THE BRAILLE FORUM is available in braille, large print, half-
speed four-track cassette tape, computer disk and via e-mail.
Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for
publication should be sent to Penny Reeder at the address above, or via e-mail to
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.
In this message to the ACB membership, I will share two important communications recently written on different but critical topics in our movement. First, let me share with you a letter I have sent to Guide Dog Users, Inc. for publication in their magazine, "Pawtracks." Through it, I hope to begin to lay to rest misunderstandings that have been alleged to exist between myself, the ACB board of directors and GDUI. It is a letter that looks forward and begins to lay down concrete, positive plans for today and tomorrow and I hope it is a letter that creates bonds toward mutual goals rather than bones for contentiousness.
Second, I will share with you a brief article I wrote for the "Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness" on the issues surrounding the Unified English Braille Code. It is a statement that I hope encompasses ACB's position and my beliefs based on experience and work on this project for nearly the past 10 years. I hope "The Braille Forum" readership will find this brief discussion helpful and informative.
Letter to the "Pawtracks" Editor
I'm speaking to you here in "Pawtracks" because I sincerely want to explore ways that ACB and GDUI can work together in the future. Both ACB and GDUI are lucky to have talented and passionate advocates among their membership. Sometimes we all let our passion for an issue override everything else, and we all say or do things that, in hindsight, we wish we hadn't.
Many words have been exchanged over the past year and much dialogue has been started, much of which has been good in the long run. Some words and exchanges, though, have caused hurt feelings between members of many of our affiliates. While we can't erase the past, we can learn from it, and in doing so move toward a more productive relationship. For my part, I will work toward improving communication between ACB and GDUI and a clearer sense of our shared issues. As someone who shares his life with a guide dog handler, I can appreciate and have seen firsthand the issues GDUI members face and the importance your dogs have to you. I also care very deeply about the rights of all blind people to lead complete and productive lives. Toward that end, I would like to propose some ways we can work together to further the civil rights of all blind people and guide dog handlers in particular.
GDUI already shares a close relationship with the ACB national office staff. I will continue to support that relationship whenever and wherever possible. I will also strongly encourage and assure that the ACB advocacy committee and other related committees and groups keep in touch with and include members of GDUI, especially when their work involves guide dog-related issues. After talking with Debbie Grubb, president of GDUI, I would like to offer my assistance in setting up a meeting with Joanne Wilson, Rehabilitation Services Administration Commissioner, and GDUI representatives. Melanie Brunson and I would very much like the opportunity to accompany GDUI on this extremely important mission to begin a dialogue with Ms. Wilson on the issue of guide dogs in rehabilitation centers. Working from the GDUI position paper on informed choice and access to rehabilitation facilities, we can demonstrate the rightness of our stance.
The Need for a Unified Braille Code (Reprinted from the "Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness," February 2004.)
The need for a unification of braille codes in North America is as real and as palpable as is the need to educate blind children to read and use braille as the cornerstone of their literacy. The present situation, wherein a diversity of braille codes drives students' education in a variety of subjects, can only impede the educational process, particularly for any subject related to mathematics or science. In several resolutions adopted between 1995 and 2002, the American Council of the Blind has supported the idea of braille code unification among academic disciplines. Problems with the current system
The difficulty in our current systems of reading and writing braille stems from the evolution of the literary braille code. It does not signify an inherent lack in the code itself. As needs have been identified for braille readers, solutions have been devised to meet those specific needs. Today, practitioners and users of braille need to sit down together and synthesize these varied solutions into a code that is more unified and that combines the varied solutions, each very beneficial in its own way, into a more holistic approach to a system of reading and writing. Because math and science are the primary subjects that have led to the current diversity in codes, significant attention must be paid to these disciplines as a part of any long-term, academically viable code unification.
The reasons for diverging from the standard English Braille Code as adopted by the Braille Authority of North America stem from basic inadequacies within that code in reading and writing even the most rudimentary mathematical information. It seems virtually unimaginable that in the 21st century, our basic braille system, the only means of true literacy for blind people, does not contain a symbol to represent the plus sign! Educators, braille transcribers, and readers have had to resort to various alternative codes to the standard literary code to fill the ever- widening gap between that code and the needs of readers, particularly student readers. We find ourselves today teaching and learning to decipher the same symbol in different situations, depending only on context as a guide. For computer material, there is a code. For general mathematics, there is a different and often contradictory code. To learn chemistry, again there is a different code. For general reading, there is yet another code that cannot address many scientific concepts that are generally and widely discussed in commonly available literature and writings, including daily newspapers and periodicals. Such a situation has been and continues to be intolerable when considered as a backdrop to the education of blind children in today's world. If braille as a system of reading and writing is to survive, these inadequacies must be addressed. Search for the ideal code
For almost 10 years, the Braille Authority of North America and the International Council on English Braille have struggled to find a model that lends itself to the appropriate unification of these various braille codes. It will be a point of personal pride throughout my life to have made, on behalf of the American Council of the Blind, the original motion that led to the creation of the working committees and the original structure within North America that was later extended to an international venue. It is an equal if not greater disappointment to have witnessed the potential of this work bog down and stall due primarily to political considerations and ideals that betray the potential of today's blind children.
Too often, decisions have been made based on prevailing personalities, committee turf, and an unspoken set of assumptions about what one or another country might accept, rather than on what is fundamental to any braille code: the needs of its readers. This has not happened due to ill will on the part of those working on the unified code project. Rather, it has occurred through a stubborn adherence to a belief that the oldest aspects of braille codes must drive unification to the exclusion of every piece of progress made in North America in math and science since 1951. Were this point of view reversed, it is my firm belief that we would be on the verge of unifying our braille codes at the upcoming meeting of the International Council on English Braille. Unfortunately, we are further away today than at any time in the past 20 years.
As is so often the case in our endeavors toward change, "the devil is in the details." Be that as it may, I remain confident that, in time, North America and the English-speaking world will find their way to a more unified braille code than exists today.
In order to further communications within ACB, President Chris Gray has established toll-free monthly conference calls that are open forums for anybody to call and ask questions, express concerns, and provide their opinions. Calls are held on the third Wednesday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Pacific time (9:30 to 11 p.m. Eastern). To join a call, dial (866) 633- 8638. Press 1 to join a conference, and for the conference ID, enter letstalk or 53878255.
Over the past several months members have requested complete copies of the minutes taken during the ACB board of directors' meetings. Although summaries of meetings appear in "The Braille Forum," the consensus was that complete sets of minutes be made available to members.
A motion was made during the 2004 mid-year ACB meeting as follows: "Ms. Ruschival moved that complete sets of minutes of open meetings of the board of directors of the American Council of the Blind shall be distributed to members upon written request to the secretary in the preferred format of the individual making the request. A fair and reasonable fee may be set to cover the cost of such distribution." The motion carried on a voice vote.
Therefore, if you are a member of ACB and wish minutes sent to you, please follow these instructions.
1. For each set of minutes you wish, send $3 (no cash please) to Donna Seliger, secretary, 3912 SE 5th Street, Des Moines, IA 50315. Make checks or money orders payable to ACB.
2. Indicate which minutes you wish by date: 2001 post- convention, 7/7/01; 2001 fall board meeting, 9/22-23/01; 11/6/01; 11/20/01; 2002 mid-year, 2/17-18/02; 3/17/02; 4/30/02; 2002 pre- convention, 6/29/02; 2002 convention sessions; 2002 post- convention, 7/6/02; fall board meeting, 9/21-22/02; 11/25/02; 1/16/03; 2/2/03; 2/11/03; 2003 mid-year, 2/16-17/03; 3/4/03; 4/15/03; 2003 pre-convention, 7/5/03; 2003 post-convention, 7/12/03; 2003 fall board meeting, 9/20-21/03; and 11/25/03.
3. Include which format you prefer: braille, large print, disk or CD.
You may also view the above-mentioned minutes at www.acb.org under the Speeches link.
(Excerpted from a February 14, 2004 post to the ACB- Leadership list, with a P.S. for "Braille Forum" readers)
Yesterday I spoke with Chris, M.J., Paul and with several others to let them know that I had decided to resign from the position of ACB's first vice president. I'm writing now to let you know why I reached this decision. Please feel free to share this post with any ACB member you wish.
