[Central-md-chapter] Spring 2019 Braille Spectator
president at nfbmd.org
president at nfbmd.org
Fri Apr 12 03:30:00 UTC 2019
Braille Spectator, Spring 2019
THE BRAILLE SPECTATOR, Spring 2019.
A semi-annual publication of the National Federation of the Blind of
Ronza Othman and Sharon Maneki, co-editors.
Published on <http://www.nfbmd.org/> www.nfbmd.org and on NFB Newsline by
The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
Ronza Othman, President.
Comments and questions should be sent to President at nfbmd.org
<mailto:President at nfbmd.org> .
In this issue:
The Future Is Ours
The Road Less Traveled in the National Federation of the Blind
A Lasting Legacy: Remembering Rachel Olivero
Can I Have an ABLE Account if I am Forty-Fifty-Sixty Years Old?
Living The Lives They Want: How Do Blind and Sighted Spouses Make It Work?
Chapter Spotlight: The Sligo Creek Chapter, Then and Now
Senior Spotlight: Bryan Holley
Nothing About Us Without Us: The Federation Edition
Blind Marylanders sue Walmart, saying self-serve checkouts violate ADA
Student Spotlight: Jason Polansky - Living the Life He Wants
The Legacy of Change
Celebrating Louis Brailles Birthday, Maryland Style
The Future Is Ours
By Ronza Othman
[Editors Note: Ronza Othman was elected as the President of the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland at the 2018 Annual State Convention in
November. She gave the following remarks to the Convention as a means of
sharing her background and commitment to the Federation with our members.]
I am blind. Those words are three of the most liberating words in the
English language. But for many of us, they are some of the scariest words
in the English language. Some of us need to hear them hundreds of times
before we realize those words apply to us. Some of us need to literally
fall in a hole and we still wont realize they apply to us. But thanks to
the National Federation of the Blind, those words are liberating an anthem
of freedom that pierces the anxiety and frustration of trying to do things
the sighted way when you have little or no sight.
Id like to tell you a little about me, if I may. I was one of those who
was slow to accept my blindness, and slower to use the words. I always
thought I was unique my family immigrated to the United States from
Palestine just days before I was born. I spoke almost no English when I
started school, and I was the sixth of seven kids. My family was loud,
funny, and each and every one of them is a Type A personality except me.
#Sarcasm. My mom figured out when I was a toddler that I had vision
issues and like most parents, she took me from doctor to doctor seeking a
diagnosis, a reason, and a fix.
In the Middle East and many other parts of the world, cultural and political
norms cause families of the blind to hide their disabilities, and sometimes
to hide the family members who have disabilities. The word blind has very
negative connotations, and resources dont exist, or if they do they are
inadequate. Thus, fortunately, much has changed in the last quarter-century
in much of the world. But for most refugees and immigrants, who are already
trying so hard to blend and be unnoticed in American society, having a
child with a disability such as blindness is an additional challenge.
Having said that, though the Middle Eastern culture used to hide its blind,
my mother rebelled against that notion from day 1. And so my unwillingness
to use the word blind though perhaps had some societal cause, was in no
way perpetuated by my mother or immediate family.
Yet English was my second language, and I was notoriously bad at it I kept
trying to add English endings to Arabic words, which as a little kid just
sounds bizarre. Youll still hear my accent come out when Im tired, sad,
or angry. Anyway, I went to kindergarten at my local public school where I
have fond memories of playing with blocks. That is all I remember about
I remember a test I was five so I also remember really wanting the juice
box they promised me if I finished the test and they showed me three
pictures an umbrella, an apple, and a house. I knew the words in Arabic,
but I didnt know them in English. I told the juice box people what items
were in the pictures, but apparently I did it in the wrong language no one
but me spoke Arabic apparently. And off to a resource school for the blind
I went oh and I got to repeat kindergarten too. And to add insult to
injury, the juice box wasnt even that good.
The resource school taught me to read, write, and speak English first. But
they wouldnt teach me more than rudimentary Braille or cane travel because
I had enough vision to get by without them. They gave me large print
books and I believe that is when my need for a chiropractor originally
began a six-year-old shouldnt be carrying such heavy books. I was
mainstreamed into the regular classrooms within a few months of getting
there, which made me wonder, even at age six why I had to commute 90 minutes
each way each day to just do what I would have done at my neighborhood
school. I did ask that question in English I was precocious but I
never got a satisfactory answer.
I remember a particular time when I got behind my regular class in reading
and I worked out that my classmates were using context clues from the
pictures in the book to learn words. Large print books in my day looked
like over-sized coloring books, and for a blind kid, all I saw were a bunch
of wavy lines rather disorientating. I asked my vision teacher if
someone could color in my book like the other kids so I could have usable
pictures too and Im sure that was the most fun task one vision aide
probably ever had coloring my first-grade reader. I have fond memories of
See Frog Jump as a result.
I went back to my neighborhood school after second grade and attended a
religious parochial school for junior high and high school. I got the
occasional visit from my vision itinerant, but mostly those were excuses to
skip a math quiz or visit Taco Bell. It took me longer than most to finish
my homework, and I slept very little in high school in order to keep up with
the required reading. Oh, and I was a total nerd, complete with the public
aid glasses you know them the ones that are huge plastic frames with
bifocals and my mother insisted I wear them on a string so I didnt lose
them. I didnt go out alone at night and I only went if I absolutely
trusted the person whom I was with. I realize now that the people I was
with were giving me non-visual cues, but it was clear to everyone but me
that I was blind.
All this time, when people asked me, and mind you they absolutely had to ask
I never volunteered or self-identified I would say I was visually
When I went to college, I began figuring out something was different about
me. I realized I was the only one working so hard to complete assignments.
I got a job on campus I really liked but wasnt brought back after freshmen
year because I was too slow in reading documents. I realized scantron
sheets were everywhere they are the devil and my absolute loathing for
them was disproportionate from my fellow classmates. I fell in a hole
literally walking one night I jumped out of the way of a speeding car and
ended up in a construction ditch. I hadnt even known it was there, and had
I used blindness techniques or mobility skills, Id have known of its
existence before I fell in it. I broke my ankle and two ribs. But I
insisted to anyone who would listen that I fell because of a speeding car,
not because I couldnt see well. My vernacular was changing.
I applied for scholarships with the National Federation of the Blind, and I
wish so fervently that someone had contacted me for more than the annual
interview. My college experience would have been so different and I might
have avoided that hole. I finally did receive a state scholarship in
Illinois when I was a first-year law student, and that State convention was
my first exposure to adults who were blind and who were fine with their
blindness. In fact, they were thriving.
I showed up at the convention fully planning to take the scholarship money
and run law school is expensive and really intense. But when I got to the
hotel, I saw about 100 blind people who were laughing, talking, walking,
navigating the hoteland parking loton their own, and doing what many of us
think of as basic things. But for me, this was all new. I thought I was
doing great as a low vision person, but surrounded by people who had much
less usable vision that I did, I felt like I was missing something
At that convention, I met people like Patti Chang, Debbie Stein, Fred
Schroeder, and Ryan Strunk. Fred Schroeder kept calling me Runza and it
took me three days to figure out he was teasing me by calling me the name of
his favorite Nebraska sandwich. Then he talked to me about my own as well
as cultural misconceptions about blindness - this was the beginning of a
life-long conversation the two of us have been having about blindness and
NFB philosophy. Ryan Strunk kept asking me annoying questions like But how
do you read and How do you travel? I got defensive because my answers
didnt satisfy him
or, I realized, me. I later thought long and hard about
his questions and viewed them as a challenge to learn how to work smarter,
not harder, and that meant learning blindness skills. Patti Chang showed me
that lawyering could be done as a blind person quite competently which was
something I was very anxious about and she took me under her wingwhether
I liked it or notand brought me into her family. Patti gave me one of my
first jobs as a law clerk and she worked me as hard as every sighted
employee she hadI think she worked me harder. She taught me through words
and actions what blind people could do in their liveswhat blind lawyers
could dowhat I could do. Debbie Stein gave me the gift of literacy; she
too grabbed hold of me and wouldnt let go. I tried to take the money and
run but Patti and Debbie wouldnt allow itand Debbie taught me to read
Ive been fortunate to meet thousands of Federationists since that state
convention, and Ive learned a great deal from so many of them. A
Federationist, Nathaniel Wales, put a long white cane in my hand for the
first time and taught me how to use it; I had to lose a bet to do it, but
some of us are slow learners. Federationists taught me cooking techniques.
Federationists showed me that independent air travel is not only possible
but easy. Federationists helped give me the confidence to move, alone,
across the country to Maryland. They showed me what technology is out
there. A Federationist, Joanne Wilson, helped me get my first Federal job.
Melissa Riccobono was the first friend I made when I moved to Maryland a
decade ago. I learned from Melissa to be myself, it is OK to make mistakes,
and to never stop learning. The incomparable Sharon Maneki has influenced
my life in so many ways. Ive learned that I am capable of so much more
than I thought I was. I learned that no ones brain can store as much
information as Sharons, but I like the challenge of trying to mine that
brain. Sharon is also one of the funniest people Ive ever known but her
humor is so unexpected that it takes you a minute to realize she made a
joke. Im so grateful for her faith in me as a leader, and Im more
grateful than I can ever express for her friendship and for her love.
These incredible Federationists and others helped shape me into the person I
am. They taught me self-confidence and that the word blind is not
negative but freeing. I hope to share the gift theyve given to me with
those who come after me. They showed me that with the proper skills and
attitude, the future is ours. Because of them, because of you, my fellow
Federationists, I can say with pride and confidence: my name is Ronza
Othman, and I am blind.
