[NFB-NM] The Braille Monitor, April 2017

Tonia Trapp tltrapp.7.467 at gmail.com
Sun Apr 2 23:51:25 UTC 2017

-----Original Message-----
From: brl-monitor-bounces at nfbcal.org [mailto:brl-monitor-bounces at nfbcal.org]
On Behalf Of Brian Buhrow
Sent: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 11:29 PM
To: brl-monitor at nfbcal.org
Subject: [Brl-monitor] The Braille Monitor, April 2017

                               BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 60, No. 4   April 2017
                             Gary Wunder, Editor

      Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash
drive, by the

      Mark Riccobono, President

      telephone: (410) 659-9314
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for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national
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Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation  about  forty  dollars  per  year.
Members  are  invited,  and  nonmembers  are   requested,   to   cover   the
subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to  National  Federation
of the Blind and sent to:

      National Federation of the Blind
      200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
      Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

ISSN 0006-8829
) 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind
      Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick
or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a
National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots-the
familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and
a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This
smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad
covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one
position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again.
(Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive,
the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is
inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital
materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges,
when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.
      You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to
your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb
drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in
order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with
the drive when you return the device.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Palm-lined drive leading to front entrance of Rosen Shingle
Creek Resort]
                     Orlando Site of 2017 NFB Convention

      The 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take
place in Orlando, Florida, July 10 to July 15, at the Rosen Shingle Creek
Resort, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. Make your
room reservation as soon as possible with the Shingle Creek staff only.
Call (866) 996-6338.
      The 2017 room rates are singles and doubles, $83; and for triples and
quads $89. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at
present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under
seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $95-per-room deposit is required
to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if
notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1,
2017. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
      Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Reservations may be made before June 1, 2017, assuming that rooms are still
available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the
convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
      All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include
plush Creek Sleeper beds, 40" flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed
internet service, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hair
dryers. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site
spa. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of dining options,
including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room
      The schedule for the 2017 convention is:
Monday, July 10  Seminar Day
Tuesday, July 11 Registration and Resolutions Day
Wednesday, July 12     Board Meeting and Division Day
Thursday, July 13      Opening Session
Friday, July 14  Business Session
Saturday, July 15      Banquet Day and Adjournment

Vol. 60,  No.  4                                                       April


Illustration: Cleaning Where No Human Has Cleaned Before

Walking a Mile: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Simulations
by Mark Riccobono

Progress on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act: The Regulations, the
Law, and What They Will Mean for the Blind
by John Pari

Aira, the Next Technology Revolution in Devices for Blind People
by Michael Hingson

What Do We Really Think of Sight?
by Eric Duffy

There's a List for That
by David Andrews

The Urgency of Optimism
by Marc Maurer

Dots from Space!: Voices from the Past
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

David Young is a Champion for Blind Iowans
by Jim Omvig

Independence Market Corner


Monitor Miniatures

[PHOTO CAPTION: A view of the unspoiled wilderness and clear atmosphere of
[PHOTO CAPTION: The picture taken by the Mars Rover shows the pristine
Martian vista marred by tracks left by the Rover.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: NASA missions to the Moon have left not one but three of
these Lunar Rovers abandoned to deteriorate without care on the surface of
our closest celestial neighbor.]
                 Cleaning Where No Human Has Cleaned Before

      April is the month when we celebrate Earth Day, a tradition started
back in the early 1970s when we realized the vulnerability of our planet
and the need for humans to exercise some care for it. Many in that original
movement hailed from California, a state long known for its progressive
attitudes and the willingness to tackle big problems.
      Always on the forefront of change, Californians, particularly members
of the National Federation of the Blind of California, have turned their
attention to other parts of the universe, creating the first-of-its-kind
Mars Day. Why Mars, you might ask? The answer is best summed up by Ever Lee
Hairston, the president of the affiliate. "Well, we know what we have done
to our own planet, but what is more disturbing but less well known is what
we have done to other bodies near us. We went to the Moon, walked on the
Moon, and even golfed on the Moon. What did we leave: a sign saying we came
in peace for all mankind-that's good, but think about the trash. We sent
Ranger Seven to the Moon, admired its pictures as it soared toward the
lunar surface, but we didn't land it-no, we crashed it. Any thoughts about
picking it up: not on your life. That first lunar module that carried
Armstrong and Aldrin: when we were through with it, what did we do? We
crashed it into the Moon, and after observing the seismic impact, we
haven't given it a single thought. We simply must be better neighbors in
the solar system and in the universe at large, and if we don't start it
here, who will?"
      Brian Buhrow, a man with a technical background, good literary
skills, and a keen sense of fairness and justice goes further: "At this
point Mars is a pretty pristine place. It has a few foreign bodies on it
and a rover whose warranty is about to run out, but it's never too late to
start reclaiming our trash and disposing of it in a manner befitting of at
least one intelligent species in the universe. All of us want good American
jobs and to build infrastructure, so why not create and deploy the first
trash truck capable of interstellar travel? Perhaps we'll have to work on
revising overtime rules for the waste disposal engineers, but we can do
this in a way that creates good, well-paying, and meaningful jobs for
Americans and at the same time dispel the myth that there are some dirty
jobs Americans just won't do. There can be no better project to demonstrate
America's commitment to hard work and the harnessing of technology and
being for the world that city on the hill made so popular by Former
President Ronald Reagan."
      Not surprisingly there are some Federationists who gently offer some
cautionary advice. Lisamaria Martinez, the former president of the Sports
and Recreation Division, worries that the gravity on Mars will be so much
less than that of Earth that those who work there will become accustomed to
the lower energy required to move about and heft objects into the space
receptacles that will carry the trash away. "The gravity on Mars is about
.376 that of Earth. This means it will take just over one-third the energy
from our muscles to do on Mars what we do on Earth. Just how we will keep
muscle tone when working, eating, and sleeping will be so radically
different. Unless exercise is a part of our ambitious plan, I don't think
our division can really get behind this, but I am confident that the
Federation, given its tradition of negotiation in getting along with
interstellar beings as evidenced by multiple incarnations of Star Trek, is
up to the job."
      For more information about Mars Day, call (111) MARSDAY or 627-7329.
Because of the intense effort in planning and advertising this event,
please use only the number above. Members of the California effort are too
preoccupied to take calls for general information and have contracted with
the publicist for the dissemination of further information.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mark Riccobono]
        Walking a Mile: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Simulations
                              by Mark Riccobono

      From the Editor: Since a central tenet of the National Federation of
the Blind is to change the way people think about being blind and by
extension to increase the opportunity for those who are, we must think
seriously about the tools we have to bring about this transformation.
Simulating blindness has for some time now been a way in which we and
others have sought to increase the public's understanding of what we need
from it in order to enjoy lives that are as rich and productive as those of
people who can see. In this article our President discusses the subject of
blindness simulation, how it is used, the reasons for its use, when it is
effective, and when it serves as a stumbling block that comes between blind
people and our dreams. Here is what he says:

      One of the highest aspirations of human beings is to understand one's
fellows, to know the world as they see it, and to share empathy without
judgment or condemnation. Long before I heard the word empathy I was
familiar with the adage, "You can never really know a man until you have
walked a mile in his shoes." Since we don't all have the same size feet,
what is the practical way to take this journey? Traditionally we have tried
to do this by spending some time learning about and reflecting on another
person's life situation: What is it like to have money? What is it like to
be without it? What is it like to have a disability?
      For the past few decades the attempt to understand another person's
life has been to try simulating it. Some of the most popular simulations
have involved letting a nondisabled person spend some time as a person with
a disability. The motives behind these simulations are as varied as the
ways in which they are conducted, and here I'd like to look at what they
are, how well they work, and specifically what a simulation is intended to
      Given the complexity of life, a reasonable question to ask is whether
simulations not meant to train but to inform can ever serve a purpose. They
can, but making sure they communicate what we want them to takes
considerable thought, a clear definition of what we want to communicate,
and an understanding of how much a person can absorb at one time.
      Let's look at a common disability simulation that seems to work, one
in which a person is asked to spend some time in a wheelchair. If I am a
user of a wheelchair and want the public to understand the lack of access I
face, putting someone in a chair and showing him how impossible it is to
reach a doorknob, walk a flight of stairs, or cross a street at which there
is no ramp works quite well. I have not asked him to function without one
of his senses; I have only asked that he sit in a chair and observe how
many things are beyond his reach because we have failed to make simple
environmental changes that will benefit everyone in a wheelchair and
everyone who is a pedestrian. The problems become obvious and so do the
solutions, ones society can implement with minor physical changes.
      If I spend an hour in a wheelchair, do I really understand the life
of the man who uses one? I do not. I have to take his word for the way it
feels when people talk down to him, stand behind his chair to converse, or
show the pity they feel for him when they define his existence as being
confined to that chair. To the extent that I am able to understand, that
understanding comes through observation, conversation, and through the
building of a personal relationship.
      Of course the goal of his simulation is not to get me to understand
the condition that requires his use of a wheelchair, but to glimpse the
environmental changes to make dealing with it easier. I come away
understanding why my city taxes go for ramps and why we require all public
facilities to have elevators.
      Before discussing the simulation of blindness, let's distinguish
between simulations to help blind people function without sight and getting
sighted people to understand blindness. We actively encourage blind
students to do some or most long-term training under learning shades. If
one has some vision, we encourage training that does not rely on it but
relies on alternative techniques. In a society that is overly interested in
visual cues, most people are quickly conditioned to subconsciously believe
that vision is a requirement for success. Through our intensive training
programs we break down the misconception that vision is the requirement for
success and build the understanding that a variety of techniques including
a robust set of nonvisual techniques can empower a blind person to live the
life they want regardless of their level of vision. At the end of training,
one's unreliable vision is no longer at the core of what he or she can do
but serves as a supplement, and the individual can make an informed
decision about which technique (nonvisual or visual) or combination of
techniques is most effective. The loss of more vision due to age or
deterioration through disease will be uncomfortable, but limited vision
will not determine whether one can independently learn, travel, cook,
clean, handle money, and a whole host of other things for which sighted
people use vision. What is key in training is that students are allowed to
proceed slowly in what they do under learning shades. There is time to
explain the underlying philosophy in their use, they have the time to
observe blind people doing what they will be asked to do, and the message
is always that the students can and will be able to do what they need
without vision. More importantly, the student has the opportunity to build
an understanding of how to counteract the misconceptions and
misunderstandings that come from interacting with a public who does not
understand blindness.
      Unless simulations are well planned in terms of what we ask people to
do, what we tell them about blindness, and how long we have to work with
them under shades, the experience is likely to be more negative than
positive, reinforcing everything they have felt about the world of darkness
in which they believe we live.
      I submit that, in most cases, understanding blindness by one who is
sighted is better communicated through observation than personal
experience. Ask a newly blindfolded person to travel the streets so she
comes to understand the value of traffic sounds, and her predominant
emotion will be fear. Without understanding how blind people travel and
having the confidence that she can do so safely, the experiment will scare
rather than inform. How then can we make a case for modifications that are
necessary for our continued independent travel? The answer is for us to do
the traveling and for the person we are trying to influence to observe us.
When I am observed walking with my cane and run into a guidewire hanging
over a sidewalk at chest level, the person watching me understands the
function of my cane, what it can and cannot detect, and how the problem I'm
experiencing can be solved if the guidewire did not pass over the sidewalk
or did so at an angle that wasn't impossible for a cane to detect. Now it
becomes clear that the challenge is one for an engineer, and the work done
will benefit everyone who walks that sidewalk be they blind or sighted.
      Suppose I want someone with influence to understand the difficulty
when I try to use an inaccessible program. If he is blindfolded and made to
sit at a computer, what simulation can we do? He may understand the concept
of a screen reader, but will he know that most programs say a line when the
insert and up arrow keys are pressed? Will he understand that movement
between programs is done by pressing the alt and the tab keys and that
determining which program has focus is accomplished by pressing the insert
key with the letter t? The answer is that he won't. His initial impression
will be that using the computer as he knows it is impossible and that a
number of complicated key presses is difficult when compared with the point
and click methods that constitute the majority of his navigation.
      On the other hand, suppose he observes me using a computer with a
screen reader and a Braille display. When he watches the screen, hears what
I hear through computerized speech as I navigate, and listens as I read
what is presented under my fingers in Braille, he is likely to understand
the problem that exists when I encounter graphics that aren't labeled,
buttons that aren't identified, and programs that will not respond to
keyboard presses. He will understand that navigation in addition to what is
provided by a mouse is required and can see how easily arrow and tab keys
can be used to efficiently navigate when I show well-designed programs.
      I have talked with many sighted people about the difficulties posed
by misguided individuals we encounter in airports and the extra stress it
puts on blind people. The physical travel through airports is mostly
straightforward, even if getting information generally posted on signs is
not. Although I have talked with people about the problems we encounter,
there is no better simulation than traveling with a sighted person and
letting them observe for themselves. As they watch the looks on people's
faces; have the opportunity to tell people that they are not my caretaker
but rather just a friend; witness me being grabbed, pushed, and pulled; and
overhear the difficulty of my getting a simple question answered they
understand in a meaningful way things that it was hard for them to believe
when I first told them.
      I think the question we really need to address is this: Do I want the
general public to know what it is like to be blind? Not really. In the
first place I don't think they can. Many sighted people are convinced the
blind see darkness; the reality is that some blind people do not see
anything while many others see some unreliable combination of light,
shadow, and color (that often varies from day to day). The understanding of
blindness is only complicated by people who have some usable vision and the
obsession of the sighted in understanding what those people see,
particularly when that vision varies from day to day. Those who can see
think I live in a world which is dominated by the absence of light, a world
that deprives me of much that is meaningful. I contend my world has all the
elements that make life worth living: the ability to experience love, to
know the joy of happiness, and to raise my family. I know both the joy and
the stress of being needed, the imperative of making a living, and what it
is like when my children look to me in their attempt to understand the
world. In short, the important things in my life are the same as for the
person who sees, with variations that are sometimes difficult but which
never obscure the joy of being human.
      I want the public to understand those parts of blindness that pose
obstacles they can help me overcome. I want them to see how training can
make all the difference and is deserving of their private and public
support. I want them to understand that for training to be meaningful it
must be followed by opportunity. True opportunity means more than failing
to say no; it aggressively embraces the journey to determine how to say
yes. I want people to understand that independent travel is crucial and
that one important element that makes it possible is an environment in
which cars make enough sound that I can hear and respond to them. I want
people to understand that living in my own home is important and that my
home is just as much a castle for me as theirs is for them. To live
independently means being able to do the things they do: cook, clean, and
enjoy the entertainments found in most homes. A challenge for me is that
most new home appliances use visual displays that make no allowance for
those who cannot see. Adding a function to make stoves, ovens,
refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers talk is not only
possible but inexpensive and beneficial to all, including senior citizens.
I want the public to understand that the internet presents great
opportunities for access to information as long as the websites are built
with equal access in mind. Otherwise, I need to spend twice as much time
trying to book an appointment at the doctor, find information about city
services, read the calendar for the school our children attend, report
crime information, or dozens of other things people take for granted. These
are areas in which the general public can help, creating a community
standard that considers unthinkable leaving out people whose inclusion
could so easily be accomplished through inexpensive design and
manufacturing techniques, of which there are many examples.
      To restate, in time I believe I can change people's perspective about
the meaningfulness I find in life, but that belief about living in a world
of darkness may be something they take with them to their graves. Perhaps
they can't really walk a mile in my shoes, but they can help me get to the
place where I can purchase those shoes and enjoy my journey through days of
adventure, activity, and living life to the fullest.
      Even if we can effectively provide experiences to teach sighted
people about the artificial barriers we face in the physical and digital
environments we encounter, we cannot fully get them to understand the
emotional experience of facing low expectations in society every day. A
couple of years ago I was in a leadership program in Baltimore City. During
that program we spent a morning in a "walk a mile" activity where we
simulated the experience of navigating the struggle of a low-income family
attempting to meet the demands of life. The activity helped me understand
the barriers that poorly designed social services, lack of reliable
transportation, and burdensome supports put on a family with limited means.
However, my real understanding has come from interacting with and knowing
people who live that experience daily and who can share all of the social
bias they face. In other words, I think we need to be completely honest
that any simulation activity does not impact some of the most important
understandings we want the sighted to know in their heart and their head-
that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us, that the
misunderstandings and low expectations about blindness are our biggest
obstacle, that those misunderstandings create artificial barriers that
prevent us from fully participating, and those false limitations build into
something that holds us back.
      Short of training blind people to be blind, are there simulations we
can do that will let sighted people glimpse how we do what they do? I
believe the answer is yes. We must make it clear that they are not
experiencing blindness but that we are giving them a taste of the way we do
some of our daily tasks. Having them sit in a chair, covering their eyes,
and handing them coins can show how we identify them by touch. Dropping a
coin on a hard surface and helping them learn the denomination by sound
provides them another clue about how we manage money and adds to the
message that we have quality alternative techniques that serve well in our
daily lives.
      The tasks we give should not be threatening. If we want them to spend
some time using a cane, explain that they will not be encountering steps
and that their job is to find the wall in front of them. Tell them their
task is to navigate around a chair and how the cane is used to detect it.
Get sighted people to measure something with a click rule and mark a
precise spot. Teach them how blind people effectively pour liquids without
spilling, and give them an opportunity to practice. In a short amount of
time I have been able to teach sighted people under learning shades to
pour, and when I have given them the option of using the same technique to
pour a cup of coffee for themselves many do so and have little trouble.
There are dozens of other examples, and we should find ways to share
information about the activities that work best. The activities must be
supported by meaningful dialogue with blind people in an environment set up
to facilitate honest communication. When those going through these
experiences have an opportunity to engage blind people around some of the
questions we know they are thinking about, a new avenue of understanding is
      So far we have not touched on one critical facet that determines
whether a simulation of blindness is helpful or harmful, that being the
motivation for performing it. This is further complicated by the fact that
simulations are often paired with fundraising. This incorporates all of the
baggage and emotional strings that come with the typical charity model-
people participate to help those less fortunate than they are. The biggest
problem with simulating blindness is that it all-too-easily plays into the
sense of loss and ineptitude that people believe to be our lot in life and
the lives they would live were vision to disappear. This benefits
organizations whose goal is to reverse or eliminate blindness, the recent
activities of the Foundation Fighting Blindness being a prime example. If
the idea is to eradicate blindness by raising money for research, scaring
people is a powerful motivator. As much as all of us support research to
preserve or perhaps restore sight, raising that money must not make living
more difficult for we who are blind. Preserving sight should be supported
on the many merits of vision and not on the portrayal of its absence as a
significant barrier to the enjoyment of life.
      So each of us must ask the question: At what cost is the way money is
raised to do research too high? When we fight for the right of blind people
to be parents and an organization suggests that the sighted try being a
parent for one minute with their eyes closed, the experience can only serve
to emphasize the danger when a young child is not observed, a situation
bordering on leaving her unattended. The cost to blind people is too high!
When one is encouraged to dine in the dark without first learning how to
serve oneself, cut one's meat, or have the experience of finding one's
mouth with a fork, how can the mess and the message be reconciled with
blind people leading lives of independence in which we can feed ourselves,
teach our children, and represent our employers without embarrassment when
the job calls for us to attend lunches and dinners? Again, the cost to
blind people is just too high! The potential to raise money through fear
and pity is enormous, but so is the toll on the lives of blind people and
the efforts we make to convince others we are capable of living in the
world as competent human beings.
      Everyone has freedom of speech, but with that freedom comes the
responsibility to speak truth, to do no harm, and to advantage rather than
disadvantage the people about whom one is speaking. Because we in the
National Federation of the Blind are the authentic voice of blind people-
representing the broad diversity of people who experience blindness
firsthand-we must raise expectations and lead the way regarding best
practice for simulation activities. We must also honestly evaluate what we
do and whether it meets our goals, the test of our philosophy about
blindness, and ensure that it is authentic to the experience of a blind
person who has had training and opportunity. We must make certain that the
simulations we do meet this standard and should demand that others do the
same. These should be our guiding principles as we teach the world what it
means to be blind, and these should be the standards to which we hold other
organizations who would diminish our lives and opportunities in the
misguided belief that a quality life can only be achieved if one is
   Progress on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act: The Regulations, the
                 Law, and What They Will Mean for the Blind
                                by John Pari

      From the Editor: John Pari is the executive director of strategic
initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, and he is the staff
member who has put in the most time, energy, and intense concentration on
the issue of silent cars. He shares the concern for the safety of
pedestrians that all of us carry in our hearts and in our heads, but he is
the person who has translated that concern into responses which distinguish
the National Federation of the Blind by acknowledging our early work on the
issue, our innovative ways to bring it to the attention of people capable
of doing something about it, and riding herd over the process to make sure
that it did not stall or go astray. Here is what John has to say about the
fight to get a bill enacted, the challenge of getting that act into a
proposed rule, and the difficulty in getting the Obama administration to
publish a rule that the blind, other pedestrians, and the auto makers could
accept as reasonable, doable, and in the interest of all involved:

      Much of what we do in the National Federation of the Blind focuses on
enhancing the quality of life for blind people through creating
opportunities and raising expectations. Anything that comes between blind
people and living fruitful and fulfilling lives is something we target. But
on rare occasions we are called on to do more than work on quality of life
issues and deal with the preservation of life itself. This was the case
when we found that something essential to our independent travel was
changing in a way that could take it away and could easily result in injury
or death.
      In 2005 the buzz was all about hybrid electric cars. They were coming
to market, and many things about them were appealing: they used less fuel,
emitted less pollution, and generated less noise. All of us were excited;
all of these things we viewed as positive. But when we learned that less
noise translated to no useable sound, a real issue of safety emerged for
blind and sighted pedestrians alike that we could not ignore. Silent
vehicles are essentially stealth vehicles to blind people, and although it
is less obvious, they are nearly as dangerous for people who can see. This
is because a pedestrian who can see is often alerted about where to look
based on what he or she hears. For an in-depth discussion about how the
Federation came to identify the problem of nearly silent vehicles, the
denials that a problem existed, the work to find allies, and the struggle
to get a bill passed and signed by the president to address the issue, I
urge you to read an excellent piece written by Debbie Kent Stein entitled
"Belling the Cat: The Long Road to the Passage of the Pedestrian Safety
Enhancement Act," which appeared in the June 2011 issue of the Braille
Monitor. On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Pedestrian
Safety Enhancement Act, requiring that the United States Department of
Transportation write regulations to implement a minimum sound that vehicles
must make when traveling the streets of this country. The signing of the
act represented a big step forward in recognizing that it is desirable that
vehicles be quiet, but that they be no quieter than safety will allow.
Throughout this article I will simply refer to this as the act. Even in our
most optimistic moments we realized that writing the regulations would take
time, getting them reviewed would be painfully slow, and the phase-in
period would leave us unprotected far longer than we wished. Even so, few
of us believed it would be 2016 before the final regulations were published
and probably 2020 before the act is fully implemented.
      In drafting regulations, four distinct issues had to be addressed:
safety, stakeholder agreement, conducting and interpreting the research,
and embracing the global trend that would set the direction of carmakers.
Although we tend to think of American legislation as something that
primarily involves Americans and American policy, the automobile industry
is one of the few uniquely global marketplaces. In September 2009, before
the passage of the act and certainly strengthening the case for it, a
report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said
that hybrid electric vehicles were twice as likely to be involved in
accidents with pedestrians than their internal combustible engine
counterparts. In a second report issued in October 2011, using a much
larger sample size, the same agency said that there was a 35 percent
greater likelihood of accidents involving hybrid electric vehicles and
pedestrians. It also found a staggering 57 percent greater likelihood in
accidents involving quiet cars and cyclists.
      In all, NHTSA produced three research reports that together totaled
more than 900 pages. Separately and together, all pointed to the undeniable
conclusion that sound and safety are inextricably bound together.
Guidelines for the industry had previously stressed the reduction of sound
through the establishment of a maximum noise emission standard. Noise was
the enemy of the automotive engineer, a word so vile that there was no way
to use it with these professionals and communicate anything hinting at
something positive. "You will undermine your case for a minimum sound
standard if you say you want the car to make noise. You do not want noise.
You want usable sound, not noise." This was the message from one of the
more vocal members at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers back
in 2008, and his vocabulary lesson was one we took to heart.
      What the reports issued by NHTSA made clear was that safety would
require a minimum sound standard so that pedestrians would be aware of
vehicles in their vicinity and take reasonable precautions to avoid
contact. What was needed was an addition to the law governing sound
emissions by vehicles, a law that called for vehicles to be as quiet as
they could safely be, but no quieter.
      When the law was passed, it called for the issuance of a Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to be issued no later than eighteen months after
its passage. The purpose of an NPRM is to alert interested parties about
what the regulations for new laws will look like, offering a chance for
those with an interest to comment on and influence how the final
regulations will be crafted and the law enforced. But NHTSA did not issue a
proposal by July 1 of 2012. That meant that the final rule that should have
been issued by January 4, 2014, did not come out. The NPRM wasn't published
until January 10, 2013, the agency arguing that the complexity of the issue
and the research required meant that the time frames in the law for
implementation could not be met. The NFB made our response to the NPRM in
March 2013, and it wasn't until December 2016 that the final rule, the one
which was supposed to be published in January 2014, was issued. In the
interim the United States Department of Transportation commissioned a study
to determine how many hybrid electric vehicles were being sold in this
country, and that study concluded that, on average, 1,563 are sold each
day. These cars are not yet covered by the act or its regulations; luckily
some manufacturers have seen the writing on the wall and have implemented
systems to provide sound alerts. Although they may not comply with the
regulations that have now been published, their presence is welcomed by
those of us who regularly place our faith in safely crossing streets on
what we hear.
      So which vehicles are covered by the law and which by the
regulations? What are the key points of each? We make a distinction between
the law and the regulations because the regulations are not just a detailed
prescription of how to implement the law, but differ from it in some
significant ways. We are left to speculate as to why, but the rumor has
been floated that differences exist because of insufficient data to support
detailed regulations as envisioned in the law and that when such data
becomes available the regulations may be modified accordingly.
      Here are the main points you should know about the act as it will be
implemented: only four-wheeled vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds
are covered, meaning commercial trucks and motorcycles have been excluded.
They are part of the law but not the regulations.
      Fifty percent of vehicles produced after September 1, 2018, and 100
percent of vehicles produced after September 1, 2019, must meet the sound
      One issue that sparked significant debate even among allies for the
law was whether there should be a switch that the driver could use to
disable the audible alerts it mandates. We were opposed to what in the
industry is called a pause switch, but what has come to be called a kill
switch by the blind. For us the issue is simple: the ability to hear a
quiet car should not depend on the judgment of the driver as to whether or
not a usable sound should be emitted by his vehicle. This would be
equivalent to allowing a driver to make his car invisible simply because he
believed he wouldn't encounter pedestrians, animals, or other cars along
his journey.
      In the current regulation there is no selectable sound from which a
car owner may choose, though the law clearly allows for a set of selectable
sounds so long as those sounds are provided and certified by the
manufacturer to meet the minimum sound standard. Although research
indicated that duplicating the sound of a standard internal combustion
engine would be the most identifiable sound by the greatest number of
pedestrians, it also demonstrated that the sounds were not the most
effective in penetrating the noise found in most rural and urban
environments. Both pedestrians and automobile manufacturers were concerned
that leaving the sound that a vehicle would make to the discretion of
automobile owners could lead to situations in which a vehicle would not be
identified as a danger to be avoided. Discussions on blogs indicated that
if owners were allowed to select their own sound, some would choose the
sound of a carousel, some an ice cream truck, and some the clatter of
horseshoes. An arbitrary sound just would not do to provide certainty in
identification. But a second concern was from the manufacturers. It was
that a sound provided by a driver might be considered offensive, and the
result would be the rejection by the public of all sounds. This would
reflect negatively on the manufacturers, the law, and the pedestrians it
was designed to protect.
      In the law provisions were made for vehicles to come with several
selectable sounds from which the driver of a quiet car could choose, but
the regulations make no provision for these other than to say that a 2020
Toyota Prius will sound like every other 2020 Toyota Prius. The same is
true for a 2019 Chevrolet Volt.
      One point of contention between pedestrians and car manufacturers was
whether a vehicle should emit some sound when not in motion. The car
companies contended that where there was no motion there was no danger. The
Federation took the strongly held position that knowing of a car's presence
at a traffic light, a four-way stop, or any other kind of intersection was
essential whether that car was moving or at rest. An informed decision to
cross requires that one be aware not only of vehicles on the move but
vehicles that are waiting for the opportunity to move. Both the law and the
regulation make it clear that a vehicle is to emit a sound while stopped,
but the regulation does provide that no sound need be made if the vehicle
is in park.
      Although most hybrid electric vehicles do not use a manual
transmission, those which do must make sound any time the key is on and the
parking brake is off. While we would have preferred that a quiet car make
some sound when the driver's seat is occupied, we have gotten most of what
we wanted in this section of the regulation, and it is a far cry from what
some of the manufacturers were demanding, provisions which, had they been
adopted, would have done much to negate the safety issues spawning the
creation of the law.
      How loud must a vehicle sound be? From stationary to less than ten
km/h [kilometers per hour], it must create a sound that is at least forty-
four decibels. A moving vehicle going from ten km/h up to less than twenty
km/h must generate a sound of at least fifty-one decibels. From twenty to
less than thirty km/h, the vehicle must generate a sound of at least fifty-
seven decibels. At thirty to thirty-two km/h the sound emitted must be
sixty-two decibels. For vehicles traveling in reverse, a sound of forty-
eight decibels is required. These figures were based on significant testing
by NHTSA, and only time will reveal whether the published levels are
appropriate to provide an adequate and reliable warning for pedestrians,
particularly those who are blind.
      With traditional internal combustion engines most of the sound
generated by a slow-moving vehicle comes from the engine itself. At some
point, no matter how a vehicle is powered, the majority of the sound comes
from wind and tire noise. This is defined in the act as the "crossover
speed." With quiet cars the issue that had to be negotiated was when the
artificial sound could be stopped, and the sound from the movement of the
vehicle would be sufficient. The rule as it stands today says that the
electronically generated sound must continue until a vehicle reaches thirty-
two kilometers, or 19.88 miles, per hour. From the perspective of the NFB
this is good news, a lower crossover speed would have been preferred by the
car companies. What complicates arriving at any fixed number is the
commendable attempt by the industry to reduce tire friction and wind
resistance to increase how far a vehicle can travel with a specific amount
of energy. When tire friction and wind resistance change, so too does the
sound generated. Numbers that are used today may be irrelevant tomorrow, so
again we may have to reevaluate these sound levels as we gain experience
with new cars coming off the assembly line.
      In negotiating what sounds a vehicle should make, blind people were
committed to the idea that pitch shifting should be part of the car's sound
emission. Pitch shifting is an easy way to detect acceleration and
deceleration, and it is commonly heard with internal combustion engines.
Although this provision was a part of the NPRM, it is not found in the law
or the final regulation. Experience will again be required before we can
say definitively whether the change in volume/amplitude will be sufficient
to tell us what a vehicle is doing. If it is, the law can stand as is. If
not, this may be something for which we press in future legislation.
      The car companies have filed a petition for reconsideration to extend
by one year the time by which they must fully comply with the law. Their
argument is that the law envisioned a longer time in which to comply than
does the regulation. If their petition is granted, it will be 2020 before
full compliance is required. While we understand the need for protection
and the frustration of having watched as six years have passed, and knowing
that every day we extend that compliance date is one more day in which
vehicles are manufactured which make blind and sighted pedestrians
vulnerable to stealth vehicles, we must freely admit that the law did offer
a three-year timeframe for compliance. We have to acknowledge that if we
were on the other side and the regulations suggested a longer period for
implementation than the law states, we might be the ones appealing for a
      As complicated as all of this is, some points stand out clearly and
require little explanation: we are the organization that brought this to
the attention of the press, the industry, the public, and finally those who
exercise the levers of power in the government. We have worked to turn a
two-page law, which necessarily speaks in broad, guiding generalities, into
a 375-page rule that seeks to be specific enough that manufacturers know
precisely how to do what they must to make the streets safer for
pedestrians. We have first sought to do this in the United States but are
working to get standards that apply worldwide for pedestrians, no matter
where they may live. No issue so clearly demonstrates our commitment to
safe and independent travel, and no issue has tested our perseverance more
than this one. At first we had no allies. The quiet car enthusiasts wanted
less noise pollution, so they dismissed our concerns in favor of a quieter
environment. The car companies started by denying there was a problem but
eventually came to work with us. Bloggers asked why blind people would be
so negligent as to attempt traveling by ourselves, and some even suggested
that if we had no more common sense than this, it might be better for the
intelligence of the world if we were no longer a part of it. But we know
who we are, we will never go back, and we knew that with persistence,
ongoing education, the goodwill of the public, and the dogged determination
to see this through from start to finish, we would prevail. Keep following
these pages for further details, but take some time to celebrate what it
means to be a vital part of the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michael Hingson]

      Aira, the Next Technology Revolution in Devices for Blind People
                             by Michael Hingson

      From the Editor: Michael Hingson is a man who can boast of many
accomplishments and who has made significant contributions in advancing the
cause of blind people while keeping his Federation philosophy and active
participation front and center. There aren't many blind people who are
electrical engineers, but Michael is one. There aren't many people who are
financial experts capable of making their living in the heart of New York's
financial district, but Michael is one. There aren't many blind
Californians who understand the techniques espoused by the National
Federation of the Blind to lead active and independent lives and who are
open to the positive changes that new technologies may bring, but Michael
is one. Here is what he has to say about a new service being offered to the
blind which harnesses the power of technology, joins it with the humanity
of a highly-trained professional to relate what he or she sees, and merges
these in meeting the infrequent but difficult challenges that blind people
face when the blindness techniques we use aren't quite enough. Here is what
he says about Aira [pronounced I-rah]:

      It isn't often that any of us can be involved with the birth of a
technology that will significantly change our lives. Helping in that birth
is an even rarer occasion. I had such an opportunity in 1976 when our
president at the time, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, asked me to accept a job with
the Federation to coordinate the day-to-day operation of a joint project
between the National Federation of the Blind and Ray Kurzweil and his
company, Kurzweil Computer Products Inc. to test and to bring the Kurzweil
Reading Machine to market. Out of our joint project, blind people
throughout the world gained access to a technology that brought the
personal reading of print into our lives.
      I never thought I would have a chance to help steer another great
advance that offered as much potential for change as the Kurzweil Reading
Machine. However, in early 2015 I received an email from Mr. Lawrence Bock
asking me to join the technical advisory board of a start-up company, Aira
Tech Corp. Through conversations with Mr. Bock and the company's founder,
Suman Kanuganti, I learned that Aira had developed a system that could
provide blind people always-on information anywhere at any time. Far-
fetched? Perhaps, but as I delved into the company's operation and saw its
product in action, I realized that indeed the claims of its founders could
be true.
      Here is how Aira works. The user puts on what is called a "wearable
device," which in this case is a pair of glasses that contain a high
definition digital camera, miniaturized sensors, and the ability to connect
to the internet using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. The system also uses
an app which resides on an iPhone or Android smartphone.
      When the user wishes to use Aira, he or she activates the app, which
in turn establishes a Wi-Fi connection with the wearable device. Once this
connection is established, the user can press a button within the app to
contact an Aira agent. As soon as the agent comes online, they see images
transmitted by the glasses. The agent also sees geographical information
and information about the user's surroundings on their special software
dashboard. The user has two-way voice contact with the agent through the
smartphone and can request whatever information they require. The agent,
through their dashboard, can access the internet, use the user's visual
surroundings, and incorporate other tools to provide answers to the user's
      The information requested by users can be anything from asking for
help with finding something in a store to requiring assistance while
traveling through an airport to seeking assistance in assembling a product
he or she has purchased. Literally agents can help with any task by
providing visual descriptions and information wherever eyesight is needed
to create access for blind people.
      I became involved as an advisor with Aira because I saw the potential
of the product and also to ensure that the technology, when brought to
blind customers, would be provided in the most effective way possible. The
most significant concern I had about Aira was how the agents presented
information to customers. Given all my years in the NFB and from all my
experiences with assistive technology, I know that good products and
services work best when their feature sets consider what we who are blind
want and need. Aira can either be a contributor to our independence and
self-determination or it can be a barrier. If the agents, for example, are
trained not only to provide information but to interpret that same
information, then the product would be little more than the kind of service
we presently get from untrained sighted people. For example, if I were
using Aira to get information about a street intersection and the agent
told me that it was now "safe to cross the street," then the agent would be
drawing a conclusion that I should be making for myself based on my
mobility skills. If, on the other hand, the agent said that the light had
turned green and that they did not see any cars traveling across my path,
then the agent would be giving me information I could use to determine on
my own when to cross. This example is a simple one, but the point is that
the agent should be charged only with providing information and leaving all
decisions up to me, the user. One of my main tasks has been to help set the
philosophical tone for how the agents operate. To date fifteen agents have
joined the Aira staff. Its hours of operation are from 7 AM Eastern time to
7 PM Pacific time seven days a week. Over the course of this year Aira
expects to offer 24/7 service.
      Aira has had a visible presence at the National Federation of the
Blind national convention for the past two years and will be in Orlando
again this year signing up users and showing any interested attendee how
the product works. Aira is also gaining visibility with other organizations
and agencies. Recently, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Aira Tech
Corp was chosen by PC Magazine as the best new startup company at the show.
      The one drawback to Aira for many blind people is the same one that
faced Ray Kurzweil in the 1970s, although not to the same degree. There is
a cost to using Aira. At present, there are two pricing plans. Users can
have unlimited access to Aira for a price of $199 per month. A lesser price
of $129 per month will give users eight hours of access, and Aira
anticipates a lower price plan in the next month. Aira is exploring ways to
lessen the cost challenge by securing insurance coverage as well as looking
for government agency subsidies for some of the Aira services. Aira is also
working on rolling its free autonomous functionality through its artificial
intelligence engine which is constantly learning. The National Federation
of the Blind has partnered with Aira not only to help make the product the
best it can be, but also to help find ways to make it available to all
blind people.
      Aira is only at the beginning of its existence. I am certain that
over time the cost of the product will drop significantly. The cost aside,
Aira offers any blind person the most full and complete access to whatever
information he or she might need. I personally have used Aira to move
through airports, malls, and shops. While on a speaking trip I used Aira to
explore a three-story guest house provided to me by an event sponsor. An
Aira agent assisted me in assembling a laundry cart I purchased and
received in the mail. I assembled the cart independently, with assistance
from Aira after I discovered that the instructions were only pictures with
no text at all. I know of others who have used it to read the contents of
computer screens and kiosks. At least one person has used Aira while
bowling and when experiencing Disneyland, just to name a few; Aira's uses
are only as limited as our imaginations.
      You can learn more about Aira by visiting www.aira.io. On Aira's
website is a link to a page you can visit to become an Aira Explorer and
begin exploring the world around you in a way never available before. I
truly believe Aira is the next revolution in technology that will help us
further take our place as blind first-class citizens. I also believe that
Aira will grow to provide services outside the specific needs of blind
people, but Aira's core purpose and philosophy will always start with the
needs of the blind.
                      What Do We Really Think of Sight?
                                by Eric Duffy

      From the Editor: Eric Duffy currently works for the New Jersey
Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired as a technological support
specialist. He is a former affiliate president, having recently served as
the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio.
      Many of us have come from backgrounds in which we were more dependent
on vision than we now consider comfortable or necessary. We value the
alternative techniques that give us independence, still realizing that from
time to time we need the help of people with sight or, as is becoming more
and more possible, the use of visually aware devices to help us. For some
people this creates an internal conflict-how dependent must I be on vision?
When am I using vision when I could rely on the nonvisual techniques I've
worked so hard to master and to offer to other blind people as a way to
become independent.
      In this article, Eric Duffy discusses the extreme emphasis that was
placed on sight by the family who loves him, his own journey to learn and
use nonvisual techniques, and his awareness that in a balanced life there
must be a merging of alternative techniques and visual ones to live the
life he wants. Here is what he says:

      At times in our lives many of us have had to consider how much we
value sight. Sometimes we ask ourselves this question because of an
experience we have had, and sometimes we ask because of a development in
the medical or technology fields. Most recently I have found myself
pondering this question because of a visual interpreting service offered by
      Through a special pair of glasses or the camera on a smartphone, one
can connect to a live agent who is looking at a computer screen and who can
see exactly what the camera on the glasses or phone can see. During an Aira
session the agent also has access to GPS on the user's phone, Google maps,
and more.
      Shortly before sitting down to work on this article, I went to a
store that I had not been to before. I bought some storage bowls for my
home and a coffeemaker for my son. That was the first time I have gone to a
store and shopped without the assistance of a family member, friend, or
store employee. How did I do it? I did it with the help of an Aira agent of
      I first heard about Aira at the 2016 National Convention of the
National Federation of the Blind, where I saw a demonstration of the
service. At that point I asked myself what I would be saying about me and
blindness in general if I began using such a service. How would using it
fit into my own beliefs about blindness and my understanding of the
philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, which are very much one
and the same? These two questions and the questions of several of my
friends forced me to examine closely my attitudes about blindness.
      So I asked myself how much I value sight. In large part the answer
defines how I feel about blindness. I was one of eight children and the
only one with a disability. I had very limited functional vision as a
child. I did what I could to learn colors and to identify as many things as
I could using that vision.
      When I accurately identified colors, my parents were happy because I
could see. When I misidentified colors or objects, I could hear the
disappointment in their voices. They weren't disappointed with me; they
were disappointed because I couldn't see. That told me how much they valued
sight. I went to an endless series of specialists in Philadelphia,
Baltimore, New York City, New Orleans, and too many cities to remember in
Ohio, which is where I grew up. Although my mom didn't like to drive in big
cities, she would do it if she had to in order to get me to an eye doctor.
That told me how much she wanted me to see. Sight was quite valuable to
      As a child I loved McDonald's. If I got close enough, I could see the
McDonald's Golden Arches. One night as we were traveling in the car, my
little sister asked if we could stop at McDonald's. My parents said they
might stop at the next one they saw. My sister was quick to point out the
next one that she saw, but my dad did not stop. I told my sister just to
elbow me gently the next time she saw a McDonald's sign, and she happily
agreed. When she not-so-gently elbowed me, I excitedly said, "There, I see
it. I see McDonald's!" We stopped at that McDonald's.
      On more than one occasion as a child, I found my mother crying. She
told me that she was sad because I couldn't see. She said that she often
prayed and asked God to let me see even if she had to sacrifice her sight
so that I might see. I learned how steep a price she would pay in order for
me to see.
      In junior high school I lost the little bit of vision I had. A doctor
told my parents and me that he could remove a cataract and perform a cornea
transplant and that I would get some vision back if he did so. My mom
thought that the eyes were too close to the brain to take such a risk, so I
learned that she feared my losing my life or something else happening to me
and that her desire to keep me safe was greater than my having sight.
      What did I think? I wanted to have the surgery. I knew what my
parents thought about blindness. I knew that even at the Ohio State School
for the Blind those who had some vision were expected to do things and
allowed to do things that the totally blind students were not. I knew how
valuable sight was.
      How does all of this relate to Aira? When walking into a crowded
room, most blind people I know don't think twice about taking directions
from someone with sight when looking for an empty seat. Getting assistance
from someone with sight is the only practical way to do shopping. How many
of us take the elbow of a sighted person (or for that matter even a blind
person with usable vision) when walking through a noisy and crowded room?
How many of us are willing to accept sighted assistance when going through
a buffet line? Most of us need sighted assistance when at a restaurant that
does not offer Braille menus. Many of us have at one time or another paid
      Many of us use apps on our smartphones to identify currency. There is
an app that will let us know if the lights in a room are on or off. Working
with our friend and colleague Ray Kurzweil, the National Federation of the
Blind has developed an app that enables us to read the printed word, the
KNFB Reader. To do these things we rely on the cameras on our phones and
artificial intelligence. In short, we rely on artificial vision. Yet none
of us question whether or not we should use these apps, and I think that is
the way it should be.
      Recently I called Aira and asked them to perform a relatively simple
task on the internet for me. A friend asked me why someone with my
technology skills would use Aira to do something that simple. My answer was
immediate: "Because I could." I said we both know that we have the skills
and confidence to walk to some of the places to which we wish to travel,
but we also have the ability to use buses and trains. We could ask someone
to drive us. We could in fact hire someone to drive us in a taxi. In fact
we usually find it more convenient and less expensive to use one of those
new-fangled ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber. All of these
solutions insert sighted people and technology between us and walking to
our destination.
      After completing my shopping trip today, I told my son and Claire,
the Aira agent, how happy I was to do my shopping without assistance from
those around me. However, after discovering that I had left my iPhone in
the Uber vehicle, I was delighted to have my sighted son go and retrieve it
for me. I could have done it, but it was more convenient and less expensive
for him to do it.
      Aira provides sight assistance only when you request it. It is
available when you need it, and there is no waiting until later when it is
more convenient for someone to provide the visual information you have
requested. Aira has not made me more dependent on sight; rather, it has
changed the way I do some things. As far as I am concerned, this is a
change for the better.
                           There's a List for That
                              by David Andrews

      From the Editor: David Andrews occupies one of the most active roles
in our organization but with little visibility to members who are not a
part of a Federation list. He has the unenviable task of reading almost
every message that goes across our lists, and he does what he can to keep
messages on topic and to deal with the most egregious of them when someone
unfamiliar with or hostile to our mission tries to cause problems for list
members. Our lists are a tremendous resource, and so too is our friend,
colleague, and Federationist David Andrews. Here is what he says:

      Those of you who have read the Braille Monitor for a while will
remember that in the 1990s and early 2000s we used to publish articles
talking about new lists on nfbnet.org. However, with the growth of
technology and its use, the proliferation of our lists, and the increased
use of social media, this is no longer feasible. Consequently, we are going
to publish short monthly columns that talk about mailing lists in one area.
That area can be geographic, such as a state, or it can be a topic, such as
technology or blind kids. We will alternate between geographic and topical
      As you may know, the site http://www.nfbnet.org offers hundreds of
lists that discuss specific topics. These vehicles are often called
listservs or listserves, make your choice. Technically, Listserv is a
software package, not a list, like Kleenex is a brand, not a generic term
for facial tissue. Personally, I prefer to call them "internet mailing
      A list is something you subscribe to or join. It has a specific
purpose and can be public or private, announce-only or open for discussion.
Once you subscribe, your email address is on the list, along with that of
everyone else who has joined. If it is an open list, anything you or anyone
else who is subscribed writes is sent to all the other members. And if you
reply to a message, it automatically goes to everyone else who is
subscribed to the list. If it is an announce-only list, the number of
people authorized to post is limited, and the list is only used for
announcements, not discussions or questions. Overall, internet mailing
lists are an easy, efficient, and quick way to get information out to
thousands of Federationists and others in the blind community. It is a good
way for local chapters, state affiliates, committees, divisions, and others
to communicate and hold discussions. Who doesn't have email?
      An alphabetical list of all our public internet mailing lists can be
found at http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/. There are approximately
240 lists on the page, so finding something can be a little overwhelming-
hence this monthly column. As you can see from the webpage, each list has a
list name and a short description. The list name is also a link and takes
you to an info page from which you can subscribe. You can go directly to a
list's info page with the URL
http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/listname_nfbnet.org, where
"listname" is the aforementioned list name. You can also go directly to a
list's archive with the URL
http://www.nfbnet.org/pipermail/listname_nfbnet.org. Finally, you can
subscribe directly to a list using email by sending an email to listname-
request at nfbnet.org and put the word "subscribe" in the subject line by
      The NFBNet.org server also contains three lists to which you cannot
subscribe, but you are probably receiving an occasional email from them.
They are NFBNET-Members-List, NFBNET-Master-List, and NFBNET-Students-list.
These lists are generated dynamically as needed. Their membership is
automatically taken from the other lists on NFBNET.org. The Members List is
composed of those lists concerned with the NFB and its business. The Master
List is composed of everybody on all lists on the server-there are a few
non-NFB lists that others may be on-generally dedicated to a specific
topic, and the Students List is composed of people from all our student-
related lists. We used to send important messages to all the lists that
might be interested. This was time consuming for me and resulted in a
person getting multiple copies of a message if she was subscribed to
multiple lists, as many people are. This way you just get one message. You
can ask to be excluded from these lists; however, they are the best way to
keep up with what is happening in the Federation and with breaking events.
We sometimes need to contact legislators on short notice, and other things
frequently need immediate attention, and this is the best way to inform
thousands of Federationists easily and quickly.
      The NFBNET server also supports approximately forty-five websites for
state affiliates, local chapters, and divisions of the NFB. There are also
approximately eighty private lists that support various affiliates,
chapters, divisions, and projects run by the Federation. These are private
spaces where people can openly discuss things only of interest to them.
Membership on these private lists is by invitation only, and their archives
are not public.
      Next month we will get started by telling you about the lists for the
state of Maryland. Our lists are valuable resources, and the more we know
about them the better able we are to make full use of them.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Marc Maurer at the 2008 National Convention]
                           The Urgency of Optimism
                           An Address Delivered by
                                 Marc Maurer
                at the Banquet of the 2008 Annual Convention
                   of the National Federation of the Blind

      Much has been written about the balance between optimism and
pessimism-as if these two approaches to living were opposite, mutually
exclusive but equally viable methods of thought.

      McLandburgh Wilson said:
           Twixt the optimist and the pessimist
           The difference is droll:
           The optimist sees the doughnut
           But the pessimist sees the hole.

      Frederick Langbridge said,
           "Two men look out the same prison bars:
           One sees mud and the other stars."