A French writer once said that the heart has reasons which reason knows nothing about. Yesterday when I told my wife of 25 years that I would not be with her for Valentine's Day, when I walked out the door to the waiting cab and started for the airport to go to the midyear meeting in Birmingham, I felt something was wrong, and not just about being away from Kate on Valentine's Day. Finally, my reasons of the heart started speaking so loudly that even I could hear them. I listened as we reached the airport, as I checked in, as I went to the gate. By the time security arrived to open it, I knew I would not be going to Birmingham that day after all.
And then there are the reasons of the head, with which the heart sometimes has little patience. Working together, here's what my heart and head pointed out to me yesterday morning.
1. The working relationship between Chris and me is not producing good things for ACB. Since fairly early in his first term, Chris has less and less frequently talked with me about pending issues or decisions. A president has, of course, the right and prerogative to choose the members of his working team. Chris seems to have decided that I am not on that team. I do not pretend to know his motives or reasons; he has not discussed them with me. But I can witness the effects of his decision, which is to leave me more and more frequently with the following choice: rubber stamp a decision made by the president without full knowledge of the background or circumstances, or voice public opposition to the president's publicly announced position. In the first case, there is no point in my being present. I might as well give Chris a signed, blank proxy and save the travel expense. In the latter case, it's all too easy for anything I say, regardless of its merit, to be painted as either bad manners or sour grapes. Any skill I have in planning, looking ahead to foresee and avoid possible problems, gathering points of view and building consensus, helping disputing parties focus on substance rather than personalities -- this skill is not sought and is very difficult to bring to bear at any time before positions have already become entrenched. If it is at all useful to talk about fault, which I doubt, let's say that all the fault lies with me. Still, under current circumstances, I find it nearly impossible to deliver value for the votes of those who elected me. Another person might, as some have, build a better working relationship with Chris.
2. There are things which need to be said and which I can say more freely while not serving as an officer of ACB. There is a difference between loyalty and obedience. I do not believe I was elected in order to be obedient, nor would I have asked to be elected for that purpose. My loyalty runs not to any person or governing structure in ACB, but rather to the organization as a whole and to its potential for carrying out the mission stated in its constitution. Some might say that this disqualifies me from serving on the board in any capacity. But the whole loyalty issue just diverts us from what we need to be doing just now, which is learning from our past (including the recent past) and applying that knowledge to improve our present and plan for a more effective and pride-worthy future.
3. Since the early 1990s, planning for ACB's future has been one of my main interests. But look at the board's decisions, or inaction, over the last several years in the areas of personnel management, financial management, affiliate health and development, leadership training, membership development, support and training of national staff, presence or absence of priorities for the national office, development of a proactive advocacy strategy, formation of alliances with other organizations and other areas -- look at the record and then persuade me that preparation for ACB's future is high on a majority of board members' personal agendas. It may be just a failure of perception on my part, but I don't see it. If Chris has a plan for moving us to a more positive, productive future, I don't know what it is; and I can't seem to figure it out by looking at the agendas for board meetings over the past several years.
4. When I left the ACB board four and a half years ago, it was to find a way to be more positive about my relationship with the ACB leadership and about ACB in general. I leave the board now with the same intention. As proof of my good faith on this point, I offer you, ACB's leaders, the following plan for your consideration. The goal is to bring ACB to a more positive, productive, effective, inclusive, collegial and enthusiastic future. The plan for taking the first step has three parts: First, use the upcoming convention and the time between then and now to identify the best possible board we can put together, then elect the people necessary to have that board be in office. Second, give that board clear instruction about what we want for ACB's future, not just by resolutions passed on particular topics, but in every way we can think of that makes sense. Third, revise existing policies or establish new ones to ensure that the work of the board -- all the work of the board -- will be accessible to review and examination by any member and to ensure that any member who wishes to know can easily find out the position of any board member on any motion passed or defeated by the board.
If we want good things to happen in ACB, I believe that as many voters as possible need to work harder to select the best available candidates, to tell those elected what we want, and to hold them accountable for their response to those instructions. Just as the convention is the ultimate authority in ACB, so we, the voters, are ultimately responsible for whether our leaders take us where we want to go. We have to choose those leaders well, give them clear direction and hold them accountable when they stray from acting in our best interests. Only if we take these responsibilities seriously do we have much chance of arriving in the future we want. I have chosen to take my responsibilities in these areas more seriously, and I have concluded that at the present time I can best pursue these goals by leaving the ACB board. I hope that those who elected me will feel that, in making this decision, I am still pursuing a significant part of the mission they had in mind for me. I look forward to working with any of you or your members who find some value in the plan I propose. I hope we can improve on my plan and make the improved plan work for ACB.
Thanks for listening. Thanks for caring about ACB.
P.S. I think of this decision not as "stepping down" but as "stepping across." I hope our president and a majority of the board shift their focus and the use of their considerable talents toward more positive and productive goals. If they do, and if they pursue the necessary work with organization and tenacity, I look forward to applauding their successes and cheering them on. The purposes stated in our constitution remain important; our potential for serving those purposes is great. But so is the potential for turmoil, stagnation and decline.
As individuals, as chapters, as affiliates and at the national level we can choose our future. What do you want that future to be? In Birmingham you will be able to discuss this topic with others who care about it. If you can't join us there, consider sending a message with your delegates.
We face big problems; but we can learn from them and fix them. Be of good cheer; get involved. National leadership needs to hear from you more often.
I'm sure you've all noticed by now that you aren't receiving the Forum monthly. Due to budget cuts, this year you will receive only eight issues of the Forum. So far ACB has published the winter issue, February, March, and this one, the combined April-May issue. There will be four more issues: June, July- August, September-October, and November. Deadlines for each are: May 3, June 7, August 9, and October 8. Please get your articles in on time.
The June issue will contain all the convention information we receive. So affiliates, do your best to get your plans for Birmingham in to me by May 3 if you want your information in the June issue.
Also, if your affiliate is having a convention, please let Terry Pacheco and me know when it is, where it is, what the theme is (if any), which hotel and the rates, and other important information. Many thanks to those who have already sent in your convention announcements.
We will once again have a combined December-January issue at the end of the year. The deadline for that is November 8.
Here are three tours that we haven't talked about very much in past articles.
On Sunday, July 4, 2004, ACB tours will be going out to Birmingham Southern University to visit their environmental center. The university is sponsoring environmental work in two venues. First, they are utilizing unwanted plants and other life forms to develop interesting, sensory-pleasing botanical gardens. We will be spending about an hour walking through this unique outdoor experience. Then we will go over to the center where ACB tourists will see how staff and students have taken items that we tend to throw away and made useful items or interesting design work. The center also has a small area dedicated to the history of bikes. There is one story slide that simulates what it would be like if you were a little bug and were flushed down a toilet. Now isn't that something that you all have wanted to do?
The Alabama history tour will be on Tuesday afternoon. We'll go out to Bessemer, Ala., and visit the Bessemer Hall of History. This is an old railroad depot that houses a large number of items from the early days of Alabama. You will want to be looking for the museum's ghost. He is friendly, but shows up sometimes when he isn't expected. While I visited this museum, the bell that hangs on the front door started ringing. There was no train going by, no breeze going through the building and there was no one coming in the door. Was that the ghost? After leaving the museum, we'll drive by three plantation homes, stopping to tour one of them. We will end up at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. This is where a lot of the iron used by the Confederacy during the Civil War was made. We will take a 15- minute train ride around the property, learning about the area. Then we will tour the ironworks museum where we will be able to see examples of the products that were produced on these grounds. As we leave, we will stop at the general store for soft drinks and/or souvenirs.
The final tour at this year's convention will be a visit to the comedy club, Stardom Theater, the evening of July 10, in Hoover, Ala. This accessible club is known as one of the best in the South. We will be having dinner followed by a comedy presentation. I hope that the name of the entertainer will be available before the June issue goes to press.
Please don't forget about our tours on July 2. The all-day tour will go to the Space and Rocket Center outside of Huntsville, then over to the Ivy Green plantation where Helen Keller was raised. We will have a Southern dinner at the Belmont House. After dinner, we will go back to Ivy Green for a presentation of "The Miracle Worker" in the small outdoor amphitheater. Please note that this tour will be limited to the first 43 requests.
That same afternoon, we will have the first of three civil rights tours. We will visit the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Institute and Statuary Park, where there are carved scenes of activities in Birmingham in the 1960s, when Bull Connors, the city's chief of police, used police dogs and other tactics to try and quell civil rights for blacks.
Make your hotel reservations at the Birmingham Sheraton, (800) 325-3535 or (205) 324-5000.
