The Federationist In Connecticut
“The Blind Speaking for Themselves”
A publication of the
National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut
The real problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness is only a physical nuisance. The National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut is a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and works to improve the lives of blind people in Connecticut. By providing information and education to its members and the public, the NFB of
Connecticut is changing what it means to be blind.
Articles reproduced in The Federationist comply with public law 104-197, the Copyright Amendment of 1996. This law allows authorized entities to reproduce previously published, non-dramatic literary works in specialized formats for the exclusive use by blind or disabled people
Table of Contents
Gardening by Al Daniels
GOP Rejects Disability Rights Treaty
Goodbye, My Hero, by Chris Kuell
It's Not About What We See, It's About What We Do, by Melissa Carney
Mike Hanson’s Big Hike
Brailler Gets Digital Update
2013 Washington Seminar
My Kingdom for a Button, by Chris Kuell
Bob Lynch, by Betty & Bruce Woodward
Miscellany and Notes
Chapter Meeting Information
By Al Daniels
Does a garden sound like a pleasant place to commune with nature and also receive some pleasant organic food for your table? Do you think of exercise and body tone when you think of a garden? Or, do you think of a hot sunny place where you have to pull weeds and dig in the dirt? Well, it can be all of these things, but really it’s like many other things, what you make of it. I am looking at gardening from the perspective of a person who has been blind virtually all my life.
If you want to learn about gardening, you will find there are numerous ways of going about it. Most gardening requires some space, but you can do container gardening if your space is limited. Starting with plants such as tomato plants in a large pot can work for you. Tomato plants are usually large enough that you will not confuse them with weeds. Water is important. Too little and too much are common mistakes for novices and experienced gardeners alike. There are details such as how deep you plant the starter plants, fertilizer and sun requirements. And, of course, you must start them with both sun and water. Small plants are very delicate.
If a blind person has the dexterity to read Braille or do the intricate things such as sewing or knitting or any kind of cell phone, feeling a small plant and being sensitive to its condition should not be a problem. A wilted plant could be suffering from lack of water or too much sun. If the soil is dry to the touch it’s probably the latter. If the soil is soggy to the touch, back off on watering. Digging around a plant, while removing any weeds, gives a plant a nice place to grow.
Did I forget to say that plants also provide us with healthy air to breathe? There are things to learn about gardening that never cease. Remember God’s world is the perfect garden, so, when you are pulling out nasty weeds and putting them out to the curb for removal, God also made that weed and we just haven’t found the beauty in it yet. Ha ha ha! I say confidentially to you as a blind person there are mistakes a blind gardener can make that can be awfully disappointing.
Even if you can see, sometimes exercise is the best benefit of gardening. That is to say vegetables from the garden can be disappointing in both quantity and quality. One of the surprising things, though, is beginners luck. A beginner can be very pleasantly surprised sometimes. There are good years and bad years. At times one particular crop might flourish while another is a total flop. We all make mistakes and nobody has a perfect garden!
These principles can be applied to indoor house plants as well. As I said in the beginning, space is a requirement for plants. Progress is eating up the natural rain forest. There are miles and miles of some man made gardens and they seem to be getting bigger all the time with the advances in farm technology. Shouldn’t we as blind people be able to enjoy the benefits of gardening? It, like anything, requires practice and the gaining of experience. There are variables in tools and techniques that require learning. Sanitation is important and nothing feels better than getting cleaned up after gardening. I hope this encourages someone to take the plunge and plant something to grow. I must confess I am not much for flowers, and, I didn’t talk about the ramifications of planting from seed, good God. Happy gardening and good luck!
Dole Appears, but GOP rejects Disability Rights Treaty
Reprinted from the New York Times, Dec. 6, 2012
WASHINGTON — Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
Among their fears about the disabilities convention were that it would codify standards enumerated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child — and therefore United Nations bureaucrats would be empowered to make decisions about the needs of disabled children — and that it could trump
state laws concerning people with disabilities. Proponents of the bill said these concerns were unfounded.
The measure, which required two-thirds support for approval, failed on a vote of 61 to 38.
Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, his voice rising as senator after senator moved slowly into the chamber, rejected the concerns of Republicans and made a moral argument for approval of the treaty.
Mr. Dole, he said, had not come to the Senate floor “to advocate for the United Nations.”
“He is here because he wants to know that other countries will come to treat the disabled as we do,” he added.
Approval of the treaty, Mr. Kerry said, would demonstrate that “what we do here in the United States Senate matters.” He added, “Don’t let Senator Bob Dole down.”
A handful of Republican senators voted for the measure, notably Senator John McCain of Arizona, in opposition to the other Arizona Republican, Senator Jon Kyl. The others who supported it were Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas praised the treaty in a news release with Mr. McCain in May but voted against it. Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi voted yes at the beginning of the roll call vote and then switched his vote to no. Calls to the offices of Mr. Moran and Mr. Cochran were not returned.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said the measure would return to the Senate floor in the 113th Congress.
