Braille Monitor

Vol. 61, No. 11                                    December 2018

Gary Wunder, Editor

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

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

telephone: 410-659-9314
email address: [email protected]
website address: https://archive.nfb.org
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: 866-504-7300
Like us on Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
Follow us on Twitter: @NFB_Voice
Watch and share our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind  

Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].

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

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.


Vol. 61, No. 11                                     December 2018

Illustration: Art of Leadership 2018

Convention Bulletin 2019

Authentically Blind on Stage and Screen: One Blind Actress Transforms
Obstacles into Stepping Stones
by Marilee Talkington

You Help Make Dreams Come True
by Patti Chang

The Federation Center
by Marc Maurer

A Heartfelt Thank You
by a BELL Parent

Jury Duty as a Blind Student
by Vejas Vasiliauskas

Playing Your Hand: A Blind Songwriter Doing What It Takes to Live the Life He Wants
by JP Williams

Accessible Cardtronics ATMs
by Valerie Yingling

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2019
by John Paré

Helen Keller No More in Texas
by Norma Crosby

My History and My Desire to Serve
by Sheri Koch

Southwest Airlines Works Toward Inclusion for All
by Peggy Chong

When Readers Are Good
by Ed Vaughan

Advancing Opportunities for the World’s 253 Million Blind and Partially Sighted People
by Fredric Schroeder

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—Review and Congratulations!
by Amy Mason

Mark Noble Dies
by Daniel Frye

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
by Allen Harris


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2018 by the National Federation of the Blind

Art of Leadership 2018

On October 21, 2018, nineteen tenth- and eleventh-grade students participating in the Art of Leadership program sponsored by Art with a Heart, a Baltimore nonprofit, visited the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute to gain an understanding of the capacities of blind people to live the life they want and to learn about leadership in the process. Through the Art of Leadership program, students in the Baltimore area with diverse backgrounds develop leadership skills and engage in conversations across socioeconomic and cultural barriers.

During their visit to the Jernigan Institute, the Art of Leadership students participated in four activities led by Jernigan Institute staff to introduce them to the skills used by blind people to complete daily living tasks. While under blindfolds, the students completed a short cane travel route on the fourth floor of the Jernigan Institute that included going up and down stairs. The students also learned about Braille and the way blind people use a computer and access current news through NFB-NEWSLINE®. The students also prepared a salad and baked cookies under blindfolds for the dinner that followed. During dinner, the students discussed the activities they had participated in and asked questions. In response to the question “What did you learn from this experience?” answers from the students included: “I shouldn’t assume what a person is capable of”; “To accept myself and put myself in other peoples’ shoes”; and “You don’t have to be ‘perfect’ to be a leader.” Clearly, the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind has a powerful influence!

Convention Bulletin 2019

by John Berggren

We are now in the season for office parties, Christmas shopping, and holiday cheer. While dreams of sugar plums may be dancing in your head, however, it’s not too early to begin thinking about the warmer weather and the summer months. While July may seem on the distant horizon, it’s time to plan for one of our most exciting events of the year. I’m talking, of course, about our 2019 National Convention. For the first time in our history, the largest annual gathering of the organized blind will be in Las Vegas, Nevada.

We are excited to be hosting our convention at the beautiful Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino (3950 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada 89119). As is the case every year, we have once again arranged for exceptional room rates. Unlike in years past, the same enviable rate of $99 per night applies to singles and doubles as well as triples and quads. Hotel and sales taxes are 13.38 percent and 8.25 percent, respectively. The resort fee (normally $37 a night) will be waived for NFB convention attendees. However, fees for internet access, local and toll-free calls, and fitness center access may apply.

To make reservations for the 2019 convention, you can call the hotel at 877-632-7800 after January 1. The hotel will take a deposit of the first night’s room rate for each room and will require a credit card or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately. If a reservation is cancelled before Friday, June 1, 2019, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

Situated at the beginning of the world-famous Las Vegas strip, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is a short trip from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. The hotel has more than two dozen restaurants for guests to enjoy. Among its features is an aquatic playground called Mandalay Bay Beach which has real sand, a wave pool, and a lazy river. The hotel is also home to an aquarium with more than 2,000 animals including sharks, green sea turtles, and a Komodo dragon. Plus, it offers top-notch entertainment including Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil.

The 2019 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Sunday, July 7, and adjournment will be Friday, July 12, following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up will begin on Monday, July 8, and both Monday and Tuesday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Tuesday morning’s annual meeting, open to all, of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. General convention sessions will begin on Wednesday, July 10, and continue through the banquet on Friday, July 12.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time to Terri Rupp, 10587 Santerno Street, Las Vegas, Nevada 89141.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2019 National Convention. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, make your reservations early. We plan to see you in Las Vegas in July.

Authentically Blind on Stage and Screen: One Blind Actress Transforms Obstacles into Stepping Stones

by Marilee Talkington

From the Editor: The last speaker of the morning on Sunday, July 8, continued the performance theme. The presentation was as moving as anything I’ve witnessed, but the transcription is similarly the hardest I’ve ever participated in. We have tried to capture the spirit, enthusiasm, and poise of Marilee, but what she said and the way she said it isn’t easily framed using the rules of written grammar. It is best experienced through audio, so let this presentation serve to push those who are reading this in Braille and in print to listen to these remarks as delivered. They can be heard at https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/
Here is what Marilee Talkington said:

[Alicia Key’s “Girl on Fire” plays as she takes the stage]

I love that; I get a theme song. Now, who decided to put me after JP Williams? Come on, that’s the hardest act to follow; he’s amazing! [cheers]

My name is Marilee Talkington; I am a professional actor. I am so, so excited to be here because the ferocity in this room is stellar. When I walked in on July fourth, and the number of young people—[in a faux-old-person voice] the number of you young people, all you young people with canes—[in her normal voice] I was stunned by how many young people there are, and it inspired me so deeply because I don’t remember having that kind of community when I was younger. I’m just so deeply honored to be here and privileged. Let’s dive in.

I think one of the things I wanted to talk about was transformation, this thing that I hear a lot of people talking about is how to turn obstacles into stepping stones. Just to give a little history: I was born with rod-cone dystrophy; I’m totally blind centrally. My mom has it—it’s genetic. I have peripheral vision, and it’s been degenerating over time. I’m light blind, which, lovely—these lights are shining right in my eyes—and I’m photophobic. So I’m light blind, and light causes me pain. For those of you who have rod-cone or cone-rod and don’t have central vision, you know—you understand—that to see people, you look away from them.

In fifth grade I got what I like to call “The Talk” from my mom. I have the same thing she does. I want to preface this by saying that I don’t judge her for saying this, she was working with the strategies she had at the time and with the experience she had at the time. She said, “Now you have a couple choices—maybe one choice and a couple options. To see people, you need to look away from their face.” Ok. “Or you can look at them and not see them. If you look away from their face to see what you need to see, the world that we live in will treat you differently.” I was in fifth grade. “Or you can teach yourself to look people in the face, not see what you need to see, and move through the world.” As a fifth grader I wanted to move through the world with as much ease as possible, so I chose option number two, and I trained myself to look people in the eyes; I still do. [applause]

This can be confusing for many, many people. When they meet me, they assume that I am fully sighted, which is not the case. But what it has opened up for me is that I play mostly sighted characters on stage. Ninety-five percent of the characters that I play are sighted. [applause]

Let’s just jump forward. First, acting class: I took my first acting class at UC San Diego. I was studying psychology and mathematics at the time. My grade point average was so-so. I needed to raise it, and I was looking for classes that I could take to raise my grade point average. My friend said take an acting class, and I was like, “No way, no, not even close.” I couldn’t get in any other class, and I was like, “Fine, I’ll take acting.”

So I took acting, and something happened. I started telling stories about other people, stepping into who they were, and it was the most incredible experience of my life, those first days in acting class. All of a sudden this enormous imagination of mine had a platform to play on. I’d always been good at voices and characters, but I’d never really had an avenue to walk down and express those things. All of a sudden I’m getting to live other people’s lives. All of a sudden my life felt limitless. [her voice goes slightly higher, a bit more childish] And I started working with all these different characters, you know, and just like playing, [her voice goes deeper, sounding more masculine with a New York accent] and then just like doing something else, right? And we’d talk, and every single character— it’s not just about voices. [Her voice stays deeper, but the accent shifts to more Russian] But then you take on these completely different experiences of life. [back to her normal voice] Right?

So I realized that this is what I want to do, and I never thought in a million years that I couldn’t do it because of my eyesight—never—never crossed my mind.

I graduate UC San Diego, my grade point average lifted because of that acting class. I stop off in LA—that’s a whole ‘nother story; we won’t go there right now—but I end up in San Francisco. I go to my first theater audition, and they had what’s called cold sides there; it’s a cold read. A cold read is when they have the script there, and you’re supposed to read it—look it over in fifteen minutes—then you go up. Well, of course I can’t read the script. I ask the director if there is a photocopy machine. This is back in the day; this was twenty years ago. There’s no technology around, right? I’m like, is there a photocopy machine? He has no idea. So I go out searching for a photocopy machine, and it takes me two hours. I find a photocopy machine at a local business (I think it was a real estate place), and I said, “Can I use it?” They were kind enough to let me. I enlarged it as much as I could, and I eventually found my way back to the theater after two hours. The director was still there. I went in. The script still wasn’t large enough, so it was pretty darn close to my face. I started reading, and the director said, “If you can’t read this script, you don’t belong on stage.” He excused me from the audition.

This is twenty years ago. I had no mentors. I had no one to talk to about this. There were no blind actors that I had ever seen or knew of. I know that a lot of you can relate to this feeling of isolation. This is one of those pivotal moments where I went home, and I was devastated. The question I asked myself: “Do you believe him? Do you believe that you do not belong on stage because you cannot read this?” And the answer that came back was a resounding, “No I do not believe him!” [applause]

But what I did believe at that point was that I needed training. Everything is about training: training, training, training. Because in this business, the acting business, you have to be well-trained. You can dream to be an actor, but if you don’t actually do the work, it’s not going to happen.

I went to school, and this is where I began to advocate for myself. I had to advocate for myself because I was the first blind, low-vision, disabled person to walk in to those acting classes.

My first movement acting class was at a studio. It was an Alexander technique class, which is a movement class that is all about alignment. The teacher said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is going to be the right class for you. You really need to be able to see what I’m doing.”

And I said, “No, that’s not right. I’m going to be in the class, and we’re going to figure this out.” I had to battle my way into these classes. I got into the class, and I ended up being the top student.

I say to myself, “What is going on here, people? I have the drive. I have the willingness to go into the room, so you need to match that.” But this happened over and over and over again. But it developed my muscle to self-advocate.

I auditioned for grad school, because at this point I’ve taken probably ten or twelve studio classes—night classes—Shakespeare, voice, whatever—but I want to take it to the next level. I want to audition for grad school. I do that, and I don’t get it—not because of my vision—I just don’t get in. Grad school—the one I auditioned for—is one of the top in the country. It’s extremely competitive. But I didn’t give up. I trained more that next year, prepared myself even more, and I auditioned the next year, and I got in. I got in to ACT [American Conservatory Theater], and I was the first person with a disability to ever get in to that school. I believe I’m still the only person with a disability to go to that school, and at this point there are only two legally-blind actresses in the country with an MFA in acting. I’m one of them.

I’m sure all of you have heard this before—I remember being taught at a very young age that you have to work twice as hard just to get to the baseline as everybody else, all the sighted people. I said, “I don’t want to be at the baseline. I want to be great at what I am doing.” So I’m working three times as hard, four times as hard, and I never took for granted for one moment when I was in grad school, not one moment. [applause] I had this experience I want to share. It’s less about my vision physically and more about the vision for myself. We were doing this show called Master and Margarita, and it was directed by this wonderful [with accent] Eastern European director named Adria Guirgia. [back to her normal voice] The role that I was cast in was Abaddon, the Angel of Death, and the director said, “Okay, I want your big, red, curly hair everywhere.”

I said, “No, actually, if I’m the Angel of Death, I think I should be gender neutral. People shouldn’t know if I’m male or female. I should be everything at all times.”

I had no language. I had no lines in the script. I wasn’t actually written into the script. He said, “Okay, fine, you can be gender neutral whatever that means,” because that was fifteen years ago; we didn’t even know what that meant.

