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The American Council of the Blind is a membership organization made up of more than 70 state and special-interest affiliates. To join, visit the ACB web site and fill out the application form, or contact the national office at the number listed above.
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.
Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about the many discussions we all become involved in concerning whether there are serious differences between the ACB and the NFB. Often, the discussions end with a question: Why can't we just work together for the common good? While space does not allow for a comprehensive answer to these questions, I thought I might write down a few thoughts for folks to consider.
First we need to appreciate the reality that ACB and NFB are both consumer organizations that evolved from the original National Federation of the Blind. This is important because it means that we share a common set of roots. There are many similarities between the two organizations which should be acknowledged and honored because both of our groups exist to advance the best interests of our national blindness community through what we have come to call the organized blind movement. In this respect we are united as brothers and sisters in our common experience of blindness and our dedication to uphold the well-being of blind people through supporting important values such as our rights to economic opportunity, specialized services that address our unique needs, braille literacy, equal voting rights, non-discrimination protections and many other goals where both organizations believe our common purposes must be realized.
Just as Democrats and Republicans -- albeit both loyal Americans -- differ in many respects, both the ACB and the NFB have parted company in ways that are ideologically important to each organization. The fact that ACB has adopted a number of serious philosophical and operational differences from the Federation does not necessarily mean that we don't appreciate the sincerity or rights of loyal Federationists to hold fast to their belief system. Indeed, ACB by its own philosophical tenets is compelled to afford all blind people the absolute right to know about and choose whatever path they deem appropriate for themselves. Be this as it may, there are substantive and serious differences between ACB and NFB which define real choices for blind people interested in our movement.
We often hear that the ACB has not really articulated a philosophy of blindness in the same way that the Federation has. This is true to the extent that ACB philosophy is much more fluid and dynamic because it is under constant change. This fluidity results from the diversity of our membership , and our collective power to transform our previous thinking or make adjustments in strategic course.
Some of ACB's philosophical views are pretty basic, such as it is OK to be blind, and we as blind people have a right to access information through alternate formats. Other positions of ACB, such as our beliefs about detectable warnings, descriptive video, and accessible pedestrian signalization, are products of a clearer difference in the two organizational philosophies where ACB takes the approach that the built environment is as much obliged to facilitate its use by blind folks as it is for those who are sighted. Even beyond these considerations, ACB is constantly engaged in internal dialogue about many issues, and we view this as a strength of democracy rather than a sign of indecision. Let's take a closer look.
First and foremost there is the notion that the individual blind person best represents his or her understanding of his or her own blindness and is a valuable resource to the rest of us in gaining a common and more enlightened view. So rather than having an over-arching philosophical set of guidelines from which we distill positions, we construct our philosophy from what we hear from our members as individuals and ultimately as groups shaped by special interest or common ideas. This style of making policy does not often lend itself to quick or efficient organization-wide decision- making, but it does add real substance to the positions we take as credible extensions of what our membership wants and needs. Even after the smoke clears away from the discussions we often hold, there is always an opportunity for folks to introduce new points of view into a discussion or reinforce those decisions they may have already made in the past.
Flowing from the above is the positive pragmatism of ACB philosophy. A position taken in 1969, for example, may not survive scrutiny in the world of 2002. As the larger social system changes, there may well be a need for ACB to take different positions than we might have in the past. Likewise, technology or other dynamics of the modern world may make something possible that was never before thought to be practical. So the day-to-day experience of blindness in the contemporary world is a critical piece of ACB's philosophical orientation and a powerful element of why our positions are on balance, consistently relevant to the world in which we live.
Another dynamic of ACB philosophy is our distrust of authority. While we have made adjustments to allow for a national office to represent our interests and provide staff support to organizational goals, we have never allowed any individual or group of individuals to have so much control over organizational activities that they pose a threat to the supremacy of our membership. This is evidenced in our term limits for officers and board members, our transfer and separation of control over published information to an elected board of publications, our confederation of affiliates who are members by their choice while remaining in many ways independent of the national organization, and our constitutional limits on the possession of power by any person or group.
Our separation of powers is much like the notion of the primacy of the individual member. It is a safeguard against autocracy and monolithic thinking and, most important, a mechanism for diverse points of view to contribute to a final position that creates a mighty river of progress from the many streams which support it.
Yet another philosophical difference is in our view that consumerism is just that. We believe that providing an array of blindness-related services -- for a fee or through governmental grants -- creates a temptation to serve the organizational interests rather than those of consumers. Such a temptation is hard to resist or control. Even when done right, today's good service can still become tomorrow's nightmare when the provider cannot help but have to consider its own organizational interests or philosophically exclusionary rules, notwithstanding the fact that the provider may have started out as a consumer movement. Take, for example, the NFB rehabilitation centers. As correct as their point of view may be when applied to various situations, there is little or no room for other points of view that may well serve a broader range of consumers in a more productive fashion. Here questions concerning, for example, the viability of making folks wear sleep shades, discouraging guide dog users from using their dogs, and employing mobility instructors who may or may not be qualified in the view of the beholder, are just a few examples of where restrictive or unilateral philosophical business practices and consumerism may well clash. Moreover, if centers are to be funded by public money, then how can a consumer organization remain exclusively true to its beliefs when it must rely on those funds for the survival of its business enterprise?
What could such a business do when conflict arises? Here we confront the three-sided coin. It could ignore competing consumer points of view under a premise of holding onto its own philosophy, or dilute its own philosophical purity by offering services or approaches inconsistent with its own stated positions, or refer students to another facility where a different approach exists. The last option seems to be the most logical, but, in reality, it is the least likely to occur.
Moreover, an inherent conflict can arise from this very duality of purposes. For example, an ethical question surfaces when a consumer organization uses its advantageous position as an entity which claims to represent the views of consumers while simultaneously claiming to be the best option for providing rehabilitation services, to influence decisions so as to handicap other rehabilitation agencies who may be well qualified to provide effective rehabilitation services. Ethical questions are hard to ignore when one is confronted by a rehabilitation center that preaches the gospel of the consumer organization while simultaneously enhancing its own financial interests and perhaps recruiting new members to the organization.
The ACB solution to the above dilemma of on the one hand being a consumer organization wanting to advance its positions and on the other of being a provider supported by public dollars with a broader responsibility than it may care to operationalize, is to remain either a consumer organization or declare itself to be a provider and recuse itself from any advantage it would otherwise have as an organization of consumers. A bitter pill to swallow? Of course. In the end, consumers must have a full range of opportunities and knowledge about what kind of rehabilitation center they are considering without undue influence of any organized consumer group on them or the government relative to their ultimate choice.
Last in this series of considerations, there is another defining difference between ACB and NFB. It has to do with the organizations' expectations about the depth of each blind member's acceptance of organizational philosophy. ACB finds the assertion by the Federation that one must accept their philosophy not only intellectually, but emotionally as well, to be hazardous to the ultimate best interest of the individual consumer. This is because there is an intrinsic and potentially dangerous link between the emotional acceptance of a philosophy and the group from whence it came. Not only does potential disagreement with the philosophy create internal conflict for the individual which he or she may not be prepared to process, but such conflict can also remove the person from the source of the philosophy and his or her emotional dependence on the organization. In effect, there is an inherent control mechanism which, whether intentional or not, creates an unholy reliance upon the organization that can work to the detriment of individual growth outside the framework of organizational membership. This idea of emotional acceptance of a philosophy is a double-edged sword. While much is to be gained from such acceptance, as in the case of subscribing to the golden rule, there is the chronic danger in a situation where an organization evangelizes even a positive philosophy, making the organization itself more important than the philosophical ends it originally sought. This is a primary reason for ACB's distrust of authority and our constant search for perfecting the democratic experience.
Still there is the open question of why can't the two organizations work together? As a matter of necessity and historical record, we actually have done so in various situations. There are also many times when we have not. Drawing again on the analogy to Republicans and Democrats, neither organization is bound to endorse the platform of the other, yet both must accept the burden of acting responsibly when there is a clear need to address a commonly held position. Still there remains the problem of perception that the organizations are sometimes less helpful to the common good than we should be.
Intrinsic to this issue is the logical question of what defines the common good? The answer by inference gives rise to an expectation that there follows a mutual responsibility on the part of the two organizations to cooperate. It is therefore imperative that both organizations maintain a level of communication that allows for reaching mutual agreement on what is in the larger interest of the blindness community and how we both might work on those issues. Certainly there will be differences in how we desire to approach the issues which will also impact upon the extent to which we can work together. Let me give one example of this.
Both organizations agree that blind people need the freedom to move about the environment as much as any other person in our society. Yet the Federation takes the approach that sufficient training in mobility addresses the majority of circumstances involving safe personal travel, while ACB believes there are environmental reasons why this training in itself is insufficient to maintain safe travel for the broad range of blind people who wish to do so. So ACB has worked to get a better designed pedestrian environment, including detectable warnings, automated stop announcement systems, and accessible traffic signals, while the Federation has objected in many cases to this approach in favor of more and better mobility training. On balance, both approaches have their merits. ACB would agree that a solid foundation in travel skills is a good thing and can only help a person to move about. Yet exclusive reliance upon this strategy exposes blind folks to risks that are both numerous and deadly. Hence, even though we agree on the basic need, there is a difference in approach that does not allow for the simple notion of joint action to occur.
Even as the above is true, improved communications between the two organizations to avoid public disagreements when possible, to articulate our positions in a positive frame, and to actually engage in joint effort when that can be done is a goal well worth accomplishing. At least in this framework, the success of both approaches can be realized in the context of what ultimately makes the most sense, rather than the results of a sometimes political battle. ACB stands ready to engage in dialogue at any time toward these ends.
In conclusion to this all-too-short thought piece on ACB and NFB, we must at least acknowledge between the two organizations that we have much in common, we have many disagreements, and in the great majority of cases, one does not have to be wrong for the other to be right. It truly is a matter of choice for consumers to exercise. Our disagreements will often be heated but when the energy that fuels that heat is from a sincere and a good faith commitment to the advancement of blind people, then we have much more to celebrate than to worry about.
