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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.
The board of directors of the American Council of the Blind has hired Melanie Brunson to serve as the executive director of the ACB. She is the fourth person to head up the Washington office, and the first blind woman to serve as the senior executive staff member of the ACB, or any other national blindness advocacy organization. Prior to her permanent appointment in March of this year, she had served as the acting executive director since the resignation of Charlie Crawford in the fall of 2003. The only other two individuals to hold this post since the founding of the ACB more than four decades ago were Durward K. McDaniel and Oral O. Miller.
In announcing her appointment, President Chris Gray said, "I am extremely pleased to announce formally the appointment of Melanie Brunson as executive director of the American Council of the Blind. Melanie is a veteran member of ACB's professional staff and has served in various managerial capacities since she joined the staff in August 1998. She has worked directly with two presidents and two past executive directors of the organization, which provides her with important background to the many different approaches and points of view within our organization. As an attorney, Melanie is able to quickly and accurately advise the ACB board of directors on a wide variety of legal issues or potential for such issues before critical decisions within the organization are made. Finally, the ACB board has been extremely pleased and impressed with Melanie's work during her months of service to us in the dual capacities of acting executive director and governmental affairs and advocacy director.
"For those who have not had the pleasure of meeting or working first-hand with Melanie, perhaps I should mention two additional things about her you might wish to know or even be wondering. Like most of us who are members of ACB, Melanie is blind. Also, she is a guide dog user and braille reader. I mention these things by way of saying that, by example and empathetically, Melanie can represent very well the interests of ACB and demonstrate by example the best and most noteworthy values of ACB: responsibility; dignity; and professionalism.
"It is exciting to contemplate the many things ACB can accomplish with the appointment of this key leadership position within our organization. Please join the entire ACB board of directors and me in welcoming Melanie Brunson to her new position."
Melanie joined the ACB professional staff in August of 1998 as director of governmental affairs and advocacy, where she has served with distinction, leading the ACB to victory in many legislative challenges.
Prior to coming to ACB, she lived and worked in California. She practiced law there for 14 years, most of which was spent in private practice. From April of 1996 to December of 1997, she was employed as a client assistance program advocate, assisting individuals with disabilities with legal issues related to their matriculation of the state's vocational rehabilitation system. From January to July of 1998, she was employed by the Western Law Center for Disability Rights in Los Angeles.
She obtained her bachelor of arts degree in political science from Whittier College, and her juris doctorate from Whittier College School of Law. She maintains her membership in the California Bar.
At the spring convention of the California Council of the Blind, one of our local chapter presidents, Martin Jones, sought me out to ask about an article he remembered from "The Braille Forum," and wished to read again and consider using in coming months. The article was an open letter to elected officials and contained many excellent thoughts and ideas to convey to these officials. The article was originally written by ACB's immediate past president, Paul Edwards, and after reading it, I proposed to Paul that we update the article, and provide it as information on which action can be taken by ACB members. Feel free to make any and all modifications you wish, but we ask that you seriously consider sending a letter such as this during this key election year in our country.
We hope that what we say will speak for both the Democrats and Republicans among ACB's membership. People with disabilities must be heard once and for all by those who seek political office. Our message must be clear and explicit. Whether we are speaking to judges, city commissioners, town selectmen, state representatives, Congressional candidates, or those who seek the presidency, our message with regard to blindness and disability is the same. We believe that everything said in the paragraphs below is based either on positions this organization has taken or on general principles that are core values of the disability rights movement.
We are obliged to take politics seriously because our issues are, for the most part, being marginalized by both major political parties. We must say to those seeking office that as a matter of livelihood and necessity we cannot accept vague generalizations of good will. It is time for us to ask for specifics and to challenge those who have not kept their promises. Unless we become involved and actively seek to place our issues on everyone's political agenda, we will simply not be heard and our needs will not be met. Here, then, is the draft letter for your consideration. Please send it, or something like it, to any official you may be electing in 2004. It is our firm belief that you and they will be glad you did!
I write you today as one of your constituents with several questions and suggestions on which I sincerely hope you will write back to me in the near future. I am one of 54 million people with disabilities. We are the largest minority in the United States. We are the poorest minority in the United States. We are a minority whose unemployment rate is 70 percent. We are a minority whose children are dropping out of school at twice the rate of non-disabled people. And, please bear with me to underscore this very important point one final time, we are a minority!
I write first to ask for your participation in a dialogue with me, and second to request your meaningful help toward improving the lives of disabled and blind Americans. I, myself, am blind and will speak specifically to issues regarding blindness, but also to many issues about which the disability minority is in substantial agreement.
When you speak of minorities, you usually do not include us. Perhaps you do not know what to say, or how to say it. But we desperately need your consideration and your thoughtful commitment to programs to improve the lives of the blind and disabled of this nation. We affirm that our status as a minority arises from the fact that we suffer from insidious, systematic and unrelenting discrimination. Thirteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, neither the dropout rate nor employment have been much affected. The promise of the 1990s has been replaced by the perils of the 21st century. Both the news media and politicians have attacked the only civil rights law that protects us. What specific steps will you take to protect the rights that the ADA affirms and to move beyond protection to assure that people with disabilities can fully participate in our society?
The 21st century will be known as the century of information. Technology is less affordable and less accessible to people with disabilities. Only a fraction of blind people can afford even to own a computer, and accessibility to the screen is problematic for most users. What steps will you take to mandate that your community, state or the nation assures that people with disabilities are not excluded from the immense benefits of information technology? How will you assure that people who are disabled will continue to have access to technology as it evolves?
Virtually every new appliance being manufactured is becoming unusable by people who are blind because of the universal use of a visual interface. Stoves, washing machines, television sets and cellular telephones are becoming impossible for people who are blind to utilize fully. What steps will you take to strengthen and broaden the minimal protections that currently do very little to require or encourage manufacturers to make these products accessible?
Blind and visually impaired people have benefitted significantly from the video description of television programs that began to be provided by the major networks. What steps will you take to assure that this service which parallels closed captioning is restored and expanded?
Many countries, both rich and poor, have found ways to make their paper money identifiable by people who are blind and visually impaired. The United States Department of the Treasury is actively fighting efforts to make our currency accessible. What steps will you take to remedy this clear violation of our civil rights?
Funding for programs and services for people with disabilities has remained inadequate. In many communities, per capita expenditure on disability-specific programs has fallen. What will you do to guarantee that funds are channeled into programs that begin to redress the inequity that makes people with disabilities the most under-employed and poorest minority?
There is clear and unequivocal evidence demonstrating that services delivered to blind people by separate, self-contained service delivery models with their own budgets and consumer governance are far more effective and successful than models where services are delivered to all disability groups at once. What specific steps will you take to create and protect separate services for people who are blind?
No matter what steps our country takes to make jobs and our communities more available to people with disabilities, these efforts will be worthless if we do not develop a public transportation infrastructure that enables people with disabilities to travel freely. What will you do to assure that communities, states and the nation create public fixed-route and paratransit systems that are truly available to people with disabilities?
The Social Security system continues to create disincentives to return to work. The per capita income of people with disabilities is well below the poverty level. What will you do to make community, state and federal funds available to provide for the equipment and work incentives that will enable people with disabilities to return to work? What specific Social Security reforms will you sponsor?
Not one state got good marks from the Department of Education for their implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The percentage of blind children who graduate able to read braille continues to fall and far too many disabled children are being encouraged to work toward meaningless and limiting special diplomas rather than seeking regular high school graduation. Dropout rates for students with disabilities are significantly higher than that of non-disabled students. What specific steps will you take to assure that real educational opportunities and true individual educational programming emerge for students with disabilities?
While the unemployment rate for the nation, as a whole, is below 5 percent, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains at nearly 70 percent. At least a substantial portion of this unemployment is the result of systematic discrimination. What specific steps will you take to assure that the discrimination that limits employment for people with disabilities will be vigorously opposed?
While other Americans can and do make choices about their futures, people with disabilities are often treated in custodial ways and have very limited choices. What will you do to broaden the ability of each American with a disability to choose where he or she works, what community activities he or she chooses to participate in, and where he or she chooses to live?
More than half of the blind people in the United States are over 55 years of age. Yet, less than 10 percent of the funds spent on serving blind people aid this population. Describe the particular actions you will take to redress this imbalance and provide appropriate services to older people who are blind.
Hundreds of people who are blind die or are seriously injured every year because our nation is becoming increasingly less safe for pedestrians. What will you do in your community, state or in the nation to create more accessible pedestrian signalized street crossings, tactile warnings at dangerous street crossings, and a more pedestrian-friendly environment?