I realized that he wasn’t calling me to rehearsal. So I thought to myself, “If I’m the Angel of Death, where would I be?” I said, “I’d be everywhere!” So I started putting myself into all the scenes. I showed up to every rehearsal and put myself in every single scene. The director was like, [in accent] “This is brilliant! I had a brilliant idea. She’s in every scene. I love it.”

We go to opening night, and the irony is that, if you ask anybody who saw the show, “Who’s the character you remember?” The answer would be the Angel of Death.

The director comes up to me afterwards and says, [in accent] “Just to let you know, I am taking credit for this.” [laughter]

I said, “Okay, that’s fine, that’s fine.”

But this whole thing really solidified for me—that moment, that particular moment—this nugget of wisdom: when the world doesn’t have a vision for you, you must create a vision for yourself. [applause] That is something that I hold in my heart very deeply.

Long story short: I moved to New York after grad school, and I don’t get that fancy agent. I don’t get all those auditions because acting is really, really competitive. It’s so competitive. I go there thinking, “I’ve got this great degree; I’m going to do it.” And it didn’t happen.

So what I did is I took my career in my own hands, and I started creating my own work, or I should say continued to create my own work because I was already creating my own work, much to the chagrin of my professors. I created my solo show Truce. I play twenty-two characters in that, half of which are blind. And I started creating other work, too—experiential work—that’s what I like to call it—experiential work where I was writing and directing and acting using site-specific scripts—not just theaters but sites you walk through and experience. Because even me, an actor, when I’m an audience member in a theater, loses a lot of it. I can’t see a lot of it. So I was creating theater that you could experience, that people could walk through, and really getting my confidence that way. I was not waiting for somebody to choose me; I was choosing myself. [applause]

I was creating work, but I’ll tell you moving to New York was tough, and I actually ended up having a nervous breakdown. I moved back to San Francisco to heal. I thought, “Oh my God, I failed. I went to New York, and I failed. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t hack it. I’m not strong enough.”

I went back to San Francisco, and there was this little whisper of a voice that said, “No, no, this is exactly as it should be. You’re on the right path. Have faith, have faith, have faith. Take time to heal.” So I stayed with my grandmother, who gave me unconditional love, and I kept writing. I wrote a play, and I directed that. I started slowly building a community in the Bay area, and I was healed. I found this new strength after going through something really, really traumatic. Failing—failing—moving back, going through something really traumatic, taking the time to take care of myself, and then picking myself up and taking that next step forward because I knew—I knew—that I am an artist, that I am supposed to be an artist.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir here: this game ain’t easy. It’s not easy, right? There’s pain involved. There’s failure involved. The mark of who we are is what happens after we fail. What do we do? We pick ourselves up and keep going.

So I’m in the Bay area, and this is where the next level of advocacy started happening. I had to teach the Bay area community how to work with me and how to open their doors to more persons with disabilities. I made the agreement with myself: that “Marilee, you’re going to go out and you’re going to stay open and curious and engage in any and all conversations that come toward you. Because half your job is artist and half your job is advocate.” I walk into that, and I walk into every room carrying both those banners. Sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I just want to be an artist. I do, I really do. But I know that because I’m the first, I have to be an advocate. It’s my responsibility to, because if I don’t, no one will.

So I’m getting into those rooms, and I’m getting cast, and my craft as an actor is getting more and more developed, and my craft as an advocate is getting more and more developed. I’m figuring out what I need and how to ask for it. That’s a hard thing to do, because things can change, especially in my business. Not all theaters are the same. Not all directors are the same. I get new bosses every three months. I have to go into a new space, assess, and then communicate, and then negotiate. This is kind of a fun thing: I was in a show, and this was me accommodating for myself, because most of the time I’m figuring out for myself how to do things. I was in a show called Salomania, and it was about Salome. I played five different characters, one of which was a soldier boy. [speaking in a Cockney accent] A Cockney soldier boy who’s a lovely little boy. [in her normal voice] The opening scene was five of us soldiers—I was the only woman, by the way—launched ourselves over a ten-foot ledge, with a rifle and a bayonet attached to it. The first time we rehearsed it the director said, “Everybody run, jump over this thing, and land on the ground safely.” I’m like, okay, this is—um, all right. Because I’m that person that’s like, “I will figure it out.” You tell me I can’t, I’ll go off and figure out how to do it and come back, like, “Here you go.” Because they’re not going to know, God bless those sighted people, they’re not going to know. So he throws all of us this blocking (blocking is staging)—I forgot to say, we’re in full battle gear and gas masks. He says, “Okay, let’s do it.” And I couldn’t do it. And he said, “Do we need to change the blocking?” And I said, “Just give me a sec, Mark.”

When I can’t do things, the first thing that happens is I feel pain; I feel frustrated, I feel pain. I often shed a few tears to myself. Then I grit up. I turned around to him, and I said, “Do what you need to do; I’m going to talk to the stage manager, and I’m going to rehearse this after rehearsal is over.”

And that’s what I did. I got the stage manager, and I went through and marked every single spot where my foot and my hand needed to go. I did it over and over and over and over. I did it dozens and dozens and dozens of times until it was complete muscle memory. I didn’t need any eyesight at all—at all—at all.

On opening night we’re all running from backstage up on this ledge. And the guys come over, and I fly over, and my body is doing what I just trained it to do because I’d been rehearsing it literally hundreds of times after rehearsal, over and over again. I fly over. I land on the ground, bayonet in hand, and I realize: I did it. I just did this. And I didn’t kill anybody! This is awesome!

So that’s just one little story—I realize I’m going over time. Two minutes Mark? Thank you. I want to jump fast fast-fast-fast-forward to this NCIS experience. [cheers] It was awesome, y’alls. It was awesome. Let me tell you this: going into the room, I took this job very seriously, not only as an actor but as an advocate, because I knew this was a big deal. I knew this was a huge deal for NCIS, for CBS, for me personally, and for the community. In the audition room, usually casting directors ask, “Do you have any questions?” I said, “No, do you?” I just opened up the conversation. After I got cast the executive director and the director called me and said, “This is so wonderful—you’re going to be with us, wonderful—we—how do we—so we’re going to be working—you’re blind, so how—what, um? All right.” This is what I said to them: “Don’t worry, it’s going to be great. You’re going to love it.” THEY wanted to know, though. They were scared. I wasn’t; they were.

That night I wrote a cheat sheet on how to work with me. A cheat sheet! I’d never done that before. I wrote down “This is my disability; this is how I see; this is how it manifests; these are the identifiers I like; you can call me blind, legally blind, partially-sighted, partially-blind; you cannot call me handicapped. I don’t go by that. I was just laying it out: boom, boom, boom, boom. “Director: If you’re giving me direction, I may not look at you, but I am listening. Also, if you could wear feathers, that would be great.” So I’m throwing out a few jokes here and there.

Well, it turns out that this little cheat sheet I sent them is circulated through the entire NCIS production team, through CBS—I booked another show while I was on CBS, flew to Toronto, that cheat sheet had made it all the way over to Toronto. “We love your cheat sheet; it’s really great; we get you now.”

All this to say, and I know that you all understand this, that self-advocacy is so huge, especially when you are the first, second, third, and any number through the door. We have to speak up for ourselves. We have to carry a large vision for ourselves when the world doesn’t have that vision for us.

I want to leave you with one thing. This is a quote that I read and that I still read over and over and over again. It is by Marianne Williamson. Perhaps you have heard of this quote; I’m sure you have: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

The intention I want to leave with you, the intention that I have for myself, and the intention that I have for all of you is: own your fabulousness. Own it. Own your absolute uniqueness, and own your power to be the magnificent creators of your destiny and dreams! Thank you.

You Help Make Dreams Come True

by Patti Chang

From the Editor: What we do takes teamwork, spirit, commitment, and money. Of the four ingredients necessary for success, money is often the most overlooked, but without money, we simply don’t have the tools to do what needs doing for blind people. In this article, Patti Chang explains how you can help. Here is what she says:

Thanks to you, the National Federation of the Blind has a tremendous impact on the lives of blind people of all ages. We foster high expectations and mentor each other, teach children to read Braille, and provide crucial resources to parents of blind children. Nearly every day we receive notes from long-time Federationists and people new to our organization to share the impact that the NFB has had on their lives and their family. We hope that these stories—and your own experience—motivate you to give back to help us continue to share the gifts of confidence, literacy, education, independence, and so much more.

We recently received this note from a mother whose daughter attends the NFB BELL Academy in Indiana:

I am writing to you to express my thanks for what the NFB BELL Academy has done for my daughter, who became blind from retinoblastoma when she was just three years old. Having no previous experience with blindness, my husband and I had no clue on how to raise a blind child. We saw the potential in our daughter to be a happy and productive human being even without her eyesight, but would others see the same?

Through the grace of God, we came in contact with the NFB and other blind adults who have become wonderful mentors and role models. These people have come alongside her and shown her that anything is possible if she only believes in herself. This past summer was her third year at the Indiana BELL Academy, something that she has grown to look forward to each year. Whether it be reading or writing Braille, beep ball, field trips, or crafts, she has enjoyed it all.

The NFB Indiana BELL Academy has given our daughter the confidence to live as a blind child in a sighted world. It has given her the ability to attend school with her sighted peers, being the first blind child to do so in our school district. And, in my opinion, she has been a wonderful example of showing her friends and teachers exactly what a blind child is capable of. She is not afraid to try anything, and currently has straight A’s in all of her school subjects.

I truly believe that the NFB BELL Academy, along with her teachers and role models, has had a direct effect on her confidence and ability to succeed, not only in the classroom, but throughout life. As a parent, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her! Thank you again for the NFB BELL Academy and what it does for our blind children!

Want to help more families like this one? You can make a difference.

With a $50 donation, the National Federation of the Blind can send a long white cane—free of charge—to a blind person and give back mobility. With the same amount the Federation can provide early literacy materials to help parents and blind children start learning Braille together. With a larger donation we can train our BELL Academy teachers, show blind students that they can participate in science and engineering lessons, and so much more. Be a part of this future and everything the Federation does with love, hope, and determination.

We can’t change lives without you. Please help by making an end-of-year gift. It’s easy to do.

We all know that the Federation affects blind people’s lives every day. Please be a part of our movement with an end-of-year donation. It will be sincerely appreciated.

Please feel free to reach out to Patti Chang at 410-659-9314, extension 2422 or [email protected] if you have any questions. Thank you so much in advance for again helping blind people live the lives we want.

The Federation Center

by Marc Maurer

From the Editor: When the Federation began writing and speaking about the capability of blind people to work and to live as responsible members in society, members of the rehabilitation community were skeptical. The professionals rather publicly said, “Let these Federation people try working in the field, and they’ll soon see that their theories will inevitably collide with reality.”

So Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was sent to Iowa, one of the lowest ranked agencies then in the field of rehabilitation, and his job was to create a model agency for the blind based on the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. This he did, and when after two decades in Iowa he left what was then the Iowa Commission for the Blind, the Federation had to wrestle with the question of what role we would continue to play in rehabilitation. The reality of Iowa was there for all to see, but it wasn’t enough to have reshaped one or two agencies. In order to remain real to the public and to the blind people who needed services, the Federation had to maintain a positive presence in the field. How we would do that began a debate that would last almost a decade. We would have to provide service while at the same time not being so tied to service that we ceased to be a consumer organization and the primary voice for blind people.

In this article, Immediate Past President Maurer discusses the establishment of our NFB centers, their accomplishments, and what is required to be a Federation center. Here’s what he says:

A persistent question is what is required to constitute an NFB center. We have created three of these that are now about thirty years old. The first was in Ruston, Louisiana, where it continues to do business. Joanne Wilson, who was a student of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, had urgently wanted the National Federation of the Blind to start one, and she hoped she could be a part of the inspiration for it and perhaps one of the teachers. 

In 1984 at the national convention an extensive discussion occurred regarding a proposal that we establish a school for the blind. Nobody was conducting educational programs of high quality for blind children, and the shift from schools for the blind to the public school educational setting had put blind students into places in which adequate materials and trained teachers were mostly not available. We could run a school, and the quality would be better than any other system could produce. However, the counter argument asserted that the special role of the Federation was that of serving as a check and balance to programs for the blind not the entity that runs them. We could not adequately challenge our own blunders. Thus, we should advise and supervise programs for the blind, not be programs for the blind. The final decision was that we would not create a school for the blind.

This thought process prevailed as we approached the 1985 convention. We did not establish a national training center although Dr. Jernigan was sorely tempted by the idea. Consequently, Joanne Wilson created the Louisiana Center for the Blind. The creation of this center generated thoughts by members of the Federation in many other states that centers for the blind could be established in other places.