The American Council of the Blind will take the necessary actions to deal with issues such as are represented elsewhere in this issue of "The Braille Forum," but let there be no mistake that our actions are as protective of the Federation as they are of ourselves. Only through a mutual commitment to consumerism can each of us, the Federation and the Council, prosper separately and together.
Unsung heroes. It's a term we've heard a lot, especially in the months since September 11. And while it probably gets overused, it is true that every organization, especially during its formative years, owes a great debt to those who work behind the scenes, giving tirelessly of their time, their energy and their talent but never wanting to be in the spotlight.
One such person for ACB was Aileen McDaniel, who died on May 15, 2002 at the age of 89. Yes, Aileen was married to ACB founding father Durward McDaniel. And while she had a career of her own, she also was a tireless volunteer, giving much of that effort to ACB and, even before then, to the work of the "reformers" in those years leading up to the formation of ACB. M.J. Schmitt remembered those days in a tribute that she wrote to Aileen for the "Vendorscope" after Durward's death: "During the days of the Free Press Association and the formation of the American Council of the Blind she [Aileen] worked tirelessly. There was no 'preferred medium' in those days -- whether 12 p.m. or 12 a.m., 4 p.m. or 4 a.m., Aileen's calm, usually cheerful voice could be heard reading us anything and everything we needed to hear, to keep the troops updated and the wheels turning."
Aileen was a bundle of contradictions. Married all those years to a blind man and yet she never learned Braille and never had a driver's license. But in so many ways, they were a perfect match. Those who knew Durward know that there was no distinction between "work life" and "personal life." He lived and breathed ACB. And Aileen lived and breathed it with him. But she had her own life and her own interests; she was always absorbed in a good book and she seemed never to complain about or resent Durward's many travels, especially during those early years of organizing and recruiting new members into the newly formed ACB. During one of ACB's financially leaner periods, she even retired from her second career and volunteered full-time as office manager in the ACB Washington office.
Aileen and Durward were as unsentimental a pair as you would ever meet. There were never any public displays of affection and neither one was much for "romance," but their devotion to each other came through loud and clear. And their devotion to ACB is a legacy for which we all can be most grateful.
Allen Jenkins Jr. was born April 11, 1922 in Abilene, Texas. When he was eight years old he was injured in a fall from the rafters of a shack. He lost the use of one eye immediately, and as a result of a condition called sympathetic ophthalmia, he became completely blind over the course of the next two years. Allen was a great storyteller all of his life and everyone marveled at how he could remember so many limericks and jokes.
One of the stories Allen most enjoyed telling was about when he had been sent to the school for the blind in Texas at the age of 10: He became bored and wanted to be back home with his family, so he hitchhiked 400 miles all by himself and went back home. He had a strong preference for milking cows and doing other chores to help his family on their dairy farm over the routine at the school. A woman who lived in a town close by taught him braille. He graduated from Abilene Christian College Demonstration High School in 1941 and moved with his family to California shortly after that. He attended Santa Rosa Junior College and then transferred to UC Berkeley. He graduated in 1946 with a degree in political science.
Then, Allen became a rehabilitation counselor for the state of California. I met Allen when I went to apply for a job. For many years thereafter, Allen enjoyed telling the story about how I presented myself in his office and told him that I had to have a job that day. He said I was the only person who ever told him that I should be easy to train because I didn't know how to do anything. I assured him that if there were any blind people who could do a job, I could too. He got me my first job which was as a switchboard operator. This was quite an accomplishment since I had never, ever seen a switchboard before my first day on that job!
After a few years as a counselor, Allen and the California Council of the Blind (CCB) worked to get an Orientation Center for the Blind (OCB) established in California. He became the administrator in 1951 and served as executive director of the center for 42 years. During that time more than 50 percent of the students who attended the Orientation Center for the Blind left the school and got jobs in many fields.
Allen was a great role model for all the people for whom he found employment and for those who attended OCB. He did all of the electrical work in his own home and the plumbing. He encouraged his students to learn to use power saws and other kinds of equipment. He took an interest in his clients. Allen and Lee Jenkins were married for 56 years.
In 1949, when I became his client, I found myself with no place to live and no money. He and Lee took me in for several months. Allen had quit law school to help put Lee through medical school and things were financially kind of tough around their house. When I moved in they had two dinner plates and had to buy another one for me. Fifty years later when I attended their anniversary party I brought a beautifully constructed wedding gift. In the box, I had put a dozen paper plates. I included a note which said, "In case I should come home again." Both Lee and Allen really enjoyed that and everyone laughed a lot. This became another story Allen liked to pass along.
Allen was devoted to Dr. Newell Perry and to Dr. Jacobus TenBroek. When the civil war came about, he stayed with CCB and the Federation. When the time came to reunite here in California, he worked closely with Durward K. McDaniel to bring everybody back together.
Although Allen did not get to follow his dream and graduate from law school, he loved the law. He wrote many laws which helped improve the lives of blind and visually impaired Californians. Many years ago, he wrote the first law for disabled people other than blind and visually impaired in California.
He was very proud when his daughter Janice Pavese earned a law degree and became a very successful attorney. He was especially pleased when she represented people who were blind. Pavese even took one case, which she argued on behalf of a blind vendor, all the way to the United States Supreme Court -- and she won. Allen's daughter has said that she could never have made it through law school without the support of her dad.
The things most of us will remember about Allen were his love of people and his willingness to help everyone. He felt that if you were blind or visually impaired and you wanted to do a job, it wouldn't be enough for you to simply show up and put in a "standard" work day. You had to excel in what you were doing. He set an example for all of us. I know I will never forget him and the way he helped me direct my own life in a positive direction.
Allen's wife Leonie died in the year 2000. He is survived by four daughters, Janice Pavese of Oakland; Jocelyn Miner of San Francisco; Jessica Logan of Granger, Ind. and Jennifer Clark of San Francisco; and a son, Allen Jenkins III of Richmond, Calif.
A memorial service for Allen will be held July 13, 2002 at 2 p.m. at the Orientation Center for the Blind, 400 Adams Street in Albany, Calif. Memorial contributions may be made to the Allen Jenkins Jr. Scholarship Fund, California Council of the Blind, 578 B Street, Hayward, CA 94541; or to the Arts and Science Program at the School of the Madeleine, 1225 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94709.
There have been a number of exciting developments on the legislative and advocacy fronts during the last few months. Each of these has the potential to greatly increase access options for people who are blind and visually impaired. Therefore, I want to give you an update on what's been happening.
First of all, we have an accessible textbook bill! As many of you know, ACB has worked for more than two years, in partnership with the Association of American Publishers and other blindness organizations, to craft a bill which would provide a workable means by which blind and other print disabled students in elementary and secondary schools across the country could be assured of having their textbooks at the same time their sighted peers receive theirs. The result was the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of 2002. The bill was introduced in both houses of Congress on April 24, 2002, with bipartisan support. The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Christopher Dodd (D-Ct.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Their bill number is S2246. The House bill was introduced by Reps. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) and George Miller (D-Calif.). The House bill number is HR4582.
This bill is groundbreaking for a number of reasons. First, it provides for the establishment of a uniform national file format, which textbook publishers will use when providing educational agencies with copies of textbook files for production in alternate formats. Second, it requires states to establish plans by which they will insure that those files will be requested and the accessible books provided to students in a timely manner. Third, it provides for the establishment of a national repository of textbook files provided by publishers, so that educational agencies and producers of alternate format textbooks can access those files more quickly and use them to provide books to their students. It also provides grants to help production centers and educational agencies build their capacity to comply with the other provisions of the bill. Finally, this bill is significant because of the broad base of support it has. All of the major blindness organizations, as well as braille and recorded book producers, special education entities and textbook publishers, had a hand in crafting the bill and are now working diligently for its passage.
We are hoping you will join us in supporting these efforts. Our goal is to get the Instructional Materials Act passed by both houses of Congress and on the president's desk before the 2002 elections in November. Congressional support is growing, but has not yet reached a level where we can be assured of the bill's passage. Please contact your senators and congress members. Ask them if they have co-sponsored the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of 2002 yet, and if not, urge them to do so. This is an issue where support from constituents will carry a lot of weight, as many members of Congress are unfamiliar with the magnitude of the difficulties students experience while trying to get timely access to instructional materials.
Moving on to the judicial arena, ACB has resurrected another longstanding access issue. With the aid of a Washington attorney, Jeff Lovitky, ACB, along with two individual ACB members, has filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Treasurer of the U.S. for violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by refusing to design paper currency in a manner that makes it identifiable by, and therefore accessible to, people who are blind and visually impaired. The suit seeks a declaration that these entities have violated federal law by failing to design paper currency in a manner that allows independent identification of denominations by people who are blind and visually impaired. It also asks the court to grant an injunction requiring that these entities produce accessible paper currency.
The complaint sets forth a number of options that could make paper currency more accessible, including making each denomination a different size and color, incorporating larger high contrast denomination numerals into bills and including braille as well as large print denomination numerals on bills. It is our hope that this litigation will provide a basis for dialogue on these issues. To date, Treasury Department officials have been unwilling to seriously address the accessibility concerns of blind and visually impaired Americans. This is unfortunate, since they have had several opportunities to do so. In 1995, the Department of the Treasury went so far as to commission a study by the National Academy of Sciences to determine what could be done to make paper money more accessible to people with visual impairments. The National Academy of Sciences convened a panel of experts, which issued a report contending that there were several options available to Treasury officials, all of which could be implemented within three years using currently available technology. These options are similar to those outlined in ACB's complaint. However, Treasury officials have apparently not chosen to act on the recommendations contained in the report they commissioned. It is true that the most recent redesign of some bills has incorporated a larger denomination numeral, which was meant to aid users with low vision, as recommended in the report. However, that numeral is in only one corner and does not contrast sufficiently from the rest of the printing on the bill, so it is still quite difficult for many people to see.