Both major political parties, cities, states, and the federal government, all receive very little input from people with disabilities. Describe the steps you have taken and will take to assure that the opinions of people with disabilities are regularly sought. What will you do to broaden access to government for people who are disabled?
People with disabilities often cannot exercise their right to vote in privacy because very little effort has been made to make ballots accessible, and many polling places are inaccessible. Describe the steps you would take to assure that people with disabilities can exercise their right to cast a ballot independently at an accessible polling place.
I hope that you, as a candidate, recognize that these questions are just a few of the many that could have been asked. People with disabilities are the minority with least appeal and with the most serious agenda today. Systematic exclusion, whether intended or not, is real and endemic to our society. No candidate who is not prepared to publicly recognize the serious problems faced by people with disabilities can be seriously considered for election by the disabled community.
We are not a special-interest group crying out for privilege! We are a minority group insisting on our rights as American citizens. We do not ask for your support. We require your action in order to become full participants in American society. Persuade us that you are serious about giving the 20 percent of Americans we are a fair chance to be treated equally! This is our challenge. How do you respond?
I welcome the chance to discuss any or all of these issues with you and your staff. I encourage you to consider coming to a meeting of our organization to listen and speak with us about solutions for the future.
This month, I would like to share a message with you that was circulated to the ACB computer lists on June 8 by Ralph Sanders and me. It summarizes ACB's recent activity aimed at thwarting the latest attempt by some members of Congress to undermine the Randolph-Sheppard priority. It illustrates that when blind people act swiftly and decisively on behalf of a common purpose, they are a force to be reckoned with. That force can compel decision-makers to take note and change direction in a significant way. I hope the text below will serve as an encouragement to all of us to stay the course and persist in our advocacy efforts, even when the time seems short, the issues seem complex, and the odds seem unfavorable.
The following update on Sec. 867 of the Defense Reauthorization Bill is submitted by Ralph Sanders on behalf of RSVA, and Melanie Brunson on behalf of ACB. A New Look at Section 867
Less than 30 days after the shock attack of May 12, when the Senate Armed Services Committee reported out its version of the Defense Authorization Act for FY 2005 containing Section 867, a provision which would have eliminated the Randolph-Sheppard priority for cafeterias on military bases, so much has happened so quickly that it sometimes seems hard to believe.
Now, instead of a frontal assault on one of the nation's oldest entitlement programs for the blind, we are looking at language that in some ways actually strengthens the Randolph- Sheppard priority on military bases. Not only is this an amazing turnaround on legislative prospects for the Randolph-Sheppard program, the single largest employment program for blind and visually impaired individuals, but it seems to be a clear victory for the Congressional tradition of establishing and maintaining special programmatic benefits for blind and visually impaired individuals. When the ACB national office sounded the first legislative alert on May 12, it was clear that we faced a major Congressional challenge.
With tremendous speed and strength, the blind of America responded with phone calls, e-mails, and faxes to every Senate office urging the striking of Section 867. And, in an unprecedented air of cooperation, the entire blind community acted together. ACB, the NFB, the AFB, BVA and AER all marshaled efforts and sent strongly worded messages to the United States Senate.
The Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America (RSVA), the ACB and the NFB, NIB, BVA and the AFB had been engaged in months of negotiations with the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (NISH) to resolve conflicts between the Randolph- Sheppard priority and the JWOD preference on military bases. These discussions had been organized under the auspices of the Congressional staff of Sens. Ensign and Kennedy.
In less than a week, the pressure brought to bear by the blind of America had brought about a new sense of the need for a negotiated settlement. After frantic exchanges of e-mails and phone calls, a revised Section 867 was forged which all parties can accept.
We encourage you to call or write your senators to thank them for their assistance in bringing about this resolution to the issues raised in the earlier language of Section 867 and to urge them to vote for the substitute language in the new Section 867.
The price paid by the blind is high. The agreement permits NISH participating local non-profits to keep the 90-plus troop dining contracts it now has, presumably into perpetuity. That means the loss of more than 90 jobs, really good jobs, for blind men and women. The 36 military contracts currently held by the Randolph-Sheppard program remain in place in perpetuity.
On the other hand, the new language makes it clear that all troop dining contracts, whether full food service, or mess attendant, when they come on the market, are available to the Randolph-Sheppard priority if the state agency asserts it. That could mean several hundred new jobs for blind men and women.
There are other important technical details included in the proposal which will be helpful to the blind. It is by no means a perfect piece of legislation. It is, however, something we can not only live with, but be pleased that we were able to achieve in the face of all odds.
NFB's Jim Gashel, with the active involvement of the ACB, drafted a statement which Sen. Ensign will have placed in the Congressional record to further clarify the broad outlines of the agreement.
The most important victory which arises from this Congressional campaign is the certain knowledge that we, the blind, can control our own destiny when we are willing and able to take clear, decisive, joint action. Statement by Sen. Ensign on Sec. 867 of S. 2400
Mr. President, I wish to make a few comments to explain the amendment I have offered that will modify Section 867 of S. 2400 in regards to military troop dining services. This section as now amended resolves a long-standing statutory conflict arising from two important laws -- the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Act and the Randolph-Sheppard Act. These laws provide meaningful employment and entrepreneurial business opportunities to severely disabled and blind people in meeting the food service needs of members of the armed forces serving in the United States.
The solution to this conflict, as expressed in the amendment, is a tribute to all interests concerned. The amendment reaffirms the priority for the blind expressed in the Randolph- Sheppard Act, while safeguarding employment opportunities for severely disabled persons in all military dining facilities now operated under the JWOD Act. Future contracts will also be awarded under either law in accordance with the priority set forth in the amendment.
Mr. President, it is important to point out that, when Sec. 867 becomes law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2005, this new statutory language is intended to replace existing policies, regulations, or other guidance issued by components of the Department of Defense relating to application of either the JWOD Act or the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Much of that guidance has been based on efforts to harmonize conflicting statutory interpretations.
The importance of the compromise amendment is to explain when each law must be applied. Concurrent application of both laws is not called for by the amendment. This will be true in the case of both full food service contracts and mess hall attendant service contracts as well. In order to be consistent with existing practices under the JWOD Act, the term "contracts" should be understood to refer to services placed on the procurement list when troop dining services are provided by a non-profit agency under the JWOD Act.
Finally, Mr. President, the amendment provides for advance notification to be given to the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in order to determine if a state licensing agency wishes to have the priority of the Randolph-Sheppard Act applied to any particular procurement of troop dining services. We expect that this determination will be made promptly and that state licensing agencies will be given sufficient time to prepare proposals for consideration through direct negotiations or the competitive solicitation process.
This agreement has been a long time in the making, and I am very pleased that all sides have come together to create this agreement. It is clear that we need to continue this work and ensure that all individuals with disabilities have meaningful opportunities for employment.
(Reprinted from "The Vendorscope," Winter/Spring 2004.)
Late-breaking news -- on April 29, 2004, the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision in New Hampshire v. David Ramsey et al, an important case in which the Randolph- Sheppard Vendors of America (RSVA), American Council of the Blind (ACB), and National Educational and Legal Defense Services for the Blind (NELDS) participated as friends of the court. The First Circuit Court strongly upheld the Randolph-Sheppard priority, and ruled that the district court, which had heard the case earlier, was correct in affirming a decision of an arbitration panel. That panel had granted the blind vendor committee an injunction against the state of New Hampshire, requiring the state to recognize the so-called Kennelly Amendment to the Surface Transportation Act. The Kennelly Amendment provided, pursuant to the Randolph-Sheppard Act, a priority for the blind vendor program with respect to income from vending machines at interstate highway rest stops.
The decision is the culmination of almost six years of effort by the New Hampshire Committee of Blind Vendors to force the state of New Hampshire to recognize the Randolph-Sheppard Act's priority as it applies to interstate highway vending. The result will have an impact on the blind vending facility program, but the nature of that impact is not yet clear. The reason: Although the court upheld the arbitration decision favoring the blind vendors, it also found that award of damages was not proper, because the state of New Hampshire had not waived its sovereign immunity with respect to damages under section 111(b) of the Surface Transportation Act. This will be as confusing to many in the legal profession as well as to readers of "The Braille Forum." Let me explain.
On the matter of damages, the First Circuit asserted first that the Randolph-Sheppard Act does not expressly authorize the award of damages. That is true, and there is no disagreement with the statement. Blind vendors and their attorneys have in litigation argued (usually successfully) that a state licensing agency waives sovereign immunity against an award of compensatory damages (1) by its participation in the Randolph-Sheppard program, under which it agrees to be subject to awards by arbitration panels, which routinely award damages, and (2) by accepting federal funds for Randolph-Sheppard activities, both under the Rehabilitation Act and from vending machine income on federal property.
