[Nfbmdtlc-chapter] Fall Spectator
nfbmd at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 3 21:06:07 UTC 2017
THE BRAILLE SPECTATOR FALL 2017
A semi-annual publication of the National Federation of the Blind of
Judy Rasmussen, editor
Published on www.nfbmd.org <http://www.nfbmd.org> and on NFB Newsline by
The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
Sharon Maneki, President
Comments and questions should be sent to <mailto:nfbmd at earthlink.net>
nfbmd at earthlink.net
In this issue:
Are you Ready for the Convention Challenge?
Meet Everette Bacon
Successful Paths to Employment: Using Reasonable Accommodations and Seeking
Minority Business Status
The Bells Rang Out In Maryland Again!
Federationists Tell Their Story
Tom Ley, Advocate, Friend, Devoted Husband and Father
>From the Presidents Mail Basket
Meet the 2017 NFBMD Scholarship Winners
ARE YOU READY THE CONVENTION CHALLENGE?
By: Sharon Maneki
You will find many opportunities for a challenge whether it
is your first or 51st state convention. These challenges will be fun,
informative, and will expand your horizons so dont let the word challenge
frighten you. Here are a few examples of some of the challenges that will
be available on November 10-12 at the Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel.
On Friday afternoon, challenge yourself to try out a new
workout routine called Cardio Drumming. Resolve to challenge yourself to
use some of the apps for exercise and nutrition that you will discover at
our Wellness: Theres an App for That workshop. Examine tactile art and get
ideas for future projects. Think about making your home more accessible
with the new Amazon and Google products in our Accessibility Around the
House workshop. Enjoy the challenge of exploring the Towson Mall with the
new Aira technology.
Friday evening will be a time of fun and laughter. The
evening begins with a performance of a comedy by the Braille is Beautiful
Players. Challenge your friends or make friends as you play a variety of
games at our carnival. You can play everything from corn hole to darts to
board games to computer games! Of course all games will be accessible. Try
something that you have never done before!
NFBMD conventions do not offer only opportunities for us
to challenge ourselves, they also offer challenges that will change the
lives of blind persons now and in the future. Through our joint efforts we
will challenge agencies to improve services for the blind in the state.
Come to the Resolutions Committee on Friday at 9:30 am to learn about the
challenges that we will work on in the coming year. If you want to submit a
resolution, send it to Jesse Hartle, who will be the chairman of the
committee this year. His email address is jesse.hartle63 at gmail.com
<mailto:jesse.hartle63 at gmail.com> . All resolutions must be submitted to
Jesse by November 3.
I am ready for the challenge. I hope you are, too. See
you in Towson.
Meet Everette Bacon
(Editors note: Here is what the Braille Monitor and the NFB website had to
say about Everette Bacon, our national representative for the 2017
Convention. We thought readers would enjoy getting to know about him in
advance. Be sure you take the time to meet him in person on November
Everette Bacon: Rehabilitation Professional
Everette Bacon was born in Huntington Beach, California. At the age of five
he was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a condition which had run in his
family on his mothers side for thirteen generations, causing rapid-onset
blindness primarily in female family members. Despite the diagnosis,
Everettes family took the advice of teachers and medical experts, believing
(or, more accurately, hoping) that since Everette was male and his vision
was not deteriorating rapidly like that of other family members, he was
unlikely to go blind. As a result, Everette did not learn Braille or other
alternative techniques during his school years. Looking back, Everette says,
his mother and other family members wish that they had encouraged him to
learn Braille and other blindness skills.
When Everette was around eighteen his entire family moved to Texas. Everette
pursued a degree in church music at Dallas Baptist University. He jokes that
he was pushed toward music because you know, blind people sing. His first
job was teaching a seventh grade choir, but he found it not to his liking.
Searching for other employment in order to earn money to help his wife
through medical school, Everette ultimately accepted a management position
with Blockbuster Video in 1997. He was very successful in this position,
winning several awards and steady promotions. By 2004, he was managing ten
stores in the Houston area.
Everettes eye condition began to worsen, and instead of giving up, he
adapted by using alternative techniques. I started carrying a cane, mainly
for identity, but I was using it when I felt I needed it. I was never
embarrassed or ashamed about becoming blind, because I grew up around blind
people, adapting was something you just became accustomed to doing.
However, when he asked for reasonable accommodations from his employer,
instead of granting these accommodations, Blockbuster terminated his
employment despite his outstanding record. The company even went so far as
to describe Everettes conduct as fraudulent, implying that he had
deceived the company about his capabilities, even though he had previously
been praised and awarded for his work.
This experience traumatized Everette and his family. His wife, mother, and
other family members sent angry emails to everyone they could; urging
readers to avoid shopping at Blockbuster based on discrimination against the
blind. One of these emails found its way to Scott LaBarre, the president of
the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a successful disability
rights attorney. Scott took Everettes case, and ultimately Everette
received a settlement from Blockbuster. More importantly, though, he learned
about the National Federation of the Blind and the many battles the
organization has fought in the effort to advance and protect the civil
rights of blind people. I had heard of the Federation and been told that
they were militant, Everette says, but my experience taught me the
importance of our advocacy. There are so many reasons to be proud of whom
we are as blind people, and the Federation has paved the way for our climb
to the top of the mountain of civil rights!