Diane McGeorge decided to start the Colorado Center for the Blind. Colorado had a building which could house the training center. The building had previously been used for a program that collected discarded Braille books and sent them to programs for the blind in other parts of the world. However, a training center was urgently needed, and the imperative would put the building to a better use.

Joyce Scanlan also decided that a training center was needed in Minnesota. She thought that the center would be regarded as the blind center, so she decided to name it, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, BLIND Inc. These then became the NFB training centers. They had been created under the banner of the Federation and with the energy and commitment of Federation leaders—all of them women. Discussion at the national level of the Federation determined that for these centers to be approved by the Federation and to receive support from the Federation, they must have a formal relationship with the Federation as a whole. Thus, each of the centers signed agreements with the Federation in which they acknowledged that they are subordinate corporations to the Federation and that policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon them.

All of this happened a long time ago, but the system of management remains in place. Further, the leadership of the Federation has been and continues to be a major factor in all of these centers. Beyond these observations, one more must be made. A director of state programs for the blind asked me once how we get the results that we do. I responded that I could explain but the director could not do it. I said, “Do you observe these people around you here this evening working the tasks for the gathering this weekend? (It was about six p.m.) The director responded, “Yes, but how do you get them to do it? I cannot get my staff to work after five o’clock.” We do the work because we want to get it done, not because it is a job. We love the challenge and the people we serve. We are responsible to the people who make up the Federation. I who have served as President know that if I do not do the work that has been given to me, somebody else will take the position I have once had. However, the thought of being replaced is not worrisome as much as the thought of disappointing my colleagues and friends. The Federation centers thrive because we care about our colleagues, and we have great faith in them. The love we have for each other and for the challenge of the work keeps us sharp and focused.

Part of the reason for our success is that we not only have tested methods of teaching, but we also accept the need to experiment with new techniques. Furthermore, we have a national and an international network of friends who have connections that give us opportunities that are not bound by state or national boundaries. Our village is bigger than any state government program can achieve without the national and international network that we have built.

A good many programs have claimed to be Federation centers. Are they? These elements are required for becoming a Federation center. First, it is necessary to acknowledge that the governing body of the center is the convention of the National Federation of the Blind and that policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon such centers. It is necessary to acknowledge that the corporation running the center is a subordinate corporation to the Federation. It is necessary that Federation leaders are a part of the governing daily activities of the center. It is necessary that the spirit of adventure of the Federation be an integrated element of the center. It is necessary that love for the participants and love for the challenges of integrating the blind into society be a vital element of the centers. That a center adheres to the practices pioneered by the Federation is not sufficient for membership in this exclusive group. Structured Discovery is a good thing, but using this method of approach does not a Federation center make.

More commentary could be made, but I believe this is adequate for determining whether a center is a Federation entity. Does the center accept that it is governed by the Federation? Can the Federation change its practices when it believes that they are not adequate? Can the Federation reorganize the center if it fails in the purpose the Federation believes it should follow? If the answer to any of these questions is no, the center is not a Federation center. Does this mean that the center in question is bad? No, of course not. The center must be judged on its merits. However, it is not a Federation center.

A Heartfelt Thank You

by a BELL Parent

From the Editor: What greater gift can we give someone than the ability to read and to write, those beautifully complimentary skills that allow people to learn and then to contribute to that learning through sharing. This is what we do with the BELL Program, and sometimes we are blessed to receive a note of thanks. In this issue you will find two, both deeply rooted in the heart and shared with passion and conviction. Enjoy this thank you from a parent in Maryland:

My son attended the Baltimore BELL Academy this summer. It was his second experience with BELL Academy, having attended in Arlington last summer. We are so thankful for this opportunity, and we appreciate everything that the NFB has done for our son and for our family. 

Our relationship with the NFB began four years ago when our spunky now-kindergartener was still a baby. We lucked into attending the parents’ day of the NFB national conference in Orlando, which was within close driving distance of our home at the time. Before he had learned to walk, we met teachers, lawyers, doctors, artists, all of whom were professional, successful, and blind. At one session, a fellow parent leaned forward and whispered to me, “Have you considered Braille?” When I shrugged (we had barely considered potty training at that age), she persisted, “How will he read his valedictorian speech if the spotlights are in his eyes?” We left the conference with a sense of peace about the future and a new understanding of what it means to be blind or visually impaired.

When we got home, we told our son’s TVI about our experience, and she was skeptical. We were told that the NFB was “radical.” My family and I are not the radical type, so we watched closely, ready to bail at the first mention of anything over the top. Four years later, and I can say with conviction that we have yet to hear anything “radical” from the National Federation of the Blind. Indeed, the only thing controversial about them seems to be their unwavering confidence in the abilities of the blind and the commitment to high expectations. This confidence is backed by achievement and success, and we are so grateful that our family has had the opportunity to immerse our son in this confidence, firsthand. 

When our son began preschool, we started to better understand eye fatigue and other factors that make dual-media the most appropriate learning media for him. Unfortunately, our local public school district, which was failing and in the process of being taken over by the state, did not agree. Without assessments or data, the TVI in Montgomery, Alabama, told us that he would not teach our son Braille, that he “did not even like to teach Braille to anyone before the third grade,” and that he “could not believe we would even ask for that when our son has so much vision.” They would not listen to our experiences with eye fatigue and insisted that no child with low vision should be taught Braille. Unsure of where to turn, we contacted the NFB. They listened. Our NFB rep attended our next IEP meeting, advocated for our son, and advised us to request a functional vision assessment and learning media assessment. The TVI immediately contracted this assessment out to the state school for the blind (Which makes us wonder if he knew how to do this basic assessment himself, and if not, how much Braille did he know himself?). A professional came to our son’s school, conducted a thorough evaluation, and when the report came back, it recommended dual media instruction in both print and Braille. Armed with real data, we were able to get Braille instruction written into our son’s IEP, and though we have since moved from that district, he continues to get Braille instruction that will help him in the future. NFB reps have been there for us in our new district too, attending IEP meetings in person and via cross-country phone call in order to ensure that he gets the equal education that he deserves.

Dual media is not an easy road though, and our son is beginning to learn that Braille is hard work. Luckily, he has been able to start his school career with two summers of BELL Academy. At school, he is the only kid in his grade who is learning Braille. BELL Academy immersed him in an environment where Braille is normal, and it has taught him that he should be proud of himself and his abilities. At BELL, he has been surrounded by blind professionals who are confident and capable. This confidence is contagious. We have seen our son’s confidence soar as a result of BELL. This happens through planned activities like rock climbing at Arlington BELL or nonvisual challenges at Baltimore BELL, but more than that, it happens through all of the intangible little moments that are infused throughout the camp. I had a chance to overhear a few conversations that my son never told me about, conversations like “What do you say when someone asks you about your vision” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the impact is inspiring. BELL gives our son something that we as fully sighted parents cannot give him: the opportunity to be led by and surrounded by blind individuals who are confident, capable role models. Achievement is not wished for at BELL; it is expected, and we have seen him rise to the occasion. Following BELL Academy, my son now orders his own food at restaurants, speaking in a loud, clear, confident voice. While many parents spent the night before kindergarten worrying about the future, we spent the evening at a ropes course challenge, watching our son take reasonable risks at an activity we once imagined might be impossible for him.

To get to BELL Academy this year, we put our preschooler and toddler in the car in their pajamas at 6:00 AM. We drove from Virginia to Baltimore, a cross-DC trek that several times took three hours one way in the rain. “That’s nuts,” our family said.

“That’s necessary,” we said, because we knew it was well worth it, and it was. Nowhere else can our son get this lifelong gift of confidence and skills. During his first two weeks at BELL last year, he blew through three of his annual IEP goals, and we had to have a new IEP meeting to raise expectations for the year. Before BELL, he got frustrated when pouring water. Now he does it with ease using the nonvisual skills he learned at BELL. Before BELL, he wasn’t sure what to say when someone asked him about his vision. Last week, his swim coach told me that he had confidently and nonchalantly given the class a mini lesson about his diagnosis. This kind of confidence comes straight from the NFB. We have always tried to instill confidence in our son, but as fully sighted parents, we lack both the words and the experience necessary to really teach him the strategies he needs to be independent.

Thank you for giving our family this gift. Thank you for the passion, hard work, and professionalism that goes into all of your efforts.

We may not be the best at timely thank yous, but we appreciate all of you at the National Federation of the Blind on a daily basis. We are so grateful for your help and look forward to working with you for many years to come.

Jury Duty as a Blind Student

by Vejas Vasiliauskas

From the Editor: The name “Vejas Vasiliauskas” may be familiar to Monitor readers because Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas has worked closely with the National Federation of the Blind in getting tips and tricks for raising his two blind children and for giving back to the Federation by offering what he has experienced and learned through his own keen insights as a person with significant motivation, intellectual ability, and outstanding commitment. It is clear that he has imparted these stellar qualities to his children, and in this article Vejas offers some very mature, conscientious, and patriotic opinions about what it means to be an American citizen. Here is what he says:

Every year, adults over eighteen who are registered to vote and have IDs are potential candidates for jury duty. When US citizens are chosen for this civic duty, the court system has no prior knowledge of an individual’s disability. Therefore, when I received a jury duty summons at the end of April this year, I was both intrigued and enthusiastic to learn not only about the process of being a juror but also the accessibility of serving as a blind person.

First there was the initial paperwork. Everything I needed to know—the week I was serving, my juror ID, and my PIN—were only available in print. I was fortunate that my parents were able to read me the information, but it is important to be aware of the fact that without a careful mail organization system, jury duty summonses can easily fall to the wayside along with other print envelopes.

After registering, I began to investigate. I was rather surprised to find that in a day and age where we are fighting for equal expectations, there was very little information about being a blind juror. Few people on the National Association of Blind Students listserv had any serving experience, with one actually being sent home by the court due to the inability to analyze video evidence. I then called the assembly room at my courthouse to inform them that I was blind but still wanted to serve. Was there any disability support, and could anyone who worked there guide me to the various locations throughout the day? I was told no to both questions and was highly encouraged to have my physician sign me off for an excuse. To me, this was not an option; I wanted to experience jury service just like everyone else, at a time when I was off of school for the summer.

Therefore, when I was told by the automated system to report in on Thursday, I was prepared. As an aside, I found the automated phone system to be very accessible. The instructions for how to confirm and report for service were very clearly stated. There is also an online portal that can be used instead. Unfortunately, I was unable to check its accessibility; by the time I signed in shortly after reporting, I was told I no longer had the ability to look through the portal’s information.

To prepare for my service, I imagined various scenarios in my mind and how I would work through them. For example, had I been told that a case required me to see video evidence, I would have asked if I could be switched to a case where the evidence was spoken. The fact that there would be nobody to guide me would not be a problem; I could simply initiate and ask to walk with the fellow jurors around me.

After a security scan similar to the airport, we were told to go into the assembly room for our orientation. The orientation was not, as I had previously thought, a tour of the courthouse, but was an in-depth introduction of our responsibilities as jurors. We watched a video of segments of a case in a courtroom, which was described very well. The video also informed us that there are two types of cases: criminal, in which a defendant is accused of committing a crime, and civil, in which it is necessary to settle a dispute between two sides. In a criminal case, jurors are called by the last digits of their juror ID number, whereas in civil cases peoples’ actual names are used. While every state’s policy is likely to be somewhat different, California’s jury service was for a one-day or one-trial period. This means that if jurors are never called in for the day, they can leave. However, if they get called in to a trial and do not get selected, they still have to go back to the assembly room in case they are called for another trial that day. On my day of service, we were told that there was only one case that day, but that it was still questionable whether it would go to trial.

For the next three hours, the jurors were instructed to wait. The woman who gave our orientation told us that some romantic couples had actually met in jury duty. There were no couples to be had that day, though, and everyone kept themselves to themselves. However, I was able to see my history teacher from my previous semester in school, which was a huge coincidence.

After a rather long lunch break, and just when we thought we could go home, it was decided that the case would go to trial after all. A list of randomly selected names, in no particular order, was read out, and mine was among one of the many names chosen.

Once we were allowed to enter the courtroom, the judge explained that the jury selection period is about four hours, and because we started much later during the day we would probably have to return the following day. He informed us that the case was of a woman who threatened to assault some people with a knife. At that point, eighteen juror ID numbers were called to go up to the juror box to answer some basic questions, including where they were from, their families’ careers, and whether or not people believed they could serve. After all eighteen answered, the judge spoke with the lawyers to determine who might be able to stay on the case. Those who were eliminated could go home, and a few more names were called for the same questioning. Because we ran out of time, the rest of the jurors, including myself and my history teacher, had to come back the next day.