In the meantime, Treasury officials are about to unveil yet another redesign of paper currency. Newly redesigned bills are planned for next year in an effort to combat counterfeiting. It is our hope that we can affect this process by calling attention to the fact that individuals throughout the country have experienced fraud of a sort that Treasury officials have refused to acknowledge. The inability to independently identify one's own money puts a blind or visually impaired person in a position where he or she can be taken advantage of by others who are tempted by opportunities for dishonest gain.
We will keep you informed as this matter develops. We hope that our lawsuit will provide the impetus for the creation of a solution that will enhance the accessibility of another kind of transaction that is key to our full and independent participation in the economic lives of our families, communities, and nation.
Speaking of participation in the life of our communities and nation, we are looking forward to some significant progress in access to the secret ballot! Election reform bills have passed both houses of Congress. Both bills contain provisions related to increasing access to the voting process for people with disabilities. However, the bill passed by the Senate contains stronger accessibility provisions, which would apply nationwide beginning in 2006. The House bill leaves it to each state to determine how to provide accessible voting to its voters with disabilities, and does not give the states a time frame within which to accomplish this. ACB has joined with other disability and civil rights groups in lobbying members of the conference committee that has been appointed to craft a compromise bill. We have urged them to insure that meaningful accessibility provisions, specifically those in the Senate bill, are included in the final bill. We hope individuals will contact their senators and representatives on this important issue. We need individuals to let their elected officials know they support meaningful provisions that will insure that people with disabilities will be able to vote privately and independently, regardless of which state or community they live in, and to encourage them to pass this concern on to their colleagues on the conference committee.
No matter which provisions are included in the final election reform bill, there will still be a lot of work for us to do in order to insure that local elections officials will take steps to insure us greater access to the vote. In an effort to help you with that work, ACB is about to release an accessible voting handbook. Pay close attention to "The Braille Forum" and ACB's web site (http://www.acb.org) for further information about this publication. It will contain very practical information, as well as tips on how to apply it in your own communities. We hope to make the guide available very soon!
In the meantime, stay involved and keep in touch. We'll do our best to keep you informed periodically, but if we leave something out that you want to know about, feel free to contact the ACB national office and ask.
(Editor's Note: The report which is presented below serves several purposes. First of all, Mr. Godino wrote the report to present to members of the ACB of New York, concerning a trip he took with a number of teenagers to the NFB Center for the Blind. Godino says, "The members of our state affiliate needed to know just what goes on on these New York Commission for the Blind- sponsored field trips, so that we have a basis for taking any necessary action if the Commission attempts to use public monies to conduct similar excursions in the future."
ACB Executive Director Charlie Crawford and Mike Godino took copies of the report with them when they met with New York's Commissioner, Tom Robertson, on May 23. Robertson said he would take the information under advisement.
Discussions with the Commissioner were frank. At this writing, ACBNY still awaits a concrete response from the Commissioner.) The Report
While many ACB leaders were spending an energizing weekend at the Council's mid-year presidents' meeting in Houston, Tex., and others were checking out all the President's Day sales at the Wal- marts and K-Marts and shopping malls in their towns and cities, I was spending four days, along with 30 or so teenagers, cloistered at the NFB's Braille and Technology Center in Baltimore, Md., where the New York State Commission for the Blind had sent us to learn all we might need to know about the latest and greatest in assistive technology for people who are blind. Yes, here I was, after a lengthy drive down Highway 95 awaiting a long-anticipated rendezvous with my philosophical and technological destiny, Federation style.
How, you are probably asking, did this trip come to be, and why in the world had I asked -- chosen even -- to give up four days of my life to accompany a bunch of teenagers down the rather long pike to the fabled "Center for the Blind" on Johnson Street in Baltimore City? Let me explain.
Over the Martin Luther King long weekend of 2001, the New York Commission had sponsored a similar trip for high school students. The purpose of that trip, according to a parent who had called the American Council of the Blind of New York (ACBNY) to actually complain about what had happened in Baltimore, was to inform blind and visually impaired kids about various technologies that could assist them. The parent had called to ask ACBNY why her child had to join the National Federation of the Blind to receive services from the New York State Commission for the Blind. Surprised by such a peculiar question, we wondered too. We decided to ask the Commission. I called the Director, Tom Robertson, and asked why our state agency was sending children from New York to the NFB center, and he responded that the NFB had assembled the world's largest and most encompassing technology lab available to people who are blind or visually impaired.
Having no way to investigate what might or might not have happened on that trip in January 2001, because the parent was afraid of retribution if she lodged a formal complaint, and having no way to actually investigate the claim about the Federation's access to more technology than anyone else in the world, I asked Robertson if ACBNY might send a representative on the next such trip to the Center on Johnson Street.
Robertson agreed. When January rolled around, I contacted the Commission and reminded them of their promise, and a few days later I got a letter, addressed to trip participants. The letter said, among other things, such as what kind of clothing to bring, and who the chaperones would be, "You will have the opportunity to see the latest computer equipment at NFB and actually use it firsthand. We will also be going to Washington, D.C. during this trip. You will definitely have an exciting time."
On the morning of the 19th, I made my way into Brooklyn to meet the bus. There were more students than I had anticipated. The bus arrived, we loaded and were off shortly after 9 a.m. The bus ride was long, and by the time we got to the center around 2:00, we were all starving. We dropped off our bags in a conference room and were directed to the cafeteria.
NFB President Marc Maurer welcomed us to the center while we ate our lunch. He addressed us as though we were in boot camp. He told us about the rules, the locked and alarmed doors, the curfew. He emphasized that the doorbell is turned off at night, and he told us about the $10 fine for any spills on the carpet. After outlining all of the rules, Maurer turned and walked out of the room.
After lunch, we convened in a conference room for our first afternoon session. Maurer sat at the head of a long conference table and began the meeting by calling roll. One staff member seemed to be missing. "We'll wait," Maurer said.
And we did. Carl Jacobson jumped up and began to page the missing Marianne, and the rest of us waited in silence until she arrived 10 minutes later.
The topic for the afternoon session seemed to be blindness. Maurer asked which of us seated in the room was blind. When no one volunteered an answer, he asked us each individually. Then he wanted to know what it meant to be blind. A couple of students replied rather tentatively, but Maurer explained that we really didn't know what it meant to be blind. Then he elaborated, at length, about definitions of legal blindness and usable vision and the fact that blindness is just a mere inconvenience, more of a problem for the rest of society than for blind people themselves.
Finally, having been educated about the true nature of our disability, we were separated into two groups for a tour of the fabled Center for the Blind. I did not know then that this would constitute just about my only opportunity to actually explore the center. Had I guessed, I might have paid more attention.
The tour guide for our group was Mrs. Chong. She told us about all the NFB scholarships and how NFB was making a difference for all blind people. Then we assembled in the Harbor Room for a talk by Mr. Cobb, who, we were given to understand, was the Director of Employment for the Federation. Cobb described the NFB scholarship program, and explained how the Commission could help us with our technology needs and the Federation could help with college expenses.
Then he said that if we preferred to go to work rather than to go to college, the NFB could also help via a collaborative program with the Marriott Corporation. "You're looking at about $7.50 to $8 an hour," he said, "and that's a good job."
When one of the students asked about the Statler Employment Program, Cobb said that it was not a good option, because the Statler hid blind people away down in the hotel laundry rooms. I was chuckling quietly to myself while Cobb described the "demeaning" jobs at the Statler. I happen to know a blind person who works in such a laundry facility. Even with his limited English proficiency, my acquaintance is making twice what Cobb indicated the Marriott trainees are making at their "good jobs."
Turned loose for the night, I began looking for ways to occupy my time. No outside media was available, either that first night or any other that we spent on Johnson Street. I was very glad that I had brought along the January "Braille Forum." That issue is one I probably read more thoroughly than any other in the history of my reading the Forum -- I read it from cover-to-cover, three times!
Wednesday morning began with a start. I bolted upright out of my deep sleep to the sound of bagpipes blaring at top volume -- from where? I searched frantically for a knob to turn off the sound, but I discovered that the "music" was emerging from a speaker in my room. An alarm clock or a simple wake-up call would have worked fine for me, I mused. Hurriedly, I dressed and headed down to the cafeteria for breakfast.
After breakfast, we boarded buses and were off on our trip to Washington, D.C. The rest of the day was wonderful. As a matter of fact, it almost made the whole experience worthwhile. We toured the Capitol, where I thought the Rotunda and the "Whispering Room" were particularly fascinating.
We headed for the Smithsonian, but there we found that we had arrived too late for the hands-on tour of Air and Space. Disappointed, we went to a different museum where the kids were given a hands-on tour of an exhibit. Even though the exhibit was really geared for children who were younger than our teenagers, our kids were enthusiastic and excited. They had never participated in a hands-on experience at a museum before.
Back on the bus, we drove by the Washington Monument. None of the adults on the bus pointed this out to our kids, but the ones who could see thought it was great! Then the bus came to a stop. We sat, with the motor idling, for about 45 minutes.
"Where are we?" and "When are we going to get something to eat?" The teenagers were restless, but no one told them where we were and the question about when we might eat was answered curtly, "We'll get something when we get there," they were told. I, on the other hand, realized that we were at the Holiday Inn on Sixth Street, and that the adults were inside buying fudge.
Their cravings presumably satisfied, the adults returned to the bus and we headed toward Baltimore's Harbor for dinner. We could order anything we wanted off the menu, and the food and the dinner were wonderful. We had been promised an opportunity for shopping, but time ran out, and we had to forgo the shopping excursion.
Once we left the Harbor, we found ourselves stopped for another 45-minute wait -- this time it was one of those six-mile-long freight trains that caused our delay By the time we got back to the center, everyone on the bus was more than ready for a little personal space.