In 2004, Everette and his wife, Dr. Angela Peters, moved to Salt Lake City,
Utah. Everette became involved in the Utah affiliate and developed what he
describes as life-changing relationships with dedicated Federationists like
Nick Schmitroth, Karl Smith, and Deja Powell. These friends helped Everette
improve his blindness skills and grow in the movement. Everette was also
looking for new employment opportunities in Utah and heard about a job
opening as a Blindness Skills Teacher at the Utah Division of Services for
the Blind and Visually Impaired. Everette remembers speaking with Ray Martin
about the fact that he knew nothing about teaching blind people, Martin told
him that being blind was the most important qualification. The agency
supported Everette in his pursuit of a masters degree in rehabilitation. He
went from teaching technology to supervising the technology staff, and now
serves as the agencys field services coordinator, overseeing all of the
agencys technology and employment services, supervising a staff of nine.
Everette began advocating for Utahs blind residents with an effort to
encourage a prominent local cinema chain to incorporate audio description
technology into its theaters, so that blind people who wanted to experience
movies with audio description could do so. An avid movie fan with an
extensive collection dating from his Blockbuster days, he believes that
audio description can enable blind people to connect more easily with their
sighted peers when discussing entertainment. One of the most valuable
lessons I have learned from the NFB is the understanding that blending in to
society is an important skill. Being able to relate to our sighted
colleagues about movies, television, politics, and sports are excellent
paths to opportunities that help change common misconceptions about
In 2012, Everette was elected president of the National Federation of the
Blind of Utah. He is proud of the affiliates successful advocacy for a
state mini-508 law requiring accessibility of new state websites and
procurement of accessible electronic and information technology; subject to
fines when agencies fail to comply. His advocacy for accessibility made him
an outstanding candidate to serve as the Federations representative on the
Disability Advisory Committee to the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC). He was nominated for appointment to this committee by President
Riccobono and duly appointed to serve by the FCC in 2015. Everette is chair
of the Utah Library Advisory Board. He also sits on the Utah Assistive
Technology Council and the Library of Congress National Library Service for
the Blinds Audio Equipment Advisory Committee (Western Region). He was
unanimously elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of
the Blind at the organizations 2015 convention. He and Angela and their two
dogs live in Salt Lake City, but Everette still roots for his beloved Dallas
Successful Paths to Employment: Using Reasonable Accommodations and Seeking
Minority Business Status
By Judy Rasmussen
The NFB of Maryland is in the business of promoting employment, and sharing
the successes of those who find and maintain it. All of us encourage each
other as we struggle to gain equality, fight discrimination, and rejoice
when the barriers are broken down and one more person joins the ranks of the
employed. The following article is a summary from our two employment
panelists presented at the 2016 NFBMD convention. As you will see, these
panelists followed very different paths to success, but both achieved it,
which is obviously the ultimate goal.
Our first panelist was Annette Carr, M. Ed., Senior Accommodations Analyst
employed with the Department of Transportation in Washington, DC.
Ms. Carr said she attended college in the early 1980s with the goal of
becoming a teacher. She taught in the classroom for three years. She enjoyed
the teaching, but not all of the paperwork involved. To continue teaching,
she needed to obtain a master's degree. She obtained a master's degree in
special education, with an emphasis on assistive technology. Annette
emphasized that throughout her education and the various jobs she obtained,
she continued to focus on a plan. She worked hard to do her best and to
truly shine at the tasks she was asked to perform.
She was hired by her university before she graduated. She wrote grant
proposals for 20 years for them. She realized that if she did not do her
research and write successful grants, she would be unemployed, which was a
definite motivator to keep going.
Then she became a mother, and only wanted to work part-time. She went back
to her university, but the work wasn't the same. She decided to market
herself in the assistive technology world. She worked part-time for five
assistive technology companies. She enjoyed the work, but it was exhausting
and didn't pay much. One benefit of this work, however, was that she made
many business contacts. Through one of these contacts, she received a call
from someone who was a recruiter for a contractor with the Department of
Transportation. The recruiter felt she was perfect for the job because it
involved ensuring that people with disabilities who worked for DOT received
the accommodations they needed.
Oddly enough, the people in charge of hiring for this contractor did not
want to give her the job because "she needed accommodations." However, she
got the job because of the persistence of the person who initially contacted
her. The contract lasted for 18 months, but was not renewed. Several weeks
later she received a call from staff at the Department of Transportation
stating that there was a permanent job for her at DOT, doing the same work
she had been doing as a contractor. Within two weeks she was back at her old
desk with the same phone number and e-mail address she had as a contractor.
The difference was that "now she was a fed."
Annette emphasized that she did not find any of her jobs by sitting at home.
Unless people see your face and know what kind of work you are looking for,
finding a job will be much more difficult. She encouraged people to get
involved with their local NFB chapters and to volunteer in the community.
Our second panelist was Dr. Michael Gosse, president of Data Speech Computer
Solutions, Inc. Michael is an active member of the NFB of Maryland and
served as president of the affiliate from 2006 through 2008.
Michael began by stating that he did not have the opportunity to learn
braille as a child, so he was giving his speech without the benefit of
notes. He said he was present during the initial discussion which led to the
creation of the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program,
and he had no idea it would be so successful.