It's back! The board of publications is again hosting an Internet candidates' page on www.acb.org.
This page is a read-only web page where all individuals who wish to announce their candidacy will be asked to respond to the same set of questions. We envision the online candidates' page as a place where people who want to run for office can allow the ACB membership to get to know them. The page will also allow ACB chapters and affiliates to have more information at their disposal before they send delegates to the national convention. Over the past several years, a number of chapters have provided copies of the candidates' responses to their members in braille or had read all the responses aloud at membership meetings. Lively discussions ensued, and many members have told us how much they appreciated the opportunity to participate more actively in ACB's democracy because of the early dissemination of information which the online "forum" was able to facilitate.
In a meeting in early March, the board of publications came up with a set of questions for candidates for second vice president, the board of directors and the board of publications, as follows.
Questions for the Second Vice President
1. What specific assignments would you prefer and/or anticipate that the ACB president would delegate to you?
2. ACB is currently confronted by serious financial challenges. What concrete initiatives would you support to help ACB resolve its financial problems?
3. What specifically would you do to promote smoother working relations among individual members, the board of directors, the administration and the office staff?
4. What single important policy initiative would you attempt to emphasize in the one-year remainder of your term?
Questions for the Board of Directors
1. What degree of responsibility do you have for completing your elected term on the board of directors, and what conditions do you think would relieve you of that responsibility?
2. Are there current programs which could be eliminated or modified to relieve ACB's financial crisis?
3. What specific experiences have you had that contribute to your ability to act as a director for ACB?
4. What steps are you prepared to take to bring members of the board of directors closer together and to resolve friction among its members?
Questions for the Board of Publications
1. What do you feel are the most important duties of the BOP?
2. What experience have you had in writing, editing, and/or producing a chapter or affiliate newsletter that prepares you for work on the BOP?
3. What do you consider to be the purpose of "The Braille Forum" and how should its content reflect that view?
4. What are your views on freedom of expression? Should it be limited or unlimited? Be specific.
Answer each question with a maximum of 250 words. Submit answers in any accessible, readable media, i.e., in print, or braille, on paper, computer disk (in ASCII text, WordPerfect 5.1, or Microsoft Word formats), or via e-mail. Pasting the text into an e-mail message is preferable to sending attachments, but attachments in ASCII text, Microsoft Word or WordPerfect 5.1 will be accepted. Submissions will not be accepted via telephone, voice mail, audiocassette, or in handwriting. Note that we will not edit submissions for spelling, grammar, or content. The only change which will occur to submissions is conversion to the HTML code to facilitate online posting. Note further that it is our webmaster's role to convert documents into HTML, and we will not accept submissions which you have coded in this format yourself.
When submitting your answers, please place your name, address, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and employer and job title at the top of each page. Center each item. The top of your page should look like this:
Write each question, and then place your corresponding answer underneath. Please number your pages. Send your completed submissions to the following address: American Council of the Blind Candidates' Page, 1155 15th Street NW, Suite 1004, Washington, DC 20005. Responses may be submitted by e-mail, according to the guidelines noted above, to [email protected] Time Lines
Submissions should be mailed, either by postal delivery or electronic mail, so that they reach the ACB national office no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on May 28, 2004. When we receive a declared candidate's materials, we will check the membership database to ensure that he or she is a member in good standing. We hope to have the online candidates' page available at the ACB web site as soon after we have received all the submissions as possible, so that members will have access to the information in time for June membership meetings of local chapters. The pages will be available online no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, June 10, and will remain online at http://www.acb.org until the conclusion of convention. We encourage ACB members who have computer access to share the contents of the candidates' page with members who do not. We will notify members on the day that the page goes live online on all the ACB e-mailing lists.
When official campaigns begin in earnest at the ACB national convention, declared candidates will present at formal and informal state and special-interest caucuses. In addition, the board of publications will sponsor a live question-and-answer Candidates' Forum, which will be held on Thursday of convention week. The board of publications encourages all ACB members to submit written questions which will be considered for this forum to the convention communications center. More details about this and other aspects of communications center operations can be expected in the June issue.
As the newly appointed outreach coordinator for ACB Radio, I invite all ACB state and special-interest affiliates to join our programming efforts on ACB Radio Mainstream.
We at ACB Radio know that each of you have great things going on in your affiliates, from interesting speakers at chapter or state meetings to blind artists or other interesting members you might like to showcase. Maybe you'd like to highlight successful strategies for advocacy in your state, successful membership-building tools, or just brag a bit about the good things your particular affiliate has done. As a special-interest affiliate member, you probably have news and information that is of great value to the general blindness community, and we want to help you get the word out by providing a forum for all the above and more! So, why not share all that energy and information with other ACB affiliates, other ACB members and our worldwide listening audience? The only equipment you need is a good cassette recorder or minidisk machine and a microphone. You record the content, and we at ACB Radio will help you with the rest.
On another note, if you as an individual would like to provide programming content either as a special feature now and again or on a regularly scheduled basis, we'd love to hear from you. ACB Radio staff are ready, willing and eager to help you understand the few steps necessary to be on the air via the Internet to the world.
I plan to be in contact via e-mail with all affiliate presidents, but you need not wait to hear from me. Feel free to contact me by e-mail, [email protected], or call me during the business day at (206) 433-6565.
ACB Radio is community radio at its finest! Why not add the good news of your community to our programming content? Participating as an ACB Radio staff volunteer is one of the most exciting things I've done in a while. Through these efforts, I've made many new friends and learned much. I invite you to join me and the rest of the fabulous ACB Radio team as we mold and develop the new face of ACB Radio Mainstream.
In 1959, I came to Virginia from New York to join the staff of the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped. One of the first people I met was Bill Coppage. For the next 45 years our lives were closely entwined as co-workers, associates in many organizational activities, volunteer services, and friends. Our families were also closely related. It was an extremely sad day for me, as well as for all who knew him, when Bill went to his eternal reward on January 29, 2004. Accompanying my comments is a well- written feature article printed in "The Richmond Times-Dispatch" on January 31. However, no article can do justice to the total person who touched the lives of countless people in Virginia, throughout the United States, and in other countries, as the newspaper article mentions. I can't, either, but hopefully I can add some more information about one of the finest people with whom I have ever been associated.
Bill lived life to the fullest, and gave 100 percent of his energy, skills and knowledge, drive and ambition to make life better for blind and visually impaired people everywhere, as well as his family and friends. He worked hard while carrying out his job and volunteer responsibilities; he devoted himself to his family; and when he had time for relaxation, he played hard.
During his 22 years as commissioner of VDVH, he carried on the growth and expansion of services to the state's blind and visually impaired people people of all ages begun by his predecessor, Dr. Douglas C. MacFarland, and led the agency to even greater levels of quality and quantity of services. He established the Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, the Library and Resource Center, a new workshop for the blind in Richmond, and a new department headquarters building. Coppage greatly expanded vocational rehabilitation and rehabilitation teaching services, education services, introduced services to the older blind, and initiated volunteer services to supplement services provided by paid staff.
Bill would be the first to tell people that he did not bring about all of the above, and other improvements, alone. He had an unusual ability to select capable staff, and was not afraid to assign and delegate authority to them. During his years as commissioner, Virginia was recognized nationally as having one of the most qualitative and diverse programs in the nation. It was a most unfortunate day when political priorities caused his removal from office by the governor.
Since retiring in 1986, Bill involved himself in volunteer and community service activities. He was an active member of the Charlottesville Lions Club, and headed a foundation which helped blind people in situations where VDVH could not meet the need. For several years, he was a member of the American Council of the Blind, and helped at times to advocate for programs beneficial to blind people. During his retirement, until his former wife died, he cared for her, taking her to conventions and business meetings with him.
Services to blind and visually impaired Virginians and Americans are better because of Bill Coppage, and untold numbers of people have had their lives enriched by knowing and associating with him. He has earned his eternal rest.
(Copyright 2004, "The Richmond Times-Dispatch," reprinted with permission.)
At the age of 7, William Thomas Coppage Sr. left his parents' home to attend the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, seeking an education and resources that didn't exist in his hometown of Flint Hill.
After graduation, he spent the rest of his life working to make opportunities available to people with visual impairments in Virginia and around the world. He served under four governors as commissioner of the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped.
The Charlottesville resident died Wednesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 75.
"Because he had overcome so many obstacles, he held a definite belief that you could do whatever you set your mind to," said his daughter, Linda Masters of Lancaster, Pa. "He believed that people could and should do for themselves, and the important thing was to provide the tools that lead to independence."