The court determined that the state had not raised a sovereign immunity defense until the arbitration hearing. The arbitration panel awarded "prospective" damages in the amount of all commissions on vending machines located at the subject interstate rest areas dating from October 1998, when the blind vendors' arbitration complaint was filed. On appeal, the Federal District Court generally approved the arbitration award. The First Circuit concluded that the state of New Hampshire waived sovereign immunity by its litigation conduct (demanding that the blind vendors exhaust their administrative remedies under the Randolph-Sheppard Act) and that it waived any objection to "prospective equitable relief." The court said that, "By its voluntary agreement and participation in the federal program created by the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the state has been given a right it would not otherwise have: access to federal property," and that Congress was "quite clear" that states participating in the program agree "to submit any disputes that blind vendors may have regarding the vending program to the hearing and arbitration procedures [of the act]."
As to whether New Hampshire had waived Eleventh Amendment immunity from liability for damages, the First Circuit said the state had not waived such immunity "largely because the blind vendors' 1998 complaint in federal court contained no demand for damages." By failing to ask for damages in the first federal suit they brought, the blind vendors did not put the state on notice to assert its sovereign immunity defense, and therefore a finding of waiver of sovereign immunity would be unfair. The court further rejected the blind vendors' argument that the mere seeking by the state of judicial review of the arbitration decision constituted a waiver of sovereign immunity.
The key finding of the First Circuit on the damages issue is that, even if the Randolph-Sheppard Act "allows damages to be awarded against states based on complaints by blind vendors, it is not clear whether Congress intended in section 111(b) of the [Surface Transportation] Act to subject states to damages awards for violations found in R-S grievance procedures. Given Congress' silence in the Surface Transportation Act itself and the disagreement about damages under the Randolph-Sheppard grievance procedures, we cannot, as a matter of statutory construction of the STA Act find an intent to subject states to damage awards under the STA Act." This means that the First Circuit did not address whether damages may be awarded under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, but that Congress could not be found to intend that damages be awarded under the Surface Transportation Act. The court somehow reasons that even though this case began (in the arbitration process) as a Randolph-Sheppard case, it morphed back into a Surface Transportation Act case because the blind vendors asserted in 1998 that it was a Surface Transportation Act case.
For me, the logic of the First Circuit is highly questionable. I think the case is Randolph-Sheppard through and through, and because of that the state of New Hampshire waived its sovereign immunity under that act (as several other federal circuit courts have determined), it should have been held to have waived it in this case. Since the court ruled as it did, however, the question as to whether a state waives sovereign immunity for damages under Randolph-Sheppard remains undecided in the First Circuit. There may be additional action on this case, and if there is, we will report it to you.
The ACB board of directors met via telephone conference call on April 1 and April 22, 2004.
On April 1, President Chris Gray called the meeting to order at 9:40 p.m. Eastern time. Jerry Annunzio was absent. In the absence of Mike Duke, Charlie Hodge served as the board of publications representative.
At 9:45 p.m. the board went into executive session with Leonard DuBoff. The open meeting resumed at 11:27 p.m.
President Gray reported that during the executive session, the use of the domain name www.braille-free-press.org was discussed. The board considered a variety of possibilities for ensuring that this domain name remains the property of the American Council of the Blind, and adopted a motion expressing a hope of being able to settle the domain name issue amicably and in a timely manner.
Chief Financial Officer Jim Olsen reported that a time-share in Cancun has been donated to ACB for its use one week a year. The only requirement is that ACB pay the annual maintenance fee of $550. The motion to accept the donation of the time-share and pay the annual fee carried on a voice vote.
The motion to place the subject of registration of names on the next board agenda carried on a voice vote.
A motion to hold at least two more telephone conference calls before the convention carried on a voice vote. The next meeting was scheduled for April 22 at 9 p.m. Eastern.
The meeting adjourned at 12:15 a.m. Eastern time on April 2. April 22 Meeting
President Gray called the meeting to order at 9:37 p.m. Eastern time on April 22, 2004. All board members were present except Alan Beatty and David Trott.
Gray reported that the name "Braille Free Press" should soon be in the possession of ACB.
An ad hoc committee will be formed in the near future to work on cell phone access. The committee will include Bonnie O'Day and others.
Cynthia Towers reported that she and Gray sent a letter to the Birmingham Sheraton expressing their unhappiness with services received during the mid-year meeting. She also noted that each day of the convention will have a specific theme or topic.
Melanie Brunson reported that the Red Cross wants to work with disability groups, especially through their local chapters. A motion that ACB sign the statement of understanding with the American Red Cross carried on a voice vote.
Terry Pacheco joined the call to discuss the vehicle donation program. A coalition of organizations called CARS is working to combat a Senate bill, which will, if passed, virtually end the effectiveness of this donation program.
Paul Edwards moved that this board give the president authority, after consultation with Jeff Thom and John Learned, to join CARS at the supporting level of $200 a month should he deem it appropriate. He was also encouraged to solicit presentations from affiliates benefitting from the vehicle donation program. The motion carried on a voice vote.
Gray stated that the fund-raising work of Laura Oftedahl might soon bear fruit. Although her contract will conclude at the end of April, she is willing to work through April at a 50 percent decrease in salary and at that same rate through May. He also reported that ACB has been able to acquire three grants to offset convention expenses.
The motion to adjourn carried and the meeting ended at 11:16 p.m. Eastern time.
"Pawtracks," the quarterly audio magazine of Guide Dog Users, Inc., takes full advantage of computer technology in its production. Now you can wear a little bit of that technology and help support the most exciting guide-dog-related magazine in the world!
Jenine Stanley has designed earrings featuring actual 8186 Intel computer chips. These black-and-gold earrings are about 1 inch square and are for pierced ears. These earrings are in limited supply! No true "Geek Chick" can be without a pair!
All proceeds from the sales of these earrings go toward "Pawtracks." It costs about $9,000 per year to produce the four issues, each over four hours in length, on cassette tape and compact disc. Earrings cost $50 per pair and come with sterling silver lever-back closures. You may order your pair by contacting Jenine at (614) 766-5524 or via e-mail at [email protected].
The Missouri Council of the Blind will hold its annual convention October 7 through 10 at the Millennium Hotel, 200 S. Fourth St. in St. Louis. The reservations number is 1-800-325- 7353, or (866) 866-8086; the local number is (314) 241-9500. Room rates are $65 per night plus tax. The hotel has made its covered parking lot across the street available to us for $7 per day, with unlimited in/out privileges. There is a covered underground walkway from the parking lot to the hotel.
The hotel has three restaurants: one on the lobby level, one on the level below on the mezzanine and one on the roof level. Hotel vans will take you to restaurants and attractions within five miles if available. So remember to make arrangements ahead of time, and don't forget to tip the driver!
For more information, contact the Missouri Council office at (314) 832-7172, or 1-800-342-5632 (in Missouri only).
Recently it was my pleasure to complete a series of four lectures in Japan focusing on the impact of disability rights legislation in the USA. One of the lectures was presented at the Kochi Prefecture School for the Blind located in Kochi City, approximately 500 miles from Tokyo. Upon meeting the principal of the school, she proudly informed me that one of her English teachers is an American. I was then introduced to Robin Barnes, who informed me that while majoring in Japanese at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., she was awarded an ACB scholarship at the 1997 national convention in Houston. At the time of our conversation she was completing her third year teaching at the Kochi school. While guests were talking informally with me both before and after my lecture, I was impressed by the number of times they automatically turned to Robin and asked her in Japanese how to say what they wanted to say in English. During my conversation with Robin we discussed such things as the almost omnipresence of audible bird call traffic signals at very busy intersections featuring traffic driving on the left-hand side of the road (the practice in Japan), the lack of relatively well-defined sidewalks as we know them on many very narrow streets, the use of many different tactile tiles underfoot in an effort to be of assistance to blind pedestrians, the occasional use of simple audible signals such as intermittently chiming tones to convey important location information to blind pedestrians and the cultural acceptance of blind people in working and mobility settings. And, yes, she recalled with pleasure the ACB national convention and the outstanding people she met there while receiving the ACB of Colorado scholarship.
(Editor's Note: Are you a previous winner of an ACB scholarship? Let us know what you're doing. Contact Sharon Lovering at the national office, 1-800-424-8666, e-mail [email protected].)
Barcelona, a beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea, is a mosaic of many cultures merging into an unforgettable experience for any tourist.