Data Speech Computer Solutions is currently a one-man operation. He is proud
that his company prepares and delivers more than 350 newspapers and
magazines to thousands of blind people across the country. He said that
because he is solely responsible for the success of his company, if there is
too much work, he can't sleep. If there isn't enough work, he can't sleep
Michael said that when he began his company, he planned to make it into a
powerhouse like Facebook and Twitter. He planned to do this by receiving
contracts through the Minority Business Enterprise program. The Minority
Business Enterprise program allows approved businesses to receive a
set-aside portion of all state of Maryland contracts issued. Michael applied
for this program two years ago, but was initially denied because the Board
felt he had gone to college, and already received contracts without the
benefit of being considered a minority owned business. Michael decided to
appeal the decision on the basis that as a person with a disability, he
qualified for the program. Many people with disabilities had tried to apply
for this program, and had been unsuccessful in being considered a minority
He hired Brown, Goldstein and Levy to represent him. When the Assistant
Attorney General heard he had hired an attorney, he felt it was better to
settle the matter. Michael was asked to write a letter stating why he should
qualify as being disadvantaged because he has a disability. Michael told us
that it was a painful process writing about all of the opportunities he had
been denied because of his visual impairment. These included being denied
work at McDonalds and at his father's company, where his brother and sister
had both been hired. Michael had tried to purchase disability insurance for
himself, in case he could no longer run his company. He was denied the
disability insurance on the basis that he was already blind.
After five pages of showing why he should be considered as disadvantaged, he
was awarded the status of being a minority-owned business. Because he had
gone through this lengthy process, he was also awarded minority business
owner status for federal contracts. This shows the persistence of not giving
up, even when things look bleak.
Michael ended his presentation by encouraging people to start their own
businesses, if that was their dream.
The Bells Rang Out In Maryland Again!
By Judy Rasmussen
Summer means attending the NFB convention, going on vacation, and
participation in the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL)
For the tenth consecutive year, the NFB of Maryland has sponsored a two-week
program to give legally blind students between the ages of 4 and 13 the
opportunity to spend time with blind role models, and improve their braille
reading and writing skills.
>From July 17 to August 11, twenty-seven blind Marylanders participated in
three BELL Academy programs. One was held in Salisbury, one in Baltimore and
the other in Prince George's County. Welcoming back returning students to
see how much they have grown and matured is always a treat! Meeting new
students who come into the BELL Academy not quite knowing what to expect,
but who leave with new-found confidence, improved blindness skills, and new
friends is one of the many things BELL is all about. Here are a few
highlights from each of the three programs.
The theme of the Baltimore BELL Academy was Growing Readers as Leaders. All
students planted an herb in a small flower pot and watched it begin to grow
during the two weeks.
The Baltimore program was divided into two categoriesthe BELL X students,
who were older and more experienced braille readers, and the younger
students who were just beginning to learn to read and write braille.
The Bell X students focused on improving their overall technology skills.
Their assignments included making presentations about their dream vacations,
and interviewing blind adults to gather tips on travel. Taking notes,
writing down what they learned, and formatting their work in an organized
manner are all essential skills they will need to succeed in school and
later on in the work place. Public speaking before groups is also a skill
they worked on.
The younger students participated in many fun activities, such as twister,
creating slime, and locating objects that were dropped. Learning to stack a
plate in a cafeteria, navigating an obstacle course with a cane, and how to
draw a flower pot with a braille writer were only a few of the many
activities they participated in. All students made caramel nut sticky buns
in the microwave.
Field trips to the Jewish Museum, the Library for the Blind and Physically
Handicapped and a swimming pool were all favorites. At the museum, the
students made a stained glass project out of popsicle sticks and tissue
paper. At the library, they made faces out of foam blocks. The blocks were
then put on a machine that made the blocks take the shape of the face the
student had just created.
The theme of the eastern shore program was discovering the solar system. In
addition to working on braille reading and writing activities, the
participants made rockets and spaceships. A water day where the students got
to really squirt each other was very popular. Making lunches, including
learning to use a food processor, was a great time for the students to
interact and learn new skills in a relaxed and fun environment.
Walking a mile on a nice new trail was a good chance to use a cane in an
outdoor setting, and it was great exercise.
Many students don't get to learn how to measure things. Measuring food is
one thing, but learning what other things you can measure, such as shoes, is
Everyone went to the mall and had to purchase one item in a store. Learning
how to keep track of what bills and change you have, how to know what you
are handing a store clerk, and how much change you should get back,
increases confidence and independence.
Going to the Wallops Flight Facility was definitely something special.
Students got to climb on old rockets, feel a space suit, play on the
imagination playground, and learn the characteristics of each planet in the
The Glenn Dale program had a record number of students (nine). Some had only
been blind a couple of months. Others had been in America less than a year.
It was heartwarming to watch participants help each other say their braille
contractions, cheer as each one practiced going up and down the stairs with
a cane, and use their imaginations to play very creative games on the
Everyone dipped pretzels, strawberries, and apples into chocolate they had
melted in the microwave. The chocolate hardened nicely, and made for a great
afternoon snack. Several students had not seen a microwave oven with braille
on it, and encouraged their parents to put braille on their microwaves at
Glenn Dale participants took a trip to a pool where they played many fun
games, and had pizza afterwards. A trip to the National Building Museum
allowed them to take paddles and play on all kinds of pipes to make cool
high and low-pitched sounds. They were also very creative in building
houses, boats, stair steps, and a host of other things out of foam blocks.
A scavenger hunt which included finding onions, breaking little Louis the
piñata (named after Louis Braille), and working hard on their song to
perform at the parents' seminar were other highlights of the Glenn Dale
The last day of BELL was a learning experience for both parents and
participants. Parents attended a seminar where they were able to discuss
specific issues facing their students, take a tour of parts of the Jernigan
Institute, including the Independence Market, and receive information about
braille and other topics.
