[Greater-baltimore] The Spring Braille Spectator: the Newsletter of the NFBMD

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Mon Mar 30 16:38:57 UTC 2015


The Braille Spectator

Spring 2015


Presidential Report


Delivered at the November, 2014 Convention


By Melissa Riccobono


 

Editor's Note: The convention of the NFB of Maryland held November 14-16 in
Towson is over, but will not soon be forgotten! One of the convention
highlights each year is the report given by our state president. All of our
members and many others who worked with her in various capacities
congratulate Melissa Riccobono on the fine job she has done for the past six
years. We are happy she has already found new responsibilities. Melissa was
elected president of the NFBMD Parents Division. As the mother of three
children, two of whom are blind, she is perfect for this role. We know
Melissa will work hard in whatever job she undertakes, and are happy she
will remain on the NFBMD Board of Directors. The audio report will be on the
NFBMD website soon.


Together with Love, Hope, and Determination, We Transform Dreams Into
Reality


Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into
reality. This is the new brand promise of the National Federation of the
Blind. This brand promise is relatively short--just eleven words. Yet it is
made up of extremely powerful words--together, love, hope, determination,
transform. This one sentence captures beautifully what we do every day in
the National Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the
Blind of Maryland. It is truly my honor as president of the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland to share with you our accomplishments
from the last year. It took determination to accomplish all that we have.
Again, we have been turtles--persevering, stretching toward progress at
times more slowly than we would like, but constantly moving forward with the
determination to keep going until the job is done. Our progress has been
fueled by hope--the hope of the blind of Maryland and throughout this
country--and our victories have created more hope for blind people. And,
above all else, all of our work is undertaken with love in our hearts for
one another, for the blind who have gone before us, and for the blind who
are yet to come. Finally, we would not accomplish all that we do unless we
were working together. Together we have worked determinedly. Together we
have hoped. Together we have loved. Together we have transformed dreams. So
together, let us look back on our accomplishments and plan for our future.

 

At last year's convention, we talked a great deal about choice--particularly
the right of students to choose where they will receive rehabilitation
training. We were, and still are, determined to give students any help they
need to attend quality training at the place of their own choosing. I am
pleased to report that two young people who have grown up in the NFB of
Maryland, Nathan Clark and Jason Polansky, are now attending training at the
Louisiana Center for the Blind. We know this training will allow Nathan and
Jason to gain even more hope for their futures. It will allow them to return
to Maryland, or perhaps to travel elsewhere, and, with the skills and
confidence they will gain, they will truly be able to successfully live
their dreams. Of course there are other programs which provide similar
training, including our title sponsor, Blind Industries and Services of
Maryland, Blind Inc., and the Colorado Center for the Blind. The National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland will continue to strive determinedly in
order to make sure blind people in Maryland are able to receive the training
of their choice in the years to come.

 

For many years, members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
have come determinedly together to Annapolis, with the shared hope of
helping to pass laws which will make life better for blind people in
Maryland. This work can be frustrating, tiring, and disappointing. Yet we
take it on every year with love because we know transforming laws is one way
to transform dreams. Under the able direction of our legislative chair,
Sharon Maneki, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland took on
three issues in Annapolis. Because of our work together, and our
determination, I am pleased to report three Annapolis victories. First, we
were able to convince the legislators to leave $250 thousand in the
governor's budget for the National Federation of the Blind Center of
Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Commerce, Public Information and Education
(CENA.) This center has many ambitious future goals including an
accessibility hotline for governmental agencies, web resources for
businesses who are developing websites and apps, and accessibility training
for businesses, governmental agencies, and education institutions, just to
name a few. We know this center will have an impact on the government,
education, and businesses in Maryland and around the country. Access to
educational materials and courses, government information, and commerce is
our dream. Our work is helping to transform this dream into reality.

 

The Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) was
another hot topic at last year's convention, and a focus of our Annapolis
efforts. The library receives funding from the Maryland State Department of
Education, but had no actual line item in this agency's budget. Therefore,
whenever budget cuts were needed, the Library for the Blind was an easy
target. This has resulted in a variety of staff vacancies, hiring freezes,
and the library continually having to figure out how to provide the high
quality of service they want to give their patrons with less resources.
Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland truly love LBPH,
its services and programs. We were determined to use this love to educate
the legislators about the importance of the library, and the fact that it
serves blind people statewide. Our efforts were successful. On May 15th,
Governor O'Malley signed SB419 into law. This bill states that, for the
first time in its history, LBPH will be a part of the formula used to
distribute money to libraries around the state of Maryland. It is our hope
this will allow LBPH to have a stable funding source from 2016 and beyond.
This bill could not have come at a better time. The library, as you heard
this morning, is once again without a director. Because of other staff
shortages, the hours for phone-in patron services have also been cut. These
trends concern us greatly. Together with the love for our library, the hope
for a brighter future for our library, and the determination for our library
to continue to provide quality services, we will assist in transforming the
library into the vibrant resource we know it can be. 

 

Our final victory in Annapolis involves our dream for access to commerce and
information in an increasingly digital world. The National Federation of the
Blind of Maryland has tackled this issue in Annapolis in the past, but we
have never been able to achieve the results we wanted. Instead of giving up,
however, we persevered with determination and came up with a new approach.
In the past we have attempted to pass stricter laws regarding accessibility
of business, governmental, and education websites, which included incentives
for greater accessibility, and penalties for accessibility violations. Some
of these laws have passed; some have not. At times we have had luck
enforcing the laws we were able to pass; at times enforcement has been weak.
This year, we decided our energy was best spent making sure proper training
is given to the web and app developers of the future--current students
studying computer science and web design. On May 15, Governor O'Malley
signed SB446 into law. This bill mandates that the Maryland Department of
Disabilities, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind,
establish a work group to examine how Maryland colleges and universities
currently handle the study of accessibility. This work group will make
recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly on best practices for
teaching web and app accessibility, barriers which are getting in the way of
these practices, and how to overcome those barriers. The work group must
submit a preliminary report to the Governor and the General Assembly by
December 15, 2015. Its final report to these entities is due by June 30,
2017. It is our hope that the recommendations of this workgroup will lead
directly to more student knowledge about accessibility, which will lead to
the creation of accessible websites and apps from the ground up in the years
to come. This will truly transform our dream of accessible apps and websites
into reality.

 

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is determined to protect
the right of the blind to cast a private, independent, and secret ballot.
Therefore, when the Maryland State Board of Elections failed to certify an
accessible online ballot marking tool, (a tool members of the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland helped to test and create) members of
the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland were eager to help with the
lawsuit filed against the Maryland Board of Elections by the National
Federation of the Blind. Together our members sat in court for hours in
order to show the judge how important this issue is to us. There was a great
deal of testimony given, but some of the most compelling came from our own
Janice Toothman, who described in detail the horrible experience she had
voting in the June primary election, and what a difference being able to
mark an absentee ballot online, independently, in her own home, using her
own assistive technology, would make in her life. Because of Janice's
testimony, the skills of the lawyers from Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, the
support of the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland,
and the determination of the National Federation of the Blind to fight for
equal access to voting, the judge ruled in our favor, and the online ballot
marking tool was available for use in the November general election.
President Riccobono and I both took advantage of this tool, as did other
blind and disabled people across the state of Maryland. This tool works. It
allows blind and disabled people to mark our absentee ballots independently
and privately--something all nondisabled Maryland voters are able to do.
Unfortunately, our work is not done on this issue. The Maryland Board of
Elections has filed an appeal in this case, so the fight for this accessible
online ballot marking tool will go on. It is our hope to use this appeal as
an opportunity to create strong case law which will serve well in similar
voting cases across the country. The National Federation of the Blind and
the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland are determined to win this
fight. Being able to cast a secret ballot is a right for all Americans. We
will not stand for this right to be turned into only a dream.

