INSIDE THIS ISSUE…
Presidential Report 2007
Robert Stigile, President NFB of California
The following was presented by Robert Stigile as his first presidential report at the NFB of California state convention held at the Sacramento Hilton Arden West Hotel, Oct. 25-28, 2007.
One year ago, the membership of this affiliate elected me to the position of president. I had not even begun to get comfortable behind my new desk when the work began piling up in front of me. The most pressing issue was to find a new office. Our office lease in Burbank was nearing an end and reoccurring problems with the management company and skyrocketing rent compelled us to leave. I also desired an office closer to my home as I was spending an hour and a half commuting each way on the bus. So Kevin and I spent many hours in search of a new home for the NFBC and eventually we found an office in Tarzana located less than two miles from my house.
We suffered some minor backaches from lifting boxes. There was also some frustration from tangled up packing tape that sticks to everything except what you want it to. Setting up multiple computers, printers, embossers, shared internet networks and phones can also test the limits of your patience. But we completed the move in November of 2006. Our office is smaller than the previous one and we’ve had to get creative with our storage space. We did, however, manage to reduce our rent by over twenty-five percent. And I'm now happy to report that most of my time is spent sitting in my desk chair, and not on a bus seat.
Packing and unpacking boxes gives a person a lot of time to think. I used this time to reflect on some of the issues that lay in front of me. I came to realize that being the leader of a state such as California is not an easy position. The California affiliate is geographically very large. We are also a very divergent state full of vibrant people from different backgrounds with contrasting perspectives and needs. I wondered, "How can I possibly lead such a complex state? How can I uphold the mission of the NFB and effectively communicate with so many people and different chapters? How in the world will I ever be able to do this? And after the last box was unpacked I realized that it was time to get to work. How am I going to make this happen?"
Shortly after returning home from convention last year, I received a call from Nathanael Wales who shared a story with me. The story he told occurred during his trip to convention. He was traveling with Mariyam Cemmentwala and the two were seated together, discussing the NFB when a fellow passenger introduced herself and commented on their discussion. Nathanael and Mariyam soon learned that their new traveling companion was a teacher from Bakersfield. She was quite interested in these two independent blind travelers who were headed toward an annual state convention of other blind people. Their relationship did not end when they reached their destination. Mariyam, as it turns out, is from the Bakersfield area where this woman teaches school. With a few phone calls and a plane ticket, Mariyam was later off to Bakersfield to talk to her class about blindness. She demonstrated to her class of students that blind people have careers just like sighted people do. She showed them how blind people, with the help of a white cane or a guide dog, can travel across the neighborhood or across the world just like sighted people. During that afternoon visit, Mariyam successfully delivered the message of the NFB to these school kids. Mariyam helped to make it happen.
In January, I received a call from the National Center. I was told that a person from a senior citizen center in Pasadena contacted them and they were interested in a demonstration of the KNFB Reader. So, I went to Pasadena with my KNFB Reader. What they asked for was a demonstration of this amazing invention. Since I had made the trip out there I decided to give them a bonus extra as well. I spoke to them about the scary idea of vision loss as a part of aging. Now if you've ever approached a group of healthy, active seniors with this topic you understand that they may be less than receptive to your presentation. I finished my demonstration and they showed me warm appreciation.
A short time later I received another call from my contact at this senior center. It turns out that they wanted more. Chad Allen seized the opportunity and armed with a KNFB Reader, some NFBC literature (and most likely a deck of magic cards) he set out for Pasadena. Now I don't know for sure if anyone in the group ordered a KNFB Reader. What I do know for sure is that they received not just two demonstrations of the Reader, but the message that the experience of vision loss doesn't mean an end to life.
Also in late January, Chad Allen and I went to the California School for the Blind. We sat down with Stuart Wittenstein and some of the PE teachers at the school to discuss the issue of physical education guidelines for blind children. We talked at great length about whether any existing guidelines are in place and if not, is it something the affiliate should pursue. It was a highly productive meeting and we gained some valuable information on the unfortunate lack of PE guidelines for blind and visually impaired students in our public schools. We were given a tour of the campus, and spent a lot of time talking with Stuart. It was a great day, and it strengthened my support for CSB, Stuart Wittenstein, and all of the hard-working staff. In both of these instances, Chad Allen really helped to make it happen.
In March, the California Transcribers and Educators of Visually Handicapped met in San Jose for their annual conference. Annee Hartzell traveled to the conference and conducted several seminars. When Caroline Rounds moved to New Mexico in 2004, she left behind her facilitating role in our Beginning Braille for Parents workshops. Annee stepped in and has since completed 9 workshops including several to Spanish speaking parents. Annee has also helped organize our Braille Symposiums.
Annee and I have discussed hosting a pre-conference math IEP seminar next year at CTEVH. She also wishes to host a Beginning Braille for Parents seminar during the conference weekend to promote Braille and continue to reach out to parents of blind children. Annee has demonstrated time and time again that she has the energy and the drive to help make it happen.
During her presidency, Nancy Burns worked to build a very positive relationship with the Braille Institute. Nancy and Sally Jameson, Vice President of Programs and Services at Braille Institute, worked together on several projects. Since then, the Braille Institute has become a wonderful ally, especially on the common ground we share with Braille literacy. During last year's convention, we announced that our long white canes were now for sale at the Braille Institute's store, "Vista." Unfortunately, the announcement was a premature one due to a communication error. More unfortunate was that several members attempted to purchase long white canes and were told they were not available to them. Braille Institute wasn't outright refusing to sell the canes. The issue was that the O & M instructors there were not accustomed to them and not convinced they offered any benefits over the more traditional, shorter canes.
I received a call from Sally Jameson and she informed me about a company wide O & M instructor training seminar at Braille in April. She extended an invitation to us to come and demonstrate the long white cane to their instructors. She indicated that she wanted to work with us to stock some of the most common lengths of the long white cane in their store. On April 12th, Lisamaria Martinez boarded a plane and traveled to the Los Angeles Braille Institute. She met with their instructors and demonstrated the use of the cane. Lisamaria explained the benefits of the longer cane and why a blind person may prefer using it over a shorter cane.
When I spoke to her about her experience, Lisamaria felt that her demonstration was not very well received. She believed that the O & M instructors in attendance were rooted firmly in their beliefs and not terribly receptive to the new canes. Shortly after, I received another call from Sally Jameson. She candidly told me that not every one of their instructors was sold on the idea of these canes. But Sally continued to tell me about the afternoon they spent with Lisamaria. Lisamaria did address most of their concerns about the canes. She won them over with her bubbly personality and wit. As a result, the Vista store would be stocking some long white canes, giving students a choice of canes. Lisamaria proved that she is willing to jump in and help make it happen.
Serena Olsen, president of the Monterey County chapter, is a current student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and has made the trip back to California to attend convention. She was invited to participate in the kick off event for their local library's summer reading program entitled, "Get a Clue with the Public Library". During this event, a number of tables were set up in the library. Each station had its own "mystery solver." Examples of some of the mystery solvers participating were an archaeologist and a reporter. Serena set up a table at the event as a unique kind of mystery solver. Her station answered the question of, "How do blind people do various things"? She answered questions from visitors to her table and she also demonstrated a variety of adaptive devices and techniques. Her table was packed with inquisitive visitors for two hours and she answered questions from not only the kids, but from lots of parents too. Serena saw an opportunity and helped make it happen in Monterey.
During our National convention this summer, an announcement was made about a new book about a blind doctor. Adelaide Ortega, current president of the Santa Barbara South Coast chapter, and I attended a press conference for the book at the Santa Barbara Braille Institute on August 8th. Adelaide spoke at this press conference on how the Braille Institute and the NFB have helped her in being a blind person. Adelaine is one of our newer chapter presidents and she stepped into the public eye and helped make it happen.
Many of you will remember, that I sent an e-mail out on the listserve in early August, seeking volunteers to be judges on a televised beauty pageant show being taped for Nickelodeon. The point of the show is to evaluate inner beauty and thus judge on qualities not visible to the eye. The show has not aired yet so I have not seen just how effective they have or have not done this. Julian Vargus and Deepa Goraya, members of the San Fernando Valley Chapter, and Sophan from Stockton, all interviewed to be possible judges. Producers selected Julian Vargus to be a judge, and Deepa Goraya, Sophan Sam, and Miguel Mendez were all invited audience members. Julian and all of these other members were eager to put a positive and accurate face on how blind people are portrayed and they all helped make it happen on TV.
Tina Thomas and Lisamaria Martinez are active members of the NFBC as well as physically active members of the human race. They are so active in fact, that they competed in Judo at the Paralympic games in 2007. Both of these members aren't afraid to break a heavy sweat in order to make it happen.
You'll recall that earlier as I was settling into this new position I was asking myself, "How will I make this happen?". Over the course of this past year, the answer to my question has become obvious to me. It is the members who are making it happen.
As the president, my job is to keep the mission of the NFB in the forefront of everything that we do.
In order for us to do this, the members of the NFB of California must be willing to continue to make it happen. As your president, I am committed fully to finding the opportunities where we can make it happen.
There is a growing number of healthy, active seniors who are facing vision loss. The American Diabetes Association says that one in three people born in the year 2000 will become diabetic in their life. California is suffering a crisis in the area of unemployment among blind people. Even with the advances that we have made, we still occasionally witness a child protective services worker who challenges the abilities of parents based on their lack of eyesight. We still have many employers who feel that a blind applicant is less qualified for a job based on their lack of eyesight. We encounter those who try to crush our dreams, limit our mobility, and tell us, “You can't do that."
We have fought these battles before. It has taken great strength, commitment and unity. There is strength in our unity. Our local chapters are the building blocks that make up our affiliate. In order to ensure that California stays strong and stays able to make it happen we must continue to build the membership in all of our chapters. With a strong, united affiliate we will make it happen.