The students experienced Pokémon in many different ways. Touching Pokémon
figures, listening to Pokémon tales, and playing Pokémon games were a part
of a fun-filled day.
The highlight of the afternoon was when all groups performed for the
parents, and when every student received their goody bag. You could feel the
energy in the room as students realized their accomplishments, and proud
parents watched their children on stage.
The NFB of Maryland wishes to thank the following organizations for their
most-appreciated contributions to make our three BELL programs happen. They
include The Friends of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped,
the ICAN Foundation, The Laurel Lions Club, and the Central Maryland,
Greater Baltimore and Sligo Creek Chapters. Funds raised from the gospel
concert were also a tremendous help. We couldn't have pulled this off
without all of you!
We owe special thanks to all our teachers and volunteers. The teachers
included Philip Cowit in Glendale, Mindy Demaris, Sheena Manuel, and the
BISM staff who teach the seniors in Salisbury, as well as Chelsea Page and
Melissa Riccobono in Baltimore. There were numerous volunteers for each
program. Many thanks to all for their creativity, dedication and leadership
in making BELL both a fun and a great learning experience for our students.
We are already beginning to plan for the BELL Academy program in 2018.
Federationists Tell Their Stories
(Editors note: Here is another installment of stories that were originally
posted on the NFBMD Facebook page. We are reprinting them because of the
inspiration and hope they provide and in case you missed them. Many thanks
to our Facebook committee ably chaired by Karen Anderson and all of the
authors for sharing why they are Federationists.)
I am scared of roller coasters. And I am the person who would jump at any
climactic scene in a suspense movieso, we all know horror is completely
ruled out. In 2014, I fought my fear of heights to swing across a zip line,
dangling high above a lake. As I stood at the top, thinking about quitting,
I had to ask myself: why did I agree to do this? Then I thought about one of
my students who though scared, told me that he would only go across the zip
line if I did it too. I faced my fears because in doing so, I could set an
example for younger kids to do the same.
If someone told my 16-year-old self that I would grow up to be a mentor, I
would laugh. I barely stepped outside my comfort zone, did not use all the
techniques I knew would make life easier for me, did not know what my future
could hold, and definitely did not fully accept my blindness. Many of my
family members are blind too, and so I grew up with role models. Yet as we
know: you can lead a horse to water, but you cant make them drink. For me,
this meant that my family could not force me to let go of what stopped me
from being confident and independent.
When I moved from New Jersey to Maryland to attend college, I decided to
remake myself. I chose to use my cane everywhere, which was a huge step
since I rarely used it before. I also decided that I would limit the amount
of materials I read with my eyes. However, being an English major through a
wrench in those plans because I had a lot of books to read. By the end of my
freshman year, I knew that I had to find better ways to achieve the success
I longed for.
That summer, I attended the National Federation of the Blind convention in
Dallas, Texas as a scholarship winner. I went to conventions before several
times, but I never went to the meetings or ventured out to meet new people.
At this convention, I was paired with great mentors and given ample
opportunities to network with my peers. People kept talking about the
benefits of training and how it would impact my life. After asking questions
and doing some research, I left that convention determined to experience
this transformation for myself.
Also that summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Damascus, Syria to
attend the Open Hands Youth Abilities Summit. Together with 9 American and
15 Syrian youth, we discussed the United Nations Convention for the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities and created the storyline for a comic bookThe
Silver Scorpion. During that trip, I battled my thoughts about training. I
knew I needed it to get better at traveling, reading braille, using adaptive
technology, and cooking, but at the same time, I did not want to leave
college and graduate one semester behind. IN the end, I realized that
holding on to that 4-year dream was worthless and that I should embrace
the opportunity that I have here in America to gain such independence.
After training, I came back to college a new person. I found it easier to
get involved in service projects, make friends, excel academically, travel
independently, and feel secure about my future. After graduating, I received
a job running programs for youth. I get paid to teach students the same
lessons I learned, encourage them to pursue their dreams, build their
confidence through activities, and have fun! I enjoy passing on what I
learned just as so many other Federationists do. Together, we advocate for
opportunities and equality for the blind, and we make it our mission to
encourage others not to view blindness as an obstacle. I love my extended
I first heard about the National Federation of the Blind in 2000 through
friends who were involved in the organization. I attended my first New York
state convention in 2000 and my first national convention in Philadelphia in
2001. At first I thought the federation was more of a social organization.
Many of the things the organization was working for didn't really feel like
they applied to me. However, while I was unsure about some things, and it
took a while for me to understand some of the legislative issues and
resolutions, I slowly grew to believe in the Federation.
Over the years, my relationships with Federationists, including my affiliate
president and my girlfriend, brought me to a deeper understanding of the
Federation, what it stood for, and the impact it has on blind people. I
began attending chapter meetings more regularly in 2013. While enrolled in a
structured discovery training program I had the opportunity to attend events
like the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland's Day in Annapolis,
which helped me feel connected to the legislative issues we were fighting
for at the time, as well as connecting me with other Federationists.
I'm a member of the National Federation of the Blind because we are fighting
for equal rights & opportunities for blind individuals across the country.
Jason Edward Polansky
I was born in Gettysburg, PA with a very rare form of blindness called
bilateral anophthalmia (no eyeballs). Even though my mother was and still is
a nurse by occupation and had seen just about everything imaginable, her, my
father, and the doctors were in great shock when they looked at my eyes.
