State Convention Update
By Tiffany Manosh
Tiffany is a member of the NFB of California Board of Directors, President of the River City Chapter, and Chair of the planning committee for the upcoming State Convention
The NFB of California State Convention will take place October 16th to October 19th, 2008 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Irvine California. To make a reservation please call the hotel at 949-863-1999. Please be aware that the cut off date for hotel reservations is October 2nd 2008. The room rates are $89 for single and doubles.
The theme for this year’s convention is A Community for Tomorrow and Beyond. Some of the highlights for the convention are the Open Board Meeting Thursday evening with a meet and great the President social hour after the board meeting. On Friday evening we will host the first ever NFBC Idol. If interested in participating please contact Juliet Cody. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her phone number is 760-480-1265. There will also be a Costume Contest being held in conjunction with the Idol put on by the California Association of Blind Students. This will be an evening you will not want to miss!
The convention committee has decided to try something different at this year’s convention. On Saturday afternoon we will have breakout sessions. There will be four sessions which will include Employment, Information for Parents, Philosophy, and Technology.
We are honored to have Dr. Joanne Wilson as our National Representative. Dr. Wilson has held several distinguished positions. She was the Director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Agency and now is Director of Affiliate Action for the National Center in Baltimore. Dr. Wilson is a creative and dynamic individual who will provide the keynote speech for the Saturday evening banquet.
For registration information, contact the NFBC state office at: Phone: (818) 342-6524 Toll Free: (877) 558-6524 email@example.com
By Ed Vaughan, 2nd Vice President of the NFB of California, & Editor of this journal – The Review
You may send articles or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Jacobus tenBrook in a nationally broadcast radio address of a speech made at the National Federation of the Blind convention in 1952 in Nashville, Tennessee observed that the most important thing about blindness is not blindness itself but negative attitudes and images about blindness that pervade every society.
This brings us squarely up against the second of our crucial terms: “the blind.” What does it mean? According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the word “blind” means, first of all, “sightless.” But it also means (and I quote) “2.Lacking discernment; unable or unwilling to understand or judge; as blind to faults. 3. Made without reason or discrimination; as, a blind choice. 4. Apart from intelligent direction or control; as, blind chance. 5. Insensible; as a blind stupor; hence drunk. 6. Made without knowledge or guidance or judgment; as a blind purchase. Braille Monitor, July 2008, Volume 51, Number 7, p. 501.
Dictionary usage has changed little. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan in many articles and speeches also describes the harmful consequences of negative images and stereotypes of blindness.
All of us learn to think about blindness with words and concepts that we acquire from others in our culture. There are images about blindness that abound in our culture and have been here for hundreds or even thousands of years. There are also ideas about blindness that have been created by professionals or researchers who study blindness or provide services to blind people.
I have been a self-conscious observer of the way people talk about blindness for more than fifty years, for example, blind as a bat, go into blind alleys, hit on their blind side, blindsided, and even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. You could probably add many more examples to this list. On several occasions over the past twenty years, the NFB has opposed the negative portrayal of blindness in films and television shows. For example, Resolution 9 passed at the 2007 National Convention of the NFB dealt with the negative portrayal of blindness in a recent novel and related film: “WHEREAS, the book entitled Blindness, by Jose Saramago, has now been adapted as a screenplay to be directed by Fernando Meirelles, the filming beginning this summer with an anticipated release of next spring; and WHEREAS, the plot of the book perpetuates society’s fears and misconceptions of blindness in the worst possible manner... Earlier we mentioned that blind people themselves internalize and learn to think about themselves, with images of blindness from popular culture. For example, a recent novel by James Patterson (2006, Little, Brown & CO.) includes a comment about blindness offered by a blind man himself. Most of Patterson’s many novels are situated in the San Francisco area and feature multiple serial killers doing numerous foul deeds. For a reason that escapes me, the author includes two pages about a blind store keeper who is shot by an unknown assailant. The blind man never appears again in the novel and is not important to the plot. Yet, Mr. Patterson includes the following dialogue - “Imagine. The little prick shooting a blind man,” Officer Larry Petroff said to his partner. “Legally blind,” Leo Harris called out from inside the ambulance. “Legally blind is not totally in the dark.” Thinking of blindness as being “totally in the dark” is a frequently encountered attitude that the NFB continually tries to change. Blind people I know seldom think of themselves as being in the dark. They experience the world in a different way including enormous degrees of complexity and refinement.