The Road Less Traveled in the National Federation of the Blind
By: Sharon Maneki
(Editors Note: Sharon Maneki served as the President of the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland from 1986 to 2006 and from 2014 to 2018,
in addition to holding other various leadership positions in Maryland since
1983. She has served as one of the most prominent and effective leaders in
the affiliates history, and her contributions in the areas of legislation,
advocacy, mentorship, and youth development are unparalleled. Though she
has retired from the Presidency, she continues to demonstrate tremendous
leadership in these and many other areas. Below is the Presidential Report
that Sharon gave to the 2018 Annual Convention of the National Federation of
the Blind on November 10, 2018.)
Let me begin my report to you by reading a poem.
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost claimed that he wrote this poem for a friend and fellow poet,
Edward Thomas, as a joke. When Frost was in England, he and Thomas
frequently walked in the woods. Thomas was always indecisive about which
road to take. The interesting aspect about poetry is that it can have many
interpretations. For instance, when Frost read this poem to some college
students, they did not view it as a joke; they took it very seriously. Some
critics say that this poem is about the inevitability of choice. This poem
was popular during World War I. Therefore, some view this poem as a
statement about finality because so many soldiers were unable to go back to
their home roads. Edward Thomas, the inspiration for this poem, was killed
in World War I, and could not go back to the roads of England.
Robert Frost wrote this poem in 1915, years before the National Federation
of the Blind came into existence. Even though Robert Frost was unaware of
the Federation, I think the last line of his poem is a good description of
our experience as blind people in our movement.
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Think about societys view of blindness versus that of the Federation. The
Federations view of blindness was revolutionary and certainly represented
the road less traveled. In 1963, when Dr. Kenneth Jernigan delivered his
speech entitled Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic he said,
No one is likely to disagree with me if I say that blindness, first of all,
is a characteristic. But a great many people will disagree when I go on to
say that blindness is only a characteristic. It is nothing more or less
than that. It is nothing more special, or more peculiar, or more terrible
than that suggests.
This simple concept was revolutionary because, if blindness is merely a
characteristic rather than a handicap, then blindness does not in and of
itself limit an individual in ways that are more significant than those
imposed by the combination of other characteristics that an individual may
have. Over the years, we have expanded this concept. Today we know that
blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every
day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations
create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life
you want! Blindness is not what holds you back!
I believe that choosing to join the National Federation of the Blind is
choosing the road less traveled. We could be home in bed or sitting on the
couch doing nothing. Instead, we are here at this convention supporting
each other and improving the lives of all blind people in Maryland and
across the nation. On a personal level, I recognize that joining the NFB
was one of the best decisions that I have made in my life. It has made all
the difference because of the many friendships that I have developed over
the years with each of you. We have played together, shared hopes and
dreams, and struggled to overcome obstacles. Thank you for touching my life
and making it better.
Our willingness to take the road less traveled has made all the difference
in the lives of blind people. Consider some of our accomplishments during
the past year. Our convention agenda contains a page of pictures from each
of our Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies which were
held in Baltimore, Glenn Dale, and Salisbury. These programs are one of the
most important things that we do as an NFB affiliate. Through our NFB BELL
Academies, we are loosening the bonds of illiteracy while raising
self-esteem and bolstering self-confidence. Laurel Kirby was one of the
students in our very first NFB BELL program. Today she is in college. This
past summer, Laurel took the road less traveled and volunteered in our
Baltimore NFB BELL program. We thank all our volunteers who made a
difference by touching the lives of the 25 students who attended our NFB
BELL Academies this year.
Melissa Riccobono has a beautiful singing voice. She wanted the enjoyment
of performing a concert, but took the road less traveled by also making the
concert a fund-raising event. She raised over one thousand dollars for our
NFB BELL Academies.
This year we made it possible for three middle school students to attend the
Independence 101 program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)
through our Youth Empowerment Stipend grants. These students began their
journey on the road to independence by learning blindness skills and by
overcoming their fears of blindness. At our banquet tonight, we will award
John T. McCraw Scholarships to two deserving graduate students. Counting
tonights recipients, we will have been awarding McCraw Scholarships to
college students for 33 years. We have taken the road less traveled by
primarily funding these scholarships and grants ourselves, through our Bid
for Opportunity dinner and auction, and our crab feast.
I want to congratulate and welcome all the staff and students from BISMs
CORE and SAIL training programs who are attending this convention. Your
choice to get adjustment to blindness training will make all the difference
in your lives.
Taking the road less traveled is not easy. However, we are able to do this
because we are an organization with commitment and synergy. In his 2018
banquet address entitled, Authenticity, Diversity, and the Synergy of the
Organized Blind President Riccobono offered the following definition of
synergy by Stephen Covey:
Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a
thousand! Its the profound result when two or more respectful human beings
determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.
We can take the road less traveled because of the synergy of the National
Federation of the Blind.
Our work with the Maryland General Assembly is another important part of our
mission to ensure the full integration of the blind into society. This work
involves many members. On February 22, 2018, we had to attend five hearings
at the same time:
1. Melissa Riccobono led a group who attended the House budget hearing
on the State Board of Elections (SBE).
2. Eric Duffy led a group who attended the Senate budget hearing on the
Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) to Education, Public
Information, and Commerce.
3. Ronza Othman led a group who attended the Senate Judicial
Proceedings Committee hearing on SB 823, a bill to strengthen the
enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination by places of public
4. The rest of us attended the Senate Finance Committee hearing on SB
482, a bill to provide deaf-blind individuals with greater access to
5. Then, all of us gathered at the House Health and Government
Operations Committee hearing on HB 1088, a bill to strengthen enforcement of
nonvisual access requirements.
Not too many groups could accomplish this feat. This is a tribute to the
depth of our NFB affiliate.
The road to full accessibility is long and arduous because the State of
Maryland keeps putting up barriers. When HB 1088 was heard in the House
Health and Government Operations Committee, one of the delegates remarked
that we have been complaining about the inability of Maryland to enforce
accessibility laws for years. Indeed, we have. Federationists are like
Judy Rasmussen is a state employee. She is also a member of the National
Federation of the Blind. She had the courage to take the road less traveled
by testifying in hearings about roadblocks created by the state that prevent
blind employees from doing their jobs.
It is most appropriate that our agenda also features a picture of Governor
Hogan signing HB 1088/SB 286 into law on May 15th, 2018. Maryland is the
first state in the nation to pass a law that provides for a civil penalty
against vendors who sell inaccessible information technology and information
technology services to the state. Maryland has 18 months to identify
accessibility barriers and to inform vendors of those barriers. Vendors
have a year to remedy these problems. For the first offense, vendors may be
fined up to five thousand dollars. For subsequent offenses, vendors may be
fined up to ten thousand dollars. Vendors do not have to make their
products accessible if the cost of accessibility is too high. However, the
good news is that this law raises the exemption from 5% to 15% of the cost
of each product. Although the penalty is small, it is a good beginning.
We appreciate the partnership that we have established between the Maryland
Department of Disabilities and CENA at the Jernigan Institute. A new
feature of this partnership will be the awarding of three annual fellowships
to help higher education instructors begin to include accessibility concepts
contained within the minimum areas of instruction in at least one course
offering in their institution. One award of $2,000 will be made available
to an instructor of a University System of Maryland school, or a professor
of an independent Maryland college. Two awards of $1,500 each will be made
available to instructors of all community colleges within Maryland. The
idea for these fellowships came from a work-group created by the General
Assembly in 2014 to study concepts in computer science, information systems,
and information technology programs in higher education. The National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland urged the General Assembly to create
this work-group because we recognized that we will only achieve true
accessibility if all computer science students learn about it in college so
that they can carry this knowledge into their future careers. Accessibility
must become second nature to all software developers.
At our convention last year, we applauded the Department of Disabilities for
creating a position in state government to remind agencies of their
accessibility requirements. I regret to report that the Department let the
year go by without even advertising this position. The Department should
understand that the National Federation of the Blind expects action. This
position must be filled, and the individual must not be a figurehead. He or
she must have the power to really do the job. We must not be discouraged by
When the FIRST LEGO League announced its 30th season of challenging kids to
think like scientists and engineers by building, testing, and programming an
autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® technology to solve a set of
missions in the Robot Game, some students, with the help of the Maryland
School for the Blind, were compelled to accept this challenge. They wanted
to compete on terms of equality with sighted peers from across the nation.
However, this simple desire was fraught with difficulties. Primarily the
robot building software provided to each team was inaccessible. Team
members knew instinctively to ask the NFB for help. As a result, the MSB
team was provided with alternate software which could be made accessible but
required additional loading time. Since problem solving challenges are
timed, additional loading time posed a disadvantage to the teams who must
use this alternate software. Therefore, we and MSB are insisting that FIRST
LEGO League incorporate nonvisual access into its standard software, and
that no penalties should be imposed on teams who must use the alternate
Do we have the synergy to convince Walmart to make its self-service checkout
kiosks accessible to the blind? The plaintiffs Cindy Morales, Linwood Boyd,
Melissa Sheeder, along with the Maryland affiliate and the National
Federation of the Blind, will persevere because of our commitment to take
the road less traveled.
Consider another daunting challenge; on each June 14, we celebrate Flag Day.
In 2018, members of our affiliate really demonstrated our patriotism by
protesting the Maryland State Board of Elections discriminatory practices
toward voters with disabilities. On the first day of early voting in
Marylands 2018 primary elections, 81 Federationists and our friends formed
a picket line near one of the early voting centers in Baltimore City. We
protested our loss of the secret ballot that came about when the SBE decided
to discourage voters from using the electronic ballot marking device (BMD).