On Friday, rather than go to the assembly room again, we could go straight back for the case. At this point, both the prosecution and defense lawyers began to question the jurors even more intensely. The jurors were given hypothetical situations and asked how they would decide who was innocent and who was guilty. One example involved a custodian and a fifth-grade student. If the custodian attacked a student and the student hit him back as a direct result, this would be considered self-defense, but if the student’s retaliation happened later, then that student would also be considered guilty.

More names were eliminated. Five more juror IDs were chosen, and mine was one of them. The judge and lawyers explained that they had already chosen the original twelve jurors, and our numbers were being called so that we could potentially become alternates. Since I was called to the sixteenth seat in the juror box, I was referred to as “Juror Sixteen” from there on out. Coincidentally, my history teacher from the previous semester at school was juror seventeen. During my first questioning by the judge, I explained that I knew her because she taught me last semester, to which many people laughed. We both felt that the fact that we knew one another would not be a problem, and that neither of us would influence one another in the decision.

The lawyers then asked more hypothetical situational questions. When it came time for the lawyers to select their alternates, I was not among one of the names chosen.

Despite the fact that I could not serve on the case, I was very happy with my experience. After all, many potential jurors never get to experience being called for a case, with some never having to report at all. My fellow jurors were all very accommodating as long as I was able to articulate what I needed. I feel that I can quite confidently say that my reason for not being chosen had nothing to do with my blindness, as there were many, many other sighted people in the same situation.

So, is jury duty for a blind person possible? Yes! By coming together and sharing our jury duty experiences, both past and future, we Federationists can work together to give each other guidance and discuss accommodation issues. However, as long as you have some method of being able to read your juror information, follow instructions, and can advocate for yourself, there should be few if any problems.

Playing Your Hand: A Blind Songwriter Doing What It Takes to Live the Life He Wants

by JP Williams

From the Editor: JP Williams is a singer songwriter and accessibility technology professional who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Many of us know of JP’s work in helping to craft “Live the Life You Want” and other Federation songs. Here is the presentation that JP made on the morning of July 8, 2018:

So, what’s going on, people? How are you feeling? So if you believe you can live the life you want, let me hear from you. [applause]

What an honor it is to speak this morning. President Riccobono, thank you for the invitation. I’ve been excited about this for a long time and preparing for it, and I’m going to talk about two things this morning that a lot of people have already touched on, but I’m gonna tell you my take on it due to my experience and the path that I’ve taken. That’s expectation and collaboration, and to do that I’m going to back up and start from the beginning.

I was born with limited vision—only in my left eye, none in my right—in Clarksville, Indiana. [cheers from Indiana] At the age of four, fortunately I was introduced to Braille. They knew my vision was fading, and I would become completely blind. So they introduced me to Braille, and at the age of six, myself and my family moved to Dallas, Texas. Around that time, after my second grade year, I was placed into resource classes because of my blindness. It was determined that I would just go on to receive a certificate of attendance. I have to show my age. I’m forty-two. This was the early 80s, and at that time that’s where I landed. I had a single mom, and we didn’t know at that time that you could live the life you want. We didn’t know about the National Federation of the Blind. We didn’t know all of those things.

I’m fast forwarding. By the end of my junior year, I was sitting with my parents and talking about options and realizing, of course, that I didn’t have the credits to go to college. We got together and developed a plan that I would attend the Tennessee School for the Blind for two years. There I got four years of credits, and went to college and graduated. [applause]

So I have to say that I have empathy for the blind students, and I have empathy for the blind parents. I have to say thank God you are here, because now you have knowledge, and now you know the truth. [applause]

After college I moved to Atlanta, Georgia (I moved around a lot). There I was teaching music and playing a lot of different types of corporate gigs and going on the road as an independent artist. In the midst of all that, Nashville, Tennessee, would not leave me alone. So I started taking a Greyhound bus to Nashville—from Atlanta to Nashville once a month. I call what I did intelligent ignorance because I had no idea what I was up against. But I did it anyway because I wanted to go and place myself in an environment where I could succeed or fail, and that’s basically how you define an opportunity—if there is a chance of success, if there’s a chance of failure. The bar is set very high in Nashville; it’s the NFL for songwriters.

I started taking that Greyhound bus and calling publishers, trying to set up co-writes, getting hotel rooms, and in the year 2006 I took the plunge. I said I’ve got to go because I would rather go and get my answer then spend the rest of my life wondering what if.

I moved in, started a life, met my wife who’s with me here today [applause], and she said a cool thing: she said, “This is a cane-vention.” This is her first time here with me, so this is a cane-vention, baby. [applause]

I met my wife and just began the messy road of the music business. Eventually I landed a publishing deal, so for the past seven years I’ve been paid to write songs. It’s been amazing. When you get into expectations, through my experience in placing myself in an environment where the bar is set high, after that you start collaborating. I have to say that the National Federation of the Blind is one of the best places to collaborate. [applause] Think about how in 1940 if sixteen people hadn’t gotten together to collaborate, to develop a constitution, to help blind people, we would not all be here today. They got together, and we are all here, and it’s an amazing thing, and the collaboration continues. Figuratively this is a beautiful song that has been written and continues to be written.

People ask me all the time, “What’s it like as a blind person being a songwriter, a professional songwriter.” People show up in the room (I call it creative dating). My publisher will set up co-writes with other songwriters at other publishing companies. They’ll show up in the room, and a lot of times it’s the first time you’ve ever met. Sometimes it goes well and you connect, and sometimes it’s just, “Let’s go to lunch.” But one of the things that I have found, being the only blind person in the room, is that humor always goes a long way, not taking myself too seriously, but taking what I do seriously—that goes a long way. The idea is king. If it’s a great idea, it doesn’t matter who’s blind or sighted in the room. You’re all working toward a common goal: to write the best song, to create the best product. This is what happens at the NFB every day.

As an example of collaboration, my wife is going to bring me my guitar [applause], and I’m going to play you a little ditty. I got together one day with a songwriter by the name of Bobby Cumberland, and Bobby’s been in town a long time and is a very successful songwriter. We started talking about the roots of country music and how much it means to us. [JP begins to strum his guitar and play] So we got to talking about the roots of the music. We love the new stuff, but we hope that the roots of the genre are never forgotten. And that led us to start talking about the Grand Ole Opry. In the midst of that, we started thinking, what if the Grand Ole Opry was a person just sitting in a rocking chair telling you about his/her life? What would he/she say? This is what we came out with, and I was fortunate enough actually (this was another dream come true) to sing this on the Grand Ole Opry last year.

[There is no way to replicate this performance in writing, so those wishing to hear the song should go to https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2018_convention_highlights/

Another dream has come true recently. There are three things you always pray for when you land in Nashville: that you get a publishing deal, you get to sing on the Grand Ole Opry, and you hear a song that you’ve written or co-written on the radio. Well this song is number thirty-eight on the country charts right now. It was released by an artist named Jimmy Allen, it’s climbing the charts right now, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I got together with Jimmy and another buddy of ours, Josh London, and we wrote this song. Fortunately he went and recorded it. It’s called “Best Shot.” [He plays the song]

As I’m closing today, I’d like to leave you with a quote I heard recently that really spoke to me. That is, “Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.” [applause] So let’s all keep dancing. God bless you.

Accessible Cardtronics ATMs

by Valerie Yingling

From the Editor: Valerie Yingling is our legal program coordinator, and she has been at this job for six years. No one can come away from the national convention without remembering the extension 2440 since this dedicated and highly effective staff member solicits lots of input on a variety of topics. It is always a pleasure to talk with her, and it is also a pleasure to read what she writes. Here it is:

This past September, Cardtronics received certification confirming that its ATM fleet was in compliance with the strict accessibility standards of the 2014 settlement agreement between the National Federation of the Blind, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Cardtronics. This is a noteworthy milestone, and one that nearly concludes years of legal action and the NFB demanding that Cardtronics ATMs be fully accessible to the blind.

A Complex History

It was in 2005 that NFB and the Commonwealth first brought action against Cardtronics, and in 2007 Cardtronics entered into a class-action settlement, agreeing to make nearly 30,000 ATMs accessible to the blind via voice guidance. This was a landmark agreement and one that helped set the standard for ATM accessibility nationwide. Unfortunately, Cardtronics was unsuccessful in implementing the agreement terms, a subsequent court-approved remediation plan, and an extension of terms to March 15, 2012, that included the court providing a Shakespearean warning to Cardtronics to beware the Ides of March.

In August 2012, after further nonconformance, NFB and the Commonwealth requested court-supervised monitoring and enforcement. The court appointed a special master, and Cardtronics established a Center of Excellence to steer its accessibility efforts and provide industry-leading voice-guided user experience for Cardtronics-supported ATMs. At long last, these interventions proved successful. ATM voice-guidance scripts were developed with the assistance of NFB member and accessibility expert Ron Gardner, and Cardtronics installed the accessible software and scripts across its ATM fleet, numbering then close to 100,000 ATMs.

Many of you were instrumental in the NFB’s 2017-2018 Cardtronics ATM testing program. Members tested six hundred ATMs nationwide to assess that each included Braille instructions and labels, that voice guidance began when a customer inserted a headset into the headphone jack, that the user could complete a balance inquiry and cash withdrawal and receive a transaction summary via voice guidance, and other critical features. This was not an easy testing program, and its success relied on the commitment of over two hundred testers.

The test results weren’t perfect. Cardtronics took reports of inaccessibility seriously and investigated all failed tests. Missing Braille and inoperable machines were addressed swiftly. Substantiated issues were not related to the voice-guidance scripts themselves. One recurring problem involved testers’ inability to sufficiently hear the voice guidance. We identified that if testers were using Apple headphones, they would likely need to insert the headphones only halfway into the headphone jack for best sound quality.

Moving Forward

We are currently in Phase II of our settlement agreement with Cardtronics. Over the next seven quarters, Cardtronics is required to complete one full accessibility inspection cycle of its ATM fleet and provide quarterly reports to NFB and the Commonwealth.

Now that NFB has completed its ATM testing program and Cardtronics has received its certificate of conformance, there are specific troubleshooting and reporting actions that NFB members can take if they encounter an inaccessible ATM. We recommend the following for Cardtronics or otherwise-owned ATMs:

If you cannot hear the voice guidance, first remove and reinsert your headphones. Basic headphones will work best; headphones with microphones may not work. If you are using Apple headphones, they may need to be inserted only halfway for best sound quality.

If you experience difficulties with your PIN, card, or incorrect cash dispenses, you should contact your bank for resolution.

All other barriers can be directed to the ATM’s owner/servicer. All ATMs should have a number on them to call for mechanical difficulties, access, or suspicious activities. Unfortunately, the phone number might not be provided on the machine in Braille, and you may need to ask store personnel to identify the number.

Cardtronics ATM complaints can be directed to 800-786-9666; please keep in mind that not all ATMs are owned or serviced by Cardtronics.

As President Riccobono has stated, “We appreciate that the leadership team at Cardtronics recognizes that the blind deserve the same convenient access to cash and banking services that sighted people enjoy.” Indeed, full and equal access to financial information and resources is critical to our members living the lives they want. Accessible ATMs remain a matter of priority for the NFB. We are pleased that it is a priority for Cardtronics as well.

For additional information, or for copies of the settlement agreements and press releases, visit www.nfb.org/legal or contact Valerie Yingling, legal program coordinator, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2440.

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2019

by John Paré

About this time each year we provide you with details regarding annual adjustments in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. In 2019 approximately 67 million Americans will see a slight cost-of-living (COLA) increase (2.8 percent) in their benefit amounts. Thus, come January, monthly checks will be a few dollars higher.

The 2019 amounts appear below along with some concepts which are always good to know about the Social Security and Medicare programs if you want to understand your rights. The COLA adjustment (if any) is based upon the consumer price index (CPI-W), which measures the inflationary rate against the wages earned by the approximately 173 million workers across the nation over the previous four quarters starting with the third quarter of the previous year. Okay, here are the numbers.

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: If you have a job, you know that you do not bring home everything you earn. 7.65 percent of your pay, for example, is deducted to cover your contribution to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund and the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund. Specifically, 6.20 percent covers OASDI, and 1.45 percent is contributed to the HI Trust Fund. Additionally, your employer is required to match this 7.65 percent for a total of 15.30 percent.

