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Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for
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Submission deadlines are the first of the month.
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 website and complete an 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, the national office can make printed cards available for this purpose. To remember the American Council of the Blind in your Last Will and Testament, you may include a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, contact the ACB national office.
To make a contribution to ACB via the Combined Federal Campaign, use this number: 2802.
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, or visit the Washington Connection online at http://www.acb.org.
This message is being written to you immediately following the president's meeting and mid-year board of directors meeting held in Birmingham, Ala. We all received a warm welcome and a weekend of true southern hospitality from the Alabama Council of the Blind, "the other ACB" as they are fond of calling themselves. The Alabama Council is an outstanding example of what an affiliate of ACB can be and they wanted to demonstrate that to mid-year participants. They played a major role in making the weekend a major success. I particularly want to acknowledge Alabama president David Trott and his wife Rhonda, while not forgetting the many other outstanding contributors from Alabama to this weekend.
It is hard not to leave a president's meeting without a feeling of rejuvenation and a renewed sense of what and who we are in the American Council of the Blind. The meeting in Birmingham was no exception, though several hours of our meetings were spent discussing matters that have led to concern and frustration on the part of some ACB leaders and members. In a two-hour session held on Saturday afternoon, I and members of the board of directors and board of publications discussed at length a series of questions and addressed numerous related issues in order to fully inform affiliate presidents and other ACB leaders about many events and possible allegations that have been discussed in these pages and elsewhere in ACB. In considering this session, I believed that the interests of all would best be served through the holding of a facilitated discussion during which I would leave the chair and place the meeting in the hands of an impartial moderator. In addition, I asked Melanie Brunson, our acting executive director, to work with the moderator to develop a series of questions that could be used to guide the discussion. These measures might help lay to rest the allegations made regarding either the president of the board of directors of ACB seeking inappropriate degrees of power or control within our organization.
The facilitated discussion was moderated by Barry Levine. We all owe Barry a great debt of thanks for a job well done and a truly productive, informative and positive exchange of views. These two hours allowed us to make huge strides forward in communicating the truth of what has occurred and is occurring today in ACB. I encourage all interested ACB members to order tapes of the mid-year meeting and to listen to that session as well as my "President's Update" presented during the first morning session. Tapes can be ordered from the ACB Store, 1-877- 367-2224.
Several clear conclusions came from the proceedings at the president's meeting. First, the vast majority of presidents believe that it is time for our organization to return its focus to efforts on legislative affairs and those other items that support the programs and infrastructure of ACB. Also, virtually everybody assembled seemed to find particular value in the time spent approaching one another in person rather than through written e-mails that have a tendency to escalate a war of words into crisis where no crisis exists and where reasonable people can air concerns or differences of viewpoint and then move back to the affairs for which we created organizations like ACB.
Many events occurred over the remainder of the weekend that support this agenda. The board moved in two significant areas to provide support for our members and for the blind generally. First, action was taken to demonstrate continued and specific support for Randolph-Sheppard vendors throughout the country with regard to enhancing their ability to compete effectively for jobs in military food establishments. Second, the board approved organizational support for work to begin regarding the inaccessibility of new point of sale machines in stores that do not allow the owner of a debit or credit card to enter their pin number privately. We believe it is a matter of inaccessibility for a blind person to be required to divulge their pin number to a sales clerk or a nearby shopper in order to make use of the in- store debit machines at check-out stands. Both of these matters will almost certainly be the subject of resolutions in Birmingham this summer.
The board also took action to fill two vacancies on the ACB board of directors. The first vacancy considered by the board was that created by the resignation of Steve Speicher, first vice president. His seat is filled as ordered in our constitution by the second vice president, M.J. Schmitt of Illinois. The board elected Mitch Pomerantz of California to take her seat as second vice president. This left Mitch's seat and that of Dawn Christensen to be filled. In two separate elections, the board chose Cynthia Towers, Seattle, Wash., and David Trott, Talladega, Ala., to fill these positions. All three of these board appointments remain in force until the summer convention in Birmingham, at which time these individuals must stand for election by the assembled membership. I am extremely pleased to have, once again, a full working board, and a board of directors that is clearly committed to moving forward the affairs of this organization on behalf of the entire membership of the organization.
Our weekend together in Birmingham this February was definitely a time of renewal and strengthening of ACB as an organization. Affiliate presidents, the board of directors, and other interested participants found common ground in a united willingness to support ACB, regardless of whatever momentary differences may have appeared to divide us in the past three months. Our basic beliefs have not altered and our purpose cannot be blunted by moments of concerns and questioning as long as those questions are asked for the good of the organization as a whole. It is clear that ACB leadership stands where it has always stood: bonded together to work for the betterment of and the establishment of rights for blind Americans. In the coming months we will move forward in that vein and with that purpose uppermost on our agenda.
If you looked at the inside cover of your "Braille Forum" this month, you may have noticed some changes to the information that appears on it. On January 30, Penny Reeder resigned her position as editor of "The Braille Forum." This was a sad development for all of us. Penny has many talents and during her tenure of nearly four and a half years, she gave us a magazine that was exciting and informative. Those talents will serve her well as she pursues her new professional endeavors. We certainly wish her well. Sharon Lovering has agreed to serve as acting editor until a plan is put in place for identifying someone to fill the position on a permanent basis. Sharon has worked closely with both Penny and her predecessor, and edited "The Braille Forum" for some time when Penny's predecessor left ACB. She is committed to the work of ACB and has the confidence of the board of publications, so readers can be assured that "The Braille Forum" is in very capable hands.
ACB continues to experience change and it is sometimes difficult for us to know how to respond to it. But though some of it has been difficult, there are a number of positive changes occurring as well. For example, we have seen some increases in the number of ACB members who are taking advantage of programs that enable them to contribute to the financial well-being of their organization. During the holiday season, a number of us purchased gifts from Alaska Smokehouse.com. You may remember that Alaska Smokehouse.com will give a percentage of any sales proceeds to ACB at the request of the purchaser. They sell some pretty yummy items, including desserts and coffees, as well as meats and salmon. I hope readers will keep Alaska Smokehouse.com in mind for those birthday presents, thank-you gifts and other special occasions that arise throughout the year. It provides a great way to make a lot of people happy and support ACB at the same time. You can visit www.alaskasmokehouse.com or call 1-800- 422-0852.
We have also seen an increase in the number of people who are supporting ACB by signing up for our Monthly Monetary Support program. If you don't know about it, this program allows subscribers to have monthly contributions deducted automatically from their bank accounts if they choose to do so and avoid the hassle of writing checks, and it's easy to sign up. If you have access to a computer, go to the ACB web site and sign up on line. If electronic forms aren't your cup of tea, we have forms at the ACB national office and would be happy to send one to you. I encourage everyone who is a member or friend of ACB to request a form or sign up on line for the Monthly Monetary Support program. Join the growing number of your fellow ACB members and friends who are contributing to positive change in ACB's resources. Together, we will insure that ACB has the ability to do more than just respond to change. In fact, we will be responsible for change and it will be change that has a positive impact on the quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired.
President Chris Gray held a conference call meeting of the ACB board of directors Wednesday, January 14, 2004. The meeting began at 9:10 p.m.
The agenda included discussions of fundraising, extension of the contract for Laura Oftedahl, election to fill the board position vacated by Dawn Christensen, and mid-year meetings for 2004 and 2005. A discussion of the current status of the budget process was added. President Gray announced that the meeting would also include an executive session for the purpose of discussing matters of personnel.
A motion to adopt the agenda as outlined above carried on a voice vote.
Donna Seliger took the roll call. Those present in addition to the board were Jim Olsen, Laura Oftedahl and Charlie Hodge. Board member Jerry Annunzio was absent at the beginning of the meeting, but joined later along with acting executive director Melanie Brunson.
Oftedahl reported that several grant proposals are in the works. Some support grants have been secured for the legislative seminar and for the 2004 national convention. She suggested that ACB fund-raising efforts concentrate on grants, planned giving and individual donations.
A motion to extend Oftedahl's contract at the same rate and hours beginning Feb. 3, 2004 passed on a roll call vote of 10 to 3. Those voting in the affirmative were: Bazyn, Beatty, Bradley, Keith, Miller, Pomerantz, Ruschival, Schmitt, Seliger and Sheehan. Those opposed were Charlson, Edwards and Speicher.
The board decided by consensus that the vacancy created by Dawn Christensen's resignation will remain until the 2004 convention.
Gray reported that the mid-year meeting agenda was nearly complete. He mentioned that Carl Augusto had approached him about a presentation at mid-year concerning state agencies and involvement by ACB. Pomerantz suggested working on the rehab task force paper and getting it disseminated during mid-year.