The supposition that our privacy would be protected if two voters used the
BMD in every precinct, as recommended by the SBE, is a joke.
This protest is another example of taking the road less traveled. Would a
former president and leader of most organizations join us on a picket line?
I doubt it. Dr. Marc Maurer was there. President Mark Riccobono took time
from writing his banquet address for the national convention to protest with
us. Most people in their 80s would have found an excuse to stay home; not
We were successful in convincing the budget committees of the Maryland
General Assembly to ask for a report from SBE. In the Joint Chairman's
Report for Fiscal 2019 Operating and Capital Budgets, the committees
requested SBE to prepare a report to evaluate the impact of the two voters
per precinct policy on voter secrecy. Unfortunately, the report that the
General Assembly received not only had no analysis, it didnt even provide
any data about the previous elections. The report contained not a word
about the impact of how this policy affected the secrecy of ballots cast by
using the BMD.
Of course, we asked the General Assembly to get another report. Let me read
a little from a letter by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
and Disability Rights Maryland to the budget committees of the Maryland
We respectfully request that the Budget Committees of the Maryland General
Assembly immediately ask the State Board of Elections (SBE) for a follow up
report analyzing the Ballot Marking Device (BMD) usage rate during the 2018
primary election to determine if the two voter per precinct policy infringed
on any voters rights to privacy during any of the recounts. If the ballots
of any other protected class of citizen were identifiable by gender, race,
or ethnicity, for example, the General Assembly would surely insist that SBE
revise its policies.
The General Assembly did ask for another report. SBE has not complied yet.
We will get our secret ballot back because we have the synergy and the
In 2005, the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) created the Office
on Blindness and Vision Services (OBVS) to appease the National Federation
of the Blind in our quest for better services. OBVS was definitely a step
in the right direction. Unfortunately, for several reasons, many people do
not remain in the employment of state government. OBVS has difficulty
recruiting and maintaining counselors and teachers to provide services.
Consequently, OBVS does not have the level of expertise in blindness that we
think it should have. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with
DORS so that we can help improve the quality of services. We are also
embarking on a new career mentoring partnership with DORS, and we look
forward to the new opportunities for blind people that will be created by
Working with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is like
trying to escape from quicksand. In 2014, a committee of stakeholders which
included the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, reviewed and
revised certification requirements for vision teachers in Maryland. This
examination of certification and recertification requirements was mandated
in 2010 by the enactment into law of HB 413 and SB 230. Vision teacher
certification had to be reviewed and revised to meet the new Braille
standards for reading, writing, and math. We all agreed that every vision
teacher would take a Braille competency test by the time of their first
recertification. This means that teachers had five years to pass a Braille
In 2017, when we offered to pay a large portion of the cost to take the
National Certification in Unified English Braille (NCUEB) Test in
conjunction with our Braille literacy conference, there were few takers.
Nobody at MSDE bothered to tell teachers about this recertification
requirement and the Department never designated which test teachers were
supposed to take. When we investigated the problem, we were told that
everybody in the certification branch was brand new and had no idea what we
were talking about.
It pays to keep records. All of the stakeholders agreed on the necessary
actions. We had to endure more meetings to decide again what we had already
decided in 2014. The last meeting was in February. The wheels of
bureaucracy move slowly at MSDE. Because of the demands of the Federation,
the Braille competency test issue will finally be considered by the Board of
Education at its meeting on December 4, 2018. We look forward to the full
implementation of the requirement that every vision teacher in Maryland will
pass the NCUEB test by the time of their first recertification.
The future for the education of blind children will be more promising
beginning on November 26, 2018, because our own Conchita Hernandez will
become the Low Incidence Specialist and Liaison at MSDE and the Maryland
School for the Blind. Conchita knows how to take the road less traveled,
and the synergy of the National Federation of the Blind will assist her.
Because of our synergy and commitment, we have a bright future. We still
have many things to accomplish. We must make sure that all aspects of
information technology become and remain accessible to us. We must continue
to demand the right to a secret ballot that is afforded to every other
citizen in Maryland. There is a crisis in Maryland because of the shortage
of vision teachers and orientation and mobility instructors. As an NFB
affiliate, we must work with all of the stakeholders to insist that this
problem be addressed. We must find ways to recruit new teachers into the
blindness field and to make sure that they have high expectations for their
students. We must insist that the Office on Blindness and Vision Services
develop personnel with expertise in blindness so that youth, working age
adults, and seniors can obtain quality services to live the lives they want
with full participation in society.
Our work is too important not to plan for succession. I intend to follow
the example of presidential succession set forth most recently by Dr. Marc
Maurer when he stepped down from the presidency of NFB in 2014 and passed
the mantle of leadership on to President Riccobono. Like Dr. Maurer, I will
be active and be available to advise and assist if asked. As Hazel TenBroek
put it: It is impossible for me to retire from the Federation, for it runs
deep in my blood and being. I am at your service whenever you think I can
perform some useful duty.
I am confident that Ronza Othman, if we elect her tomorrow, will be an
excellent president. She knows how to take the road less traveled.
My wish for each of you as individuals, and for the Federation as a whole,
is a Latin saying that President Woodrow Wilson kept on his desk in the Oval
Office, Illegitimati carborundum. Loosely translated, it means, Dont
let the Bastards Get You be they fear, discrimination, low expectations,
or an unyielding bureaucracy. Let us continue to love and support each
other as we plan for the future. Let us continue to take the road less
traveled and it will make all the difference.
A Lasting Legacy: Remembering Rachel Olivero
By Ronza Othman
[Editors Note: It is incredibly difficult to write a memorial and tribute
to someone we admire and respect, particularly when they have been such a
vital thread in the tapestry of our lives. What follows is an attempt to do
so while sharing the essence of who one of our members wasa brilliant,
generous, compassionate person who served the organization quietly but in
One of the most difficult things in life is saying goodbye to a friend. It
is so much more difficult to say goodbye to someone when she passes away
unexpectedly at the prime of her life. It is excruciating when she is part
of our Federation family, and so much more painful when she is part of our
family of the heart. Little eases the shock and grief, and I, like many of
you, miss Rachel Olivero every day; nonetheless, if we are lucky, we will
leave a lasting legacy like she did. She embodied our motto of love, hope,
and determination, and she worked so diligently to advance the movement.
Though Rachel isnt with us any longer, her spirit and the fruits of her
labor will live on.
Rachel was born on September 22, 1982, and passed away on February 3, 2019,
at the age of 36. She moved to Maryland the first time in 2007, where she
worked at the National Federation of the Blind as an Access Technology
Specialist. She left Maryland temporarily in 2012 for Nebraska, where she
handled accessibility for a large health insurance company. She moved back
to Maryland in early 2015, where she became the Director of Organizational
Technology at the NFB. Rachel worked on emergency management and response
in her spare time.
Rachel was in charge of the HAM Radio Group and managed the assistive
listening program at National Convention. She was the Chair of the Web and
Technology Committee for the NFB of Maryland. She managed State Convention
registration and the affiliates contacts database. She filled whatever gap
was needed whenever she was needed, and she did so cheerfully and with
I met Rachel Olivero nearly 15 years ago when a mutual friend introduced us
to one another because he thought we shared a similar snarky sense of humor.
Rachel was one of the first people to make me a real lawyer by giving me
$1.00 to retain my services. Really, she wanted to have me on retainer so I
couldnt share her secrets. I gave her that same $1.00 right back so I
could have her on retainer for technology help. Needless to say, I got much
more value out of that $1.00 than she did. Ive learned that there are
literally hundreds of people to whom she provided technology assistance.
We read several of the Harry Potter books together. Even though we lived in
different states at the time, we coordinated our shopping excursions at
midnight to get the books every time they were released so we could get back
for a group read-a-thon. She was one of the masterminds behind NFB Quest at
National Convention, which is a scavenger hunt somewhat similar to what
Harry Potter experiences in Book 4, but Rachel was still in search of
dragons for NFB Quest.
When I got hired by the Federal government in 2008, I decided to live in
Baltimore instead of Washington, DC, mostly because Rachel was already
there. I knew Id have a built-in support system in Baltimore. Shortly
after I got to town, Rachel and I established Greys Anatomy night every
Thursday. We got together to watch Greys Anatomy, we dissected the medical
procedures that were featured on the show (I was pre-med as an undergraduate
and Rachel was an emergency management fanatic), and then we ordered and ate
Chinese food, every single week. Later, we took a first responders course
together, where she encouraged me to pump the baby harder; shes just a
doll. Rachel and I both were first points of contact for medical
emergencies related to Federation events, and we ate Chinese to unwind after
an emergency every time.
I often had Rachel over for dinner, but she wasnt very adventurous in terms
of what she was willing to eat, or so she claimed. I cook Middle Eastern
cuisine most often, as that is my background, so I usually made steak and
potatoes for Rachel. She never disappointed thoughshe would have some of
the steak and potatoes, but she would also have some of whatever the rest of
us were eating, and she either liked it or she pretended really well.
Rachel was a genuinely nice person, and there is not one single person who
has a negative thing to say about her. That attitude manifested in her
committee work, her job, her interactions with stakeholders, and her
willingness to eat food she may or may not have liked.
Rachels favorite thing in the entire universe was pie, and if she was able
to have peanut butter pie, all was right in her world. If she could have
Cherry Coke too, then she was on cloud 9. She was generally a very cheerful
person, but if you gave her pie and Cherry Coke, she would go into orbit.