As commissioner from 1964 to 1986, Mr. Coppage helped expand the state's services to a greater number of Virginians and was involved in the creation of Virginia Voice.
He was most proud of his efforts to establish the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Richmond, said his wife, Marjorie I. Coppage.
"You have to have a lot of courage to make it in a sighted world," she said. "You have to be somewhat gregarious. I always tell everyone he's a helper."
Mr. Coppage was well-known for his work and advocacy and served as a president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and the American Association of Workers for the Blind. He was a board member with the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Handicapped, and he led accreditation review teams at various sites around the county and was often called on as a consultant to those creating programs as far away as North Africa and India.
Before being named commissioner, Mr. Coppage worked as an assistant superintendent of the Virginia Workshop for the Blind in Charlottesville, and then as assistant to the former state commissioner, the late D.C. MacFarland.
In his retirement, Mr. Coppage was the executive director of the Virginia Foundation for the Blind.
He held a bachelor's degree from the University of Richmond and master's degrees from the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University. At VCU, he taught courses in rehabilitation for several years.
Legally blind since birth, Mr. Coppage had an unsuccessful corneal transplant as a teenager, but a little over a decade ago, he underwent a second transplant that restored some of his sight, allowing him to see the night stars for the first time.
"It was like being with a child, he was so in awe of everything around him," said his daughter. "It was a blessing."
Mr. Coppage was the widower of Beverly M. Coppage.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, W. Thomas Coppage Jr. of New Orleans; a brother, Allen E. Coppage of Sea Bright, N.J.; and three grandchildren.
Rudy Lutter was born on February 9, 1932, in Philadelphia, Pa. He died of cancer and Parkinson's disease at the Washington Home in Washington, D.C. on December 14, 2003. We were married on September 29, 1979, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. by the minister of the church I attended while a student at Wilkes University and during the years I worked there.
Rudy, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of nine, was a graduate of Overbrook School for the Blind, Penn State University and Harvard Law School. He also studied at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.
Early in his career, he engaged in the practice of law in Philadelphia. After moving to Washington in 1962, he served as senior attorney advisor in the broadcast bureau of the Federal Communications Commission until 1980. In 1981, he joined the faculty of Howard University's School of Communications where he taught communications policy and law-making until his retirement in 1998. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he taught part- time at New York University and the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
Rudy visited more than 50 countries on seven continents and several islands for recreation and the study of the mass media. I had the pleasure of joining him on many of those trips. We shared many memorable experiences among them: setting foot on the Antarctic continent; riding a camel in the desert in Tombouctou, Mali and sticking our fingers in the Arctic Ocean. In 1985, we visited Gore Island off the coast of Senegal, a major embarkation point for Africans sold into slavery. Rudy, who was much braver than I, actually walked the gangplank that led to the slave ships.
As a result of his education and employment, he was a member of several organizations, including the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C.; the Howard University Law School Association; the American Association of University Professors and the World Future Society.
As an advocate for people with disabilities, he was a member of the Board of Managers of the Overbrook School for the Blind; Volunteers for the Visually Handicapped (now known as Services for the Visually Impaired); the Pennsylvania Governor's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped; the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped; the National Capital Council of Citizens With Low Vision; the D.C. Council of the Blind and the American Blind Lawyers Association. He attended the Pennsylvania Governor's Conference on Handicapped Individuals and the White House Conference of Handicapped Individuals.
In 1973, he was recognized as a leader of the disabled in America by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including Pennsylvania State University's Liberal Arts Service to Society Award; recognition by resolution of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for contributions to humanity through the practice of law, teaching and efforts on behalf of the handicapped; Distinguished Alumnus of the Overbrook School for the Blind and recipient of the Friedlander Medal for his longtime service as a member of the school's board of managers.
As you can see, 24 years of marriage to Rudy have held much joy and satisfaction. Although Parkinson's and his loss of hearing in later years forced him to curtail many of his public activities, he continued to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities using the telephone and correspondence. He retained his intellectual curiosity, his wonderful sense of humor and his love of life until the very end.
Many of you reading this tribute have known Wayne Yelton far longer than I have. I first met Wayne and Pat four years ago at the monthly meeting of the Alamance Council of the Blind in Burlington, N.C.
This was my first meeting, my initial introduction to the community of the blind and visually impaired. I knew nothing about the Alamance Council, the North Carolina Council or the American Council of the Blind. My ignorance, however, was short- lived. For reasons I still do not understand, Wayne decided I should become involved in the council's work. And he put me to work on one North Carolina Council of the Blind committee, then another. He constantly challenged me to learn more and do more.
Wayne's leadership style was unlike any that I had studied as a student or taught as a college lecturer; it was not the textbook model. But it worked. His presidency of the NCCB was marked by hard work, unfailing optimism, getting the job done, prodding others to achieve, and by moving on to the next task. It was simple, unadorned, straight-up, effective leadership. And he accomplished so much. He gave us a stronger, more visible, financially sound organization, one to which we were eager to belong and to commit ourselves.
Wayne spoke his mind, openly and frequently. He could be blunt when the obvious and necessary were not done. He was skilled at twisting arms. He was persistent. The more someone turned down his requests, the harder he pushed for a positive response. Most of all, he was committed to protecting the rights and meeting the needs of all people who were blind and visually impaired.
What was the secret of Wayne's success? In a few words: His unselfish willingness to help anyone. He helped blind and visually impaired people without concern for self-interest, without expectation of reward, without limitation on the intensity of his commitment.
Each of us who knew Wayne wish we had spoken to him just one more time. I, for one, would thank him for challenging me to contribute my time and talents. I would thank him for giving us a clear vision of our mission in a world in which most of us do not see well, or see at all. I would thank him for all that he did on behalf of the blind and visually impaired in North Carolina. Most importantly, I would thank him for being a good friend.
As I reflect on the past four years and the untimely passing of Wayne Yelton, I am reminded of former presidential adviser Kenny O'Donnell's poignant memoir of his association with the late John F. Kennedy, "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye." The title of this remembrance reflects the sadness of loss, the bond of friendship, the manifestation of respect.
And so it is with Wayne. He left us too soon with much remaining to be done. Though the voice is stilled and the light extinguished, the memories fill our minds, and the enduring legacy guides us.
Wayne, my friend, we hardly knew you.
When we look at the opportunities for educating and informing our community about blindness, let's consider the six P's: participating, presenting, publicizing, promoting, providing and projecting.
1. PARTICIPATING! Chapter participation in community events: fairs, parades and service projects. Many community fairs and events will allow you to set up an informational table for your chapter or affiliate for free or at a minimal cost. My local chapter has a table each year at Kid's Day, an event sponsored by our local fire department and held at the county fairgrounds. The cost is $20 and our main targets are children and their parents. We bring children's braille books, have a couple of guide dog handlers with dogs at the booth, bring a braille writer and some stickers to braille kids' names, and we have a stamp to put on their passport proving they came by our booth. Your display should depend on your audience. If you go out in the community promoting blindness issues, you need to be equipped with a list of resources: library services, rehab agency information, guide dog schools, local eye specialists, local transportation services, Lions Clubs, and of course your local chapter and state affiliate information.
Parades require a little coordinating, but what an awesome sight it is for people to see a group of blind people walking independently in a parade. One year my chapter had a Volkswagen convertible leading us with a couple of members riding in it holding up a banner. We followed with our canes and dogs, and some of us were even pulling along a stroller.
How about your chapter taking part in a community event such as making phone calls for a particular initiative, wrapping presents for Toys for Tots, stuffing envelopes for the local Humane Society, standing with your local Lions handing out their little canes? The options are endless.
2. PRESENTING! Members making presentations to: schools, clubs, churches and business organizations.
Individual members who are comfortable with public speaking will often find themselves sharing their personal experiences with blindness. Explaining braille to young children or accessibility issues to business people are great ways to educate. Give the name of a contact person in your chapter to your local school districts and Chamber of Commerce, letting them know of the willingness of your members to do this, and you will be surprised!
You might consider helping your members interested in doing these types of presentations by connecting them with resources to get: braille/print alphabet cards, posters creating illusions of different eye conditions, brochures about different eye conditions, your affiliate brochures or business cards, etc. Our state affiliate has purchased braille/print alphabet cards with our contact information on them for our members to use in these types of situations. The American Printing House for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind and National Library Service are just a few of the places you might check with for some of these items.