My husband Carl and I are veteran international travelers and chose this as our next adventure on our list of vacationing spots. Carl and I tag-teamed to make the preparation as smooth as possible. I did all the background research and preliminary planning and Carl took care of the driving and sightseeing expeditions. Once we decided on that approach, it took us about two months to get everything ready. Since I am visually impaired, I contacted the Spanish organization for the blind to ascertain information on blindness-related issues. Unfortunately, no response came to my e-mail inquiry. I did not allow that to discourage me, but continued by doing an Internet search which offered a wealth of preparation material. I found information on restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, etc. I called the Spanish embassy and they gave very useful information about the subway system, cabs, the location of sites and many other services we could use while visiting Spain. The U.S. State Department web site offered resources concerning passports, visas, terrorism and medical facilities. AAA provided the e-mail addresses of automobile clubs in Europe, as well as information on gasoline prices, road conditions, directions, speed limits, and prices for toll roads. Carl planned on driving once we got there, so he purchased an international driver's license from AAA. We took along our favorite snacks and a daily journal.
The next thing we did was to purchase euro and American travelers' checks to take with us. Why travelers' checks? Because some credit cards charge an exchange fee for purchases made abroad. Since we were not fluent in Spanish, we bought travel phrase books in Spanish, French, and listened to audiotapes to brush up on our pronunciation of words. We also checked out videos on Barcelona from the library. We read Rick Steve's book "Spain and Portugal Through the Back Door." After all our research, we felt sufficiently ready to embark upon our journey.
When we arrived at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, staffers offered me assistance to traverse the busy airports and a braille booklet to read about air emergencies. We flew to Madrid and caught our connecting flight to Barcelona. A cab took us from El Prat Airport in Barcelona to our hotel. Shortly after arriving at our hotel we boarded the subway for Plaza De Catalonia. This is a plaza with shops and restaurants, similar to a large courtyard. Immediately I noticed that there were no announcements when the train arrived at its stations. As we joined in the strolling crowds, we spotted a restaurant where we could sample tappas. Tappas are small bowls of Catalan cuisine that you can share. Since we like seafood, we had shrimp, squid, mussels with a vegetable dish of mushrooms in a Catalan sauce, and Catalan bread rubbed with tomatoes then toasted. As we strolled down the plaza, I asked my husband if he saw any blind people; he said no. In the days that followed we strolled the narrow winding streets sightseeing. We never saw anyone who was blind. We were entertained by street bands and dancing. La Ramblas was the street on which to see many sights and visit the open stalls and markets.
As my husband gave verbal descriptions, I was most impressed by the beautiful architecture in Barcelona. Buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi in the modernist art Nuevo style were so exquisite. Of all his dynamic work, I was captivated by the Temple de la Sagrada Familia. Gaudi started to work on this at 31, but died in 1926, before it was completed. His work continues; the cupola that will extend 170 meters above the Sagrada Familia is being constructed now. We were able to see Gaudi's crypt in the basement of the church.
The city of Barcelona is home to many fascinating works of art and museums. The Pablo Picasso Museum is located in three palaces. Many of his best-known paintings adorn the walls. Carl said cameras do no justice to Picasso's artistic genius. His work is so intricate and evocative that we stood in awe. My favorite painting in the museum was "The First Communion," a painting of a girl kneeling holding a missal in her hand. Picasso won acclaim for this work, which enabled him to make his grand entry into the world of art.
Since Barcelonans are tied to a love of the sea, we visited the Christopher Columbus Monument located at the port. Columbus stands 50 meters high with his index finger pointing seaward. The monument is said to be located where Columbus stepped on land when returning to Spain from the new world. The Olympic Village is located here. It served as living quarters for the athletes of the 1992 Olympics.
We toured Barcelona on double-decker open-topped tour buses. We listened to history of the sights via headphones. This was an excellent approach, and allowed us to disembark to visit a site without time restraints. Every 15 minutes another bus would arrive to pick us up. Passengers were allowed to ride these tour buses until 8 p.m.
One night while driving in Barcelona, we got lost. Carl decided to ask a group of young people for directions to Ronda de Dalt, a route that encircles the city. One of the young men came over to the car and began to speak rapidly in Spanish. Seeing we were not comprehending, he motioned over a friend who spoke some English. He said to go to the light, take a right, then two lefts and two rights. The young ladies in the group devised a song and began to sing the directions. They even composed a dance to indicate the lefts and rights. It was totally hilarious and we all laughed. Carl thanked them and we bid farewell to our gracious entertainers. Their directions brought us to our destination.
My husband drove from Barcelona down the coast to the French Riviera. We stayed in a quaint village called Menton, located between the French Alps and the Mediterranean Sea. Menton used to be sustained by importing lemons to other countries. Although they hold a lemon festival in February, tourism generates most of the capital. Our hotel was located on the beach, so we could hear the soothing sound of the waves and see the lovely bluish- green sea. Menton offers hiking, shops, lovely old churches and a casino. Our French guide and personal friend took us to Monaco, a small country near the French border. There we saw the palace and church where Princess Grace Kelly was married. He then took us to dinner at a local restaurant, where the food was very good. We were sorry when it was time to go and had to bid our friend good-bye but our trip was ending. Carl drove us back to Barcelona for some rest and relaxation before boarding our plane.
Barcelona is truly a destination one should get acquainted with. Words do this superb metropolis no fairness. Our excursion was a rewarding experience. If you have any questions about planning a trip to Barcelona or the French Riviera, please e-mail me at [email protected]. Happy travels.
In 1965, I entered the Kerrville Rehabilitation Center for the Blind in Kerrville, Texas. For four months I studied braille, independent living skills, and orientation and mobility (O&M) as a prelude to getting married. I was 24 years old at the time and had never been trained to travel with a cane.
I went through the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, Tex., two years of public high school and four years of university classes in Austin without a cane or a dog. During that time, I often walked seven or eight blocks home from high school, learned to travel to the University of Texas on the bus and attended classes with 18,000 students on a campus spread out over 40 acres.
As youngsters at the school for the blind, we were not allowed to use canes; we were never even introduced to the idea of cane travel. The only person in the world we knew who used one was Mr. Allen, our blind superintendent, who was so old he obviously needed a cane. We had heard of Seeing Eye dogs but never saw one until junior high when the new piano teacher brought one to school to help her find her classes. We figured she needed a dog because she was a lady and because she seemed pretty doggone helpless when she tried to move around the main building by herself.
The only O&M strategy I used during all those years was echolocation, a technique I developed at the age of eight which made it possible for me to race bicycles with my friends and neighbors. So my introduction to the straight, somewhat flexible fiberglass cane as a travel aid came pretty late at the Kerrville Rehab Center. For me it was an extra -- something that could benefit me mostly because it let other people know I was blind. And I was convinced by that time that this was a significant issue. After all, I had spent four years at a major university, bumping into people who asked angrily, "What the hell's the matter with you?", crossing streets on sheer moxie, and learning that the hardest substance known to man was not a diamond at all but rather a fire plug against the shin at 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
My entire college career was a voyage of unstructured discovery. So when they presented me with a cane in Kerrville, I was ready to try something new, something I hoped would extend my territorial imperative to new horizons. I stuck with that old crooked handle fiberglass cane for about 10 years. It came in real handy for vaulting rock walls and snagging the hems of miniskirts in El Paso where I moved after graduation from the University of Texas. I never did get around to using it for a fishing pole, though. But it was admittedly a little awkward in airplane bathrooms and at those cramped little side tables for two in restaurants. Then one day the Sunshine Umbrella Co. of Kansas went out of business and I could no longer find the rubber/metal tips for it anymore. So I retired it to the back closet and bought my first folding cane.
From that time on, I used mostly folding canes because they were more plentiful and much more practical for riding on the backs of motorcycles and for shooting pool. People in bars used to accuse me of carrying my own cue stick with me so often that I decided to take them up on it one night. From then on, I thought folding canes were the hippest thing going.
For the next several years I traveled with those heavy aluminum folding canes except for one brief, unhappy affair with an Arkansas Traveler, a goofy-looking wooden cane with a leather strap on the handle and a spring button for a tip. Some genius reckoned that the spring button would bump against things and just bounce off. A nice idea, but it didn't always work that way. Sometimes that pesky little spring would catch in the crack of a sidewalk and, with the force of my forward motion, I was impaled on the handle.
