Braille Monitor                                    July 2018

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Celebrating Service in the National Federation of the Blind

by Sharon Maneki

Sharon ManekiFrom the Editor: As I read state newsletters, one of the things I enjoy most are the ones that contain an annual presidential report. Normally I do not consider running these in the Braille Monitor because they rightfully highlight a number of issues that are specific to the state and go out of their way to single out people for recognition. I am making an exception in this case because so many issues are covered that require both state and nationwide attention.

This report comes from Sharon Maneki, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and although I have done some minor editing to save space, mostly it is as it appeared in the Blind Spectator, the official publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. Here is what Sharon said to the 2017 convention:

Fellow Federationists:

Service is one of the core values in American society. The Peace Corps, Teach for America, and AmeriCorps VISTA are examples that indicate the importance of service. In Maryland students are required to perform seventy-five hours of student service learning before they are eligible to graduate from high school. Everyone can provide service to others because the methods of service are endless.

The motivation to provide service comes from many sources. Some people serve because of their religious beliefs; others are motivated by the benefits of service. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Let us look at the variety of services that the people in this room have performed and continue to perform. Let us then ruminate about our motivations for performing this service.

Even entertainers recognize the value of service. As Aretha Franklin stated:

“Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”

We are fortunate to have many public servants in our midst. Public servants rarely get the recognition that they deserve. If you work for the federal government or are retired from there, please stand. Give them a round of applause. If you work or are retired from the state of Maryland, please stand. If you are a service provider in the field of blindness, please stand. As Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was a public servant for a time, explained: “Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that, while public service improves the lives of the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life.”

My favorite definition of service comes from Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Here is what she said: “Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time."

The National Federation of the Blind has many characteristics. Because of the Federation, we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise 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! Blindness should not keep us from serving others. Although many in society shun our offers of service, we must persevere. In his 2005 banquet address entitled “The Edge of Tomorrow,” President Marc Maurer summarized the purpose of the Federation as: “The reshaping of the patterns of thought of our society to recognize the ability within us, to value the talent we possess, and to welcome the contributions we have to make.” The National Federation of the Blind is really a vehicle for service. Because of our Federation experience, many members gain confidence and perform service both inside and outside of the Federation.

During the past year we have demonstrated that service to others is a core value of the Federation. Our organization thrives because of effective leadership. Effective leadership is crucial, because if the Federation fails to achieve its goals, the lives of blind people will be diminished.

Let us extend a special thank you to our state officers and board of directors for their dedication and support of our movement. As a grassroots organization, our local chapters and divisions play an essential role in building our membership and in educating the public about the truth of blindness. Will all of our chapter and division presidents please stand. All you have to do is look at the list of Meet the Blind Month activities on our website to see that we have vibrant chapters. For instance, between September 30 and November 10, 2017, we held seven screenings of the movie “Do You Dream in Color?” Some of the places that held screenings were McDaniel College; Towson University; University of Maryland, College Park; and the Peale Center in Baltimore. Think of the number of people who now hold a different view of blindness. More screenings are planned for the coming months.

The division meetings held at this convention also demonstrate the level of service that we are providing to each other about how to live the lives we want as blind people. Let us extend a special word of welcome to our newest division, the Maryland Association of Blind Merchants. We look forward to working together to strengthen the Business Enterprise Program in Maryland and to increase opportunities for all blind entrepreneurs statewide.

This convention is a great example of service. We have parents who welcome new families into our movement. We have marshals who direct us to the locations of all convention activities. I want to personally thank Ronza Othman for her tireless efforts in assisting with convention arrangements.

We owe a special thank you to Holly and Rebecca Mooney who are taking convention pictures and to our sound man Will Schwatka for recording convention general sessions and tonight’s banquet. Let’s give a shout-out to our friends who are listening to this convention on the internet.

Rachael Olivero who makes this possible deserves a round of applause. Rachael does a great deal of behind the scenes work for the affiliate, from creating our registration system to training folks in Drupal so that we can maintain our website.