 

As always, much of the determination of the National Federation of the Blind
of Maryland has been focused on the education of Maryland's blind children.
It is impossible not to approach this work with the love we feel for all
blind children--they are our hope for the future, and we want to do
everything we can to give them the love, hope, and determination (not to
mention some mentoring and skills) they need to transform their many dreams
into reality. Together we worked to raise money, recruit students, and
helped teach two successful National Federation of the Blind Braille
Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (NFB BELL) programs. I know all of you
enjoyed the NFB BELL presentation this morning; this program is one of our
most positive tools for helping blind elementary school children gain a
positive attitude about blindness, Braille, travel, cooking skills, and new
friendships with peers and adults alike. It is also one of our best tools to
reach out to the parents of these children in order to support them, offer
our love, give them hope for their children's futures, and work determinedly
with them to help their children get the things they need to become
successful blind adults. NFB BELL absolutely changes lives.

 

I am very excited to announce we are working hard to add a third NFB BELL
program to Maryland this summer. The program will be located on the Eastern
Shore. This is made possible because of the enthusiasm of our Delmarva
Chapter president, Danielle Earl, Delmarva Chapter member, Amy Crouse, and
the support of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland--our convention's
title sponsor. Thank you all for working together with love, hope, and
determination to transform the dream of a third NFB BELL program in Maryland
into reality. I cannot wait to see what type of impact this program will
have for children on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

 

Because of our love for blind children, our hopes for their future, and our
determination that they receive a high quality education which will give
them the skills they need to compete with their sighted peers, the NFBMD has
spent a great deal of effort in IEP advocacy work this year. Because of this
crucial work, more blind students have stronger IEPS. More students are
receiving instruction in Braille and keyboarding, and the appropriate use of
assistive technology is becoming a reality for more students. Due to
wonderful workshops provided by the Maryland Parents of Blind Children,
parents have learned to demand more specific goals and objectives in their
children's IEPS. The Common Core framework for Braille, developed because of
legislation dreamed up by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland,
and with the assistance of NFBMD members, is an excellent guide for parents
to use in the development of their children's IEPS. Unfortunately, our work
in this area is far from finished. This is most definitely an instance when
we have to buckle down and become the fierce turtle--striding toward our
goal of equal education for all blind children with the perseverance and
determination we know so well. The hope we get from the progress we make,
and the love we feel for the children and families we work with and for,
will keep this determination strong. Together, we will continue to advocate
at IEP meetings next year, and for as many years as it takes to insure our
children have the education they deserve.

 

Of course, if blind children are to have equal educations, good teachers
need to be available. Thanks to the determination of the National Federation
of the Blind of Maryland, our hope for quality teachers of blind students in
Maryland has grown stronger. New certification requirements for teachers of
blind students were adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education in
April, 2014. These requirements are an improvement over past requirements
because they have more emphasis on blindness, and the knowledge and skills
teachers truly need in order to teach blind students effectively.
Additionally, these new requirements should encourage more people to enter
this field because individuals no longer need a master's degree in special
education, along with vision certification, to become certified to teach
blind students in Maryland.

Although our determination has gained us these victories, there is still
unfinished business we are just as determined to rectify. In order for
teachers to be certified to teach blind students, they need to be competent
in Braille. We are still engaged in discussions to determine which Braille
competency test teachers who wish to be certified and recertified need to
take. Sharon Maneki and I will be attending a meeting regarding this in
early December. Have no fear. We are very clear which test we want teachers
to take, and we are determined for this workgroup to fully understand our
position. It is very likely we will be able to share the results of these
efforts in the presidential report next year.

 

Together with love, hope, and determination, members of the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland have worked to keep our affiliate
vibrant, and to make sure those who are not familiar with our work learn
about us, and are encouraged to join us. The Sligo Creek Chapter showed this
type of determination by conducting a very successful seminar for blind
diabetics in June. This seminar gave hope to its participants, that they
could manage their diabetes independently and have a loving network of
people eager to give advice and support. 

 

The National Harbor Chapter once again worked with determination and
organized a wonderful County Resource Day for the blind of Prince Georges
County. Not only has the National Harbor Chapter almost outgrown its chapter
meeting place, they have also outgrown the venue they have used for the
County Resource Day. These are fantastic problems to have, and it is clear
the National Harbor chapter is spreading love, hope, and determination
together in Prince Georges County.

 

Thanks to the determination of our website committee, the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland now has a redesigned website. This was a
great deal of hard work, but once again, it was a labor of love, as the
committee knows what a valuable tool our website is--it can spread our
message of love, hope, and determination to all who visit it.

 

Finally, with the leadership of Ronza Othman, Sharon Maneki, President
Riccobono, and many others, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
has completed a very successful 75 Days of Action Campaign. In fact, we were
so eager to start our campaign out right, that our Timonium, Lutherville,
Cockiesville Chapter joined our Federation Family in July--although the true
campaign did not kick off until September. As a new chapter president, Mary
Jo Hartle is working hard to reach out to blind people in northern Baltimore
County. She has a very strong board, and many loyal chapter members who are
working together with her every step of the way. It is always exciting to
welcome a new chapter; I expect very good things from this chapter in the
future.

 

Ronza Othman worked with Nikki Tippett and Jason Adkins in order to hold
chapter building events in Charlotte Hall and Cumberland. Sharon Maneki
worked tirelessly to revitalize our At Large Chapter. All of our other
chapter presidents are energized and excited about spreading our love, hope,
and determination to the blind of Maryland, and inviting them to work
together with us. Our labors are bearing fruit. There are new members from
the At Large and Tri-county Chapters here at our convention. There are many
other first time convention attendees from other local chapters. Although
the 75 Days of Action campaign officially ends tomorrow, I see this work as
far from over. These past 75 days have served as a launching point--as a
beginning. Our work to build the Federation will never end. And, in this
case, instead of frustrating me because we have done so much and still have
far to go, I am instead energized because of the joy I receive from
spreading our love, hope, and determination to others, together with my
brothers and sisters in this movement.

 

Together with love, hope, and determination we transform dreams into
reality. We truly do. And we do it every day. And together we will continue
this work forever. We each have love, hope, and determination separately.
But by joining together, we are more powerful, more loving, more hopeful,
and more determined than we can possibly be alone. Thank you all for your
work together with me this past year, and over these past six years of my
presidency. It has truly been an honor to serve as your president, and I
truly love each and every one of you, hope for your future, and am
determined to continue to work together with you in the National Federation
of the Blind of Maryland in order to transform all of our dreams into
reality. 