3. PUBLICIZING! Publicize your organization through: a web site, brochures, business cards, phone line/voice mail, newspaper coverage of an event and word of mouth. Most of these cost very little, but what a way to reach out to the community at hand.
There is free web hosting out there. Our local chapter uses www.free.webs.com. By utilizing your own members to keep your web site updated, you will save some money. However, if you decide to seek assistance elsewhere, you may be able to find a volunteer or hire a webmaster at a nominal fee.
Brochures can be done professionally or from a member's computer. Just get the information out that you want to share and make sure your material is in large print.
Business cards are another easy way to spread the name of your chapter or affiliate. WCB provides business cards with braille on them for our members to take and share at their leisure. My local chapter has cards as well, but they do not have braille; however, they do advertise our local information.
A phone line may be too costly for some affiliates, but having someone answer a phone in person, ready to answer questions is a real asset. I know many affiliates already have a toll-free number for this.
The next best thing to a phone line is having voice mail. Our chapter has a designated phone number that just provides an outgoing message and the ability to take messages. We pay about $13 a month for this service that is under one of our members' names. The bill actually comes to our chapter in care of that member.
Free advertising is a great thing to take advantage of. When you know an event is coming up where one of your members or your chapter or affiliate is playing a specific role, let the media know. Prepare your members to give contact information for your chapter or affiliate when being interviewed.
Then there's word of mouth. When you meet someone on the bus, at the doctor's office, at the grocery store, in the workplace, you are given a unique opportunity. Use it to your advantage. Engage them in small talk if appropriate. Offer a business card or give them your phone number. Better yet, offer to take their phone number so that you can call them back with the answer to a question they may have or to give them details about an upcoming meeting or event with your local chapter.
4. PROMOTING! Promote blindness through a chapter/affiliate project or program. Working with your city on accessible pedestrian signals and seeing through such a project from beginning to end will give your chapter numerous opportunities for education.
Sharing in an awareness day for a company such as your local transit system is another opportunity. One of the chapters in our state affiliate did this last year. Their members provided canes for employees who rode the buses while under blindfold, to simulate being blind. These members were also present to answer questions and make sure the participant's experience was as realistic as possible.
Participate in a job fair by allowing attendees and vendors to see what assistive technology is available for potential employees to use and to answer questions they may have. You may even partner with another vendor in such a project.
Visit your legislators. Let them know how a given initiative or bill will benefit blind people, or how it would harm us.
Put on a program such as a convention or outreach day. These are not only opportunities to reach out to other blind and visually impaired people in your community, but they are great opportunities for awareness of blindness issues and education to the general population as well.
5. PROVIDING! Provide support. This can be as easy as making a phone call or directing an individual to services they didn't know about, or a lot more of a commitment by your chapter to sponsor a support group for a senior center or living facility.
We all have special gifts or talents. So, whether yours is being a good listener, knowing how to fill out the different forms one needs to deal with to receive services, a natural gift of encouraging people, the time and know-how to teach computers or cooking, great organizational skills to help coordinate a program or service, the ability to facilitate a group, or something else all together, working with your fellow members to determine each of your individual strengths will assist you as a cohesive group to move forward in supporting one another and reaching out to your community to support others.
6. PROJECTING! Project a positive image about blindness! Each blind or visually impaired individual is a walking advertisement for what it means to be blind. Whether we like it or not, the image someone else paints of a blind person by their actions, appearance and attitude will make an impression on every person with whom he/she comes into contact. This also means that you are often that very person giving an education to someone who is creating an image of what it means to be blind.
Maybe it isn't fair that we, as blind people, should all be lumped into the experience of one person. But we all learn from experiences in every aspect of our lives. So why should this be any different? How we talk to others, how we present ourselves (our personal hygiene and what we wear), how we handle body language (looking at others when we speak to them, eye contact, and our awareness of personal space), how we solicit assistance and how we respond to offers of help, and how we travel from point A to point B, are just some of what others are using to establish their image of what it means to be blind.
It is true that most of us do not hold a degree in blindness education. But our own personal experiences as blind individuals place us in the position of educating the public about blindness whether we want to or not.
All of us are personal ambassadors of blindness. Let's join together in recognition of our power as a collective body and individually, embracing the opportunities we have, educating the many sighted people we encounter on our daily journey.
Imagine: You've just entered your office on what may well be the most hectic, stressful day of your life. Suddenly you realize all of your reference books, piles of paperwork and notes are covered with little bumps. In fact, you discover there is not one single printed word to be found. Every scrap of information necessary to do your job is now in braille.
Imagine: you rush back out of your office, wildly looking about, peering into offices, staring over the shoulders of clerks. Everybody is calmly doing their job, using braille. Mysteriously they have learned the language overnight. Only you, it seems, were overlooked. For some unknown reason, you are permanently and totally braille-challenged.
Imagine: you dash for the door hoping the rest of the world has not gone mad. It has. In the elevator, you're not sure which button to press for the lobby. Someone has to help you. They stare at you as if you are stupid. Pausing at the news stand, you are unable to tell one magazine from another. You can't stand it, you need to go home and collect your thoughts. But at the bus stop, there's no way of telling which coach is yours. You back away, not wanting anyone to know, and you decide you'll call a cab. Of course, you only brought bus fare and lunch money, not nearly enough for the taxi. Remembering your bank card, you pull it out as you run back into the lobby. There, at the access machine, you stop short. The card has turned to braille, and so have all of the instructions on the machine. You'll have to call home and ask for help. Funny, you never paid much attention to the telephone dial and now, in your growing state of confusion, you don't recall which number goes where. You are so alone, so frightened, you actually begin to weep.
Imagine: you have always seen yourself as a leader, a visionary, a problem-solver. You will not run from this challenge. You shall succeed. You have a large mortgage.
Once you have recovered from the great shock, you begin looking for ways to survive.
Imagine: you have finally made arrangements, through your employer, to hire a braille reader, a process so complex and painful you plan to patent it and use it to torture terrorists. Now you sit in your chair going quietly mad listening to the drone of your reader's voice, taking hours of time to cover what you once scanned in minutes, while others whip about you efficiently communicating among themselves via braille-fax and E-B-mail. You begin to feel the "ice" in isolation.
Imagine: you learn you are not alone. You are a member of a very small minority of braille-challenged people. There is, in fact, a brailleless culture; a history far too long and complex to discuss here. So, you become a member of the Brailleless Association of America (BAA). At the BAA meetings you find out about a number of small companies manufacturing adaptive equipment which enables brailleless people to access all of the braille computers, fax machines, braille scanners and braillers. The expense is far more than you can afford, so you seek assistance from your employer. Your request is turned down. There are no requirements that your employer accommodate your disability.
Imagine: BAA, along with many other disability groups, battles in Congress for the passage of a bill, guaranteeing you equal treatment under the law. The bill passes and, despite subtle messages from your fiscal officer, money is "found" for your accommodation. After considerable time and effort, the technician from the Department of Services for the Brailleless has you on-line. Now you are able to scan braille text and convert the little dots into letters, and through a very complex process, the braille display on your computer is transformed into print. Finally, you are again up to speed, being your old efficient self, feeling good about your work.
Imagine: you are humming and smiling and cranking along in high gear. Suddenly, a message flashes on your screen and drives terror through your heart. New breakthroughs in technology have produced equipment so superior to the ancient junk -- at least four years old -- presently in use, that your organization is upgrading the entire communications system.
The BAA technicians have already informed you that your adaptive equipment is not compatible with it. You go to the powers that be in your organization, and request a meeting to discuss this concern. You are told that your fears are groundless. You will not be forgotten. Following this meeting a rumor goes around hinting that you are trying to sabotage the new system, and your associates begin to whisper behind your back. They want the new system. It's far superior, more compact, 10 times faster, and it's cool looking. They are sick of your "whining and constant complaining." You feel the "ice" settling in again.
Imagine: you have been forgotten. The new system is in place. Everybody loves it. You've been told not to worry, someone will be around to do what is necessary to put you back on-line. The "someone" they had in mind is the same technician who told you the system would not work.
Despite your concerns, no one bothered to investigate before the equipment was installed. Once again you sit, going quietly mad while your reader plows line by line through the piles of braille.
Imagine: you know you are close to losing your mind or your job -- probably both. You must find other employment, but you do not want your associates to know you are finally beaten. You try to figure out a way to do a quiet job search when all information is only accessible in braille.