Our new web committee is definitely increasing our presence on the web. This helps the people who need us to find us. Let us recognize the members of this committee: Steve Brand, Ellen Ringlein, Beth Fogle-Hatch, Graham Mehl, Lloyd Rasmussen, and Scott White by asking them to stand. Please stay standing until you receive your Braille magnet of appreciation. We also want to thank Karen Anderson for leading the effort to keep us active on social media.

Because of the service that we provide to strengthen our organization, we are able to serve the blind community as a whole.

It is most appropriate that we have three pages of pictures in our agenda from our 2017 NFB Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (NFB BELL) Academy. We devote a great deal of energy, money, time, and love to our three BELL academy programs in Baltimore, Glenn Dale, and Salisbury. We teach the alternative techniques of blindness, raise expectations, and serve as role models for these children. We are proud of our NFB BELL Academy service. Will all of our NFB BELL volunteers please stand. They deserve a round of applause. It is most fitting for us to have a song in honor of NFB BELL: “Braille is Beautiful.”

José Antonio Bowen, president of Goucher College, has written a book, Teaching Naked, in which he outlines his philosophy on education. Bowen has created a new program at Goucher called The Three R’s of Education. These are Relationships, Resilience, and Reflection. He believes that these three R’s are not only the best predictors of success in college but also are predictors of success in life. In the National Federation of the Blind, we practice the three R’s. We know how to build Relationships; our Resilience is demonstrated by our staying power; Reflection is an ongoing process for us.

Blind people benefit when we build constructive relationships with the service providers in our state. On August 10, we welcomed most of the staff of the Office on Blindness and Vision Services in the Division of Rehabilitation Services to the Jernigan Institute. We shared our goals and philosophies and talked about how we could better work together to serve the blind community. We must have a service delivery system that is more responsive to consumer needs. While we appreciate the need for rules and regulations, these should be applied with common sense. If a client’s case has been closed after services were delivered, and if that client then needs additional services after additional vision loss, why should that client have to establish eligibility again? If the individual was blind the first time, the chances are very high that this person is still blind. Who is really going back to DORS if sight has been restored?

We want the director of DORS to run the programs, not the auditors. Auditors certainly have their role, but they should not prevent older blind people from attending the diabetes education/management classes that are conducted at the Workforce and Technology Center because the Independent Living Older Blind program has no money. If the classes are there anyway, all the clients who need them should be able to attend them. We look forward to more opportunities for dialogue and for building a stronger relationship. Thank you again to all of the DORS staff for joining our convention.

Last year at our convention, I told you about Max Elia who was dismissed from a daycare center after a half a day because supervisors believed they could not provide him with a safe environment since he used a white cane. There was no process in Maryland to settle disputes between parents and daycare providers. We joined with the Developmental Disabilities Council and Disability Rights Maryland to convince the Maryland General Assembly to protect parents and children from such discrimination. Our advocacy work led to the enactment of HB456, in 2017. This legislation instructed the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to develop a dispute resolution process that must include: “a process for investigating complaints, a written report on the findings of an investigation; and if there is a finding of discrimination on the basis of disability, a resolution of the complaint that includes: an agreement with the child care provider, detailing the requirements for remedying the violations, and appropriate remedies that support children with disabilities, their families, and the child care provider.”

By October 2017, MSDE was to submit a report to the Maryland General Assembly which includes the dispute resolution process and draft legislation or regulations to implement this dispute resolution process. Our relationship with other partners and the Maryland General Assembly is definitely protecting the rights of all parents of disabled children to access daycare.

Building relationships does not mean shying away from doing what needs to be done. That is why we passed resolution 2017-01 this morning. We will not allow the Maryland State Board of Elections to take away our right to a secret ballot.

Here are some other examples of our forceful advocacy. More students, especially those with some vision, will have orientation and mobility training for the first time when HB535 is fully implemented. This law presumes that all blind or visually impaired students need mobility. If the IEP team disagrees, they must back their decision up with appropriate assessments and documentation. The MSDE was to develop the necessary regulations and technical assistance by March 2017. Although MSDE made progress with these regulations, the job is not completed. You can be sure that we will continue to remind these officials that they cannot keep blind students waiting. Students need orientation and mobility training now!