 


2014 Convention Round-up


By Judy Rasmussen

 

Do conventions really make a difference in people's lives? They most
certainly do! Here are just a few comments from people on the National
Federation of the Blind of Maryland listserv.

 

>From Ronza Othman: I had a great time. I loved the TLC Love Notes, the
banquet speeches, the 75 Days virtual presentation, the massive exhibit
hall, the parents and senior activities, the student activities and
enthusiasm, the fact we were bursting out of the hotel at the seams, and
that there was literally something for everyone at this convention. Thank
you, everyone, for making it the best convention so far! Cheers to us, and
Happy Birthday, NFB!

 

>From Sherry, a parent: My son and I had a wonderful time! Kenny enjoyed
playing with the children and I enjoyed many things, especially meeting lots
of people and hearing their stories about all they've accomplished. It was
such an inspiration seeing how well blind people got around and that they
don't let blindness stop them from enjoying life and doing what they want.
Despite having some eyesight, I had a harder time finding my way around than
those without eyesight. I really loved it there and am so thankful to the
NFB for making it possible for Kenny and I to attend the Maryland
convention. 

 

The 2014 convention brought about some changes to our affiliate. Because
Mark Riccobono is now president of the National Federation of the Blind,
Melissa did not feel she could raise three children, run an affiliate, and
accompany Mark to many events around the country. Sharon Maneki, who served
as president of the NFBMD from 1986 to 2006, agreed to serve as president
again. We are blessed to have Sharon assume this role, and as
Federationists, we will do all we can to help "build the Federation"!

 

Barry Hond, who has served as second vice president for many years,
indicated he wished to step down from his position. We certainly want to
thank Barry for his many years of service, and know that even if he is no
longer an officer, he will still remain very active. 

 

A few of the many convention activities and presentations included: 

 

*         a presentation on how to avoid falling victim to scams and
identity theft presented by Legal Shield

*         a well-attended parents' seminar

*         a presentation by students who attended both BELL programs

*         Soundtrack To The Past: The songs that describe our history and
remind us of the distance we have come toward living the life we want,
presented by Christopher Nussbaum, a high school student and history
enthusiast

*         A panel of giants in Federation history: Dr. Marc Maurer, Mary
Ellen Jernigan, and President Mark Riccobono described the past, present and
future of the Federation. The entire panel presentation can be found on our
website: www.nfbmd.org <http://www.nfbmd.org> .

                Elections were held, and the following people were elected
to officer and board positions:

President, Sharon Maneki; First Vice President, Debbie Brown; Second Vice
President, Jessie Hartle; Secretary, Judy Rasmussen; and Treasurer, Shawn
Jacobson. Elected board members were Darlene Barrett, Maurice Peret, and
Melissa Riccobono. 

 

We hope you will all be able to attend the 2015 convention in Ocean City,
November 13-15. 

 

                Six resolutions were passed at the 2014 convention. The
subjects of these resolutions were:

 

*         Lack of accessible information regarding benefits and eligibility
for assistance from the state Department of Human Resources;

*         Urging the State Department of Education to hire a director and
fully staff the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically handicapped;

*         Provision of adequate orientation and mobility instruction for
K-12 students with visual impairments;

*         Urging the Department of Budget and Management to insure the
accessibility of office information systems and websites to blind employees
and citizens;

*         Calling on Maryland colleges and universities to support the TEACH
Act; and

*         Urging transportation agencies to make their apps, websites and
fare collection systems nonvisually accessible.

 

To read the full text of each resolution, go to
http://www.nfbmd.org/drupal/advocacy

 


Jennifer Baker Award


By Judy Rasmussen

 

Jennifer Baker was a 23-year-old tenacious blind woman whose life was cut
short due to a number of chronic illnesses. Each year at our state
convention, the Jennifer Baker Award is given to a young person who has, or
is currently, overcoming significant obstacles to achieve independence and
obtain a quality education. It is a privilege to honor a young person who
deserves recognition for the courage shown and for achievements made, often
beyond expectations. The 2014 award winner is just such a person.

 

Five-year-old Aisha Watipur came to America from Afghanistan a little over a
year ago. Multiple injuries from a bomb blast made her medically fragile and
left her traumatized. Her injuries include missing one arm, her nose, and
both eyes. Knowing no English, transported to a strange country with no
family, and having to undergo several medical procedures would be enough for
an adult, let alone a five-year-old. 

 

Aisha Watipur exhibits the spirit of the Jennifer Baker Award. She was an
eager participant in the 2014 Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning
(BELL) program in Glendale. She seemed fearless as she explored her
environment, was eager to learn about the six dots that make up the braille
cell, and was full of questions for both adults and other BELL participants.
Everyone who met her knew she has the potential to be a leader, will be able
to learn braille, and was eager to help her blossom. Aisha has made
significant progress in learning to read and write the braille alphabet. She
gave a heart-felt thank you speech at the banquet where she received the
award.

 

               On January 4, 2015 at a Louis Braille celebration, the Sligo
Creek Chapter presented Aisha with a uni-manual braille writer. Now she will
have one both at school and at home. We feel certain that we will be writing
more about Aisha in the near future. Congratulations, Aisha! 

 


Anna Cable Award


By Judy Rasmussen

 

Anna Cable has been dead for many years, but her spirit lives on in the
award we give in her honor every year at our state convention. Anna died at
108, and for all but the last couple of years of her life, she was active in
her community. When Anna became blind, she was told she wouldn't be able to
learn braille because "she was too old." The word "old" didn't sit well with
Anna. She found a teacher, and did learn braille. She was very proud of this
fact, and encouraged young people to learn this essential skill.

 

The Anna Cable Award is given to people who have become blind as adults,
have learned braille, and are using it in their daily lives. This year, we
gave the award to two worthy recipients. Both recipients would have made
Anna proud.

 

Sondra Burchette is a resident of Pasadena. Before losing her vision at 48,
she worked for the state of Maryland. Her job was to ensure that all
physicians practicing in Maryland had their proper credentials. She loved
her job, but after losing vision, the amount of printed material was just
too much for her to handle. Due to budget cuts, she was handling the job of
more than one person. Sondra stated she had worked since she was 17, and
didn't want blindness to stop her from being productive.

 

Sondra attended the senior program sponsored by Blind Industries and
Services of Maryland (SAIL). She graduated in 2013, and then wondered what
she would do. About a month after her graduation, Ruth Sager, the Director
of the SAIL program, called and asked if she would be interested in
volunteering to teach braille to newly blind people at the Maryland Library
for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) in Baltimore. Sondra jumped
at the chance to give back. For the past two years, she has been traveling
to Baltimore two days a week to teach braille to newly blind people. She
looks forward to it every week, and is gratified when students realize that
age is not a factor in learning to read and write braille. In addition to
teaching braille, Sondra enjoys spending time with her grandchildren. Sondra
says she was very honored to receive the award, and said she will continue
to promote braille wherever she goes. She has been very active in our
newly-formed Chapter At large. She is always willing to share her knowledge
with others. Congratulations, Sondra!

