Parent to Parent Support Group for Special Needs which sponsors events and activities aimed at promoting disability awareness in the community. Andrea, who has a visual impairment, took advantage of the availability of materials in large print throughout the exchange program. Looking for something to do this summer?
Spend the summer experiencing another part of the world with MIUSA's summer 2002 travel program. Mobility International USA (MIUSA) is currently seeking individuals with and without disabilities for an 18-day international program in Latin America or Europe. MIUSA's summer 2002 exchange program is designed for young adults, ages 18-24, who are interested in learning about a new culture, exploring disability rights and expanding leadership skills in an exciting international environment. Dates and location to be announced. American sign language interpretation and materials in alternative formats will be provided. Please contact MIUSA at the number above for more information on this and other opportunities in international educational travel.
Below is an announcement from the government of British Columbia, Canada, concerning their decision to withdraw funding from the production of audiobooks for people who are blind and to rely, instead, on commercially produced audiotapes. Following that, we present a letter which Charlie Crawford sent to the Premier of BC, outlining ACB's position on this matter, and urging that government to reconsider this decision, which will negatively affect the supply of audiobooks for blind people, not only in the province of British Columbia, but across the country.
TORONTO, Jan. 29 -- The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) today expressed its deep regret at the BC government's recent decision to stop funding the BC Library Services audio book program.
The reason given for the cut was that commercial audiobooks are now available to replace the books recorded in the program. However, the vast majority of commercial audiobooks are abridged, and the few that are full-length are costly. "When it comes to library services, we don't expect sighted people to buy books, or read books that are incomplete," said Jim Sanders, President and CEO of the CNIB. "Why would we expect that of people like myself who are blind or visually impaired?"
Only 3-4 percent of what is published ever makes it into an accessible format, such as an audio book. With such a huge gap in access to information, the loss of any further production in Canada is devastating. The CNIB Library and BC Library Services have been sharing titles for 27 years. In 2001, the BC audio book program provided a quarter of the titles added to the CNIB Library's collection. Many of these titles were Canadian content and not available anywhere else.
"Even though I live in Alberta, this hurts me and all other print-disabled Canadians who want original Canadian content in an accessible format," said CNIB client Gerry Chevalier. "I have read many, many audiobooks over the years that were produced by BC Library Services."
"More than 3 million Canadians cannot read print because of a disability. This decision marks the last exit of a Canadian government from the creation of general English-language accessible content. It is regrettable, because all other major industrialized nations fund the production of braille and audio books for people who are blind or visually impaired," said Sanders. "Sighted Canadians have the right to books and information through a local library. However, Canadians who are blind do not have that same right."
The $280,000 annual price tag for the audio book program amounted to only one-hundredth of one percent of the total cuts the BC government made on January 21. ACB Responds
(Below is a copy of an e-mail letter sent to the Premier of British Columbia.)
February 1, 2002
I am writing on behalf of the membership of the American Council of the Blind to urge you to reconsider and cease your closing of the audio books program in British Columbia. We join with our Canadian counterparts in condemning this move to market driven audio books which may or may not survive in sufficient numbers and quality and taste to accommodate the needs of blind Canadians. ACB has encountered this issue in the United States on numerous occasions with less than productive results. While in theory, substituting what appears to be available in the public marketplace for specialized programming makes sense, the blindness community is not large or monolithic enough to attract the kind of attention we require from commercial interests. In the case of your approach, there is to be sure a confluence of interest between what would be attractive to the general public and the blind. Yet, denying blind people with full text of books, as is often the case, or publications not published for the wide market, is in effect telling us what we can and cannot read as well as our not being deserving of reading what is available to all other print readers.
The solution to your economic woes cannot be found at the expense of blind people. The audio books that you rely upon to satisfy the reading needs of blind people will certainly in part accomplish that goal, but the extent to which your reliance excludes materials is the extent to which blind people are not receiving the equity we deserve from a democratic government.
ACB again urges you to reconsider and drop the plan to close the audio books service and to find other means of revenue generation to meet your budgetary needs.