For the past several years, MSDE has been in turmoil with personnel switching jobs or leaving the organization altogether. In 2014, to comply with the Braille Standards legislation, MSDE issued regulations that revamped certification and recertification requirements for vision teachers. Vision teachers must take a Braille competency test by the time they are eligible for the renewal of their first five-year credential. We recently learned that the Department never decided which Braille competency test teachers should take. Consequently, MSDE ignored their own requirement. We have already had two meetings this fall to remedy the problem. You can be sure that we will continue to advocate with personnel at MSDE until vision teachers in the state are competent in reading and writing Braille.

The Braille in the Twenty-First Century Literacy Conference, jointly sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind and the Maryland School for the Blind, that was held on October 19 to 20 is a good example of both building relationships and resilience. Before I discuss this conference, I want to recognize our staff at the National Center for the Blind. We could never have hosted this conference for vision teachers and blindness professionals without the help of this dedicated staff. Please stand for our applause. I want to especially recognize three unsung heroes and thank them for their service: Patricia Miller who has been with the NFB for thirty-one years, Joe Miller for thirty years, and Marsha Dyer for twenty-seven years.

We decided to have the Braille literacy conference to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Maryland Literacy Rights and Education Act, better known as the Braille Bill. At the conference we recognized Delegate Sheila Hixson, who sponsored this bill in the House in 1992. We also recognized Senator Joan Carter Conway, chairman of the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, for her leadership in sponsoring all of our bills about Braille and accessibility since she joined the Maryland Senate in 1997. It is most appropriate that we have a picture of these education champions in our agenda.

We will need to demonstrate more resilience to achieve literacy for all blind and visually impaired children. However, this conference was a step in the right direction. For instance, the presentation on how to assess which students should learn Braille, who should learn print, and who should learn to read, both by Conchita Hernandez from NFB and Michelle Horseman from MSB, provoked meaningful dialog. They discussed how a learning media assessment and the National Reading Media Assessment complement each other. Because of this discussion, there is a better chance that vision teachers in Maryland may really assess a student’s future literacy needs as the Braille Bill specifies.

Another highlight of the conference was the presentation by Eric Guillory and Jackie Anderson on achieving the integration of both print and Braille into a student’s life. Jackie and Eric related how they use both print and Braille. Jackie Anderson encourages her students by explaining, “You don’t know what you can’t see because you can’t see what you don’t see; so you must explore so you can see.”

For decades we have been resilient in promoting better library services in Maryland. Our latest venture was to join with the library community to urge the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Hogan to move library services out of MSDE and to create a new service delivery structure, the Maryland State Library Agency. Now that we have accomplished this goal and helped to garner a funding formula and adequate staff for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, it is time for LBPH to increase its role in eliminating the book famine experiences of the blind in Maryland.

Many thanks to everyone for their service in Annapolis this year. Visiting legislators in their offices, sending letters, making phone calls, and sitting through long committee hearings makes our success possible. Let’s especially give Clarence Hennigan a round of applause. I called Clarence a couple of hours before our library bill hearing to tell him that someone cancelled, and I needed him to testify. He was nervous but agreed to do it. He spoke from the heart about the importance of library services to the blind and the need for change. This was the first time Clarence ever testified in his life. He understood the value of service to his fellow blind.

I was recently appointed by Governor Hogan to serve on the Maryland State Library Board. Many Federationists serve on boards, commissions, and advisory committees concerning transportation, rehabilitation, and other disability issues. Sitting on these bodies can be torturous. But this donkeywork is important because it can keep bad things from happening. Sometimes it can even do some good.

The performance of service can be inconvenient. When the call came on short notice to run down to Washington DC to tell the Asian American Hotel Owners Association to quit telling Congress to reform the ADA as proposed in H. R. 620, many Federationists answered the call. Let’s ask Karen Anderson, Sarah Baebler, Getachew Temare, Millie Rodriguez, Barry Hond, Ellana Crew, Antonio Mendoza, Miranda Williams, Steven Booth, Eric Duffy, and Ellen Ringlein to stand and accept our appreciative applause. Please remain standing until you get your Braille magnet of appreciation.