 

The other recipient was Karen Crosby. Karen lost her vision due to a stroke.
Because she had a background in special education, she was determined to
learn some skills and remain independent. She, too, attended BISM's SAIL
program, but not at the same time as Sondra. Karen says she "really took to
braille." She said she labeled her clothes, her appliances, and food items.
She said that sometimes she would be asked to teach the class during the
SAIL program if the teacher was called away. Seeing that Karen was committed
to braille, Ruth Sager asked if she would like to volunteer at LBPH as well.
She and Sondra work together one day per week, and have become very good
friends. Karen is vice president of the BISM support group that meets on the
first Friday of each month. Karen will start teaching three new students
when she returns to LBPH in March after recovering from a broken ankle. 

 


NFBMD 2014 Scholarship Winners


By Melissa Lomax

 

Editor's Note: The NFB of Maryland is proud to continue its tradition of
awarding scholarships to deserving college students annually at the banquet
of our state convention. Money is raised from donations, but is mostly
funded by the crab feast in August sponsored by the Greater Baltimore
Chapter, and the dinner/auction coordinated by the Sligo Creek Chapter. The
deadline to apply for the 2015 scholarship program is April 15, 2015. 

 

This year, we awarded two scholarships to blind college students
demonstrating academic excellence and community involvement. The recipients,
David Toro and Amir Abdolrahimi, not only received a check to assist with
tuition--NFBMD paid for their trip to both the NFB national convention in
Orlando, Florida and the NFBMD state convention in Towson, Maryland. At both
conventions, scholarship winners were mentored by blind adults serving on
the Scholarship Committee, and others in the Federation.

 

David Toro is a freshman at Frostburg State University. His dream school has
always been Berklee School of Music, and since he was recently accepted
there, David will transfer in 2016. He is currently pursuing a bachelor's
degree in music business with a minor in songwriting. He aspires to become
an entertainment lawyer focusing primarily on record labels and performers
in the music industry.

Amir currently attends law school at the University of Baltimore. Though his
primary interest is disability rights law, he is open to other law fields,
since he believes his internships and classes have the potential to lead him
to a different focus. 

 

For both David and Amir, the NFB national and state conventions had a
profound impact on their confidence and career ambitions. Amir met dozens of
blind professionals in different fields, including a man who runs a company
doing liposuction. Several people he met worked in fields Amir previously
doubted blind people could succeed in. David shared similar experiences as
he was able to meet blind lawyers and musicians. With thousands of blind
people, both men found it surprisingly easy to relate with others' stories
and to give advice. It was not until Amir attended the NFBMD state
convention that it fully sank in--the NFB truly is a family. For David, it
became evident at the national convention that in order to succeed in
school, a career, and life overall, he would benefit greatly from receiving
adjustment-to-blindness training. 

For both winners, the greatest benefits from this scholarship program were
not the monetary rewards but the community. The mentors answered David's
questions about the law field and they encouraged Amir to continue seeking
ways to give back. In the future, Amir would like to become a mentor
himself, assisting those new to blindness or new to the NFB family. David
encourages anyone interested in gaining confidence to become connected to a
large group of people who understand blindness to apply to this
life-changing scholarship program. 

 


Dezman Jackson and Blind Industries Help People Adjust to Sightlessness


By Rachel Anne Warren, City Paper, Updated January 6, 2015

 

Editor's Note: In the article below, you will learn more about Dezman
Jackson, a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the NFBMD. Dezman has
served on the NFBMD Scholarship Committee for the past two years. In his
quiet way, Dezman demonstrates by his actions and mentoring skills what it
means to be a Federationist. 

 

Dezman Jackson is sitting at a table in a boardroom typing on a device. "You
can use speech on your phone, and it will speak the messages to you," he
says. "I have it speaking so fast that most people can't understand it. But
80 percent of the time, I mute speech and use this." He pulls out a leather
pouch that is just a little smaller than a standard keyboard. The rows of
differently shaped buttons look complicated, like something only Robert Moog
could design. "It's called a refreshable braille display. Basically it just
transmits what's on your screen to these pins that pop up and down, so you
can read the messages from your phone in Braille. I connect to this device
via Bluetooth."

 

People, especially on the bus, are curious and ask him, "What is that thing?
Are you playing music?"

 

The machines cost a lot--between $3,500 and $15,000 each--but there are
government programs which financially assist those who can't afford one on
their own. By assisting employers or employees in getting accessible
technology, the Department of Rehabilitative Services allows disabled people
to remain, or get, on even footing with those who don't have a disability.

 

Jackson offers a cane in one hand, and a plastic blindfold in the other. The
blinding process is called immersion, and usually lasts three weeks for new
students. The goal of immersion is to teach people with low vision how to
live independently without relying on their diminishing sight.

It's always bustling at the building off Washington Boulevard that houses
Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), where all students are
legally blind, dealing with a progressive blindness disease, or are fully
blind. And most of the employees are blind, too. Framed photos of
blindfolded groups white-water rafting and working with power tools in the
on-premise wood shop line the walls.

 

"It's only been recent that blind people have been able to be certified in
teaching other people travel because for years it was viewed as a profession
that only sighted people could assure safety," he says. "So we were kind of
locked out of the profession."

 

Many blind adolescents are pushed into professions such as music or massage
therapy early on because it seems those jobs don't really require sight.
"History has kind of shown the progression," Jackson says. "At one point,
blind people were walking around on the streets as beggars. Eventually
people worked into what we call blind trades, which is good because it
showed that blind people have something to contribute, and can be productive
in society. But we are constantly trying to push forward and raise
expectations even higher."

 

When Jackson grew up in Mobile, Alabama, he was one of the very few blind
students integrated into the public school system. "I was fortunate that I
was able to get a lot more training than some," he says. "But the component
that I didn't have access to was that I didn't see a lot of successful blind
people, adults. Teachers, as great as they were, were sighted."

 

In high school, Jackson began to question his own future and what was
available to him. "Around the time I was turning 16, you know what happens
at that age--you get your driver's license," he recalls. "I didn't have the
confidence to get around my neighborhood and nobody really expected me to,
anyway. And at that point I just started wondering, 'what is life gonna be
like for me?'"

 

It was also difficult to find a job. "I know I didn't get to work a summer
job like all my friends did," Jackson says. "It wasn't as easy for me to
convince somebody I could go to McDonald's and work behind the counter."

 

But on the night of his homecoming dance, something very small happened that
helped him gain more confidence. "I took a girl to the homecoming dance. I
was able to look up directions from my house to my high school, and that was
huge for me because I felt like I had some sense of control," he recalls. "I
wasn't driving, but I was giving directions." He doesn't think twice about
finding directions now, but at the time it was a big movement toward his
future independence.

 

Jackson completed his undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology, but
he says he still struggled at times. "Ninety percent of what we teach here
is confidence," he says. "A problem-solving approach to things, and I really
didn't have that at the time."

 

As the lead rehabilitation instructor and mobility specialist, Jackson
embodies that problem-solving approach to life. "Go ahead and put your
blindfold on," he says.