The wake-up song on Thursday was not as abrasive as the one the morning before. In fact, I thought that the series of chuckle tunes were quite funny, and I got a good laugh. At breakfast, Mr. Maurer remarked that he had just almost spilled his cereal all over me. "Good thing you didn't," I replied, "That would have cost you $10."
Maurer was apparently not amused. He sat at my table and didn't say another word for the rest of the meal.
Another roll call began while staffers carried in armsful of white canes. Again someone was missing; again we waited.
The morning's topic was "Power:" how powerful the NFB is; how students could tap into this power if they decided to join. Then came the description of the scheduled events for the day. Maurer told us that he was disappointed about not being able to demonstrate his operation of the chain saw. Sadly, construction projects outside the building prevented him from doing so. But, he said, we would all be able to operate the radial arm saw in the basement. All, except for those who chose not to wear blindfolds. Of course, the choice about whether to wear the blindfolds was ours to make, he explained. But a person who had chosen not to wear the device would not be allowed to actually participate in any of the hands-on activities.
And there were lots of hands-on activities. The shop, with its assortment of tools, including the radial arm saw, the kitchen where we prepared our own pizzas -- I took part in all of it with my blindfold on, and I was pleasantly surprised that I did pretty well.
I did rather regret that most of the students (who were after all partially sighted) did not really have an opportunity to get a sense of the radial arm saw. Yes, they used it, but there was no opportunity to examine its size or its potential for causing harm, so many may not have actually realized the enormity of the task they performed. I thought the learning experience would have been more meaningful if the kids had had the chance to examine the saw, either visually or tactually, before they were handed the piece of lumber or shown how to turn on the switch.
Preparing the pizzas under blindfold was no "piece of cake." Most blind people experience their lessening and ultimate lack of vision over time, and many have been without sight for as long as two years before they are thrown into a situation like the one that confronted us in the NFB kitchen. This was the first instance of being totally blind some of us had ever really experienced, and it was surprising how well we managed. However, the situation wasn't representative of the way that most people who are totally blind first experience preparing food or working in a kitchen. The Gashell Encounter
After lunch, we assembled in a conference room, where Maurer once again talked about how meaningful it was to be a part of the NFB. There was another man sitting at the table next to him, but Maurer didn't introduce him for several minutes. Finally, Jim Gashell introduced himself and began telling us how Kenneth Jernigan had brought him into the NFB. Back in the 1960s, he told the kids, people had told him he couldn't do much because he was blind. Even the superintendent of the high school where he had graduated told him he should think about an "alternate" career, he continued. It was Jernigan who had convinced him that blindness was not really a handicap and had taught him how to put his best foot forward and achieve anything in life he wanted to achieve.
Gashell did not tell the kids that things have changed in the world since the 1960s, that there are laws like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- all of which are there to guarantee people with disabilities opportunities, to level the playing field, and to outlaw discrimination. He didn't tell the kids about how discrimination against people who are blind is illegal or about how all the service providers and the superintendents of high schools nowadays, know about these laws. He told them how the NFB had helped him, and he told them that the NFB could help them as well.
Gashell said that we could help the NFB with their legislative advocacy efforts. It would be great, Gashell said, if the students who read braille could come on down to Washington and testify at a Congressional hearing. Braille readers, he said, make an especially good impression on legislators, since they can look in the direction of their audience while continuing to read.
Gashell continued that he did not want any of us who were partials and couldn't read braille up there in front of the senators. We were to stand there, canes in hand, and be quiet.
The final speaker for the day was a pretty effective fund-raiser for the Federation -- at least if she is to be believed, she raises lots of money with lots of very high-profile celebrities. She talked about how she had succeeded in persuading some pretty famous and powerful people to lend their names and their identities to the Federation. Among others, she mentioned Andre Boccelli, whom she was trying to persuade to participate in the next NFB NewsLine Day.
The kids were mesmerized. I was thinking that this name- dropping was pretty darned manipulative and might even be considered kind of coercive by a child psychologist or two I have encountered. And the fund-raiser? Oh, by the way, she also has a Ph.D. in psychology.
Dinner that night was another extravaganza. We were the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Chong; they took us out to another nice restaurant and we were allowed, once again, to order anything we wanted from the menu. A good thing about this trip was that we ate very well indeed, on our excursions away from the center.
Back at the center, I began looking for a TV in the hope of catching some of the Winter Olympics which I was missing. No TVs were to be found. Finally, I located a staff person who explained that the TVs were all put away so that we would be forced to talk with one another and prevented from engaging in outside distractions. Back to the January "Braille Forum" -- wasn't that a great issue!
Friday: The Journey Ends
Another goofy song came over the speaker in my room. Another breakfast, then we were assembled in the conference room. Another roll call. Finally, with everyone who was supposed to be there present, Maurer began to dial the speaker phone, to acquaint us with the NFB's JobLine. While he dialed the phone, he told us about the service which job-seekers can use to find jobs in their own cities or towns. He set up a profile and began to search for a job. He became annoyed when the students began to laugh after his fourth failure at matching his profile parameters with any available job.
So, he dialed up the NewsLine instead. He couldn't get through there, and finally he called the administrators in Salt Lake, who happened to be still sleeping. When he finally got through, he began to play with the server and to explain how it worked and how much better it was going to be the next week when it was expected to go national. We could sign up, we were told, once we had proved our legal blindness. And the Technology?
What about the technology? What about the best selection of assistive technology anywhere in the world? Well, here's what we saw.
We saw some A. I. Technologies and Sequoia accessible voting machines. They were cool. We have some accessible voting machines in New York too. We saw some computers with text-to-speech screen readers; we saw some braille embossers.
Out of the whole three days, 90 minutes were devoted to technology, and half of that time was taken up by the lecture which Curtis Chong gave on the subject of technologies that can assist people who are blind. Only four of our kids were totally blind. They found the braille embossers and the computers with screen-readers interesting, although not particularly novel.
The low-vision kids were shown some large print, but the type size was only 14-point, so most of us non-braille readers couldn't read the "large" print either. Most of the kids who were not totally blind gathered around the talking globe and the electronic (piano) keyboard that were on a table in the middle of the room.
When one of our kids asked Curtis Chong about what kinds of technologies could assist them with reading, he said that there weren't really many very efficient technologies. "Your best choice, he explained, "is still a biological interface."
What's that?, you're wondering. It's a reader. Hire yourself a reader, that's the best reading solution according to the guru at the world's best collection of assistive technologies for people who are blind.
So there you have it. After we cleaned our rooms for which the New York Commission was kind enough to give us a $50 shopping certificate as a reward, we boarded the bus for our long trip up 95 and back to the Empire State. Good-bye NFB Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. While there were some interesting and enjoyable parts of the trip and I was especially grateful to the New York Commission for funding my trip to Washington, D.C., I don't think I'll be going back to the NFB facility in Baltimore again.
Remember the original question about whether one has to be a member of NFB to get services from the New York Commission? Clearly there was no expressly stated requirement to that effect; however it is understandable from the above description how some might conclude that to be the case.
The representation that NFB has such an advanced and comprehensive technology center, the likes of which is completely unavailable in New York, and the exposure to which served as the basis for the expenditure of New York and federal tax money, cannot be supported by either evidence of comparable equipment which is not available in New York, or by a total of 90 minutes devoted to direct and indirect exposure to assistive technology -- out of a total of three days of opportunity.
It can be more than reasonably concluded from my firsthand observations that the trip served the primary purpose of a heavy introduction to the National Federation of the Blind, its philosophy, its programs, and its own private agenda; based upon the false pretext of exposure to technology which was, reportedly, unavailable anywhere else -- and all at the expense of the taxpayers.
The American Council of the Blind of New York therefore expects that our state agency for the blind will no longer financially or otherwise support evangelical trips to Federation headquarters and that the agency will seek to recover public funds expended under false pretenses and for private purposes outside the legitimate use of taxpayer money. Failure of the state agency to remedy what may well have been its unwitting participation in this mis-represented activity will result in ACBNY's seeking the necessary state and federal audits to rectify the situation.
(Editor's Note: The authors had planned to publish this article simultaneously in "Access World," the American Foundation for the Blind's excellent publication which deals primarily with assistive technology and issues associated with access; "The Braille Forum;" and the NFB's "Braille Monitor." We at "The Braille Forum" welcomed the opportunity to participate in a joint effort which promised to inform many thousands of people who are blind and visually impaired about the important issues outlined below. Therefore, we are disappointed to learn that "The Braille Monitor" has decided not to take part in the joint publication plan to which we had all aspired. We hope that our readers will share the information below with their friends and colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind. The lack of access to appropriately trained instructors is a hindrance to all of us as we attempt to obtain access and expertise in the assistive technologies which are so crucial to life in the 21st century.)
A critical shortage of professionals who are qualified to provide specialized computer skills assessment and training, as well as hardware and software installation, configuration, and customization services significantly affects the viability of visually impaired people in today's society. Hardly a business or work environment exists in this country that does not utilize the enormous power of computer technology. Since most jobs held by people with visual impairments require them to use computer-based tools, inadequate and untimely training on both computers and assistive technology (AT) contribute to the persistence of social and employment inequities. These inequities, so serious in scope that visually impaired people face an unemployment rate 15 times higher than the general population, are exacerbated by long waiting lists, insufficient time for training to be done properly, and increasing strain on an already overloaded service delivery system.
To fully understand the nature and causes of the shortage of assistive technology specialists, in 1999, the American Foundation for the Blind surveyed state and private agencies for the blind about their technology-related services. Next, in 2000, AFB facilitated a series of consumer focus groups. Held in eight locations around the country, participants included end users who had received technology training. Another set of focus groups sought input from AT specialists and their supervisors as well as training center administrators. These efforts resulted in a rather daunting list of problems that boiled down to a few major themes.
Public and private rehabilitation agencies reported that the list of significant challenges with which they must deal includes the following: insufficient training resources; difficulty finding, recruiting, and retaining qualified AT personnel; providing training for consumers who live in rural areas; inadequate methods to determine the qualifications of independent contractors; and an acute shortage of trainers in particular regions of the country.