They were not sure what I would be able to do and how I would learn to
accomplish everyday tasks. We saw several different doctors until we were
lead to an eye surgeon, an ocularist, and education services in Frederick
County, MD. In a nutshell, our contacts led us to other contacts who
introduced us to the National Federation of the Blind.
My parents attended their first NFB convention with me when I was two years
old. During our first convention, my parents saw blind adults who had their
own families, jobs, homes, and hobbies and who were living the lives that
they wanted to live. Most of all, they learned to model a positive
philosophy of blindness as a foundation for how they raised me. I attended
public school just like all other children my age, learned to read Braille,
travel with a cane, and use technology as it became available. As my teenage
years approached, I had responsibilities including cleaning my room, doing
my laundry, taking out the trash, helping my father with yardwork and
handyman-work, just as many of my sighted peers did. I also swam all four
years of high school and was very involved in my church youth group.
After graduating high school with honors, I attended the Louisiana Center
for the Blind to increase my skills and confidence. While there, I gained
more confidence to travel in unfamiliar environments on my own and improved
my kitchen skills. I also built a cedar chest using power tools, went to New
Orleans during Marti Gras, planned a weekend trip to Dallas, Texas, and
cooked a meal for roughly 40 people. After graduating, I won a national
scholarship and felt ready to start college. I completed my sophomore year
at Messiah College where I am majoring in business and marketing. During my
time at Messiah College I have been involved in several campus
organizations, have attended many networking events, and have excelled both
academically and socially. I held two summer jobs as a mentor to blind
youth and am also a member of the Maryland and Pennsylvania student
divisions. I know that I would not be the person who I am today without the
National Federation of the Blind. #whyimafederationist
As a first-generation Latino Texan, the Federation has given me
self-confidence, self-assurance, independence and passion. When I met the
National Federation of the Blind, I instantly found mentors who challenged
me to achieve more than I thought was ever possible. Those same mentors
continue challenging me to be the best that I can be both professionally and
personally. I am a Federationists because the National Federation of the
Blind has played a major role in shaping me into the man I am today. And,
because I love big families! #WhyImAFederationist
I came to the Federation with no cane, having never met another blind
person, and having already had three different career ideas shot down by my
TBSs (teachers of blind students) and special educators. I was 16, I was
failing half of my classes with no motivation to fix it, and my parents had
finally convinced me to go to this residential summer program for blind high
schoolers to learn a bunch of independence skills that I was pretty sure I
didn't need. I threw a fit the first time I had to wear sleep shades, and I
begged to come home for the first three weeks. These people were way too
ambitious for me and there was no need for me to do all this stuff.
Around the halfway point, though, I attended my first NFB national
convention with that summer program, and the longer I sat there and
listened, the more I started to get it. I was surrounded by an entire
community that I didn't even know existed, and these people were loud and
proud and getting things done to change the nation. It was like I had found
an incredible secret that had been just under my nose the entire time, and
it initiated the biggest change my life had ever seen. I finally started to
see the point in everything I was learning.
I wasn't completely on board right away, though. I was still relieved to
finish the summer program and didn't see any reason to come back again or
try out the adult program. But after I left, the change was unmistakable.
Suddenly I was using voice over and walking around with a cane, and I
started to actually do my own homework. I was starting to do all kinds of
things I'd never tried before, and two years later, I came back. I went
through another round of summer training, and after that, I came back again
for 10 months of adult training. I started taking risks I had never dreamed
of before, taking on tasks and challenges I would have previously declined
without a second thought, even stepping up and becoming an officer of the
Maryland Association of Blind Students. I became loud and proud and
dedicated to getting things done to change the nation.
The National Federation of the Blind had finally given my life to ME. They
had shown me what I was really capable of and taught me that I was as
equally deserving of living exactly the life I wanted as anybody else. I
finally learned to be comfortable with myself and to even be proud of
myself, and I felt like I had even found a second family. I finally had the
confidence to go after exactly what I wanted and the skills to know exactly
how to do it, and that is #WhyIAmAFederationist.
I have a tremendous sweet tooth. Cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, you name
it... if it contains enough sugar, I'm going to at least try it. At some
point during my high school years, a teacher put a set of sleep shades on
me, and taught me to bake a cake. Subsequent kitchen adventures have yielded
equally delightful results.
I love books. When I was growing up I would sit curled for hours over
novels. They carried me to all new realities. I rode upon Aslan's back with
the Pevensies. I followed the Little Women on their Pilgrim's Progress. I
loved Black Beauty and Kaavik the Wolf-Dog for their loyalty to people, even
when we didn't always deserve it, and I learned that the funniest books have
three chapter 19's. Books were some of my best friends. When one night, I
couldn't force my eyes to focus... I wasn't terrified that I had lost them.
I was very upset, but my summer camp counselors (and their rowdy, awesome
college friends, who let us hang out with them!!!) all read Braille. They
left me believing that this was the obvious and logical choice for me too,
so even though it was hard at first, I learned it, and am glad of it every
I'm a (very) amateur singer. Karaoke was made for me. Two of my musically
gifted friends went to a lot of effort to arrange and perform my favorite
musical theater song with me at a most memorable talent show.
I travelled to Kenya for college. I ran down a mountain and leapt a stream
with my guide. I learned to cook Chapatti in a fireplace. I bathed in hot
springs, outside. I wouldn't have had the courage to tackle any of this if I
hadn't gone to Colorado first. My teachers there taught me to travel safely,
efficiently, and finally with style. They pushed me past my fears, and to
the tops of a few mountains while they were at it.