Wells Fargo Bank Iowa, N.A., in tandem with the Iowa Council of the United Blind and the Utah Council of the Blind, announced recently that Wells Fargo Talking ATMs are now up and running at approximately 14 locations across Iowa, and approximately 58 locations across Utah. A rollout of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) with audio capability will continue through 2002 in both states.
Through voice instruction, the new Talking ATMs tell users who cannot read information on an ATM screen how to deposit money, withdraw cash, transfer funds and buy stamps. In addition, customers can use the new Talking ATMs to hear account balances for primary checking, savings and market rate accounts. To protect the privacy and security of blind and low vision users, the Talking ATMs deliver voice information privately through audio jacks and earphones.
Customers can identify a Talking ATM by the audio decal on the front of the machine and the earphone decal near the earphone jack. Both of these decals are in large print and Braille. Working with the California Council of the Blind, Wells Fargo announced in June of 1999 that it would pilot 20 talking ATMs in California, and now over 800 Talking ATMs have been installed in that state. Following the success of the California effort, Wells Fargo began installing talking ATMs at various locations across the country.
Customers can find the Talking ATM nearest to them by calling (800) 869-3557 or by visiting www.wellsfargo.com and clicking on the Talking ATM Locator link at the bottom of the screen.
Wells Fargo's efforts in Iowa were aided by the Iowa Council of the United Blind. "For the first time blind Iowans will be able to enjoy ATM access equal to that of their sighted peers," said Michael Barber of the Council. "We are pleased that Wells Fargo is the first in our state to recognize the rights of equal access for blind Iowans, and we are hopeful that other banks will follow in its footsteps."
Wells Fargo's efforts in Utah were aided by the Utah Council of the Blind (UCB). "We are thrilled that blind and visually impaired people in Utah will now have access to this basic financial service," said Terri Lynne Pomeroy, UCB board member. "We commend Wells Fargo for its significant commitment announced today and urge other banks to follow in its footsteps."
Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian, two California lawyers who have assisted members of the blindness community nationally on this issue, also applauded Wells Fargo's efforts. "We congratulate Wells Fargo for its pioneering approach and innovation in providing Talking ATMs that benefit both the blindness community and all Iowans who have difficulty reading the ATM screen," said Feingold.
"We are committed to serving all of our customers, including those who are blind or have low vision," said H. Lynn Horak, Chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo Bank Iowa. "We were the first in the country to draw up a plan for developing and installing talking ATMs, and we look forward to offering this enhanced ATM access to our vision impaired customers in Iowa."
The Iowa Council of the United Blind is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, representing blind persons across the state of Iowa. The Council advocates for the well being of blind Iowans in areas including accessible ATMs, quality rehabilitation programs, accessible computer environments and more. The Iowa Council of the United Blind can be reached at www.acb.org/iowa.
The Utah Council of the Blind (UCB) is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, representing blind and visually impaired persons across the state of Utah. UCB works to elevate the economic, social and cultural levels of the blind and visually impaired of Utah. The Utah Council of the Blind can be reached at (801) 292-1156.
Wells Fargo Bank Iowa, N.A offers 75 banking locations and some 120 Wells Fargo ATMs across the state, serving 45 Iowa communities. Wells Fargo ranks first in Iowa deposit market share with $5.8 billion in deposits. In Utah, Wells Fargo has more than 150 banking locations and nearly 4,000 team members.
Wells Fargo & Company is a diversified financial services company with $308 billion in assets, banking, insurance, wealth management and estate planning, investments, mortgage and consumer finance from more than 5,400 stores and the Internet (www.wellsfargo.com) across North America and elsewhere internationally.
The announcement of products and services in this column is not an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its staff, or elected officials. Services and products are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products and services mentioned.
To submit an item for "Here and There," send an e-mail message to [email protected] You may call the ACB toll-free number, (800) 424-8666, and leave a message in mailbox 26. Please bear in mind that we need information two months ahead of actual publication dates.
At first glance it looks just like any other sexy calendar. All the models are stunning and confident as they pose for the cameras. But that's where the similarity ends. Just a small clue in each picture, such as a glimpse of a wheelchair or white cane reveals these models are disabled.
The idea is the brainchild of disabled TV presenter and model Lara Masters, who teamed up with web site youreable.com to produce the 2002 calendar. All profits go to The Red Cross Afghanistan Relief Fund. Lara says: "This has never been done before and we hope it will challenge people's perceptions. People shouldn't be surprised that disabled women can be sexy."