Will you be one of the people who makes it happen? I hope that your answer is yes because we have a lot of work to do together. I want our chapters to involve themselves fully in their community and raise their public profile. I want us to establish new chapters in areas of the state that are without one. I want us to create more leaders through leadership seminars. I want us to continue working on Braille literacy. I want us to ensure that students receive their textbooks on time and I want us to continue working on the Target lawsuit to ensure that Target and any other company that thinks we do not need internet access knows that they must change their thinking.
I've just spoke about some of the things that we dream of accomplishing today. We have the resources to make these things happen. We have the people to make these things happen. We have the drive and the desire to make these things happen. We will make it happen!!!
Leveling The Playing Field for Students with Disabilities
By Jim Fruchterman
Jim Fruchterman is president and CEO of Benetech Initiatives located in Palo Alto, California. His company is the parent of Bookshare, a service widely used by Federationists. In this article he describes Bookshare’s services and his plans for the continuing development of the Bookshare program.
In a classroom somewhere in California today, a blind student is telling their teacher that they cannot fulfill a reading assignment already completed by their sighted classmates. This is not because students are failing to apply themselves. It is because a book assigned to the class is not available in a format that the student can read, or the assistive technology needed to read that book is too expensive. Despite the best efforts of the teacher, the class moves forward and the disabled student falls behind.
This struggle to provide accessible books to disabled students and ensure that they receive a first-rate education is taking place in schools throughout the U.S. Organizations that serve the disabled estimate that two million students in the United States require alternative formats for print materials. While policy makers have expanded their efforts to provide high quality education for disabled students, there is still a profound lack of accessible educational materials, including textbooks. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the reforms mandated in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) required educators to accommodate disabled students with accessible materials and assistive technologies. Despite mandated standardized file formats and central repositories for accessible materials, publishers have been slow to provide accessible files. System inefficiencies, continued laborious duplication of effort and the high cost of assistive technologies have all made it difficult for educators to provide books for disabled students.
There is a real urgency to help get books into the hands of disabled students and their teachers here in the U.S and around the world. It is estimated that only five percent of printed materials worldwide are produced in formats that are accessible to those who cannot read a traditional book. If students with print disabilities cannot access books at the same time as their peers in the same classroom, how can they have confidence in their ability to fully succeed in school and in the workplace?
Accessible content and assistive technology is also needed to support educational services beyond elementary and secondary schools. The U.S. Department of Education estimated in 2005 that over the past fifteen years the number of students with disabilities who are continuing their education through postsecondary schools has doubled. Disabled students in medical training, law school and other professional degree programs need up-to-date textbooks to compete with their sighted classmates.
As an engineer, I have always believed that technology could be used efficiently to provide accessible books to disabled students. Benetech, the nonprofit technology company that I founded, set out to prove this could be done. In 2002, Benetech launched the Bookshare.org service that is now the largest online digital library of accessible books in the United States. Bookshare.org began as a subscription-based library built by its users including people who are blind or have low vision, dyslexia or a mobility impairment that prevents them from reading a traditional book.
There is a special provision in U.S. copyright law that explicitly gives qualified nonprofit organizations, such as Benetech, the ability to distribute copyrighted materials in a specialized format for use by print-disabled people, without requiring permission. To meet the requirements of copyright law and our agreements with publishers and authors, Bookshare.org users must provide proof of a print disability, such as blindness, low vision, a reading disability or a mobility impairment that makes it difficult or impossible to read standard print. Over the past five years, Bookshare.org has evolved into a worldwide online community that lets people with these print disabilities scan books and exchange them legally through the website. These electronic books can be accessed through Braille, large print or synthesized voice technology. You can think of Bookshare.org as Amazon.com meets Napster meets Talking Books for the Blind, but legal!
The collection of books in the Bookshare.org library has been shaped primarily by members and volunteers who submit books they have scanned. Among the titles are bestselling popular books including all of the current New York Times bestseller list and the Harry Potter series. Bookshare.org currently offers more than 35,000 books, magazines and newspapers available 24/7 in the DAISY (Digital Audio Information System) and BRF digital Braille formats. Bookshare.org now serves approximately 12,000 members. Our members have historically read an average of 21 books per year from our service. Due to the commitment of about 1,000 volunteers around the U.S. and a few paid staffers, more than 5,700 new digital books were published on Bookshare.org in 2006. Over 150 newspapers and magazines are also available daily through Bookshare.org in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind through its NFB-NEWSLINE® service. Subscribers are permitted to use Bookshare.org books for their own personal use. The service uses Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology and contractual agreements with members to maximize personal access to books and minimize abuse of this privilege. Bookshare.org copyrighted books are not available to the non-print disabled public. You can, however, search for a Bookshare.org title without being a Bookshare.org member. The Bookshare.org library also offers public domain books available to anyone in the world, with or without a disability. While Bookshare.org is reaching a growing number of qualified users, we know that barriers still exist for providing books to disabled students and the teachers and schools that serve them. When accessible educational materials are available, they are often very expensive for schools to provide. For example, the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired spends over $250,000 on accessible books each year, yet school administrators report that they are still unable to completely fulfill their student’s education needs.
These problems are compounded by the cost of specialized assistive technology that makes it difficult for students to access what little accessible material exists. Disabled students from low-income families are doubly disadvantaged since they are far less likely to access technologies that their better-off peers take for granted. The Bookshare.org service costs each subscriber a modest $25 sign-up fee plus $50 annually for an unlimited number of books. We provide free assistive technology tools to access these books. To help make the service affordable, we’ve received funding from strategic partners and donors including Adobe Systems, Inc., the NEC Foundation of America, the Microsoft Corporation, the Skoll Foundations, the Omidyar Network and the Bernard A. Newcomb Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. After years of financing Bookshare.org on a shoestring with grants and subscription fees, the federal government stepped in last year to make the service even more accessible. In October of 2007, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Benetech a $32 million five-year contract to dramatically expand the Bookshare.org collection and provide each U.S. student with a print disability free access to the service. I believe that this funding is an unprecedented opportunity quickly and economically to ramp up the number of accessible books for disabled students. There is no reason that disabled students in the U.S. should have any less access to books than their sighted classmates and Bookshare.org is showing that technology can level out the academic playing field.
Back when I was an engineering student in college, I realized that I could develop a reading machine using a font-independent character recognition system. At that time pattern recognition systems were being used to guide smart bombs. It occurred to me that we could use this technology instead to help create accessible books. Benetech’s predecessor nonprofit organization, Arkenstone, which was founded in 1989, produced tens of thousands of these affordable reading machines that used PCs, scanners and other off-the-shelf technology. Unfortunately, users of the Arkenstone reading machines had to scan the same book over and over. Bookshare.org, which is a direct outgrowth of Arkenstone, allows Arkenstone users and others to legally share scanned books so everyone can benefit. Bookshare.org was created to stop the labor intensive duplication of work that occurs when people need to scan the same title over and over again. Our motto is: scan once, share many. Benetech has also developed a technical conversion process that transforms scanned book files into the worldwide DAISY/NISO digital talking book standard and the digital Braille (BRF) format. The DAISY/NISO standard allows the distribution of digital books with powerful indexing and bookmarking features. This allows print disabled readers to navigate quickly from one part of a book to another.
For the past five years, Bookshare.org has shown that efficient technology makes it possible for those who serve disabled students to complement and partner with each other to provide accessible books. Bookshare.org’s existing technology infrastructure allows us to expand our collection and services while keeping costs down for students and educators. Bookshare.org’s accessible books in the DAISY format can be read in a standard web browser. This allows students with PC or Mac-based assistive technology to read Bookshare.org books with the same tools they use to browse web pages with their screen reader, screen magnifier, dyslexia reading software and/or Braille display.
Bookshare.org provides all its subscribers with free, dedicated DAISY book reader software that has built- in accessibility features that allow the user to read books aloud without other assistive technology. The service also makes it simple to use assistive technology that can convert Bookshare.org files into forms best suited to an individual student’s particular needs including large print, Braille, synthesized speech, CD, DVD and/or MP3 digital audio. Braille readers enjoy using Bookshare.org with a portable Braille display because it makes Braille much more practical. For example, a portable Braille reader can easily hold one thousand digital books from Bookshare.org, putting an entire Braille library into a small portable device. Bookshare.org books can also be ordered in embossed Braille by members or non-members, through our partnership with the Braille Institute. The Bookshare.org for Education project supported by the U.S. Department of Education award also provides each teacher of disabled students, or educational agency staff member, with a free Bookshare.org account that allows them to search the catalogue of immediately available titles. Teachers can also download desired books, request that new educational content be added to the library, and register students for individual Bookshare.org accounts. These individual student accounts are like an unlimited library card for accessible books for post-secondary students and authorized K-12 students. Disabled students need access to the world of books and we are determined to provide this opportunity.
Of course it is important for publishers to make sure their texts are available to disabled students. Benetech has expanded its partnerships with publishers by accepting books directly in digital formats that we convert to DAISY. This is the fastest way to significantly grow the Bookshare.org collection and improve the quality of its books. Benetech now has established agreements with a number of publishers including the leading technology book publisher, O’Reilly Media, and Scholastic. We are continuing to pursue these direct relationships with publishers for digital content acquisition. To the extent possible, we expect to utilize books provided by publishers in the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) format, and convert these into DAISY digital talking book and digital Braille formats. Thanks to a recent federal law, Bookshare.org is working to make K-12 textbooks accessible to all students with print disabilities in the United States. Benetech expects to add more than 100,000 educational books to its collection in the next five years and deliver millions of books for free to disabled students. We are currently adding 150 to 200 new books each week to our online library. Benetech is working with publishers, authors and technology companies such as Adobe, Microsoft and Google to gain access to digital content and encourage them to make their products accessible to the print disabled. Currently, only those residing in the United States may access the entire Bookshare.org collection. My dream is continually to expand the Bookshare.org library to serve readers around the world. Bookshare.org now has permission to distribute roughly 3,000 copyrighted titles to people with print disabilities worldwide and offers texts in both English and Spanish. Publishers and authors have voluntarily made their books available for international Bookshare.org members. No disabled student in the U.S. or anywhere else around the world should receive a second-rate education because they lack accessible books. Benetech will keep working to help make sure that accessible books and the technology to read them are available to everyone.