As amusing as it sometimes is to observe this use of language, one cannot forget such images are usually negative. Surveys have shown that blindness is one of the most feared conditions, second only to cancer. In popular thinking there is simply no substitute for normal vision. Blindness represents helplessness, dependency, and an impoverished experience of reality.
Such images of blindness make it very difficult for newly blinded people to see beyond all of their fears and negative images. A common definition of blindness frequently discussed by Kenneth Jernigan is that you are blind if you do things differently due to the absence of normal vision. Even though you possess some degree of residual vision, in the long run you cannot “pass”. You will be treated by others as if you are a blind person. We still use “partially sighted” or “high partial” to describe varying amounts of residual vision. Such people often have a difficult time using the word blind because of the deep negative imagery that pervades our society. On the opposite end of word usage is the National Federation of the Blind philosophy, that blindness is a characteristic that some of us manifest and that with proper education this condition can be reduced to a nuisance. In this philosophy blind people, whether or not they have any residual vision, can participate in the full array of human experiences. This is not to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, because blindness does result in frustrating experiences and some degree of limited life choices. But, with a positive philosophy, blind can be as beautiful as any other human characteristic.
I mentioned that a second source of images about blindness are those contributed by some professionals and some researchers during the past seventy years in the United States. These reflect negative societal images, but “dressed up” in more complicated language buttressed by claims about science. In this article I will illustrate one recent example of this – the development of people first language. From the editorial concerns of academic journals to the opinions of individual educators and some agency directors, I encounter a continuing agenda for bringing uniformity in the language used to describe disabled people. Proponents would have everyone use people-first language, such as "people who are blind" or “people with blindness” rather than "blind people. By so doing they claim to focus on the whole person rather than the disability. In April, 1993 an agency executive, expressing his concern for uniform usage, wrote to Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, "The point is that the language is now putting people first rather than our disability." In that same month, in a meeting of the editorial board of a major journal in the field of rehabilitation, a prominent educator argued that the blindness field should "get on with it." I have also received specific instruction from journal editors to use the preferred language--"people who are blind." The issue has become so important to some that it has even led to “empirical” research published in major journals. For example, in an article by Jan La Forge (1991) which tabulated the use of preferred language in all articles in three major rehabilitation journals in 1988, she concluded that, despite fifteen years of professional effort, preferred language is used only about fifty percent of the time (p. 50). Using the preferred language-- persons first--puts the so-called correct user on the side of humanity and human rights--surely a good place to be. However, near the end of her research, she includes what I judge to be a crucial observation: "We do not even have data to support the claim, and belief, that those who are disabled themselves prefer what is now called nondisabling language" (p. 51). Most of the arguments I have encountered are put forward by the proponents of preferred language, who are so immersed in their crusade that they do not even demonstrate an awareness of other points of view. But these other views, the subject of this paper, make the people-first crusade appear not very holy and perhaps even harmful. Sometimes preferred language is rejected for literary reasons; it is awkward, tiresome, and repetitive, and it makes articles needlessly long. In a 1993 Braille Monitor article, Kenneth Jernigan observed “It is also a perfect example of the pretentious euphemisms that characterize almost everything we do and say.”