Consumer comments tended to be more negative than positive. Although many consumers reported receiving quality training and increased self-confidence from learning how to use computers, a number of them felt that training was simply not available often enough to meet their needs. Many complained about training programs that lacked proper equipment or flexibility. For example, one setting had no computers connected to e-mail or the Internet available for consumers. Other settings lacked commonly accepted AT configurations, such as speech in combination with screen magnification.
A number of consumers wished their training had included deeper coverage of their assistive technologies and more detail about their work-related application packages. They asked for more time to fully learn the material being taught and more comfortable training situations (e.g., training groups that were not too large or classes where slower learners were not mixed with faster ones). They felt that group instruction where students all use disparate assistive technologies unnecessarily dilutes the attention trainers can provide. Finally, many consumers complained about trainers being forced to cram instruction into an insufficient number of training hours; trainers' unwillingness to change their teaching style to accommodate the needs of individual students; and lack of sufficient knowledge about certain assistive and mainstream software packages to adequately teach them.
AT specialists generally agreed that the shortage of AT personnel around the country is caused by a scarcity of resources on which they might call to obtain necessary knowledge and skills, which forces them to struggle to find training from a variety of sources. They stated that, because there is currently no widely accepted way to judge their qualifications, more training resources and a unified set of standards would be desirable.
Generally balking at the notion of certification, they worry aloud that there is so much to know that, unless standards were developed in such a way as to allow practitioners with different types of skill-sets to be certified, many current AT specialists would be put out of business. Moreover, there is consensus that no organization in the U.S. currently exists that they would regard as a viable certifying body.
Both consumers and AT specialists agreed that AT specialists should possess competencies in certain critical areas. AT specialists are expected to know about common hardware, a wide variety of assistive technologies, mainstream application software packages, and even non-assistive technology such as cell phones and personal digital assistants.
AT specialists are also expected to know a great deal about training and support services, including contacts and resources and possess competency in core elements such as file management, keyboarding, and troubleshooting. They also need to possess the same life skills (mobility, grooming, proper humor and demeanor) as everyone else. Sound office and professional (business management, writing, public speaking) skills, as well as good teaching, problem solving, and independent study skills are a must.
In 2001, it appeared that only AT specialists themselves could drive the process of developing equitable and comprehensive competency standards that would enhance their profession. The matter turned out to be even more complicated than expected.
When looking at the types of knowledge, skills, and abilities required by AT specialists, it quickly became evident that most of them work in one or more significantly different environments, evaluating and training consumers in schools, agencies, at job sites, in training centers, and more. The plot thickened when analyzing the variety of tasks AT specialists actually perform in these environments. Many teach basic assistive technology and application software skills, others go into work environments to interface assistive technology with complex networks. Still others work as consultants to large government and corporate entities, advising them on systems accessibility.
AT specialists currently obtain their professional skills in unsystematic ways. Generally, their professional development occurs through apprenticeship arrangements similar to many other trade groups, where they learn their skills from master trainers. They also take short courses when they can find and afford them, participate in workshops and "vendor trainings," attend technology conferences, and make extensive use of training manuals, tutorials, listservs, and occasional on-line classes. Many AT specialists take Microsoft and other mainstream computer and networking classes and some take the CSUN (California State University at Northridge), a cross-disability certificate course which provides a detailed overview of assistive technology and ergonomics.
In 2000 and 2001, only a few noteworthy programs existed that provided training to AT specialists. Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, Wis. developed a certificate program for trainers of assistive technology for people with vision and reading impairments. Lions World Services provided training in a variety of skills to AT specialists wishing to acquire basic and upgraded skills. The Colorado Center for the Blind created the PTAT (Professional Training in Assistive Technology) program to train people who are computer literate to be AT specialists.
Northern Illinois University requires students training to be rehabilitation teachers and teachers of visually impaired students to take one or more assistive technology courses to be able to instruct blind youngsters, older blind people, and others in basic AT skills. A noteworthy distance learning option, offered by Cathy Ann Murtha, combines PC-based teleconferencing technology (for lectures) with the Internet (for transmission of instructional materials) to teach a variety of courses in assistive technology and mainstream applications. Most of her students are AT specialists, who often cannot afford the time to attend conferences or classes.
In the United Kingdom, the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), in concert with the British Computer Association of the Blind, modified the teaching standards of an existing information technology trade organization. Together, they created a teaching competencies certification system that is designed to ensure that AT specialists who work with blind people provide quality instruction. The group also gained the cooperation of technology vendors to provide standards for teaching the use of their technology.
Unfortunately, in 2001, the number of AT specialists in this country who were able to benefit from the programs described above was small. It was clear that more was needed.
Several professional conferences in 2000 and 2001 added volume to the growing call for solutions to the shortage. One of the more memorable of these conferences took place in Minneapolis in late March 2000. Sponsored and organized by Mississippi State University, the conference, entitled "Focus On Technology," brought together representatives from AFB, ACB, NFB, private, state, and federal agencies, and a variety of other interested parties, including several vendors. Differing viewpoints were expressed and discussed. The conference concluded with participants' reaching tentative consensus about a core consumer training curriculum. Moreover, the concept of minimum competencies for AT specialists was accepted as a reasonable alternative to certification. The key to the solution became the compilation of a comprehensive list of competencies, some or all of which AT specialists could strive to achieve.
By March of 2001, with the data from the survey and focus groups having been thoroughly analyzed, a group of leaders in employment and technology services for blind people met at the AFB Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. The results of the survey and focus groups were reported and it was clear that the time for concerted, targeted action had come.
On the recommendation of the participants, which included consumer and professional representatives, the Assistive Technology Specialist Competencies Task Force was formed. Now in its second year, the goals of the task force are to develop a comprehensive list of AT specialist competencies. The task force consists of AT specialists and supervisors, university-based teacher trainers, and consumer group representatives all willing to work on specific tasks.
The task force was also charged with developing ways to assess whether AT specialists possess some or all of the competencies in the lists. The purpose of this difficult and detailed process is to stimulate the growth of train-the-trainer courses around the country. Armed with the competencies and measurement protocols, master trainers, vendors, and university personnel will be able to develop a variety of basic training and continuing education courses.
After several meetings in 2001 and 2002, the task force completed its preliminary list of competencies and measurement protocols. The task force also has begun asking vendors to develop standards of their own to ensure that, when they train AT specialists how to use and instruct in their products, there is clear evidence that the AT specialists have mastered the required skills needed, for example, to write scripts or set files for screen reading software; teach people how to effectively use portable note takers; properly install, configure, and teach the use of braille display devices; assess a consumer's efficiency using screen magnification software and all its features; and more. Thus, the task force has begun systematically surveying vendors to develop a comprehensive list of vendor training courses, material to be covered, and criteria for awarding certificates of completion.
The task force is currently seeking feedback from consumers and professionals in the blindness community and is publishing the competency lists in consumer and professional magazines, journals, and listservs. It seeks comments and has set up an e- mail address for this purpose. To comment, or to view the complete list of competencies, please visit the task force web site at http://www.tsbvi.edu/technology/afb.
While the task force continues to monitor the progress of the train-the-trainer programs described above, many more are needed. They will make it easier for AT specialists to learn their trade and keep up with new information. Increased numbers of training programs will make it more desirable for newcomers to enter the profession. Combined with increased attention to quality training by product vendors and improvements in standards for awarding certificates of completion, AT specialists will find it easier to prove to the world they possess a particular set of skills. Additionally, recognizing the value of obtaining quality instruction, they will seek out opportunities to develop their portfolios, accumulating well-earned certificates and other documents to display their qualifications. This will improve their prospects and increase the compensation they can command. Shortages will abate as more people seek to enter the profession.
If blind and visually impaired people have adequate opportunity to obtain training in technologies that can give them equal access to information and employment, they will truly have a fair chance to fully participate in the benefits of our society. In the long run, the hope is that positive comments will outnumber negative ones when the next set of focus groups takes place a few years from now. The Competencies
AT competencies fall into four major categories: Assessment; Equipment (hardware-software installation, configuration, customization); Training (delivery); and Professional competencies. Each category contains within it a series of competency clusters and each cluster contains a set of specific competencies. Due to space limitations, only the categories and major clusters, along with an example or two from each cluster, are listed below. Assessment
Cluster 1: Use of appropriate and effective assessment methods
Example: Ability to obtain or develop tools to implement an assessment of an individual or group of individuals.
Cluster 2: Assessment of Environmental Factors
Examples: Ability to assess the following factors to maximize the functional efficiency of the learner: lighting; ergonomics (seating and positioning of the user, and positioning of equipment components). Equipment Installation, Configuration, and Customization
Cluster 1: General
Example: Ability to install and configure mainstream office applications.
Cluster 2: Access Technology
Example: Ability to set up and configure operating system and commercial application settings to maximize accessibility. Professional Competencies
Cluster 1: Reading and Writing and Related Skills
Example: Ability to describe the Braille system to non-users.
Cluster 2: Communication
Example: Ability to verbally communicate the role of an AT specialist and technical concepts and language to non-technical individuals.
Cluster 3: Creation and maintenance of a receptive service environment
Example: Ability to orient the learner to the physical environment and the technology on which services will be provided.
Cluster 4: Disability-related Factors
Example: Ability to determine the functional relationship between a consumer's eye condition and his or her visual capacity, efficiency, specific learning needs, and effective assistive technologies.
Cluster 5: Professional development and continuing education
Example: Ability to identify mechanisms and resources necessary to obtain, maintain, and enhance technology-related knowledge, skills and abilities.
Cluster 6: Business management
Example: Ability to arrange for and organize assessment, training, or equipment installation, configuration, or customization services. Training Competencies
Cluster 1: Training
Example: Ability to develop instructional plans (learning objectives) to meet specific learning needs and technology requirements of individuals and groups.