Charlson reported that due to a number of circumstances, the draft budget has been delayed until the first week in February. The budget committee consists of Bazyn, Sheehan and Charlson, along with Gray, Brunson and Olsen.
A motion to move into executive session to discuss personnel items carried on a voice vote.
Following the executive session, the open meeting continued. Gray reported that the executive session pertained to personnel matters, and that the board took no action. A motion to adjourn carried and the meeting ended at 12:05 a.m. Eastern time on January 15, 2004.
The pain that is felt in the hearts of adult children following the unexpected death of a loving mother is dulled somewhat by memories of the loving person she was and the beautiful life she lived. My mother, Roberta Douglas (Miller), passed away quietly on December 27, 2003, in the hospital in Newark, N.J. following a brief but devastating battle with pneumonia brought on by a virulent strain of influenza which attacked her immune system, which, in turn, had been weakened by two cardiac arrests, worsening adult-onset diabetes and the aftereffects of complicated pituitary surgery during the 1990s. Family members and friends shared remembrances of her from many different perspectives during a memorial service in Washington, D.C. on January 4, 2004. Among the impressive and moving speakers who shared their memories were ACB past presidents Dr. Otis Stephens and LeRoy Saunders, Dr. Bud Keith, Janiece Petersen, Billie Jean Keith and former ACB executive director and surviving spouse Oral Miller.
Roberta Douglas was always on the move and planning what she would do next, usually to assist someone else -- a blind friend, a senior citizen, one of her children or one of her grandchildren. Her father was a career Navy officer, so she spent most of her growing-up years in or near naval installations (such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard). After graduating from high school in Princeton, N.J., she attended Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., and soon thereafter started her family of four children while her husband was completing the required military service of that time.
In the 1970s and following her divorce, she moved to the Washington, D.C. area and undertook the brazen and primary support of her children, all of whom were still in school at some point. Her belief that blind and visually impaired people know best what their needs are was demonstrated vividly in the late 1970s when top staff at the National Arboretum were debating whether and how to repair the famous braille trail, which had been severely damaged by vandals. Roberta, who was then on the staff, suggested, "Let's ask the blind and visually impaired people themselves" -- and she did by contacting the D.C. Council of the Blind. While speaking at that organization's meeting, she met two tall men named Durward McDaniel and Oral Miller. The next year, Durward persuaded her to come to work as the office manager for the ACB national office, and a few years later she and Oral Miller were married. Her years working for ACB as office manager and then fundraising director were some of the best and some of the toughest -- burgeoning membership, rapidly growing conventions, newly instituted leadership training and legislative workshops, greatly increased governmental and legal advocacy services followed by great drops in ACB income, staff layoffs and furloughs, severe salary cuts, obtaining loans for ACB from family members and affiliates, operating the office with only three staff members and conducting varied fundraising activities before reaching the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of financial recovery by ACB in the early 1990s.
After the financial recovery was well under way, Roberta left ACB employment to accept the position as executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Ear, the leading-edge radio reading service in the national capital area. During the last seven or eight years of active employment, she served as information specialist and outreach facilitator for Iona Senior Services, one of the leading agencies providing services to senior citizens in the Washington, D.C. area. However, following technical retirement from that position, she stayed as active as ever (if not more so) doing volunteer work in both the senior and visually impaired worlds. Her interest in both worlds came together, for example, through service as the coordinator of Iona's low-vision support group and as co-chairperson of Iona's Community Advisory Council. Note that this list of activities over the last 20 years of her working career did not mention the countless hours she spent as a volunteer helping Oral Miller in his advocacy of sports opportunities for blind and visually impaired people through the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes and other organizations.
Roberta Douglas loved flowers, beautiful plants, her two Scottish terriers and a rescued hearing dog, and, above all, her six grandchildren. At the time the first one was a baby, she said, in response to my question, that she was not yet prepared to be referred to as grandmother and preferred instead to be referred to as "babushka" -- the Russian word for grandmother, because she had just returned from a trip to Russia with Oral. As her grandchildren learned to talk, they shortened that name to "Bushka." Oral, who often gives nicknames to friends, referred to Roberta's grandchildren thereafter as the "bushkins," and during Roberta's memorial service the college-aged grandson who delivered the remembrances for the other grandchildren referred to himself as the "spokesman for the bushkins."
As the grandchildren progressed through childhood, she introduced them to educational experiences which delighted them - - such as their first trips on an airplane or on a train. As each grandchild graduated or neared high school graduation and in her desire to give them an educational or cultural experience which they would always remember, she took each on an international trip as a traveling companion while Oral attended "dull meetings" in cities such as Amsterdam, Cairo, Madrid and Cologne. During the memorial service for Roberta, her children recalled her active life, never-ending list of things to be done, unique glasses and clothing outfits, love of flowers and plants, but ended their remembrances with what they called Roberta's Daily Rules -- the last of which said, "Never end a day without petting a Scottie." As the oldest of her four children and as the mother of five of her grandchildren, my pain in losing her is dulled somewhat by these and many other remembrances.
Memorial donations may be sent to the ACB national office.
Meetings and seminars on fascinating topics, social gatherings, tours, and all-around good fellowship are components of the national convention of the American Council of the Blind. The 2004 national convention will take place in Birmingham, Ala., from July 3 through 10. The Durward K. McDaniel Committee offers you an opportunity to throw your name into the hat, from which two lucky winners will be selected to receive an all-expense-paid trip to the ACB convention in Birmingham this summer.
For those of you who are newcomers to ACB, Durward McDaniel was the driving force who held this organization together during its formative years. He worked tirelessly, 24-7, for the council, and his forte was membership development. Durward believed in bringing people together!
Each year the committee named in his honor conducts a fund- raising event or two, to raise money to honor Durward's memory. Since he always said that people are our greatest resource, we decided to sponsor the McDaniel First-Timers' Contest, which brings two new people, one from each side of the Mississippi, to each national convention -- where their leadership skills will have a chance to sharpen and grow. If you're interested, read on!
If you have been active in your state or local organization, send us a biographical sketch, so that we will know something about you. Then, approach your state affiliate president and ask him or her to write a letter of recommendation for you. Send your documentation to the Durward K. McDaniel Committee, in care of the ACB national office, 1155 15th Street NW, Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005. Be sure to get all your documentation in by April 15, 2004. Letters carrying a later postmark will be ignored.
If you are genuinely interested in the American Council of the Blind and you want our organization to occupy a prominent place in your life, take a chance and put your name in the hat! We look forward to seeing you in July.
In the winter issue of the Forum we talked about some of the tours during the weekend preceding the convention. Now, let's look at some of the tours that take place during the week. Please note all tours mentioned are subject to change. We are still adding and subtracting tours, but most are firmed up. If, after pre-registration, we have a tour that has very few reservations, we will consider canceling it.
Do you like the James Bond kind of life where ink pens shoot bullets, or other spy devices are used? Then you will enjoy going on the tour of the natural history museum where you will view this and other fun exhibits. On the way back to Birmingham, we will stop off at the Whistle Stop Cafe in Irondale. This was the setting for the book about Fannie Flagg, whose family started this roadside inn in the 1920s. Later, Hollywood made a movie, some of which was filmed at the Whistle Stop. They gave the movie the title of the restaurant's specialty, "Fried Green Tomatoes."
David and Rhonda Trott have been working to put together two blind services tours. The first, on Tuesday, will go to Talladega to visit the campus of the state school for the blind, as well as the headquarters of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. AIDB has nine facilities around the state. On Thursday, you will be able to visit the Birmingham AIDB site where items are produced for the United States military and some private firms.
Are colonial things your bag? You will want to take the tour out to American Village. This village is much like Williamsburg, Va. There are 11 different settings, including replicas of such places as Mount Vernon, the Liberty Bell, etc.
Or are sports your thing? There will be one tour visiting the Alabama Sports Museum where we will be able to feel some sports memorabilia and docents will tell us about Alabama sports personalities such as Willie Mays, Joe Namath, Paul "Bear" Bryant, etc.
If flight history attracts you, the Alabama museum of flight should be on your list of tours. This tour will differ from our tour in Houston, in that there are planes and helicopters from different eras. There is also an outdoor area where complete aircraft can be seen.
Do you enjoy riding the rails? Another tour will visit a railroad museum. This place has a 45-minute train ride around the property, lots of different types of train cars, and the main building, which has lots of train memorabilia, and is built like an old railroad depot.
Think you will need to take a deep breath and smell the roses about mid-week? A visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens might be the thing to help you calm yourself during what looks to be a very active convention week.