Paws for Cause 101
The three co-authors are instructors at the California School For The Blind in Fremont. Gilly is a dog who for health reasons could not become a guide dog, but found a new career at the California School For The Blind.
A new class has formed at the California School for the Blind: Paws for Cause 101. The center of attention is Gillespie, Gilly for short. Gilly is a 3-year old yellow lab, a “change of career” dog guide. He was trained at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. With his soft trachea, Gilly was unable to use the harness of a dog guide. Marcia Vickroy, an Orientation and Mobility Instructor at the California School for the Blind, had submitted a grant proposal for a change of career dog for the students at CSB. It has been our good fortune that Gilly was available and assigned to us.
Gilly comes to school each day with Marcia. Interested students and classes have been trained to work with Gilly in various capacities. Robin and Bill each feed him one day a week. Nick, Robbie, Kenny, and Miriam each walk Gilly and play with him one period a week. Rhonda grooms Gilly, while Leonna sings to him. Two classes have times set up so students can take turns reading to Gilly, singing to him or listening to a tape with him. Bill takes Gilly to his on-campus apartment each week to see what it would be like to have a dog of his own. Each week, Marcia and two other O&M instructors lead an after school meeting where different topics are covered and activities occur. Examples are: watching a video about dog guides and discussing it, baking dog biscuits, taking Gilly for a bath and having a guest speaker who is a dog guide user.
These experiences are designed for fun, but more important, they support the education of students in critical ways. Students learn and practice skills in the areas of responsibility, time management and planning, concept development, communication, organization, and fine and gross motor skills. The care of Gilly has allowed students to realize the importance of paying attention to their own health – diet, exercise, and emotional needs.
Many of the students at CSB have multiple disabilities. Some of our students may be potential dog guide users. A good number will not be candidates. Many students do not have pets of their own at home. Working with Gilly allows these students to find out first hand what it is like to care for a dog.
Gilly is not the only dog on our campus, nor is he the only change of career dog guide. But… he is special in that he has been able to adapt to the needs and styles of many people. He has shown flexibility and patience with students who have awkward gait patterns, less-than-commanding voices and the inability to always find the tossed toy.
Gilly has worked his way into the hearts of the students and staff at the California School for the Blind. He has helped us create a new way of presenting students with information and opportunities they might not otherwise have. Other schools for the blind may find that a similar program can enhance their own curriculum.
We hope we have given Gilly a good home here. We know he arrives with an extra bounce in his step after the weekend, perhaps indicating he truly likes his work here. We also know he has made a positive impact on the education of blind and visually impaired students at CSB.
Channel Islands NFBC
Education Advocacy Committee Report
By Nicolás M. Crisosto, Chair
Our individual members and local chapters contribute to their communities in many different ways. Sometimes they are advocates for individuals or for improved programs that serve blind people. The following report was prepared in October, 2007 and describes the involvement of the Channel Islands Chapter with local educational issues. The report reflects the work of many individuals and was submitted by Nicolás M. Crisosto, a member of the Channel Islands Chapter and Treasurer of the NFB of California.
One of the primary activities of our organization, the National Federation of the Blind, is seemingly simple: changing what it means to be blind. Collectively we respond to the limitations society would place on us with positive attitudes about blindness. We draw our strength daily from the belief that blind people can achieve equality given a fair opportunity and appropriate training. While the reach of this philosophy is enormous as each of us takes it out into the world in our own ways, there are times when we must step out together and respond as only a movement can; times when opportunities are not just; times when attitudes are more limited than blindness; times when challenges do not lead to learning.
The time was two months ago, when a blind high school student brought to our attention her experiences with the Oxnard Union High School District. Embattled and frustrated, she and her family came to us for two reasons. The first was clear from the moment they spoke out in our chapter meeting. They needed us. They needed an organization of blind people with confidence in blind people and what blind people can contribute to this world. Their request was clear and we started to listen and learn about this student’s high school experience. This is what we have learned.
We have learned that the Vision Program in the Oxnard Union High School District lost a highly qualified and loved Vision teacher two years ago. Until then, it had been a program that met the needs of many of the blind students in the district. It was in no way perfect, but there was a sense of community and trust. These bonds transcended the resource limitations and allowed students to grow, learn, and find joy in their high school experiences. The teacher and program were responsive. Braille material was available. Whether vocation oriented or college bound; totally blind, deaf blind, or a large print user; services were provided. Taken as a whole, the information we have received tells us that students, parents, and teachers saw the Oxnard Union High School District Vision Program as a positive contributor to blind students’ education. Moreover, the program and students were stable.
We have also learned that since the Vision Program has changed, it has become unimaginably dysfunctional. We can say this not only based on the reports from students and families, but from our own interactions and evaluations. Committee members have been working directly with administrators, teachers, and Vision Program staff members as advocates for blind high school students in the district. We have examined the Oxnard Union High School District using our expertise in assistive technology and education along with our blindness common sense and NFB philosophy. Unfortunately, the findings provoke the Education Advocacy Committee to the same level of outrage that brought this issue to us in the first place.
Here are four examples of many barriers blind high school students in the Oxnard Union High School District are facing this semester:
In addition to these examples posing considerable obstacles to blind students’ education, there is something they all have disturbingly in common. Why could not the District Director of Special Education find the missing Braille textbook? Maybe her phone was not working. Why did the school district not provide the technology and training to support the Braille transcriber so she could provide timely services for Braille users? Perhaps the district thought typing was faster than scanning. Why did the district fail to implement the recommendations of their own assistive technology resource? It could be that his letter was lost along with the audio graphing calculator. Why did the district say there was an accessible computer for blind students at Oxnard High School? Probably because they thought blind students could get everything done in less than forty minutes.
As plausible as these theories might sound, the truth is that we have demonstrated that with the extremely limited time and resources of our Education Advocacy Committee, we are able to solve problems for blind students. At the same time, we have demonstrated that the most likely reason the Oxnard Union High School District and its Vision Program are not meeting the educational needs of blind students is because they do not want to do so. Yes, there are serious communication breakdowns in the district. Yes, there has been a loss of leadership in the Vision Program. Yes, the district has bureaucracy that sometimes slows the process down to a crawl. Nevertheless, based on our experiences with the Oxnard Union High School District to date, we believe the district’s unwillingness to provide the rightful education blind students deserve is the primary reason blind students and their families are suffering so much.
And we are not alone. As we speak, an attorney who runs a free legal clinic with his law students at Pepperdine University is preparing to file a due process complaint on behalf of a student and family against the Oxnard Union High School District. The goal of this litigation is to get back some of the student’s education that has been lost over the last two years. It is not about money, it is about the student’s life. Of course, any improvements in the Vision Program will help all the blind students in the district. This family has tried volunteering to help. They have tried waiting for the Vision Program to adjust. Now they have had enough of the neglect and abuse. Now they are standing up for their student’s education. In the words of one dedicated, talented, blind high school student from this district, “If everyone else is entitled to a fair and equal education, then why are my friends and I fighting in order to get ours? And, if a fight is what a decent education costs, then I believe that we are willing to pay for it.”
At times like this, it might not seem so simple, changing what it means to be blind. But our hope is that we choose to do so. Our chapter has the opportunity to get involved in shaping the future. What will our commitment be? Since there is enough work in this issue to involve the entire chapter, we recommend that our chapter focus on education for now. Ultimately, it is up to the chapter to shape this work and we hope that it will be incorporated into the chapter’s direction for the upcoming year.
The recommendation of the Education Advocacy Committee is simple. We need to build on this work and develop a campaign to expose what is taking place right now in the lives of blind students in the Oxnard Union High School District. We also need to organize resources to transform the Vision Program into an effective and responsive service for blind students. Indeed, there is a tremendous amount of work that has to be done but we believe it will lead to major positive changes in the school district.
To do this, we will need to find ways to share this work. We need volunteers to join any of the following subcommittees. As chair of the Education Advocacy Committee, Nicolás Crisosto will continue coordinating the technology and education issues. Ana Rodriquez has volunteered to begin communicating with more families and blind students. Gail Paulson is working to coordinate Braille transcription, primarily for math. Brad Hardison is researching the legal process so that the committee can have a better understanding of how to use litigation to improve the Vision Program. Anyone who wants to participate can contact one of the Education Advocacy Committee members and we will get you involved.
This leads us to the second reason the blind high school student and her family came to our chapter meeting just two months ago. As much as they need us, we need them. We need blind people in our community to bring issues and energy to our chapter. It gives our chapter depth of purpose. We need blind people with fire in their bellies to call on our chapter as a resource. It makes us recognize and employ our expertise and strength. Most of all, we need young blind people to call on us in every way and expect us to answer. The honesty in their voice, the urgency in their analysis, and the hope in their actions embody the NFB philosophy, our philosophy.