Of the six models with disabilities who posed for the calendar, Kate Crofts is featured in March. She is blind, 26 years old, and works as a senior research officer in local government. Kate is married and expecting her first child. She has cone rod dystrophy.
Kate says, "There is an impression that disability is ugly and, before they even meet you, people conjure up an unattractive image. They think disability is all medical and that you are going to be fragile and not like other women. Even people who think they are politically correct would draw the line at sleeping with someone disabled. They might have disabled friends, but wouldn't be sexually attracted to someone who was disabled. I started to lose my sight when I was seven and, at 19, I was diagnosed with cone rod dystrophy, meaning my sight is deteriorating and the prognosis is that I will lose it altogether."
The 2002 Youreable calendars cost $20, including postage. Visit the web site at www.youreable.com. You may send a postal order for $20 to Youreable Ltd., First Floor, 148 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3AT, UK.
Do you know where to find those blindness friendly files? Do you need a certain utility or game that works well with speech? Do you want to avoid the hassle of finding files and downloading them off the Internet?
Here is the first edition of the blind computer user's survival pack on one CD-Rom with more than 100 speech-accessible utilities, games, home management and accounting tools and much more. With a donation of $12.95 to the California Council of the Blind "Capitol Chapter," you will receive this CD-Rom. All shareware/freeware programs have been collected and organized by the operators of the former Global Blind Exchange (GBX). Along with the programs and utilities mentioned above, you will receive braille translation software and the talking checkbook program.
For more information about the CD, contact Dan Kysor at [email protected], or phone (916) 372-9869. To order, send check or money order to: CCB Capitol Chapter, 2884 Wiese Way, Sacramento, CA 95833. Sorry, we are not set up for credit card orders.
For a comprehensive guide to financial aid for higher education, send a blank e-mail message to [email protected] or [email protected]
This service is for people who cannot read Yellow Pages in a phone book. ACB members have a passcode for this free service. To access the Yellow Pages anywhere in the U.S., call toll-free (888) 654-1236, and use ACB's passcode which is 1222, or 1ACB. Interactive Voice Technology provides voice prompts for using the service.
For more information, call the toll-free number and say "demonstration." You will hear a complete description of the Audio Yellow Pages service. To speak with a person, call toll- free (800) 214-4842.
First Union Bank and Fleet Boston Financial Corporation now have talking ATMs in New Jersey. Check the locations below.
Ewing: College of New Jersey, Cn550 Hillwood Lakes
Fords: Fords Financial Center, 875 King Georges Rd.
Hamilton Square: Hamilton Square Financial Center, 1177 Route 33
Kendall Park: South Brunswick Financial Center, 3510 Rte 27
Lawrenceville: Lawrence Shopping Center , 2495 Brunswick Pike; Franklin Corner Road Financial Center, 130 Franklin Corner Rd.
Long Branch: Monmouth Medical Center, 300 Second Ave.; Ocean Boulevard Financial Center, 555 Ocean Blvd.
New Brunswick: Rutgers Cook Campus Center, 59 Biel Road
Newark: Bloomfield Avenue Financial Center, 420 Bloomfield Ave.; Branch Brook Financial Center, 164 Bloomfield Avenue; Broad Street Financial Center, 765 Broad Street; South Newark Financial Center, 380 Lyons Ave.
North Plainfield: North Plainfield Financial Center, 274 Somerset St.
Oakhurst: Oakhurst Financial Center, 221 Monmouth Rd.
Oceanport: St. Barnabas Health Care, 2 Crescent Place
Riverside: Riverside Financial Center, 39 Scott Street
Robbinsville: Robbinsville Financial Center, 12 N. Main St.
Sewell: Washington Township Financial Center, 505 Hurfville Crosskeys
Toms River: Community Medical Center, 20 Hospital Drive
Trenton: Chambersburg Financial Center, 1121 S. Broad St.; Villa Park Financial Center, 1300 Hamilton Ave.; Brunswick Avenue Financial Center, 891 Brunswick Ave.; Hamilton Ave. Financial Center, 534 Hamilton Ave.; Ewing Financial Center, 1488 Pennington Rd. & Olden Ave.