For the artistic-minded folks at this year's convention, there will be a couple of tours to the Birmingham Museum of Art. Some blind folks have been working for several years with the museum to reproduce famous painting tactually, so that those of us who choose to can look at what the artist is trying to convey in the artwork. One of the tours will be sponsored by the good folks of Friends-in-Art.
We are also looking at visiting the jazz museum, the ham radio museum, a buggy ride tour through some old Civil War iron works, and a post-convention wrap-up tour (which we will talk about in next month's Forum).
Oh, by the way, almost all of our tours have a gift shop on site.
(Copyright 2003 Journal Sentinel Inc., reprinted with permission.)
(Editor's Note: We want to thank Jim Congdon for bringing this story to our attention via the ACB listserv. Jim, who was lucky enough to have Sister Melmarie Stoll as a teacher, said, "In this message is posted the story of one of the finest teachers of the blind I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She was my resource teacher during my middle school years and I firmly believe that she was the one teacher that impacted my life the most. Just about all of us who were her pupils or friends thought highly of this lady and still do. Read on and find out why.")
Sister Melmarie Stoll stands at the corner of the empty classroom and turns the pages of a photo book. The pictures span decades; still, she knows the name and life story of every child. There is Mary Ann, the musician. And Cheryl, the social worker. Randy -- "He was rambunctious in those days" -- works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Of course, there was Lois, though there is no photo of her. Who knew, in 1956, that she would change Stoll's life forever?
If you listen closely, you can hear the pride in Stoll's quiet voice -- not for anything she has done, but for the accomplishments of those she's taught at Holy Assumption School in West Allis. Their success is nothing less than she expected, of course. If there was one thing you learned in Stoll's class, it's that you don't get a pass just because you're blind.
This month, Stoll, 75, closed the door on a lifetime of teaching, most of it preparing blind children for life in the sighted world. She'd never say so herself, but she was a trailblazer, mainstreaming kids long before the term became part of the educational lexicon. She began her work at a time when the only option for many was the state school for the blind in Janesville.
Stoll, whose students call her Sister Mel, says she got so much more than she gave. Her students disagree.
"What she offered was the opportunity to be the best we could be, to really live up to our expectations," said social worker Cheryl Orgas, who lives in Shorewood with her husband and 9-year-old son.
Said Mary Ann Koch, a retired music minister who lost her vision to a brain tumor at the age of 6: "She'll never have any idea how much she's really had to do with the people we've become." Entered convent at 14
Milwaukee born and raised, Elizabeth "Betty" Stoll was 14 when her parents enrolled her in the Academy of Our Lady, a high school convent in Chicago. She is a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
At an early age, Stoll assumed her mother's dream. "She always wanted to be a nun, but her father wasn't Catholic, and he didn't understand," says Stoll. "So she asked her eighth-grade teacher what she should do. And she told her to obey her father, but to pray for vocations."
Of her parents' seven children, five took religious vows. "She prayed for vocations," Stoll says with a laugh now, "just not this many."
Stoll talks at length about her sister, Ara Coeli -- it means Altar of Heaven -- who spent 18 years as a missionary in Kenya before returning home in 1994, just 16 months before she died of cancer. Clearly, Stoll is awed by her sister's sacrifice. But she'll admit, if prodded, that you needn't go halfway round the world to find your mission.
For 45 years, Stoll's was in a classroom at Holy Assumption in West Allis, a few miles from her childhood home. "It just shows you how God leads you to the right thing at the right time," she said. Taught life skills
In many ways, the resource room for the blind at Holy Assumption looks like any other classroom in the school at 72nd and Orchard streets. Opened in 1958 with the blessing of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, the program drew students from across southeastern Wisconsin.
But instead of math and science and social studies, Stoll taught braille and typing, cane travel and other life skills students needed in the traditional classroom, where they spent most of their day. Stoll stressed music, encouraging students to play instruments and taking them to perform at charity functions and on local television shows. They went roller-skating and on field trips to the state capitol in Madison.
"I tried to show them that they could do everything anyone else could," she said. It wasn't a vocation she'd have even known to choose for herself.
Before Lois Nemeth arrived at Holy Assumption in 1956, "I had never even met a blind child," Stoll says.
Born with congenital cataracts and underdeveloped eyes, Lois could see just faintly in those days, and her parents wanted her to attend their local parish school, Stoll recalled. "They asked if I could take her into my classroom. And I thought, sure, she's just like any other child," Stoll recalls.
A lecture in Milwaukee by a national Catholic educator made Stoll realize that there was so much more she could do. "He talked about how Catholic education had in some ways neglected handicapped children, that even if schools were crowded, if we could make a place for these children, it would be so valuable," she said.
The school's principal, who also attended the lecture, lobbied the parish priest, and he in turn approached the archdiocese. Stoll was sent to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., for certification, and the room opened shortly thereafter.
The program grew slowly, starting with first-graders and adding a grade each year. That it even got off the ground -- and then thrived for so long -- is a testament to the parents, volunteers and benefactors that have blessed it over the years, Stoll says.
Women from the Home and School League took on the meticulous task of translating texts into braille in the early years. The local Lions Club and other groups raised money for books, furniture, braille writers, computers later and sundry other needs.
One local businessman, the late Ken Cook Sr., adapted a piece of equipment so it would read braille flash cards, and had his workers make plastic trays that held the marbles the students fingered to study the complexities of braille.
Stoll credits the program's longevity to a long list of benefactors. "There were many times when we were threatened with closing because we just didn't have enough money," she said.
But one former student says the credit goes to Stoll. "She drew people to her and the kids," says Koch, who graduated from Holy Assumption in 1967 and returned as Stoll's aide from 1977 to 1989. "If she hadn't been the person she was, I'm not sure these people would have seen the merit." Firm, but kind
That "person she was" came through in the classroom as well, said Koch and others who studied with her. She could be strict but empathetic, demanding but encouraging. She set high standards and expected they'd be met. She was quick to scold students if she thought they deserved it. And she was their staunchest defender if she saw them as a victim of an injustice.
"She was human," says Koch, who like many of the students, has maintained a friendship with Stoll over the years.
"I had to toe the line, just like everybody else," says Randy Black, who recalls himself as a high-energy, highly curious kid who loved to ring the school bell, flush the toilets, tinker with the principal's public address system and do just about anything else to sate his appetite for tactile stimuli. "Sister Mel was the person who made sure I had the skills I needed to succeed in life," says Black, who runs the communications center for the bursar's office at UW-Madison and will soon celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary.
He notes, sardonically, that one educator told his parents early on that he should be institutionalized. "Being blind is not that different from being sighted," Black says. "Yeah, I'm blind, so what?"
It's that confidence, that sense of place in the world, that distinguishes Stoll's students, says Orgas. "She had very high expectations for blind kids, which is really crucial. By the time you left Sister Mel's class, you were really ready to go on to the regular high school, where you might be the only blind student."
As much as Stoll thrived in her work, it must have been isolating, Koch said. She recalls as a child taking statewide tests with Stoll in the resource room. "She'd have the tests all brailled up, and she'd be there with the printed books. All I can remember is all these braille writers going click, click, click. It must have driven her nuts."
Teachers kept their doors closed in those days, but Koch recalls how Stoll once got up to open hers, just to see the children walking back and forth in the halls. "She was the only sighted person in the classroom, and I think she just needed that communication with the outside world," she said.
If Stoll was tough on them, her former students say, it's because she knew life would be. "She was very loving, but she made sure we weren't being babied," says Lois Nemeth Davis, the student who launched Stoll onto working with the blind back in the 1950s. Davis retired in 1999 after working for Milwaukee County for nearly 30 years.
"She let us know early, 'Whether you like it or not, everyone around you sees,'" says Koch. "'To become the people you want to be, you're going to have to live by the rules of the sighted world.'" 'She gave us confidence'
That message served Koch well, she says, as she went on to college and into the work world. When her parents died, she moved into an apartment of her own.
"How I faced life had a lot to do with what she taught," Koch said. "She gave us the confidence to be lawyers or musicians, even wives and husbands with children. Without her, our lives would have been totally different."
Stoll left Holy Assumption this month when the school, its enrollment down to just 86 students, closed to merge with another. It was decided, even before the merger, that this would be the last class for the resource room, where enrollment had fallen to just three students this year.
Stoll is in Rome this week with her sister, Sister Marie Gabriel Stoll. They're on a prayer pilgrimage with Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
Sister Melmarie Stoll's trip was a parting gift from the West Allis Lions Club, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars for her classroom over the years.
In the weeks before her departure, Stoll spent hours sifting through the memories in her classroom. It was a bittersweet time as she reflected on the loss of what was and the uncertainty of what will be. She's not retiring, she insists, only in search of a new calling.