“It is a sad day when we cannot pass a treaty that simply brings the world up to the American standard for protecting people with disabilities because the Republican Party is in thrall to extremists and ideologues,” he said in a statement.
Goodbye, My Hero
By Chris Kuell
I have attended two funerals in my life where over a thousand people came to pay their respects. The first was that of my twenty-two year old nephew, David DiMeglio, who was on flight11 from Boston on September 11, 2001. His parents held a memorial service, and not only was the church full, but so was the parking lot. Most of these people didn’t know David, but were there to grieve for our country and the tragedy that befell us all that day.
The funeral service for Annie Orr of Danbury, Connecticut, last Saturday was different. The first Congregational Church was packed to the hilt, with the balcony and aisles completely full, but nearly all of those who came to pay their respects had been touched by Annie in some way. Rather than weeping and grieving, the church was full of the music Annie loved (Onward Christian Soldiers) and stories about what an incredible woman she was.
Annie Elizabeth Orr was born in Brooklyn in September, 1926. Her family moved to Queens a few years later, and that’s where Annie and her sisters grew up. In the summer of 1939, Annie and her twin sister Mary, who everyone called Beanie, went to Girl Scout camp in Bear Mountain Park. They were assigned a tent with a blind girl scout named June Rose from Jamaica, New York, and a lifelong friendship began.
“Annie and Beanie were just great,” June Rose Killian said. “They told me to ask if I needed any help, otherwise they just let me do things on my own.” The girls remained friends, and Annie gave June Rose a bicycle a few years later so they all could ride together.
After high school, Annie attended Columbia Presbyterian School of Nursing, graduating in 1949. She worked at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where she met Jack Orr, a medical student at Columbia. They married in 1953, and lived in Germany for 18 months while Jack served in the Army. When they came back to the states, they settled in Philadelphia, where Jack did a surgical residency at the University of Philadelphia and Annie worked as an Ob/Gyn nurse.
In 1960 the family moved to Danbury, where Annie would live the rest of her life. While raising the family of five children, Annie became involved in many charitable organizations at all levels, including Family and Children's Services and Girl Scouts. She also volunteered as a nurse, nurse practitioner, and clinic director for Planned Parenthood for many years and was a volunteer nurse for the Red Cross, participating in countless local blood drives and traveling to disaster affected areas such as Los Angeles following the Northridge earthquake, and Long Island, NY after the TWA flight 800 plane crash.
Among Annie's many other activities through the years were serving on the board of Danbury Youth Services, and volunteering at Amos House, a transitional shelter in Danbury. Annie also was an active member of the Women's Club of Danbury/New Fairfield, Church Women United, and Shelter of the Cross (Renewal House). A member of the First Congregational Church of Danbury for over fifty years, Annie assisted in caretaking of the building and enabling its use for both members and nonmembers of the church for baptisms, weddings, and funerals, and participated in many church-based charitable endeavors, including volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in Mexico, assistance for a hospital and orphanage in Haiti, providing school supplies to children in disaster-affected areas around the world, volunteering at the Dorothy Day soup kitchen, and establishing and running the overflow homeless shelter at the First Congregational Church, which she opened seven nights a week from November to April starting in 2003, continuing until one month before her death.
The National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut was established in 1971 with two chapters—Hartford and Danbury. Annie attended the 1972 state convention with June Rose and her husband Jimmy Killian, and naturally asked how she could help. June Rose put her in touch with Helen Brennan, the president of the Danbury Chapter, and for the next forty years Annie organized the annual summer picnic, holiday parties, picked up chapter members for meetings and drove them home again, served as treasurer, helped at state conventions, and attended at least half-a-dozen national conventions. I always remember running into her in Atlanta in 2004. At that time Annie was 78 years old, about four foot ten, and she was pushing Ben Snow, who must have weighed at least 200 pounds, around in a wheelchair.
Annie was widowed in 1992 when her husband Jack, former chief surgeon of Danbury Hospital, drowned during a sailing accident. Annie received several awards for her volunteering, including a Distinguished Persons of Connecticut award from the Governor in 2002, a citation from Senator Blumenthal in 2011, and a Mayor's proclamation from Mark Boughton last year.
"She was a saint," said Carrie Amos, director of operations for the Jericho Partnership, a coalition of Christian organizations that helps Danbury’s poor and homeless. "The least, the last, the forgotten -- those were the people she cared about."
Annie’s spirit was a constant source of inspiration in the city for nearly half a century. "She was a terrific woman," said Mayor Mark Boughton. "She goes straight through the heavenly gates. No stopping."