Warren: Warren Financial Center, 112 Mountain Blvd.
Wenonah: Wenonah Financial Center, Mantua Ave. & Woodbury
West Long Branch: Monmouth University, 400 Cedar Avenue; West Long Financial Center, 167 Locust Ave.
West Trenton: Scotch Road, 370 Scotch Rd.
Atlantic City: Atlantic City Medical Center, Michigan & Pacific Avenues
Cape May: Victorian Shopping Center
Fort Lee: Linwood Plaza, 154-156 Linwood Plaza
Hackensack: Riverside Square Mall, 1 Riverside Square
Hamilton Square: Shoprite - Hamilton, 1225 Route 33
Hoboken: 2nd & Hudson
Jersey City: Bankers' Trust Harborside #2, 34 Exchange Pl.
Trenton: North Hermitage, 222 N. Hermitage Ave.
New Brunswick: Saint Peters Hospital, 245 Easton Ave.; 410 George Street
Newark: Penn Station, 2 Penn Plaza #2
Pennington: Shoprite - Pennington, 2555 Pennington Road
Princeton: Princeton Marketfair, 3535 U.S. Route 1
Hooleon Corporation sells large print and braille computer keyboards and self-adhesive labels in braille or large print. Self-adhesive labels in braille or large print cost $19.95 per set. There is a color choice for the large print labels of black letters on ivory, white letters on black, or black letters on yellow. Already adapted large keyboards are $119.95 and braille ready keyboards are $64.95. For more information or a free sample pack, call toll-free (800) 937-1337, or write to Hooleon Corporation, 417A South 6th St., Cottonwood, AZ 86326, phone (928) 634-7515, fax (928) 634-4620, e-mail [email protected]
Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." This appears to be the motto for the Campanian Society, Inc., a travel service that specializes in travel programs for people who are blind or visually impaired. Travel programs are designed to meet the unique needs of travelers with low vision or no vision. The Campanian Society strives to provide a rich educational experience unavailable on most vision-oriented trips. Each travel program offers opportunities for tactile experiences and hands-on encounters. On-site lectures, readings and audio-description combine with music to enhance the total sensory and intellectual enjoyment. Tours for 2002 are as follows:
Tactile Washington - April 6-11, 2002
Discovering Eastern Long Island - May 6-9, 2002
Minneapolis & St. Paul - May 28-June 4, 2002
Champlain Canal Cruise - July 5-8, 2002
Philadelphia & Hershey - July 27-August 4, 2002
Hawaii - October 8-16, 2002
Hawaii Extension - October 16 - 21, 2002
Boston - Tentatively scheduled for September 2002
For more information, contact Robert M. Wilhelm, The Campanian Society, Inc., Box 167, Oxford, OH 45056, phone (513) 524-4846, fax (513) 523-0276, e-mail [email protected], web site http://www.campanian.org.
ACB Radio provides free announcement advertising for non- profit organizations. To have your announcement advertised, send an e-mail message with your brief message to [email protected]
FOR SALE: Braille 'n Speak 2000. Asking $600. If interested, call 1-866-370-2100.
FOR SALE: Diabetes Accu-Chek glucose meter with Voicemate, which also reads insulin bottles if needed. Complete kit in box with cassette instructions, user's manual, power supply, softclix, box of 100 lancets and 100 test strips. $120 or best offer. Call Claudia at (760) 741-6503.