One day you hear that your state has developed a central information center, called a kiosk. These information centers are being set up in easily accessible locations. The plan is for these kiosks to make government information and services available quickly and conveniently to the public. Sort of a "one- stop shopping center." You learn that lists of job openings are among the many services offered. This is perfect. This is exactly what you need. You discover your town recently placed a kiosk in the mall. You go there on Saturday afternoon. There it stands, costing the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to create, but well worth it. In its ultimate form, the kiosks will bring virtually all state services right into your local neighborhood. You are thrilled as you step up to the controls. An automated voice welcomes you and brags about the wonders of this system. Breathlessly, you wait for your instructions. Then the braille display appears.
Imagine: they are dragging you away, shrieking at the top of your voice. Onlookers are amazed. They do not know how you managed to rip the iron bench from the floor of the mall. None of them dared to try to stop you as you swung it over your head, again and again, smashing the kiosk into pieces of broken plastic, glass and twisted metal. None of them understand why you kept screaming the same words over and over. "I pay taxes, too! I pay taxes, too! I pay taxes, too! ..."
Hello, I am a houseplant.
I am not just any houseplant, though. I am an exceptional houseplant. I have been to college. I have an IQ of 145. I have three children, and I have volunteered in their schools and clubs. Yet I am merely a houseplant. I am attractive and add a bit of personality to a room, but as far as society is concerned, relatively useless.
Let me clear things up a bit. All of the above-mentioned qualities do belong to me; the problem is I am blind. I personally don't consider this to be a problem, but it seems others do. My children range in age from 11 through 19. Five years ago I began looking for employment. All of my children were in school full-time and there was just not much for me to do around the house. I wasn't looking for anything too ambitious. Just entry-level customer service work. One would think it would be easy for a woman who has gone to college, can boast of a 145 IQ, has been told by many that she is attractive and has a very pleasant personality, and can be tolerant and patient on the phone for hours, would have no problem finding work. I have interviewed for several positions. It seems, however, once they discover that I can't see it all just becomes too impossible. It doesn't matter that I have excellent computer skills and that there is adequate adaptive technology out there to make it possible for me to use almost any computer. It doesn't matter that I would be an eager long-term employee in a field where there is typically very high turnover. All that seems to matter is that I make things a little difficult. They might need to alter their training manual.
For the last two years I have been negotiating with the same company. Two years ago I entered their offices, was interviewed by a very nice person and was told that if the technology could be worked out I could have a part-time day job with their company. Unfortunately, before the final details could be worked out, the human resources person I spoke with was replaced. The second one asked if I could come in for a new interview, since she was totally unfamiliar with me. I agreed.
Then the real fun began. Excuse after excuse came in to explain why I couldn't start my simple minimum wage job. They would be changing software in six months and would rather I wait so they wouldn't have to train me twice. This did not keep them from hiring other new employees during this time.
"We don't know if we can afford to purchase the equipment you would need." (The company in question is a rather large bank, and equipment can be provided "free" by state agencies in cases where it would be a financial hardship for the employer.)
Keeping this in mind, here is my favorite: "We have not worked out problems with the Y2K bug." The last excuse was enough to get the EEOC involved. In a conference call with the EEOC, the bank, of course, became quite agreeable. However, they did find a loophole. They agreed to hire me immediately and provide me with the necessary equipment, but apparently they have dropped the part-time customer service position. Furthermore, they now schedule by seniority. Being new, I would be at the bottom of the list and most likely would only be able to get a graveyard position.
As they already knew, I wanted a daytime position. I could not possibly work a graveyard shift and effectively take care of my children. After further discussion with the human resource person, I was informed that the individual who said that I would most likely work a graveyard position was wrong. This bank did not offer graveyard positions. I was told that I would likely have to work an evening shift, though. After a discussion with my husband, I agreed to work an evening shift. I needed to get work experience somewhere, and I would likely be able to switch to a better shift in six months.
The Commission for the Blind began working on assembling the adaptive equipment I would need to perform my duties. I, along with two representatives from the commission, met with the human resource representative and two trainers. We demonstrated screen readers and discussed other changes that would need to be made. I was once again told that this would need to be put off because of system changes. And this was in April 2000. I was last told that they would be available to look into adaptive technology in May. My attempt to get this entry-level job began in the spring of 1998.
I fought the bank as long as I have because I can afford the time. So many others like me have to give up and move on or they would starve. These employers know that in the long run they could stall long enough to rid themselves of us who might make things a little difficult for a while. It looks like this particular bank is planning on continuing this waiting game with me. The majority of all blind people are unemployed. It is not because we are not capable; it is because many people find us undesirable. I could sit at home and be the beautifully decorative houseplant forever. I want, need and deserve more than that.
Blind people tend to get one of two reactions. We are either superhuman because we are able to get up in the morning, feed and clothe ourselves correctly, tie our shoes, and walk down a city block without getting lost. Or we are something to be pitied, someone who should be kept at home so that we don't make others feel uncomfortable.
How many sighted people have waitresses asking their children what their parents will be ordering? How many of you realize that a disabled person is not allowed to be simply average? We can't simply follow a daily routine like the rest of the world. Society insists that we provide them with proof of our superhuman accomplishments to prove ourselves worthy of acceptance. The most commonly asked questions I get when meeting someone new are, "What musical instrument do you play? You must have perfect pitch." Or, "What is it like to have extra-sensitive hearing?"
Of course, merely by offering some critical observations I have set myself up to be dismissed as another disabled stereotype: the bitter self-pitying whiner. Disabled people must be cheerful and inspiring, or silent and invisible.
So once again I have been told that I should not aspire to be anything more than what I am, a beautifully adorned and well- loved houseplant. Stay safe in my little pot and others will be glad to feed and water me. They will take good care of me and make sure nothing bad happens.
My resignation will not last. I will build up my courage again, and perhaps I will show up at your office. Are you hiring college-educated office plants?
Almost three years have passed since I wrote these words. The bank did eventually win. For the sake of my own peace of mind, I did give up the fight. I have devoted this time to rebuilding my self-confidence and self-esteem. I recently shared this story with someone who is now feeling what I was feeling then. She started to cry and told me that it was a relief to learn that someone had found a way to put words to her feelings. I had originally written this more for personal therapeutic reasons than for an audience. After seeing how my story affected this woman, however, I have decided to publish it. I hope it not only serves to help someone currently struggling for acceptance to feel less alone, but I hope my story strikes a chord with those in the position of making hiring decisions.
I am once again a confident person. I know what I want and I have faith that I will get where I want to go.
"When it comes to the self-confidence and esteem needed to get a job and become a contributing member of society, competitive sports can be a powerful tool. Winning is important to everyone, but to an athlete with a disability, simply competing can be a victory in itself," said Athletes with Disabilities, a consortium of five athletic associations for the disabled.
Many will no doubt recall how the integration of persons of color into baseball during the early to mid-part of the 20th century chiseled away the barriers of racial discrimination. Similarly, as visually impaired people continue to advocate for equal access to employment, they must also insure opportunities to the active life fostered by participation in sports. Membership in athletic activities with fellow citizens increases the social capital of the blind people, allowing for public education about their abilities and lifestyle, and will inevitably lead to integration and the debunking of regressive stereotypes.
Since fall 2003, I have undertaken crew to my personal challenge and benefit. As noted, it is not in arid persistence, but rather in a dogged resolve, that success delights and personal growth flourishes. There is much to be complimented about seeking new challenges. Rowing is a sport at which a visually impaired person can participate as an equal with sighted counterparts.
Strenuous, but fun, the sport of rowing is the art of gliding a boat through water via the mastery of oars by hand. The two forms of rowing are sweep-oar rowing and sculling. In sweep rowing, teams consists of two to eight people, each sitting in alternate positions of starboard and port, applying two hands to pull a single oar through the rippling waters towards the shell's stern. In sculling, one, two, or four people apply their hands to two oars, one in each hand. Generally, rowing does not require sight, but rather a sense of rhythm and a mental focus to form and instructions. Among the other issues that blind rowers must resolve are whether to help carry the shell to the pier and to tie down one's guide dog at the boathouse. As carrying the shell requires both hands, assisting with this part of the practice may be difficult either without the guidance of the service animal or the ability to navigate with a cane. I have chosen due to safety concerns to tie down my dog during practices. As is true with other segments of society, during the course of history, rowing has evolved from elitism to an activity accessible to men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
In the classical period, people rowed vessels for commerce, transport, and war. Though ancient texts refer to humans racing vessels, before the 1800s, shells were not primarily rowed for exercise, non-ceremonial recreation or competition. The first rowing association formed in New York in 1836. This club's name was New York (or Castle Garden) Amateur Boat Club Association. The first book to extol the virtues of rowing for fitness and health was Walker's Manly Exercises, published in the same year. The first collegiate rowing club was formed at Yale in 1843, and in 1852, Harvard defeated Yale in the first intercollegiate contest. In 1858, the Harvard crew was the first to designate red, later crimson, as their color, and subsequent to a rowing victory, a Massachusetts newspaper spun an American expression when it reported this jubilant crew "painted the town red."