In early December, 2012, Annie told me she thought she might have Alzheimer’s disease. She was getting forgetful and had trouble doing math. She missed our holiday party so she could fly to Chicago to visit her sister, and went for more tests upon her return. It turned out that she had an aggressive form of brain cancer, and she died in her home on January 7, 2013.
Annie was a pillar of our community, a rock in the foundation of the Danbury Chapter of the NFB, and a personal friend. When she brought people home after chapter meetings, she always dropped me last. We’d sit in the driveway chatting about NFB business, her kids, politics, religion, the plight of the poor, and various medical issues. I remember once when my daughter came out and knocked on the window of Annie’s car. “You guys have been talking for two hours,” she said. “Is everything okay?”
The answer is yes, everything is okay. I’m still very sad, but at her funeral last Saturday, we celebrated the life of one incredible woman. Until we meet again, goodbye my friend. Goodbye, my hero.
It's Not About What We See, It's About What We Do
By Melissa Carney
In life, everyone has those agonizing moments when they are told that they cannot do something, that their goal is impossible. Sometimes, we believe that it is better for us just to give up. What we don't often consider is that there is another side for every decision. If we give up, we do not give ourselves the opportunity to conquer the challenges in our path. Challenges were made to be overcome. We try and fail over and over again, but the only true failure is when we stop trying. We can do anything we set our minds and hearts on, because believing is succeeding. My name is Melissa Carney, and this is the knowledge that I live by.
I am a 15-year-old sophomore from a small town in Connecticut. I attend a regular, typical high school. However, I am not your typical, average girl. I navigate the school hallways using a white cane. I feel the words in my school material using Braille rather than seeing them in print. I have four senses instead of five. I am completely blind.
At 18 months old, I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a severe form of cancer in the eyes. I was carefully treated, but the disease did not part without leaving an ugly reminder of its existence. I lost all of my sight in both eyes. It was devastating for the people in my life who had looked upon a small, innocent child not mere months before the tragedy. I was too young to make sense of the fact that my future was intangible, and that my life was forever changed. Many people would have assumed that my life was totally ruined, but not my parents and people that saw a bright future ahead of me, despite the latest detour.
At the age of 2, I began my adventures and endeavors within the community. When I lost my sight, it did not mean that I lost my chance to live life to its fullest. My battle with cancer did not delay my education or prevent me from beginning the stages of early life that every young child endures. I attended two years of pre-school, in which I began to learn the methods to which I would gain an education alongside my sighted peers. I learned Braille, a code of 6 raised dots arranged in hundreds of different combinations to represent print letters and symbols. I was then introduced to a white cane, which would help me navigate around the community for the rest of my life.
At first, everything was new to me, but I quickly adjusted. I attended my local elementary school, middle school, and now high school. I achieved excellent grades and thrived in school. However, I thrive even more outside of school. I never simply sit at home doing nothing when I am not in school. I never sit alone for days feeling sorry for myself. I never let the hardships I face because of my blindness cause me to give up the fight. I embrace the challenges that life throws at me. I am open to trying new things. My blindness is not a disability; it is just another challenge that encourages me to be stronger as a person.
When I became blind, my mom set her mind on finding activities that would make me happy and satisfied outside of my education in school. At first, she turned her attention to horseback riding, a sport that she had enjoyed as a teenager. My mom had previously owned a horse when she was in high school, and she always yearned for a daughter who would share her common equestrian interest. She introduced me to the magnificent world of horses at the age of 4, and she predicted that I would love the sport. She was completely and absolutely right.
I began riding horses at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, Inc., a spectacular riding facility for people with disabilities of all kinds. I found a true bond with horses, and thus a deep passion for horseback riding bloomed in my heart. In no time at all, it became one of my favorite recreations. I participated in my first horse show when I was 6 years old. As I progressed in my skills, my ribbon placement improved as well. Some of the biggest highlights were winning the championship ribbon at a 4 H show when I was 9, winning second place at my first dressage competition when I was 13, and perhaps one of the greatest honors of all: receiving the High Hopes Rider of the Year ward when I was 10. I never once told myself that I couldn't improve, that I wasn't good enough to compete against sighted people. I always put my best effort forward, whether I am on, or off, a horse's back.
Upon reading this, you may think that I take leisurely rides around an indoor ring. Well, that's how it started. But now, and for several years now, I have been completely independent. I "graduated" from High Hopes and no longer horseback ride there, but at another farm that gives lessons to more advanced riders. However, I did not leave High Hopes in heart. I helped the organization at fund-raisers by giving riding demonstrations that showcased exactly what I was capable of, despite the challenge of not being able to see. I sincerely enjoyed giving the demonstrations, because not only did I help pour in donations for High Hopes, but I also tried to inspire many other people with disabilities to pursue their dreams. I proved to them that no matter what tough obstacles they go to steer around, it is all worth it in the end in order to feel the victory of accomplishment.