FOR SALE: Two DECTalk Express external synthesizers with all accessories. One has never been used and the other only occasionally. Asking $500 or best offer for each. For more information, please contact the Mid-Tennessee Council of the Blind at (615) 883-6946 or e-mail Kathy at [email protected]
FOR SALE: Smartview CCTV with stand. Only been used 3 hours. Contact Helen Porteous via e-mail at [email protected]
FOR SALE: Alva 280 80-cell braille display, $3,000. In excellent condition; comes with carrying case. Braille writer, recently cleaned and serviced, $300. Artic Transtype, notetaker with speech output, used little, $650. Artic Squirt, notetaker with speech output, $400. Index Baxic/S braille printer, $700. This unit has been used very little; requires set-up. Thiel high production braille printer, $6,000. Will pay shipping on all items except the Thiel and the braille display. Please contact Jill at (215) 487-0347 before 10 p.m. Eastern time, or send e- mail to [email protected]
FOR SALE: Interpoint Porta-Thiel Embosser in excellent condition, hardly used. Includes: braille and print manuals, serial and parallel cables, one box of 11x 11 1/2 inch tractor feed computer paper (1000 sheets). Also includes Megadots 2.0 dated January 13, 1999. Braille supplement, print and disk manuals come with the package. Asking price: $2,500. Shipping and handling are included. Artic Transtype 2000, virtually brand new (seldom used). Purchased after the ACB convention in Louisville, Ky. Includes braille, disk, and print manuals, charging pod, 2 battery packs, and cassette tape instructions. Also comes with carrying case. Great for organizing your daily activities and appointments. Asking price: $995. Shipping and handling included. For any information, contact Cindy or Norm Banta at 674 Center St., Manchester, CT 06040-2701; phone (860) 643-4115, or e-mail [email protected] Our answering machine is always on. Please leave a complete message so that we may better serve you.
FOR SALE: IBM computer, printer, JAWS, ZoomText. Asking $1,000. Contact Rosemir at (925) 586-5211.
FOR SALE: Optacon model R1D. Asking $2,000 (negotiable). Contact Al Thompson Jr. at (203) 333-1623.
FOR SALE OR TRADE: OutSpoken Screen Reader for the MAC version 9 (this is the latest version), $400. Maybe you would trade a copy of Window-Eyes for the PC, latest version of course, for this copy of OutSpoken? Contact Dick Chrisman at (480) 483- 6584, or by e-mail at [email protected]
WANTED: Volume 4 in the Old Testament and Volume 5 in the New Testament produced in Braille by Braille Institute for its 20- volume set. I loaned my set out and it came back minus two volumes. I would like to replace them rather than replace the set. Also looking for braille games: Monopoly Jr. and a Scrabble set to play with my daughter. Also looking for a concertina in playable condition. Concertinas are multi-sided, hand-held accordion-sounding musical instruments. I am looking for an Anglo, 20 or 30 and a Crane or Triumph Duet which the Salvation Army used to issue. Contact Cheree Heppe via e-mail at [email protected]
WANTED: Talking Sharp calculator with date and time in good condition. Please contact Joe Dunham via e-mail, [email protected]
WANTED: Epson model BX35 daisy wheel printer and daisy wheels if available. Please contact Carla Hayes at (724) 941-8184, or write her at 230 Robin Hood Lane, McMurray, PA 15317, or e-mail her at [email protected]
WANTED: Large print typewriter -- Canon Typestar 220 -- for my son. They stopped making them a couple of years ago. Contact Janet Tancora by e-mail at [email protected]
WANTED TO TRADE: I have a Radio Shack Optimus karaoke machine, double cassette, with no radio, in good condition. Would like to trade for a good York Singalodeon double cassette with AM/FM radio, two microphones, a headphone jack, all cords etc. Contact Walter Chavira at (661) 833-3663, or via e-mail at [email protected]
I belong to several E-Voice blind chat groups and I have noticed an attitude harbored by a number of participants that disturbs me as a person who was fully sighted well into my adulthood. I am talking about an attitude of us-vs.-them which many people who are blind seem to have and to bring out whenever they encounter one of the "them," i.e., a member of the sighted population. For these people, unsolicited assistance offered by a sighted person is considered highly offensive and is interpreted as an indication that the sighted person considers the blind individual to be helpless, less than a whole person, and incapable of functioning independently. For those blind individuals who think that way, an angry response to an offer of assistance, with comments such as "No, I don't need your help. I didn't ask for your help. What makes you think I need your help? Don't you think I can manage on my own?" seems to me to be quite inappropriate.
You know, we as blind people expect to be treated with cordiality, sensitivity and respect, and sighted people have a right to those expectations as well. There are two acceptable ways to respond to an unsolicited offer of assistance. One is, "Yes, thank you, I'd appreciate that" and the other is "No, I can manage, but thank you for asking."