So I went back to the collapsible metal canes for the next several years. Until I returned to Los Angeles one day for a visit and stumbled across what I considered to be the "dream cane": the California graphite cane. It was strong, lightweight and pretty snazzy looking. I called it my "disco cane." Since it was made of carbon fiber, I could move through airports without even having to surrender it to the security goons at the metal detector. I strutted down the familiar streets of L.A., dodging bus benches, dancing through clusters of poles and gliding smoothly across streets in a choreographed stroll saying, "Man! Somebody should be filming these moves."
Then one day as I was crossing Hollywood and Vine, some person in a crowd of pedestrians tripped across my wonderful graphite cane and it suddenly snapped at the joint. They were gone before I could say a word. Hit and run! I just stood there helplessly in the middle of that famous intersection with my broken cane dangling limply in the air, about as functional as a piece of rope. Eventually, someone helped me across the rest of the street and I phoned a friend. After I broke a couple more of those canes in violent collisions with speed bumps and buckled sidewalks back in El Paso, I changed the kind of tip I use and things have gotten better since then.
Just the other day, however, I was introduced to the so- called NFB long cane and I was surprised. I liked it. It is lightweight, somewhat flexible and apparently quite strong. I would love to have one for schlepping around my neighborhood -- making those round trips to the pharmacy or the dry cleaners and back home. There's a sturdy, durable feel to it that gives me confidence that it won't break on me while crossing the street. But I still intend to use my folding canes. They're just the thing for bars and s‚ances and getting in and out of low-slung sports cars.
And I guess that's the bottom line of my whole experience with cane travel. There is no perfect cane. There are canes for all seasons: inside canes, outside canes and heavy, metal, dog- whacking canes. I have a personal stable of about six or eight different ones for different occasions. And I'm frankly excited about this new NFB long cane. But I don't think that's the one I'd pick for riding on the back of a motorcycle.
When we meet young blind people struggling for a cohesive self-identity, the term "independence" is usually a major theme in the discourse. For them, the "I Can Do It Myself" theme is a dominant mantra. For us, on the other hand, our independence mantra is: "I can marshall the resources to get it done." This shift is the result of the aging process and our move from New York City to Fresno, Calif.
After our marriage and relocation to Fresno in 1987, we traded a frenetic urban lifestyle for a laid-back small California city. In New York, Ed traveled by subway to his job as professor at Baruch College in Manhattan, while Toni took the Long Island Railroad to her job as rehabilitation counselor at Kings Park Psychiatric Center. With rides or carpooling an impossible dream, our travel needs were met through the use of public transportation. Over the years we spent countless hours waiting for, walking to and traveling on buses, subways and trains in the heat of summer, the cold of winter, rain and snow. During rush-hour commutes, standing was the norm, and fellow passengers were often unhelpful and unfriendly. Although the New York transportation system had its drawbacks, the availability of 24-hour service seven days a week was a tremendous attraction. We were concerned that the move to Fresno would mean our ability to travel independently would be diminished by a less than adequate bus system.
In New York, blindness-related needs, such as reading services, were available at agencies for the blind if one was willing and able to travel to the site where the services were provided. Getting a haircut, visiting a doctor or veterinarian, having a small appliance repaired, shopping for groceries, going to a restaurant or theater production were activities we could participate in independently with a minimum of assistance from others. However, the cost could be measured in terms of stress, time and inconvenience. In contrast, these same activities could be accomplished in Fresno with a minimum of stress, time and inconvenience, but with the need for greater assistance.
When we first moved to this central California community, following our former pattern of dependence on public transportation, we familiarized ourselves with and used the local bus system. In fact, the selection of an apartment to rent was based in part on its proximity to a bus stop. After 7 p.m. when service stopped, we took taxis to and from our destinations. As our social network expanded, acquaintances, neighbors and friends began volunteering to drive and assist us in a variety of ways.
In those early Fresno days, we were constantly amazed at people's willingness to put themselves out for our benefit. When we could not arrange for a volunteer driver to get us to the hairdresser, she offered to come to our home to cut our hair. While shopping with our scheduled volunteer driver in a local pet supply store, we were disappointed our preferred brand of cat food would not come in until the next day. Although the store did not have a delivery policy, a clerk offered to bring it to us when it came in. At a sporting goods store where Toni was shopping for sneakers, the manager, realizing she would have to get a ride back to the store when the special order arrived, volunteered to deliver the shoes when he received them. Recognizing the benefits to be derived from these unexpected offers of assistance, we began organizing a core of regular and scheduled volunteers. Among these volunteers were several members of the North Fresno Lions Club.
Initially, the two of us had very different reactions to this shift in lifestyle. Ed began to feel guilty while Toni reveled in it. Always believing herself to be a princess, Toni could now change her fantasies into reality! Ed, blind for less than a decade, felt his independence was being eroded. For him, partnership with a guide dog was an overt manifestation of disability status. In New York he valued his ability to take the subway to and from work, pick up Chinese food on the way home and drop in on the neighborhood shoemaker.
Toni's response to our new lifestyle was very different. Born blind, Toni had many more years of dealing with the obstacles associated with blindness. By most standards, she was considered a competent and independent person. Since early childhood, teachers, rehabilitation and summer camp counselors had emphasized the importance of self-reliance whenever possible. To maintain her achieved status as super-blink, she often struggled to accomplish things which could more easily be done with the help of others. Toni's image of herself as an independent traveler was intrinsically tied to her partnership with a guide dog. In fact, our commitment to partnership with guide dogs was a major factor in bringing us together.
One of the consequences of our move has been the re-thinking of what constitutes independence. In New York, independence meant doing things on our own. In Fresno, independence means selecting and supervising the services of volunteers to enhance our quality of life. By having the choice of when, where and how to be assisted, we have gained greater control and improved the comfort level of our lives.
To illustrate the impact of this transition, we can look at the example of reading services. Like many other blind New Yorkers, we received reading services at the Lighthouse. This involved traveling for over an hour in all kinds of weather to the agency and accepting readers selected by the staff. They were scheduled in two-hour segments and a great deal of time was wasted if a scheduled reader failed to keep his/her appointment. In contrast, we now interview and select the volunteer readers most suited to our needs and schedule them in time slots most convenient for us. Since they are reading to us in our home, we do not have to factor in travel time, and, if a reader cancels, other activities can be readily substituted.
As inveterate theater lovers, we could travel to Broadway shows without depending on a lift from a friend. However, we had to rely on strangers sitting near us to read the program, describe the stage setting and fill in information about non- verbal action taking place on stage. Here in Fresno where there is no public transportation in the evening, we choose to be driven to the theater by a volunteer. This has the added advantage of providing descriptive information previously sought from strangers. As part of a reciprocal arrangement, we pay for the ticket of the driver.
Food shopping in New York was a nightmare. Although we could walk or take public transportation to a food market, getting competent sighted help in the store was next to impossible. Whatever food was bought had to be lugged home in a backpack or shopping cart. Although our shopping schedule in Fresno is somewhat dependent on the availability of a volunteer driver, competent customer service clerks in stores are always ready to assist. We have the added advantage of not having to cope with heavy, unwieldy packages.
As we reflect upon the changes that have taken place in our lives, several interrelated themes emerge. It is said one cannot truly experience ecstasy unless one has experienced sorrow. Perhaps it is equally true that one cannot comfortably rely on others without first having experienced the "I can do it myself" stage. In our evolving view, independence is not measured by how much we can do for ourselves, but by how clearly we can articulate our needs and organize the resources to attain them. From this perspective, independence is taking charge of our lives and controlling the resources available to achieve a quality lifestyle.
Toni and Ed Eames can be contacted at 3376 North Wishon, Fresno, CA 93704-4832; phone (209) 224-0544.
Deaf-blind people are individuals. You can't lump them together as a group any more than you can attribute a class of characteristics to any particular individual. The keys to interacting effectively and sensitively with people who are deaf and blind, as with all people, are courtesy, flexibility and common sense. What follows is, therefore, a list of suggestions you may want to consider and apply to specific situations.
1. When you approach a deaf-blind person, let him or her know with a gentle touch on the hand that you are near. Touching the hand is less startling than a touch on the back or arm. If you touch a person's hands gently and slide your hands underneath his or her own hand, the person will know that you want to communicate.
2. Identify yourself every time you meet. Even if a deaf- blind person is partially sighted or usually recognizes the touch of your hands, it is always nice to be reassured. Identifying yourself will also save possible confusion and embarrassment, yours and his or hers. Perhaps you can work out a simple but special signal for quickly identifying yourself, such as a name sign.
3. Don't ever play the "who am I" game. It is extremely aggravating. "Do you remember me? We met at ... [don't you] remember?" is also irksome. Assume your deaf-blind companion does not remember you, then react with pleasant surprise if he or she does.
