[Ctabs] Article from Citizens Voice Pennsylvania News 2015 11 15

Edward Shaham personal.edward at gmail.com
Mon Nov 16 01:30:17 UTC 2015

What do you all think?




Statewide blind group meets at birthplace. Eric Mark. 


WILKES-BARRE - The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Federation of the
Blind held its annual convention this weekend at the spot where the
organization was born in 1940: Best Western Genetti Hotel & Conference
Center. In November 1940, a group of 16 advocates for the blind, from seven
states, gathered in Wilkes-Barre at the hotel that is now Genetti's. They
formed a constitution that created the National Federation of the Blind, or
NFB, which grew to be the largest organization led by blind people in the
nation. To mark the 75th anniversary of the federation's founding, the
Pennsylvania chapter chose Wilkes-Barre as the site for this year's state
convention, said Lynn Heitz, the chapter's first vice president. "The
national organization was founded right here," she said Saturday afternoon,
outside a spacious meeting room where most of the 120 people who attended
the convention gathered for lectures and seminars on a wide range of topics
that affect the visually impaired. Blind and low-vision people of all ages
walked confidently into and out of the room with the help of long white
canes. One of the seminar topics was "Technology for the blind and how it
has changed. Mark Riccobono, the national president of NFB, had some
thoughts on that, as he stepped out of the meeting room to speak with a
reporter. He called technological advances "double-edged" for the visually
impaired community. On the upside, there are useful technologies such as
voice-activated personal assistants available on computers and smart phones.
Riccobono demonstrated an app he recently installed on his iPhone, called
KNFB Reader, that can take a picture of printed text and read it aloud to a
visually impaired person. He pointed his phone toward the program for the
convention, clicked a button and a mechanical voice started to recite the
convention schedule listed in the program. On the other hand, the push for
technological solutions to replace Braille, a writing system for the blind
that uses raised letters and characters, has left some blind people
struggling, especially younger ones in school and college, Riccobono said.
"A lot of technology is not built with accessibility in mind," he said. He
cited his own experience growing up as a legally blind student in Wisconsin,
where his teachers, in line with the educational philosophy of the time,
tried to get him to read and study as much as possible the conventional way
and use Braille only as a last resort. "I faked it all the time," he said.
"I had to memorize things. There were lots of positive stories at the
convention, which draws a dedicated core group and some newcomers each year,
according to Heitz, who described the gathering as "a family. Liliya
Asadullina, 22, said being blind has not stopped her from a rewarding and
enjoyable college career at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "They
have a really good public transportation system," she said, adding that she
has no qualms about taking a bus or train on her own. She credited the local
chapter of the NFB near Philadelphia, where she grew up, with helping her to
develop that confidence. "They showed me you have to be independent," she
said. The NFB has led the push for civil rights for the blind, which has
helped raise awareness for all special needs groups, Riccobono said. As
traffic drove by on East Market Street outside the hotel, he gave an
example. In 1940, when the federation was founded, if a car jumped a curb
and struck a blind person on a sidewalk, the blind pedestrian was considered
partly culpable, according to Riccobono. Blind people and others with
challenges or special needs were expected to basically stay out of sight and
mind in those days, he said. Today, through educational efforts and
legislation such as "white cane laws" that require motorists to stop and
allow blind pedestrians to cross the street, things are different, Riccobono
said. "Blind people have the right to be in the world," he said.
emark at citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2117 

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