Reading repetitions of the phrases "persons who are blind" or "people who are visually impaired" becomes tiresome to anyone after ten to fifteen occurrences. This criticism is certainly on the mark; however, it is the least significant of the arguments against the preferred language crusade. I wonder if the proponents of people-first language believe that putting disabled people first on the printed page accomplishes anything in the real world? Does it alter attitudes, professional or otherwise, about disabilities? What is their evidence? The awkwardness of the preferred language calls attention to a person as having some type of "marred identity" (Goffman, 1963). There are at least two ways to look at this issue. First, the awkwardness of the preferred language focuses on the disability in a new and potentially negative way. In common usage positive pronouns usually precede nouns. We do not say, "people who are beautiful," "people who are handsome," "people who are intelligent," etc. Under the guise of the preferred language crusade, we have focused on disability in an ungainly new way but have done nothing to educate anyone or change anyone's attitudes. Second, we are told that preferred usage will cause us to focus on the whole person. In the best of all possible worlds, where ignorance, stereotypes, and advantages over others do not exist, this might be the case. But until we reach that condition, might it not be preferable to use language that reflects the actual experiences of most disabled people? In interaction with others, disabilities are almost never ignored. Disabled people learn to manage such situations. If we are going to expend this concentrated effort, why not launch a broader-based, more substantive crusade which would change images and ideas about conditions that are sometimes frightening and seldom well understood? For example, why not work on changing the connotations of what it means to be blind--to challenge old understandings with new insights about blindness? Many blind people are proud of the accomplishments of their brothers and sisters. Just as black became beautiful, blind is no longer a symbol of shame. To say, "I am blind" or "I am a blind person" no longer seems negative to many, particularly those groups with existential interest in the topic. Finally, in the broadest sense this issue is a political one. From the first book of the Judeo/Christian Bible to the work of Michel Foucault, giving a name is important and suggests domination (Vaughan, 1993, pp. 115-142). There are many different kinds of people with various disabilities. Some groups may have progressed more than others in their effort to redefine their situations in the wider society. Some individuals and groups of individuals wish to name themselves (or at least not have new labels, preferred usage, created for them by experts who would do them good.) So why the current people-first language crusade? Why not respect the wishes and diversity of many directly involved individuals and consumer groups? Is this not in part what empowerment is about? No one objects to other people's use of awkward phrases such as "persons with blindness," if they want to be tedious writers. But isn't it pretentious to make such convolutions the preferred or politically correct constructions? I know that many well-meaning professionals will disagree and wonder how anyone could question the benevolence of the preferred language crusaders. To me, however, this is a measure of their isolation from the very thinking and actions within disability groups that hold the greatest prospect for changing attitudes and behavior. The concept of preferred language is merely academic--in the worse sense of the term. It means very little with respect to anything of consequence in the everyday world. References Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. La Forge, Jan. 1991. Preferred language practice in professional rehabilitation journals. The Journal of Rehabilitation, 57 (1):49-51. (January, February, March) Vaughan, C. Edwin. 1993. The Struggle of Blind People for Self- Determination; the Dependency-Rehabilitation Conflict; Empowerment in the Blindness Community. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.
Dancing to Dallas
By Jim Rosso
Member of the Channel Islands Chapter
My name is Jim Rosso. I was born totally blind. Ever since I was ten years old, I’ve always wanted to learn how to dance, but a dance teacher said that I couldn’t learn, so she refused to teach me. Deep in my heart, even though she said I couldn’t learn how to dance, I felt like I was capable of learning.
When I became an adult, I was still eager to learn to dance. I finally found a dance instructor who was willing to teach me; Patricia Monico at the House of Dance in Ventura, California. Patricia taught me how to do the Swing, Waltz, and Rumba.
Two months after I started dance lessons, I told Patricia that I was interested in attending the 2008 National Federation of the Blind Convention in Dallas, Texas. Patricia offered to donate her House of Dance Studio so that I could have a fundraising dance. Patricia contacted Arc of Ventura County and they joined her in hosting the fundraiser. Arc is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1954 that provides educational, vocational and residential services for people with developmental disabilities.
Many people from the community donated a number of door prizes for the fundraiser. We had a large crowd that included people from the Channel Islands Chapter of the NFB, students from the House of Dance, a representative from the local community college, representatives from the Arc of Ventura County, family members and friends.
Before the party, everyone had the opportunity to learn how to dance. After the pre-party dance lesson, I sang a solo to start the event. After the solo, I started dancing. People had to pay to dance with me. Most of all, it was a blast! It was a huge success, and most of my funds were raised to attend my first NFB convention. This was an awesome way for blind people to learn how to dance and for sighted people to feel comfortable dancing with blind people.