 

"We start off on this hard floor on the first day when we're teaching people
how to hold and use the cane" and listen to the sound the cane makes.
Jackson goes on to explain that, with practice, a blind person can even tell
where an opening in a hallway is just by feeling how the cane cuts through
the air flow.

 

"We're basically about helping people get their life back after they lose
their sight," he says. With the help of government funding, BISM aims to be
the center point for blindness in the state of Maryland and across the East
Coast. With programs and classes focusing on life skills such as taking care
of a house, cooking, traveling with a cane, reading Braille, and using
technology, the goal is for students to gain optimal independence whether
they are blind or losing their eyesight.

 

"I think we give way more credit to our eyes or our ears, or sense organs,
than is necessary," he says. "Vision happens in the brain, you know? Your
eyes are really just a vehicle. The brain will actually take what might be
used for vision for a blind person and remaps it to visualize the way we
learn to see things. Seeing doesn't have to happen with the eyes. You just
have to be more inquisitive to get a sense of the world around you."

 


Benefits of Training at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)


By Melissa Lomax

 

Editor's Note: The NFBMD is proud to sponsor middle and high school students
to attend training programs around the country. We spend an average of
$10,000 annually to assist college students to achieve their career goals,
and middle and high school students gain independence. Below is an interview
with one of the students who participated in Independence 101. As you will
see from the article, she gained much from the experience. 

 

Alycia "Aly" Levy has enough energy to light up a room and enough drive to
accomplish any goal she sets for herself. Aly is currently a freshman in
high school, and her favorite subject is English. She enjoys arts and crafts
and spending time with her animals. Though she has yet to establish a career
goal, she believes that her love for animals will stem into a career as a
veterinarian or something similar. Aly believes that with everything comes
struggles, and blindness is no exception. "But even still," she says, "I try
to do the best." 

 

                With help from NFBMD, Aly was able to attend the 2014
Independence 101 summer program hosted by Blind Industries and Services of
Maryland (BISM). This three-week comprehensive life skills program focuses
on building confidence and independence for blind middle school students.
Skills for independence were developed through braille, technology,
independent living, and travel classes. Out of these classes, Aly learned
the most from technology class, and though travel presented her with the
most difficulties, she admits to learning new skills. Outside of classes,
Independence 101 participants visited points of interest in Washington,
D.C., went rock climbing, explored local malls, and much more! The best
activities, according to Aly, included the trip to Six Flags and to Sky
Zone, an indoor trampoline park. Both the high school and middle school
students worked together to design an activity just for Aly. In the middle
of the program, Aly celebrated her birthday with us! We baked brownies and
placed braille letters on them, and then we celebrated with dancing and
food! The graduation ceremony still holds significance for Aly. After all
the awards were distributed, Aly and two of her friends performed their
original song, "Do You Want to Go to BISM?" Written to the tune of "Do You
Want to Build a Snowman?" From the movie "Frozen."

 

                After attending the Independence 101 summer program, Aly
believes that she has learned skills that make her a much stronger person.
She now uses her cane frequently, and during Thanksgiving, she was able to
assist her mother with cooking. As an avid reader, Aly appreciates now
knowing how to download her own books on the NLS BARD iPhone app. During the
program, Aly met Feven Geleta, who soon became one of her closest friends.
"I loved our friendship because she made me feel like an older sister," Aly
explains, "But then there were times when I felt like the younger sister
because I would be upset and Feven would encourage me to be happy." The
counselors have the same impact on Aly. Today, she still talks with several
counselors because she is able to relate with them--they are closer to her
age and they are blind, so to Aly, they are some of the people who truly
understand all that she endures. Overall, her experience this summer has
reshaped her thinking in several ways. Without the NFB of Maryland, this
opportunity may not have been possible. 

 


Memories of Pauline Johnson


 

Pauline Johnson, a long-time member of the Sligo Creek Chapter, died in
November, 2014. Pauline was passionate about the Federation, cared very much
about members who were ill or had special needs, and spent much time
educating her co-workers and friends about blindness. Her other passion was
increasing our membership. Our theme song for the 75th anniversary "Let's Go
Build The Federation" speaks to Pauline's spirit and determination. 

 

Here are some fond memories of Pauline shared by several of the
Federationists who were privileged to know her. 

 

Sharon Maneki stated how much she appreciated Pauline's willingness to get
on with her life after blindness. Despite many obstacles, Pauline was able
to maintain her job with the Prince George's Department of Mental Health
Services. She was always willing to testify before the legislature in
Annapolis. We were all proud that we were able through legislation to help
Pauline maintain custody of her granddaughter.

 

Lloyd Rasmussen recalled that on the way back from an NFB convention,
Pauline was put in first class and sat by Senator Pete Domenici of New
Mexico. It is hard enough to get an actual appointment with a senator or
congressman, and here he was, sitting right next to her. Never one to be
intimidated, Pauline used the opportunity to educate him about the
legislative issues the Federation was working on at the time. 

 

Shawn Jacobson remembered how Pauline helped him obtain speakers and
attendees for a leadership seminar to educate the Hispanic population about
blindness.

 

      Terry Powers stated how much she enjoyed teaching Pauline ways of
folding money, and giving her tips on using her cane efficiently.

 

Tom Bickford said she was a friend with an open heart and open arms.

 

      Michelle Clark said she appreciated Pauline's sharing her tips on how
to deal with men, which Michelle did not share with the group.

 

     Barbara Kean remembered the Thanksgiving she invited Pauline to her
house. Pauline's MetroAccess ride was several hours late in picking her up.
By the time her ride finally came, Barbara said she felt like she and
Pauline were sisters. 

 

     Joyce Brooks was always amazed at how many cakes Pauline would bake for
the scholarship auction and then how often she would buy them back. 

 

Fernisha Johnson talked fondly of her grandmother. She said that even when
Pauline was in the nursing home and quite ill, she still talked about going
to convention. Pauline was the greatest influence in her young life. She
told Fernisha that you have to work hard for what you want in life.

 

There are many other things we could say about Pauline. In her memory, let's
go build the Federation!


Ongoing Battle Against Discrimination Continues


By Judy Rasmussen

 

When a blind person becomes competitively employed in a job he/she enjoys,
all of us share in the victory. Yasmin Reyazuddin and all of us rejoiced
when she became employed as a contractor with Montgomery County in 2001, and
a full-time employee in 2002. In December, 2004 she began working on the
Department of Health and Human Services information line. She remained in
this position until December, 2009. 

 

In 2008, Montgomery County purchased Siebel software to transition to a
Customer Relationship Management system. The purpose for the change was to
allow County residents to have one point of entry to access services. By
calling 311, residents could be referred to any County service quickly. 

 

Whenever a new software system is purchased, all employees experience some
anxiety. Eventually, the newness wears off, and people become accustomed to
the new system. However, if you are blind and the software purchased is not
readable by your assistive technology, you are in real trouble. Such was the
case with Yasmin. Since she was not allowed to test the software prior to
its purchase, nor at any time during the County's customization, she had no
way of knowing whether she would be able to assume her duties in this new
environment. As it turned out, the Siebel CRM software was not accessible
when used with her screen reader. Consequently, Yasmin was transferred to
another County position which does not fully utilize all of her skills. She
is still providing a valuable service to County residents, but she does not
handle nearly the volume of calls she could be handling if she had remained
in the 311 call center environment. This transfer affected her pay grade,
and there is no room for upward mobility in her current position.