On this day, she sits at a student's desk, playfully quizzing a guest on the marble tray. Behind her, in large, cutout letters stretched atop the blackboard are these words: "Lord, that I may see the beauty of thy face."
She's seen it, she's certain, in the faces of those who could not see her.
"This has been my life," she says. "I loved the kids. I loved the work. I don't think I could have wanted for a better vocation."
Imagine the possibilities when a group of professionals travels to another country to share strategies and establish contacts with local professionals and members of the public on issues of equality and access to education, employment and civil society.
Recently, professionals with and without disabilities from the United States and Japan had a unique opportunity to do just that. Through the support of the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Mobility International USA (MIUSA) coordinated a bilateral exchange of U.S. and Japanese professionals with expertise in employment, inclusive education, organizational management and public policy.
In September 2002, a group of professionals, parents and students from Japan traveled to Eugene, Ore. to take part in an intensive program of informational workshops and site visits with the goal of devising strategies for improving the rights of Jappanese citizens with disabilities. In February 2003, professionals from the U.S. traveled to Tokyo, Japan to continue the dialogue. They met with colleagues from various organizations, including the Japan Council on Independent Living Centers, Attorneys for Working Disabled Persons, and with parents and citizen activists at public forums and community gatherings.
Audrey Schading, a U.S. participant who is blind, traveled to Japan with her guide dog, Duncan. "Though laws for guide dog acceptance have only recently been passed [in Japan], Duncan had very little difficulty being accepted wherever we went. He attracted a lot of attention, as he is very large German shepherd. There are only about 800 people presently using guide dogs in Japan, trained at eight different schools. People were fascinated with Duncan and asked a lot of questions about his breed and size. After hours, Duncan won a restaurant owner over by his excellent behavior. At first we were told he could not come in, then only if we sat in the back. We came back the next day, and were welcomed in with smiles! Once the manager understood that Duncan would not create havoc with anything or anyone, we were told he was always welcome to come there."
In addition to community site visits, forums and meetings, participants took part in enrichment activities that exposed them to the unique culture of the host country, such as river rafting in Oregon and a traditional drumming performance in Japan. Together with a homestay experience, these opportunities allowed them to place disability issues in a cultural context, and to better understand the people who are working for equal opportunity around the world.
For more information on participating in an international exchange, please visit www.miusa.org, or contact MIUSA at (541) 343-1284, fax (541) 343-6812, e-mail [email protected] or write to P.O. Box 10767, Eugene, OR 97440.
On August 30, 2003, I won the World Jiujitsu Championship in my division and placed third in the open. Jiujitsu is a full- contact grappling martial art exceedingly popular in Brazil where the World Championships are held. The style of jiujitsu that I have studied is called Gracie Method, made famous by the Gracie brothers who won the Ultimate Fighting competitions several times. Before this, few in the U.S. were familiar with jiujitsu. The Gracies proved that jiujitsu could trample karate, judo, boxing and any other form of fighting.
The road to victory is never short and in my case, credit must be shared with many people who helped along the way.
To prepare, I trained three days each week with three different black belts. The first was Steve Maxwell, co-owner of Maxercise in Philadelphia. Steve not only taught me jiujitsu, but also made it his personal project to transform my body into a lean, strong, limber fighting tool. Hagis, another black belt from Brazil, reinforced many of the moves that I have learned over these past five years. With him I would repeat moves again and again until they became second nature. I also flew to California twice to train with Jean-Jacques Machado, a multi- champion black belt who also fights one-handed. As I was discovering, my blindness was less of a hindrance than the limitations of my left hand. My left hand has only two fingers attached to a fused wrist. Machado taught me many ways to overcome my limitations and use more of my legwork. After six months of high-intensity training, I flew to Brazil for the competition.
D.C. Maxwell, Natalia Davis, Jamie and I flew to Rio together. All of us practice jiujitsu. Once in Rio, we were met by Saulo Ribiera, a six-time world champion who would continue my preparation for the match. He would also prove instrumental in coaching me through my fights. I worked out with Greg, a fellow blue belt from Ohio. After four days of training, the competition was at hand. I had only to focus on my state of mind.
It would all come down to five minutes on the mat. At the tournament I was joined by four more friends from the U.S.: Marco, Anray, Nick and Noah. They, along with other Americans, joined in the cheering. My first hesitations came when I shook my opponent's hand and realized how large it was. My next apprehension arrived when his young 46-year-old body hit my 58- year-old body on the mat. He was so strong and serious. This wasn't friendly sparring in the gym. But I performed technically better than I have ever performed. I even managed to get out of a triangle, a move where the competitor wraps his legs around your neck in an attempt to choke you out. I managed to stand up, stack his body, and produce enough pressure that he finally let go of his grip. Thanks to Saulo, I never gave up even though I was afraid that I might pass out.
When I broke his triangle, it broke his spirit. After that I passed his guard, or for those who don't know jiujitsu, I escaped his legs coiled around my waist. In the end, I won six points to nothing. The gold medal! The crowd roared and I got a standing ovation along with many hugs from friends. Even my competitor was gracious with his compliments. He declared that the better man had indeed won.
Next was the absolute, or open, competition, where size and weight are irrelevant. There were eight competitors. I had resolved previously that I would not fight these if I had won my division. I was still nursing a dislocated rib and feared further injury. But I found myself far less winded than expected, and I was spurred on by the cheers of my son. This match was very different. I had no sense of my opponent. We did not shake hands ahead of time. My first sense of him was when we hit the mat and I discovered that he must have weighed at least 200 pounds, 30 pounds more than me! I lost that five-minute round, but managed to make him work for it. The winner, who had stormed through his division, now moved on to collect the gold medal in the absolutes. I collected a bronze. When I lost, the crowd cheered so loudly it was deafening.
After I collected my medals, many of the competitors and coaches came to shake my hand. They were shocked to see that my hands were also disabled. They looked at me with reverence. Some of the local young people also came up to have their picture taken with me. I was interviewed by a Brazilian magazine, where I hope I inspired others to try harder. This is one of the achievements I am most proud of in my life.
I was not athletic until middle age. I didn't start training for jiujitsu until I was 50. I had always believed that I was not an athlete. I proved myself wrong. As Tony Robbins said, I have found that whether you believe you can, or believe you can't, you are usually right.
When you've been able to see all your life, losing your vision to age-related macular degeneration can be devastating. Some elderly people are reluctant to admit they have poor vision and so do not seek the help they need. In some cases, well-meaning relatives attempt to remove their visually impaired loved ones from their own homes and place them in assisted living facilities or nursing homes where they will be safe. Such is the case for Addie Marsh, the main character in Pam Rice's novel "Coming to My Senses." When I read this book, I found it so inspiring and true to life that I would like to share my experience of the book and its author with others.
Pam Rice lives in Beulah, Colo. and is a rehabilitation teacher for the state division of vocational rehabilitation. She teaches adults who are visually impaired. A graduate of the University of Southern Colorado, she has always wanted to write and, according to a recent article in "The Pueblo Chieftain," she actually sold a story in 1976 to a teen magazine. But marriage, family, and a job got in the way of her earlier ambitions. Finally, in 1997, when her children were grown, she began work on "Coming to My Senses," a novel inspired by her work with people who are visually impaired. After several years of writing and editing, the book was finally published in 2002 by Five Star, a subsidiary of the Thorndike publishing empire. The book is available on cassette from the Colorado State Library's talking book program and can be accessed by local talking book libraries.
In Rice's novel, Addie, a woman in her mid-seventies, is losing her vision to macular degeneration. She lives alone in a rural mountain village in Colorado. Her son Joe and his family live in a town about 30 miles away. As the story begins, Joe is trying unsuccessfully to convince his mother she needs to move to an assisted living facility. When he arrives at his mother's cabin unexpectedly, he finds her fast asleep in a rocker on her porch and stew burning on the stove because she had the heat on too high.
As the story unfolds, Addie gradually comes to terms with her visual impairment. Her close friend and physician encourages her to join a support group where she makes new friends. When the group's facilitator, a rehabilitation teacher, offers to help Addie learn daily living and mobility skills, she hesitates at first. But after a fall gives her a concussion, she becomes convinced that she needs this kind of help. Addie has the appliances in her home marked with tactile labels, learns orientation and mobility skills, and starts learning braille as well. Eventually, she convinces Joe she is perfectly capable of living independently in the isolated mountain cabin where she has lived for years.