She also liked 3.14 and used it when she wrote code or did math as much as
Rachel and I liked going shopping in my closet. I have a shopping problem
in that I buy a lot of things and never wear them. Rachel enjoyed giving me
a fashion show, and usually the clothes looked better on her anyway. In the
last three or so years, she really came to understand who she was and who
she wanted to be. Those who are lucky enough to do so tend to be content in
life, and those who are happy with who they are have an advantage over
everyone else because they can focus outward instead of inward.
Rachel was very protective of technology, and I had a hate-hate relationship
with most of it. And yet, she did not get annoyed with me when I cussed and
fussed about technology. She patiently waited me out and then calmly taught
me what I needed to know. She only mocked me a little when the issue was
due to user error. Her skill as a trainer was unparalleled.
Rachel, some friends, and I had a tradition that we would spend New Years
together. This was particularly difficult when some of us lived on the East
Coast and some of us lived in Hawaii. We managed to celebrate the ball drop
in each time zone together via Skype a couple of years, and Rachel devised a
playlist for all six hours. The playlist was silly and perfect at the same
time. This was the spark that led to musical introductions at National
Convention for speakers and a soundtrack before and after sessions.
Rachel came to my job to teach a group of individuals how to use a
Deaf-Blind Communicator so the Randolph Sheppard vendors can communicate
with deaf employees. Even though this certainly would have been within the
scope of her job, she took leave to do this. She did whatever it took to
make sure people received proper training on technology, and she always had
her friends backs.
One winter evening, Rachel asked me to help her with a project. Since
Rachel rarely asked for help with anything, I agreed to help without knowing
what the task was. The two of us ended up climbing out two adjacent seventh
story windows so that we could run antenna wire to one another. Neither of
us thought about the inherent dangers of hanging from the facade of a
high-rise in Baltimore City until after wed successfully run the wiring.
But that point, as Rachel put it, its already done. So we watched Greys
Anatomy and ate Chinese. Rachels positive attitude and her resilience were
prevalent in all aspects of her life, and they were infectious.
I once bought an entertainment center from a big box store, and
unsurprisingly, it came flat-packed in a big box. Rachel helped me assemble
it, to my mothers absolute astonishment. Rachel assembled the complicated
entertainment center in about 30 minutes, which left my mother speechless.
Rachel was a quiet presence in the background doing what needed to be done
and she was successful at everything she touched, whether it was assembling
a complicated entertainment center, building a registration system for
convention, writing the code for an affiliate website, or anything else.
Rachel loved the Simpsons and could quote random lines from the shows. She
could also find an episode to compliment any life situation. When the
Simpsons movie was released, one particular scene tickled Rachel a great
deal where Homer is singing to a pig he named Spider Pig, like Spider Man.
Rachel and I loved that scene above all others. I assigned Rachel the
Spider Pig ringtone in my phone because we loved it so much. Sometimes,
when Rachel called me, she would continue singing the Spider Pig song even
after I answered just to make me laugh. Rachel found humor in every
situation and made sure her friends did too, even when we didnt want to.
Her snark and sense of the ridiculous were so perfect for every situation in
which she employed them.
It is impossible to share all of the beauty that is Rachel Olivero.
However, by sharing some of my favorite memories, I hope readers can get a
sense of who she was and, if they knew her, remember their own stories.
Rachel embodied the Federation spirit. She was love personified, hope
manifested, and determination exemplified. She lived the life she
wantedbut more importantly to her, she worked diligently to ensure that her
colleagues, friends, Federation family, and the blind everywhere lived the
lives they wanted. Rachels legacy lives in the technology she built, the
training she gave, the staff she led, the policies she developed, the lives
she saved, the people she helped, the guidance she provided, and the
memories we made. Her legacy is endless, and we are so lucky to have had
the opportunity to know her and have had her as part of our Maryland
Can I Have an ABLE Account if I am Forty-Fifty-Sixty Years Old?
By Albert Elia
(Editors Note: Recently, Congress enacted legislation that permitted the
blind, and others with disabilities, to establish ABLE savings accounts that
will largely not effect their eligibility for Supplemental Security Income
(SSI), Medicaid, and other public benefits. Albert Elia, an ABLE expert, an
attorney with TRE Legal, and a member of the National Federation of the
Blind, gave the following presentation at the 2018 Annual Convention of the
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.)
An ABLE account is kind of like a 529 college savings plan, only its for
people who have disabilities. If youre familiar with a ROTH IRA, an ABLE
account works very much like that. You can invest money in an ABLE account
and do not pay taxes on any growth that you get in the account; thus you can
put money into it and use it like a savings account. The interest is
tax-free or there are investment options just like a typical retirement
account and those, too, grow tax-free.
Now, its important to know whether you qualify to get an ABLE account. It
is only for people with disabilities, and you must have had a qualifying
disabilityblindness is a qualifying disabilitybefore the age of 26. So,
if you are currently blind, and are under the age of 26, you NEED to have an
ABLE account. For example: you win an NFB scholarship, and you have all
this money that you got from the NFB, and you deposit it into your bank
account. Then, all of a sudden, your Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
benefit goes away because you have too much money in your bank account.
That wont happen with ABLE.
One of the main purposes of ABLE is to ensure that all of the means tested
government benefits, like Medicaid and SSI, are not impacted if you have
money saved in an ABLE account. As in the earlier example, say you are a
student; you have scholarship money, all the money you get from your
relatives to go to college and to pay for expenses, and anything that you
earn from a college job. You put all of that in the ABLE account, and it
does not impact your SSI.
Second, you can use it for any disability-related quality-of-life expense.
This can basically mean anything that is legal. So no buying drugs, but
otherwise you can pretty much use ABLE for anything that you want. You can
use it to buy the self-driving car, or to pay for an Uber. You can use it
to pay for health care, or housing, or tuition. You can use it to pay for
pretty much anything, as long as it is a thing that increases your quality
Now, for everyone here who is NOT currently under the age of 26, if you were
disabled prior to the age of 26 you can still open an ABLE account. For
instance, I am currently 44 years old and I became legally blind at the age
of 17. Last year I was allowed to open an ABLE account because I was
legally blind, I was disabled, and this disability occurred prior to the age
of 26. So if you were disabledyou were legally blind or had another
qualifying disabilityprior to the age of 26, then no matter what your
current age is, you can open an ABLE account that will, basically, allow you
to save money tax-free for disability-related expenses or for retirement.
However, you can use that money before retirement if necessary; it is
basically like free money that cant be taxed. And lets face it, we need
more free money that cant be taxed so that we can support NFB, and then
give NFB some of the money, right?
For those of you who dont have an ABLE account, I want to give you two
websites. One is ablenrc.org, and the second one, since we are here in
Maryland, is marylandable.org. You can use either of these to sign up for
an ABLE account.
In addition to a tax benefit for not having to pay taxes on the growth of
funds, if you live in Maryland, you are a Maryland taxpayer, and you open a
Maryland ABLE account through that marylandable.org website, then you
actually qualify for a deduction on your state income taxes; up to $2500 per
year for the money that you put into your own or another persons ABLE
account. So, again you are going to save $2500 on your taxes; save the
money; donate money to the NFB, or keep more of your money for yourself.
It does not matter what age you are, if you had a qualifying disability,
like blindness, prior to the age of 26, you qualify to open an ABLE account,
and you should all do so. I opened one. I am using it as an alternative to
a retirement account, because I work for a small employer and we dont have
a retirement plan. But, if you want to use it to simply save up money for
that self-driving car when it comes out, or so you can pay for the Aira
service, put the money in ABLE.
You can put up to $15,000 per year in an ABLE account or, if you are working
and contributing some of your earned income, you can contribute your earned
income up to an additional $12,000. So basically, if you are working, you
can contribute up to about $27,000 per year. I would love to be able to
contribute $27,000 per year; that would be a great problem to have to hit
that limit. In the meantime, even without the extra earned income, the
$15,000 is still three times what you can contribute to an IRA. It is a
really, really valuable financial tool for people like us who have
disabilities. I urge you all to do it, and, like I said, especially you
students out there. You really need one because the last thing you want is
to have to deal with SSI, having your benefits terminated, and having to go
through the reapplication process. Just put it in an ABLE account and you
dont have to worry about it.
There is not a means test for ABLE. The goal of ABLE is to avoid a means
test for benefits like SSI and Medicaid, which require means testing
generally. This creates a way to avoid the means test without being
penalized. However, ABLE does not reduce your income for purposes of income
testing under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program and
other income-tested programs. This is because ABLE accounts are exempted
from means testing but not income testing.
Living The Lives They Want: How Do Blind and Sighted Spouses Make It Work?
By Judy Rasmussen
[Editors Note: Dispelling myths and misconceptions about blindness to our
families, friends, and the public is an ongoing educational process. A
topic that is of utmost interest is the relationship between spouses, when
one is blind and one is sighted. At our 2018 convention, four diverse
couples shared insights as to what makes their relationships work. Here is
a summary of their remarks.]
Adelmo and Soledad Vigil from Alamogordo, New Mexico, (married for 43 years)
stated that understanding and using each others strengths and sharing a
philosophy that both are equal is the foundation of their relationship.