The fundraiser was a day that I will never forget. It inspired me because deep down in my heart, I was proving to myself and the world that I was capable and able to learn how to dance. If you want to see my pictures, log onto www.pmhouseofdance.com.
Report On Northern California Leadership Development Seminar
By Ken Volonte
Saturday, March 29 was the perfect day for a workshop on leadership. It was crisp and cool while the Theater Building at the California School for the Blind buzzed with activity as Federationists from all over Northern California met to discuss, formulate and plan.
The workshop was presented by Ron Gardner from Utah, a dynamic lawyer who quizzed us all through the day about what we thought, and how we would measure our progress through the next few years. It was exciting! Ron is also President of the Utah affiliate of the NFB.
It was exciting not the least because the make up of the group was very different than in previous years. In the past, these groups had been composed of chapter presidents from all over the state and handling such a sizable group had been somewhat unwieldy.
By contrast, this group of leaders and future leaders included chapter presidents, but also many people who worked very diligently behind the scenes to get things done. Participants included people who sold candy, persons just blinded and working through their own adjustment issues, and college students full of energy and enthusiasm for the projects they would take on.
We had been given questions to answer before the workshop. Some of us felt like this was homework, which it was. We used the questions to think more carefully about who we were as leaders and how we fit into this diverse group of blind people from all walks of life and experience.
Here’s what I found out about myself. I’ve been in this federation for more than thirty years, but I don’t like to take chances. Too often, I opt for the safe course, the course which has been done before. Now that I know this, I may change.
Everybody wanted to increase their chapter’s membership. There were many reasons stated for this: increased power, credibility, and community sense. These are all good reasons, but at the core we wanted more people in our chapters in order to give blind people more hope to better their lives. Ron Gardner called it “all about me”. That’s synonymous for maximum emotional empowerment. This spreading and delegating would make the work of the federation so much easier because we would all be pulling in the same direction.
We developed short and long term objectives for our state and local chapters. We focused on three areas: increasing Braille literacy, decreasing unemployment for the blind, and putting together an NFB corps to start and strengthen chapters. This is what we’re going to be working on at the state level.
Also, we discussed the importance of making contacts with the media. Suppose that Jim is starting a new chapter in San Jose. He would invite friends from the area who might be interested in learning about the federation. He would also invite the media. A new chapter would be an important event in the lives of blind people in the South Bay. The same holds true for any program the chapter might sponsor. The media should be invited, or given stories featuring blind people doing their jobs in the community. Will all of the stories be used? Probably not, but if your local paper or TV station has fifteen stories from your chapter, chances are that they can use one or two of them.
At noon, we broke for a quick pizza buffet. Twenty minutes later we were back to work.
We separated into three small groups where we discussed the topics of Braille literacy, unemployment, and chapter building and strengthening through the NFB corps. What came out of all of this work were plans for more Braille workshops for parents of blind children and a commitment to work with San Francisco State University and Cal State Los Angeles to help produce more teachers of Braille. The group on employment will hold at least two workshops on how to get a job - bring your resume.
The chapter building group will be traveling up and down the state. They will work in eight cities and towns to organize and build chapters, bringing hope to blind people all across the state.
This workshop was a lot of work and a lot of fun. It was great to see so many friends again. With our batteries recharged, we headed home knowing that we members of the National Federation of the Blind really are a family.
Mobility: Kyra Prepares for High School
by Barbara Mathews
Barbara Mathews is a member of the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the President of the California Parents of Blind Children Chapter of the NFB of California. Her family lives in Santa Monica. This article first appeared in the current issue of Future Reflections – Volume 27 Number 2
My daughter, Kyra Sweeney, will start high school in a few months. It’s a huge school with three thousand students and multiple buildings spread out over a couple of acres. So mobility is on our minds.
We all like to tout the skills and accomplishments of our children (and, implicitly, I suppose, our own). Well, here’s an admission: mobility is not Kyra’s greatest skill. We have a couple of excuses. One is that she seems to have inherited my sense of direction, or lack thereof. Those “You are Here” signs just confuse me. And at our vacation home in the mountains, I swear the sun rises in the west. Another reason is even harder to admit. It’s that we’re busy. We’re often in a hurry. It’s usually quicker just to guide her.