There are several subplots to this story. First of all, the story of Addie's struggle to come to terms with her visual impairment is intermingled with flashbacks from Addie's past. Addie and her sister, orphaned as small children, were raised by a rich uncle in Denver. Addie married her first husband just before World War II and he was soon sent overseas after she became pregnant with her first son. He was killed in action soon after the child's birth. Addie's second husband was an Army buddy of her first husband; Joe was born soon after they married. She and her family eventually ended up in the little cabin in the mountains where the novel is set.
As Addie slowly adjusts to her visual impairment, she befriends a teenage girl who moves in with her so-called husband in the cabin next door to Addie's. She also befriends a gentleman who moves into an old lumber camp across the lake from her. This gentleman is a loner at first, but by the end of the book, Addie has managed to draw him out. All of these subplots make "Coming to My Senses" a delightful book to read.
Being visually impaired myself and working with senior citizens who are visually impaired, I found "Coming to My Senses" very realistic. Addie and the other participants in her support group are like several of the elderly people I have met in the support groups I have facilitated. In fact, Pam Rice's portrayal of visual impairment convinced me that she herself is visually impaired. When I mentioned this to a friend in Colorado who participated in one of the support groups she used to facilitate, and who recommended the book to me, he said, "I hope she's not visually impaired. She's driven me to some of our meetings!"
I realize now that Pam Rice is one of those sighted people who really understands visual impairment and I recommend her book to anyone interested in learning more about visual impairment and reading an uplifting story at the same time.
Since the drowning of seven-year-old Brianna Joy Nelson at the BLIND Inc. camp in Minneapolis a few months ago, a lot of focus has been placed on sighted assistance. Some ACB of Minnesota (ACBM) members were rather upset when Chuck Hamilton, Acting Director of Minnesota State Services for the Blind, said that people in ACBM "might seek more assistance from sighted people." At first I was angry too, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. Using Metro Mobility, audio description, sighted guide, and asking for information from the public are all forms of sighted assistance. Some would even contend that use of a dog guide is also a form of sighted assistance. Although I wouldn't go that far, the question is, "Is soliciting and using sighted assistance something we should be ashamed of?" My personal answer is no.
At a recent event, I wanted to know where and how people were lining up to see an exhibit. I asked a group of blind people, but they didn't know. I then decided that asking a sighted person would be the most efficient way of getting the information I needed. Shortly thereafter, a blind woman confronted me about prefacing my question with, "Are you a sighted person?" I explained that the group of blind people I asked didn't know. As I discussed my response to the confrontation with friends, I had a couple tell me that I should have said it was none of her business rather than explaining myself. I suspect I'm not the only one who feels like I have to defend my actions rather than acknowledging that I have my own set of standards. We know that we, as individuals, have diverse standards, so why try to pretend otherwise? The answer to this is that an organization for the blind has articulated that if we aren't following their standards, we expect less of ourselves as blind people.
Is utilizing sighted assistance some kind of cop-out? Many times, it seems to be a more efficient and graceful way of accomplishing something. According to the previously mentioned organization for the blind, there are exceptions to what is considered independent. The first is that sometimes it is OK to ask another blind person for help. If one asks a blind person for directions, that's OK, but substitute a sighted person as the one being asked, and suddenly it's not so great anymore.
There are times when asking even a blind person is taboo. The most independent way to do something is to figure it out oneself. This means that rather than asking for anyone's help or even a description of the order of a buffet line, it's OK to put one's fingers in the food and find out what is there. Ah, what are a few more germs anyway, and there are always napkins for messy fingers. Let's hope that all blind people can use their mobility method of choice in one hand and carry food, drink, and utensils in the other. Either that, or perhaps they can skip using their mobility device and try not to bump into anything or anyone on their way to the table. Rather than asking someone about the line, he/she is supposed to blunder into the situation and find out for him/herself. It doesn't matter that he/she might cut in front of or bump into someone else. I see neither of these things as acting graciously or gracefully.
A second caveat to the "as little sighted assistance as possible" rule is that the assistance is acceptable as long as the person is paid. Grocery shopping would be tedious if not impossible without sighted assistance. Store clerks are paid for what they do, so that is still considered independence. But put a volunteer or friend in the scenario instead of a store clerk, and suddenly the blind person is not independent. Disregard the fact that sighted people shop together all the time. It's OK to have someone drive us around as long as they are paid, but if a friend wants to do us a favor, that's somehow demeaning and is a sign of dependence. Never mind that friends drive for other sighted people who cannot or do not drive. According to this rule, it's shameful to have a volunteer reader. I ask, "Why should blind people pay to do something that sighted people do every day for free?"
Using a guide dog reeks of dependence, according to this crowd. There are certainly times when people accredit too much to our dogs and underestimate blind people's skills. However, I contend that there are advantages and disadvantages to both cane and dog. For instance, I wonder what makes a better impression walking into a job interview ... is it more professional to ask the dog to follow, or is it better to ask for an elbow or whack the interviewer's legs with a cane?
Next let's explore whether the standard-setters live up to their own standards. Those who impose the avoidance of sighted assistance on the rest of us are often against audio description. They believe that audio description is not important or even debasing to the blind. Imagine my shock when I heard a sighted person describing what was happening at the event mentioned above for a group of self-acclaimed independent blind individuals. Alas, he was being paid by their agency, so maybe it was OK. Almost everyone knows that some of the head honchos in this anti- sighted-assistance movement attend conventions with someone to lead them around at all times. Even locally where the bus is supposedly the only independent way to travel as a blind person, some of the "independent" blind administrators are often seen taking cabs. But these individuals have the funds to pay for help, so that's all right. It even seems that there are blind Metro Mobility users who belong to organizations which want blind people disqualified from Metro Mobility.
Now that we've determined that the standard-setters do not always follow their own standards, I wonder how confusing all of this is to the sighted person who just wants to do the right thing! I've heard the stories of sighted people who have gotten their heads bitten off for asking blind people if they could be of assistance. Don't get me wrong! I don't always say yes to sighted help. There are times I want to do something myself, and I've been known to get more than a little firm if the sighted person doesn't appropriately respond to a polite "no, thank you." Grabbing me or my dog's harness are other ways of getting me upset, especially on a bad day. Still, I try to keep in mind that if an individual finds contact with me to be unpleasant, someday this same person may walk away from me or another blind person instead of asking if help is desired.
Finally, I feel we all need to remind ourselves not to impose our standards on others. The mobility aid, type of transportation, and other methods of accomplishing daily living we choose make us neither superior nor inferior. Sometimes, especially when my self-esteem needs a little boost, I catch myself looking down upon the choices that others make. People have reasons for the choices they make, and we need to respect their personal decisions even when they differ from our own.
(Editor's Note: John J. Frank is a research scientist at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center On Blindness and Low Vision. He can be reached via e-mail, [email protected])
I sent in a request for research volunteers, which was published in "The Braille Forum" (vol. 38, no. 8, February 2000). My dissertation focused on problems encountered with employment- related requests for print access accommodation per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An earlier research study I conducted focused on requests for large print. This time, most of the informants used braille or audio formats to access print information.
Interviews were conducted in the fall of 2002. The ages of the 20 informants ranged from 37 to 64; 16 were college-educated professionals, 4 were unemployed. All the stories were of requests for access to print information made after 1994, they were reasonable and were made to entities covered by the law. The issue I was concerned with was their reasons for the avoidance of requesting accommodation. I revealed that focus in the second set of interviews, when I called the informants back to check the accuracy of the initial interviews.
My research did not look for barriers to employment. We already know lack of access to print information is a barrier. Rather, I sought to research (1) barriers within the ADA request process, and (2) how these affected the people who encountered them. A qualitative interview study can describe a phenomenon, but it cannot determine if it is widespread. Readers will have to consider if these barriers to requests and the responses to those barriers fall within their own experience, and thereby suggest the prevalence of the findings.
A request for access to print for an employment interview or on a job are not the only areas covered by the ADA that aid employment. Access to print information in many areas is needed. Below is a brief summary of my findings. A minimum of three examples was found for each of the areas described and for each of the six major themes that emerged from those findings.
Barriers were revealed in the following 12 areas where requests for accommodation were made.
(1) School and training. Even programs in rehabilitation failed to provide access.
(2) Tests, licenses and certification. Some state governments and private national agencies refused to provide alternate formats.
(3) The search for employment. Newspapers and reader services refused access. Professional organizations refused to provide their journals and newsletters in alternate formats. These all contain employment information.
(4) Contact with prospective employers. Various telephone services and the United States Post Office refused to provide access to their services.
(5) Travel to the employment site. This included bus and paratransit services, airports, and information for pedestrians. Requests for alternate formats for information concerning those services were denied or delayed.
(6) Access to stores, hotels, and restaurants. People who must use those services as part of their employment or as part of a job search were denied access, or told they had access when they did not, and, at times, were humiliated in the request process.