Adelmo said that his father-in-law had some misgivings about his marrying
Soledad. One question he had was what would happen if they were on the road
and they had a flat tire? Adelmo assured his father-in-law that he could
change the tire. He said that on the second day of their honeymoon, they
did have a flat tire, and he changed it. Upon their return, when Soledad
told her father that Adelmo had changed the tire, he said he wasn't worried
about his daughter any more. Adelmo said that Soledad's family is his
Soledad said they raised two beautiful sons and now have six grandchildren
and one great-granddaughter. She said she never thought of Adelmo as
someone she would have to take care of. She thought he was as handsome as a
prince. She said that when her great-granddaughter saw Adelmo, she thought
he was the prince from Snow White. They both said that blindness was not
the primary focus of their relationship; rather, it was honesty and love.
Eric and Krystal Guillory from Ruston, Louisiana, (married for 15 years)
shared some humorous and serious experiences that happened throughout their
marriage. The Guilorys have two children, Austin and Brie. Eric said that
when Austen was four years old, he asked when he was going to become blind
like Daddy. Eric said he told him that there was no reason to believe that
he would. He said that about three years later, his daughter asked him the
same question. He said his children knew several blind adults, but he was
taken aback by their questions. He said that his heart was warmed, as well,
knowing that his children did not feel that being blind was a tragedy. Eric
said some teenagers asked their children if their parents ever embarrassed
them because Eric was blind. Their kids said yes, they were sometimes
embarrassed by their parents, but not because Eric was blind, "but because
they were mom and dad."
Krystal said that when her family knew she was going to marry Eric, several
had some misgivings. She said her father seemed to be the least concerned.
She said her sister-in-law was the biggest problem. One day her
sister-in-law asked if she ever got a break. Krystal thought she meant
because she had two children. Her sister-in-law said that she meant that
Eric did not give her any help with the kids or the chores around the house.
The assumption was that Krystal was taking care of her husband as well.
Krystal said she set her straight.
Krystal said that, one day, when she was sharing with her friend about when
their children were babies, she tried her best to put onesies and other baby
things in the same place in the drawers so Eric could find them to help
dress the children. Her friend said that putting things in the same place
had nothing to do with blindness, rather it was a man thing."
Kristal also shared that she often got dirty looks from people when Eric was
carrying the heavy things when they went shopping. Ignoring the very dirty
look she received from a cashier at a hardware store, she gave the very
large trash can they had just purchased to Eric, and told him to carry it to
the car. Kristal's philosophy was that Eric was the guy, and he should
carry the heavy things, and he did.
Melissa Sheeder and Aaron Carpenter from Baltimore (married for eight years)
were the next panelists. Melissa said her family was very happy that she
was marrying Aaron because, as the other panelists previously stated, they
were sure she would be taken care of. Aaron had other ideas. Her family
thought he should take off from work every time she or their daughter had a
doctor's appointment. Aaron said that one of the first times they invited
his family over for dinner, there was some real concern that Melissa would
not be able to do the cooking and clean-up. Melissa was frying pork chops.
Aaron said his sister was very nervous about the grease, but everything
turned out fine, and everybody had enough to eat. Aaron said that educating
his family is still an ongoing process. Aaron said that if it were up to
him, he would just wash his clothes and leave them in the laundry basket.
Melissa is just the oppositeeverything has to be folded. Aaron said that
when they travel, Melissa packs everything for him. He likes that very
Ellen and Ken Ringlein from Baltimore (married for 19 years) have worked on
many Federation projects together. Ellen stated that unlike the other
panelists, their families don't live in the area, so there isn't too much
interference in their daily lives. She stated that she often has to ask Ken
to let her carry the heavy grocery bags upstairs. Ellen said that a few
years ago, Ken had a scare. There was a possibility that he would be facing
vision loss due to a retinal detachment. Ellen said that as they were
sitting in a waiting room, she told Ken that if he were to lose his vision,
they would work it out. She said she didn't marry him because he could see
or drive her places, but because he was who he was.
Ken said that when he was dating Ellen, he knew she was cute, smart, and
socially active. He also realized that she was living on her own, so she
could take care of herself. He knew other blind adults like Aloma Bouma,
and this also helped. Ken said he has to be careful in public. He said he
sometimes likes to just hold Ellen's hand when they walk. He doesn't want
the public to think he is just leading Ellen around. On the other hand, he
said he often wears a National Federation of the Blind baseball cap, so the
public may think he is the one who is blind.
All of these panelists shared from their hearts the true meaning of a
relationship. It isn't how much money you make, the type of job you have,
or whether you live in a fancy house. It doesn't matter, either, whether
one spouse is blind and the other is sighted. These couples are
demonstrating that the NFB philosophy works!
Chapter Spotlight: The Sligo Creek Chapter, Then and Now
By Lloyd and Judy Rasmussen
(Editors Note: The Maryland affiliate has a rich and varied history that is
not widely known. As we move forward with our Membership Initiative, we
will be highlighting a particular chapter or division in each edition of
this publication. Afterall, members are the lifeblood of our organization,
and chapters help build the foundation for membership. We will be
spotlighting a Maryland chapter in each issue to share how that chapter
originated, what makes it unique, and other interesting information about
it. The first chapter to be highlighted in this series is the Sligo Creek
It is good to reflect on the past and learn from it. As most of you know,
the National Federation of the Blind, or NFB, was organized in 1940, but it
took time for the federations message to spread to every state and to
counties within each state. This article will provide a history of the Sligo
Creek Chapter (as we could determine from people who helped organize it).
Whether we go back to 1968, when the Sligo Creek chapter was founded, or to
2019, one thing that stands out is that it takes a great deal of
determination and effort to start a chapter and to keep it growing. Tom
Bickford and Allen and Billie Ruth Schlank provided us some background
information concerning the formative years of the chapter.
When starting a new chapter, the questions are always "where do we hold the
meeting, how do we recruit members, and who will be the speakers?" The
Schlanks, who lived in Prince George's County at the time, offered their
home for the first organizing meeting. To recruit members, they obtained the
names of people who had joined the Blind Bowling League. They also contacted
an organization called the International Academy, which was training blind
people to do computer programming/data entry using punch cards. People from
several states participated in this program. The calls paid off. Members
from the blind bowling league, the computer training program, and others who
heard about the meeting through advertising on the radio, attended. A new
chapter was born.
The chapter was originally called the Twin County Chapter. There were
members from both Montgomery and Prince George's Counties present at the
organizing meeting, where Billie Ruth Schlank was elected to be the
chapters first president. The name of the chapter was changed to the Sligo
Creek Chapter in about 1972.
The Twin County Chapter was the third chapter organized in Maryland. At that
time there were two chapters in Baltimore, one primarily for African
American people and one for white people. The Twin County Chapter began its
life with both African Americans and white people as active members.
During the first several years, the chapter met in a community center called
the Jessup Blair House in Silver Spring. It was free, and Lloyd was allowed
to keep a key to the building from meeting to meeting. We now rent rooms in
some of Montgomery County's public libraries.
Though they probably did not attend the organizing meeting, Clara Sisselman
and Anna Cable joined the chapter shortly thereafter. As most of you know,
every year at our state convention, an older person who has made a real
effort to learn braille is honored with the Anna Cable award. Anna lived to
be 108 and was an active member until poor health stopped her from
participating in many activities. Clara Sisselman, a retired teacher, left
$50,000 in her will to the NFB of Marylands scholarship program; helping
middle and high school students attend independent-living training programs,
college students obtain their degrees, and blind youngsters attend BELL
Academies would not have been possible without this generous gift.
Then there is Tom Bickford. He has contributed both to the Sligo Creek
Chapter and to the organized blind movement in many ways. In 1969, Tom
headed the committee that determined what song the NFB of Maryland would use
for its theme song. As a result, "Glory, Glory Federation" is the chorus of
the "Battle Hymn of the Federation," a song we all know and still love. Tom
is also the author of the book The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane.
This book is available in braille and audio formats from NLS and its BARD
download service, and can be read from the NFB website starting at
has also written numerous articles for the Braille Monitor, described his 60
years in the federation in a speech at the 2015 national convention, and is
always willing to help wherever he is needed.
In 1990, while waiting in a long restaurant line at a national convention in
Dallas, several of us created the "Ode to the Code." Sung to the tune of
"Jingle Bells," this song describes the benefits of learning braille and how
it is "here to stay." This song has been sung at numerous state and national
conventions and is loved by many. While writing this song, we decided to
call our group The Sligo Creek Digital Communications Consortium; this is
because you read braille with your digits, and braille is a six-bit code for
reading and writing.
Similarly, in 1992 at a chapter picnic, the song "White Cane Freedom March"
was born. It describes many of the experiences blind people face while
traveling from place to place. Sung to the tune of "As those Caissons Go
Rolling Along", it is catchy and fun to sing.
In 1997, several Sligo Creek Chapter members, along with other
Federationists, decided that it was time to record federation songs to help
preserve NFB history. We sold cassette copies of these songs as a fund
raiser for the NFB of Maryland. We called ourselves The Cane Raisers. As
part of this project, Debbie Brown composed "A Technology Song", which is
sometimes also called "I Guess I Never Will." The message of this song is
that without a good foundation of basic skills and a positive attitude
toward your blindness, technology alone won't be sufficient to help you live
the life you want. Links to these songs can be found in the article "Telling
Our Story through Song" within the NFB's 75th anniversary eBook, Building
the Lives We Want. This publication is available in several formats from
https://nfb.org/pubs/building-the-lives-we-want. Singing songs about our
history is a great way to remind all of us why we need to continue to
advocate for the rights of blind people in all aspects of life.
Today, Sligo Creek is a very diverse chapter. We continue to hold outreach
events to recruit new members and to educate the public about blindness. We
held a diabetes seminar where over 100 people attended, we have been proud
to host a BELL Academy for the past seven years, and, along with other
chapters, participate in educating our Maryland and national legislators.