Cluster 2: Technology
Examples: Ability to instruct learners in the use of speech and braille screen access software and hardware, screen magnification software and hardware.
The ACB of Ohio is seeking nominations for its annual awards. There are five awards:
The Ambassador Award is presented to a member of ACBO who has contributed significantly to the organization.
The Ken Morlock Award is presented to a blind or visually impaired individual who has improved the quality and equality of life for those who are blind and visually impaired.
The Media Award is presented to an individual who has portrayed the blind or visually impaired community in a positive manner through media, such as newspaper articles, TV news segments, advertisements or commercials. Nominations for this award must be accompanied by an appropriate example of the nominee's work.
The Ruth Davidson Award is presented to a sighted individual who has improved the quality and equality of life for those who are blind or visually impaired.
The Employer of the Year Award will be presented to an employer in Ohio who has employed individuals who are blind or visually impaired and has made appropriate accommodations in the workplace.
The deadline for nominations is September 2, 2002. Send your letters of nomination in print or on tape to: James O. Norman, ACBO Awards Chairperson, 1341 Warren Dr., Brunswick, OH 44212.
It is my great pleasure to introduce to you Rocky Mountain Guide Dog Users. This affiliate of Guide Dog Users Inc. (GDUI) will serve the needs of guide dog users in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Our goal is to serve all guide dog teams seeking a supportive environment where they can gain skills to educate their community; enjoy recreation among fellow guide dog users; network among other guide dog users to solve problems that might occur; and to create legislation that protects and maintains the integrity of the working team. Because Colorado is such a large state and transportation is an issue for all blind and visually impaired individuals, we plan to hold only two meetings a year; however, between these meetings we will work in our respective communities to make a difference. We will communicate either by e-mail or the telephone during these times as well so all members are always up to date on the latest with Rocky Mountain Guide Dog Users (RMGDU).
We are planning a camp-out weekend with puppy raisers and guide dog users in the state within the next few months. If you are interested in assisting with the planning or would like to attend, contact one of the individuals listed below. You may contact the following board members for further information or if you would like to become a member of RMGDU. Annual dues for RMGDU are $15. We hope as an affiliate we can serve the guide dog community of Colorado with pride.
President: Christine Hutchinson, e-mail [email protected]
Vice President: Leonard Decker, e-mail [email protected]
Treasurer/Secretary: DeAnna Noriega, e-mail [email protected]
Board members: Janelle Edwards and Amy Johnson.
Newsletter editor: Linda Yacks, e-mail [email protected]
The Alabama chapter of ACB has experienced some wonderful things this spring. At the time of our spring convention, Dan Martinez visited with us, and spoke at the convention. It was a wonderful experience to have him with us, and his presence at our convention was much appreciated.
Last week national President Chris Gray was with us as speaker at the graduation exercises at the Alabama School for the Blind. Our seniors really enjoyed Mr. Gray, and we can certainly say that he was a hit with them. While in Talladega, he was a welcome visitor at Alabama Industries for the Blind, as well as the guest of honor at a reception for him which was sponsored by the Alabama chapter of ACB jointly with the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.
Alabama is most grateful for both these visits, and proud to have had both these men play a part in our activities.
On July 13, 2002, the South Carolina Low Country Chapter of VIVA will celebrate our second anniversary. We currently have 21 members, and have accomplished many of our goals in these two years. The chapter has distributed health care packages to homeless veterans, and is currently working with a local association for the blind to set up computer training for veterans. Chapter members have toured a Confederate submarine, the aircraft carrier Yorktown, worked at a low vision fair, and more. In June the chapter enjoyed a picnic with the ACB chapter at the Charleston Air Force base, with singing and guitar picking and fun.
And in October, the "No See 'Em Drive Golf Outing" will be held at the Shadowmoss Plantation Golf Club in Charleston. This is golf for all who have loved the game and may think they can't play anymore. Come on out and have some fun on October 9. For more information, call or write Don Kopp, 134 Toura Lane, Charleston, SC 29414; phone (843) 763-0785, or e-mail [email protected]
ACB of Maryland is pleased to announce the formation of the Maryland Area Guide Dog Users (MAGDU). The next meeting of MAGDU will be held at the ACB of Maryland convention, which will take place at the Holiday Inn in Cumberland, Md. from October 4-6, 2002. For more information about MAGDU, contact its treasurer, Jane Sheehan, at (301) 598-2131 or [email protected] For more details about the state convention, contact Butch Arnold at (410) 254-1972 or [email protected]
"Paws for the Cause!": That's the title of the fund-raiser sponsored by the Northwest Chapter of the Arkansas Council of the Blind. It features people who collect pledges to walk with their dogs, borrowed dogs, or even as companions with dog-walkers, all in an effort to forward the fine work of the chapter.
Susie Weatherford, one of the sighted volunteers, got the idea for the walk urged on by the group's desire to endow a scholarship in the name of Roger Eagle, a blind man who had received an Arkansas State scholarship, successfully completed his education, gone on to work for many years for IBM, and encouraged blind people throughout the area by his accomplishments. In October 2000, the effort raised $4,200, 51 percent of which went toward the scholarship endowment and the rest for operating the chapter. Following that initial experience, the chapter raised its scholarship commitment to 75 percent of any money collected.
Expenses were few with hot dogs and bottled water donated, sponsorship by several corporations, and the eager work of chapter members like Joyce Wilmer who tramped the neighborhood with her guide dog to collect pledges and then participate in the dog-a-thon with the 35 other walkers. With the money they raise, chapter members fund their monthly meetings sometimes with a guest speaker and sometimes a social event like a dinner cruise on a nearby river. They contribute to a children's home that offers day care to youngsters from troubled homes, some of whom lacked even the clothes for their first day in school. Members have participated, too, in the work of the March of Dimes and a health fair, demonstrating their commitment to their community.
From the increased visibility of blind people, other remarkable developments have occurred. When Susie Weatherford's son lost his sight eight years ago, the family had no idea where to turn or what to do. They didn't know even where to get a cane or who could show their son how to use it. The Division of Services for the Blind (DVS) gave scant information but did refer them to Lions World where Jay received basic training and met people from the American Council of the Blind.
Realizing that the DVS had few workers to serve the increasing number of clients and no one to do outreach to the families and individuals in the community who were having their first experience with vision loss, Susie, and her friends Carol Donohoo and Rachel Ames conducted their first informational seminar for the community in November 2000. From DVS they borrowed simulator glasses which family members could use to experience just what it was like to have macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and other common eye diseases. A video tape featured humorous incidents to demonstrate the right and wrong way of helping a blind person do ordinary things like cross a street, find a chair, and so on. Rachel Ames, who had fought valiantly but unsuccessfully to retain the subregional library for the blind in Fayetteville, brought out and distributed some of the brochures she had accumulated concerning blindness-related issues and opportunities.
Though fewer than ten people attended that first seminar, Susie said the effort was worth the work, for one man, who had met an ACB chapter member just the week before, brought his wife to the meeting where both were exposed to their first experience with other people facing vision loss.
The seminar drew such wide acclaim that 45 people attended the next one scheduled only two months later. Nine other seminars have been planned for 2002, and Rachel and Susie have several times gone to some of the large retirement communities in the area to bring information to the people who need it most.
Seminars are presented free of charge with the Northwest Chapter furnishing refreshments. Having no public transportation of any kind, chapter members are limited in the personal involvement they can offer, but their interest, enthusiasm, and personal experience push the sighted volunteers forward.
Supporting the work financially and psychologically, Paws for the Cause is conducted each year. The 2001 effort suffered from the problems all charities faced after September 11, but the same number of people continued to be interested, even though corporate donations were down. Rachel and Susie, who volunteered endless hours at the ACB convention in 2001, already have their room reservations for Houston in 2002. We congratulate them and the Northwest Chapter of the Arkansas Council of the Blind for their pioneering work in increasing knowledge of blindness and improving attitudes toward it.
The Foundation for the Junior Blind is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing programs and services for children, young people, and adults who are blind or visually impaired to build self-esteem and independence. One of the Foundation's six programs is entitled Visions: Adventures in Learning. The Visions program consists of year-round, life- building experiences for children and youth who are blind and visually impaired. The program includes group outings and day trips for 10 to 20 young people. Jay Allen, Vice President of Programs, explains, "These are truly life-changing experiences for participants. The youngsters develop long-lasting friendships, self-confidence, and a sense of achievement that will prepare them for future challenges."
Blast off! Score! Up, up, and away! Watch out! Mush! A hiking we will go! Whale off the north side! These are just a few of the many remarks heard on Visions trips this year. The 2001-2002 Visions season was an adventurous and exciting experience for youngsters. The season started off with a trip to Mountain View, near San Jose, Calif., adjacent to NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Federal Airfield. The youngsters participated as members of Team Neptune and re-created a space mission to the moon. As part of Team Neptune, each child had the opportunity to experience space simulators to re-create weightlessness, balance, mobility, coordination, and space transportation. John Martinez, Director of Recreational Services, described the visit to Space Camp: "This was a wonderful chance for our youngsters to develop a connection with space. Since the controls and books were provided in Braille, there was no limit to the learning that this Visions trip provided."
The next trip was a high-flying adventure: hot air ballooning 4,000 feet over San Diego. The trip was full of excitement: climbing into a wicker basket, assisting with the inflation of the balloons, and experiencing lift-off. The youngsters enjoyed the feeling of soaring high in the sky and floating among the clouds. The largest balloon held 14 youngsters, and the pilot described interesting landmarks and the history of San Diego during the balloon flight.
Not all the Visions trips were related to the sky. At the beginning of 2002, the youngsters traveled to the snowy slopes of Kirkwood, Calif. for the annual Laub family ski trip. The winter ski trip was a favorite because the youngsters learned how to snow ski and perfect their skills so that they could tackle the infamous black diamond runs. Each youngster was paired with an individual guide from Discovery Blind Sports, a company based in Kirkwood and dedicated to the art of teaching individuals who are blind or visually impaired how to ski. Skiing creates self- esteem, perseverance, and fitness regardless of a person's skiing ability.