      However, some imaginative thinkers have suggested that optimism is
not simply a way of looking at a set of circumstances, but a positive
element of power.
      William James said, "Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power."
      Nicholas Murray Butler said, "Optimism is essential to achievement,
and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress."
      Colin Powell said, "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."
      For optimism to be an element in the acquisition of power, it must be
more than a cheerful cast of countenance. Rather it must consist in a
commitment to bringing into being a future containing elements of
possibility that have not been a part of the past. Optimism and reality may
(properly understood) be inseparable. If reality signifies all that has
currently been created, this measure of existence is frozen in time. If, on
the other hand, reality denotes both that which has been built and that
which can be brought into being, the potential for growth encompasses a
much more magnificent formulation of life than would otherwise be
comprehensible. In other words, the grandest understanding of reality
incorporates the optimistic anticipation of innovative thought, and it also
implies commitment and effort.
      Anaos Nin said, "Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the
actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the
highest form of living."
      Douglas Everett said, "There are some people who live in a dream
world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who
turn one into the other."
      Although a goodly number of Americans have been pessimistic (Henry
David Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the
grave with the song still in them."), ours is an optimistic nation. We have
traditionally held the view that we could conquer the frontier, govern our
futures, or invent the tools for our own success. There is even an American
expression for this faith-Yankee ingenuity.
      Just as individuals have a life cycle, the theorists tell us that
organizations do. They are established; they grow; they mature; they
prosper for a time; and they cease to exist. At least a part of the reason
for the continued existence of an organization depends on its optimism.
Every organization must possess a purpose and the faith that the purpose
can be achieved. When that faith dissipates, the organization dwindles,
becomes dormant, and ceases to be.
      As we have observed in the National Federation of the Blind,
leadership is one vital element of progress. As an organization must have
faith in its future, the leaders of the organization must be optimistic.
Pessimism signifies atrophy. Operating the same old program in the same old
way will not encourage growth. Optimism and an openness to imagination must
be a part of the leadership. Every organization is faced with the same
imperative: build or wither, grow or die. The openness to imaginative
thought and the faith to believe that better, more effective programs can
be created are part of the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind.
      Reflections on optimism and discussions about blindness are rarely
found in the same place. People who write or speak about blindness often
grieve, sometimes weep, and frequently employ the most dismal descriptive
words to signify the potential for blind people. It is extraordinarily rare
for somebody to write or think, "Oh good, a whole bunch of blind people!"
In fact, a convention of blind people is, in the minds of many, an anomaly-
almost a contradiction in terms. At conventions people are supposed to have
fun. But, if most of the people at the convention are blind, how ineffably
dismal could this be? Adding one miserable life to another in thousands of
iterations simply magnifies the horror of it all. Blind people who are
optimistic about their future-they must be deluded or liars. How could any
substantial group of people wake every day facing the disadvantages that
blindness brings and at the same time maintain optimism in their hearts? Is
there any group so naove as to take this position?
      Well, one group of this character does exist. We have created it. It
is the most powerful force ever established in the field of work with the
blind in the United States, and it has a purpose that will not be abridged
or thwarted or denied. That purpose is hard to achieve but simple to
proclaim-it is that the blind will have recognition, that we will be known
for the vital human beings we are with all of the talent, the energy, and
the joy that we possess-that equality must and will be ours. The
organization we have created, the organization that carries this banner,
the organization with the optimistic drive to change our lives for all time
is the National Federation of the Blind.
      Some people depict the blind as unemployed, isolated, frequently
uneducated, and beset with characteristics denoting inability. The
assertion that this summation is reality is made by some of those dealing
with programming for the blind. A senior official of the Department of
Education responsible for rehabilitation of the blind said within the last
few years that the 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people has
remained unchanged for decades.
      Why, I wondered, has this figure remained so high? Do blind people
not want to work? Are blind people lazy, lackadaisical loafers who are
turning down good jobs so that they can continue to receive government
benefits, or has the system failed? Are rehabilitation programs unequal to
the challenge? Are the programs conducted by the Department of Education
unproductive? Is the 70 percent unemployment rate for blind people an
indication of a lack of leadership?
      "Not on your life," said this high official in the Department of
Education. "This rate of unemployment is an indicator that blind people
cannot achieve success unless they are among the most talented 30 percent
of the blind in society. Continuing to spend money on programming for the
blind," he said, "is a waste of state and federal resources."
Rehabilitation for blind clients costs more than rehabilitation for those
with other disabilities. Therefore specialized programs for the blind
should be eliminated because they cost too much. Never mind that these
programs produce positive results, create tax savings by limiting the
number of people receiving federal and state support, and bring trained and
talented blind people into the workforce. They should be eliminated because
they cost too much, he told me. This federal official in the Department of
Education gave up on 70 percent of the clients assigned to the programs he
is expected to supervise. He thinks that handing out government benefit
checks to blind people is better than training them to work for their own
lives. With such an attitude, with such a failure of optimism, with such a
lack of faith in the clients the Department of Education is expected to
serve, it is not the least bit surprising that the programs of this
department are failing.
      Sometimes it appears that certain officials of the Department of
Education are seeking to punish the blind for demanding equality. Sometimes
it appears that these officials are saying, "You can demand equality if you
want to, but if you do, we will cut funds from your programs. If you do as
we say-if you behave as we require-if you are docile, subservient, properly
grateful blind people-we will grant you a modicum of support. However, if
you want to be pushy, obnoxious, and uppity; if you want to be demanding
and insistent, you will be sorry."
      Fortunately, though the Department of Education is responsible for
making policies regarding programs it conducts, it has no power to make
policy for the blind. We of the National Federation of the Blind determine
our own policy and create our own destiny. Those who serve in government
are responsible to the people who put them there, not the other way around.
The blind of the nation have a right, perhaps even a duty, to examine the
performance of the officials who are selected to conduct the programs to
serve us. Those public officials are responsible to us to demonstrate that
they have served well enough to continue to remain in office, and we demand
an accounting.
      At the time of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind
in 1940, almost no blind people in America were employed. By the late 1950s
estimates were that 3 or 4 percent of the blind of the nation had jobs. By
the mid-1970s this estimate had increased to 30 percent. In certain
programs the number of blind people who receive employment after training
is above 80 percent, and some approach 90 percent. What makes these
programs successful? They listen to the blind; they are responsive to the
needs and wishes of blind people; they learn from the organized blind
movement; they form partnerships with the most powerful entity dealing with
blindness in the nation. Do officials in the Department of Education know
these facts? Do they care? Have they studied the factors that are part of
the success for the most productive programs?
      Those who believe that inability or isolation or dismal despair
describe our lives do not know us and cannot speak for us. We are the
blind, and we will make our own way and live our own lives. We will do it
with the support and encouragement of those who understand the reality we
face. We will welcome partners from government or private programs for the
blind who have the faith to believe in us. We will conduct our activities
with the fundamental faith that blindness cannot inhibit our progress and
with the optimism to know that we can face whatever obstacle may come. But
above all else we will build our own future, and nothing on earth can stop
      One of the elements necessary to the public acceptance of the blind
as equals in society is a correct understanding of what blind people are.
How are the blind perceived almost a decade into the twenty-first century?
      A report circulated by Fox News in May of this year describes an
incident in which a blind man was refused the opportunity to ride on a
roller coaster because of blindness. The report says that the blind man had
already ridden the roller coaster three times that day. When the owner of
the amusement park discovered that the blind man was seeking a fourth ride,
management refused. Management personnel said that safety requires a person
to assume certain positions during a roller coaster ride. These positions
can be anticipated only by those who can see well enough during the course
of the ride that they can anticipate the twists and drop-offs before they
happen. Furthermore, if the roller coaster were to malfunction, management
said, a blind person could not easily escape from the contraption without
      The denial of the opportunity to participate in the experience of
riding a roller coaster is an example of the idiocy that blind people often
face. The blind man in question had already ridden the roller coaster three
times without incident or injury. The owner of the amusement park ignored
the evidence. He had already decided that blind people were not welcome.
Evidence was irrelevant.
      Of course evidence is not required from the sighted. If sighted
people need not provide any evidence of their capacity to ride, blind
people should not be expected to provide it either. Nevertheless, the
evidence was there. Consequently, this is a case in which double
discrimination has taken place. I am pleased to say that we in the National
Federation of the Blind assisted in giving this case the publicity it
deserved, and the amusement park owner has changed his mind. The blind are
welcome to ride.
      In 1997 the Portuguese Nobel Prize winning author Josi Saramago
released the English version of his novel, entitled Blindness. The premise
in this book is that the members of society become blind unexpectedly,
totally, irreparably, and instantly. The description of society as an
increasing number of its members become blind is one of filth, greed,
perversion, and vice. Blind people are depicted as unbelievably incapable
of everything, including finding the way to the bathroom or the shower.
Saramago wants a world view that serves to offer an allegory for the worst
description he can possibly imagine. He selects blindness as his metaphor
for all that is bad in human thought and action. He describes the blind as
having every negative trait of humanity and none of the positive ones. He
argues that this is an allegory for a picture of the reality of the world
today. The book was used as the basis for a movie of the same name, which
has been shown at the Cannes film festival this spring. The only positive
element to the release of this film is the almost universal reaction of the
critics that it is a failure.
      The depiction of the blind in this movie is fundamentally flawed for
two reasons. First, blindness does not denote the characteristics the
author attributes to it. The capabilities of those who become blind remain
essentially the same after they lose vision as they were before they lost
it. Although the loss of any major asset (including vision) will bring a
measure of sadness to some and despair to a few, it will also stimulate
others to assert their will. Blindness can be a devastating loss, but it
also has the power to galvanize some to action. The reaction to blindness
is not the least bit one-dimensional. Therefore the description is false.
      In addition to this, the viciousness attributed to the blind is
inconsistent with the assertion of incapacity. Viciousness demands both
venality and ability-at least organized viciousness does. To say that the
blind are completely incompetent and to assert that they have the ability
to organize for the pursuit of vice is a contradiction in terms.
      But leave the internal inconsistency. The charge that loss of vision
creates a personality alteration of sordid and criminal character is in
itself sordid and defamatory to an entire class of human beings. To give a
man who writes such foolishness the Nobel Prize for Literature belittles
what has often been regarded as a prestigious award. For as long as I can
remember, certain comedians have thought it good sport to make fun of the
blind, and as pernicious as this may be, most authors have not sought to
make us objects of fear and revulsion.
      The description in Blindness is wrong-completely, unutterably,
irretrievably, immeasurably wrong. That such falsity should be regarded as
good literature is revolting and amazing. We know the reality of blindness,
we know the pain it can bring, we know the joy that can come from
correcting the misinformation about it, and we are prepared to act on our
own behalf. We will not let Josi Saramago represent us, for he does not
speak the truth. He does not write of joy or the optimism of building a
society worth calling our own. We do, and we will.
      On November 13, 2007, an article appeared in USA Today entitled,
"Blinded by War: Injuries Send Troops into Darkness," which describes the
incidence of eye injuries to military personnel facing enemy combatants in
Iraq and Afghanistan. This article indicates that current conditions for
combat cause a higher proportion of injuries to the eye than in previous
conflicts. Though the article is quite sympathetic to the troops who are
blinded, it contains a reiteration of many of the myths and stereotypes
that have inhibited progress for the blind during the course of recorded
history. Brief portrayals of the lives of three soldiers are part of this
      Here are excerpts from the article: "About 70 percent of all sensory
perception is through vision, says R. Cameron VanRoekel, an army major and
staff optometrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. As a
result the families of visually impaired soldiers wrestle with a
contradiction: The wounded often have hard-driving personalities that have
helped them succeed in the military. Now dependent on others, they find it
difficult to accept help."
      I interrupt to say that though the army major may not know it, blind
people do not necessarily lead lives of dependency, some blind people have
hard-driving personalities, and the old story about visual perception being
the primary method of learning is a myth of long standing but little
credence. However, there are other pieces to the article.
      "Even now, more than a year after her husband's return from Iraq,"
[the article continues] "Connie Acosta is taken aback to find her home dark
after sunset, the lights off as if no one is there. Then she finds him-
sitting in their Santa Fe Springs, California, house, listening to classic
rock. Sgt. Maj. Jesse Acosta was blinded in a mortar attack twenty-two
months ago. He doesn't need the lights. That realization often makes Connie
cry. 'You kind of never get used to the fact that he really can't see,' she
says. 'He has no light in his life at all.'"
      Again I interrupt. If the article is merely reporting that this
soldier is blind, I would have no argument with the fact. However, more is
implied than the fact of blindness. The meaning is much broader and much
more devastating. The spiritual, the poetic, the inspirational, the
romantic aspects of life are no more for this combat victim, implies USA
Today. Of course USA Today is only a newspaper. Its reporters have no
extensive experience with blindness, and its editors have not studied in
this realm or learned what reality is for the blind. Personnel at the
newspaper have lived with the myth of deprivation, and this is what they
report. They cannot comprehend that something else might be at least as
      Is it really fair to say for those of us who are blind that we "have
no light in our lives at all" with all of the unspoken implications
contained in this phrase? Is sight essential for poetry? Can there be no
inspiration without the visual sense? Is romance a thing of the past? Is
the song of the spirit only a faint echo in the lives of blind people when
compared with that robust clamor which thrills the inner being of the
sighted? When blindness comes, does it invariably signify meaningless
emptiness? This is what the article would have us believe. Consider what
the reporter says. "Nothing in the house can be moved [the article
continues]; he's memorized the location of every chair and table."
      The final segment of the article poignantly sums up the grief. This
is what it says: "The only good news for now is when he sleeps, Castro
says. 'I've had dreams where I know I'm blind and, guess what? I've
regained my vision,' he says. Reality floods back each morning. 'There's
not a night that I don't pray and ask God, when I wake up, that I wake up
      This is the report from USA Today about the prospects for blinded
veterans. The only good news is the dream of waking up seeing; everything
else is bad. To imagine a life consisting in its primary elements of
waiting from the time of each waking moment for the next hour when sleep
can be coaxed to disguise the reality of daily existence with a dream world
is to accept despair. What we say to this soldier, to USA Today, and to all
human beings who have become blind is: "Don't you believe it!" Your
reporter has missed the good news. Blindness is indeed a loss, but it is
the loss of sight only, not the loss of the ability to live. Nobody can
give us hope unasked, and nobody can create for us the kind of spirit that
will give meaning to what we do or who we are. However, the hope is
abundantly available for those who seek it; the joy is part of the world we
can build; and the future is as bright with promise as any imagination that
exists or has ever existed. This is what our experience has demonstrated;
this is what we know; and this is the story that should have been reported.
      Incidentally, I get a little tired of the argument that 70 percent or
80 percent or 83 percent or 90 percent of all information comes through the
eye. The implication is always that, although blind people have some
information, we have only 30 percent or 20 percent or 17 percent or 10
percent of that which all other people have. This is false, and I find
myself annoyed with the necessity of responding to this idiotic notion
      I am told that the beginning of this argument came from an
advertisement in 1923 put together by Thomas Edison. He was trying to sell
film projectors to school systems. In an effort to sell his projectors, he
said that "83 percent of all knowledge comes through the eye." I wish he
had found a better way to sell projectors. Though I presume sighted people
might learn 70 percent of all they know by using their eyes, I also
recognize that this is not the only way to learn. All of us learn through
such senses as we have, and we learn through using such mental capacity as
we possess. Sense impression is necessary for learning, but it is only one
element in the process. Identifying and manipulating information involves
pattern recognition. Sometimes visual observation helps in recognizing
patterns, but other ways to recognize them also exist, and imagination is
at least as valuable.
      Even though I have been thinking seriously about the subject of
blindness for almost forty years, I am still amazed by some of the things
that people believe about blindness. When I read articles like this one, I
think to myself, "Did you say that, did you really say that, how could you
say such things about the blind?" Can you really think that our lives are
meaningless, or empty, or without romance or poetry or passion? Have you
observed any of us for more than a moment? Do you know the struggle that we
face to gain recognition for our talent? Have you heard the ripple of our
laughter or the cadence of the song we sing? If you believe that romance
and passion are possible only through the eye, your experience lacks
perspective and imagination. Love, joy, a fascination with the arts and
sciences, exploration of the unknown, and the unquenchable determination to
build a better life for ourselves and for others-these we claim as
belonging to us, belonging to the human spirit which is ours. In your
reporting you have not included these factors as a part of our lives, but
we know that we possess capacity, and we will not let you forget it.
      To give perspective to the thought of blind people and romance,
consider the testimony of a Federation member who, as a college project,
decided to find out how blind people fall in love. Here is a portion of the
notice that this student distributed to a number of blind people in the

            This year I am a senior, and I will be working on an honors
      thesis investigating the attraction and courtship process for
      individuals without sight. The purpose of this project is to explore
      ways in which blind individuals use senses other than sight in
      choosing partners and in maintaining intimate relationships.
            It is argued that sight is the most important factor in how
      people fall in love. What about those of us who lack the benefit of
      eye contact and visual cues? I want to explore the roles of other
      senses in the process of falling in love. This question is of great
      personal interest to me because I was able to experience 'love at
      first sight' when I met my future husband, despite the fact that I
      could not rely on my sense of sight. I am very interested in
      investigating the variety of ways that visually impaired individuals
      fall in love.