The first book advocating the participation of women in rowing was published in 1870. The predecessor to the United States Rowing Association, whose goal is to make rowing accessible and enjoyable to all, organized in 1872. In 1997, rowing became a National Collegiate Athletic Association sport for women. People with a range of disabilities have been participating in crews for at least 20 years. Rowing positively affects the health status of participants, allowing an important release of stress for visually impaired people.
According to one rower, "Rowing is a low-impact sport. When executed properly, the rowing stroke is a fairly safe motion, providing little room for the serious injury often found in contact sports." However, before beginning a rowing program, individuals should check with their doctors; this sport requires endurance, muscle development and anaerobic conditioning.
A law school comrade, who participated in the crew team while enrolled at Ohio State University, described his experiences to me, which consequently sparked my desire. I find it difficult to recollect what my initial expectations were, but I hoped that I would not endure instances of discrimination, which had been my experience in accessing other athletic activities in Baltimore. Indeed, I have been surprised and pleased with the level of receptivity and accommodation of the coaches. "Never having coached a blind person, it was an exciting challenge and worked out better than I expected," said R.C., a coach and competitive rower with the Baltimore Rowing Club.
The evolution from the abilities I demonstrated at my first session to the closure of the novice course, and, then, now to the next level of participation and training, has been a source of personal growth and pride. My fellow team members reacted well to me, being perhaps a tad nervous at first having, in most circumstances, never rowed before and certainly not with a blind person. I am pleased to guide with a service animal named Langer, whom I tie down at the boathouse (much to his consternation). After training sessions, he sprints from the office at the boathouse to greet me. On one occasion, his exuberance to greet my friend and me resulted in a temporary inability to follow guide commands, for which I corrected him, to my teammates' chagrin. As I continue to participate in this sport, dialogue about my blindness and mobility with a service animal will be required of my coaches and teammates, and me.
With a deep affinity for the water and an inner desire to improve my personal fitness and health, rowing is truly my favorite sport. I highly recommend it to everyone.
Anyone who knows me knows that my life is never dull. Over the years I have taken on a lot of challenges, and have accomplished many goals. I never dreamed I would ever be called an athlete, but last year new doors were opened for me.
In the spring of 2002 a few representatives of the Oregon Commission for the Blind had an idea. One of them had heard of the annual Rose Festival Day Dragon Boat Race and thought it would be fun to organize a team of blind paddlers. Naysayers told them that nothing like that had been done before. A little research revealed that it had been done in other countries. After many meetings, the commission agreed to sponsor a team, and Blind Ambition was born.
Our first year was fantastic. Blind Ambition was irresistible. The press flocked to us, wanting to capture our spirit and help us spread our message. We practiced in all types of weather, including a hail storm. We were determined to show anyone who might want to learn that being blind does not preclude an urge toward being competitive. When that first race day finally came, it was all we could talk about. We all reflected on how it had all begun and how much we had improved over such a short time.
Our first measured practice time was over 5.5 minutes. What would we do today?, we wondered.
What we did was amaze ourselves. We didn't win the regatta, but we finished our final race in 3:12.
It was the commission's intention that the Rose Festival race day would be the end of Blind Ambition. We weren't ready to say goodbye, though. The sport had gotten into our blood. We were eager to see just where dragon boating could take us. So, we pooled our funds and signed up for practice times. Blind Ambition became Blind Ambition PDX.
Our coaches worried about us. They didn't think we would be safe in the standard Hong Kong style boats, which are longer, thinner, and much closer to the water. Their warnings frightened some of us, but we were determined. We gave the boats a try.
That summer centered around that boat. Still, our coach remained fearful for our safety. "What happens if you capsize?"
Well, we didn't have long to wait to find out what would happen. One warm summer day a speedboat flew by, creating such a wake that our boat was swamped. One minute we were paddling along and the next we were floating in the Willamette. Instead of being frightened, our confidence soared. There was nothing Blind Ambition could not do. We decided we wanted to once again feel the thrill of competition.
We were invited to compete in the Oakland Dragon Boat Festival. It took a lot of hard work, phone calls, and letter writing, but thanks to ACB of Oregon, California Council of the Blind, Enterprise Car Rental, Albertson's and Nike, we did it! The crowd in Oakland was amazing. Their support brought tears to my eyes. Hundreds of people patted us on the back, shook our hands or hugged us as we approached the dock for our first race. Our excitement was replaced with a touch of anger and a lot of determination when we heard the announcer introduce us as a team that is not competitive, but there for the fun. We showed them we could have fun and be competitive too. We finished that first day of the regatta ranked first in our division. The next day the announcer introduced us as a competitive team. We left Oakland with the Spirit of the Dragon Award.
From there we traveled to Washington state, where we placed fourth at the Vancouver Lake Regatta.
Our next challenge was scheduled to be the 2003 Portland Kau Shung Dragon Boat Festival. Our times were better than ever, and we couldn't wait to show Portland the more experienced, stronger Blind Ambition. Our plans for that summer included regattas in Hawaii, San Francisco and one more in Portland. We have been very effective in demonstrating that blind people can be competitive. Dragon boating is such a great way to demonstrate this because we receive no accommodation. We are using the same boats and the same paddles as our sighted competitors. We have the same number of paddlers on the boat. It all comes down to the skill of the team.
Blind Ambition hopes eventually to make its presence known at every dragon boat regatta in North America. This year we are considering Colorado, New York, and Toronto. We are busily looking for grants and donations to help us fulfill our dream. Dragon Boat History
The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is a significant holiday celebrated in China, and the one with the longest history. The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated by races in boats shaped like dragons. Competing teams row their boats to a drumbeat, racing toward the finish line.
The boat races are a traditional custom which symbolizes an attempt to rescue the patriotic poet Chu Yuan. Some three centuries before the birth of Christ, Chu Yuan served the King of Chu during the period of the Warring States. As a loyal minister, Chu Yuan at first enjoyed the full confidence and respect of his sovereign. Eventually, through the intrigues of his rivals, he was discredited and found himself in disfavor. During that time, he composed his immortal poem, "Encountering Sorrow," an allegorical description of his search for a prince who would listen to good counsel in government. Chu Yuan was never able to regain the emperor's favor and on the fifth day of the fifth moon in the year 295 B.C., at the age of 37, Chu Yuan clasped a stone to his chest and plunged into the Milo River in the Hunan Province.
Dragon boat racing is an entertaining and enjoyable event. It gives the observer an opportunity to glimpse a part of Chinese culture and history. The traditional Kau Shung style boats hold 16 paddlers, a caller who beats the drum to maintain the rhythm of the stroke, a flag catcher strapped to the head of the dragon who indicates the end of the race by grabbing the flag as the boat crosses the finish line, and a tiller who steers the boat.
To learn more about Blind Ambition, visit the web site, http://www.blindambition.info.
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.
** SCHOLARSHIP FOR WOMEN
The Ethel Louise Armstrong Foundation, Inc. (ELA) has its scholarship application available on its web site, www.ela.org. This scholarship provides financial assistance to women with physical disabilities who are enrolled in a college or university graduate program in the United States. Awards are based on merit. Scholarships range from $500 to $2,000 per year. The application deadline is June 1, 2004. Contact Deborah Lewis at [email protected] for more information.
** JFWLITE E-MAIL LIST CLOSED
Debbie Scales has closed the JFWLite list. However, she has assured subscribers that both the JFWLite archives (which are public, requiring no membership to read, nor logging in), along with the JFWLite.com home page, will remain operational and updated. For more questions, please see Debbie's farewell messages at the top of the archives: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jfwlite.
But don't fret. There is now a JAWS users mailing list, created to provide a place where users can discuss any aspect of the program. To subscribe to it, send a message to jfw- [email protected] with the word "subscribe" on the subject line. For additional commands, send the same message, replacing the word "subscribe" with "help." This list is run independently and is not maintained by Freedom Scientific.