4. When talking with a deaf-blind friend, do not tease by poking, tickling, jostling, etc. unless he or she knows what's coming. Have you ever been startled by an unexpected slap on the back or a poke in the ribs? Hearing and vision warn us of what is coming from our immediate surroundings or further away.
5. Be flexible about communication. Your deaf-blind companion may not fit your preconceived idea of how deaf-blind people communicate, so be open, not dogmatic. Don't make assumptions about the "right" modality, primary language, or fluency. If you don't know him or her, start with tactile, medium speed, modified ASL. This is the accepted "default" medium. As your companion responds, you can naturally modify your communication media and speed to make the conversation more comfortable for you both.
6. Respect his or her "person." Communication takes longer and is often very difficult for us, but it is essential to our dignity. Do not move a person's hand for him or her, place a person into a chair, grip a person's thumb when signing (so that his or her hand does not slip off) or otherwise treat any person like an object.
7. If a deaf-blind person is alone in a room, let him or her know if you will be going in and out; whether you have come in to stay for a while; or when you are leaving. We all need to know when we are alone (and have our privacy) and when we are not. And we all need time to be alone and fully relax.
8. If you are in a deaf-blind person's home, do not be tempted to use your vision to snoop or spy.
9. Think of partial vision as useful but totally unreliable. Whenever possible, describe what you are talking about clearly and, rather than pointing at an object, let a deaf-blind companion touch it.
10. Don't make assumptions about what your deaf-blind companion may or may not be able to hear. Ambient noise, other environmental factors, or even a person's ability to concentrate on a particular day can affect his or her ability to utilize limited hearing effectively.
11. Guide a deaf-blind person's hand to objects by leading with yours. Let his or her hand rest lightly on the back of your hand as you move it slowly toward what you want him or her to touch. When you make contact, slowly slip your hand out from underneath.
12. If you visit a deaf-blind person's home, be sure to leave things as they are. Poor vision makes it easy to spill or knock things over. Half-open doors or cupboards can be a particularly painful annoyance.
13. Don't worry about "messiness." Doing things without sight may lead to a system for organization which varies from your definition of "the norm," but none of us should make judgments about one another's particular styles of putting things away.
14. Remember to communicate about what you are doing. Don't just move another person, or hand him or her objects without an explanation. A person who is deaf and blind will know how to reach for an object, or cooperate by stepping back if he or she understands what is going on. If you must move a person suddenly for reasons of safety, explain the reasons for your actions afterward.
15. Consider expense when planning outings or thinking of gifts.
16. Offer help if it seems appropriate to do so. It hurts to always have to ask. For the same reason, try to be unobtrusive and subtle whenever you offer assistance.
17. Ask a deaf-blind companion to join you in your tasks. Assume he or she is as willing to walk as anyone of the same age, as willing and able to carry things as anyone of the same size and build. Silly as it is, we sometimes think of deaf-blind people as fragile and we hesitate to ask them to walk far or help us carry things. Unless the deaf-blind person has a complicating disability, he or she will probably enjoy both the exercise and the opportunity to join you and to share life's chores with you. On the other hand, some people with dual sensory losses have been forced into a sedentary lifestyle by well-meaning but uninformed caregivers. If this is the case, start slowly until your companion has had an opportunity to get in shape.
18. Do let a person who is deaf and blind think independently. Give him or her options. Provide as much information as possible, then let the person make decisions for him- or herself. Don't make assumptions about whether a person is hungry, whether he or she wants you to cut up the meat on the plate, etc. Allow a companion an adequate amount of time to make up his or her mind about an activity or your offer of assistance. Then, if your companion requests your help, offer it without judgment or comment.
19. Personal items such as wallets, purses and keys should not be touched unless you are asked. A deaf-blind person can handle his or her own money, pay the check independently, open doors without your assistance, etc.
Along this same line of thought, be sure not to move a person's coat, cane, etc. without first telling him or her. Even if you hang it up, tell the item's owner where it is, so that when he or she is ready to leave, he or she knows where personal items are and does not have to find you or ask someone to look for them.
20. Do not be offended or discouraged if the deaf-blind person asks to go home or seems to be unenthusiastic about suggested plans. The best of friends are not always welcome. There are times when all of us are exhausted, when we have other plans, when we have chores that must be done, etc.
21. Plan things in advance so your deaf-blind friend knows what to expect and can plan accordingly. Being deaf and blind may require more organization and planning than being sighted and hearing.
22. Consider everything you say to be a promise and follow through. We often make simple statements which are really promises such as "I'll stop by tomorrow on my way home." "I'll be right back." "I want you to come over for dinner some time." Sometimes we don't really mean "tomorrow" but "soon." Sometimes we already know we can't do what we say we will, but we wish we could. For someone who cannot drive, has limited access to phone and bus, who has a small circle of friends, a lack of follow- through can be especially disappointing.
23. Respect the deaf-blind person's privacy and dignity. Do not ask personal questions unless you are close friends. Do not pass on information you may know about him or her without his or her knowledge and permission.
(Editor's Note: Rita Kersh is a deaf-blind specialist at Addie McBryde Rehabilitation Center for the Blind.)
After wearing two hearing aids for 15 years, I have been functionally blind for 8 years. On June 9, 2002, I suddenly became deaf in my right ear.
After unsuccessfully trying two different types of hearing aids, I talked to the administration at the Addie McBryde Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, where I work. They were great in helping me with accommodations such as installing a P.A. speaker outside my door. It was also suggested that I become a VRB client and attend the Helen Keller National Center in New York City for a week of training. Here is a brief summary of my visit to this national center for the deaf-blind during the first week of April 2003.
Monday began with technology. Bapin, the instructor, is totally deaf-blind and has a service dog. An interpreter assists him with his hearing students. He explained the various types of equipment. He showed me the braille displays on two computers. I really liked the Alva, which costs about $10,000!
I met Nancy, a resource person. She handles the library, which contains information about consumer groups. She is also the editor of a newsletter through the National Association of Families of the Deaf-Blind.
The independent living supervisor, Maura, showed me a vibrating alarm clock, and allowed me to borrow it for the week. It has a disk that lies under the pillow and vibrates when the alarm goes off. This clock is expensive and very delicate.
After lunch I went to audiology with Carol for two periods. I had a hearing test done and we talked about different types of hearing aids and FM systems. We decided that the hearing aid that has a telephone switch plus a microphone would work well both for talking on the phone and hearing what's going on around me. The FM system would also help me hear my clients and someone knocking on the door.
On Tuesday I met with Sue, the director of direct services. We discussed my expectations for the week. Mia, the social worker, provided good suggestions for dealing with issues of deaf-blindness.
The Communications Learning Center, taught by Peggy, resembled the class that I teach at McBryde. The only thing different was that she also teaches sign language. We talked about my difficulty hearing the class bells. She demonstrated the Watch Minder, a vibrating timer with 16 different settings. She also showed me a nice braille desk calendar with room for notes for each day. She highly recommended the use of communication cards and a price list card.
Back in technology, Bapin showed me the Braille Lite and the Braille Note. I preferred the Braille Note because it had a computer keyboard. He also showed me a money identifier that uses vibrations rather than speech to indicate the denomination of the bill.
In mobility, Monica recommended that I use constant contact with my cane. This requires a different tip, which is shaped like a marshmallow and rolls along the ground. She showed me a street crossing sign, which lets other pedestrians know you're deaf-blind. There was also a button that says "Blind and Hard of Hearing" which is worn in situations where people need to know that in order to provide assistance.
On Wednesday I met with the low vision specialist, Melida. Though I was not in need of any low-vision devices, it was helpful to learn about her department. An optometrist visits the center twice a month and an ophthalmologist comes once a month. Students are scheduled into her area as a class, not just for an evaluation. After the student is examined and prescriptions are written, she works with the student on appropriate low-vision devices.
Back in the Communications Learning Center, Peggy and I talked more about communication cards and about a method for braille users to balance their checkbooks. I was interested in a calculator with a braille display -- until I learned that it cost $1,000.
In audiology, Carol made an impression of my ear and checked out my current hearing aid. It had a little distortion. Bill, another technology instructor, showed me another braille display called the Braille Window. It was easier to deal with than the Alva. He was kind enough to let me send a few e-mails home.
On Thursday I went to see the independent living instructor, Evelyn, for the first two periods. She showed me the Hot Shot one-cup water heating device, and the liquid level indicator, which vibrates. There was also a vibrating timer, which hangs around your neck. We also worked with kitchen equipment including a well-marked stove, the George Foreman Grill, and a pasta pot.