      These are statements from the notice created by the student. She
takes for granted that blind people have romantic interest, and she seeks
less to know whether it exists than how it operates. I suspect that the
research has already been concluded. However, if more evidence is required,
I will let you know.
      The National Federation of the Blind receives unsolicited proposals
to support, endorse, or help to promote individuals, books, films, or
projects about blindness on a very regular basis. Some of these make sense
and get our support, but others have no redeeming social importance.
      A few months ago we received a proposal that the National Federation
of the Blind become a promoter of a project known as "Charlesville," a
housing community to be built in Georgia adapted to the specialized needs
of the blind. The slogan of Charlesville, which gives an idea about the
project, is: "A Community Where the Blind Can Really See." The promoters
plan to construct 164 homes for the blind in a housing development along
with a theater, places for other small businesses, a supermarket,
playgrounds, and a "work facility." The proposal, laid out in a substantial
notebook, contains statements such as, "Homes...will have Voice
instructions to assist the Blind in being able to see in their homes, as
well as in their outside yards," and "The streets will be designed to have
Voice controls to assist the Blind in seeing where their neighbors live,
their playgrounds are, as well as their work facility." One other statement
in the notebook is, "Our firm has been given the 'Vision of Creating Home
Ownership, and Employment' in Charlesville where the Blind can see
themselves become normal independent citizens of our great country."
      Such are statements from the planners of Charlesville. And you
thought you were normal; you thought you were independent-not unless you
live in Charlesville. Move to Charlesville or you're not even a citizen of
this great country of ours, according to the movers and shakers of
      I spoke with the people who sent this proposal to the Federation.
They told me that they understood the problems of blindness; they
sympathized with the plight of blind people; and they wanted to construct a
living community in which the blind could have an experience of home as
close as possible to that which is experienced by the sighted. With this in
mind they imagined that specialized technology would be installed which
would explain to the blind the interiors of their houses. Other technology
would explain what was in the neighborhood. The explanations would include
audible descriptions of where each neighbor lived and where each
nonresidential building could be located. Special blind-friendly technology
to control the streets would be one of the features of the community,
though what this technology would do had not yet been completely planned.
      The mind boggles at what might be incorporated in the audible
descriptions of the neighbors. It is tempting to try to offer certain
imaginative examples, but those that you have already constructed are no
doubt equally good. I confess that I found myself intrigued by the notion
that the streets themselves could be controlled. What would a human being
want the streets to do? Although I did not express these thoughts to those
visiting the National Federation of the Blind, I wondered if they meant
that control gates would be installed at street crossings similar to those
used for railroad crossings. When a blind person planned to cross the
street, the press of a button could bring down the control arms, halting
traffic and providing a tactile railing or fence for the blind person to
follow from one side of the street to the other. Indeed, the concept of
controlling the streets tickled my fancy. I wondered if I should suggest to
these planners that they build their community so that a blind person
stepping out for a walk could instruct the streets to go downhill. Maybe
the new slogan for Charlesville could be, "The Community for the Blind:
Where All the Streets Go Downhill."
      Those creating the community thought that having sighted people to
assist the blind with their medications might be useful as well as having
individuals dedicated to leading the blind from place to place. The
planners wanted to know if I had any suggestions for other specialized
technologies or services, and they asked for a grant of more than a million
      I doubt that it will come as a surprise that I decided not to get the
checkbook. I was polite, but I wondered if the people making the proposal
had read any of the Federation's literature. We do not recommend that the
blind be segregated from society. We do not believe that specialized homes
are required for the benefit of the blind. We do not recommend that
communities be built to isolate the blind even with voice-controlled
streets, whatever this might mean.
      The concept of a segregated community is not merely offensive but
also dangerously socially irresponsible. Some years ago in Japan, Dr.
Kenneth Jernigan, who was totally blind, and Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan were
walking along the sidewalk. A bicyclist almost struck Dr. Jernigan. In the
brief heated discussion that followed the near-accident, the bicyclist said
that a portion of the sidewalk had been set aside with tactilely raised
identifying marks for the blind. This is where the blind should be, the
cyclist said. Implied in the statement is the further thought that blind
people should not be permitted outside the specialized areas designated for
the blind.
      Some people have advocated for a special college for the blind. The
argument is that the needs of blind students are sufficiently different
from those of other students that a college designed to serve the blind
would be a significant advantage. Books could be provided in Braille or in
recorded form. Blind people could have assurance that the lectures, the
handouts, and the laboratories would be designed to ensure accessibility in
nonvisual ways. However, we in the National Federation of the Blind have
never endorsed such a concept; we have actively opposed it. No matter how
useful it would be to have Braille books and tactilely labeled laboratory
equipment, a college for the blind would segregate and isolate the blind
from society rather than integrate us into it. We want to be a part of the
society in which we live. We want to attend the colleges and universities
of our own choice. We want our intellectual capacity to be recognized for
the value that it has. We want all colleges to understand the necessity of
making their educational curricula accessible to us and useable by us. We
will fight for our right to be included in all aspects of community life.
We oppose segregation for the blind, we oppose all schemes that would
isolate us from the communities in which we live, and we promote full
integration of the blind into society on the basis of equality. We demand
equality of opportunity for all blind people, and we will settle for
nothing less.
      Sometimes people ask me how I approach blindness. It is as much a
part of me as dozens or hundreds of other characteristics. I don't forget
it, but I don't concentrate on it either, most of the time. Other people
often magnify this one characteristic out of all proportion to what seems
reasonable to me.
      In the early 1980s I was conducting a law practice in Baltimore,
Maryland. Each business day I traveled to my office, very often by bus, and
each evening I returned home, using the same method of transportation. One
summer evening I was standing at a bus stop in downtown Baltimore. I was
dressed in a suit, which is my customary work attire. I had a briefcase
with me, which is almost always a companion of my travels. I was also
carrying a can of coffee. I had run out of coffee at home, and I needed
this can, which, fortunately, I had on hand at the office. The evening was
warm, and the bus was late. Because I had remained in my office to complete
some work, the rush hour had already passed, and I was feeling weary. The
breeze came off the hot asphalt and did little to dissipate the warmth. I
was the only one at the bus stop, which suited me because I could review
the events of the day without having to worry about fellow bus passengers
or other distractions. A person came up to me and peered at me from one
side. Then the person walked around to my other side and peered again. I
was standing next to the pole that had the bus stop sign on it. My
briefcase was sitting on the ground next to my left leg, I was leaning on
my cane, and I had the can of coffee in my hand. After I had been examined
from both sides, a man's voice said to me, "Where's the slot?"
      "What?" I asked.
      To which my companion responded, "Where do you put the money?"
      Although I was startled by these questions, I realized suddenly that
he wanted to put some change into the canister I was holding. He thought I
was begging. What else would a respectably dressed blind man with a
briefcase and a coffee can be doing?
      "This is my coffee," I said, and my companion left.
      Sometimes we let others make us believe that blindness matters more
to us than reality would suggest. Sometimes we let fear of the unknown
control us, and we attribute the fear to blindness.
      One of the presentations that I have made as president of the
National Federation of the Blind deals with the topic of getting lost. I
have been lost many times, and I expect to be lost many more. In my younger
days I thought that being lost was bad. However, I have learned that
accepting the uncertainty of being lost means that I can find new places,
meet new people, have new experiences, and expand my horizons. I also tell
other people it is perfectly all right to be lost. How different is this
attitude from the one that I found on the Internet recently. Here is what
one blind person said:

            If I don't know a state, I won't take buses anywhere. Why on
      earth would I wish to get lost? I wouldn't even know how to tell the
      transportation where I wanted to go. I would ask others if they are
      going the same way I wish to go. If not, there isn't any reason to go
      there then. I would just stay home where I know I could get help if
      needed and not feel afraid of getting lost.

      Many of us may have faced this kind of fear as part of learning who
we are, and many of us may face it again. Nevertheless, with the support of
one another we know that we can solve the problems that come to us, large
or small, dramatic or mundane. Though I sometimes find myself in unfamiliar
surroundings, I never find myself without capacity, and I never encounter a
day in which my colleagues in the Federation are not willing to help me if
I need it. I realize that I have the ability to learn what I need to know
to get from the place where I am to the place where I need to be.
Furthermore, I will always want to know what we can do to build a brighter,
more productive future. I will always want to know what is around the next
bend in the road or over the summit of the next hill. I will always want to
know what I can do to bring joy to my friends. I will always want to know
how I can show them that there is excitement in being lost.
      Optimism is an element in the acquisition of power, and the power
once derived fosters optimism. The power of optimism stimulates the
optimism of power. Optimism is one element of our faith. It is inherent in
all that we say and all that we do. Because it has come to be such an
integrated part of our thought process, we sometimes fail to recognize the
urgency of optimism.
      For all time blind people have been regarded as dependent,
incompetent, and subnormal-some would even describe us as subhuman.
However, we know better than to accept such a description of us, for it is
false. We have decided to correct the error of the authors who tell us that
we are base and unhuman, of those rehabilitation officials who write off 70
percent of us as fundamentally incompetent, of the newspaper reporters who
tell us that our lives are empty and meaningless, and of the amusement park
operators who believe that we can't even ride a roller coaster. We have
made this decision because we know the strength which is within us, we
share the spirit that is part of us, and we feel the determination to
create the factors that will shape the future.
      Who can tell us what our lives will become? Nobody can do this except
us. There are those who would like to dismiss us, but we will be heard.
There are those who would like to instruct us, but from our experience we
have gained more information than they can hope to accumulate. There are
those who would like to control us, but if they try, they will do so at
their peril. Partners we seek from every aspect of public and private life,
but those who would seek to dictate to us what our lives should be will be
tolerated not at all.
      As we face the struggles of the time to come, we know with absolute
certainty that we will take whatever action is necessary to confront those
who would stop our progress or belittle our ambitions. We will make
whatever sacrifice is necessary; we will pay whatever price is required. We
will demand the equality that must and will be ours, and we will never
cease our efforts until we have it. We have the will, we have the strength,
we have the optimism. The future belongs to us; we will make it our own!
Leave a Legacy
      For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind
has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people
into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades
to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring
movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial
beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in
your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a
way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that
leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and

With your help, the NFB will continue to:
    . Give blind children the gift of literacy through Braille;
    . Promote the independent travel of the blind by providing free, long
      white canes to blind people in need;
    . Develop dynamic educational projects and programs that show blind
      youth that science and math are within their reach;
    . Deliver hundreds of accessible newspapers and magazines to provide
      blind people the essential information necessary to be actively
      involved in their communities;
    . Offer aids and appliances that help seniors losing vision maintain
      their independence; and
    . Fund scholarship programs so that blind people can achieve their

Plan to Leave a Legacy
      Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your
possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are
distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear
creating a will or believe it's not necessary until they are much older.
Others think that it's expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the
most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is
easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise
your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial
beneficiary. Visit <www.nfb.org/planned-giving> or call (410) 659-9314,
extension 2422 for more information. Together with love, hope,
determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into
                              Dots from Space!
                            Voices from the Past
                        by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer

      From the Editor: This is episode four from our monthly serial "Dots
from Space!" If you missed any of the earlier episodes, refer to the
January, February, and March issues.

      Drawn ever onward by the mysteries left behind by the previous
inhabitants, the team rolls through the maze-like corridors, paneled in
smooth wood, to the far side of the empty building. At long last they reach
the end of another seemingly endless hallway and discover that they are
standing on the remains of a large deck. Watery sunlight shines down on the
explorers as they spread out to examine the debris strewn across the deck,
while the soft breeze brings the sounds of water in the bay to them.
      "There's nothing here but dirt and rocks, ma'am," Lieutenant Commander
Jot calls out, as she forms a trowel and eagerly begins to shove some of
the detritus away.
      "Wait! There's something over here! You'd better come take a look at
this everyone." The triumphant urgency in Counselor Mote's voice leaves the
entire team with little choice but to clamor to see what she has found.
      "Report, Counselor," Captain Dottie commands.
      The counselor rolls a few feet to the side to reveal the twisted metal
remains of a large charcoal grill lying on its side on the ground. Putting
her trowel to good use, the lieutenant commander begins to sweep away the
dirt to reveal grilling tongs, now long rusted, and a heavy-duty grilling
glove riddled with holes.
      Eager to show off, the counselor quickly explained. "It appears to be
the remains of a rudimentary cooking method, Captain. Unlike our species,
which can simply absorb nutrition from the materials we come into contact
with, I surmise that the inhabitants of this world burned their food with
fire and then ingested it."
      "A most inefficient system indeed," mused Doctor Spot.
      Young Bean, curious as always, reaches into the pile of rusty metal
utensils and pulls out the crumbling remnants of a pair of sleepshades.
"What do you suppose this was used for? And why would they need it for food
preparation?" he asks.
      The crew all ponder this question for a moment, but it is Counselor
Mote, rolling her rotund body in a small circle on the ground in her haste
to be first, who beats them to the punch. She pulls the sleepshades from
the ensign's appendage and plasters the mask to the surface of her body,
the impression of a nose and mouth appearing below it. "Isn't it obvious?
This is a ceremonial mask used to ask their deities to bless their food!"
      "Interesting theory Counselor, however, I think there is a simpler
explanation. Their mission was to teach others that there were alternatives
to using sight to complete everyday tasks. I believe that this device was
meant to discourage the use of sight during educational activities."
      "Sight, Doctor?" asks Lieutenant-Commander Jot.
      "From the evidence that we have gathered on this planet so far, we
have discovered that most of the inhabitants used the perception of light
to interact with their environment. However, not everyone used this method.
Those that did, used what was called 'sight.' While those who did not or
could not rely on this sense used alternative techniques and called
themselves 'blind.'"
      "And what are you basing this theory upon, Doctor?" Captain Dottie
      "Simple, Captain. I read it in this article I found in the hallway."
[Note: Link to "The Hierarchy of Sight", by Eric Guillory, Future
Reflections, Volume 33, Number 2,
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Iowa Congressman David Young]
                 David Young is a Champion for Blind Iowans
                              by James H. Omvig

      From the Editor: James Omvig is a man with a long history of work on
behalf of blind people and whose mantra has long been "Let's go build the
Federation." This he has done in every part of the country in which he has
lived and in every part he has visited on behalf of the organized blind of
America. Jim has spent more than eight decades on this earth and has more
than his share of health issues, but he still manages to put the work of
the National Federation of the Blind as one of his highest priorities.
      Jim did not attend the 2017 Washington Seminar, but he felt an
obligation to carry forward the issues highlighted there. Here is an
article which appeared in the Des Moines Register on March 2, 2017. Hats
off to you, Jim, and thank you for writing:

       National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, Letter to the Editor

      Through the National Federation of the Blind, the world's oldest and
largest educational and civil rights organization of blind people, the
blind of America are working continuously to achieve security, equality,
and opportunity for the blind. As we advance, many challenges still lay
ahead. One of the most significant is the barrier the blind face with
accessible technology. In the ever-changing market of computers, tablets,
and phones, keeping devices accessible is always a work in progress for the
      One recent issue the blind have encountered is the high cost of
custom-made, accessible technology such as Braille displays, screen-reading
software, and other technology that is specifically designed for the use of
the blind. These necessary devices can be extremely costly, making it
difficult for the average blind person to afford them. Leaders of the
Federation have therefore developed the Access Technology Affordability
Act, which will be introduced into the Congress soon. It would offer a
refundable tax credit for blind purchasers of specialized technology to
help defray cost and therefore help blind people have equal access to
      At the Federation's recent Washington Seminar, hundreds of blind
people from across America traveled to Washington, DC, to educate US
congressmen and senators about this urgent need. After he learned of the
problem of the exorbitant costs associated with this technology, Rep. David
Young agreed to be our champion sponsor of the Access Technology
Affordability Act. Congressman Young has repeatedly advocated for the blind
and our causes and has sponsored legislation on our behalf several times
      We wish to offer a public thank you to Young for his understanding,
his help, and his support.