** JOB HUNTING RESOURCES
Job Hunting Resources for People with Vision Impairments, recently published by Blindskills, Inc., is the definitive contemporary career guide for blind and visually impaired people because it focuses on topics other career books do not address. It includes information on interviewing techniques in a post-ADA world and pointers on resume and cover letter writing, as well as emphasizing social and communications skills as they apply to visually impaired job hunters.
This dynamic new book also includes the latest thinking on successful job-hunting strategies. You won't find a more comprehensive current career resource list anywhere. In addition to an excellent bibliography, the reader will find extensive online resources, which will continue to link him to future job opportunities.
The book is available for $10 per copy in large print, cassette, and computer diskette. The computer diskette edition includes braille-ready files, as well as an Internet directory that contains the entire book in HTML files. A braille resource list is available on request for those who purchase the book.
To order, contact Blindskills, Inc. at 1-800-860-4224 or (503) 581-4224; fax, (503) 581-0178. Make checks and money orders payable to Blindskills, Inc. and send to P.O. Box 5181, Salem, OR 97304- 0181. Blindskills accepts MasterCard and Visa.
** NIB JOB OPPORTUNITIES
Are you currently looking for a job or thinking about a career change? If so, be sure to stop by the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) booth at the ACB convention and learn about a broad range of employment opportunities available for people who are blind across the country. If you are unable to attend the conference, but would still like more information, please feel free to e-mail or call NIB's Human Resources Manager, Kathy Gallagher, at [email protected] or (703) 578-8343.
** ART SHOW SEEKS SUBMISSIONS
The 15th annual Insights Art Exhibit is calling for submissions. Work by legally blind artists in all media except video will be considered. The show will run in the fall of 2004 at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery at City Hall. Cash prizes will be awarded. The submission deadline is May 3, 2004. To receive an application by mail, contact Kari Orvik at (415) 431-1481 ext. 286. To download an application, visit www.lighthouse-sf.org.
** ZOOMTEXT 8.1 RELEASED
Ai Squared recently released ZoomText version 8.1. It delivers a host of user-requested features, including Web Finder, AppReader (ZoomText's in-application reading mode), and Desktop Finder.
ZoomText also includes fractional magnification levels. Powers of 1.25x, 1.5x and 1.75x allow users with mild visual impairments to get more information on the screen. The new Line Zoom mode magnifies a single line at a time, while automatically adjusting to the height of text in documents. It also adds support for reading PDF documents.
To keep users up-to-date with maintenance releases, ZoomText now includes automatic updating via the Internet. Each time ZoomText is launched, it checks to see if program updates are available. If so, the user is given the option to download and install the update. For more information, contact Ai Squared at (802) 362-3612 or [email protected]
** FREE BRAILLE TILES FOR CHILDREN
Are you a parent or teacher of blind children? Free braille alphabet tiles in grades 1 and 2, as well as Spanish, Russian, and Polish braille, are available from Arnold Dunn, (727) 867-3818. Write to him at 5130 Brittany Dr. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33715. When writing, please include your name, address, telephone number and the best time of day to call you.
** SOCIAL SAVVY FOR CHILDREN
The Hadley School for the Blind offers a tuition-free series of courses to enable family members and caregivers to help a child who is visually impaired acquire and refine social skills. This series consists of three mini-courses. "Foundation" (the series' prerequisite) provides fundamental information on social skills development in children who are visually impaired. "Preschool Years" provides ways to teach very young children the skills they need to interact with family members, caregivers, and peers. "Elementary Years" addresses social skills development during this period, including ways to foster friendships and the importance of role models. Each course includes a study guide, a video, and an activity book full of hands-on advice for parents and caregivers. For more information, visit http://www.hadley-school.org or call 1-800-526-9909.
** SPEAK TO ME SPRING CATALOG
Give the gift that says something. Speak To Me's spring 2004 catalog is now available. Besides singing and animated Easter products, the catalog includes a selection of new electronic items. Some featured items are a talking money/color identifier with two- hour digital recorder all in one unit; a new, more powerful voice organizer with five hours of recording time; a new easy-to-use voice phone dialer, and much more. Oh, yes, the company still offers the Road Runner Talking Pocket Bible (King James and New American Standard versions).
The catalog is produced in three formats: print, audio CD and e-mail. To get a copy, call 1-800-248-9965. If you would like an e-mail copy of the catalog, type "catalog" in the subject line and send to [email protected] You can also download a text version at http://www.speaktomecatalog.com/speak.txt.
ALVA B.V., a provider of assistive technology, has been honored with the SWIFT Award. The SWIFT Prize rewards makers of technology that "links people through technology." ALVA received recognition for its work in developing the ALVA MPO, the first fully integrated cellular phone and personal organizer designed exclusively for blind and visually impaired people.
** NASCAR RACING SCHEDULES AVAILABLE IN BRAILLE
Braille International, Inc. offers a free NASCAR racing schedule in braille. The schedule includes the NASCAR Nextel Cup, NASCAR Busch Series, and Craftsman Truck Series races. Contact Linda at 1-888-336-3142 or e-mail [email protected]
** AUDIO DART TOURNAMENT
Audio Darts of Pittsburgh will host its fifth regional tournament this fall. The Harold Schlegel Dart Tournament will be held the weekend of October 8-10, 2004. It will take place at the Best Western located at 3401 Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh, PA. For overnight accommodations, phone the hotel directly at (412) 683-6100. The rate for the weekend is $80 a night plus 14 percent tax for up to four occupants. Reservations must be made by September 17 in order to guarantee this great rate.
The tournament will begin with singles events on Friday evening. Saturday's events will be 501 doubles, 301 doubles, and count-up. Sunday's events will be 501 and 301 triples, both luck of the draw. The Saturday and Sunday events will start at 8:30 a.m. Registration for all six events is $75 or $15 per individual event. The total prize money will be $4500, plus $50 for high ton.
All participants will be required to use occluders. Spotters will maintain close watch on the occluders and their use. Darts may not exceed eight inches in length or weigh more than 16 grams. To register for the tournament, mail your name, contact information, and registration payment to: Louis Wassermann, 2503 Silver Oak Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15220 no later than October 1, 2004. No refunds will be available unless a substantiated emergency occurs. For additional information or questions, call Gene Barton at (412) 732-0860 or Joe Wassermann at (412) 687-5166.
FOR SALE: Jumbo braille writer in good working order. (May need cleaning.) Asking $400 or best offer. Regular braille writer for sale, excellent working condition, recently cleaned; comes with hard case. Asking $400 or best offer. Contact Margie Donovan at (650) 697-5300 or e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Type 'n Speak. Rarely used. Asking $750 (negotiable). Contact Pat at (905) 680-0064 or e-mail [email protected]
FOR SALE: Braille Lite 18 with latest firmware update, cables and carrying case, $1,750. ALVA 40-cell braille display and accessories, $3,795. Accent SA speech synthesizer, $300. MegaDots, $200. Zip drive with 1GB storage on disks, $150. Printers and scanners for as little as $25. All prices are negotiable. If interested in any item, contact Kathy at (615) 883-6946 or via e-mail at [email protected]
FOR SALE: Classic Juliet braille embosser. Can do single- or double-sided braille. Uses parallel connection. In excellent condition. Asking $2,100 including shipping. Elba Braillex notetaker, upgraded to 64 MB system memory, and has assortment of parallel, serial, and network ports, plus internal 56K modem. Asking $3,100 plus shipping. Must use bank or postal money order; personal checks not accepted. Contact Isaac Obie, 755 Tremont St., Apt. 205, Boston, MA 02118; e-mail [email protected], or phone (617) 247-0026.
FOR SALE: HP desktop computer with Windows Millennium, 768 processor, 40-gig hard drive, Open Book and Window-Eyes installed. Comes with MegaDots braille translation program, not installed. Asking $800. Shipping not included. Call Stan at (925) 778-7446.
FOR SALE: One reconditioned braille writer with hinged hard and soft covers. Asking $450. More than 60 Insul-gauges with two custom-made wooden jewelry cases, two Medi-coolers, and two additional freezer trays for the inside of the coolers. Asking $125 for the whole package, or $5 per gauge. Contact Robert Ziegler at (763) 537-8000.
FOR SALE: Optelec Spectrum Viewer in good condition. Comes with all cables, manuals, and stand. Asking $1,000. Contact Roy Clay at (706) 865-7595 or via e-mail, [email protected]
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