So Dad, When Can I Go Surfing? The Advantages Of Using A Job Mentor One of the most daunting tasks facing many blind people is the job search. Obtaining guidance, encouragement, and often direct contact assistance are parts of the service provided by a job mentor. This is a two part article showing various aspects of the job mentoring process. The first article, written by Jonathan Lyens, describes his experience using a mentor. Jonathan is a member of the San Francisco Chapter. The second piece, in a question and answer format, is by Bryan Bashin, who is also a member of the San Francisco Chapter and is the mentor who worked with Jonathan Lyens. How the NFB Sponsors National Legislation – The Washington Seminar Most bills deal with: education, technology, and social security. Frequently our members have arranged for legislators to sponsor our bills. At other times we support or oppose legislation in progress. Whatever the case may be with the current issues at the time, the National Federation of the Blind plays an effective role at the Capitol each year. Meet the Blind Month Every year chapters and individuals are encouraged to find ways to help the general public better understand blindness and our organization. The following article describes the recent effort of the Channel Islands Chapter. Gail Paulson is the President and with other chapter members organized this outstanding chapter event. Jana Littrell Receives 2007
Jacobus tenBroek Award:
Profile of an Outstanding Federationist Jana was born Jana Trout in Bakersfield, California. In early infancy she was declared to be blind due to blood clots in her eyes. Her parents still live in Bakersfield. California Participates in the First NFB Youth Slam On July 30, 200 blind high school students arrived at Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, Maryland to learn about Science Technology Math and Engineering while working for a week with blind mentors from the National Federation of the Blind. They built models of bridges, weather balloons, fired rockets, dissected sharks, and learned about the NFB philosophy. Students had the chance to learn about opportunities for blind people to participate in careers in science and math and had a lot of fun. Why Use the Word "Blind"? Most of us in the Federation know Jim Omvig. He worked first as a lawyer and later with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission For The Blind. He also headed the Blindness Rehabilitation Program for the state of Alaska. He has written many articles for the Braille Monitor and published three books in the last five years. I had the pleasure of working with Jim on our most recent book – Education and Rehabilitation For Empowerment. 2007 Resolutions The following resolutions were passed during the 2007 convention of the NFB of California. The Resolutions Committee was chaired by Jim Willows. The convention was held in Sacramento, October 25 – 28. Resolution 07-01 WHEREAS, the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Act gives priority to blind vendors to operate vending facilities in public buildings, and
by Eric Vasiliauskas
Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas, known by many simply as "Dr. V", is a board member of the Parents of Blind Children chapter of the NFB of California. Dr. V, a physician, is the father of fifth grader Vejas and kindergartener Petras, both Braille readers who are successfully fully mainstreamed in their neighborhood's local public elementary school in Southern California . DrV and his wife Rasa do their best to provide their children with the same wide range of childhood experiences and opportunities that other children their age are exposed to. Young children, whether sighted or blind, share an innate curiosity to learn about the world. This is why they constantly ask questions and want to do this or try that. While it is particularly important to create an atmosphere that actively encourages and supports a blind child’s desire to explore, sometimes such quests for new experiences can catch you off guard. This is how one such request played out. Several summers ago, I was invited to lecture at a medical conference in Hawaii. My wife and two boys, Vejas and Petras, accompanied me. Disney’s Hawaii-based cartoon movie “Lilo & Stitch” débuted that very week. I was not particularly surprised when, after listening to the Read-A-Long audio book version of “Lilo & Stitch,” my ever-inquisitive, soon-to-be first grader asked, “Dad, what exactly is surfing?” As we continued to drive, I did my best to explain. Vejas was already very familiar with kickboards. Before the trip we had already discussed that a boogie board was in a sense a bigger version of a kickboard that you lie down on to ride a wave. I further built on these concepts and elaborated that a surfboard was sort of similar to a boogie board, but much longer and that rather than lying on it, you actually stand up on the board to ride the wave. Since I knew where this line of conversation was likely to lead, I decided to preemptively divert the discussion by enthusiastically reassuring him that we would go boogie-boarding later that week and that the activity would give him a sense of what surfing is. I could tell that this parental diversionary tactic was only partially successful; I’m convinced that that is when Vejas first started to dream of surfing. A vacation in Hawaii could hardly be considered complete without attending a luau. As part of the pre-dinner festivities, in addition to exhibits featuring hula dancing, Hawaiian instruments, and local arts and crafts, there was one devoted to surfing. Vejas had never actually laid his hands (or feet for that matter) on a surfboard, so once the crowd around the exhibit thinned out a bit we walked over to meet the young local surfer in charge of the display. Vejas in his usual fashion struck up a conversation and asked a barrage of questions about surfing. As Vejas then climbed onto one of the surfboards, I started to make wave sounds and to move the board around in an attempt to simulate the motion of waves, so as to give him a sense of what it might feel like to surf. He was visibly intrigued and excited. My then five-and-one-half-year-old enthusiastically seized this opportunity to ask, “So Dad, when can I go surfing?” I did what I imagine many parents of a recent kindergarten graduate might do in this situation and decided I would try to “punt” this one for a while by rationalizing that as we were near the end of our trip, we would try surfing “the next time we go to Hawaii.” As a compromise I proposed that we not only go boogie boarding the next day, but sea-kayaking as well. We in fact had a great time the following morning. We rented a two-person sea-kayak. Vejas sat in front wearing his life jacket and I sat behind him. As we paddled out into the calm bay we discussed water safety and I shared some stories from my younger days as a lifeguard. Towards the end of our adventure, a rogue wave snuck up on us from behind. Fortunately, I noticed it just in time to yell to Vejas to brace himself and hold on as tight as he could. As my adrenaline surged, I leaned into my paddle with all my might. The wave literally lifted and carried us forward as it proceeded toward the shore. We essentially surfed the wave in our kayak and to this day I am amazed that we actually managed to remain upright. As we recovered from the excitement, I explained to Vejas how we would have handled the situation had we gone for a major tumble. It occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity for a real life lesson. Thus, after conferring with Vejas, once we reached the shallow water near the beach, we together tipped the kayak over--on purpose. I then showed him how to right the kayak and how to pull himself out of the water and climb back in. Vejas got such a kick out of this, that upon his request we repeated this maneuver over a number of times. Next we went boogie boarding. Only adult-sized boards were available for rent and it soon became evident that Vejas was not long enough to be able to effectively kick or to really stabilize the board, nor could he adequately anticipate the bigger waves in this part of the bay. We discovered that if he lay on top of the board and I positioned myself directly over him, I could kick with my fins and make sure we caught the waves. This way we were able to ride bigger waves together. We caught some great waves and had our fair share of spills as well. Vejas beamed radiantly as he relayed the morning’s adventures to his mother and little brother that afternoon. Yet while boogie boarding was lots of fun, Vejas knew it was not the same as surfing. Well, as fate would have it, we decided to go on a real two-week vacation (no work this time) to Kauai the following summer. As soon as the airplane’s wheels lifted off the ground Vejas stopped reading the book his mother had Brailled for him for the flight. He turned his head towards me and in a very focused fashion extended his hand to find my face and gently guided it in his direction with the clear intent of making sure he had my full attention. (I wonder where he learned that maneuver?) He then pointedly posed his question, a question that undoubtedly had been brewing ever since we began to plan this trip: “So Dad, when are we going surfing?” I reassured him that we would look into it once we got to Hawaii. About a week into the trip, Vejas again asked, “So Dad, which day is my surfing lesson?” I realized at that point that there was no getting around it. That evening I looked through the multitude of brochures and visitors’ guides we had accumulated and saw a promising ad for lessons by a local world-renowned champion surfer. Rasa and I both believe that our children should have the same types of experiences as other children. By this time we had met or heard of many remarkable blind individuals and of their accomplishments. We had thus already come to understand and fully believe that there is virtually nothing a blind person can’t do if they put their mind to it. Inspired by Cara Dunne-Yates and her family, I had even taken Vejas skiing with me when he was three years old. Yet as I dialed the number listed in the advertisement, I began to imagine what the person answering the phone would think. Not only was I asking for surfing lessons for a six-year-old, but a blind one to boot. To my pleasant surprise, the lady who answered the phone with a friendly “aloha” took this all in stride. She called me back within the hour and informed me she had arranged for a private surf lesson. Several mornings later, we woke up very early and drove forty-five minutes to Poipu Beach, where at seven a.m. we met Vejas’s surf instructor, Miguel. He had grown up in Hawaii and had started surfing at such a young age that he didn’t remember how old he was when his father first put him on a surfboard. Miguel had been on the professional surfing circuit for a number of years. He had a nine-year-old son who he had taught to surf at three years of age on this very beach. He did not seem even a little bit phased by the blindness issue. He asked appropriate questions in a tactful way. He wanted to know how strong a swimmer Vejas was and was pleased to learn he had been taking formal swimming lessons weekly since three-and-one-half years of age. He asked if Vejas had enough residual vision to distinguish the water, the sand, or the surfboard. Vejas informed him that he could only see light. They first practiced on land for half an hour. Miguel had Vejas explore the entire surfboard. He explained that the front of the surfboard is termed the nose while the back end is called the tail. Vejas learned that the sides, or the rails, are particularly important, as that is where all the balance is. The deck is the part you ultimately stand on. They went over the dynamics of positioning on the board. He had Vejas lie on the surfboard with his hands holding onto the rails and his toes pointed towards the tail. He then had Vejas start out in paddle position and pretend to catch a wave. Miguel described how, as Vejas first engaged the wave, he would need to position his arms in push-up position and then pop up into surf stance. (I must admit that it was refreshing for me to hear an outside person emphasize the importance of body posture and head positioning.) Then like a drill sergeant of sorts, the instructor had Vejas practice by verbally and tactilely guiding him through the motions of springing up and assuming the proper surfing stance over and over and over again until this kinesthetically was integrated to the point it was nearly automatic. Miguel then looked at me and announced that it was time to graduate and move the lesson to the ocean. He chose a spot in the coral reef where the waves gently rolled in. Miguel instructed me to wait in the shallow water by the shore to catch Vejas when he arrived. I watched as they headed out to the water and I prepared my camera. In the distance, Miguel then guided the surfboard around so that it pointed towards the shore. When the right wave finally came along, Miguel gently pushed the surfboard forward. From there the wave and Vejas took over. On his very first run Vejas pushed up, then moved his back foot into position, followed by his lead foot. His legs were appropriately bent and his head looked forward as he assumed a near perfect surf stance. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was not fully prepared for what followed. I was in fact so mesmerized and blown away that not only did I forget I had a camera, I literally watched Vejas surf right past me. As I cheered him on, I forgot that I was supposed to catch him. I was suddenly shaken from my trance when a few seconds later the nose of his board lodged into a sandbar and Vejas unexpectedly lunged forward off the board. Ouch! I rushed over to him, not quite sure what to expect. Before I could ask him how he was, he exclaimed: “Did you see me Dad? I want to do that again!” You should have seen the joy on his face and the beaming sense of accomplishment that radiated from him after catching his first wave, standing up, and riding the wave all the way to the shore. He was, as we say in California, “totally stoked!” It was a storybook-perfect first run. He surfed for another hour that morning taking his fair share of spills and wipeouts amongst the better runs. I too was beaming with fatherly pride the rest of the lesson and have to admit that it was fun to watch the smiles on the faces of passers-by out for an early morning stroll on the beach, amused as they saw this six-and-one-half-year-old kid realize one of his dreams and enthusiastically persist despite the spills. I kept imagining what they would be thinking if they knew that this determined youngster was blind as well. Talk about a self-confidence building experience! Vejas’s accomplishment commanded an immediate sense of respect from his peers. During parent orientation night a few weeks later, the teacher had allotted me five minutes to talk about Vejas and blindness as it related to his first grade class. I explained how for Vejas to successfully compete in life he would ultimately be held to the same standards as his sighted peers and thus it was crucial that he learn to be independent and to do things on his own. I had prepared a brief handout for the parents that included child-oriented Web sites about blindness, pictures and descriptions of some remarkable blind individuals, activities Vejas enjoyed, and suggestions on how parent-volunteers and classmates could facilitate our son’s socialization as well as promote his independence in the classroom and during extracurricular activities. The pictures of Vejas’s summer activities were by far the most powerful part of the handout. We included these in our parent’s portion of his IEP document as well. In a way that written and verbal description could not quite do justice, the pictures of our blind six-year-old surfing immediately challenged the established paradigms of the parents, teachers, and other school staff, and even VI professionals. Preconceived notions of what a blind child is capable of began to melt away. The minds of those that would be interacting with our son were opened, allowing them to see him as a capable adventurous boy who is eager to take on life’s experiences. It was during that same vacation that Rasa and I read the Future Reflections, Introductory Issue paperback for the first time. We read with great interest as blind adults, educators, parents of blind children, and even blind kids themselves shared experiences covering a wide variety of topics pertinent to growing up blind and to raising a blind child. Importantly, each was presented from a positive, uplifting, practical, and success-in-academics and success-in-life prospective. How refreshing and comforting it was to find such a concentration of viewpoints that paralleled and supported those we had come to develop! One of the chapters in this introductory issue included the presentations of a panel of five blind youths who spoke at an NFB Convention on the topic of “Fun, Friends, and Fitting In.” The young panelists individually and collectively demonstrated that blind kids can do--and in fact do do--things that sighted kids do. They highlighted the importance of independence and stressed how actively working to enhance their blindness skills not only facilitated their independence, but also their self-confidence and socialization. During the flight home I read each child’s speech to Vejas. He eagerly listened to every detail. Vejas was very excited by the “virtual encounters” with each of the young presenters who, like he, was blind and who shared many of his own interests. The profound impact that Adam, Brian, Jennifer, Noel, and Lauren had on my son soon became evident when afterwards he turned to me and excitedly and earnestly exclaimed, “so that’s why you want me to be more independent!” Indeed, these five young Federationists had managed to get across this message and ignite an internal desire to strive for increased independence in our son in a way that his teachers and we as sighted parents had not quite been able to do. Next we read excerpts from an issue of the Braille Monitor about a large number of blind high school graduates and college students who had earned scholarships from the NFB. Even at this young age, Vejas was excited by the range of careers these success-oriented young men and women were choosing to pursue. As I watched, an amazing transformation began to take place in my son before my very eyes--a transformation sparked by the stories and ambitions of blind children and blind youth--I began to truly understand the potential power of the National Federation of the Blind. Vejas is now ten years old and is the proud owner of his very own seven-foot yellow surfboard. He had a second lesson with Miguel a few years later and he has had several additional formal lessons with other surf instructors since then. I have to admit that Vejas looked like he was having so much fun out there on the waves, that he inspired me to take up surfing last year. I once asked Vejas which instructor he thought was the best. “Miguel,” he responded without much hesitation. When I asked him why, I was admittedly a little surprised by his insightful response: Vejas said it was because Miguel paid the most attention to detail and had the highest expectations of him. Perhaps some of the biggest limitations the blind face are conceptual biases that most of us have grown up with. Unfortunately these misconceptions of the capabilities of the blind are relayed either directly or indirectly to our blind children even at a very young age by the adults and even children that they interact with. The NFB is devoted to changing what it means to be blind. I submit that accounts of the accomplishments of young Federationists may have the greatest potential to influence changes in perceptions of what it means to be a blind child. “Perceptual early intervention” via such peer-based stories has the potential to serve as seeds of inspiration of what is possible to other blind children, their parents, and teachers. I thus urge more parents, children, teenagers, and young adults to take the time to write down and share your adventures and experiences to help develop a childhood-focused resource of what is possible. If enough of you do so, perhaps some day they may even evolve into a dedicated “Kids Corner” in Future Reflections or the Braille Monitor. Return to Top of Page
By Jonathan Lyens
Bryan currently works as a management consultant and is the founder of Id Pro Quo Job Services, a northern California firm which provides career coaching and job placement services for jobseekers who are blind. He most recently served as Assistant Regional Commissioner for the US Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration, where he supervised rehabilitation programs in seven states and territories. Central to this position was the ongoing regulation and analysis of federally-funded programs leading to employment of individuals with disabilities.
As a young professional fresh out of graduate school, I had my first experience with a mentor a few months ago. The possibility was presented by my employer, The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco (The Light House); however I initially didn’t appreciate the suggestion as an opportunity of any sort. I was a successful graduate student and a fine employee. After 6 years of university education, I was sure I had nothing more to learn. I began using a professional job mentor in March of 2007, and he would have just as much to do with preparing me for the world as my formal schooling. I can now say it was an experience that was both enjoyable and life changing.
I am 25 years old, and am totally blind. I hold a Graduate Certificate in National Security Studies and a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science from East Carolina University. In addition, I have recently completed all of my requirements for a Masters degree in Public Administration. I began working at The LightHouse in January of 2007. Though I have a significant amount of education, prior to working at The LightHouse, my work experience was almost non-existent. I came into my position with a great deal of knowledge, but with few practical skills in how to make use of that knowledge in my job. When my supervisor approached me about the possibility of working with a mentor, I was initially disappointed and insulted. I didn’t see how this person could help me. As an individual with a disability, I have encountered a series of challenges in life. I was confident that the sheer fact that I had overcome these adversities gave me a skill set that was unique, and that would carry me to the top of the professional ladder.
After further thought, I swallowed my pride and realized I was going to have to open myself up to the process in order to get through it. During my first meeting with my mentor, I quickly realized this wasn’t enough of an effort; I had been granted a great opportunity to learn from an experienced mentor, someone who believed in me and possessed the power to teach me how to get where I wanted to go. I needed to do less talking and more listening. I needed to check my ego at the door and fully commit to the process. This was an opportunity that was going to benefit me, not only at The LightHouse, but for the rest of my professional life.
Working together, my mentor and I focused our time around three core areas: effective communication with my supervisor, project management skills, and strategies for getting recognized throughout the agency. We identified opportunities where I could exercise initiative; drastically increasing my ability to work independently and with little direction. In relation to project management skills, we discussed areas where it would be appropriate for me to exercise judgment. He helped me realize that I had the knowledge base, and simply needed to apply the skills I already possessed. In addition, we discussed ways I could get noticed and rewarded for my abilities and efforts.
In general, being mentored helped me to become a more confident and productive employee. My performance has improved and I have been recognized for the knowledge and skills I bring to my work. This recognition has resulted in The LightHouse offering me the chance to be a part of several exciting projects and I have transitioned from part-time to full-time employment. I am grateful The LightHouse extended this rare opportunity for professional development. While this mentorship experience has already benefited me in the short term, I have no doubt that it will positively affect the rest of my professional life.
EQUITY feature October 2007 with Bryan Bashin Access to Assets sat down with Bryan Bashin, management consultant and mentor, to discuss the crucial role of mentoring for the professional development of people with disabilities.
Q: Why mentoring?
A: Well, why mentoring? People with disabilities and people in general go through life now perhaps a bit less connected to their ultimate work trajectory than they did in the past.
Often we see that people with disabilities, people who are blind or visually impaired, have higher levels of education than the general population. They read more books; perhaps have greater academic accomplishments. We see people with Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and even Doctorates come on to the market place without much exposure to either the world of work or the culture of work.
Often the new employee is unclear on the question “am I here to satisfy my own needs?” or “am I here to satisfy my bosses needs.” That second question is at the heart of mentoring for many people new to the work force.
Companies hire people not because of some charitable intent, or a social obligation but they hire people because they believe that the worker will produce more in dollars than they will consume in salary and benefits. Part of mentorship is to get that point clear! This is way beyond disability; this is how the world works. I wish someone had set me down and told me this when I was just starting out, Bashin says.
Q: What are some of the disability-specific issues you encounter as a mentor?
A: It can be quite disparate, but there are a few themes. Some people have huge motivational issues, it can be hard for some people to simply pick up the phone and make a call. Often these folks have been shuttled along by a rehabilitation industry and they have a very poor outlook on themselves, their disability, and the idea of work.
However, once we have been working together for a while, and they have been completing assignments for me, things begin to change. I give a lot of positive reinforcement, and soon, rather than trying to make me happy, they start to do things for themselves. It’s like a reinforcing circle of positivity. Once you know that you’re not the precious unique person and just a person who needs to make the best decision possible, you’ll start making better decisions for yourself.