Since 2015 our chapter has hosted a Louis Braille event at a local library.
We have educated sighted children, parents, county council members, and
other adults about braille and the need to teach it in our school systems.
As a result of one of these outreach events, and with the help of Yasmin
Reyazuddin, the Montgomery County public library system has made several
braille books available for blind children to borrow from some of its
branches. We were also able to present a blind child with a one-handed
Our most recent outreach event was called Hands-On Use of Non-Visual
Technology (HUNT). This seminar was designed to provide people with
information about free or low-cost technology to help with daily activities.
Weve also conducted numerous fundraisers over the years. It is astounding
to think about the thousands of pounds of nuts that have been sold by our
chapter in the past 38 years. Al Saile, an early president of the chapter,
sold hundreds of pounds of nuts while walking up and down the aisle of a
commuter train, on his way to and from work. We have also conducted bake
sales and candy sales throughout most of our 50-year history.
For approximately 20 years, the Sligo Creek Chapter has organized an annual
dinner and auction to raise money for the NFB of Marylands scholarship
program. The Knights of Columbus and St. Paul's United Methodist Church of
Kensington (Tom Bickford's church) have contributed substantially to the
scholarship fund over many years. Denise Rush and her friends have also made
substantial contributions to the scholarship fund.
Debbie Brown has been the Sligo Creek Chapter president since 1994. She is
doing a fine job, and we owe her a debt of gratitude for her patience,
dedication, and care for chapter members.
The Sligo Creek Chapter will continue to be an integral part of the Maryland
affiliate. We look forward to many more years of outreach, education, and
chapter building. Let's continue to build the federation and change what it
means to be blind in the Washington suburbs.
Senior Spotlight: Bryan Holley
By Ronza Othman
[Editors Note: Bryan Holley received the Anna Cable Award at the 2017 NFB
of Maryland State Convention. This award is given to a person who lost
their vision later in life and demonstrates Anna Cables zest for life,
including learning Braille. Bryans enthusiasm for life shines through
everything he does.]
Bryan Holley is an active senior in the National Federation of the Blind of
Maryland. He is the youngest of six children, four sisters and one brother
(deceased). He is married with two adult sons and two adult godsons. He is
quite tall, standing at 6 ft 5 in, but he is a self-described baby at heart.
Also, though he loves to play basketball, his wife regularly beats him. He
was born in Maryland and raised in Baltimore. Bryan describes his childhood
Bryans name is spelled with a y because his mother wanted to name him
Bryant, but the nurse who helped fill out his birth certificate forgot the
t. Nonetheless, his mother always called him Bryant.
Bryan graduated from Morgan State University. He worked for Entenmanns
Bakery as a driver, delivering cakes and pies to stores.
Bryan became blind in 2010 at age 51. He voluntarily moved to a different
position with the company, unloading tractor trailers and conducting quality
control of products. He retired from Entenmanns after 30 years.
Bryan struggled with his blindness at first because he did everything the
sighted way. He had to learn to use assistive technology and low
technology devices to be able to access information again. He felt that he
was the only blind person in the world because he didnt know any other
blind people when he was going through his transition to blindness and first
learning adjustment to blindness skills.
Bryan met another blind person for the first time at a rally. He decided
that he needed to learn what she knew because she could get around better
and more independently than he could. Nonetheless, he did not truly link
into the blind community until 2016 when he attended Blind Industries and
Services of Maryland (BISM). He completed the Senior Adult Independent
Living (SAIL) Program on September 5, 2018. While at BISM, he learned how
to cook, independently travel, read Braille, and apply computer skills.
Bryan is an active volunteer with his church, where he is helping to lead a
capital campaign effort to acquire a building. He also runs the ministry
sound board, having adapted it for blindness by fixing bumps where needed.
He is also the President of the BISM Support Group, which meets monthly;
members of the group do not have to be BISM alumni. The group discusses
technology and skills that may be useful to the blind.
Bryans philosophy on life is simple: his sight might be gone, but his
vision is crystal clear. Bryan exudes positivity and enthusiasm for life
and adventure. He offers the following advice to anyone who is either going
blind or who has recently become blind: This is not the end of life keep
Nothing About Us Without Us: The Federation Edition
By Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette
[Editors Note: Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette has been active in our Federal
legislative efforts but only recently became involved with state legislative
advocacy. He attended his first Day in Annapolis this year, and he shared
some reflections below.]
On January 24, 2019, I had the privilege of participating in the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland's annual day of state legislative
advocacy, the Day in Annapolis (DIA). It was my first DIA and it was a
truly remarkable and rewarding experience. Though I have participated in
several Washington Seminars, both as a state affiliate representative and as
a staff member of the NFB national office, there is something uniquely
invigorating about local and state advocacy. This year's DIA brought that
sentiment home for me and I'd like to share a bit about the experience.
The first thing that struck me was the elegance and beauty of the state
capitol buildings. Maryland is a very old state and its capital, Annapolis,
is teeming with history. The various buildings that make up the state
legislature and the member offices are stately and make you feel like you
are truly navigating the halls of power. The food in the Senate canteen
wasn't half-bad, either.
Another thing that jumped out at me was the energy and passion of my fellow
Maryland Federationists. Most of my colleagues were veterans of this annual
day of advocacy and were more than generous in sharing their wisdom and tips
for newcomers. Led by the fearless and inimitable Sharon Maneki, a
veritable institution in Annapolis, the Federation troops were
well-prepared, fired up, and ready to go.
As the day progressed and as my team and I (we called ourselves the "A-Team"
and I insisted on being Mr. T) speed-walked from meeting to meeting, it
became more and more clear to me that the NFB was a known commodity in
Annapolis. Several delegates mentioned meeting with NFB members in previous
years while still others noted that they had sponsored our initiatives in
the past. Some of these folks were new, having been elected to their first
terms in the 2018 elections. These meetings were especially enjoyable as we
had the responsibility of not only advocating on behalf of our three
specific legislative initiatives, but we also had to introduce these new
legislators to the NFB of Maryland. Making a good first impression was
vital and the A-Team relished the opportunity to put the Federation
philosophy on display.
Though all three of the legislative priorities that we focused on are
important, the matter of the secret ballot for blind voters was the one that
resonated most with me. I actually met the broken voting system personally
when I tried to vote in the primary elections in the summer of 2018. The
precinct at which I voted did not have a functioning accessible voting
machine and the folks staffing the precinct did not know anything about the
machine. While the secret ballot issue is different than the matter of
non-functioning machines and untrained precinct staff, it is all a part of a
broader problem; namely, we exist within a dysfunctional, inefficient, and
often inaccessible voting system that places unique burdens on voters with
With this personal background and with the physical copies of the two
different types of ballots in hand, it was my job to present this issue at
each of our meetings with delegates and/or their staff. I found that this
issue seemed to strike a nerve with most offices we met with, including some
expressions of genuine outrage. Given that access to private, accessible
voting is a core civil right, it certainly should have been an outrage. And
it most certainly is!
After 15 or so nearly back-to-back meetings, it was time to rejoin our army
of Federationist advocates for crab and conversation at a local restaurant.
The energy at the restaurant was just as electric as it had been when we set
out in the morning. We recapped our meetings and shared the results out
loud. The number of pledges of sponsorship and the pronouncements of
support piled up and by the end it seemed as though we had won the day.
That means that we, as the organized blind, took our lives into our own
hands and made our voices heard among those in a position to make laws and
policies that will affect us.
There is an old saying in the disability rights movement: "Nothing about us
without us." When the Federation shows up in Annapolis or in the state
capital of any other state, or when we flood Washington every year for
Washington Seminar, or when we make the calls and write the letters
throughout the year, we are actualizing the mantra of "Nothing about us
without us." We are making an impact, not only in our own lives, but in the
lives of blind people everywhere. And nothing makes that fact more real
than participating in grassroots advocacy, such as the Day in Annapolis. It
was fun, it was meaningful, it was rewarding and I can't wait to do it again
Blind Marylanders sue Walmart, saying self-serve checkouts violate ADA
By Sarah Meehan Contact Reporter The Baltimore Sun
Saturday October 29th, 2018
[Editors Note: Protecting the Civil Rights is an important part of our
work. That is why the National Federation of the Blind, The National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland, AND Cindy Morales, Lynwood Boyd, and
Melissa Sheeder, are suing Walmart. The below story by the Baltimore Sun
explains the facts of the suit.]
Three blind Maryland residents and the National Federation of the Blind are
suing Walmart, alleging that the company violates the Americans with
Disabilities Act because its self-checkout kiosks are not fully accessible
to blind customers.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, also claims that an
employee at the Walmart in Owings Mills allegedly attempted to take money
from one of the plaintiffs while she was checking out at the store.
The suit claims that a staff member at the Owings Mills store on
Reisterstown Road was assisting Cynthia Morales with a purchase at a
self-checkout kiosk in July 2017 when the employee selected an option for
cash back from her debit card and took $40 without her knowledge.
Its important for blind people to be able to use the machines
so that people are not stealing from us, Morales, a
Parkville resident, said in an interview. We should be treated like
everybody else when we come into the store we would like to check out at
the self-checkout quickly just like everybody else, and I know that the
technology is out there.
In addition to Morales, other plaintiffs include Linwood Boyd, a Pikesville
resident who was shopping with Morales when the alleged incident occurred;
Baltimore resident Melissa Sheeder; the National Federation of the Blind
Inc. and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.