I no longer ride in an indoor ring; I ride through the woods cross-country. I don't limit myself to the ground, because I have always loved to soar, literally! I have successfully flown over my goal for learning how to jump horses. I jump the same jumps as my sighted friends, listen to critiques on my skills, and I feel my confidence growing more and more each day. Currently, my biggest goal is to event, an equestrian sport that includes three different components: cross-country jumping, dressage, and stadium jumping. No one has told me that I cannot aim for this goal, and meet it. In fact, I am very close.
In a way, life itself can be compared to jumping horses. When you approach a jump, you cannot shy away from it. You have to face it straight on, focus on the task at hand, gather the reins firmly in your hands, make your preparations, and then leap cleanly over the jump. You have to face life straight on as well. Every jump is a new challenge that must be overcome. Every wrong movement is a mistake, but if you focus on your goals in life, you can make it over that jump. You can defeat your doubts and make the best of what you have. While we all have different degrees of sight, we should all be united under the same common thought: believing is succeeding. I have since gone on to be involved with countless other activities of interest, both in and outside of school. I have not limited myself to only horseback riding. I have a love for singing and music. I am a member of the select Madrigal choir, Women's choir, and after a successful audition, I have been admitted in to this year’s New England Music Festival as a soprano 1. I am also involved in sports such as downhill skiing and track and field. Life is not a one-way street; you decide where your dreams lie. Like I have, you must never say that you can't do something. Never let the fear of failing keep you from trying your best. There is more to life than just to live it.
Mike Hanson’s Big Hike:
How A Blind Man Used Technology To Conquer The Appalachian Trail
Reprinted from Slate.com
January 22, 2013
The Appalachian Trail spans more than 2,000 miles across 14 states, traversing woodlands and peaks from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is one of the world’s longest continuous footpaths, and each year thousands of individuals attempt to hike the entire thing.
For any thru-hiker, making the trek is an accomplishment (fewer than 25 percent successfully complete the journey). But that’s especially true if you’re blind. Which is why it’s so impressive that Minneapolis-based attorney Mike Hanson set out along the Appalachian Trail in the spring of 2010. Using only a GPS device and trekking poles, the visually impaired Hanson plotted and completed the majority of the Appalachian Trail without outside assistance, making an important point about the power of technology and the independence of those without sight.
Born in Madison, Wis., Hanson has been blind since birth. When he was born prematurely, doctors gave him a high concentration of oxygen, which damaged his retinas. Despite his impairment, Hanson is an avid outdoorsman. As a child, his father’s stories about pheasant hunting in rural South Dakota inspired him to seek out wilderness. Later on, Hanson became a president of Capable Partners, a program designed to help visually impaired individuals partake in hunting and fishing by providing them with seeing partners as aides.
These experiences motivated him to pursue a long-distance hike, and the AT seemed like a fitting goal. Many other visually impaired individuals have completed similar journeys—among them Bill Irwin, who hiked the AT with a guide dog—but few have employed GPS systems. Hanson firmly believes that technology has the potential to change the way that the visually impaired interact with the world, and he suspected that using GPS to complete a big-ticket hike would help him prove his point. For years, though, the technology was both too expensive and too limited in its capabilities, which meant Hanson had to put his plans on hold.
Finally, in 2006, he noticed an increasing “availability of GPS that you can use without sight.” Using his Nokia N82 cellphone, Hanson downloaded a Loadstone GPS system, which is a free, open-source application specifically designed to facilitate the mobility of blind and visually impaired persons. The Loadstone GPS system allows its users to search for points of interest in an area—such as grocery stores, schools, and office buildings—and store those sites along with labels for future use. With the addition of screen reader technology, the Loadstone program can then provide oral instructions, letting a user know when to turn and when a destination is nearby, all with the help of clock-face directions. This data can later be shared online with other users, leading to a crowd-sourced database of sites. Unlike, say, your iPhone’s navigation system, the Loadstone program does not have extensive existing data points; however, the Loadstone program allows visually impaired users to create their own personalized databases at a low cost.
For his hike of the Appalachian Trail, however, Hanson needed more detailed maps than crowd-sourcing could provide. Hanson gathered data from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and other sources and converted the information to the Loadstone GPS format on his phone. Hanson then used tools on the Loadstone website—such as a route planner function—to generate checkpoints along the trail. These locations—created by entering geographical coordinates into the route planner—included things like campsites, trailheads, and water sources. Most importantly, the Loadstone tools allowed Hanson to store oral instructions along with each point, which would be necessary on the trail.
Over the course of the next few years, Hanson continued to update his GPS device while pushing himself into top physical shape. In true sports montage fashion, Hanson did everything from hiking to lifting weights to walking on a stair climber with a backpack. In 2007, Hanson flew to Shenandoah National Park for a week and hiked part of the AT in order to test his Loadstone system. The majority of his data proved to be accurate, and each major point was within approximately 20 feet of the GPS estimation. The test run also showed Hanson that he would need a GPS receiver with longer battery life. Hanson replaced the receiver—moving from a six-hour battery to a 32-hour battery—and began to make final preparations for his hike.