 

In April, 2011, with the help of the National Federation of the Blind,
Yasmin filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County, claiming discrimination
under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit alleged that the
County failed to accommodate her need for accessible software to continue
doing her job. 

 

In legal matters, things usually move slowly. In March, 2014 a summary
judgment was issued by the Circuit Court in favor of Montgomery County. The
judge ruled that the County was not at fault by purchasing an inaccessible
software system, because Yasmin had been transferred into another County
position, and therefore had been accommodated. The judgment also stated that
it would be an undue hardship for the County to retrofit the current system
to make it accessible for one employee.

 

Not satisfied with this ruling, the Federation appealed the decision. On
January 28, 2015, before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond,
oral arguments were heard by a three-judge panel. The NFB, represented by
Brown, Goldstein and Levy, argued that the lower court incorrectly
interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act. Purchasing an inaccessible
software system in the first place renders it impossible for any blind
person to apply for these customer service positions. The County's argument
is that the cost is too great, and it has not been proven whether the
current system customized according to County specifications could be made
accessible. Representatives from Oracle (vendor of the Siebel software)
claim that the County made so many customizations to the system that they
broke the accessibility features built into it.

 

The judges will next rule on whether there is a dispute in the facts of the
case, and therefore whether the case should be referred back to a lower
court for a jury trial.

 

The Federation never gives up--we may lose some battles, but we won't lose
the war! 

 


Students compete in Braille Challenge, finding friends and competition


By Joe Burris
<http://www.baltimoresun.com/bal-joe-burris-20141007-staff.html>  The
Baltimore Sun 

 



Picture:  Chris Nusbaum at the regional Braille Challenge at the Maryland
School for the Blind in Baltimore. (Joe Burris / Baltimore Sun)

Winners of local Braille Challenge will head to nationals in Los Angeles.

Blind students find friends and compete at Braille Challenge.

Chris Nusbaum of Taneytown said that he and other blind students don't
always readily take to learning Braille. His first few years with the
touch-sensitive writing system meant being pulled from regular classes at
Running Meade Elementary School to practice. No fun, he said.

Then Nusbaum took part in the Braille Challenge, a national academic
competition for students ages 6 through 19. The meet that tests students in
such areas as reading comprehension and graph reading not only fueled
Nusbaum's competitiveness but it allied him with other blind and visually
impaired students.

"I found that they were blind kids just like me that I can bond with and who
loved Braille, and we can have fun while still cultivating those Braille
skills," said Nusbaum, 16, who on Saturday took part in the regional round
of the Braille Challenge, which was held at the Maryland School for the
Blind in Baltimore.

Sponsored by the school and the state Department of Education, the challenge
pits students in test competitions that require them to read Braille and
type into a Braille device.

The competition was created by the Los Angeles-based Braille Institute of
America, whose officials say it's the only academic competition for blind
students in the U.S. The institute developed the competition 15 years ago to
encourage blind children of all ages to fine-tune their Braille skills. More
than 1,000 students participated last year, officials said.

Winners of the regional meet head to the national Braille Challenge, which
is slated for June at the institute headquarters. Only 60 students advance
to the national challenge annually.

Nusbaum has reached the finals each year from 2007 to 2010 and finished as
high as third place in 2009.

"As a blind person, I know how important Braille is in my life," said
Nusbaum, who said he would like to someday become a teacher for the visually
impaired. "Braille is really what I use to access the outside world, what I
use to access my classroom material, read books and communicate with my
friends through texting and email."

Jacqueline Otwell, an educational consultant for outreach service for the
Maryland School for the Blind and coordinator for the Braille Challenge,
said many students come from traditional schools.

"They don't have opportunities to sit next to two students that can read and
write Braille," she said. "It's great friendship building."

School for the Blind officials said the regional event draws students from
as far away as West Virginia.

Students said that while the meet offers a chance to forge ties and make
friends, it is also quite competitive. Winners get prizes of cash and
state-of-the-art technology.

"It can be a little nerve-racking, but otherwise it's really fun when you
have the skill of Braille and can do your best to compete in the challenge,"
said Julia Stockburger of Perry Hall, who has attended the national
competition in each of the past three years.

"I learned that when you try your best you can achieve great things," added
Julia, who is 9.

Much of that achievement has come with the advent of new technology, said
Michael Bina, president of the Maryland School for the Blind. Such
technology includes devices that generate Braille characters and Web
applications that eliminate the need to view a screen.

"Technology has opened up the door for kids," Bina said. "It has made the
playing field level for kids. It has allowed them to be more competitive.
They don't have to wait for someone else as an intermediary to give them
information."

The new technology had led some to believe that paper Braille would become
obsolete. Not so, Bina said.

"You talk to blind adults, blind students," said Bina, "and they love their
books. They read them just like I read mine."

Copyright C 2015, The Baltimore Sun <http://www.baltimoresun.com> 

Editor's Note: Listed below are the names of all students who participated
in the Braille Challenge. We are pleased that several of the winners have
participated in our BELL programs. 


Novice: (Kindergarten an Pre-K)


1st: Maddox Dalyai

2nd: Oriana Riccobono

3rd: Nadiya Albrecht


Apprentice: (First and Second grades) 


1st: Meredith Day

2nd: Maria Zoerlien

3rd: Tyler Huber

Honorable Mention: Nadezda Chernoknizhnaia


Freshman: (Third and Fourth grades) 


1st: Sujan Dhakal

2nd: Julia Stockburger

3rd: Anthony Moncman

Honorable Mentions: Derrick Day, Mossila Gaba, Naudia Graham, Devon Lengel,
Alexis McPhail


Sophomore: (Fifth and Sixth grades)


1st: Kayla Harris

2nd: Feven Geleta

3rd: Melika Aziminia

Honorable Mentions: LaShai Richardson, Mitchell Villanueva, Ladrea Stanton,
Virginia Jacobs


Junior Varsity: (Seventh and Eighth grades)


1st: Gracie Zuzarte

2nd: Andrea Darmawan

3rd: Nesma Aly

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Shallue, Steve Lin


Varsity: (High School)


1st: Christopher Nusbaum

2nd: Naim Abuelhawa

3rd: Steven Cantos

Honorable Mentions: Nick Cantos, Cody Mulligan, Caroline Carbaugh, Leo
Cantos

 


The Race in Annapolis Is Under Way


By Sharon Maneki

 

               Each year, the Maryland General Assembly has 90 days to pass
the state budget and to enact legislation. The session began on January 14
and no matter what, it will end on April 13. The National Federation of the
Blind of Maryland was off to a fast start as well. On January 22, 55
Federationists visited the 141 delegates and 47 senators who make up the
General Assembly. We had to educate many new members about our message of
hope and determination to ensure that every blind person in the state can
live the life he or she wants. 