Sometimes I encounter the entrenched issue of getting the mentee to understand that their job is to fulfill the needs of the employer. This goes back to Carnegie. The employee’s goal is to serve the other person, be of value to the organization, to be upbeat and a positive person around others with whom you work!
This can be a challenge for some people with disabilities who have grown up as the center of the universe, fussed over, given special privileges. If you live in that cocoon of swaddling care, it is hard to adjust to being the new employee with the least seniority.
The mentee has to learn what it is that you do to meet the needs of your boss; don’t just return a phone call for your boss, follow up until you get the answer. Think about others! That interesting article that came across the e-mail, send it to an interested co-worker. Go to events outside the work hours, take a chance, don’t be afraid to fail. It sounds trite, but how do you become the shining star, go that extra mile, produce more than you consume. Somewhere in that mix is how you address a disability.
Q: So how do you address the disability?
A: Often when I first meet with a new mentee, and I often take three or four sessions to get to know the person, I am just astonished that people going into a profession have not taken the time to research and learn about those who have walked the path before them. The disability community is different from other groups. If you are Latino, odds are that your parents are Latino, your neighbors are Latino and you know people in the community who are successful and can serve as professional role models. Often in the disability and blind community, an individual can think they are alone. Often they are the only person in the family with a disability, the only person in the community with a disability. When they go to school, they may meet someone else with a disability and they may not. Even at the university level, they may connect with other disabled students or they may not. Now, they have graduated, and they are entering the work force. Because of this isolation, they sometimes have a hard time understanding what a successful person with a similar disability looks like. Part of my job as a mentor is to make those connections but perhaps even more importantly, to act as a catalyst so that the client begins to initiate those relationships themselves.
I can not stress this enough: it is crucial that a person with a disability develop a circle of people who have been there before and have been successful. This circle will help them understand the skepticism when they walk into a new place of employment, and they will understand the doubts and discrimination that we all encounter. This network of support can also help when we question our self. Let’s face it; it is part of the human condition to experience self doubt, self loathing, and the questioning of our own abilities. All this needs to be worked on so that you can become the star at work you are capable of becoming. There is a very basic need, for all people, to understand themselves deeply and to connect with people you want to be like, who are successful! You have to carry in your head that image of someone who has been successful.
I also strongly encourage people to read the biographies and autobiographies of people who came before them. There is someone with your disability who has done what you want to do. Often, these people have truly amazing biographies. Universally, I find people who read deeply in the field have a more positive outlook and positive view of where things are going.
Q- You have talked about putting the needs of your boss first, developing a circle of successful role models, and the importance of reading deeply in the field. What is the impact of accessible technology in the workplace?
A: Sometimes the disability community makes an almost disproportioned amount of fuss around accessible technology. I know far more unemployed people with fabulous technology than I know employed people with technology deficits. That being said, I have had my own struggles around technology, Bashin says.
I was a science writer for many years when I had some usable vision. I used to sit scrunched up two inches from a magnified screen, straining my eyes, neck and back. My site was getting worse and I just could not produce the quantity of work to which I had committed. I had to take a kill fee for three pieces. I had to go and find other blind writers and find out how they were able to do their job. Eventually, I discovered the talking software, took some time to learn it and went back to work.
Is that a story about technology? Only partly. I sought out blind people who were doing it, I found out how they did it, and I gave myself the time to learn it. I learned about the self respect that comes when, as a person with a disability, you can do your job quickly and efficiently.
This is not something you learn at the University of California, this is something you learn in the University of the Rest of Your Life!
Q: I have heard that mentoring is a two way street, what have you learned by working with mentees?
A: I have learned that there is a huge demand for mentoring services in the disability community. The Department of Rehabilitation could provide these services, and I think the impact of mentoring is at least as powerful as a pile of adaptive technology. The Department of Rehabilitation is very good at buying technology, tuition, or anything else readily purchasable. The real challenge today is to make mentor services as easily purchasable as tuition or a computer. Counselors should realize that they can be a catalyst and leverage the network of existing success for their clients. I think the combination of mentoring, technology, and training is unstoppable, and each magnifies the other.
By Juliet Cody and Peter Mansell
Everything begins at our state convention. The Washington Seminar Coordinator announces the up-coming Washington Seminar and encourages members to apply. Responsibilities are described, as well as all requirements necessary for the sixteen seminar participants to receive their stipend. The process is open to any Federationist who is interested.
The procedure for selection is the following: the Coordinator and State President try to select participants from various regions around the state. The goal is that a member of congress from California receive a delegation from their own area or at least near by. Also, the selected group should be mixed, meaning some new members and some with previous experience at the Washington Seminar.
The NFBC feels that it is very important for the blind to build a personal relationship with our local congressional representatives. We are encouraged to make appointments with them throughout the year in order to educate them about blindness and what our needs are.
Once a member has been selected, there are requirements to follow and responsibilities to fulfill. Normally, each team member is assigned three representatives from the area in which they live. As mentioned above, it is highly recommended that each selected member from the chosen team of delegates visit the rep to whom they have been assigned. Participants are required to make advance appointments with all congressional representatives. By scheduling well in advance we hope to see the elected official in person, rather than one of their assistants. As appointments are scheduled, information is relayed to the Washington Seminar Coordinator, currently Tiffany Manosh.
If everyone has done the work required and has scheduled their Washington appointments, the Coordinator will be able to have a schedule ready for everyone ahead of time. Creating this schedule is not an easy task. It takes patience and skill. The Coordinator puts a lot of time and effort into organizing the schedules to meet the many demands. The goal of the affiliate is to get an appointment for every California representative. When that is accomplished, the next thing is to coordinate groups of three delegates for each appointment. The group of three should contain the person who made the appointment, a mentor, and a first-timer.
In preparation for calling on Congress, several orientation events occur. For example, role-playing is done to show first-timers typical patterns of interactions in congressional offices. There is also what has come to be called the Great Gathering In meeting, where as many as five hundred Federationists from all over the United States are briefed on the current legislative items of interest to the NFB. There is always a California Caucus to discuss our effort and evaluate our organizational planning. There is a general debriefing meeting on the evening before the Seminar ends, which is typically Thursday afternoon. Members selected to participate in the Seminar must be aware that this is physically demanding work – from early in the morning until late in the evening and it involves much walking. Members must be able to communicate effectively in groups of three and be appropriately dressed in business attire. Back at home each member is expected to make a follow-up courtesy contact with the representatives he or she visited.
When the time finally comes and we begin to arrive sporadically and fill the Capitol with the sound of tapping canes and the jingles of the guide dogs, it is a sensation with many definitions. One can feel the excitement due to all of the preparation. There is also the feeling of warmth and love because you are constantly running into old friends, and we cannot minimize the thrill of meeting new ones. There is excitement in the air and the feeling of invincibility. There is a sense of unity amongst the blind working together across the country, advancing the interest of the blind with a positive voice and outlook. Every time a barrier falls it reconfirms the importance of being active in the National Federation of the Blind.
By Gail Paulson, President Channel Islands Chapter
On October 14th, 2007 the Channel Islands Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California hosted its very first “Meet the Blind Month” event at the Masonic Lodge in Oxnard, California. Approximately 175 guests were in attendance and participated in a wide variety of interactive exhibits and demonstrations, including a Juno experience with Keith Tomlinson (Guide Dogs For The Blind), meeting and talking to Ventura County puppy raisers with Laurie Saldino (Guide Dogs For The Blind), a hands on Braille demonstration with Rick Mahlke (Ventura County Braille Transcribers), cane travel with Annee Hartzell (NFBC), an assistive technology exhibit with Steve Turner (Ventura College) and Nicole Haymes (Infogrip), Lynn Schwanauer (Braille Institute, Santa Barbara-Outreach Program), and viewed art by local blind artists. In addition, door prizes and raffle items, with a total value in excess of $800, were generously donated by local businesses and families.
The program began with a flag ceremony conducted by Cub Scout Pack #3251, Channel Islands District. Then the Master of Ceremonies, Nicolás Crisosto (Vice President, Channel Islands Chapter and Treasurer, NFBC), introduced Robert Stigile (President, NFBC), who delivered the keynote address, and his wife Joy Stigile (President, Diabetes Action Network), who gave a brief talk about DAN’s work.
The event flyer promised a BBQ, raffle, door prizes, fun, music and laughter, and the chapter delivered. The event was charged with excitement and enthusiasm. The guest list boasted a cross section of the community, including educators, veterinarians, doctors, Lion’s Club members, Masons, Para transit representatives, and members of the community who showed their support. Old friends got together and new friendships were formed. The Channel Islands Chapter is already planning for next year and will strive to make it even bigger and better.
By Jim Willows
Jana learned Braille and some blindness skills during her schooling in Bakersfield. She went on to West High School and graduated at midterm so she could attend the California Orientation Center for the Blind (OCB) located in Albany, California before starting her college work. Jana is an excellent traveler with her long white cane. This is not only due to her training at OCB, but also to her determination to go where she wants when she wants to go.
Jana attended California State University, Bakersfield where she graduated with a B.A. in Psychology. While in college, Jana married Mike Littrell, a friend from high school. Mike was also visually impaired. Mike and Jana were married for four years, before realizing they were just not meant for each other. They parted as friends.
Upon graduation from CSU, Bakersfield, Jana worked with mentally retarded adults for a private agency in Bakersfield. While in college Jana discovered the NFB. She joined the Bakersfield Chapter of the NFB of California. The chapter President was Rick Lewis, who moved on to a very successful radio broadcasting career in Oregon and later in Arizona. Within a year Jana became the Bakersfield Chapter president. I first met Jana at a Chapter Presidents Leadership Seminar during this time. She served as the Bakersfield Chapter president for two years.