Sarah, the creative arts instructor, gave me the chance I've always wanted to work with pottery. I put my creative genius to work and made a bowl with a scalloped rim. She said I would need to stop by for a few minutes on Friday to finish the inside. She would then fire it and mail it to me.
After lunch, Peggy showed me a neat portable device called a braille screen reader. One side resembles a brailler and the other side resembles a computer keyboard. The sighted person types in a message, which the deaf-blind person reads on a small braille display. The response can be written in braille and read in print on the small screen. This device costs around $5,000, but it's a great communications tool.
On Friday I met with Mia to talk about the events of the week.
Back in technology, Bill showed me the Freedom Box, a stand-alone computer device that allows you to access the Internet by both voice commands and the keyboard. I looked up the weather in Jackson simply by telling it verbally what I wanted. I then went to the entertainment selection and chose descriptive videos. I found "It's A Wonderful Life." The audio narration and dialogue of the movie came on with George Bush narrating the movie. I also used the Freedom Box to send both a verbal and a typed e-mail message.
I then went to the Communications Learning Center with Peggy one last time to clarify some information for her report. She also taught me a few ASL signs for coins and cents. In creative arts, Sarah told me that my bowl had a crack in it, probably due to drying too quickly. I sealed the crack, but didn't have time to finish the project. Sarah finished it later and mailed it to me.
Kathy, in vocational services, had suggestions for meeting my future goals. After Friday's lunch I met one last time with Carol in audiology. She showed me the FM system she would be recommending for me. It has a microphone, which can be clipped to a client's clothing, or attached to other accessories to pick up the sounds around the table. The system can also be connected to a computer, stereo, or TV and heard directly in my hearing aid.
Helen Keller National Center has been a big help to me in all aspects of my life. I'll always be grateful to their staff, and to the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, for making this busy week of training possible.
I am 49 years old, I have RP, and from about my 20th birthday until last spring all I had was light perception in one eye. Since then, thanks to surgery, for the first time in 29 years I can now see shapes, colors, and motion. How is this possible? Read on.
It appears that the lenses of my eyes filmed over with more than just cataracts, obscuring what little sight I have left. It also appears there are a lot of folks with RP or macular degeneration who have the same problem. If you are one of those folks, then you, like me, have been thinking that what light perception you have left is all you'll ever be able to see. That may be true, and it may not. This is what happened to me.
Last spring I had a regular check-up at my doctor's, at which he told me I have developed type 2 diabetes, and that, consequently, I'd better start seeing an eye doctor on a regular basis. So I did, but when I did, the eye doctor told me that there were cataracts and a film in the lenses of my eyes, and that if he removed my lenses and put in new ones, at the very least I would have more light. The old lenses were blocking the light. The new lenses would be clear, and, here's the best part, by putting in new lenses, I might even get a little sight back.
Two or three microseconds later (I'm not exactly sure how long it took me to think about it), I said, "Let's do it." So we did. It's a simple surgery, and they put me under for it. Oh, there's a week or two of discomfort afterwards and a zillion eye drops to take, but a month later I was feeling pretty much back to normal, only I could -- and still can -- see! It's even useful sight, too. As I like to put it, the grabbing index is way up, and the groping index is still steadily falling.
Better yet, your medical insurance might cover the cost for this surgery. Mine did. Shop for the right eye doctor, though. My own eye doctor just happened to be the rare kind that thinks giving somebody more light or even a little sight is well worth it. My doctor also believes that there are a lot of eye doctors out there who figure we're blind, the operation won't do us any good, or hardly any good, so why bother? That's why I suggest you shop around. If you still have at least a little light perception, and if your lens has cataracts and/or is filmed over, the worst that can happen to you from having your old lens taken out and a new lens put in is that you'll have to live with seeing more light. The best that can happen? Well, how about seeing the faces of the people you love?
The contents of this column reflect the letters we had received by the time we went to press, June 15, 2004. Letters are limited to 300 words or less. All submissions must include the author's name and location. Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
In an article, "Can Jesus Really Empower?,"(March 2004) Judy Jackson and Michael Garrett begin several sentences with the expression, "As Christians." While acknowledging that the article does not reflect policies endorsed by ACB, I wish that the editors of "The Braille Forum" had seen fit to include a footnote or an introductory, parenthetical remark indicating ACB's neutral position. On first reading "From Your Perspective," a reader does not really understand that the column is an open forum. The exclusive nature of Jackson's and Garrett's language, at first, seems to come from the editorial staff, and it is offensive. Not all ACB members, of course, subscribe to these beliefs. We are as diverse as American culture, and that is why we have a tradition of separation of church and state.
We all receive e-mails all the time regarding one scam or another; but last week I REALLY DID get scammed! Both Visa and MasterCard told me that this scam is currently being worked throughout the Midwest, with some variance as to the product or amount, and if you are called, just hang up.
It worked like this: The person calling says, "This is Carl Patterson [any name] and I'm calling from the Security and Fraud department at Visa. My badge number is 12460. Your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern, and I'm calling to verify. This would be on your Visa card issued by 5/3 bank. Did you purchase an Anti-Telemarketing Device for $497.99 from a marketing company based in Arizona?"
When you say "no," the caller continues, "Then we will be issuing a credit to your account. This is a company we have been watching and the charges range from $297 to $497, just under the $500 purchase pattern that flags most cards. Before your next statement, the credit will be sent to your address, is that correct?" You say, "Yes." The caller then states, "I will be starting a fraud investigation. If you have any questions, you should call the 800 number listed on your card, 1-800-VISA, and ask for Security. You will need to refer to this control number." Then the person gives you a six-digit number, and asks whether he needs to repeat it for you.
The caller next says he needs to verify you are in possession of your card. "Turn the card over. There are seven numbers; the first four are 1234, the next three are the security numbers that verify you are in possession of the card. These are the numbers you use to make Internet purchases to prove you have the card. Read me the three numbers." After you read them, he says, "That is correct. I just needed to verify that the card has not been lost or stolen, and that you still have your card. Do you have any other questions? Don't hesitate to call back if you do."
You actually say very little, and they never ask for or tell you the card number. But after we received a call, we called back within 20 minutes to ask a question. Are we glad we did! The real Visa security department told us it was a scam and in the last 15 minutes a new purchase of $497.99 was put on our card.
We filed a fraud report and closed the Visa card; they are issuing us a new number. All the scam wants is that three-digit number. Once they get it, the charge goes through, and they keep charging every few days. By the time you get your statement, you think the credit is coming, and then it's harder to actually file a fraud report. The real Visa people assured us that they will never ask for anything on the card -- they already have that information.
What makes this more remarkable is that on Thursday, I got a call from "Jason Richardson of MasterCard" with a word-for-word repeat of the Visa scam. This time I didn't let him finish. I hung up.
We filed a police report (as instructed by Visa), and they said they are taking several of these reports daily and to tell friends, relatives and coworkers. Pass this information on!
I would like to make comment on the article by Patricia Kepler, entitled "The Houseplant" (April-May 2004). I thought she did a very nice job capturing the attention of those of us who are unemployed.
In the summer of 1999 I began volunteering as a receptionist at a former non-profit organization headquartered in the Chicago area. They liked the work I did so much that they put me on their payroll. (I went to school with the program director, who was eventually promoted to executive director. He helped me a lot in junior high and therefore knew what I was capable of.) I was a paid employee for a little over a year, and then the organization went through some changes. The receptionist position became fast- paced; the technology used wasn't yet accessible. As a result, the staff had to stop paying me. They made it clear to me and my parents that this had nothing to do with me personally or my job performance. I still agree with that assessment.
I also began experiencing health problems and ended up leaving the organization in May 2001. It is now April 2004 and I am still unemployed. Yet I have lots of skills and talents. I think it is a shame that nobody has come up with a solution to unemployment. Somehow, somewhere, attitudes must change. We must show the non-believers in society that we can work. Those with very paternalistic views about blindness must be made to change their ways. Every individual situation needs to be treated as such. Politicians need to improve situations for people with all types of disabilities. Thank you for publishing this article, and thanks to ACB for creating a magazine which speaks to the core issues faced by many of us.
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.
Do you have a favorite talking book narrator? Nominate him or her for an Alexander Scourby award. You may vote for your favorite nominee in fiction, non-fiction, and multilingual non- fiction from August 16 to September 15. Multilingual non- fiction is defined as a non-fiction work primarily in English, but with a significant number of foreign-language words, names, and/or phrases. For more information, contact Carrie Fernandez at (212) 502-7674 or cfernan[email protected]. The awards ceremony will take place on October 14.