For those who are self-employed, there is no “employer” to match the 7.65 percent. Thus, a self-employed individual pays the entire 15.30 percent of her income. These numbers will not change in 2018 whether an individual is employed or self-employed. As of January 2013, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes not including the above amounts.

Maximum Taxable Earnings

For the OASDI Trust Fund, there is a ceiling on taxable earnings, which was $128,400 per year in 2018 and will jump to $132,900 in 2019. Thus, for earnings above $132,900, there is no 6.20 percent deducted for OASDI. As for Medicare, there is no limit on taxable earnings for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
Quarters of Coverage

I always like to compare the OASDI Trust Fund to an insurance policy. You have to pay a premium to participate. Therefore, to qualify for Retirement, Survivors, or Disability Insurance benefits, an individual must pay a minimum amount of FICA taxes into the OASDI Trust Fund by earning a sufficient number of calendar quarters to become fully insured for Social Security benefits.

In 2018 credit for one quarter of coverage was awarded for any individual who earned at least $1,320 during the year, which means that an individual would have needed to earn at least $5,280 to be credited with four quarters of coverage. In 2019 the amount increases to $1,360 for one calendar quarter or $5,440 to earn four quarters of coverage for the year.

A maximum of four quarters can be awarded for any calendar year, and it makes no difference when the income is earned during that year. Basically, the taxes you pay into the OASDI and HI Trust Funds are your premiums to participate in the Social Security and Medicare programs.

The total number of quarters required to be eligible for benefits depends on the individual’s age. The older the individual, the more quarters are required. Furthermore, a higher average income during an individual’s lifetime means a higher Social Security or SSDI check when benefits start. Remember the above quoted numbers for quarters of coverage to become fully insured are only minimum amounts.

Trial Work Period (TWP)

This concept is often misunderstood. The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is based not upon the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries, but rather upon the national average wage index. In 2018 the amount required to use a TWP month was only $850, and this amount will increase to $880 in 2019.

If you are self-employed, you can also use a trial work month if you work more than eighty hours in your business, and this limitation will not change unless expressly adjusted.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The earnings limit for a blind beneficiary in 2018 was $1,970 per month and will rise to $2,040 in 2019. Remember this is not the TWP amount. This is to say that the TWP can be exhausted even if your income is well below $2,040 per month. See the above information about the TWP.

In 2019 a blind SSDI beneficiary who earns $2,041 or more in a month (before taxes but after subtracting unincurred business expenses for the self-employed, subsidized income for the employed, and impairment-related work expenses) will be deemed to have exceeded SGA and will likely no longer be eligible for benefits.

Social Security Benefit Amounts

In January of 2019 the average amount of SSDI benefits for a disabled worker is estimated to rise by about $34 to $1,234. Pursuant to the Social Security Act, a cost-of-living adjustment occurs automatically when there is an increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The CPI-W indicated an inflationary rate of 2.8 percent between the third quarter of 2017 and the third quarter of 2018. Thus, there is a corresponding COLA increase in 2019 and an increase in monthly benefit amounts.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The federal payment amount for individuals receiving SSI in 2018 was $750 and will increase to $771 in 2019, and the federal monthly payment amount of SSI received by couples will rise from $1,125 to $1,157.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

In 2018, the monthly amount was $1,820 and will increase to $1,870 in 2019. The annual amount was $7,350 and will be $7,550 in 2019. The asset limits under the SSI program will remain unchanged at $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per couple.


Signed on December 19, 2014, the ABLE Act will have a significant impact on resource limits associated with the SSI and Medicaid programs for those who were blind or disabled by the age of twenty-six. Traditionally, SSI beneficiaries have been required to adhere to strict resource limits: such as a maximum of $2,000 in the bank for an individual receiving SSI benefits. Under the ABLE Act, however, the amount on deposit in an ABLE Account can be much higher.

ABLE Account contributions must be designated specifically for purposes such as education, housing (with a cautionary warning to follow), employment training and support, assistive technology, health, prevention and wellness, financial management, legal fees, and funeral and burial expenses. The required implementing regulations are being enacted in most states. Check with your financial institution of choice for a status of ABLE Act regulations in a specific state.

As to the warning about ABLE Account contributions for housing, it is important to note that SSI beneficiaries may still face the traditional $2,000 resource limit for ABLE Account funds designated for housing. Thus, SSI beneficiaries should consider the many other purposes not subject to the traditional resource limits when making ABLE Account contributions. Because there are also tax advantages associated with ABLE accounts, both SSDI and SSI beneficiaries should consult a financial advisor about establishing an ABLE Account.


Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance amount is the hospital charge to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary’s coinsurance amount.

The Part A hospital inpatient deductible was $1,340 in 2018 and increases to $1,364 in 2019. The coinsurance charged for hospital services within a benefit period of no longer than sixty days will remain at $0, as it has for the past several years. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day, the daily coinsurance amount was $335 per day in 2018 and will rise slightly to $341 in 2019. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days that may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used, these reserve days are no longer available after any benefit period. The coinsurance amount paid during each reserve day used in 2018 was $670 and in 2019 will be $682.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days following a three-day in-hospital stay within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one hundredth day in a benefit period, the Part A daily coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility was $167.50 for 2018 and will rise just slightly to $170.50 in 2019.

Most Social Security beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for SSDI can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for at least ninety-three months after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2018 was $422 monthly and increases to $437 in 2019.

The annual deductible amount for Medicare Part B (medical insurance) in 2018 was $183 and will rise to $185 in 2019. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate for 2018 was $134 per month and will rise to $135.50 in 2019. For those receiving Social Security benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit check. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits due to work activity must directly pay the Part B premium quarterly—one payment every three months. Like the Part A premiums mentioned above, Part B is also available for at least ninety-three months following the trial work period, assuming an individual wishes to have it and, when not receiving SSDI, continues to make quarterly premium payments.

Programs That Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for assistance through four Medicare Savings Programs. We will discuss three of them here and leave the fourth one alone because (to qualify for it each year) you must already be on it, and you know who you are. Note: the amounts below may change in 2019. We begin with the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program (QMB) and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program (SLMB).

To qualify for the QMB program in 2018, an individual’s monthly income could not exceed $1,032, and a married couple’s monthly income could not exceed $1,392. To qualify for the SLMB program in 2018, an individual’s monthly income could not exceed $1,234, and a married couple’s monthly income could not exceed $1,666.

Both the QMB and SLMB programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. The rules vary from state to state, but the following can be said: As of 2018, resources (such as bank accounts or stocks) could not exceed $7,560 for one person or $11,340 per couple.

Under the QMB program, states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program’s income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program, states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium. Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.

The third program, known as the Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program, pays Part A premiums only and has resource limits of $4,000 for one person and $6,000 for a married couple. As to these programs, resources are generally things you own. However, not everything is counted. Examples of things that don’t count include the house you live in, one car, a burial plot (or $1,500 put aside for burial expenses), and furniture.

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay the following: Medicare’s hospital deductible amount, the daily coinsurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays; the Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) premium, the annual Part B deductible; and the coinsurance for services covered by Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to (these services include doctor services, outpatient therapy, and durable medical equipment). If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the monthly Part B premium, depending on your circumstances.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security’s toll-free number 800-772-1213.

Remember that only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program and also that the income and resource levels listed here are general guidelines, with some states choosing greater amounts. Therefore, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the Public Aid Office or the Public Assistance Office) to apply. For more information about either program, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its toll-free number 800-633-4227, or visit Medicare.gov.

Helen Keller No More in Texas

by Norma Crosby

From the Editor: Norma Crosby is the dynamic president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. Her long and distinguished career in helping blind people was most recently exemplified in her work after hurricane Harvey, and many will remember that she was recognized, along with husband Glenn, with the Jacobus tenBroek Award in 2017. In response to a proposal being considered by the state of Texas to remove Helen Keller from the curriculum, Norma and a number of people from her state and throughout the nation have expressed their concern. In response, the board has delayed its decision until November, and there is some reason to believe the proposal will be amended. Here is what Norma said in an email which contains her letter to the head of the Texas Board of Education:

Hello everyone. This morning I have sent a note to the chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education regarding the board’s recent decision to omit Helen Keller from the state’s required curriculum for elementary school students. I wanted to share it with you. If others wish to contact the agency, I will share the appropriate contact information here.

Donna Bahorich, Chairwoman
Texas State Board of Education
[email protected]

Here is the text of my letter.

Dear Chairwoman Bahorich:

I understand that the Texas SBOE is currently considering a final vote regarding the removal of Helen Keller from our state’s mandated curriculum. As the president of an organization that works to ensure that blind Texans can live the lives we want, I believe it is critical for both disabled children and those who do not have a disability to learn that blind and deaf-blind people have the capacity to participate actively in society and to make a difference in everyday life.

Helen Keller was such a person, and since disabled children have few role models to learn about in school, I believe it is critical that Helen Keller remain a part of what children are taught. In fact, I believe there is room to add other historically important figures who are blind to our curriculum.

For example, Kenneth Jernigan led the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the world for many years, and he was a critical thinker regarding blindness. He understood intuitively that it was necessary for blind people to learn the nonvisual skills necessary to compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers. He believed that with proper training and opportunity, blind people can work and be contributing members of society. I agree with his assessment, and I believe Helen Keller did as well.

We want blind and other disabled children to grow up with the attitude that they can and should work, own a home, raise children, and do all the other things their sighted peers do. We want sighted children to understand that blind people can do these things as well, and the inclusion of Helen Keller as a role model allows for a discussion of how blind and other disabled people can utilize the important skills necessary to accomplish our goals in life.

I urge you to consider what I have said here as you make a final decision regarding this matter, and I hope you will work with our organization to make sure the curriculum you adopt includes an opportunity for all children to learn about the important accomplishments of people with disabilities. I look forward to a respectful dialogue regarding this issue, and I welcome your response at your earliest convenience.


Norma Crosby, President
National Federation of the Blind of Texas

My History and My Desire to Serve

by Sheri Koch

From the Editor: one of the blessings of being involved in a growing and diverse organization is watching the change in leadership that occurs. Over the last few years we have had a record number of newly elected state presidents. They have a listserv that makes it easy for them to communicate, strategize, and get to know one another. Here is a recent post from that list that is particularly moving and instructive:

Hello NFB Family,

I see from watching the list that new affiliate presidents have been introducing themselves, so I will follow suit. I’m a wee bit late with this, having been elected back in September. I am a native West Virginian, and with the exception of a brief stint in western Florida, I’ve made my life here in the Mountain State. With a brief interruption for my senior year, I was educated at the West Virginia School for the Blind. I graduated from a large public high school in preparation for transitioning to college life. My undergraduate work was done in social work, and my master’s degree is in rehabilitation counseling. 

For almost thirty years I worked for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services in their blindness programs, starting as a teacher of adult blind, moving on to being a specialty rehabilitation counselor for the blind, and finally serving as a program specialist of blind services. Happily, I’ve been retired for almost six years.

My husband of thirty years and I live with our two lovely Feline-Americans here in the capitol city of Charleston. We spend time reading, keeping up with the news, traveling to far-away places such as Ireland, doing volunteer work with our local Lions Club, and of course, working for the National Federation of the Blind, an organization that I love dearly and which has changed my life.

Until age fifty I refused to put a cane in my hand. Somehow, and this is still a mystery to me, I thought it much cooler to bumble around in my world rather than taking on the perceived indignity of the long white cane. I continue to marvel to this day about my crazy perceptions and just how wrong I was. As part of my professional duties, I was asked to attend NCSAB [National Council of State Agencies for the Blind], IL-OB [Independent Living Older Blind], and NFB meetings. It was at these meetings that I met wonderful blind people who used the long white cane with confidence and dignity. It wasn’t long before I internalized the value and freedom of the cane. NFB changed my life, and I now live in my world with greater ease, confidence, and peace. 

Thank you NFB!!! I am forever grateful, and I will spend as many years that are left to me giving back to you! I eagerly await the time when I have the opportunity to meet each and every one of you.

Southwest Airlines Works Toward Inclusion for All

by Peggy Chong

From the Editor: Peggy Chong is probably best known for her series of articles that gained her the name, The Blind History Lady. Many of her beginning articles were first featured in these pages, and now she has a website which is https://theblindhistorylady.com.