- James H. Omvig, National Federation of the Blind of Iowa
                         Independence Market Corner

      The NFB Independence Market is the conduit through which our
organization distributes our literature about blindness and how to adapt to
living successfully with severe vision loss. Our members and friends use
our literature to share our can-do approach to blindness to encourage other
blind people and to educate the general public about the abilities of the
      Through the Independence Market the NFB also makes available some
products, which enhance the independence of blind and vision impaired
individuals. Perhaps the product which has the greatest impact on the
independence of blind people is the long white cane. Once someone has
learned to use the long white cane effectively, that blind person can
travel safely and comfortably both in familiar and unfamiliar places. The
freedom gained from such independent mobility has a tremendous effect on
the self-confidence of blind people. It is, therefore, not surprising that
the white cane has become a symbol of our independence and self-reliance.
      Over the years the NFB promoted longer and lighter weight canes, as
our members found the longer, lighter canes easier to use. The additional
length provides users more advanced warning of obstacles in the
environment, giving them the confidence and competence to walk at a faster
pace. Knowing that one's longer cane will detect the top of a flight of
steps with enough reaction time to approach the first step with ease
contributes to a blind traveler's sense of safety and security. The NFB
recommends that a cane is long enough that it reaches between the chin and
the nose of the user. Some people who walk very fast prefer even longer
canes. The NFB also pioneered the use of canes for young blind children,
even toddlers. If young blind children already have canes in their hands
when they start walking, then the cane becomes a natural tool to explore
their environment. And once such early cane adopters reach the self-
conscious teen years, they have already internalized the knowledge that
using the long white cane enables them to move around safely and
      The NFB Independence Market sells several types of long white canes
ranging from rigid ones to telescoping and folding ones for all ages and
sizes from toddlers to tall adults. All our light-weight canes are hollow
and made either from fiberglass or a carbon fiber composite.
      The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane, written by longtime
member Tom Bickford, is a good introductory guide for those unfamiliar with
using a long white cane as a mobility aid. This book gives good tips for
using a long white cane in various everyday situations. The text is
available on our website at
https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/books/CFCANE/canetc.htm. The book
can also be obtained in Braille or print from the Independence Market free
of charge. Audio copies may be borrowed by NLS patrons from their local
library for the blind.
      For more information about the products and literature available from
the Independence Market or to request a catalog in Braille or in print
visit us online at https://nfb.org/independence-market. You may also
contact us using email at independencemarket at nfb.org or by phone at (410)
659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Eastern Time. Our staff will be glad to assist.

      Recipes this month were provided by the National Federation of the
Blind of Florida.

                               Corn Casserole
                               by Sylvia Young

      Sylvia Young has been a sighted member of the NFB for about six
years. She now serves as the Tallahassee Chapter and state affiliate
secretary. She and her husband James have been married for seventeen years
and have nine children and thirteen grandchildren in their blended family.

1 can whole kernel corn
1 can cream style corn
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
1 stick of margarine (melted)

      Method: Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased pan or
dish. Bake for forty-five minutes to one hour at 325 degrees. Let stand for
ten minutes before serving. You may slice it or scoop it out.
                             Traditional Lasagna
                               by Scott Wilson

      Scott Wilson is a passionate cook, parent of two children, and a
successful business owner for more than ten years. In his copious free time
Scott enjoys learning new things, like languages. He currently speaks
Irish, with more languages to follow.

1 pound ground beef
3/4 pounds bulk pork sausage
3 cans (8 ounces each) tomato sauce
2 cans (6 ounces each) tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 cups (24 ounces) 4 percent small curd cottage cheese
1 carton (8 ounces) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 
9 lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
6 slices provolone cheese (about 6 ounces)
3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided

      Method: In a large skillet over medium heat, cook and crumble beef
and sausage until no longer pink; drain. Add next seven ingredients. Bring
to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, one hour, stirring occasionally.
Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Meanwhile, in
a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add parsley; stir in cottage cheese,
ricotta and parmesan cheese. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread one
cup meat sauce in an ungreased thirteen-by-nine-inch baking dish. Layer
with three noodles, provolone cheese, two cups cottage cheese mixture, one
cup mozzarella, three noodles, two cups meat sauce, remaining cottage
cheese mixture and one cup mozzarella. Top with remaining noodles, meat
sauce and mozzarella (dish will be full). Cover; bake fifty minutes.
Uncover; bake until heated through, twenty minutes. Let stand fifteen
minutes before cutting. Yields twelve servings.
                           Yellow Squash Casserole
                               by Alicia Kilby

      Alicia Kilby is a homemaker. As a single, disabled mother of two
young children, she tries to be creative and likes to explore new recipes,
keeping in mind children's tastes are sometimes narrow and limited. She's a
responsible, independent, part-time student working on a degree in social
work. She is also a volunteer and mentor at a local elementary school,
living every day for a better tomorrow because she can live the life that
she wants.

8 medium yellow squash
16 saltine crackers
2 cups mozzarella cheese (or whatever you prefer)
= cup milk
2 eggs
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper to taste

      Method: Slice squash and boil until tender. Drain, crush crackers
until fine, and beat eggs. Put all ingredients into two-and-a-half-quart
casserole dish and mix well. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Serves
                              Smothered Rabbit
                              by Tinetta Cooper

      Tinetta is a legally blind, diabetic mother who has been an NFBF
member for ten years. She loves to cook and bake. She says, "The recipe
I've submitted is unique and simple to prepare, and the results are

1 rabbit, cut into small pieces
Salt to taste
Paprika to taste
3 tablespoons butter
1 to 2 onions sliced
1 cup sour cream

      Method: Season the rabbit with salt and paprika. Coat pieces with
flour. Melt butter in a crockpot, add rabbit, and cover meat thickly with
onion slices. Sprinkle onions with salt. Pour in the sour cream. Cover and
simmer one hour or bake at 325 until tender.
                    A Cup, A Cup, A Cup of Peach Cobbler
                               by Sylvia Young

1 cup of canned peaches
1 cup of flour (self-rising)
1 cup of milk
1 cup of sugar
1 stick of butter
1 lemon

      Method: Preheat oven 350 degrees. Place peaches in bowl, add 1/8 cup
of sugar and squeezed lemon, stir and set aside. Melt butter in backing
dish. Mix flour and the rest of the sugar and milk together. Pour into the
pan with the melted butter. Add fruit on top (with some of the juice). Bake
one hour. Serve with or without ice cream on top.
                           Floating Peach Cobbler
                               by Alicia Kilby

      There's always room for variations in life, especially when it comes
to delicious desserts.

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 29-ounce can sliced peaches in heavy syrup
1 stick margarine (not butter)

      Method: Preheat oven 350 degrees. Melt butter then pour into a ten-by-
ten-inch baking dish. Stir together flour, sugar, and milk until smooth.
Pour into center of dish on the margarine (do not stir). Spoon the peach
slices all over the batter gently (so you don't stir). Then add the syrup
from can. Bake forty-five minutes until golden brown. Serve at room
                         Florida Cracker Orange Pie
                               by John Bailey

      John is a sighted board member of the NFB of Florida Statewide
Chapter and has been an NFB member for about five years. He got interested
in the NFB because of his girlfriend Tinetta Cooper. He truly believes in
the NFB and its philosophy.

6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sweet butter, melted
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
2 cups fresh orange juice
1 nine-inch deep dish flaky pie crust

      Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put egg yolks in mixer bowl and
beat until smooth. Beat in sugar, flour, butter, orange zest, and orange
juice one ingredient at a time. Pour orange mixture into pie shell. Bake
thirty minutes until set. Let cool completely. Top with whipped cream.
Chill before serving.
                             Monitor Miniatures

      News from the Federation Family

STEM Tutorials for Blind Students to be Offered at the 2017 NFB National
      Are you a blind student interested in studying science, technology,
engineering, or math? Do you feel daunted by the prospect of doing lab work
in a chemistry class or producing visually readable results in a math
class? Perhaps you're a professional in a technical field who finds it
challenging to produce graphs and charts for sighted colleagues? If so,
then come to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind and
plan to arrive in time for Seminar Day on Monday, July 10. The NFB in
Computer Science, the NFB Science & Engineering Division, and the NFB
National Association of Blind Students Division will host the STEM tutorial
workshop. STEM educators and technologists will come from around the world
to help blind students and professionals learn to use a variety of tools to
assist them in excelling in their chosen technical field. Best of all,
individual tutoring sessions will be offered throughout the week for those
folks who want one-on-one training from experts who are familiar with the
access technology they're teaching, as well as the technical field it's
being used for. The topics to be discussed and for which tutoring will be
available include: access math in electronic materials directly or to
convert it to Braille; write math in formats directly accessible to sighted
people; read STEM graphs, charts, and diagrams, and create simple graphics;
and participate in chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering labs.
      There is no charge to attend either the seminar on Monday or the
tutoring sessions throughout the week. The seminar on Monday will give an
overview of the technologies to be taught, as well as an introduction to
the tutors themselves. It is strongly recommended that folks who are
interested in being a part of this invaluable opportunity plan to arrive at
the convention in time to begin participating in events on the morning of
July 10.
      For more information, contact: John Gardner, STEM tutorial
coordinator, at john.gardner at oregonstate.edu.

                                  In Brief

      Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor
readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we
have edited only for space and clarity.

State Resource Handbooks Available for Purchase :
      I have created twenty-three screen-reader-friendly resource handbooks
containing resources pertaining to the blind and visually impaired for use
by consumers and professionals. This handbook is for the residents of
specific states and includes the many organizations for the blind and
visually impaired covering areas such as employment, housing,
transportation, and more. Currently the handbooks are for Alabama, Alaska,
Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida,
Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Texas,
Oregon, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kansas, and South Dakota.
      The handbooks include contact information on the local, regional, and
national level. For more information on pricing, order form, and formats
please contact Insightful Publications by email at insightfulpub at gmail.com,
by phone at (808) 747-1006, or by visiting
                                 NFB Pledge
      I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National
Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for
the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to
abide by its constitution.

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