I was once asked to help with a student seminar. Not knowing what I was
agreeing to, I said yes. I learned more about dancing, hotel booking, and
video editing than I would have ever guessed. I also learned that a bottle
of Coke, some adrenaline, and a fairly new friendship are just enough
incentive to keep me up all night long.
I have cosplayed (costume play) as Carmen Sandiego and "The Chief". I've
even sung Ke$ha in public. My friends have proof of it all.
Finally, I get to teach all sorts of people about how blind folks use
technology. Here's the crazy part, they pay me to do it!
Ok, I know that sounds like a lot of random facts, but I promise there's a
connecting thread. These aren't just random vignettes. Each of these things
helped to mold me into the person I am today, and directly, or indirectly,
the National Federation of the Blind and its members were linked to each
tale. (Yes, that includes both Carmen and Ke$ha.)
I won't name anyone here, as I would miss as many as I would call out, but
the people I mention in the above stories are all Federationists. My first
blind friends and mentor's in The Nebraska Association of Blind Students,
and NFB of Nebraska, my off-the-record teacher of blind students, staff and
fellow students at the Colorado Center for the Blind, my wonderful
colleagues at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and
all those others I've met along the way have changed my view of blindness,
and myself. They've even given me opportunities to do the same for other
blind people. This is # WhyImAFederationist.
Tom Ley, Advocate, Friend, Devoted Husband and Father
November 30, 1966-August 30, 2017
By Judy Rasmussen
Tom Ley is known to many Federationists as someone who worked tirelessly to
improve access technology for blind people with diabetes. He spent much time
helping newly blind people adjust to vision loss, negotiating with
manufacturers of diabetic products to improve their accessibility, and
networking tirelessly with legislators and corporations regarding diabetes
issues. We all owe Tom a debt of gratitude for his persistence and ongoing
efforts to make it easier for blind people, and blind people with diabetes
in particular, to live independently.
Tom spent most of his younger years in Louisiana. At 17, when others are
learning to drive, planning their futures, and thinking about their next
dates, Tom was wondering if he had a future at all, since he had just become
After graduation from high school, Tom attended the Louisiana Center for the
Blind, where he received blindness skills training. He graduated with
highest honors from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in mathematics
education. He found employment as a math teacher at a high school in rural
Louisiana, which shows his determination and is a credit to the independent
living skills training he received.
While other teachers were on vacation, Tom spent his summers teaching blind
youth at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Tom served as Chairman of the
Board of the Louisiana Center for the Blind until 2017. He also served as
President of the Diabetes Action Network, a division of the National
Federation of the Blind. For the past few years, Tom moderated the monthly
diabetes conference call sponsored by the NFB of Maryland.
Tom married Eilene in 1999, after meeting her at an NFB national convention
several years earlier. He cherished their children, JonCarlos and Maria. He
served as an elder and Sunday school teacher at Asquith Presbyterian Church
for several years.
Tom began working for United Parcel Service as an International Help Desk
Analyst in 2000. In 2012, he was promoted to Senior Business Systems
Analyst, a position he held until his death.
All of us who have attended national conventions are grateful to Tom for
obtaining sponsorship from the UPS Foundation to support our programs in
braille literacy. Many of us have received help from a UPS volunteer just
when we needed it. Tom designed a training program for all of the UPS
volunteers who help at our conventions. This just shows what one person's
determination and ingenuity can do in improving attitudes toward the blind.
On August 20 Tom wrote:
- Being a math guy, I calculated this morning that I've lived 18,525 days as
- That's quite a lot.
- The time we have each day of our lives is truly "life."
- Is there any more precious commodity we have than the time God gives us
each day and hour?
- You cannot buy more of it, you cannot recycle it, you cannot
borrow time from a friend, it is all completely yours to do with what you
Love One Another!
Tom's faith in God never wavered, no matter how ill he was. He told his
children that "death is just an intermission, and act two is going to be
We will continue to honor Tom's memory as we help blind
people to live the lives they want.
>From the Presidents Mail Basket
by Sharon Maneki
Dr. Jonathan Lazar, Professor of Computer and Information Sciences and
Director of the Undergraduate Program in Information Systems at Towson
University, is well known to many Federationists. He is an ardent advocate
for accessibility. He frequently teaches a course on web accessibility to
computer science students. During the spring 2017 semester, he incorporated
a new feature into his course. He asked us to provide blind people who
would talk to the students about themselves and about the importance of
accessibility. Dr. Lazar hoped that personal contact would raise the
students level of commitment to accessibility. The program was very
successful. Many thanks to all the volunteers. Many thanks to Dr. Lazar
for continuing to find new ways to promote accessibility. Here is what Dr.
Lazar had to say about the outcome of his latest enhancement to his course.
Ellen and Sharon,
I just want to say thanks again for all of your help this semester, in
setting up my students with partners from NFB. I just submitted final
grades, and from reading what the students wrote, I can tell that the
project was truly a success. My students learned about the capabilities of
blind people, and simply got to know their partners as people. Many of the
students remarked that they had never gotten to know someone Blind before,
in a one-on-one setting, and now, they will be more committed to ensuring
that the technology that they build, is truly accessible. Together, I think
that we all had an important educational impact!