 

We were pleased to visit with returning members and friends to enlist their
continued support for our legislation. Two highlights of the day were the
passage of a special resolution and our chance to recognize Senator Joan
Carter Conway. Both the House and the Senate passed resolutions
congratulating the National Federation of the Blind on its 75th anniversary.
A special thank you to the representatives of District 46, Senator Bill
Ferguson, and delegates Peter Hammen, Luke Clippinger and Brook Lierman who
sponsored these resolutions. 

 

Senator Joan Carter Conway has been a champion for the blind throughout her
tenure in the Maryland Senate. Since she was unable to attend our 2014
Convention, we took the opportunity to thank her in person and to recognize
her many contributions, especially in education, to improve the lives of
blind children and adults in Maryland. At our convention, we gave special
recognition to Senator Roger Manno and Delegate Frank Turner for their
efforts in the General Assembly last year. All three of these individuals
have used their leadership to promote greater opportunities for the blind.

 

We are promoting three initiatives in the Maryland General Assembly this
year. SB 538 and HB 535 will improve orientation and mobility instruction
for blind and visually impaired children by requiring school districts to
notify parents of this type of instruction and by requiring the IEP team to
discuss and evaluate the child's current and future need for this
instruction. Our second issue is supporting legislation, SB 550 and HB 1083,
which will offer greater protection to disabled parents who go to court to
settle custody decisions for their children. The third issue is to strongly
urge the Maryland General Assembly not to cut the $250,000 that Governor
Hogan appropriated in his 2016 budget for the Center of Excellence in
Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. For further
explanation of our legislative program, go to www.nfbmd.org
<http://www.nfbmd.org>  and select Current Advocacy Issues and read the fact
sheets.

 

It is time to write letters and to attend bill hearings. Keep your eyes and
ears open to upcoming information on the listservs. The clock is ticking. We
hope to end our race with three victories.

 


Dundalk 14-year-old doesn't let blindness keep him out of the hunt


Taken from the Baltimore Sun, December 24, 2014 , By Brittany Cheng

 

Editor's note:  Blind youth, Cody Mulligan, lives the life he wants.  Cody
will be familiar to Spectator readers because of his many years of
participating in the Braille Challenge and the Braille Readers are Leaders
contexts.

 



Picture:  Cody Mulligan poses with his target sheet, his stepfather, Jay
Hessler, and his mother, Sarah Mulligan. 

 

Cody Mulligan is unique for a hunter, and not just because he's 14. The
Dundalk resident is also blind.

Despite a disorder that left him blind, Dundalk's Cody Mulligan is
determined to continue hunting.

Cody Mulligan was listening.

The 14-year-old heard the crack of the gunshot firing at the closest target,
7 yards away. He caught the sound of the bullet as it sliced through the air
and lodged in the side of the low ridge, behind two rows of bright yellow,
rectangular signs. He didn't need to look to know what had happened.

"You missed," he told his stepfather. "I can hear a lot of dirt flying."

It was a cloudless, breezy Sunday afternoon in October at the outdoor
Baltimore County Game & Fish Rifle Range on Northwind Road in Baltimore, and
Cody was waiting for his turn to shoot. It would be one of the last few
times the Dundalk resident could practice before the Nov. 15-16 Junior Deer
Hunt Days, an annual state-sponsored, two-day event that allows minors to
hunt on private and designated public grounds.



Picture: Cody Mulligan takes aim at the shooting range at the Baltimore
County Game and Fish Rifle Range.

Cody already had met the requirements for participation: He passed a
hunter-safety course in August and received his hunting license in October.
In that way, he is like most of his fellow youth hunters. But the way in
which Cody is unlike them, and so many other people, is what makes his
hunting trips so extraordinary: He is blind.

No 'easy blow'

Cody wasn't born without his sight. When the teenager was younger, he had
learned to read the letters of the alphabet and he could differentiate among
the colors of the rainbow.

Then things changed, said his mother, Sarah Hessler.

"He would overreach for things that were right in front of him," she said.
"That was pre-K at the time, and his teacher mentioned he was having vision
problems."

Concerned, Hessler rushed her son to see a doctor, who returned with a
diagnosis: juvenile Batten disease, a rare neurodegenerative disorder that
causes affected individuals to lose first their vision, then their acquired
developmental skills, motor abilities and cognition.

Cody was 4, and within a year, he had lost his sight.

It was unavoidable. Although Batten affects about 1 in 100,000 individuals
worldwide, both Hessler and her ex-husband, Cody's biological father, had
carried the recessive gene and passed it along.

"But Cody, he's done well with it. He's resilient," Hessler said. "It was a
lot harder for us as parents. . It wasn't an easy blow."

Cody said he can't tell the difference between colors but is able to
perceive light. He can, for instance, tell whether the sun is up outside or
whether a room's lights are on. He has memorized the layout of his house's
interior and exterior, but at school and elsewhere, he uses a 52-inch
folding cane to help detect nearby objects and get around.

We hope that this story will inspire others with a disability to go after
and achieve their goals no matter what. - Sarah Hessler, Cody's mother

Cody regularly sees a pediatrician and a neurologist, who track the
progression of the disorder, Hessler said. It hasn't affected him quite as
harshly as others his age; Cody has retained most of his cognitive
abilities, she noted.

He can speak coherently and walk properly. He's bright. He's a 10th-grade
environmental-studies magnet student at Sparrows Point, where he is on the
wrestling team.

Cody is a lot like any other kid, Hessler said. There was a long pause
before she spoke again.

"It's going to get a lot worse."

Goodwill hunting 

One by one, Cody removed each component from its compartment and assembled
the Ruger Super Redhawk 44M at the outdoors range that Sunday afternoon. He
held the gun steady and checked to see whether the safety was on before he
loaded the bullets.

"All ready?" asked Jay Hessler, his stepfather. Cody nodded.

With Jay's hand placed gently on his back, Cody adjusted his aim as he
listened to his stepfather's instructions, his finger still outside the
trigger guard as he waited for the go-ahead. Jay gave it: "Now."

Cody's first hunting trip was three years ago, with his childhood friend,
Wayne. The two boys, then 11 and 12, went squirrel hunting, and even though
the younger Cody didn't shoot anything, he liked it enough to ask Jay, who
also hunts, to help him get a license.

Jay said yes. The sudden interest in hunting wasn't a surprise; Cody always
had loved the outdoors, his parents said. Cody played adaptive soccer and
baseball growing up, and he often went fishing and dirt-bike riding, too.

"He just wanted to do it all on his own," Jay said. "He pushed me to figure
out how to make it happen for him."

Blind hunters are rare but not unheard of, said Pete Jayne, who has worked
for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for 32 years. In 2000,
then-13-year-old Danielle Shives, who lost her vision after a brain tumor,
also passed a state hunter-safety course and was licensed.



Picture: Cody Mulligan takes aims at the shooting range at the Baltimore
County Game and Fish Rifle Range with the guidance of his stepfather, Jay
Hessler.

Jayne, however, had not heard of a hunter with Batten disease. Neither had
Margie Frazier, executive director of Batten Disease Support and Research
Association, the disorder's largest advocacy group in North America.