One of the most exciting trips of the year was the journey to Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. Ten participants traveled by plane and van to arrive just south of the Canadian border to go dogsledding. The youngsters enjoyed learning about the sled dogs, while they navigated the sleds over the frozen West Bearskin Lake. The youngsters' days were spent with the dogs on the sleds, day hiking, or cross-country snow skiing. The trip was a tremendous success despite the frigid 2-17 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.
Upcoming trips for the remainder of the year will include: kayaking around the Santa Cruz Islands and backpacking in Ventura. For more information about the Foundation for the Junior Blind or any of the Foundation's six programs, please call (323) 295-4555, and please visit us online at www.fjb.org.
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.
My name is Jenny Barbee and I am a Creative Movement Specialist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Preschool. I have been teaching Daniel Tijerina, a child who has retinopathy of prematurity, since August of last year.
In less than a school year I have seen major progress in Daniel's overall development. Mostly I work on fine and gross motor skills with him and the other children at the preschool. When I first started with Daniel I was a bit challenged because I had never worked with a child who was blind. It made me think more on a sensorial level. I also had to retrain myself on giving directions such as using more descriptive words to teach Daniel the skill or task that we were working on. Working with Daniel has made me a better teacher by showing me that children not only learn through sight but also through energy and communication.
As I started to get to know Daniel I began to notice his likes. He loves music with a good consistent beat. I found that he was more responsive and had more energy when I played music that had a fast tempo. Some of his favorites are The Beatles, Van Halen (with David Lee Roth on the vocals), Elvis, The Baha Men, Smash Mouth, disco music from various artists, and No Doubt.
When he began getting into the music and getting familiar with me he began to understand that when I came to his classroom that meant that he was going to be hearing music that he liked. After he made that connection with me and the music that is when I started to see Daniel spread his wings.
Daniel's alignment began to get a little straighter. His posture slowly started to lengthen, meaning that the muscles in his stomach were becoming stronger because of the upper body exercising that he does with me in his dance class and with his physical and occupational therapists.
Daniel's ability to transition, such as going from sitting to standing and standing to lying down, became more fluid. His spatial awareness got better, especially with pulling himself through the tunnel. When I first put him in the tunnel he would get very irritated and would almost cry. Now he feels the sides and taps the material and smiles while crawling out.
Daniel's fine motor skills have also developed beautifully. He has more dexterity in his fingers, therefore it is easier for him to hold onto and manipulate objects. We do a lot of squeezing and grasping of small objects such as squishy balls, cotton, and sponges. Before, he would just let the object fall to the ground, but now he is motivated to use his strength and push, pull, and squeeze. Right now we are working on squeezing objects to the beat of the music, which he is really doing a good job with.
Daniel's upper arms are stronger. He can open and close his arms and hands and claps without any assistance. Daniel's thighs are getting stronger. Once his leg is in the air he stomps it down to the floor. He can alternate after being prompted. Daniel's hamstrings are more flexible and it has gotten easier for him to bend and straighten his knees.
Daniel likes and understands having a result due to an action of movement. For example, when Daniel claps, the sound of his hands coming together lets him know that he has successfully completed a task. The bells on his shoes motivate him to kick and stomp because he is getting positive reinforcement every time he performs the task.
Daniel's cognitive development is amazing. He reacts to the music with smiles and bobs his head to the beat. He is fully aware of who I am and what dance class is. He is quicker with following directions and is ready to get his groove on from the moment I walk into the room and say, "Daniel, are you ready to dance?"
Working with Daniel has been a blessing. I have learned so many new avenues of teaching. I'm trying to be more sensorial with my teaching. My vocabulary has changed and now I am having the other children close their eyes while they perform certain dances. I'm having children do a little more listening and feeling versus always asking them to "Look." I am proud to have been part of Daniel's early childhood and look forward to all of the wonderful things he is going to accomplish in life, for he has already accomplished more than most.
Recently, I had a very positive experience at the Olive Garden in Fargo, N.D. that I want to share with someone at the ACB national office. I hope that when other restaurant owners learn about this positive experience from a blind consumer's point of view, steps might be taken to ensure that more blind or visually impaired consumers can have experiences as positive as mine at any restaurant where we choose to dine.
This past Saturday, my family and I chose to dine at the local Olive Garden, not expecting the experience to be as positive as it turned out to be. When I dine out with family or friends, I often have to have someone assist me with the menu because I cannot read print unless it is large or evenly spaced. I also cannot read cursive writing, which seems to be the case on more and more menus that I have seen recently.
Some weeks ago, I had learned that the Olive Garden was making a menu available on tape to its blind or visually impaired diners. Although this was not our main reason for choosing to go to this establishment, after what happened on Saturday night, the Olive Garden will definitely be my first choice for eating Italian food from now on.
My family arrived at the Olive Garden to discover that we would have to wait for a table for a significant length of time. In the meantime, Mom obtained menus for us to look at while we waited. I asked Mom to ask if the menu on cassette was available. To my great surprise, the restaurant's menu was also available in two additional formats: braille and large print.
Having independent access to a menu at an eating establishment made me feel less dependent on sighted family members to read the menu which, in turn, helped increase my confidence for that meal in general.
Thank you for taking the time to read about one experience of a satisfied visually impaired consumer. I hope that my experience helps other blind and visually impaired consumers to feel confident about asking for what they need at public places.
I teach the blind and visually impaired adult class in Auburn, Calif., and I read them the article that came out in the April 2002 Braille Forum: "What Is Employment? U.S. Department of Education Out of Step with Reality," by Christopher Gray. We loved the article. It was just so insightful and unusual and dealt with things we didn't know about. But one thing that I see a lot in these articles, and I'm wondering if you can help us out, is at the end it never tells us what we as the citizens can do. Who shall we contact, and what are the dates to contact someone so that this legislation can be passed? If this amendment has not been passed, perhaps we could e-mail or write to certain people. We need to know who the people are and where this is. We're just confused about the cut-off dates. Our group loves to write letters.
In addition to all the work that goes into putting together programs for special-interest affiliates and committees of ACB, we do our best to inform ACB members through "The Braille Forum" in a timely manner so they can make decisions about attending convention programming. Traditionally, articles sent to "The Braille Forum" about convention programs appear as part of the convention information.
The convention is the centerpiece of what ACB does for its members and they need to know about what's happening at the convention in time to book travel and hustle their employers for support to come. By the time the pre-registration materials come out, it's almost too late to plan to attend if you didn't already intend to come. Committees and special-interest affiliates have excellent programs and hopefully, in the future, they can be archived and available through ACB Radio.
A number of us are very disappointed that the information has been relegated to the Affiliate News column. I didn't know that an ACB committee came under the heading of Affiliate News.
Why do some articles have a byline and some don't in Affiliate News? What can affiliates like Friends-in-Art do to have a separate article?
Many of us who are long-time hard-working ACBers are very discouraged.
I regret that you and others have found this departure from "tradition" a disappointment, and I appreciate your sharing your point of view.
Nonetheless, many of the convention-related articles (except for those in May, nearly the entirety of which was devoted to convention issues and events) have been posted amid Affiliate News items because they related to affiliates. Your point that the Women's Concerns Committee is not an affiliate, however, is certainly well taken.
My thinking in placing much of the convention-related material amid Affiliate News items was that the majority of our readers cannot attend the conventions. Therefore, it seemed to me that utilizing most of the magazine's space to talk about convention events is really quite unfair to these readers, who come to "The Braille Forum" for information that they can use. The pre-registration mailing, including the "Convention Scope," as well as the convention program and the convention newspaper and the dial-in news service all can inform convention attendees about events.
In addition, we do a convention issue of the Forum (this year, it will take the place of one of our monthly issues because of budget cuts), which also informs readers about what happened at convention and hopefully whets their appetites for attending future conventions.
As for bylines: If someone sends us an article which includes a byline, or talks in terms of first-person plans, we attempt to give that person a byline; if articles are submitted in a more generic way, then we don't utilize bylines.
Thanks for writing and telling me about your dissatisfaction as well as your suggestions, and for asking questions about the way we do things. "The Braille Forum" is, indeed, your forum, and we hope to make it as useful and informative as possible to ACB members and to blind people in general.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am a nine-year-old going into the fourth grade. Recently, my family went to Chicago and I noticed two people who were blind and alone at a restaurant and was concerned how they would pay their bill. So, I am writing to ask you to help people who are blind.
There are many dishonest people in the world and I thought it would be a good idea if paper money was made in braille so that people who cannot see could tell the difference between $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills, etc.
I hope you think this is important too. Thanks for your help. If you could write back to me that would be great!
Thank you so much for being such a caring person and for writing to the American Council of the Blind and members of the Bush administration to express your concern about the inaccessibility of our currency. Our members, most of whom are blind or visually impaired, agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments you have expressed, and we recently filed suit with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, asking them to make changes in paper currency so that people who cannot identify the denominations of paper currency can have another way of accessing that information independently.
We will share your letter with others in the American Council of the Blind and with the attorney who is arguing our case.
The announcement of products and services in this column is not an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its staff, or elected officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be held 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.
Ann Morris Enterprises, Inc. regrets not being able to attend this year's national ACB convention but would like to offer free shipping on any order placed before October 1, 2002. Just call (800) 454-3175 and mention this announcement. We thank you for your continued support.
Visit the home of Ann Morris Enterprises for low-cost items for visually impaired people, http://www.annmorris.com.
The 2002 NCAA college football schedule is available in braille! Each copy costs $10. Send your check to Allen H. Gillis, 302 Schaeffel Road, Cullman, AL 35055.