In addition to all of the work she does on history, she also is very involved in her local chapter and state affiliate. In this article she tells us about the outreach her chapter has done to Southwest Airlines and the positive response it has received. Here is what she says:

The Braille Monitor for many years has printed articles regarding air travel and the blind. Most of them have expounded on our frustrations with the airlines and their staff. Last summer at our national convention we heard from Blane Workie from the office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (see the October Braille Monitor, https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm18/bm1809/bm180908.htm). She told us that things are changing for the better for passengers with disabilities.

Recently, the Albuquerque Chapter of the NFB of New Mexico hosted its annual White Cane Banquet as part of our Meet the Blind Month activities. Our speaker was Southwest Airlines Representative Dallas Thomas who spoke on the policies and practices of Southwest Airlines in regard to its blind customers. The presentation was received enthusiastically by the crowd. But there is much more to the story than just a speaker for our White Cane Banquet.

In early June of 2018, Curtis and I were rushing to catch our Southwest flight at the Albuquerque airport. We approached the service counter and got checked in. We said we could not work the kiosks as they were not accessible. The ticket agent told us that yes, they were accessible, but she was not sure how they worked. The three of us went to one of the new kiosks and found the headphone jack. Curtis plugged in his headphones and started to explore. Unfortunately, as we had already checked in, we did not want to mess up our reservation by experimenting. Besides, we had to get to our gate. Before leaving the ticketing area we asked if there was someone we could call when we got back, who could tell us more. She gave us a name and phone number, and we were off.

When we returned from our trip, I called the Southwest phone number and left a message that I would like to know more about the accessible kiosks and can we come and test one out. The message was passed on to John Johnston, ABQ Assistant Station Leader, Ground Operations. Mr. Johnston told me later that his first question to the staff member who gave him the message was, “Do we have one of those?” When his team member said that they did, but no one knows how it works, Mr. Johnston said that maybe they better figure out how it works!

Next, he gave me a call to talk about the kiosks. Not long after our first contact, I asked if he would like to address our White Cane Banquet in the fall and promote the new kiosks. He said he would get back to me about speaking and when our members can come out and test the kiosks. I thought this would be the end of our communication.

Nope, each Friday he called and gave me an update. Mr. Johnston took our request seriously and contacted the national Southwest Airlines headquarters in Texas to learn how the kiosks worked, if there were instructions on those things, and who would be the best speaker. Dallas Thomas was assigned to come to Albuquerque and present to our group.

Dallas Thomas did know about the accessibility initiatives of Southwest, but not the specifics. He too did not know exactly how the kiosks worked, but he would get back to me. I asked if we could get from him step-by-step instructions for operating the kiosks at the airport. He said he would get them to us when he had them.

Mr. Thomas participated in many meetings at the Department of Transportation on accessibility including the DOT’s Access Advisory Committee where he represented Southwest Airlines. At several of those meetings, he had a chance to discuss accessibility issues with our own Parnell Diggs to better understand what blind passengers experienced when traveling and what we wanted. Thomas said that Southwest wants to not just meet the standards set by the Department of Transportation, rather it wants to reach for a goal of total inclusion and take the necessary time to actively work toward that goal.

My reasons for asking for the step-by-step guide were of course to understand how the kiosks worked, but more importantly, to find out if Southwest understood how they worked. Did a blind person have input on the design of the kiosks? Had a blind person even test driven one of them before implementation? The next ten weeks proved to be most enlightening for me.

Dallas Thomas not only got me the step-by-step instructions, but he also made sure they worked. When Mr. Thomas went to get the instructions, there were none. When instructions were created and he got a copy, he went to the testing center where they put up three test kiosks and walked through the instructions himself. I bet he never spent so much time preparing for a speaking engagement before.

His presentation on October 20 before seventy-two registrants for our White Cane Banquet shed further light on why Dallas was willing to find out how the accessibility functions worked before our event. He told us that in testing the nonvisual access, the techies turn off the screen. When they test, they are truly using nonvisual access that you and I would use. What a concept! It is so simple and common sense, yet very few designers today think of doing such a simple and time-saving step before implementation.

Dallas explained that Southwest wants inclusion for all, no matter if one is a customer or employee. No matter if we are blind, deaf, or just an infrequent flyer. When Southwest began to replace outdated equipment and software, it knew it had a big job ahead. But Southwest wanted to do it right the first time and not add on to an old and outdated product. This meant that the kiosks that had to be accessible had to communicate with the reservations information that blind customer service reservations operators would use as well as the software for the rest of the company. Dallas said that they took longer than they had hoped, but, as they roll out each new component of their new systems, they have been coming on with very minor hiccups and with no or little disruption to operations and customer contacts. Dallas also told us that from this point on, all new kiosks at Southwest will be accessible and that all kiosks operated by Southwest will operate the same. We will not have to know if this model has this feature or not. Everything will be standard. He received much applause for these comments.

The in-flight entertainment component was also discussed. Many of us know that on Southwest there are no seatback entertainment options. But, did you know that Southwest has an accessible entertainment option? Yes, on the device of your choice—I used my iPhone, but you can use your android device as well. After turning on airplane mode, I went to settings, Wi-Fi, and looked for the Southwest network. Not being a big techie expert, it took a couple of tries to figure it out, but I did. The in-flight entertainment killed time, but I think I will still bring my Victor Reader Stream.

Dallas explained that it is much easier for every passenger to access entertainment on the device they are most familiar with rather than spending too much of your trip fighting with a new device. Designing a seatback system that would need to be updated (both hardware and software) each time new devices become popular could prove to be more expensive. The audience agreed with his comments. I guess many of us had experienced the frustration of trying to relax with in-flight entertainment options on an unfamiliar seatback device.

Another revealing comment on the philosophy of Southwest as a company came from Mr. Thomas during his presentation when he discussed a Southwest senior reservations manager who lost his vision a few years ago. Nothing in Mr. Thomas’s comments indicated that Southwest thought the man should retire early. On the contrary, he spoke about it as if it was natural that the blinded employee would have to make a few changes in how he carried out his duties and continue on with the company in the same position. As head of reservations, the now-blinded Southwest manager is in charge of the reservations call centers where several blind people are employed and using speech and Braille output equipment that is compatible with Southwest’s new software. Since the rollout of its new software, according to Mr. Thomas, more blind reservations agents have been hired by Southwest.

Although not everything is perfect, Southwest has been open and willing to talk to us about its kiosks and how they work, as well as open to suggestions. Members and guests attending the White Cane Banquet left with a warm feeling toward Southwest and an eagerness to try the new kiosks. Does that mean that we will never have a bad trip? Probably not, but at least many of us now feel that if it happens on Southwest, our troubles will not be a result of inaccessibility or indifference on the part of the company.

When Readers Are Good

by Ed Vaughan

From the Editor: Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan is professor emeritus at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He lives in California with his wife Joanne, but he still manages to write from time to time when he feels that an issue can benefit from his insight and observations. Here is what he has to say in the ongoing debate about the value of human readers and technology:

In the February 2018 Braille Monitor Sabre Ewing writes about the inadequacies of using human readers for accessible technology. From Ms. Ewing’s perspective when blind people use readers they create diminished access by “distorting cause and effect relationships in virtual environments.” Using readers also promotes “dependence and distortion throughout the data analysis process.” “Allowing a human reader to control software for a blind student will hinder that person’s learning… Equal access also means both blind and sighted students should have the same independence and ease of use. We must therefore demand that, when a school cannot reasonably switch to accessible software, it must provide alternative instructional materials to blind students that do not require the use of a human reader.”

Admittedly Ms. Ewing is focused on a fairly narrow range of blind people using screen reader technology. However, I am writing this to remind us all that there are many different reasons for accessing different material in various ways. For at least eighty years many blind people have pursued careers in higher education, which frequently involves working in research universities. This means a lighter teaching load to provide time for creating new knowledge that can be shared with others through peer-reviewed publications. To be competitive in this environment, a blind person must be efficient in finding ways to access many different sources of information.

For example, on several occasions I have conducted research in archival sources. There is almost no way this could be done without a reader. However with a well-trained, experienced reader, one can scan through much material without bogging down in unimportant details.

As another example I sometimes encounter an article citing twenty or more sources, listed in support of the author’s argument. At times I have wondered if the author was correctly using the many citations. In one case I reviewed seventeen articles in old and obscure printed journals and found that most of them had been misquoted and did not support the author’s argument. A well-trained reader can facilitate what might otherwise be in this instance a very lengthy process (Vaughan & Schroeder 2019).

In a research setting, speed is important. A good reader is more effective than five less able readers. This is the case in many fields such as history, political science, anthropology, and literature—to mention only a few. Any strategy that you find effective should be used until you find a better one.

Ms. Ewing mentions the cost of using readers. At my research university I could employ readers using research grants and other departmental resources such as work-study students. I also paid readers myself. Was this costly? My work probably cost no more than other colleagues who required various kinds of specialized equipment for their research. Also I have used volunteer readers for many decades.

For example, I have had the same volunteer for fourteen years. Not only is he good, but we have become good friends.

I am a great fan of various new technologies. My only concern is that, in our zeal to master one approach, we may overlook many different ways to live the life we want to live.

Advancing Opportunities for the World’s 253 Million Blind and Partially Sighted People

by Fredric Schroeder
August 15, 2018

From the Editor: Fredric Schroeder is a person who continues to astound me with the things he thinks and writes. When he speaks at one of our conventions, you can hear a pin drop. He always manages to incorporate interesting pieces from literature, science, or history and make it relevant to today’s experiences for people who are blind. He has long done this for the National Federation of the Blind, but now he is prominent on the world stage as the president of the World Blind Union. Here is an address he delivered on August 15, 2018:

The introduction to a 1902 translation of The Iliad contains the following words by Theodore Alois Buckley: “… we must set aside old notions and embrace fresh ones; and, as we learn, we must be daily unlearning something which it has cost us no small labor and anxiety to acquire.” (Theodore Alois Buckley, introduction to The Iliad of Homer, trans. Alexander Pope (New York: A. L. Burt, 1902)). These poignant words remind us that the struggle for progress is a struggle against our own human nature—the struggle to abandon the security and comfort of the familiar and step with hope and faith into the unknown. While nearly everything commonly believed about Homer has been drawn from his poems, little is truly known about him or even whether he existed at all.

Homer is assumed to have been blind, based on Demodokos, a blind poet found in The Odyssey. While blind poets were common in the ancient world, concluding that Homer was himself blind based on a reference to a blind poet in one of his works is at best tenuous. Yet, Homer remains an enduring testament to the ability of blind people to find a place in society—a testament to the ability of blind people, for all of recorded time, to work and contribute to the welfare of their communities, however difficult and limited the opportunities were then and however difficult and limited they remain nearly three millennia later.

Was Homer blind? Who knows? But what is known is that there were blind poets in Homer’s day, and the idea of a blind poet authoring one of the world’s most poignant and enduring works would not have been surprising in Homer’s time, and it is not surprising now. We know that blind people are a cross-section of society—some exceptional and others less so. Some ambitious while others not. Some are determined and others are timid. Yet opportunities then and opportunities now remain the exception for the blind, and that is why we have the World Blind Union.

The World Blind Union (WBU) advocates on behalf of the world’s estimated 253 million blind and partially sighted children and adults, but what do we advocate for? Blind people want what everyone wants: we want to live a productive life; we want to work and marry and raise a family. We want to live life in all its richness, with all its joys and opportunities, and we want to live with dignity. So, what stops us?

For the most part, opportunities for blind people are limited by low expectations, that is, by socially constructed barriers to full inclusion. For all of recorded time, blind people have been presumed to be helpless, in need of care. Nevertheless, blind people have shown over and over again that, given the chance, they can live productive, fulfilling lives.

Can blind children learn? Of course, but they need access to school books in Braille, and they need teachers who can teach them and who believe in their ability. Most of all, blind children need society to put aside its preconceptions and recognize that the age-old beliefs about blind people are false and must be replaced.

In the area of education, the WBU led the effort to establish an international treaty that would allow books and other materials produced in special formats for the blind to be shared between and among participating countries. The treaty, known as the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/marrakesh/), has now been ratified by forty countries, greatly expanding the availability of accessible materials for blind people living in those countries.

In our modern age, it is anticipated that the majority of accessible materials will be shared electronically. Accordingly, the WBU led an effort to develop a powerful new technology that makes Braille compact, portable, and affordable. At one time books for the blind were limited to specially-produced Braille and large print and later, audio recordings. Today, more and more materials are downloaded electronically and are read by means of what is known as refreshable Braille. Refreshable Braille devices display Braille characters with pins that rise and fall, but until recently, refreshable Braille devices were prohibitively expensive—typically over $5,000. In response, the WBU led an effort to develop the Orbit Reader, a refreshable Braille device costing under $500, one tenth the cost of previous devices.