The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction that would require Walmart
to make its self-service kiosks throughout the U.S. accessible to blind
customers; a declaration that Walmart has been violating the ADA; and court
costs and attorneys fees.
According to the suit, Morales and Boyd were checking out at a self-service
kiosk when Morales handed an employee her debit card and instructed the
employee to enter her pin number on the keypad. She expected to pay about
$80 for her items, according to the suit. During the transaction, the
screen prompted the users to take money from the machine, the suit claims.
When Morales and Boyd left the store, they asked a bystander to read the
receipt and realized Morales was charged about $120.
They re-entered the store and called police, and the $40 was ultimately
returned, according to the complaint.
Money was stolen from one of our members and certainly we deplore that,
said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind.
Danielsen said that even without the incident at Owings Mills, its
unacceptable that sight-impaired patrons cant serve themselves. The
technology exists for Walmart and other entities that are using these kind
of self-service kiosks, he said.
Sheeder claims in the suit that she shops at Walmart at least once a week,
and she and a friend attempted to use a self-checkout kiosk in July 2018.
When they were unable to operate it, they were directed to a full-service
checkout lane, where they had to wait in line.
We dont tolerate discrimination, and we believe our checkout procedures
comply with applicable law, Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, said
in an emailed statement late Friday. When we learned of this specific
situation with Ms. Morales, we looked into the matter and as a result, the
associate is no longer with the company. We take this matter seriously and
will respond as appropriate with the court.
Danielsen said hes not aware of any large retailers that incorporate
self-checkout kiosks that are fully accessible to blind people, but he
pointed to self-service software for machines such as ATMs, Amtrak ticket
booths, and taxicabs that allow blind people to operate the devices
We know that its possible to make a self-checkout kiosk accessible. It
just has to be thought of at the design stage, said Jessica P. Weber, an
attorney who is part of a team from the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein &
Levy representing the plaintiffs. The lawsuit says the National Federation
of the Blind attempted to work with Walmart to address problems with the
kiosks prior to filing suit.
The civil rights of blind people cant wait indefinitely and so were going
to forge ahead, Weber said.
Student Spotlight: Jason Polansky - Living the Life He Wants
By Rose Warner
(Editors note: Rose Warner is a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter who
won a national scholarship when she lived in Illinois. As a reporter for
the Spectator, she chose to write about Jason Polansky. Jason and his
parents have been members of the NFBMD since Jason was two years old. It is
great to see his progress as a senior in college.)
Jason Polansky is a senior marketing major at Messiah College located
outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Originally from Frederick County, Jason
is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. He is
interested in getting into the music industry, but not as a musician. Jason
wants to become a manager for musicians.
He took one step towards achieving his goal by studying domestic for a
semester in Nashville, Tennessee through a program called BestSemester at
the Contemporary Music Center <x-apple-data-detectors://2> . The goal of
this program is to immerse students in the music industry. There are three
tracks students can choose from: a manager track, a technician track, and an
artist track. There were 22 students in the program, equally distributed
throughout the three groups. Predictably, Jason chose the manager track.
By combining their talents, these students made all the components for
putting on a show. The artists wrote the songs and performed. The techs
handled sound, lighting, set design, and recording. The managers, including
Jason, planned and marketed the show. The managers also learned about
record deals. Additionally, they learned negotiating tactics when dealing
with tour managers and venue directors.
Every Thursday, this group of students put their talents to the test. They
put on concerts, leading up to a tour at the end of the semester.
Specifically, Jasons group rotated so that each could practice specific
skills. One week, Jason was the producer of the show in which he got to
decide the order of the performers. Another week, he critiqued the work of
the techs and the performers. He also helped with the promotion of the show
by advertising it on social media and developing posters. Yet another week,
he helped develop press releases about the upcoming concert. Since he was a
manager, Jason booked hotels and transportation for the final multi-state
tour and kept the tour on budget.
Jasons hard work paid off. The tour was a huge success, consisting of
stops at four colleges. Jason was disappointed that the show at his college
had to be cancelled due to snow. The truck with all of the supplies was
able to make it on campus, but the bus with all of the students could not!
Jason said this taught him to expect the unexpected. Their final show had
Jasons favorite part of his experience was the people he got to meet. He
said, we became like a family, working together all day every day. Jason
made sure he made the most out of being in Nashville; he attended local NFB
chapter meetings while he was there!
Jason explained that his biggest challenge was setting up and tearing down
the shows, especially during the tour. Navigating that as a blind person
was difficult, but Jason and his classmates quickly realized that Jason is
an excellent truck lift operator. All of the sound equipment and props
needed to be loaded and unloaded from the truck. Someone with stellar
communication skills needed to operate the lift, and Jason volunteered.
As it turned out, the director of the program had worked with a blind
student several years ago. Jason had less educating to do than he might
have expected. The director had high expectations for Jason and ensured
that Jason got the most out of the program by having a taste of every aspect
of managing musicians.
Jason was very inspired by his BestSemester. After graduation in June,
Jason is currently considering going back to Nashville so that he can
network and look for a job. He knows the music industry is difficult to get
into. He hopes one day to become a booking agent. But he knows he will
need to work his way up. He might start by promoting concerts for a venue.
Jason realizes that many people obtain their jobs by who they know; Jason
understands the importance of networking. One way he plans to network is by
being active in the BestSemester Facebook group made up of alumni of the
program Jason participated in. Job offers are posted there, and there are
over 500 people in the group!
Jason is living the life he wants, taking steps to achieve his dream of
becoming a manager. He is working very hard to network in Nashville so that
one day he will be able to make his dream of becoming a music manager a
reality. And I have no doubt that his dream will come true.
The Legacy of Change
By Mark Riccobono
[Editors Note: President Riccobono gave the following address as part of a
panel entitled The Future is Ours at the National Federation of the Blind
of Maryland Annual Convention in November 2018. This convention reflected
Sharon Manekis retirement as President of the affiliate. President
Riccobono shared his thoughts and provided some reflections about protecting
the legacy of our veteran leaders, embracing change, and harnessing new
leadershipand how combining the three results in a strong organization.
Below is his presentation.]
I have here in my hand a medallion; this is a coin, and if youve seen the
Louis Braille coin, it is bigger than that. On one side it has the NFB
symbolour logo, absent our name, which is viewed as six blind people with
canesand on the other side, it says National Federation of the Blind
Member and three Braille characters, TGR. This is going to be the
official NFB medallion starting January 1, 2019. If you are a member of
this organization, you will get one of these membership medallions, but only
if you are a member. I urge you to become a member.
Our President gave a great presentation earlier today about Robert Frost.
Robert Frost had a saying about the future. He said, I go to school the
youth to learn the future. I think thats what this panel is about today.
The future is ours. Its a short but complex declaration. The future is
ours. And when we say this in the National Federation of the Blind, we of
course also mean, ours is the future.
In our early decades, this was not a declaration for us. This was in fact a
question; the future is ours? Its a symbol of progress as an organized
blind movement. What happened with respect to blind people before the
founding of the National Federation of the Blind and really throughout all
of history was directed by others, not by blind people. And the future used
to not offer much hope to us as blind people.
That began to change in 1940 when we founded the National Federation of the
Blind. But it was not immediate. It took work. It took determination. It
took leaders that had a belief that the future could be ours, a faith that I
am going to talk about in a little bit. It was not a sure thing; it was a
new thing that the future could be ours. But over the decades, we have
built a solid foundation which makes this no longer a question but in fact a
declaration that the future is ours.
When we think about future, we think about a few different things in the
National Federation of the Blind. We think that we are building for
tomorrow, and that really starts today. We acknowledge and honor what makes
it possible, all of the work that has happened previously in the National
Federation of the Blind. Imagine how difficult it would be today if we did
not have Dr. TenBroek, who believed the future would be ours when probably
hardly anybody else did. Its a little easier for us today. There are a
lot of us who believe it, but back then, not so much!
The future today in the National Federation of the Blind connotes hope and
opportunity, and that is because weve created it to be that way. We now
have an understanding that we start with the belief that we can determine
what the future looks like for blind people. We can bend the arc of the
universe in the way that we want it to be.
And of course, when we think of the future, we expect to be part of it, and
that it belongs to us. And that brings us to ours and that is where I
urge you to be a member of this organization.
Weve been talking a little about passing the torch and moving forward in
the organization with a new set of leaders. I want to make sure we
acknowledge that while we will have new leaders into the future, we continue
to need the leaders that weve had. Why? Because of the legacy that they
have given to us to carry forward. Because they continue to need this
organization, and because, more importantly, we continue to need them, their
perspective, and what they continue to offer us in the building that they
have done in the time that they have dedicated to this organization. If you
have any doubt about that, I would encourage you to go back and listen again
to Sharon Manekis report from this morning.
Theres another thing that the future brings with some certainty. Things
are going to change. In fact, change brings uncertainty, but we want them
to change. They have to change if we are going to really own and understand
that the future is ours. The reason that we can move forward with
confidence knowing that changes will happen is because of that bond of faith
that we have with each other, that weve built our organization upon, that
is the foundation that we hold to and pass to every new generation. Many of
you know and have heard me repeat Dr. TenBroeks words from our 25th
anniversary, a faith that can move mountains and mount movements. Ive
never thought of a better way to say it then the way Dr. TenBroek did. It
is certain that we will make changes. And we have to make changes. Thats
how we as an organization will have built the position that we have, that
weve heard so much about in the last two days.