But I’m not really concerned about how she’ll get around in high school. Why not? Because, with the help of the NFB, we have actually been preparing for a long time. Here are some steps along the way that I remember most vividly.
Wake-Up Call at Convention: When Kyra was four, we attended the NFB national convention in Dallas. It took place in a big hotel in the middle of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport. The hotel is no longer there, but some readers may remember the long, long hallway connecting the two towers. We were walking down that hallway. Kyra was holding my hand. Along came a blind mom and her blind daughter, who was probably under two years old. They were not holding hands. The daughter was walking independently using a cane. She seemed to be having fun walking by herself. They passed by us. I realized I was doing something wrong. Kyra was already behind where she should be. We bought an NFB cane and, since that day, Kyra has not left the house without her cane.
Big Step into Middle School: Three years ago, we were preparing for Kyra’s transition to middle school. It’s also a big, sprawling school with twelve hundred kids. She was coming from a small elementary school where she had more help than she needed, or we wanted her to have, from staff and friends. Three things made a difference in developing her independence. First, we developed an IEP goal that she would have mobility lessons on campus during the summer. She went every day during the week before school started to learn her way around. Second, we had it written into the IEP that she would get her class schedule before school started, so that her mobility lessons could include learning the routes to her classes. For reasons that escape me, getting the class schedule early is always harder than it should be. But we kept after the counselor, and got the schedule a bit early. Finally, and most importantly, Kyra was motivated to learn. She did NOT want an aide or a classmate guiding her from class to class.
I will never forget the first day I dropped her off and watched her walk by herself down a long, outdoor corridor. I wondered if she would remember where to make the left turn toward the classroom. She did. I was very proud.
Taking Ownership: Kyra recently returned from her eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. When she, together with two good friends, boarded the plane to come home, the flight attendant tried to take her cane, saying “Your nice friends can help you.” They all laughed; Kyra said, “No, thank you,” and they proceeded down the aisle. When she told me about it, I said, “You should have said, ‘They won’t be able to help me if they’re dead.’” But we agreed that might have sounded a little harsh. I was really thinking, “All those times I embarrassed even myself by insisting that she keep the cane with her--it paid off; the lesson did sink in!” And beyond that, even her friends get it.
Finally, we have not depended entirely on school mobility lessons to teach travel skills. Summer is a great time to take advantage of other opportunities to learn. When Kyra was ten, she first went to Buddy Camp at BLIND, Inc. She went for two more summers. This summer she is planning to go to the middle school program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. It’s a great way to make friends, as well as to boost mobility skills. [Note: Both of these programs are owned and operated by the National Federation of the Blind.]
Here are some lessons learned:
Have your child start using the cane when she is very young. It will become a habit before she realizes it’s “different.”
Convey a positive attitude about the cane. Help the people around her understand that the cane is not only essential; it’s a symbol of independence and pride. When people call it her “stick,” I say, politely I hope, that it’s called a cane, then go on to respond to whatever point they’ve raised. It’s a matter of respect. It’s also a matter of remembering that part of “changing what it means to be blind” is teaching others. Our children are ambassadors from the blind community to the sighted world.
Take the time to let the child travel independently. There’s a story about an old man walking through the forest who sees a young man cutting down trees for firewood. He watches a while, then says, “Young man, if you’d sharpen that saw, you could get the job done faster and better.” The young man responds, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. I have to get this all done by sundown.” When we are impatient, and we don’t take the time to let the child learn and explore moving around independently, we’re not thinking logically about the future.
Be a pest about the mobility lessons and “cane rights.” It’s hard sometimes to keep after educators. It takes time to learn about the rights you have. But it’s worth it, and sets a good example of self-advocacy skills that your child will need when she leaves home. An aside on that: No school or mobility instructor has the right to tell your child what kind of cane to use or when she can use it. You should buy the cane (or canes--having a spare around comes in handy) yourself. Canes are not expensive. They are easy to order from the NFB Independence Market (
By the way, and this is especially important in the teen years, Kyra’s friends have opinions on which canes are “cool.” Needless to say, the sleek long white NFB cane is cool; those short heavy canes are not.