Meet the 2017 NFBMD Scholarship Winners
By Judy Rasmussen
The NFB of Maryland believes in supporting students both financially, and by
encouraging them as they pursue degrees and then go on to achieve
competitive employment. Many of our past scholarship winners are still
active Federationists, and are contributing in many ways to the growth of
our affiliate. The scholarships are awarded in memory of John T. McCraw, a
past president and long time member of the NFB. This article will introduce
you to our two 2017 scholarship winners. Not only do they win money, but
even more importantly, they receive the support and friendship of the
National Federation of the Blind.
Akierra Burks is a sophomore at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. She
is new to vision loss and to the federation. She began losing her vision
between her junior and senior year of high school, due to pressure on her
optic nerves caused by fluid on her brain. Despite three surgeries over the
summer and during the first half of her senior year, she graduated on
schedule with her classmates. Learning to use a computer with screen reading
software, getting used to a cane, and learning how to do things differently
with limited vision are all big adjustments.
She said that her grandmother encouraged her to begin researching
scholarships for blind students. Her research led her to the NFBMD.org
website and the application for the John T. McCraw scholarship.
Akierra is majoring in English, with a minor in criminal justice. After
graduation, she plans to attend law school, where she will focus on helping
juveniles. She would like to work in family court, representing at-risk
youth. In keeping with this goal, she is volunteering several hours per week
with an organization called Alternatives. Their mission is to help students
who are struggling in school. She is learning a lot from the students, and
knows that the volunteer work she is doing now will increase her confidence
as she pursues her ultimate goal of becoming a lawyer.
Akierra says that in her spare time, she enjoys cutting, dying, ironing and
braiding hair. We look forward to supporting her as she continues through
college and goes on to law school.
Our second scholarship winner, Christopher Nusbaum, is well known to many
Federationists. The following article, which appeared in the 8/18/2017
edition of the Carrol County Times, describes Christophers hopes and
Blind ambition: Visually impaired Taneytown native has a radio show, teaches
as he prepares for college
Retrieved from: Carroll County Times 8/18/2017
Oh, the questions he has been asked and the stories he can tell. And as a
visually impaired person, 19-year-old Chris Nusbaum, has always responded to
those questions with grace and good humor. Sometimes even with a maturity
far beyond his years.
I remember on the school bus a kid asked me if blind people got married,
said Nusbaum. I said: Yes, of course. I know blind people who are married
and have kids. Then he asked me, But how do you know if shes pretty?
What a great example of the middle school mindset, huh? I replied, I may
not know what she looks like on the outside, but I do on the inside and
thats what really counts.
According to Nusbaum, there are no wrong questions. Better to ask than not,
offering an opportunity to educate and inform. And, I think I have heard
them all, he said. An especially frequent one is whether his other senses
are heightened because of his blindness. The answer is no. I dont have
superhuman hearing, said Nusbaum, grinning.
Nusbaum is confident and comfortable in his own skin. Political correctness
aside, he will tell you, I have no problem calling myself a blind person; I
am a blind person.
But not just a blind person. Nusbaum is a gifted musician and singer, the
host of an internet radio show, a talented writer, an advocate for the
blind, an adored son and a good friend. Its not that blind people cant do
things, he said. Its just that we do them differently.
Nusbaum, who is from Taneytown, was born nine weeks early. As a result, he
developed a version of retinopathy of prematurity, which causes abnormal
blood vessels to grow in the retina and can result in the retina detaching
from the back of the eye.
His mother, Wendy Messersmith, remembers several months after his birth
going on a vacation in the Outer Banks and falling apart, she said. I
kept thinking he will never see this beautiful sunrise or this beautiful
sunset. I cried. I had my pity party. Then I raised my child.
She and her then-husband Mike Nusbaum discovered the National Federation of
the Blind (NFB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
And she reached out to others through an online support group. From early
on I was guided by some wonderful people, she said. Messersmith
specifically remembers the laundry basket and Hula-Hoop suggestions. A
blind child doesnt know that their toy is there so they dont reach for
it, she said. So, trying to teach crawling and walking were very
Then someone from the online group suggested she put her son in a laundry
basket. Now the toy couldnt get out of his way, said Messersmith. And
when he was a bit older and needed more exploratory room it was suggested
she use a Hula-Hoop. When the toy hit the Hula-Hoop it didnt move, she
said. This advice came from parents who had been there, done that.
In fact, Nusbaum is now part of that same online group. I am answering some
of the same questions my mother asked for me, he said.
One message from the group was consistent though. Dont hold them back,
said Messersmith. These kids need to be prepared to be on their own at some
Nusbaum was a bright and inquisitive child who loved the radio. When most
children were watching cartoons, he was listening to talk radio. I
pretended I had my own radio show and really thought I would grow up and do
that, he said. And while he plans to be a teacher working with blind
students, he has for the past several years hosted an internet radio show
called The Blind Side that focuses on blind issues.
By the time he had enrolled at Runnymede Elementary, Nusbaum, who had a
one-on-one aide and a teacher of the visually impaired, began to realize he
was different. During recess on the playground the other kids would be in
these little groups, and I would be alone, he recalled. I tried to
understand why that was.
Chris didnt realize he was blind, said Messersmith. I told him: Chris,
it is what it is. Yeah, there are days its going to suck and times that
its not. Then with the sharp wit her son has inherited she said, The
only things I suggested he not choose to be is a pilot or a cab driver. But
other than that, I told him the world was open to him.