Dinner is solved! A family-owned business, Schwan's has been delivering quality frozen foods directly to their customers' doorsteps in 48 states for more than 50 years. Deliveries are every two weeks or monthly. Schwan's has 300 frozen products for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. Product selection includes complete meals or individual portions that go from freezer to table in 30 minutes or less. A list of the most interesting food items includes southern-style biscuits, smaller-sized steaks and delicious ice cream. There are no delivery or membership fees. Schwan's catalog is available in braille, 4-track cassette and ASCII text. Call toll-free (888) 724-9267, or visit their web site, www.schwans.com, to request a free catalog. Ask about the free dinner with a $20-purchase for new customers.
If you are a person with a disability, Paul Scribner's book "Putting Creativity to Work" is an outstanding resource. It clearly describes the steps to thinking through a career in the arts, with a unique emphasis on helping people with disabilities to pursue choices. VR counselors are often stymied by consumers whose career interests are focused on the arts. This guide hammers home both the challenges of pursuing a career as an artist with the likely pressure of not having long-term job security and the possibility of low pay for long hours of work, while pointing out the compensating joys of pursuing the life of a performing or visual artist.
Created by VSA Arts, this guide is recommended for any student in the early stages of career development and planning. It covers all steps of good vocational self-assessment. Through the use of personal stories of people with disabilities, the guide brings to life the struggles and successes of the artist's life. The guide lists dozens of related jobs in the performing arts. For a free copy of "Putting Creativity to Work," contact VSA Arts, 1300 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036. It can be downloaded free from http://www.vsarts.org/resources/publications/careerguide/index.html.
For alternative formats, write to the Social Security Administration Braille Services, 1-A-19 Operations Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21235 or phone (410) 965-6414.
BrailleMaster is a talking braille pegboard, or like a braille tutor. The idea came from a student learning braille who often became impatient waiting for his instructor to verify correct placement in the braille pegboard. Now the pegboard, called BrailleMaster, can talk. As braille dots are pressed, the corresponding symbol is announced. The cost of the BrailleMaster is $295. It divides instruction into 19 lessons beginning with the alphabet and concluding with grade 2 braille. The accompanying dictionary contains full spelling and contractions for more than 400 common English words. For more information, contact Kevin Knutson at (661) 631-1033, or Harold Hallikainen by phone at (805) 541-0200 or e-mail him at [email protected], web site http://www.braillemaster.biz.
The book, "Preparing for College and Beyond," is a definitive source for academic students who need accommodations for a visual impairment. It explains what to expect, where to find resources and when, and how to advocate for one's needs. This guide is the result of research by authors Jamie Dote-Kwan, associate dean of student services at California State University, and Jeff Senge, coordinator for disabled student services, also at CSU. The book is available in grade 2 braille or 18-point large print, at a cost of $29.95. To order, contact the Braille Institute Press, phone (323) 906-3104, between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific time.
D.A.S. Travel Specialties owner Robyn Wallen is an independent associate of Incentive Connection Travel, Inc., a full-service travel provider for everyone. Wallen specializes in the unique needs of people with disabilities, up to and including finding vans with hand controls, accessible hotels, providing transit and taxi information as well as assisting travelers in obtaining paratransit services in areas visited. For information, please phone (314) 608-7232.
I was born in October 1952. I weighed two pounds, twelve ounces, and I'm totally blind. My story takes place in the winter of 1963, in Phoenix, where I've lived most of my life. I was in the second group of children to be integrated into public school. We went to regular class, and had a special teacher one period per day.
One winter afternoon Miss Fry, my fifth-grade teacher, was teaching us a unit on poetry. Now the poems in this unit were very visually oriented, filled with sunsets, daffodils, clouds; we were reading lots of Emily Dickinson and William Wordsworth. Miss Fry said that if we understood the poems, we would be able to explain to the class how and what we felt when we read them. We should be able, Miss Fry explained, to have images in our minds and these would come from our reading the word pictures in the poems.
The trouble was, I was feeling nothing from this class exercise. I had nothing to say. I wanted to do well in school. I didn't want to be sent to the "blind school," a hundred miles away in Tucson. Things were not looking good -- I was already starting to have lots of trouble with math. When class was over, I got out of there as fast as possible. For the first time I could remember, I hated being blind, and knew I was a failure.
That night, I wasn't myself. I was too quiet. Mother asked me if everything was OK at school. I lied and said things were fine. I don't advocate this practice, but even at that age I had learned it wasn't cool to complain about things. If you did, all you would get would be a lecture about how you shouldn't feel that way. Besides, I had done what I was told to do; if I had a problem in class, I was supposed to tell the resource teacher, the special teacher for blind children. I loved Mrs. Griswald like a grandmother, and thought she would solve things as Mom had said she should.
When I told her what had happened, she said, "Because you've never seen anything with your eyes, there are certain things you will never understand. You will just have to accept that." When I asked her what "that" was and how I should do that, she couldn't explain to me what acceptance was. So, I figured it would do no good to talk about my problems to those dumb grown-ups anymore, since they wouldn't be any help anyway.
I was in a funk; I didn't even stay up to catch "Sing Along with Mitch," which I watched without fail every Friday night. However, a little after 9 p.m. I woke up. Dad was doing what Dad always did -- keeping the TV on and falling asleep in front of it. Jack Parr was on, and from a half sleep, I heard him introducing Giselle McKenzie, a singer from Canada who was often on that show. "She's going to perform a song from a new musical that's just come from London to Broadway, 'Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,'" Parr was saying. He said that the song was called "Gonna Build a Mountain."
"Grown-ups have gotten really strange. I'll listen if I can stay awake," I thought. Well, not only did I stay awake, I sat bolt upright in bed, and that was when something happened as McKenzie performed the catchy song, which reminded me of one of those gospel songs I knew African-American Christians sang at church.
I was getting all sorts of images, just as Miss Fry had said I should from reading the poetry. I was receiving those word pictures, thick and fast. There were these little people, short and wide, with tools in their hands, working on a project of some sort, and the foreman in charge was directing them as he sang along with the television.
As the song concluded, I heard an inner voice saying, "That woman isn't the grown-up responsible for this song. She's only sending it to you. If you learn about the place from which this song comes, you'll be all right, and you'll stay at school and not be sent away." Mother walked by, and saw me jumping up and down while sitting on the bed.
"Are you OK?" she asked.
"I'm fine now, Mom," I said, not a trace of lying to be found anywhere.
There was one problem, though. I couldn't tell Miss Fry what had happened. She would think I had totally lost my mind if I tried to explain how I saw word pictures while listening to a song about some guy who wants to build a mountain.
I kept my secret hidden from grown-ups for a long time, but a year later, when we had to do geography papers, I told my teacher I had to learn about this place called London. "You should write about the British Isles," she said, and I did. I've been interested in that part of the world ever since. I never was sent away to "blind school," but stayed in public school all the way through Arizona State University.
I heard Jack Parr's show of that night again in a summer re-run, so I knew I hadn't imagined the song, and besides, Sammy Davis Jr. had a hit with "Gonna Build A Mountain," so I heard it on the radio many times. It was years later, while watching Ed Sullivan on a Sunday night, that I found out about the person who was responsible for writing that song. It was a performer whose work I've come to love. Antony Newley, who, sadly, is no longer with us, had a voice that could tell stories. You never had to see anything in order to know what was on his mind; he sang with such feeling. It's true this guy had the thickest British accent I had ever encountered in my young life before learning about him, but I figured deciphering the accents of the British Isles must be part of the assignment that had been handed to me the first time I heard Newley's song. Meeting Miss Fry Again
After college, I began giving talks at schools, talking with children about the usual stuff, e.g., guide dogs, blindness, Braille and an assortment of other related topics. I still give talks like these whenever I'm invited to do so.
One of my dad's patients, Miss Murphy, taught at one of the schools in my old school district, and I was asked to come and give a talk. An interesting thing happened when I was invited to have lunch in the faculty lounge with the teachers. It's not exactly posh, but it's a step or two up in the world. This woman sat across from me at the table and announced, "You don't remember me. I'm Miss Fry, your fifth-grade teacher."
I said I remembered now that she had introduced herself, and added that I had something I wanted to tell her about. Then I told my story. This was followed by silence, and then she said, "I remember that day. I knew from the expression on your face that I was in big trouble, but I didn't know what to do or what to say. I went home and prayed a lot, but never knew what happened until now. Yes, I know the song. Sammy Davis does it, right?"
We had a good time together, and we ended with hugs all around. Miss Fry said she was making an effort to include a wider variety of poems in the curriculum. I'm not surprised. Writing to Antony Newley
Expressing gratitude, as clergy will tell you, is a wonderful thing. I had thought about doing this on and off for about 30 years. Finally, while I was meditating, I heard again from one of those little short guys from back in 1963: "Have you thanked your human benefactor?"
I answered aloud, "I couldn't get backstage at his concert to thank him ... I'd be willing, but we have a few difficulties ... My typing isn't that wonderful, I have problems with addressing envelopes, and famous people aren't exactly in the phone book."
I told a close friend and fellow practitioner of religious science about this. She was a retired English teacher, and she agreed to help me and supervise my writing. I had a friend who interviewed famous people for a living, and she gave me a couple of possible addresses. These didn't work. Finally, reasoning that song writers love being paid for their work, I ended up calling ASCAP in New York, and they knew how to reach Antony Newley.
I wrote to him and told the story, though leaving out the details about the creatures I saw in my head. I told him what his work had meant to me through the years, and assured him he was significant, even though he might not realize it because his kind of music wasn't the most popular anymore.
Much to my surprise, I got a fine letter in reply two months later. He thanked me for writing, saying he had been touched. I have both letters in a special file here at home.
I think this whole business could have been avoided if Miss Fry had known her limits. One can teach about poetic techniques, history, language, and content, but feelings about a particular poem can't be legislated or graded. Any system that relied so strictly on knowledge of the visual was bound to fail. As for what other adults could have done, I'll leave that for you all to contemplate. Thanks for reading, and thank you, Antony Newley, for helping a blind child to learn to see the pictures in her mind.
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