After a person had a job, the following barriers in requests for access to print were found.
(7) Printed material given to all employees. Printed materials such as information about employee benefits and rules, and insurance, tax, and payroll information, were requested in alternate formats, but not provided.
(8) Access to a bank, and access for (9) Bill paying were both denied. This is how a paycheck is used and is a reason for working. It allows an employee to continue working.
(10) Continuing education, which many jobs provide or require, was not made accessible.
(11) Using computers. Training on new programs or equipment and information on new products was requested, but not provided.
(12) The complaint process was found to be ineffectual. Filing complaints after being denied access was a full-time job that was frustrating, futile, and even dangerous.
The multiple stories that went into these 12 areas were analyzed further into the following six themes. First, broken trust and betrayal. The most offensive barriers to accommodation requests came from those organizations that were expected to know and care about the needs of people with severe disabilities. These included: independent living centers, state vocational rehabilitation agencies, university disability counselors, a consumer blindness advocacy organization, and the agencies charged with the enforcement of laws designed to protect the rights of people with severe disabilities at the city, county, state, and national levels. Entities that are required to accommodate, but that do not, are ignorant or lawbreakers, or both. Their illegal behavior is simply the normal, everyday variety of discrimination. When the entities that know better and/or are specifically responsible for providing accommodation or for protecting the rights of people with disabilities, refuse, resist, or obstruct requests for accommodation, that is broken trust and betrayal. That offense is a major reason to avoid requesting even essential ADA accommodations.
The second major theme is the multiplicity of barriers. Describing each obstacle to an accommodation request invites attempts to repair the ADA request process one problem at a time, or on a case-by-case basis. That process itself is a barrier. The sheer number of barriers that can be dissected for a simple ADA request makes avoidance of making requests the preferable choice. For example, there are multiple printed materials that need to be made accessible, there are multiple steps to take for each one, and multiple people to contact at various sources who expect to be trained by the requester. There are multiple types of accommodation to choose from. Multiple problems may emerge for each of the above steps, requiring the requester to come up with multiple solutions. Any one of a multitude of changes requested may cascade into a multitude of additional changes of things that might be better left undisturbed. Further requests invite multiple opinions from the people to whom the request is made. They comment about the need, the accommodation, blindness, the requester, and about the ADA. Those comments may not be relevant to the initial purpose of the request, which gets lost amid this multiplicity of barriers.
The purpose of a request for print access is not to get print access or to pay attention to the process, or to collect opinions about the process. The purpose or goal is to use the information in some way, just like everybody else uses print information. The multiplicity of barriers obscures or interferes with that goal. It may be preferable to avoid requesting ADA accommodation in order to accomplish a task in a less cumbersome way.
The next major theme was fear of retaliation. The most severe example was of the house of the requesters being shot into after they brought state government witnesses in to observe an entity's refusal to provide alternate formats. Other examples included fear that materials such as state applications or U.S. mail would be deliberately lost, fear of being sued, or fear of inviting the anger of the boss or co-workers. The informants understood that the redress processes designed to protect them were ineffective and often a waste of time, although one informant was successful with complaints due to his very aggressive approach.
Again, all the themes refer to problems in the ADA request process, not just to barriers that have always existed. The next major theme, problems with technology, is in itself nothing new, but for this study the barrier was found in the failure to provide requested alternate formats for training, repairs, and upgrades. The fifth theme, unanticipated by the researcher, was the concept of print is different for some people who have never seen print. Some informants thought braille was a print issue, but they did not think computers were a print issue, and they thought that audible traffic control devices and calling out bus stops, which are accessed by mechanical or by human readers, were not an access to print issue. This highlights the fact that ADA requests are likely to be made only for things that are known and believed to be helpful and covered by the law.
The final major theme was that, given these obstacles, some people resorted to habit to fulfill their needs. They avoided using the ADA request process and instead relied on the processes they have learned that do work, such as their own volunteers providing access to information. Another habit is to do without the access the ADA promised, but does not yet deliver.
Informants avoided the ADA request process because of the barriers they encountered in the request process. They were taught by those barriers not to make requests. The most successful avoidance was to avoid the official ADA process and go to the top, that is, to a better source. Some of the successful means were to go to the director of a firm, or the dean of a school, or to create negative newspaper publicity, or to contact politicians, or to use personal friends who are technology experts, or to use mass political action. However, those means are not desired by or available to everyone. A cost/benefit analysis of the ADA accommodation request process must include its cost to people with disabilities who make and pursue requests.
Some professionals in the rehabilitation field have suggested that problems with the ADA request process indicate there is a need to teach people with disabilities how to request ADA accommodation. That implies that disability discrimination is due to our lack of knowledge. That was clearly not the case for these informants. The covered entities, including state and local governments, refused and obstructed equality of access.
At this time in history, the courts are denying the validity of the need for the ADA and advocacy efforts are often progressing in a piecemeal manner. It is important to record the disability discrimination being experienced within the process of the law in order to discover where attention needs to be directed. This study of 20 people who are blind cannot speak for the millions of people with disabilities in our country that may face similar obstacles, but it points the way to needed research.
I believe we no longer need to collect and discuss opinions about the ADA and its effects. What is needed is to collect information on actual ADA behaviors and why they occurred. The questions that survey researchers should ask are: "What was requested? What was the response? What was received?" If an accommodation was provided, the question to ask is: "Was it effective?" Such research should involve people with disabilities who are obviously covered by the law, making requests to entities that are obviously covered by the law, of things that are obviously reasonable. This will begin the process of monitoring the implementation of the ADA.
A crucial area to record is the effect the law is having on people who are covered by the ADA who attempt to use it. The ADA is teaching some people that they are not wanted, not because they are blind, which was the pre-ADA reason for devaluing us, but rather because their civil rights as Americans to equality of access are not sufficiently valued.
I finished the dissertation and earned a Ph.D. from Syracuse University. Many thanks to "The Braille Forum" and the volunteers who made this possible.
In an article in the October "Forum," the statement was made that the author "knew of no single instance where Jesus empowered a blind man, or a lame woman, or a deaf child; instead, He cured them." As Christians, we strongly oppose this view. First of all, Jesus didn't cure for the sake of making people physically well. In each instance, the intent of the cure was to carry with it a much larger message. We assert that each person who was physically cured by Jesus served as a living example of His power and authority. In the days following each of the healings, they manifested this power and authority in that, through their witnessing for Him, they told of the tremendous change in their lives. Therefore, the real message in the cures, exhibited by the changed lives, is salvation through Jesus Christ. This is true empowerment!
There are countless passages throughout the Bible where empowerment is realized through the teachings of Jesus. For example, Christ said, "I am the vine, you are the branches, he that abides in Me and I in him will bear much fruit. For without Me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5) This verse states that Jesus himself is the source of all power.
The apostle Paul stated that after asking God to remove his debilitating affliction three times, God chose not to. Paul realized that God's grace was sufficient and through his weakened condition he was made strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) This passage reveals that Paul's disability was not what made him weak, but rather his lack of total dependence on Christ. When he understood the sufficiency of God's grace, despite his disability, he gained power and strength that propelled his unparalleled ministry.
As for poor debilitated Job, is there really a reason to feel sorry for him? It is imperative to note that Job would never have experienced these tragedies were it not for God's prior permission. Sure, he lost everything. Some of these things included: family, riches, respect, along with the numerous physical afflictions. But through all this calamity, Job maintained his devotion to God. With each messenger bringing news of another loss, mounting pain, suffering, disappointment, Job endured it all. Job understood better than anyone that all he had belonged to God, even his body. In the end, after the test was completed, Job ultimately ended up with more than he ever had before. We assert that Job's story illustrates that it takes more power to endure the pain and suffering, material losses, ridicule, and lack of respect than it does to succumb to the world's view of people with disabilities.
As Christians, we can't speak for other religions; however, we proclaim that Christianity is a relationship. This relationship is between a person and their faith in Jesus Christ. Scripture teaches that once this relationship has been established, a believer is entitled to all the promises of God, which include spiritual empowerment. This can be explained in that empowerment comes from within. It is an inner strength that allows us to overcome life's challenges and adverse conditions. As Christians with disabilities, if we are passive objects of charity-based religion, perhaps it is of our own doing. It is incumbent upon each believer to actively pursue opportunities of service in his/her local church and community. This will serve as an avenue through which we can become integral participants who immensely contribute to the education and enlightenment of those who hold charitable and demeaning ideas about people with disabilities. It is our responsibility to do all we can through Christ who empowers us. In so doing, we demonstrate to society that we are capable of helping rather than always receiving help.