And he set about embracing it. An avid reader, as an 8-year-old he traveled
to Los Angeles to compete in the Braille Challenge, an academic contest. He
even made an appearance on Nickelodeon, participating in a segment on Out
of Sight: How Blind Kids See the World. And he made friends. In fact,
Everyone should have a friend like Chris, said Ari Lipka, who has known
Nusbaum since first grade. The two often enjoyed going to the movies
together with Lipka providing the commentary of what was happening on the
Nusbaum also has a natural affinity for music. He can hear a song once and
then play it back to you, said his mother. He was active in chorus during
school and recently entertained fellow travelers with an impromptu
performance on a cruise ship during a visit to Alaska.
Six years ago came a life-changing event for Nusbaum. He discovered the NFB
on his own terms. He had had exposure to the organization early on, when his
parents would attend events. However, Nusbaums own involvement with NFB
changed when he attended the NFB Leadership and Advocacy in Washington,
D.C., program in 2011. He specifically recalls a meeting with a
representative of former Congressman Roscoe Bartletts office and a
discussion about the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind. In an article,
he wrote for The Braille Monitor, Nusbaum, said, At that moment I thought I
want to be a part of this (NFB). Here was an organization in which I could
help fight discrimination and increase opportunities for all the blind.
Since then, Nusbaum has served on the board of the National Association of
Blind Students and served as president of the Maryland Association of Blind
Students. He is also one of the founders of the Carroll County chapter of
And he enjoys working with the NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and
Learning program, which provides children with concentrated Braille
instruction during the summer.
I think Chris has the heart for leadership, said Mark Riccobono, president
of the NFB.
This spring, Nusbaum, who graduated in 2016 from Francis Scott Key High
School where he was a member of the National Honor Society, returned from
nine months at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, a residential training
facility. This was done in preparation for him going to college this fall.
He will be only the second blind student to attend Lynchburg College in
And as he prepares for the next phase of his life, he says he wouldnt
change anything. Nusbaum is often asked if he had the opportunity to see
would he choose to do so.
Without hesitation, I wouldnt take it, he said. Having been blind all my
life, I have become used to life as a blind person. I wouldnt have it any
Copyright © 2017, <http://www.carrollcountytimes.com/> Carroll County
Times, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication |
On February 11 Patty Behr, President of the Eastern shore Chapter, married
Jeff Wiggs. We look forward to meeting Jeff who is a new Federationist at
On August 19 an active member of the Eastern Shore Chapter Pam Jenkins
married Morrison Dennis. We look forward to meeting the new couple at
On September 10 Eric Duffy and Shelly Johnson were married. The ceremony
took place at the Jernigan Institute. They moved to Maryland this summer.
Eric is a longtime Federationist who served for a time as the President of
the NFB of Ohio. Eric is the Director of Access Technology at the National
Federation of the Blind. Shelly is the friendly voice at the reception desk
at the Federation. Both are members of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.
On October 7, Rose Sloan and Kyle Warner will be married in her
grandparents church in Streamwood, Illinois. Rose and Kyle are active
members of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.
Congratulations to all of the newlyweds!
In March Bella Koenig died at the age of 93. Bell was a member of the
Central Maryland Chapter. She fought fiercely to maintain her independence
and lived live to the full.
On Saturday, May 20 Nanci Dosh died of cancer. Nanci ran a transportation
company called Harbor Express. She was very helpful in providing
transportation to BELL students and to others so that they could attend NFB
functions. Nanci was a true friend and an avid believer in the capabilities
of blind people.
On June 22, Gabrielle Rhoads unexpectedly passed away. Although Gabrielle
was ill for many years, she never let that stop her advocacy efforts on
behalf of her blind son Andrew. She was always willing to help other
parents of blind children. We first met the Rhoads when Andy attended the
BELL Academy in Glen Dale in 2011. Our sympathy to Kevin and his children
Andrew and Jacob.
On July 26, Diane Grant lost her long battle with multiple sclerosis. Diane
had been a member of the Central Maryland Chapter. Diane struggled mightily
to obtain her independence. She was always willing to lend a helping hand to
I regret to announce the passing of Joe Cook, who died in August, and was a
founding member of the National Harbor Chapter. Joe, a retired Pastor, lost
his sight later in life, but never let vision loss hinder his pleasant
Accompanied by his beloved sister, Dorothy Stewart, Joe was always in
attendance at meetings, National Harbor functions, and never wanted to miss
a State or National Convention. Evenings at National Convention, Joe and
Dorothy could be found sitting outside by the poolside eating chicken wings
and Joe tapping his feet to the music. On occasion, he would come up with a
funny joke but never missed a beat when called upon to deliver a word of
prayer. .He also would join in with the singing when coaxed with a down home
Church song. We will miss him greatly but his spirit will remain in our
hearts and minds.
On August 30, Tom Ley lost long battle with cancer. Read the article about
Tom elsewhere in this issue.
On Saturday, September 15, Cynthia Smith, wife of Ray Smith, lost her battle
with pancreatic cancer. Cynthia was always willing to assist Ray in helping
other blind people, especially those in PG County.
May they rest in peace.
Shawn Jacobson, who serves as treasurer of NFBMD, is also a part-time
writer. His short story, On Memory Lanes, was recently featured on
Bewildering Stories, an online periodical that publishes works including
poetry, short stories, novels, and art. To read the story, go to:
Sharon Maneki, President
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the
characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the
expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles
between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want;
blindness is not what holds you back.
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