Kyra’s IEP meeting is coming up soon. I have requested that an administrator from the high school be present so that we can include provisions for getting her class schedule early and mobility lessons on campus before school starts. I’m prepared to work through the summer to make sure the promises are carried out. And on September 2, I plan to drop her off at school at 7:00 a.m. and watch her head off to her first class--probably Marching Band--with her backpack, her lunch, her flute, and her cane.
Training with a New Guide Dog – Vacation or Work?
By Robert Stigile, President
National Federation of the Blind of California
Recently, I decided that it was time to retire my guide dog and get a new one. This was a little harder than the previous time, for the dog was only eight years old. Sometimes a dog will decide that they want to stop working, and you will see those signs, such as slowing down when working. Or after a few trips during the day, they will not want to go out any more and will hang their head instead of being excited to go.
So I gave my dog to a friend as a retired pet and went off to guide dog school, where I would train with a new dog for three weeks. Some have wondered why I had to train with a new dog; some thought that it was more a vacation then a few weeks of training, but let me tell you it was no picnic.
When you arrive at school, it is on a Sunday. You immediately have a lecture about the basic concepts of getting a dog. You sign a lot of paperwork and you also have time to get acquainted with the dorm area and your room. The next couple of days, you will work with a trainer, learning to use the harness, basic turns such as left and right, how to correct a dog, and more.
On the evening of the second day, the trainers talk to you about what they believe will be a good match as far as dogs. They ask you what you think, so it is a balance between you and the trainers as far as what dog you will receive. However they have already picked out two or three dogs they feel will match your posture, balance, pace and more.
On the morning of day three, along with several lectures, you continue to work with the trainer in order to master some of the techniques you will need to work with your dog. In the afternoon you receive your dog, and then spend the rest of the day bonding with it.
In the evening you perform “heeling” exercises, walking up and down the dorm area with your dog at your side, showing the dog that it must stay in that position as you walk.
The next several days you spend out in an area near the school, learning to walk down the street with your dog, making left turns at each corner, then walking down another sidewalk and making more left turns. The afternoon will be spent reversing the route so that you perform right turns only. Again in the evening, you perform about an hour of heeling practice and attend many lectures on different topics related to owning a guide dog.
Each day you graduate to new levels, so that by the end of the week you are walking routes with left and right turns and crossing streets. When you start the second week you will be walking approximately 4 to 6 miles a day, making moving turns, crossing streets and even working in pairs so that the dogs get use to working with another dog next to them. There are several lectures in the evening, along with more heeling and other exercises that must be practiced.
Towards the end of the second week or the beginning of the third week, you work with your dog in malls, learning to travel on escalators, maneuver through stores, restaurants and much more. The training takes place between 8:00 am and 9:30 pm Monday through Saturday.
Of course there are three meals a day and there is some down time, but usually that time is spent brushing your dog, playing with it, or taking a nap. So although some may think it is a vacation, there is a lot to learn. For those of us who are retrains, it is even harder, because we have own traits from working with previous dogs that must be altered. Until that happens, the new dog has a hard time working properly, but it must be done in order for the new dog to work well with its new master.
I am hoping that my new Yellow Lab named Rose will work a long time, because it is definitely a hard job getting a new dog.
California School for the Blind
By Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent
What’s so special about this special school?
During these tough economic times with schools planning for massive budget cuts, I am often asked by policy-makers and persons in a position to make funding recommendations regarding the California School for the Blind, “What’s different about services at your school when compared with public schools?” and “Why would someone refer a child to your school anyway?”
These are questions that I continually try to answer for myself and our constituents because after almost 150 years, the California School for the Blind (CSB) must remain relevant to our state’s service deliver system. And we do so by continually re-examining our practices, listening to our stakeholders, and evolving to meet the changing needs of our students and our community.
CSB’s services are different from local schools in a few defining ways.
Finding Her Way
By Pat Sherman
Escondido woman overcomes blindness via education and enthusiasm