The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, February 17, 2004. "The Braille Forum" is not responsible for the opinions expressed herein. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit letters for clarity, style and space available. Following newly delineated board of publications guidelines, all letters have been trimmed to a maximum of 300 words. Opinions expressed are those of the authors, not those of the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. We can print your letters only if you sign your name and give us your address.
Regarding Magazines and Propaganda
The mean-spirited parting shot taken at Charles Crawford in the December issue of the NFB's "Braille Monitor" clearly demonstrates why so many in the blindness community feel alienated by the very organizations entrusted to represent us. Whether it is "The Braille Monitor" or "The Braille Forum," we turn to these publications for resources and information, not propaganda or personal attacks. The unprofessional character of the NFB attack on Mr. Crawford leads one to believe that they represent those who are simply shortsighted rather than those with limited sight. Hopefully, ACB will refrain from an equally distasteful counterattack.
Regarding the Minutes Issue
As an ACB member who has requested minutes of open board meetings and been denied them, I was struck by President Gray's article in the winter edition of "The Braille Forum." But any rebuttal to this would take up too much space for a letter to the editor.
So allow me to give the following example of how I think our president and leadership should have responded to those requesting minutes from our organization. In the aftermath of Charlie Crawford's resignation, our national secretary and national staff have had a number of members request minutes. I believe that every member has the right to know the official actions of his or her organization. After all, ACB is not the sole domain of the board of directors or its elected or appointed representatives. It is the membership's organization.
I believe that ACB should have a policy to release minutes. It should release a statement along with those minutes, similar to this: "ACB is in a bit of financial difficulty at this time, so we do request that members requesting minutes try to accept e- mail attachments as their first request for accommodation if indeed this is effective. We will send minutes in this form immediately. For those who need these materials in braille, audiotape or in large print, we pledge to send this information out as soon as humanly possible. Also starting this month, the completed minutes will be posted to our web site for those who have access to that option. Any advice, technical or financial support to improve our efforts to deliver such requested information in a timely and accessible manner will be gratefully appreciated."
Regarding the Winter Issue of the Forum
I have just read the latest volume of "The Braille Forum," specifically the discussions surrounding the October resignation of ACB's executive director. I am unaware of the issues surrounding this situation, and have no position on it. What really struck me in a very positive way is the fact that your organization has chosen to allow such divergent and opposing views to be published in its magazine. It's obvious from the discussion that ACB is dealing with critical decisions on how it conducts itself as a member organization. As an outsider looking in, I would say that the openness of "The Braille Forum," as a vehicle for ACB's members to have their voices heard even when their views are critical of national leadership, is an organizational strength that should continue to be on display.
In Reply to "In God We Trust"
I would like to comment on Paul Edwards' article entitled "In God We Trust." Edwards spoke about how the medical community at large is perceived when viewing people with disabilities. He stated that in the medical model, people with disabilities have been seen as inherently inferior. However, I focused my attention on the subject which he led into: the role of religion.
While Edwards admits that his thoughts may be controversial, he does not apologize. He says that in his opinion, religion has been a key figure. The real problem is that Edwards seems to talk about religion and Jesus Christ as being one and the same. They are not. Religion is an oppressive system of rules and regulations devised by mankind to keep him in check. If a person follows this system, he or she hopes to achieve a kind of oneness with the gods.
Religion has been used to keep people in their places since day one. Many people in religious circles form a kind of spiritual elite. They think they are better than anyone else and wish to weed out folks who they see as inferior. I believe that this is the attitude that Edwards had in mind.
I see three themes being addressed by this article. They are, namely, the medical profession's view on disabilities, religion's view on disabilities, and Christ's view on disabilities. The medical field has been so intent on fixing the illness in society that many times it has ignored many of those who make up society. Religion's view has been that of a gatekeeper, keeping some people in while locking others out.
In contrast, Christ opens the door to us, offering new life.
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 items for this column, you may e-mail Sarah Blake at [email protected], or call ACB at 1-800-424-8666 and leave a message in mailbox 26. Please remember that postal regulations prohibit us from including advertisements, and that we need information two months ahead of actual publication dates.
Congratulations to the winners of the NELDS drawing! The first prize, two round-trip airfares to Birmingham, went to Teddie-Joy Remhild of Burbank, Calif. Second prize, five nights at the hotel, went to Brian Charlson of Watertown, Mass. And third prize of two banquet tickets went to Ann Brash of LaGrange, Ill. Many thanks to all who entered.
Congratulations to Dave Williams, ACB Radio's new director. Williams has been interim director since July of 2003, and was named full-time director Feb. 6.
If you would like to receive the pre-registration information on cassette tape, please contact Sharon Lovering in the ACB national office, 1-800-424-8666 extension 22, or via e- mail, [email protected] If you have received these tapes in the past, make sure that we have your correct information on file.
"Faith First," a religious book series for grades K through 8, is being brailled by Midwestern Braille Volunteers, 325 N. Kirkwood Rd., St. Louis, MO 63122; phone (314) 966-5828 and ask for Loretta. The volunteers have completed the kindergarten, eucharist and reconciliation books, and are working on the rest thanks to the publisher, Resources for Christian Living. (Thanks to Jeanne Wisa Fike of Chesterfield, Mo. for the information.)
Candle in the Window will hold its 18th conference August 11 through 15 at the Kavanaugh Life Enrichment Center outside of Louisville, Ky. Participants will explore the concept of independence within and outside the blindness community. If you would like to offer a workshop or activity, or know someone whom you think we should contact, please let us know by April 15. Presenters receive a $40 discount on the registration fee. For more information, contact Peter Altschul at (202) 234-5243 or via e-mail at [email protected]
The American Foundation for the Blind administers a scholarship program for deserving students. Each year individuals who are blind or visually impaired can apply for financial awards to support their post-secondary education. AFB is currently accepting applications for the following 2004 scholarships: Delta Gamma Memorial Scholarship ($1,000); Ferdinand Torres Scholarship ($1,500); Karen D. Carsel Memorial Scholarship ($500); R. L. Gillette Scholarship ($1,000); and the Rudolph Dillman Memorial Scholarship ($2,500). Applications must be postmarked no later than April 30, 2004. For more information, visit http://www.afb.org/scholarships.asp or call 1-800-232-5463.
The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC), through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), will provide 50 competitive scholarship awards to students with disabilities to study and intern in Washington, D.C., during the 2004 fall academic semester, September 1 to December 18. Applicants should be highly motivated students and recent graduates who are eager to prove their abilities in the workforce. Students will gain professional work experience in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the federal government in Washington, D.C. The Washington Center will complement students' work experience with solid academic training for credit from highly qualified instructors. In addition students will be exposed to community, national, and international leaders through workshops, seminars, lectures, embassy visits, and networking events held throughout the semester. The deadline for highly competitive applications is May 3; the regular deadline is June 14. For more information, contact the Washington Center at (202) 336-7600. Application materials and additional information are available on the web site, http://www.twc.edu. You may also download them from http://www.aapd.com/Internships/washintern.html.
The Emory University School of Medicine is seeking volunteers who are totally blind for a research study. Subjects must be in good health and between the ages of 18-60. The study will take about five hours, and will include physical and neurologic examinations at no cost. Following one to two sessions of tactile (touch) sensory testing with non-painful stimuli, there will be a session of fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanning to determine blood flow to the brain. The fMRI session is completely painless and non-invasive. The sessions will take place in the Department of Neurology, Emory University School of Medicine. If needed, transportation will be provided. Subjects will be compensated at the rate of $25 per hour for the testing and scanning sessions. For more information, please call Valerie Weisser in the laboratory of Dr. Krish Sathian at (404) 727-1453 or e-mail [email protected]
The Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School are conducting an important national genetic study called the Family Study of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). Families in which there are two or more living siblings with AMD are currently being recruited. If eligible, you and your family members will receive a free eye exam at your local eye doctor's office. Families meeting the above criteria who are interested in participating in this study may call 1-800-219-9157 for more information.
Highly literate adults who are blind or visually impaired are invited to complete an online survey of their literacy learning and technology use. The online survey is one component of Project Emerge, a research study on emergent literacy in young children with visual impairments, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The purpose of the survey is to learn more about the factors that contributed to literacy learning success in individuals who, prior to the age of 6 years, experienced severe visual impairment that affected their ability to read. Participants should be 21 years of age or older and have completed a four-year college degree. The results of this survey will increase knowledge and understanding of early learning experiences, environments, and technologies that are most likely to support literacy learning for young children with visual impairments/blindness. Families and teachers of young children with visual impairments/blindness will then be able to use the information to promote early literacy. The online survey will take about 45 minutes to complete and can be found at http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~emerge/litsurvey/literacysurvey.cfm. For more information, contact Allen Stutts via e-mail, [email protected], or call 1-888-718-7303.