In closing my portion of this panel, in thinking about the future is ours,
I would like to acknowledge that we have been blessed in this organization
to have had the leaders that have given their faith, their time, their
talent, and their heart to this organization, and therefore have shaped what
is today our presence. You know them very well: our good friends Marc
Maurer and Sharon Maneki and many other people we could spend a lot of time
listing names. But it is because they have dedicated their efforts that we
can even think about what the future is for our organization. Were blessed
to have had them. But if were really going to honor what they have done,
then we need to feel the challenge, we need to answer the call to make the
future ours. It will not be given to us. We still have work to do. We
still have sacrifices to make. And in fact, for this generation of leaders,
including myself, it would be easy, easier than any other generation, to
just coast. But the future is too valuable to let that happen. Our future
is too valuable to let that happen. Ours is the future. And at this
convention, were celebrating not only where weve been but also where were
going, and it is going to take each and every one of us in this room to help
shape that future. Im honored to have the opportunity to work both with
the leaders that weve had and will have going forward, and the leaders that
were building up, because as we come to these conventions, we school them
on what we know we will learn about the future that will be ours.
Celebrating Louis Brailles Birthday, Maryland Style
As most readers know, Louis Brailles birthday is on January 4. This
presents a great opportunity to promote and celebrate the use of Braille.
Here are how two chapters chose to celebrate this important occasion in
At the January meeting of the Central Maryland chapter, which occurred on
January 6, a few days after Louis Brailles birthday, the chapter conducted
a special program about Braille. One of our members, Nasim Shigri, who has
been studying Braille for only a few months, received lots of encouragement
after he read a few sentences for the audience. The highlight of the
evening was our four special guests: Khloe DeLeon-Talbert and the Rao
childrenMercy, Isaiah, and Jonah. Khloe, an avid Braille reader who is in
the third grade, read a story in Braille that she wrote herself. The Rao
children, ranging in age from 11 to 13, read interesting facts about Braille
that they obtained from the Perkins School for the Blind website. Even the
long-time Braille users learned something new from the following facts that
the Rao children shared.
* Braille started out as a
<http://gizmodo.com/how-braille-was-invented-1471756840> military code
called night writing. It was developed in 1819 by the French army so
soldiers could communicate at night without speaking or using candles.
Fifteen-year-old French schoolboy Louis Braille learned about the code, and
eventually developed the more usable, streamlined version of the braille
alphabet we know today.
* Theres an <http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap990805.html> asteroid
named Braille. In 1999, NASAs Deep Space 1 probe flew past an asteroid
while on its way to photograph the Borrelly comet. NASA named the asteroid
9969 Braille in honor of Louis Braille.
* Some braille readers fingers can really fly! While the typical
sighted person can read 300 words per minute, some fast braille readers can
whip through a book at a
<https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm99/bm990604.htm> speed of 400
words per minute. The secret to reading braille so quickly is a light
touchand using both hands (one hand reads while the other is poised to
start on the next line).
* Braille helps criminals go straight. The American Printing House
for the Blind runs a program called the <https://www.aph.org/pbf/> National
Prison Braille Network (NPBN) that teaches inmates to transcribe print
documents into braille. The program gives inmates valuable job skills and
helps them stay out of trouble once they leave prison. The recidivism rate
for NPBN participants is <https://www.aph.org/pbf/directory/> estimated at
less than 3 percent, far below the national average of 76 percent.
* Braille can be delicious. You can show your support for braille
in a tasty way by baking
a5f3d845.jpg> braille cupcakes for your friends. (Use M&Ms to make the
* LEGO bricks could someday come in braille. A Brazilian foundation
has invented a LEGO-style brick that can help children who are blind learn
to read and write, while building cool toy structures.
<http://www.braillebricks.com.br/en/> Braille Bricks, created by the São
Paulo-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, are similar to LEGO
bricks, but each brick has a raised Braille letter on top, which allows the
bricks to interlock. The Foundation is working to convince the toy industry
to produce the bricks.
* Braille is the latest trendy tattoo. Some braille tattoos are
<https://www.flickr.com/photos/she-who-photographs/2493198793> love) and
some are complicated (like the
<https://www.flickr.com/photos/the_girl/24593210> lyrics of an entire song).
Most people get flat (ink) braille tattoos, while others reportedly get
<http://www.wired.com/2007/10/tattoos-for-the/> small surgical beads
inserted under their skin to create raised braille dots. If youre not ready
to go that far,
ket> temporary braille tattoos are also available.
The Sligo Creek chapter wanted to heighten public awareness of Braille, so
they conducted a special Braille program at the Davis Library in Bethesda,
Maryland on January 19. Many members, students from the BELL (Braille
Enrichment Literacy and Learning) program and their parents, participated in
this event. Here is how Debbie Brown, president of the chapter, described
this fun afternoon:
Thank you to everyone at the Louis Braille birthday party yesterday. We
think we saw about 15 people we didnt knowchildren and adults. We sang
Happy Birthday to Louis Braille in English, French, Spanish, and Farsi.
Paul and Luis, two BELL students, sang Live the Life You Want to everyone
who would listen. Donna Koh from the NLS music section was with us, and we
got a chance to talk to Pauls and Aishas parents about Braille music.
This was appropriate since Louis Braille also invented Braille music. The
children got to make tactile bookmarks and write their names in Braille. It
was miserable outside, but we had a cozy afternoon inside celebrating Louis
Brailles 210th birthday.
On February 3, 2019, Rachel Olivero unexpectedly passed away as a result of
pneumonia. Rachel was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter for the
last eleven years and a member of the staff of the National Federation of
the Blind for eight of the last eleven years. You can read more about
Rachels contributions in this issue of the Braille Spectator in the article
entitled A Lasting Legacy: Remembering Rachel Olivero. May she rest in
On February 5, 2019, Larry Richardson died after a long illness. Larry was
a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter for more than 30 years. He also
worked at BISM for 30 years as a machine operator. Larry and his whole
family have always participated in NFBMD activities with enthusiasm. We
will miss his kindness, loyalty, and sense of humor. May he rest in peace.
Congratulations to Nicole Fincham Sheehan and James Sheehan on the recent
birth of their daughter. Cacia Noelle Sheehan was born January 29, 2019, at
10:55 a.m. She weighed 6 pounds and 13 ounces and was 20 inches long.
Nicole was an active member in NFBMD for decades. She and James moved to
Florida but still keep in touch with their NFBMD friends.
Congratulations to Tyron Bratcher who earned a BS degree in Social Work from
Coppin State University in December 2018. Tyron is a long-time member of
the Greater Baltimore Chapter. He hopes to get a job in social work in the
Congratulations to Amber Woods who earned a B.S. degree in Business
Administration from the University of Maryland University College in
December 2018. Amber is the First Vice President of the National Harbor
Chapter. She already has a side business as a travel agent and hopes to
work as a Contract Specialist with the Federal Government.
Braille Readers are Leaders Winners:
Maryland had five participants in the NFB Braille Readers are Leaders
contest for 2018-2019. Aisha Safi won 1st place in the grade 2-3 category.
She read 1,995 pages. Zanyiah Bell won 3rd place in the same category. She
read 1,099 pages. In the grade 4-5 category, Jonah Rao won 3rd place for
reading 721 pages and Isaiah Rao won honorable mention for reading 690. In
the grade 6-8 category, Mercy Rao won 3rd place for reading 850 pages.
Braille readers are definitely leaders! We look forward to the continued
progress of these students and we are very proud of their achievements.
Lego League Team Achievement:
On January 19th, several NFBMD members participated in the Middle School
Lego League Qualifier Competition. The team was sponsored by the Maryland
School for the Blind. They won 1st place in the research project category
of the competition. A future issue of the Spectator will contain an
in-depth story about the challenges and achievements faced by the students.
Brandon Pickrel Recognized
Brandon Pickrel, a junior at Northern High School and a long time
Federationist, was selected by the Dapper Dan Club of Allegany County as the
recipient of the 2019 Most Courageous Award. The Dapper Dan dinner was held
February 24th at the Ali Ghan Shrine Club in Cumberland. Debra Ahern, a
counselor at Northern High School in Garrett County, offered the following
explanation of this award. Congratulation Brandon!
Every year, the Dapper Dan Club honors many of our area's best athletes,
including those in youth, high school, collegiate, and post-collegiate
athletics. The honor Brandon has been selected to receive is one of the
most prestigious awards given by the Dapper Dan. It truly exemplifies the
role that athletics can play to help boost confidence, overcome
difficulties, work together, and persevere in times that require great
fortitude. Brandon is visually-impaired and typically runs with a guide.
Most people tend to assume that Brandon's impairment is a limiting quality,
but in fact, it tends to be Brandon's guide that slows him down. It is
extremely hard to find a guide who can keep up with him. Coach Hawkins can
attest to this fact after running part of a race with him and feeling like
his heart was going to explode.
Brandon has participated in cross-country for three years and track for two
years (with the third year coming up very soon) for Northern. He is a
tremendously hard worker with a great positive attitude that is absolutely
infectious. What he has done over the past three years has been nothing
short of amazing. This past season Brandon was an integral part of the
Varsity team, running in Regionals. His best race for the year was a 20:35
for three miles. Even though Brandon has steadily improved and has posted
some fast times, he is never satisfied and always believes he could have
done better and run faster. It is this prevailing thought that he can
always improve that drives him to work so hard.
Brandon has also recently raced and completed two half-marathons. That's
13.1 miles! That is an amazing accomplishment for anybody. Brandon has a
lifetime goal of qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. We are all
excited and proud of Brandon for receiving this great honor and look forward
to all that he will accomplish in the future.
Ronza Othman, President
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland knows that blindness is not
the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the
expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles
between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want;
blindness is not what holds you back.
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