On March 6, 2010, Hanson began his journey in Georgia, followed closely by Gary Steffens, a filmmaker who decided to document the trek. The two carried 40- to 50-pound backpacks filled with all of the necessary materials, including first aid kits, tents, maps, and food. For the majority of the trip, Hanson combined the use of his GPS with the employment of trekking poles. At each checkpoint, Hanson would listen to his GPS and gauge the distance and direction to the next site. Then, intermittently along the trail, Hanson could verify his position and maintain the correct orientation. While the GPS kept Hanson on track in a macro sense, his trekking poles alerted him to smaller details, such as obstacles and turns in the trail. Hanson’s sense of hearing allowed him to locate water, campgrounds, and other important sites that were not indicated on his maps.
Occasionally, dangerous weather and terrain proved challenging. Before Hanson even set foot on the trail, a late spring blizzard blanketed the AT with snow, making it difficult for Hanson to be sure he was on the right path. Later, on Blood Mountain in Georgia, Hanson explained, the men “faced heavy rain, strong winds, and slopes we had to slide down.”
Although these setbacks slowed his pace—and forced him to skip a few sections of the trail—Hanson remained steady and, in early October, he began hiking the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, the final hurdle of the AT thru-hike. With the help of two Maine residents he met that day, Rita and Bain Pollard, Hanson found good foot- and hand-holds along the Hunt Trail up Katahdin. On Oct. 2, 2010, Hanson and his companions reached the top, the pinnacle of seven months and 1,700 miles of hard work.
Reflecting upon the demanding trip, Hanson chooses to focus on its broad implications rather than its personal significance. Although Hanson has found success in a variety of roles—most recently as an attorney—he recognizes that many people are unaware of the tools and tactics that can allow blind people to accomplish a variety of tasks. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, 70 percent of legally blind individuals and 55 percent of visually impaired individuals are unemployed. Hanson wants to inspire these individuals to pursue grander goals, and he believes that “with the right technology, one can do quite a few things.”
Unfortunately, although a lot of good technology exists, Hanson explains that there is a “gap between what is available cost-effectively … and what potential employers know about.” Many employers are wary of hiring visually impaired individuals because they are unfamiliar with their condition and may be misinformed about the cost of the technologies required to address it. Even worse, many visually impaired individuals are themselves unaware of the newest technologies.
Hanson is determined to address these issues, and hopes that his hike can help demonstrate the possibilities. He has written a book, and is in the process of developing new GPS technology with his business partner, Harlan Jacobs. Through their company, Wayfinder Angels Corporation, the two are working to improve upon current products while also raising awareness about tech aids in general.
As he plans his next adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail, Hanson reminds us to never “give up on an idea because you don’t know how to make it happen right now. Give it time … and just keep paying attention to what is going on in terms of technology in the world around you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point you’ll figure out a way to make it happen.”
Braille typewriters get a digital-era update
Computer screen, text-to-speech feature on Perkins School’s system help the blind master a tool they may need to find a job.
Reprinted from The Boston Globe, Dec. 10, 2012
Like 6-year-olds around the world, Madison Logan is learning to read and write. Unlike most children, however, the Quincy girl has vision problems severe enough to make her legally blind. But that is not slowing her down.
“L, C, H, W,” Logan said as she read letters with the fingers of her right hand on a recent day.
She had just typed the letters herself, in Braille, the writing system that transforms text into raised dots on paper. Logan did it with a new kind of Braille typewriter that employs digital technology to help students and teachers master the tactile language.
Steven Rothstein, president of Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, said the typewriter, called a Smart Brailler, could lead to increased literacy and better lives for blind people worldwide.
“We believe it’s a transformative learning device,” he said.
The blind Frenchman Louis Braille invented his writing method in the 1820s, around the time the Perkins School was founded. The school began teaching Braille in the 1870s. Other schools for the blind followed suit. By the middle of the 20th century, about half of blind children got Braille instruction in such schools.
But in 1975, a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was passed to help integrate disabled students into mainstream public schools. As a result, fewer blind students got training tailored to their special needs. Often, their teachers did not know Braille.
Schools came to rely more on audio books and computer programs that can read digital documents out loud. As a result, a 2009 report from the National Federation of the Blind said fewer than 10 percent of American children with vision problems were being taught to read Braille.
In effect, that makes such students illiterate, and like sighted people who cannot read, their job prospects are bleak. The Federation report estimated 70 percent of blind Americans are unemployed, but of those with jobs, 80 percent can read Braille.