Can blind adults work? Of course, but they need access to training and special technology that enables them to read computer screens and perform other work-related tasks. Most of all, blind adults need society to put aside its preconceptions and recognize that the age-old beliefs about blind people are false and must be replaced. 

In the area of employment, the WBU helped develop and is now advocating the ratification of an international treaty, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that calls on countries to adopt a wide range of civil rights protections banning discrimination against blind people in employment. In addition to advocating for legal protections, the WBU has developed online resources (Project Aspiro) that provide information about the types of work blind people are doing and the training and tools that make high quality employment possible.

Can blind people travel safely and independently? Of course, but they face barriers brought about by changes to the environment that were made without considering the impact on blind people. Most of all, blind people need society to put aside its preconceptions and recognize that the age-old beliefs about blind people are false and must be replaced. 

For example, new electric and hybrid cars are increasingly common. Cars traveling on electric power are essentially silent, meaning they present a danger to pedestrians, especially blind pedestrians who rely on sound to judge when it is safe to cross a road. As a result, the WBU is working with the UN to develop a worldwide standard that would require manufacturers to equip electric and hybrid cars with a sound device that will alert pedestrians, including blind pedestrians, to the presence of very quiet cars.

Whether it is education, employment, or community life, blind people have the ability to live as do others. Sometimes what is needed is new technology or special training, but what is always needed is an understanding that blind people can participate in the full range of activities others enjoy. In Buckley’s introductory words to The Iliad, “To be content with what we at present know, is, for the most part, to shut our ears against conviction; since, from the very gradual character of our education, we must continually forget, and emancipate ourselves from, knowledge previously acquired.” (Theodore Alois Buckley, introduction to The Iliad of Homer, trans. Alexander Pope (New York: A. L. Burt, 1902)). Blindness need not isolate blind people, but low expectations can and often do.

We ask only the opportunity, the fair opportunity, to live as you live; to learn and to work; to dream and plan; to hope and aspire; to live normal lives free from the assumptions of the past. Said another way, we ask your understanding; we ask your friendship. For, as Homer, in his epic poem The Odyssey, reminds us, “…a friend with an understanding heart is worth no less than a brother.” (Homer. The Odyssey of Homer (VIII. 585–586), trans. George Herbert Palmer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1894)).

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—Review and Congratulations!

by Amy Mason

From the Editor: It is fitting in this end-of-year issue that we close the first session of our class about using the internet with various screen readers and web browsers. Amy Mason has put a lot of work into this class, and this will wrap things up until next year. Amy now works at San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind, but she promises to keep on writing and teaching in these pages. Here is her summary of what all of us have learned so far:

Hey Class, I should have gotten this message to you before the summer break, but you did it. You have completed the first module of Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway.

Congratulations are in order. You have already learned the fundamentals of web-browsing and gotten your hands on many of the tools you are going to need to explore on your own. So today’s class is a celebration of where we have been, what we have learned, and what we are looking forward to in the coming months.

Where We Have Been

I want to focus on this first, because I believe firmly in the saying, “practice makes perfect.” I also believe that practice is a lot less painful if we have our resources and tools at our elbow where we can reference them again in case we need a booster in either confidence or command structure. I know I can’t keep all this nonsense in my head. I can’t think of a single day I use a computer that I don’t reference a keyboard help document at least once. Therefore, we’ll use this as a guide to where you can find further information in the rest of the series. Especially relevant links from each piece will also be noted in a resources section at the end of this article so that you can get at them easily.

It’s been a wild ride so far. Our first lesson together “The New and Improved Rules of the Road” in the January 2018 Braille Monitor was our foundational lesson. In it we discussed a brief history of the internet and our access to it. We also looked at common terms we were going to learn about in future articles and the true meaning of accessibility. We also learned that we have the power to help ourselves increase the odds that we will be able to use the web simply by learning to be flexible in the tools we employ and the strategies we use.

In February we began discussing some of those tools, “Browsers—Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey.” We compared and contrasted the strengths and weaknesses of different options and discussed which would work best for different users depending on the combination of screen reader and operating system they were using. This article may or may not have included a sing-a-long.

I believe that it is important to note that there is an update that should be made to the information found in the browser article. In the original piece, I mentioned that there had been a change to how Firefox was rendering information it passed to a screen reader, and at the time I recommended that most users should stick with the Extended Release version of the software. As of the time of this writing, many, many months later, that advice has changed. Of course, it couldn’t be a change to make things simpler; it had to get more complicated (sigh). So here’s the story with Firefox: If you are using JAWS 2018 and updated in June or later, you should now use the standard version of Firefox. (Sadly, this is going to require you to uninstall the Extended version.) If you are using NVDA 18.1 or newer, you can also try the new version of Firefox, though it may or may not work quite as well as the most recent versions of JAWS. If you are running an older version of either screen reader, switch to Chrome as your primary browser until further notice. The changes in Firefox are fundamental and require major upgrade work for the screen readers, so older versions will not be supported on the recent release. Unfortunately, the Extended version is also now updating into problematic territory for older screen readers, so we really are stuck in this upgrade or leave scenario. It’s a pity, but there is little we can do about it. Unfortunately, sometimes we get a lemon of a car, and we can only put so much work in before we have to move on. Although Firefox itself isn’t a lemon, it is wholly incompatible with older screen readers, so those combinations become lemon-like very quickly.

Long story short—if Firefox has stopped working for you, switch to Chrome for now. You will be much happier.

Our third article, “Screen Readers: The Interface Between Us and the Road,” published in the April Braille Monitor compares and contrasts the major desktop screen readers and provides a wealth of information on their quirks, foibles, and further learning resources. Nothing new and notable to report here, so we will let the original article speak for itself, and you can peruse the resources below if you want to be reminded of any of the items that were linked in the original.

In May we finally got our motors running and headed on the highway. In “Hitting the Road, and Finding Your Way” we discussed the basics of finding your way around the web by typing the web address of the site you want to visit, using a search engine, or browsing from one link to the next. We also covered the basic reading and navigating of web pages. We discussed the ability to move by element (heading, link, graphic, etc.), the art of skimming, reading it all, and using the Find command. In this article I encouraged you to start exploring sites that are primarily geared toward reading and gathering information as an opportunity to practice these different techniques and to decide which works best for you. It was a lovely day for a drive, and from what I have heard, some of you are still out there exploring. I’m thrilled to hear it and just want to caution you to stop for gas, food, and rest at least once in a while.

The fifth article in the series, and the final one offered in the first semester of class is “Basic Interactions: The Fast Lane to Getting Stuff Done on the Web” which you can read in the June 2018 Braille Monitor. In this lesson we discussed all the exciting elements that allow you to do things and enter information on webpages. We covered forms, tables, buttons, checkboxes, and radio buttons. We made a literal trip to the Expedia website to practice booking flights, and a metaphorical trip to both a hotel and the mall. Finally, at the end of our whirlwind tour, I offered you a few more websites that we can expect to work in mostly predictable ways so you could keep practicing.

What Now?

Now, keep practicing. Keep pushing yourself, and keep exploring. You have your license, and in a very real way that is enough to get started. Everything we discussed in the past is still true. You will still encounter problems, but the more you practice, the more you will find your own ways around them and the more confident you will be when you sign up for the second semester of Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway. You still have all of the class notes from the first semester at your disposal, so take the time to review anything that you aren’t quite comfortable with yet, and keep spreading your wings. Help each other along with homework and extracurricular activities. You’ll be back in the classroom sooner than you think.

Sneak Preview

Second Verse, Same as the First, a Little Bit Louder, and a Little Bit Worse

In the upcoming semester, we are going to cover more advanced web-browsing topics. These will include:

Detours and Mechanics 101: We are going to discuss what you might do when the highway doesn’t quite provide you with the smooth and enjoyable ride you expect. Common strategies for working around inaccessible components and some of the most common errors in web design that cause blind drivers the biggest headaches will be discussed.

Defensive Driving—Protecting Your Car and Yourself: This lesson will cover some of the scummier and scammier things you’ll find on the internet and give you some good general strategies for protecting your computer, your personal data, and yourself from the car-jacking hooligans you may encounter while browsing.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone (or at Least Really Annoying), Take This!: Remember how we talked about the ways you can customize your browser? Good. In this article we are going to discuss some browser extensions you might wish to employ, their advantages, disadvantages, and how you can install them if you so desire.

A Day at the Carnival—Everyone Deserves a Treat Now and Again: My co-instructor Karen Anderson and I are going to take you out to enjoy a day at the social media carnival. Learn about the short but intense Twitter-Go-Round, or perhaps you are more interested in the Facebook Funhouse. If you prefer, we can also take a tour of the contests and educational content on offer in LinkedIn Pavillion.

(Please Note—your professor is a member of the internet generation. All class names, structure, and order are subject to change without notice. We will cover the above topics, but as you may have caught from reviewing the first semester’s material, this series has morphed a number of times from the humble single article it was intended to be more than a year ago, and I cannot promise that the syllabus for next semester is going to resemble the above list in any meaningful way except that we are going to continue talking about web-browsing as a screen reader user using questionable humor and lots of car and driving metaphors.)

*Pomp and Circumstance begins to play. Students throw mortar boards in the air. Suddenly, the music changes, and we climb in our cars and rev our engines with Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” blaring in the background.*

Class Dismissed! See you next semester!


Abandon hope all ye who enter here in the audio edition of the publication. Also, to the narrator, I am truly sorry. This section contains a lot of links in order to keep them together for ease of reference, and sadly, that is probably not going to be particularly enjoyable for the folks who are reading or narrating the human-read edition of the Braille Monitor.

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—The New and Improved Rules of the Road
Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm18/bm1801/bm180109.htm

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway Browsers—Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey
Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm18/bm1802/bm180205.htm 
Download the latest Firefox: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/ 
Download the latest Chrome: https://www.google.com/chrome/

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—Screen Readers: The Interface between Us and the Road
Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm18/bm1804/bm180416.htm
Chrome Vox Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr36/3/fr360308.htm
WebAIM Screen Reader User Survey: https://webaim.org/projects/screenreadersurvey7/
JAWS developer: www.freedomscientific.com
Surf’s UP! Surfing the Web with JAWS and MAGic: 

NVDA developer: www.nvaccess.org
NVDA Audio Tutorials: http://accessibilitycentral.net/nvda%20audio%20tutorials.html
NVAcess Official Help Site: https://nvaccess.org/get-help/
AppleVis: www.applevis.com.

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway: Basic Navigation—Hitting the Road, and Finding Your Way
Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm18/bm1805/bm180512.htm
Google Search Engine: www.google.com
Bing Search Engine: www.Bing.com
National Federation of the Blind Homepage: https://archive.nfb.org
Wikipedia, The World’s Online Encyclopedia: www.wikipedia.org
NFB-NEWSLINE Online: www.nfbnewslineonline.org.
YouTube: www.youtube.com
YouDescribe: www.youdescribe.org
Target: www.target.com
Expedia: www.expedia.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com 
Twitter: www.twitter.com
“42+ Text-Editing Keyboard Shortcuts That Work Almost Anywhere-” How-To Geek: https://www.howtogeek.com/ 115664/42-text-editing-keyboard-shortcuts-that-work-almost-everywhere/

Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway–Basic Interactions: The Fast Lane to Getting Stuff Done on the Web
Article: https://archive.nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm18/bm1806/bm180609.htm 
Bookshare: www.bookshare.org
NLS Bard: https://nlsbard.loc.gov/login//NLS–
Free White Cane Form: https://archive.nfb.org/free-cane-program

Mark Noble Dies

by Daniel Frye

From the Editor: Mark Noble was the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma from 1983 to 1985. I remember him as a fun-loving and humorous fellow but with a very warm and serious side. I also remember that he assumed affiliate leadership when Oklahoma really needed him, and the fact that we have a thriving affiliate there is in no small part due to his work.

Here are the memories of a dear friend who is no stranger to these pages. Thank you to Dan for these remembrances:

A world without Mark Noble feels impossible and absurd today. Our dear friend, partner, mentor, colleague, and activist is no longer among us, and we’re all keenly aware of the void created by his absence. It will be our obligation to comfort and care for one another as we remember, mourn, and celebrate the fact that Mark Noble made an impression on all of us and the world.