On one of my E-Voice blind chat groups, a young lady posted a message with great glee and an "I got her" chuckle. She had gone into a restaurant by herself and ordered a meal, and when it arrived, a well-intentioned waitress quietly whispered to her that her chicken was at 12 o'clock, her potatoes at 3 o'clock, etc. So offended was the blind young lady that as the waitress was talking, she turned her dish round and round, thereby displacing the clock reference. The waitress left and the blind young lady thought she had shown her. And she had. And what she had shown her was that she should never again offer assistance to a blind person.
I have never seen any behavior that extreme or inappropriate in our group, but I have seen things that verge on being impolite responses, such as an exasperated, "No, I can do this myself!" in response to someone offering to help an individual into a van. I do not believe anyone is diminished by accepting a legitimate offer of help when the reality is that we probably don't need it. I do think we are diminished by being rude. A young man gleefully related a story about how he was walking down the street with his cane and a sighted man asked him how he managed to walk. And he sarcastically replied, "Well, I put one foot down, and then I put the other foot down and so on." Now perhaps the sighted man was being a jerk, but perhaps he really wanted to know how the blind individual got where he needed to go, in which case a response explaining the use of canes, a dog guide, or other techniques would have informed and educated the sighted man. I believe we need to allow sighted people to ask us how we do things. And I also believe that when we decline an offer of assistance, it is our responsibility to do it in such a way that the person offering help will feel comfortable offering assistance to another blind person -- who may really need and want it.
During the past nine years I have become legally blind, and I've discovered that the needs of the blind community differ greatly from other disabled groups, though the needs of one group do not diminish the needs of another.
When my visual impairment became significant, I thought, "I'm becoming part of an unseen minority, neither seeing nor being seen" -- in other words, someone easily ignored. Later, I was surprised to discover an excellent work written by a blind woman entitled "The Unseen Minority." Others, it seemed, have shared my experience and felt the same way; I had not coined the phrase.
There is a certain medieval superstitious aura surrounding blindness, as if it's a contagious agent to be avoided. We are often aware that people turn away from us not because of overwhelming compassion but rather because of fear of association. If we have lost our vision, maybe they too could lose theirs. This phenomenon, at least in part, derives from ancient punishments such as branding or leaving visible marks on the body as a sign of societal or divine retribution for crimes or transgressions committed -- a perception further reinforced by tragic figures like Oedipus Rex whose blindness becomes a metaphor for calamity. The solution is not to censor great works of literature, but to confront the fear that lies deep within the human psyche.
It is interesting to note that while Christopher Reeve is an outstanding spokesman for people with spinal cord injuries and has provided an incomparable service to that community to further the cause of accelerated medical research, severely visually impaired individuals with celebrity are reluctant, for whatever reasons, to become advocates on our behalf. As Christopher Reeve demonstrates, the value of a person in a wheelchair remains intact despite being unable to walk. Similarly, we of the blind and sight-impaired community would benefit from a high profile advocate willing to solicit congressional support and public recognition to address our needs and convey our worth as human beings, blindness or vision loss notwithstanding.
Furthermore, the solutions to our problems are not easy. Only a very small percentage of blind people read braille. For many of those who are adventitiously blind, lessened tactile sensitivity is also an obstacle to learning braille. A white cane cannot traverse every inch of ground, and it is very easy to stumble over the smallest of objects. Nor does a cane help with overhead obstacles, such as tree branches, protruding architectural structures, or extended mirrors on vehicles. A guide dog, while extremely helpful and an excellent companion after extensive mutual training, cannot be counted on to reach an unfamiliar destination and return to the original point of departure.
While I'd be very much in favor of language which doesn't single us out as "different" and contains an element of compassion as opposed to pity, many times it seems as though society grows more antagonistic when constrained by correct terminology. If the language is so sanitized that it causes further marginalization and a rationalized view of us as individuals devoid of any emotion except hypersensitivity, then there is little benefit. Semantics is a field which requires much work in relation to the disabled community. Somehow we must strive to combine language and images which communicate our intrinsic worth.
There is an ongoing movement to diminish the effectiveness of the ADA which should engender a tremendous response among the disabled. We must become politically involved if we are to determine our own destiny. I can tell you from numerous personal experiences that for every lawsuit filed, there are countless legitimate grievances which remain unaddressed and cause disabled people to further isolate themselves into seclusion.