Since 1951, Perkins Products, a company based at the school that makes assistive products for blind people, has produced mechanical braillers. They are similar to old-fashioned typewriters, complete with a knob for rolling a sheet of paper into the machine. The nine keys are enough to write anything in Braille. The original Perkins brailler has barely changed in more than six decades; about 3,500 are sold each year.
But David Morgan, Perkins Products’ general manager, realized the old brailler needed a digital update.
He wanted to attach a small computer with a video screen to display the letter or word being typed and a text-to-speech feature that would pronounce it out loud.
The computer could also contain Braille tutorials that would allow students to practice on their own. An electronic voice would correct them when they made errors and recorded cheers would ring out when they got words right. The new device has all those features.
Components for the Smart Brailler, which sells for $1,995, are made at Perkins Products. Once a month, enough parts to build 1,200 of the devices are shipped to a factory in Chennai, India, for assembly, at a company that employs many blind workers.
Unlike laptops and other electronic devices that sell in the millions, the market for equipment to help blind people is relatively small, so prices tend to be high. Then again, the Smart Brailler’s closest competitor, the Mountbatten Learning System by the Canadian company Humanware, costs $2,750. Mountbatten is more expensive partly because it uses an electronic keyboard instead of the Smart Brailler’s old-school mechanical system.
Mary McCarthy, a teacher of the visually impaired, said she prefers the Smart Brailler to standard Braille typewriters for her young students. “I love it because it’s motivating to them,” she said. “They love hearing that auditory feedback.”
With its video display and speech features, the Smart Brailler could also be a useful tool for teachers and parents who are not Braille-literate. “It gives the teacher of the visually impaired, the sighted classroom teacher, the parent, a window into Braille,” said JoAnn Becker, a trainer and tech support specialist for Perkins Products.
Although the Smart Brailler is mainly aimed at children, its self-teaching tutorials may also appeal to people who became blind as adults, or to those who did not study Braille when young.
“Our hope is that the Smart Brailler demystifies some of the complexity,” Rothstein said, “and makes Braille cool.”
The 2013 Washington Seminar
Each February Federationists from across the country gather in Washington DC to let our elected officials know what’s on our minds, and to remind them we are a force they can’t ignore. This year was no different. The three major legislative issues discussed are outlined below.
One. The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act
This legislation phases out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows employers to pay disabled workers subminimum wages. By ending this exploitative, discriminatory practice, disabled Americans will receive equal protection under the law to earn at least the federal minimum wage and reach their full employment potential.
Two. The Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act Electronic instructional materials and related technology have replaced traditional methods of learning in postsecondary settings. Although it would be inexpensive to create e-books, courseware, applications, and other educational devices and materials in accessible formats, the overwhelming majority of these materials are inaccessible to disabled students. This bill calls for minimum accessibility standards for instructional materials, ending the “separate but equal” approach to learning.
Three. Equal Access to Air Travel for Service-Disabled Veterans (HR 164)
The Space Available Program allows active-duty military, Red Cross employees, and retired members of the armed services to travel on military aircraft if there is space available. HR 164 reverses the exclusion of 100 percent service-disabled veterans who were discharged before retirement and entitles them to the program’s privileges.
The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight; it is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. Given the proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance. Blind Americans need your help to achieve these goals and reach economic security and full integration into society. Supporting these measures will benefit more than just the blind, as promoting our economic welfare increases the tax base. We urge Congress to hear our demands for equality and support these legislative initiatives.
My Kingdom for a Button
By Chris Kuell
Last Christmas my wife and I decided to shuffle into the twenty-first century. We’ve never been cutting-edge people, and have always been slow to adopt new technology. We got our first CD player in 1997, about 15 years after everybody else jumped on the band wagon. We moved to DVDs during the final years of the Bush presidency, and still have some treasured VHS tapes stored in a closet. Now it was time to take the technology plunge yet again and get one of those newer, big flat screen televisions. We went to Best Buy, got an excellent education from one of their knowledgeable salespeople, and then went to Costco to buy a 45 incher for half the price Best Buy was selling it for.
After unhooking the old TV, cable box, stereo and speakers, my son and I hauled the 200 pound entertainment center out to the curb. Next, I manhandled the old, 150 pound television outside, taping a ‘STILL WORKS’ sign to it. In the meantime, my daughter, who apparently can read Chinese and has incredible engineering skills, built the new entertainment center I’d bought online the week before. The new television, which couldn’t have weighed twenty-five pounds, was placed center stage, and after some rewiring and finagling and cursing, we too could watch Ellen life size and in living color. Not me, of course. I’d be happy with a two inch screen, as long as it had a good sound system. But the big TV made my family happy, and my wife was downright giddy to watch Iron Chef on the big screen. And as a famous philosopher once said, “A happy wife means a happy life.”