Jana moved to Oakland, where she soon joined the Bay Area Chapter, NFB of California, which was then meeting at Pinky Johnson’s home in Piedmont. Jana enrolled in the Computer Training and Programming class for the disabled at Vista College in Berkeley. As so many multi-disability programs have done, they claimed to serve the blind. However, the program had practically no equipment accessible to the blind. I asked Curtis Chong to come to California to go with me to talk to the Vista people about what they needed to really serve blind students. I found out later that they completely ignored what Curtis and I told them.
Soon, Jana and other blind students had to leave the program. At this time, IRS was hiring blind people as telephone consultants and in other positions. Jana joined this program and worked for IRS for five years. Realizing that this was a dead-end job, she decided to return to college to do graduate work at San Francisco State in teaching the visually impaired and in rehabilitation teaching. She earned her M.A. in Special Education and a Teaching Certificate in Rehabilitation Teaching. She also obtained an Adult Education Credential.
Jana interned at OCB while at San Francisco State. Later she served as a substitute Braille teacher at OCB. She was hired as a Braille teacher at the Center in 1994. She has held this position until the present time. Meanwhile let us go back to Jana’s NFB career. I have said that she joined the NFB of the Bay Area upon moving to Oakland. It was during this time that she developed an interest in the philosophy and history of the NFB. In 1987 Jana was elected as President of our Bay Area chapter. She held this position until 2005. During these 18 years, I worked with Jana on many local and state seminars on NFB history and philosophy. Both of us say that these seminars were some of the most enjoyable things we have done in NFB.
Under Jana’s administration the Bay Area became one of the most active chapters in the NFB of California. Jana also became very active at the state and national levels of NFB. She served several terms on our State Board including three terms as secretary of the NFBC. Jana served several terms as president of the California Association to Promote the Use of Braille (CAPUB) as well as many terms as secretary of our OCB Alumni Association. She also chaired our Library Committee for many years.
Jana attended many state and national conventions. She has asked President Stigile to let her lead more history and philosophy seminars. Jana’s NFB career was highlighted at our 2007 state convention when she was awarded the California Jacobus tenBroek award for long and outstanding service to the NFB of California and, indeed, to the blind of California. Jana says that the Federation has been a big part of her life, largely because of the many good friends she has made within the NFB and NFBC. These are the kind of friends you know and love forever.
By Nicolás M. Crisosto
Nicolás M. Crisosto is Treasurer of the NFB of California and is coordinator of the Youth Slam program for California
The Jernigan Institute hosted the 2007 NFB Youth Slam along with partners such as the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). While staying at Johns Hopkins University, blind youth were mentored by blind role models during fun and challenging activities meant to build confidence and increase science literacy. Participants also had the opportunity to attend various social events as well as workshops on topics such as leadership, career preparation, and blindness. The NFB Youth Slam culminated in an inspiring rally at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and a celebration at the center of innovation in the field of blindness—the NFB Jernigan Institute.
We had five students, six mentors, and one instructor join the Youth Slam from California. Our students were active participants in all the events during Youth Slam and our mentors were enthusiastic, positive blind role models. The students did not need to have a strong interest in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) in order to participate, enjoy, and benefit from this academy because it was designed to engage and inspire the next generation of blind youth to consider careers falsely believed to be impossible for the blind. Hopefully after the Youth Slam they will consider taking more science and math courses now that they know there are ways for blind students to learn and excel in any of these fields.
In addition to learning about math and science, the Youth Slam exposed all participants to the NFB philosophy and organization. To follow up, the NFB is organizing the NFB Youth Leadership Academies. California Youth Slam participants will be invited to join the Youth Leadership Academy taking place in May of 2008. For more information, please contact Nicolás M. Crisosto at email@example.com or by calling (805) 822-3719.
by James H. Omvig
People who cannot see are blind, and the word "blind" is perfectly acceptable--in fact, it is absolutely essential--when one is referring to the lack of eyesight. In my opinion (I got this opinion from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan), a person is blind--and should learn to refer to himself or herself as blind--when vision has deteriorated to the point that, to function capably and efficiently, the individual uses alternative (nonvisual) techniques to accomplish the majority of life's daily activities. This is true even though there is some residual vision which may well be quite useful for certain limited and specific purposes.
There are some misuses of the term, of course, which are not desirable at all and which perpetuate negative impressions about blindness. These include such commonly accepted dictionary definitions as: "unable or unwilling to perceive or understand"; "not based on reason or evidence"; or "lacking reason or purpose" as in, "he ran blindly off the cliff."
Until around the middle of the twentieth century, it was common among educators, rehabilitators, sheltered shop workers, or others involved in work with the blind to use the word "blind" routinely when referring to people with very limited or no vision, since that is what we are. Then, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new phenomenon gradually evolved: A group of masters-degreed workers--eventually referred to as "blindness professionals”--entered the picture. It was not long until they, the "experts," began to take extraordinary measures to get blind people to deny their blindness and to use the slightest amount of residual vision so they could appear to be "normal"--to be sighted and avoid blindness altogether. “Avoid and deny blindness at any cost” became the mantra. And the cost for many blind people was heavy.
First came the large print movement--just produce very large and dark print so that blind people with a little vision could read a few words a minute in the "normal" way and not "have" to learn Braille. Then, before long, "vision stimulation" was introduced--it was argued that if blind people would just try harder to use their very limited vision, they could actually improve sight and again, be able to function "normally." Of course, this was a disaster and psychologically damaging for many blind people! Then, when tape recorders and computers came along, it was argued all over again that blind people could avoid Braille and the stigma of blindness and thus appear in yet another way to be "normal” if they would just jump on the technology bandwagon and give up literacy.
Along with these new professionals (and their new practices), a new kind of vocabulary was also introduced. The word blind went out of vogue. Blind students who could read a little using very large print became "sight-saving" students. Others (with either limited or no vision at all) soon became "visually impaired," "visually limited," "visually challenged," "unsighted," "sightless," "sight-impaired," "low vision," or "hard-of-seeing," etc. Before long, teachers of blind children became "vision" teachers, and, most recently, some among the professionals have become so disconnected with the real world and with blind people that they have come to call work with the blind "vision rehabilitation therapy."
"How in the world," you may ask, "could such a distortion of reality have taken place among the very people who purport to help the blind?" Clearly, the reason behind it all has been an effort to try to avoid use of the ugly and dirty word, "blind."
Through all of these machinations, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has argued that "blind" is best, since that's what we are, but many of our own members have not been able to articulate valid reasons for our position. Here's the short answer for why we do what we do.
In the first place, we of the Federation have long since recognized that to understand blindness correctly and also to know how properly to educate or rehabilitate blind people, one must be aware of the fact that the blind as a class are a "minority" in every negative sense of that term. It is the erroneous and negative "public attitude" about blindness that is the real problem with which we must deal. From the time of infancy, we have been taught that to be blind is to be helpless, to be incompetent, and to be "inferior." Members of the general public have believed it, and most of us have come to believe it, too. And, in time, the blindness professionals also bought into the erroneous stereotyping along with the low expectations which accompany feelings of inferiority.
We must change those erroneous public attitudes--the myths, misconceptions, and superstitions--first, of course, in ourselves, and then in the broader society. And we also understand fully that it is these very negative and mistaken attitudes about the inferiority of the blind which have found their way into the educational and vocational rehabilitation systems. It is these very mistaken beliefs about blindness which drive the professionals' effort to get their customers to deny their blindness at any price. And it is these mistaken beliefs that must be eliminated as a key component of any high-quality education or rehabilitation program for the blind.
Finally, we of the Federation have come to know the fundamental truth that blind people are nothing more than normal people who cannot see and that, if we receive "proper training" (including appropriate attitudinal adjustment), we can participate fully in society and compete on terms of absolute equality with our sighted colleagues. And we have learned that, for any blind person truly to become empowered and free, a process of what is commonly called "adjustment to blindness" is essential. Simply learning to use the word "blind" with ease and comfort and accepting blindness as a normal fact of life is a significant ingredient in the process. For it is commonly understood that you cannot change what you are not willing to acknowledge!
To summarize briefly, there are five major ingredients in this healing adjustment to blindness process. One, the blind individual must come to know and feel emotionally, not just intellectually, that he or she is a normal person who can be just as independent and self-sufficient as sighted people are. Two, he or she must become competent in the skills (the alternative techniques) of blindness. Three, he or she must learn to cope calmly and rationally with the strange or unusual things other people will do or say because of their complete misunderstanding and lack of accurate information about blindness. Four, the blind person must learn to "blend in" to the broader society and to be acceptable to those around him or her. Behaviors such as being punctual, neat and appropriate in appearance, reliable, courteous, and free from "blindisms," etc. are important to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. And, five, the successful and truly whole blind person will know the importance of "giving back." This means contributing to society in general and assisting in the organized blind movement.
Using the word blind with ease and comfort comes under the first of these empowering ingredients--coming emotionally, not just intellectually, to know that he or she can be equal with others in our society. It is also as a part of this first adjustment ingredient that the blind person comes to know that he or she is normal, and that it is perfectly respectable to be blind.
For an exact analogy on the issues of denial and terminology, consider the struggle by African Americans to achieve equality and freedom. In the 1940's and 50's, and even on into the 60's, some black Americans actually tried to solve their problems by pretending that they weren't black at all, but that they were white--this practice was denial at its worst and came to be referred to as trying to "pass." Some people tried to straighten their naturally curly hair or lighten the color of their skin. Needless to say, this approach to conquering symptoms of inferiority didn't work!
Then, enlightened and gifted leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came upon the scene. He and others realized that pretending you are something other than who you really are is fruitless and that the only meaningful way black Americans could ever achieve real freedom, equality, and self-respect was to accept their blackness and then to work together to make it respectable to be black. Dr. King knew that, ultimately, you must learn to love yourself as you are, and for whom you are, to attain true freedom, dignity, and self-respect.