Facing the world on a daily basis requires tremendous courage. We are attempting to function in an environment structured for what we formerly were (or perhaps weren't), not as we presently are, and too few are willing to allow us a few extra moments to acclimate ourselves to stairways, indistinguishable faces, the noises of moving traffic, and for many of us, a whirl of flashing images and optical illusions. We are not unreasonable; we are just asking society to demonstrate its humanity.
James Ito doesn't back down from challenges, particularly where his job is concerned.
That's why Ito, Milwaukee's traffic and lighting design engineer, was the first to accept a challenge while attending a recent intersection safety workshop.
"I didn't expect anyone to take me up on my challenge," said Larisa DeZayas, an instructor with the Badger Association of the Blind.
DeZayas issued a challenge to sighted workshop participants to cross the street -- while blindfolded -- at some of the area's more dangerous intersections.
"The streets and sidewalks are becoming more complex" for those who are blind to navigate, said DeZayas, who teaches them how to travel. "There is more of a focus on the driver end of things and less on the pedestrians."
Four Milwaukee intersections -- N. 54th and W. State streets, N. Hawley Road and W. Wells St., N. Hawley Road and W. Wisconsin Ave., and N. 33rd and W. Vliet streets -- now have audible signals that help notify blind people when a light turns green and it is safe to cross the street. It's Ito's job to research whether other intersections should have the audible signals.
So off Ito and DeZayas went, tackling lesser congested areas first and building up to the granddaddy of intersections: N. Mayfair Road and W. North Ave. at the height of the holiday shopping season.
"I lay awake from 1 to 2 a.m. this morning and thought, 'Gee, I wonder if this is going to be the day when someone runs me over,'" Ito jokingly said while placing a bright yellow blindfold across his eyes and popping his white guide cane into place.
Standing in place for a moment, Ito listened for DeZayas' marching orders.
Moving back and forth, Ito's cane clicked across the street into the right-turn bypass island. Not too bad, he thought. He waited and listened. Ears are a blind person's eyes.
Behind him, traffic zoomed by, followed by a lull. He started again, click, click, click.
Passing the first three lanes of the six-lane highway, he waited again. This time, though, he was more tentative. He paused before taking a step. Then he went. Click, click, click. He made it, but barely.
Ito said the lessons he learned wouldn't be taken lightly. "The goal of this experience was to give me an appreciation of the challenges people who are blind are confronted with when they choose mobility and walk the city streets or use the bus," Ito said. "I wanted to develop a sense. I've gotten that."
Well, folks, convention time is getting closer. Are you ready? The convention will be held from Saturday, June 29 through Saturday, July 6, in the Adam's Mark Hotel, which is located at 2900 Briarpark Drive (at Westheimer Road) in West Houston.
The Adam's Mark is a big hotel with 600 rooms, which can be reserved for $65 per night plus tax for single and double, $75 per night plus tax for triple and quad. You can call, toll free, for reservations at (800) 436-2326 or visit them on the world wide web at: http://www.adamsmark.com/houston/index.htm. Alternatively, you can call the hotel directly at (713) 978-7400 or fax them at (713) 735-2727.
The Hilton Hotel diagonally across the street from the Adam's Mark is the overflow hotel. Room rates at the Hilton are $65 per night plus tax. The phone number is (713) 974-1000.
Exhibits, most meetings, and other functions of the convention will take place at the Adam's Mark. However, since meeting space is limited, some activities may take place at the Hilton. The walking distance between the hotels is about a block and a half, and shuttles will operate between the two hotels.
Cindy Burgett will once again run the Youth Activity Center (YAC). This new venture was born at the Des Moines convention and Cindy is anticipating increased participation as this program catches on in popularity. The children do all sorts of crafts, games and activities. So yes, you can bring the kids to convention!
Plans for a variety of tours are well under way. There will be tours to Galveston, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of Fine Arts, NASA, a cowboy ranch and a number of city tours. See Mike Hoenig's articles in previous issues for more details.
Stay tuned to future issues of the Forum for more information on programs and tours at the Houston convention!
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