The trouble came last Saturday, as I settled into my recliner with a cold beer and a jar of peanuts to watch the Patriots play the Texans. Although there are at least seven different remotes controlling our house, I know which one runs the cable box and which one works the television. Between the two essential remotes, I counted 472 buttons. My wife had showed me which was the power button, the channel up, channel down, volume up and volume down. As for the rest, I have absolutely no clue what any of them do. I took a sip of beer and turned on the cable box. Next, I turned on the TV. I knew it was on, because I could hear static getting louder and softer when I played with the volume buttons, but I didn’t appear to be on any show, and nothing happened when I pushed the channel up and down buttons. Hmmm. I turned everything off and started the process again, with no luck. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So I repeated the process a dozen or more times, all the while my blood pressure was rising. Next, I ventured into the twilight zone, hammering at random various combinations of the400 plus unknown buttons. Maybe a missile launched in Poland, maybe my neighbor’s microwave time changed, I can’t say. But the football game, or anything else for that matter, certainly wasn’t playing on my new television, that was for damn sure.
In the years since I went blind, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with buttons. Either there’s too many, or there aren’t any. At our state NFB convention last year, the hotel elevator must have had over 30 buttons, all in some random order. In the upper left corner, the Braille read 10. Below that, 7, 4, 2, then a star, then a B, then a double dash. What the hell is a double dash floor? And where was 6? Inevitably, before I found 6 another passenger would come onto the elevator, see the blind guy on his knees communing before the bank of buttons and ask slowly, as if talking to a mentally challenged deaf child, “Can I help you?”
On the other end of the spectrum is the dreaded touch-screen. Where there used to be nice, logical buttons, now there is a flat, smooth plane of nothingness. It started with microwaves, where some ace employee at the factory probably figured touch-screens looked “cooler” than all those pesky bumps. Then, after running it by the engineers, they managed to produce them cheaper as well. In time, all the blind friendly, easy to use microwaves went the way of the dinosaurs. But, we blind people are a crafty bunch. Someone (I can’t find who) invented a product called the loc-dot, which is a small sticker with a raised bump on it. These can be placed on a microwave touch-screen where all the numbers are and, viola! Now it’s blind friendly.
Yet, the plague of touch screens has continued to spread. First to dishwashers, then to stoves, washing machines, dryers and even some refrigerators. And loc-dots don’t always help here, because there are digital read-outs which can’t be made tactile. To work my parent’s stove, you push a touch screen until a digital read-out lets a sighted person know what temperature it’s set to. Me—I have no clue. My brother’s new stainless steel refrigerator has a touch screen panel on the front, which allows him to program the temp of the freezer, the vegetable bin, the beer shelf. Very cool stuff, which I can’t use.
In January 2001, Apple launched a new product which is still changing the world—the first iPod. Smaller than a deck of cards, the iPod allowed users to compress and store their music digitally, so without CDs or drives or any external hardware beyond painful ear buds, the user could store and listen to tens of thousands of their favorite songs. It had one button—the on/off switch. Everything else was controlled via a new, tiny, patented touch screen in the shape of a circle. While the world fell in love with their newer and smaller iPods, the blind were left listening to outdated Walkmans or those select portable CD players that still had buttons for operation.
In time, the folks at Apple hopped onto the accessibility bandwagon. Fourth generation iPods, as well as iPhones, came with speech output and a new technology called voice over, which does allow a blind person to use them. I have several friends who, after a month or two of aggrevation and frustration, now love their iPhones.
As for me, I think I’ll drag my feet for a while longer. I do listen to my music on an iPod shuffle—the only apple product with raised buttons and no screen. I still utilize an old cell phone I got in 2003. It has a numeric keypad, an on/off button, a send button, and that’s it. It’s simple, it’s tactile, and I love it.
As for the football game, I ended up listening the old fashioned way, tuning it in on the radio. When my son came home, he helped me figure out that while the power button on one remote turned the cable box on, when I turned the television on with the other remote, it turned the cable box off. There’s an old Irish expression that’s perfectly appropriate here, but my editors wouldn’t appreciate me dropping the F bomb.
Now that mystery is solved, I can independently watch television again. But what will happen when remotes someday become buttonless, or people control their technology completely via their touch screen phones? Our kitchen stove, an iron behemoth still controlled with knobs, has to be 70 years old. Rust has chewed it’s way through one corner, and I can only deflect my wife’s demands for a new one for so long. Same goes for our push-button dishwasher. Last week it made a horrible sparking sound, then smelled like burnt rubber bands while it chugged and churned. When old Bessie finally kicks the bucket, will I have to resort to washing dishes by hand?
I have little doubt that my pleas for a simple, button adorned world are useless. Progress, as somebody famous once said, marches on. I am comforted, at least a little, to know there’s one button that will never leave me. The first button we all experienced as babies. My treasured belly button.