And so it is with the blind. If you are blind but pretend that you are sighted--that is, if you engage in what some call "the great masquerade," agony and frustration will be the result. In my own case, I pretended (I tried to pass and deny my blindness) for fourteen years--from age twelve to twenty-six--before I encountered the National Federation of the Blind and became empowered. I have often marveled at the fact that I didn't develop an extreme case of ulcers during this painful time of my life. Since I believed that "blindness meant inferiority," the fear that someone would learn just how blind I really was, was very nearly unbearable.
This brings us back to the ultimate truth. If you are blind, you are blind! Accept it! Admit it! The very first step in this process is to learn to be able to say, with neither shame nor embarrassment, "I am blind!" We, like other minorities, have a job to do--we must learn to accept our blindness and then work with concerted action to make it respectable to be blind.
The same is true for professionals in the field of work with the blind. We have no business helping our blind customers (whether they be totally or partially blind) deny what and who they are and to try to pass or engage in the great masquerade. Rather, we, too, must learn that it is respectable to be blind. Only then can we truly help to empower and bring freedom to our customers by helping them accept their blindness.
One final point needs to be made, although if it is not properly understood, it may muddy up everything I have said to this point in this article. When I am talking about using the word "blind," I am talking generally about what should be happening regularly in the Federation, university programs, schools with blind students, or orientation and adjustment centers--in other words, in situations where people are actually involved in some type of positive experience. When a newly blinded individual is first met, however, and where that initial effort is to get the person interested at all in the Federation, or in some kind of beneficial program, there are times when either we (or school or agency specialists) need to be willing to tread lightly and even use some meaningless euphemisms.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When I left my job at the National Labor Relations Board in New York City to return to Iowa to work for Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind, I first did some traveling with other, more experienced staff members to become familiar with each of the Commission's jobs. In traveling with one particularly talented VR counselor, I simply observed her for a few days and scarcely made a comment. Toward the end of the week, I decided that perhaps the time had come for me to participate. To get started simply, I asked a man whom we were visiting, "How long have you been blind?" Blind was not the word I should have used.
"I'm not blind!" he screamed out at me with obvious distress. As a novice, and perhaps as too much of a purist, I had failed to take into account that the people who have not yet accepted their blindness enough even to get to the point of taking needed training may need to be dealt with differently from those who have made the decision to get on with their lives. From that day forward, my approach changed completely when dealing with newly blinded people who had not yet agreed to get into a training program. "How long have you had poor eyesight," or some meaningless or useless variant thereof, became a routine part of my conversation. I did not want to make that same mistake again and, perhaps, even undo what had already been done to begin to persuade that potential new customer to get involved in proper training.
Having understood this last point, we who are blind must become comfortable with who we are as people. As with black Americans, we who are blind must learn to love ourselves as we are, and for whom we are, to attain true freedom, dignity, and self-respect.
Once we have come to know intellectually and to feel emotionally that we are normal people, and that it is respectable to be blind, then I believe that we of the Federation have a duty to pass it on so that others may experience the freedom and empowerment which flow from an internalization of the truth about blindness. So, by all means, use the word "blind" in your daily life and in helping those around you to get rid of the prejudice and low expectations which flow from a belief that the blind are inferior, but be sparing in its use when you are meeting newly blinded people or members of their families. If you approach the newly blinded in this way, it will not be long until their attitudes begin to shift. Eventually, of course, we of the Federation intend to introduce the truth and to teach the whole world that it is respectable to be blind. We can make all of this come true if we stick doggedly to the principle spelled out by some wise philosopher who said that "Life is action, not a spectator sport."
Business Enterprise Program
WHEREAS, The act requires that a State Licensing Agency (SLA) be selected to implement the program in each state, the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), has been chosen as the SLA for California, and
WHEREAS, NFBC representatives on the DOR Advisory Committee on Services for Blind and Visually Impaired clients (BAC) have been told at several meetings by vendors and Department personnel of the very poor performance by the Department in operating the California Business enterprise Program (BEP), and
WHEREAS, examples of this poor performance include:
WHEREAS, the Nominee Agency would take over most of the administration and day to day work of operating the Business Enterprise Program, leaving just a few tasks reserved by Federal law to the Department; now therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of California in convention assembled this 28th day of October, 2007 in the city of Sacramento, California that this organization go on record in support of the work of BEP vendors to make BEP a viable employment opportunity again, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation to work with these BEP vendors and with representatives of the NFB of California to achieve these goals.
The Advantages Of Using A Job Mentor
One of the most daunting tasks facing many blind people is the job search. Obtaining guidance, encouragement, and often direct contact assistance are parts of the service provided by a job mentor. This is a two part article showing various aspects of the job mentoring process. The first article, written by Jonathan Lyens, describes his experience using a mentor. Jonathan is a member of the San Francisco Chapter. The second piece, in a question and answer format, is by Bryan Bashin, who is also a member of the San Francisco Chapter and is the mentor who worked with Jonathan Lyens.
How the NFB Sponsors National Legislation – The Washington Seminar
Most bills deal with: education, technology, and social security. Frequently our members have arranged for legislators to sponsor our bills. At other times we support or oppose legislation in progress. Whatever the case may be with the current issues at the time, the National Federation of the Blind plays an effective role at the Capitol each year.
Meet the Blind Month
Every year chapters and individuals are encouraged to find ways to help the general public better understand blindness and our organization. The following article describes the recent effort of the Channel Islands Chapter. Gail Paulson is the President and with other chapter members organized this outstanding chapter event.
Jana Littrell Receives 2007
Jacobus tenBroek Award:
Profile of an Outstanding Federationist
Jana was born Jana Trout in Bakersfield, California. In early infancy she was declared to be blind due to blood clots in her eyes. Her parents still live in Bakersfield.
California Participates in the First NFB Youth Slam
On July 30, 200 blind high school students arrived at Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, Maryland to learn about Science Technology Math and Engineering while working for a week with blind mentors from the National Federation of the Blind. They built models of bridges, weather balloons, fired rockets, dissected sharks, and learned about the NFB philosophy. Students had the chance to learn about opportunities for blind people to participate in careers in science and math and had a lot of fun.
Why Use the Word "Blind"?
Most of us in the Federation know Jim Omvig. He worked first as a lawyer and later with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission For The Blind. He also headed the Blindness Rehabilitation Program for the state of Alaska. He has written many articles for the Braille Monitor and published three books in the last five years. I had the pleasure of working with Jim on our most recent book – Education and Rehabilitation For Empowerment.
The following resolutions were passed during the 2007 convention of the NFB of California. The Resolutions Committee was chaired by Jim Willows. The convention was held in Sacramento, October 25 – 28.
WHEREAS, the Federal Randolph-Sheppard Act gives priority to blind vendors to operate vending facilities in public buildings, and
WHEREAS, the California Orientation Center for the Blind (OCB) has a capacity of 36 students with about 30 students being ideal for the current teaching staff, and
WHEREAS, in recent years the student population has rarely exceeded 20 students with just over ten students being not unknown, and
WHEREAS, several committees and informal groups within the Department and in the blind consumer community have discussed the lack of referrals to OCB by Department counselors with little unanimity of opinion other than that the teaching staff does well and is not the problem, and
WHEREAS, one of the prime strengths of categorical services as established by SB 105 is to facilitate communication of the OCB Administrator and OCB-RCB with counselors within Blind Field Services and with generalist counselors with blind case loads, and
WHEREAS, we do not believe that the OCB Administrator and OCB-RCB have taken full advantage of these lines of communication; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, that this organization call upon the Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation to investigate the low attendance at OCB and to take action to utilize OCB fully.
WHEREAS, since the start of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program of the Social Security Administration (SSA), California has supplemented the SSI payment with a statuary State Supplement Program (SSP), and
WHEREAS, this SSI/SSP payment has kept thousands of aged, blind and disabled persons out of homeless and helpless living conditions, and
WHEREAS, the State Legislature and Governor's office appear to often use the SSP Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) as a "budget fix" in fiscally poor years, and
WHEREAS, in the 2007 fiscal crisis these bodies actually passed legislation delaying the COLA by several months, and
WHEREAS, we believe it is time the Legislature and the Governor stop solving its fiscal problems by eliminating or cutting the SSP/COLA received by the blind and disabled citizens of California; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, That this organization call upon the Governor and State Legislature to solve California’s fiscal crises in a manner other than upon the backs of our aged, blind and disabled citizens by not disrupting their SSP COLA payments.
WHEREAS, the California School for the Blind (CSB) was founded in 1860 in the City of San Francisco to provide a broad spectrum of academic and blindness skills courses for blind students in California, and
WHEREAS, CSB quickly established a high standard of teaching excellence for blind students, a standard maintained through subsequent moves of the school to Berkeley and then to Fremont, and
WHEREAS, we of the blindness community continue to recognize the need for residential schools for the blind because mainstreaming or full inclusion of students in their home school districts allows for far too many of our blind youth to fail to obtain the education they need for success in life, and
WHEREAS, some states are considering combining their residential schools for the blind with other facilities, and
WHEREAS, we believe that this option would be a catastrophic blow to our blind students if attempted in California; now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, that this organization urge officials of the California Department of Education to work to expand and improve facilities at the California School for the Blind in order to show their knowledge and recognition of the needs of California's blind students.
Kelleher and Brawley
WHEREAS, Dr. Dennis Kelleher is retiring as the consultant for blind students in the State Department of Education, and
WHEREAS, Mr. Rod Brawley is retiring as Manager of the Clearing House for Specialized Materials and Technology for blind students in the State Department of Education, and
WHEREAS, both of these men have done stellar jobs in their work within and outside the Department, and
WHEREAS, The Department has recognized the importance of these jobs by filling the vacancies without delay; now therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, that this organization commend Dennis Kelleher and Rod Brawley for their fine work for blind children and that we further commend officials of the Department of Education for continuing to recognize the importance of these jobs for blind students and their families.