But Cody's disability did not mean his application for a hunting license was
any different. He still had to follow the standard procedure: Complete the
hunter-safety course, scoring at least 80 percent on the written test, and
pass the field exam. Once he did, he would be eligible to pay the $10.50 fee
for a junior hunting license.

Passing the test

Eugene "Butch" Janeczek's sister had a neighbor whose son was blind. One
day, Janeczek saw the boy ride his bike, and he was befuddled, not knowing
that such a thing was possible. It turned out that the boy could sense the
fence and rely on the sounds he heard.

"That made me understand that with Cody, his senses are more sensitive in
the hearing," said Janeczek, head instructor at the Baltimore County Game &
Fish Protective Association, or BCGF, where Cody took his hunter-safety
course.

As he sat at the head of a BCGF table in October, Cody held his hands in his
lap, eyes cast toward the wooden surface, and listened to his mother and
stepfather speak. When it was his turn, he needed a bit of coaxing from his
parents before he opened up. Even then, his answers were brief.

"It's a lot," Jay Hessler said. "And not being able to see what's going on
and take other people's words for granted, he's got to put lots of faith and
trust in other people."

To help Cody prepare for his test in August, Sarah Hessler would read aloud
passages of the hunter-safety course textbook to her son. On test day, Cody
recited the information to his proctor, who recorded his 50 answers on a
paper copy.

Each year, 180 to 200 people pass the BCGF class, but just seven to nine
manage a perfect score. Cody was one of them.

"He's like a sponge," Sarah said. "He absorbed it all."

Not everyone who scores well on the written test passes, however. Recently,
the BCGF failed a 10-year-old girl because she wasn't able to hold a gun
safely.

But Cody's strong performance on the field test reassured the testers, said
Terry Crawford, a BCGF board member. They would not have passed Cody if they
had not been confident in his ability to handle a gun safely, he said.

"We promote safety. Butch is a part of that. We're a stickler for that, and
we harp on that," Crawford said.

Janeczek added: "One of the life lessons taught to me years ago was: 'Sorry'
will not get a bullet back."

A 'careful' approach

Maryland law allows people with disabilities, including vision impairment,
to hunt from vehicles, Jayne said. It also permits the use of laser sights,
which project a dot of light onto the target to allow the mentor in charge -
in Cody's case, Jay Hessler - to track the gun's aim.

Dr. Judith Goldstein, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute
who studies low vision and vision impairment, said the recoil of a gun
presents some safety concerns for a sight-and-guide approach. But laser
sights make the process safer for the mentor because "a lot of the cues are
verbal," she said.

Mentors "don't have to be quite right over the shoulder; they can be
slightly to the side," said Goldstein, who is not Cody's doctor. "And the
hunters themselves feel a bit more independent, as they feel like they're
able to be aiming more themselves."

This is important, she said, because it's not just about shooting a gun.

"I often don't have people coming to me about hunting who have never hunted
before, or whose family doesn't hunt," she said. "So it's really about a
culture, an activity that people are familiar with and want to maintain. And
so what we want to do is make sure people are able to engage in these
activities, so their quality of life, from their family perspective and
social perspective, is good."

Frazier, the BDSRA executive director, said she applauds families like
Cody's "who want to make sure their children have opportunities of all
kinds."

But she noted that her greatest concern is with the way Batten disease will
manifest when Cody loses some of his cognitive and motor skills, and she
recommends that children with the disorder not be left alone with a gun.

"The parents and guardians should be very, very careful," said Frazier, a
social worker by training who has worked with people with disabilities for
more than 20 years. "We have to be very, very mindful about sight impairment
and dementia
<http://www.baltimoresun.com/topic/health/diseases-illnesses/alzheimers-dise
ase-HEDAI000007-topic.html>  and having anything of a fatal nature close to
a child."

It all boils down to safe habits, Goldstein said. Operating a gun requires
sufficient training, even for those fully sighted. "A visually impaired
person is no different," she said. "They need to know how to use that gun
properly."

Said Jayne: "At a very distant level, it seems illogical to allow a blind
person to hunt. But if you understand how this is being done and the
challenge to the young man and the responsibility of the mentor, it can be .
a real thrill for him to be able to practice it safely and ethically."

A dream not deferred 

During the Junior Deer Hunt Days, Cody followed his stepfather to Crawford's
private farm for a chance to catch a deer. He did not bring one home; two of
the deer he spotted were too far away, and a third was too small.

He went to Green Ridge State Forest earlier this month but also returned
empty-handed. He had taken one shot and missed.

Allowing Cody to hunt is not necessarily about catching a deer, though; it's
about helping him to realize his dreams, his mother said. Cody's next
hunting trip will be in January.

"We are always proud of his goals and achievements," she wrote in a message,
"and we hope that this story will inspire others with a disability to go
after and achieve their goals no matter what."


Spectator Specs


Deaths


Longtime Federationist, Tina Gormley, died on March 4th after a two month
battle with various complications that developed after a scheduled surgery.
Tina found the NFB through our state scholarship program.  She also found
her husband Pat at the same convention where she received her scholarship.
Tina was an active member and served for a time as Treasurer of the Sligo
Creek Chapter.  She was an excellent fundraiser.  People still talk about
her baking and cooking abilities, especially her potato salad. When Tina and
her family moved to Frostburg, they continued to be active in the Greater
Cumberland Chapter.    When Tina's vision was restored enough for her to be
able to drive, she did not forget her Federation family.  She was also very
active in her church and many other service clubs.  We will miss her
kindness, generosity and caring spirit.

 

We are sorry to report the death of Annie Gordon. Annie learned of the NFB
later in life and was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter. She was
very delighted to attend our National and State Conventions.

 

May they rest in peace.


Graduations


In August 2014 David Rissling-Venit graduated from the University of Alabama
at Tuscaloosa. He earned a BA in Music.  David has several part-time jobs
including announcer for wheelchair basketball at the University of Alabama,
and a musician for the University of Alabama Afro-American Gospel Choir.
David is also a professional musician for local churches.  He already has a
great reputation for enhancing the religious experience through his musical
talent and hopes to obtain additional paid positions.

 

Aaron Richmond graduated from Goucher College in December 2014. He earned a
BA in International Relations. Aaron plans to get a job abroad and to teach
English as a second language. 


Achievements


Jason Polansky, at 18, is the youngest person to pass the National
Certification in Unified English Braille from the National Blindness
Professional Certification Board.  This test measures competency in both
reading and writing Braille using the new Unified English Braille Code.
Congratulations, Jason!

 

Shirley Riffle was recognized for her many years of service in the
rehabilitation department at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland on
February 26, 2015.  At its annual State Conference, the DC/MD Chapter of the
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually
Impaired presented its Recognition of Excellence in Direct Service Award to
Shirley Riffle.  Shirley has been a part of the rehabilitation staff for
over 20 years.  She has spent much of her career working with newly blind
seniors who attest to her tremendous abilities to listen and offer
encouragement.  Congratulations to Shirley Riffle for this well-deserved
award.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Maneki, President

National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

410-715-9596

 

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