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) recently announced the election of three distinguished board members: Bill MacGowan, Vice President of Human Resources, Global Centers of Expertise, Sun Microsystems; Walter Leavy, Managing Editor, Johnson Publishing Co. (Ebony magazine); and William R. Wiener, Dean, The Graduate College, Western Michigan University. Congratulations!
The American Foundation for the Blind presented its Access Awards at the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI) on March 5, 2004. This year's honorees included Janet Barlow, Billie Louise Bentzen, and Lukas Franck for working to standardize audio pedestrian signals; IBM Corporation for promoting accessibility throughout its company and in its products; and Allison Driver and Scott Strauss of Spiegel and McDiarmid for helping improve cell phone accessibility.
You are invited to participate in an exciting beta test of digital talking books! The Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center and TAP Information Services will be working with a company called OverDrive to provide and test text-to-speech function and quality in Adobe Acrobat electronic books in PDF format. Your feedback will assist OverDrive and Adobe in evaluating the "read-aloud" function in Adobe formatted electronic books, which will help the center in evaluating various formats for digital talking books, reader preferences, and providing feedback on these to publishers, other vendors, libraries, and talking book centers. For more information, visit http://ebooks.mitbc.org.
The Kennedy Space Center offers accessible tours for people with various disabilities. Features include audio guides and hands-on models of the space shuttle and Apollo Saturn V rocket. Each model is three feet high and allows guests with low vision or blindness to use touch to conceptualize the space shuttle and the rocket. The center provides all of its services for guests with disabilities free of charge or at a minimal fee. For more information, or to arrange reservations for guests with disabilities, call (321) 449-4364 or visit http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
Talking Checkbook 2.0 enables people with disabilities to manage finances and print their own checks independently. Features include accessibility with JAWS and Window-Eyes, a calculator, and a calendar. Talking Checkbook also includes its own voice output. A template for signing printed checks is also included. The program is available for $59.95 plus shipping and handling. For more information, visit http://www.readingmadeeasy.com or call (815) 722-5961.
The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute provides tactile street maps over the web. The system uses a server-based geographic information system (GIS), and will be able to produce tactile graphics files properly prepared for standard braille embossers, swell paper, ViewPlus Tiger embossers, or other tactile output devices. Ultimately, the software will be available as an on-line service that allows anyone to request a tactile street map of any location at any scale, download the files and emboss or render the tactile map immediately. The street maps are automatically produced with appropriate information density, braille labels, and simple line figures to optimize their use by a blind map reader. The current system only includes USA data; in the future, other data sources may be used. If you are interested in learning more, or would like to become a beta tester, visit http://www.ski.org/tmap.
The Oral Hull Foundation just announced its 2004 summer camp dates. Adult camp (21 years and older) will be in session July 17 to 24; youth camp (ages 10 to 20) will meet August 14 to 21. Sessions cost $300 for the week; camperships are available for both camps. Camp sessions include nature walks, swimming, fishing, sports, good food and much more. To request an application, write to Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind, PO Box 157, Sandy, OR 97055; phone (503) 668-6194, or e-mail [email protected]
The National Church Conference of the Blind will hold its annual conference July 25-29, 2004 in Kansas City, Mo. at the Ramada Inn Airport, 7301 NW Tiffany Springs Rd. The room rate for the conference is $59 per night plus tax for up to four people per room. To reserve a room, call (816) 741-9500. Come join us for inspirational Bible teaching, seminars, tours and talent time. For more information, contact Rheba Dunn, Membership Secretary, PO Box 196, Grover, CO 80729; phone (970) 895-2352, or e-mail [email protected] Or visit the web site, www.thenccb.org.
Rhetorical, a leading developer of text-to-speech technology, recently signed an agreement with Motorola Inc. to provide speech synthesis software for use with Motorola's VIAMOTO products. These products allow consumers to easily access location-specific information and turn-by-turn directions on wireless devices. VIAMOTO users select their destination in one of three ways: either by calling an operator, using the phone keypad, or through a web interface. The voice directions for a route are then determined by VIAMOTO servers, downloaded and stored in the phone. The directions from the current GPS location to the destination are then automatically read to the user along the route.
Lift is a non-profit company that recruits, qualifies, trains and hires information technology professionals who have physical disabilities and places them with major corporations. Johnson & Johnson and Verizon Wireless are two of more than 80 corporate clients that Lift has served. For more information, visit their web site at www.lift-inc.org, write to PO Box 4264, Warren, NJ 07059, or phone (908) 707-9840.
Does your Perkins braille writer need repairs? Contact Frank Levine, Atlanta Brailler Repair and Service, 3830 S. Cobb Dr., Suite 125, Smyrna, GA 30080; phone (770) 432-7280 or e-mail [email protected]
The Ezealor Community Library is a non-profit public library and resource center seeking educational and informational items. If you have any books, magazines, or other items you can spare, send them to: Ezealor Community Library, PO Box 3479, Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria.
Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Memphis Restaurant Association have cooked up a winning solution for the 60,000-plus people who are blind or visually impaired: work together to provide braille and large-print menus to Memphis area eateries. Are you going to Memphis? Ask for one when you go out to eat!
FOR SALE: Toshiba Notebook PC 105cs. It is a Pentium with a 600-meg hard drive; 8 megabytes of memory; Windows 95; 3.5 and 5.25-inch floppy drives; 2 PCM slots; cable; carrying case. It can be used in Windows or DOS. It's loaded with a screen reader and other programs. Excellent condition, seldom used. Asking $599. IBM DOS computer loaded with many programs, excellent condition. Asking $300. Keynote Gold PCM Voice Card with external speaker and batteries. It can be used in laptops for Windows and DOS. Excellent condition, seldom used. Asking $1,200. Keynote Gold stand-alone speech synthesizer from Humanware; it can be used in Windows and DOS. Excellent condition, seldom used. Asking $499. Hayes Accura 144+ Fax144 modem for DOS and Windows. Very good condition. Asking $50. U.S. Robotics V.90 56K standard fax modem. Seldom used, excellent condition. Asking $90. Touch Tablet. Good condition; never used. Asking $200. Cell phone antenna, never used; comes with instructions and a tool to install it. Asking $15. Blank 3.5-inch high density formatted IBM diskettes, 30 in a package. Asking $6. English/Spanish book "Gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Donnes del Espiritu Santo) by Ronald E. Short; 6 cassette tapes in a box. Asking $15. Manual about DOS in three cassette tapes and a manual about WordPerfect in 4 cassette tapes. Free. Contact Irena Franchi, 301 174 St. #2206, Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160; phone (305) 932-8856; e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Aladdin Rainbow RB-1 closed circuit television (CCTV) reader with new spare illumination bulb. Originally cost $2,600; asking $1,000 plus shipping. In the original protective box and ready to go. Call Bill Dennis at (318) 357-8486 or e- mail at [email protected]
FOR SALE: DECtalk Express external speech synthesizer with case. Asking $300 or best offer. Call (541) 752-3890 (Pacific time).
FOR SALE: Recently reconditioned braille writer with soft cover. Asking $400 plus shipping if not free matter. Also, more than 65 Insulgauges, 2 Medi-coolers, and 2 custom-made wooden jewelry cases to house some of the gauges: all for $125 or $5 per gauge. Contact Robert at (763) 537-8000 or at [email protected]
FOR SALE: Braille Lite M20, last updated May 2001 and disk drive. Like brand-new. Asking $2,500 or best offer. E-mail Colleen, [email protected], or call her at (312) 622-7597.
FOR SALE: Type 'n Speak, bought September 2000. Has flash memory. Comes with tape, braille and print manuals. Asking $700. Contact Bob Clayton at (319) 277-8290.
FOR SALE: Freedom Scientific PowerBraille 40 braille display with 40 cells and cursor routing buttons, etc. It is almost new and comes with a guarantee. It has never had a problem. Works with any screen reader and computer. Also has batteries. Asking $950. Contact CJ Sampson at [email protected], or call him at (801) 367- 2559.
FOR SALE: Optelec Clearview 317, black and white. Two and a half years old; like new. Asking $1,000. Contact Marilyn Clark at (615) 374-4672.
WANTED: Keynote Companion in good condition. Price negotiable. Stand-alone reading machine, like Reading Edge, for reasonable price. Willing to negotiate. Contact Marda Anderson at (413) 781-6443 after 5 p.m. Eastern.
WANTED: Minidisk player-recorder so I can record my college classes. Contact Walter Chavira at (661) 833-3663.
94 RAMONA AVE.
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