Sometimes the performance of service requires courage. As a state employee, Judy Rasmussen displayed courage by testifying before House and Senate committees of the General Assembly about how state government officials prevented blind employees from doing their jobs because of the lack of nonvisual access to technology tools. For instance, all Maryland state employees are required to use an email encryption tool made by Virtru of Washington DC to encrypt email messages. Since emails were encrypted by Virtru, and since Virtru was inaccessible to blind people, blind counselors at DORS and their clients could not read any of the encrypted emails they received. Although Virtru has made improvements to the accessibility of its encryption tool, this inaccessible product should never have been purchased for statewide use. The state of Maryland needs to enforce its accessibility laws vigorously. There should be consequences for state officials and for vendors who violate these laws.

In the agenda I have reprinted Governor Hogan’s executive order 01.01.2017.23 entitled “Maryland Disability Employment Awareness Month.” Promotion of the employment of people with disabilities by the chief executive of our state is definitely significant. There are five directives in this executive order to promote both the employment and the capabilities of people with disabilities. I want to highlight what I believe is the most significant directive of this executive order for blind people:

(4) To promote individuals with disabilities' access to technology, the Department of Disabilities shall:
a. hold special events, including those advancing assistive technology that expands employment in community integrated settings; and b. recommend the designation of a State agency, entity, or staff person to 1. provide accessibility technical assistance during State procurement processes; and 2. address any accessibility concerns of State employees.

We commend Governor Hogan and the Maryland Department of Disabilities for this progressive action. Do we have the resilience to put an end to lip service on accessibility by the state of Maryland? You bet we do.

Access to state government is not the only type of access that we seek. We conducted a national campaign to determine whether Cardtronics really made their ATMs accessible as they promised they would in the settlement of our lawsuit. We extend a big thank you to the eleven individuals who tested twenty-five machines in Maryland: Karen Anderson, Aloma Bouma, Tyron Bratcher, Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, Heather Guy, Terry Hall, Bernadette Jacobs, Melissa Lomax, Graham Mehl, Arielle Silverman, and Hindley Williams. Please stand to be recognized.

Because we are raising expectations, blind people will no longer tolerate discrimination. In August 2017, when Cindy Morales made a purchase at Walmart, the shopping assistant took her to a self-checkout station. Since this register was inaccessible, the “assistant” had to complete this transaction for Cindy. The assistant clicked on cash back and pocketed $40 of Cindy’s change. Cindy did get her $40 back because she had the gumption to call the police and refused to leave the store without her money. Walmart must learn that they are required to treat blind customers with dignity and respect.

In the Federation we are very fortunate to have many opportunities for reflection. We share our reflections through our speeches at state and national conventions. In his 2017 banquet speech, entitled “Innovation, Blindness, and the Emerging Pattern of Thought,” President Riccobono urged us to take action. He states: “In the past we have taught each other how to effectively compete as blind people using a variety of tools and techniques. We must continue to teach each other, but we should explore the effectiveness of new technologies to perform some of those same tasks.” We intend to do this exploration in Maryland.

Maryland does not have a statewide service support provider (SSP) program for deafblind people. Up to now, an SSP has been a person physically located with the deafblind person, to provide situational awareness so that the deafblind individual may participate in all aspects of community life. We want to explore whether the Aira technology would be a better way to provide this service. We must convince state officials of the need for an SSP program and determine the advantages of using technology to deliver these services.

As we celebrate our service to the Federation and to each other, let us be mindful of the founding principles of the National Federation of the Blind. “We think for ourselves, we speak for ourselves, and we act for ourselves to create understanding through our authentic experience. Individually we seek to live our lives fully, and collectively we mobilize the machinery to transform our dreams into reality.”

As we continue our quest to improve education, rehabilitation, library services, and accessibility while tearing down the barriers of discrimination, we must continue to serve each other and the Federation. We must continue to reflect on our actions, build relationships, and maintain resilience. I know that we have the love, hope, and determination to reach our goals. We can live the lives we want!

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