By Bruce & Betty Woodward
Bob Lynch, a faithful and longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut, passed away on Friday, April 19, 2013. He lived in North Haven with his beloved wife Micki, their son Rob and daughter MaryAnn. Bob was elected president of the New Haven Chapter of the NFB of CT in the mid-1980s and he was very active in our Diabetic Division.
Bob was diabetic and was a trooper. He had many ups and downs throughout the years, including two kidney transplants over time. He never complained and always had a smile for us.
Bob had a wonderful spirit and a great sense of humor. He came up with nicknames for people he was fond of. For example, he referred to Betty as “Beamer” (Betty M. Woodward…get it?) AND Betty called him “Robbie Bobbie Boo” (after Dick Van Dyke’s nickname from his TV show). Whenever I talked to him, he would ask “How is the Chinese lady?” referring to our office executive secretary, Lucia Lee.
Back when ‘voting-by-phone’ became law, Bob, our state president Beth Rival and Nathanael Wales (then a Board Member) talked with state legislators to pass what is now our current law requiring that the ‘vote-by-phone system’ be up and running when the polls open at 6AM. Bob was one of our ‘squeaky wheels’ concerning voting independently.
We will miss Bob very much.
Miscellany and Notes
The popular job search website Monster.com will be the first job search and recruitment website in the industry to provide job seekers who are blind with full and equal access to all of its products and services including mobile applications, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Monster Worldwide, Inc. and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced recently.
The announcement is the result of an agreement with the AG’s Office and the NFB and provides meaningful benefit to individuals nationwide who are blind or visually impaired, including more than 35,000 residents in Massachusetts. As part of the agreement, Monster will contribute $50,000 to the Commonwealth that will be used to fund the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind’s (MCB) job internship program. Monster will also make a $50,000 contribution to the NFB and serve as the title sponsor of the NFB’s annual convention in 2013.
“Unemployment and underemployment in the blind community are significant problems and given the extent to which computers and the Internet have become integral to our daily lives, it is essential that websites are accessible to everyone,” AG Coakley said. “We are pleased to have worked with the NFB and Monster to make the company’s valuable products and services accessible and to provide better employment opportunities to job seekers who are blind, visually impaired or have other print disabilities. We are hopeful that with the ability to access written information in an audible text to speech format, these users will now have access to jobs, and better jobs, than ever before. We want technology to improve people’s lives, not create obstacles or barriers.”
To make its website and mobile applications accessible to job seekers who are blind, Monster is making them compatible with innovative technology called screen access software that renders on-screen information into Braille or speech so that blind individuals can use keyboard commands to access the same information as sighted users.
In accordance with the agreement, Monster is in the process of making its desktop and mobile websites fully and equally accessible and will have its mobile applications accessible within two years. Monster has also ensured the templates employers use to post job advertisements on its site will be fully and equally accessible by July 2013.
Monster will also train its customer service representatives to assist users who are blind and will establish a standing committee to oversee implementation of the agreement and other issues related to accessibility in the future. In addition, Monster has agreed to work with the NFB to encourage higher education programs to incorporate accessible design and assistive technology in to their core curricula.
State and federal laws not only prohibit disparate treatment of individuals with disabilities in employment and housing, but also require that all businesses operating places of public accommodation provide people with disablities with full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, and facilities.
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May Birdies Update from John Casolo
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The National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut would like to thank Chris Kuell for his years of dedication and service in editing our NFB of CT newsletter. All of us have enjoyed reading and appreciating Chris’ great ability to write and create informative articles and amusing stories for our members’ enjoyment.
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CHAPTER MEETING INFORMATION
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF CT
Central CT Chapter Danbury Area Chapter
Gary Allen, President Chris Kuell, President
Plainville Library Olive Garden
56 Main St, Plainville Backus Ave, Danbury
2nd Saturday at noon Every other month; call first
East of the River Chapter Greater Hartford Area
Marie Beaulier, President Barbara Blejewski, President
St. Elizabeth Manor Comm Rm Capitol Community College
41 Applegate Lane, E. Hartford 950 Main St, Hartford
3rd Saturday at 10:00 AM 3rd Saturday at 11:00 AM
Shoreline Chapter Southern CT Chapter
Alan Daniels, President Rich McGaffin, President
First Congregational Church Fowler Memorial Building
1009 Main St, Branford 45 New Haven Ave, Milford
3rd Saturday at 1:00 PM 2nd Saturday at 1:00 PM
Stamford Area Chapter Norwalk Area Chapter
Julie Hetfield, President Louis Pape, Contact Person
Stamford Hospital Church Without Walls
Shelburne & W. Broad, Stamford 16 Isaac St, Norwalk
2nd Saturday at 1:00 PM 2nd Saturday at 12:30 PM
At-Large Chapter Conference Call Meetings
Edward Shaham, Contact Person
3rd Wednesdays at 7:00 PM
Call in information: 760-569-9000; access code: 433706#
NOTE: caller is responsible for any long distance charges incurred.