When I was ten years old, living in Georgetown, Texas, my mother was killed in an automobile accident. Through networks and contacts that remain vague to me, Mark was found while working on his graduate studies in social work, and he agreed to act as my “big brother.” Both of us blind, and Mark with newly acquired counseling skills, my father and others rightly concluded that Mark could intervene and play a part in my life that would make the transition for our entire family easier to handle. As a result of his generous gesture of time and talent, I managed to navigate the grieving process, come to understand my potential as a blind person, and more effectively integrate into the world. This initial mentorship developed into the foundation for a flourishing friendship that has spanned our lifetime.

Mostly, Mark would simply visit our family home, and we’d talk about school, what I wanted to become as I grew up, and how I felt about living without my mother. Mark managed to offer comfort and care without overtly seeming to do anything other than being an older influence.

In these early years, I took my first Greyhound visit alone from Georgetown to Austin, confident that I’d be fine because Mark would be at the station to meet me. But this brief journey was what gave me the understanding that I could travel alone. While he lived in Oklahoma, he invited me to visit him for a week or so in the summer, and he treated me to a week of humor and hospitality.

As I matured and prepared to enter law school after college, we found ourselves sharing a more adult relationship in the same city, Seattle. As adults, I was then able to reciprocate and offer to Mark guidance and counsel in his life. We shared evenings discussing politics, history, and public policy. We worked together in the civil rights movement of the blind as members and leaders alike in the National Federation of the Blind. In time, we became colleagues for a while at the Social Security Administration.

When I was lonely, Mark was there; when he needed an ear, mine was open. In the absence of biological family on my part, Mark became my beloved and valued older brother, and I hope that I was able to offer him similar solace once I reached maturity.

In addition to our consequential relationship, Mark was a man of animated principle. He participated in local, state, and national civic life. He contributed as a leader to the deliberations of the National Federation of the Blind, serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma and as a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. His efforts, generally and on behalf of the blind community, resulted in true reform.

Mark was loyal—to his spouses, his son, his friends, and his family. Mark was funny, witty, and generally optimistic. Mark was a voracious reader. Mark was a man who drew comfort and wisdom from his Jewish faith. Mark lit up a room with his potent personality. Mark was an astute follower of the news and the events of the world; he did what he was able to do to make his part of the world a better place. Mark loved and encouraged us all.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Mark always told me to “send money.” Here’s my metaphorical checkbook, my friend. I am but one person in the world to whom you gave yourself, and I’m so incredibly grateful and fortunate to have known and loved you.

Mark, as you know, I’m a Unitarian, and I don’t really know what happens after we die. But here’s hoping that you’re happy, healthy, and surrounded by all the things in life that brought you comfort and joy. And if you simply cease to exist, know that you made a dynamic difference for me, your friends, family, and the world.

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund

by Allen Harris

From the Editor: Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2019 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:

The body of your letter should answer these questions:

How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.

When will I be notified that I am a winner?

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

How will I receive my convention scholarship?

At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

What if I have more questions? For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at [email protected] or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at 410-659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Las Vegas.


Recipes this month came from the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan.

Dill Pickle Soup

by Paulette Powell

Paulette Powell is the wife of NFB of Michigan President Michael Powell.

5-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium)
1-3/4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut in medium cubes
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup shredded dill pickles (Vlasic Kosher Dills work great)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one whole stick)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup water
2 cups dill pickle juice*
1-1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh dill weed

Method: In large pot, combine broth, potatoes, carrots and butter. Bring to boil and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add pickles and continue to boil. In medium bowl, stir together flour, sour cream and one cup of broth, use a mixer and mix until completely smooth.  Vigorously whisk sour cream mixture (one cup at a time) into soup. (This will also break up some of your potatoes which is okay. You might see some initial little balls of flour form, but between the whisking and boiling all will disappear. Don’t panic.)

Add pickle juice, Old Bay, salt (*see below) pepper and cayenne. Cook five more minutes and remove from heat. Serve immediately

*All pickle juice is not created equal. Some are saltier than others. Taste the soup after adding the pickle juice and add salt then. Enjoy.

Pulled Pork, Chicken, or Beef

by Paulette Powell

1 2-pound pork loin roast (cut the string off), or
2 double boneless chicken breasts (3 pounds), or
1 2-pound beef roast, any kind
1 medium white onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 small can of diced green chilies (how much heat is up to you)
Chef Paul Prudhomme MAGIC Barbecue Seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Your favorite BBQ Sauce (optional)

Method: Coat meat with barbeque seasoning and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put meat in bottom of Crock-Pot, set on low. Cover with chopped onion, garlic and green chilies. Do not add any liquid. Cook in Crock-Pot for eight hours on low, do not peek. After eight hours, take meat out of pot, place on cookie sheet, pull meat apart with two forks, drain liquid from pot into strainer (discard liquid), return onions and chilies to pot. Mix meat and everything together with your favorite BBQ sauce. Use your favorite bread or buns, or this is also good in a soft corn tortilla. Top with your favorite coleslaw, optional. Enjoy!

Texas Caviar

by Paulette Powell

Dressing Ingredients: 
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or canola)
1 cup sugar
1 can pinto beans and/or black beans
1 can black eyed peas
1 can white corn (can use a can of mixed yellow and white corn)
1 cup celery, chopped
1 small jar pimentos (will find where condiments are)
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped.

Method: Bring salt, pepper, water, vinegar, oil, and sugar to a boil, then let cool. Drain (I also rinse) the beans and mix with rest of solid ingredients. Pour cooled dressing over the veggies. Marinate for twenty-four hours. Put into serving bowl using a slotted spoon to drain off extra dressing. Serve with Frito Scoops. The recipe says to make it up twenty-four hours in advance. This recipe makes a lot, so be prepared for leftovers.

Quinoa Lasagna

by Sabrina Simmons

Sabrina Simmons is a mother of one and an assistive technology trainer. Currently she is serving as the Detroit Chapter president and as a member of the state board of the NFB of Michigan affiliate.

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa (pronounced keen wah)
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce or prepared pasta sauce
2 cups no-salt-added, low-fat cottage cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups sliced zucchini squash
2 cups fresh spinach with stems removed or use baby spinach
1-1/2 cups part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a nine-by-thirteen-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine quinoa and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer, cover and cook for fifteen minutes or until quinoa is tender. Fluff with a fork and place quinoa in the bottom of prepared pan or dish. In a saucepan over medium heat cook onion, garlic, and mushrooms until tender. Add garlic and sauce and mix until well blended. In separate bowl, mix cottage cheese, egg, parmesan cheese, oregano and basil. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the quinoa. Then layer with all of the zucchini. Add a layer of all the cottage cheese mixture. Add half of the remaining sauce. Add all the spinach. Finish with remaining sauce and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the top. Note: if there is not enough sauce, omit the second layer and use it on the top layer. Bake until hot and cheese is bubbling and slightly brown around the edges, this should take thirty-five to forty-minutes. Let stand ten minutes before serving.

Sour Cream Pound Cake

by Sabrina Simmons

3 cups of cake flour
3 cups of sugar
3 sticks of butter
5 large eggs
3/4 cup of sour cream
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

Method: Combine sugar and butter in a bowl until mixed well. Mix in the sour cream. Add one cup of flour sifted with baking powder and salt. Add the last two cups of flour alternating with the eggs until mixed well.

Grease a ten-cup Bundt cake pan. Pour batter into pan. This is a cold oven cake, do not preheat the oven. Place pan into the cold oven, bake at 350 degrees for one hour and twenty minutes. Stick a knife in the center of the cake to make sure it is done. Let cool in pan for fifteen minutes and serve as desired.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

The following officers and board members were elected at the annual Treasure State Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Montana on September 22, 2018: president, Jim Marks; first vice president, Joy Breslauer; second vice president, Sheila Leigland; secretary, Robert Jaquiss; treasurer, Ted Robbins; board members Jeff Haworth and Jim Aldrich.
The following officers were elected at the October meeting of the National Federation of the Blind of Montana Electric City Chapter (in Great Falls): president, Sheila Leigland; first vice president, Bruce Breslauer; and secretary-treasurer, Joy Breslauer.

The following people were elected to two-year terms at our recent convention of the NFB of Washington: president, Marci Carpenter; first vice president, Kris Colcock; second vice president, Doug Trimble; secretary, Ben Prows; treasurer, Corey Grandstaff; board position one, Mike Forzano; board position two, Buna Dahal. Congratulations to all of those elected to advance our work together.

Walmart Sued by Blind Maryland Residents over Self-Service Checkout Kiosks
National Federation of the Blind and Its Maryland Affiliate Also Plaintiffs

When Cynthia Morales and her boyfriend Linwood Boyd, who are both blind, made a routine trip to a Walmart in Owings Mills in late July of 2017, they didn’t expect to have to get the police involved.

But that was the result of a chain of events that began with Ms. Morales trying to use one of the self-service checkout kiosks that Walmart makes available to shoppers as an alternative to waiting in line for a cashier. Although the kiosks do issue some spoken prompts, those prompts don’t provide enough information for a blind person to use the machines independently. Ultimately, Ms. Morales asked for help from a Walmart employee, who completed the checkout transaction but also, unbeknownst to Ms. Morales and Mr. Boyd, requested forty dollars in cash back, which the employee pocketed. Because no audio prompt gave Ms. Morales the total of her transaction, she didn’t realize anything was wrong until the machine audibly prompted the user to take the money. Ms. Morales and Mr. Boyd then had a bystander outside the store read them the receipt; at that point, they realized they had been charged an additional forty dollars. The money was ultimately returned, but Ms. Morales and Mr. Boyd decided to do their regular shopping at a Walmart Supercenter in Randallstown from then on.

Now they, together with Melissa Sheeder—another blind Marylander; the National Federation of the Blind (NFB); and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFB-MD) are suing Walmart under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit asks the Maryland federal district court to order the giant retailer to make its self-service checkout kiosks fully accessible to blind shoppers.

Similar devices, such as ATMs, Amtrak ticket kiosks, and airline check-in kiosks, as well as some point-of-sale terminals like those in the back of many taxicabs, can be used independently by blind people. Usually voice prompts are spoken through headphones, and blind users respond with tactile keypads or accessible touch screens. The NFB has offered to work with Walmart to make its kiosks accessible, but Walmart has declined the offer.

“What happened to Cindy Morales is an extreme example of what can occur when companies like Walmart deploy inaccessible self-checkout or point-of-sale technology,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The real problem is that Walmart has decided to treat blind customers differently from sighted customers. Walmart’s refusal to deploy readily available technology to give blind shoppers the same choice sighted shoppers have—whether to check ourselves out or visit a cashier—makes us second-class customers. That is unlawful and unacceptable.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Eve L. Hill, Jessica P. Weber, and Chelsea J. Crawford of the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

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.

National Braille Press Touch of Genius Award Seeking Nominations:
The National Braille Press's Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation is now accepting entries! Please help us spread the word.

The Touch of Genius Prize was developed to inspire entrepreneurs, educators, or inventors to continue the promotion of Braille and tactile literacy for blind and deafblind people worldwide. This prize can be granted for innovative and accessible computer software, Android applications, iOS applications, or tactile hardware that promotes Braille and/or tactile literacy.  NBP encourages all applicants to think outside the box to what can be used to help improve the lives of blind people.

The winner of this prize will receive up to $20,000, which will help them to continue to innovate in the fields of technology and education for blind people. Frank Gibney and the Gibney Family Foundation helped fund and establish this award in 2007, inspiring people to go beyond what was thought possible.

The deadline to apply is January 11, 2019. Full application details and more information can be found at http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/technology/tog/tog_prize. All questions can be directed to mailto:[email protected].

Learn Your Favorite Musical Instrument Completely by Ear:
MusicForTheBlind.com has over 1,200 song lessons and over a dozen beginner courses for piano, guitar, banjo, bass, saxophone, and more! These lessons use no print, no video, and no Braille. These lessons are completely all-audio.

See all of the great music resources we have at www.MusicForTheBlind.com and sign up for our newsletter to receive coupons and discounts on our easy-to-use music lessons designed just for those with visual impairments.

Monitor Mart

The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.

For Sale:

We have a BrailleNote Apex 32-cell with the following features: original box; carrying case; power cord and charger; V9.5 of KeySoft loaded (latest available); optional software Nemeth Tutorial enabled; optional software Oxford Concise Dictionary and Thesaurus (US Edition) enabled; and recently serviced, tested and tuned by HumanWare. Asking $1,000, contact Sheryl Pickering at 830-743-7655.

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.