Larry Johnson's book, "Mexico by Touch: True Life Experiences of a Blind American Deejay," is available on a set of five CDs for a cost of $25 plus $3 for shipping and handling. To order, contact Larry Johnson, 10863 Lake Path Drive, San Antonio, TX 78217.
Six new signature products are available at the ACB Store. They are: shirts, jackets, caps, tote bags, a sew-on patch shaped like the state of Alabama, and a braille/large print desk calendar. To purchase online, visit www.acb.org and go to the ACB store. For more information, contact Pat Shreck via phone at 1- 877-367-2224 or via e-mail at [email protected].
The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind is seeking a director of blind services for its E.H. Gentry Campus. Position requirements include: a master's degree in rehabilitation and/or education; experience as an administrator; knowledge of blindness and the rehabilitation process; ability to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing; knowledge of program and curriculum development in rehabilitation services; knowledge of various methodologies of residential rehabilitation programs; be a competent braille reader and writer, and score 80 percent or better on the AIDB braille skills assessment inventory within the first 30 months of employment; and submit to a criminal history background information check. Performance responsibilities include: directing center-based and community rehabilitation programs for blind and visually impaired people; developing and implementing a core curriculum which builds confidence, independence, and leads to employment; maintaining positive relationships with organizations of the blind; researching the latest strategies for services leading to independence and employment; working closely with the director of field services; responsibility for programmatic supervision of all staff who serve blind and visually impaired people; evaluating personnel; improving professional competence of staff through in-service education and training activities; maintaining relationships in and participating in the affairs of professional societies, vocational rehabilitation conferences and consumer groups for blind and visually impaired people; working in partnership with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired; and performing other duties as assigned. For more information on this position, contact Daniel Wirth, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, PO Box 698, 205 E. South St., Talladega, AL 35161; phone (256) 761-3302, or e-mail [email protected].
Four new T-shirts are available. They are "Can I borrow your car?" in hat and T-shirt; "You need not see the stars to reach them!" (T-shirt only); "My dog doesn't bite; I do" (T-shirt only); and "Walk softly and carry a long white stick" T-shirt. Order online at www.bntonline.com, or call (937) 472-0585.
Pennsylvania College of Optometry's Department of Graduate Studies in Vision Impairment recently changed from a quarter system to a semester system, and from classroom-based to online instruction with summer residency courses. The college is seeking individuals interested in receiving a master's degree or certification in education of children and youth with visual and multiple impairments, rehabilitation teaching, orientation and mobility, or low vision rehabilitation. The school has a rolling admission policy; scholarships are available. For more information, contact Tina Fitzpatrick at (215) 780-1360, or via e-mail, [email protected]. You can also visit www.pco.edu and select programs ("academic programs" for JAWS users).
The Council for Exceptional Children recently presented the Outstanding Leadership Award to Phil Hatlen. Congratulations, Phil!
The United States women's goalball team will compete at the Athens Paralympic Games Sept. 17 to 28. Team members are: Jennifer Armbruster (Colorado Springs, Colo.); Lisa Banta (Boonton, N.J.); Nicole Buck (Paw Paw, Mich.); Jessica Lorenz (San Francisco, Calif.); Asya Miller (Battle Creek, Mich.); and Robin Theryoung (Clarkston, Mich.). Alternates are: Jaclyn Barnes (Vernon Hills, Ill.) and Lindsay Sloan (Wauconda, Ill.).
Magnifics Inc. recently introduced the Phone Monocle, a soft, pliable and hypoallergenic cell phone magnifier. It slips around any phone -- Nokia, Motorola, Seamen's, or Panasonic -- and magnifies the display up to 250 percent. For more information, contact Magnifics Inc., 2631 Mayfield Ave., La Crescenta, CA 91214; phone (818) 248-2228.
The 2004 NCAA college football schedule in braille is now available. This year's schedule lists 120 division 1-A and some requested division 1-AA teams, as well as the results of the 2003-2004 bowls and the top 25 teams in the AP final polls, the 2004 preseason poll, the 2004-2005 bowl schedule and much more. Each schedule costs $10. Schedules will be mailed around the middle of August; mailing will be by free matter. Get your orders in now so we can get your schedule to you before the season begins. Make your check payable to Allen H. Gillis, and send it to him at 302 Schaeffel Road, Cullman, AL 35055. You may also phone in your order, (256) 734-4047, or e-mail it to [email protected].
Tom Fillyaw is looking for copies of the Florida School Herald from Sept. 1948 through May 1959. If you have any of those, contact Tom Fillyaw at 1140 SW 3rd Ave., Lake Butler, FL 32054, or call him at (386) 496-8189.
Elmer L. Cerano has been named the new chairperson of the NISH Board of Directors. Cerano, who holds a bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University and a master's degree from Wayne State University in Detroit, is also an adjunct professor of sociology at Oakland Community College.
FOR SALE: Alva Satellite Traveler 40-cell braille display used as demo unit. Asking $4,000 or best offer. Index Basic-D Braille Embosser version 2. Does not have the USB or network connection. Asking $1,700 or best offer. ELBA braille note taker, 32-cell with qwerty keyboard. Asking $4,000 or best offer. Contact Dennis Bartlett at (760) 347-9970 or (760) 880- 0971, or via e-mail, [email protected].
FOR SALE: Celtic harp, portable, 24 copper wire strings, excellent condition, Clarsach, played before 1700. Worth appraised at $1,200. Make an offer. Vintage Kenwood radio quadraphonic receiver. Asking $300. Optacon magnifying lens for reading fine print. Asking $150. IBM model L40 laptop (1992). WordPerfect already loaded. Asking $100. Contact Arlene via e-mail, [email protected], or call (510) 849-0721.
FOR SALE: Double Talk Lite synthesizer in excellent condition. Asking $195 or best offer. Blazie disk drive, rarely used, in excellent condition. Asking $395 or best offer. Kurzweil Reading Edge with 2.0 and 3.0 software modules, DECtalk synthesizer, carrying case and cables. Needs minor repairs. Asking $2,500 or best offer. Optelec 20/20 CCTV in excellent condition. Asking $1,800 or best offer. HP 4P scanner, in excellent condition, asking $195 or best offer. Will ship anywhere in USA. Will only accept money orders. Call Rose after 9 p.m. at (678) 249-5251 or e-mail her at [email protected].
FOR SALE: Two Perkins braillers. Good condition. Asking $350 each. External disk drive for Braille Note. In good condition. Asking $350. Handicassette II with carrying case and instruction tape. In good condition. Asking $100 or best offer. Contact Roger at (510) 849-3537.
FOR SALE: DECtalk Express in excellent condition. Asking $100 or best offer. Contact Shen at [email protected], or via phone, (650) 291-8667.
FOR SALE: Talking watches with date, time and reminder notice. $20 each, plus $5 shipping in the United States. Contact Steve Grogan at (931) 528-5994.
FOR SALE: Video Eye power magnification system. Asking $1,200, including shipping. Contact M. Jackson at (207) 725- 0868.
FOR SALE: Visualtek Microviewer 18x high magnification fiche reader. Asking $100. Contact Tom Jackson at (609) 597-8965, or via e-mail, [email protected].
FOR SALE: Desktop computer, almost new, 2.1 GHZ processor, 512 MG RAM, 160 gig hard drive, DVD burner, CD-ROM, newest installed JAWS and Kurzweil, floppy drive, Sharp 17-inch flat panel monitor, 8-card multi-reader built in, 5 USB ports, multi- channel sound card with compact stereo speakers, 2 AT&T natural voices installed, Microsoft Office, Windows XP, newest WinAmp and Real Audio, classic literature library installed, high-speed Internet ready, multi-function keyboard and mouse, huge digital music library already installed from classical to rock. Lots of power, features and software, plus the best speech and scanning software for blind users already installed. Asking $2,800 or best offer. Call Alfred at (571) 276-6085 or e-mail [email protected].
FOR SALE: Type Lite, 17 months old. Comes with accessories and manuals in braille and on tape. Asking $3,000 or best offer. Contact Janice via e-mail, [email protected], or call Bill at (305) 987-6954.
FOR SALE: Type 'n Speak. In excellent condition. Price $850. Call or e-mail Pat Smolak at (905) 680-0064 or [email protected].
FOR SALE OR TRADE: Type 'n Speak 2000. Asking $1,000. Willing to trade it for a Braille Lite 18 or Versa-Braille 2. Contact Melody at (941) 722-7477.
WANTED: Cassette dictionary. Willing to pay up to $150, in installments if possible. Contact Marylou Potgeter before 9 p.m. at (269) 341-9590, or write her at 710 Collins, Apt. #910, Kalamazoo, MI 49001.
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