Editor's Note: The following speech was delivered via tape by President Melissa Riccobono at our state convention in Annapolis. We all missed her very much and were sorry she was unable to be with us due to the death of her father. Thanks to Debbie Brown, our first Vice President, who stepped in and did an outstanding job of chairing the convention on very short notice.


Answering the Call for Service:
The State of the Maryland Affiliate


I am sure most of you remember the TV and radio ads from the 2008 presidential campaign which dealt with “answering the call.”  In case you have forgotten, these ads had the sound of a phone ringing and asked if the phone rang late at night at the White House, who would you want to “answer that call?”  Although we in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland are not involved in a political campaign, I have been struck this year by the many people who have answered the call to serve the NFBMD.  This affiliate has accomplished much, but we would not be able to do the work we do without those who are so willing to give of their time and answer the call of duty.  Here are only some examples.

Shortly after last year’s state convention, I received a call from Michelle Clark.  Michelle said she had been speaking with NFBMD members at the convention and felt compelled (or called) to serve the affiliate by trying to form a chapter in Prince Georges County.  She said Prince Georges County is a growing area in Maryland, and she felt it was time we had a presence there.  I whole-heartedly agreed, and gave her permission to proceed.  I must admit that I hung up the phone and thought, wow, this will be a great thing.  Maybe we’ll have a chapter in Prince Georges County next fall in time for the state convention.  Or, maybe if things move really fast, we’ll have one by June or July…  Boy, did I ever underestimate Michelle Clark and the blind of Prince Georges County!  By late January Michelle had organized an informational meeting to explore starting a chapter.  By February a vote was taken on a chapter constitution, officers were elected, and the National Harbor Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was born!  This chapter is a vibrant and growing part of our Federation family.  Thank you Michelle - and other National Harbor leaders—for answering the call to change what it means to be blind in Prince Georges County!

In September, we welcomed yet another chapter into the NFBMD.  This is an At Large Chapter, which is for anyone in Maryland who does not live close to a traditional chapter, or cannot attend chapter meetings for a variety of reasons.  The At Large Chapter meets every second Thursday at 7:30 PM via conference call.  Lead by Sharon Maneki, members of the NFB of Maryland made countless calls to blind people across the state in order to invite them to participate in the At Large Chapter.  We have had success with this chapter over the past two months, and one of its members, Nikki Tippit, is here attending her first state convention.  I hope this chapter will continue to grow, and perhaps it will lead to more new traditional chapters in Maryland over time.  I know the At Large Chapter would not be possible however, without all of you who continue to make phone calls, assist in running meetings, and answer the call in so many other ways to support this new venture. 

At the end of January, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland held a Day in Annapolis, where Federationists educated our legislators about two key issues affecting Maryland’s blind.  The first issue involved the critical importance of the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.  Library staff positions and funds have been significantly cut over the past few years, and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland answered the call to action by informing the legislators about the problem.  Although we had no legislation attached to this issue, the legislators heard our concerns and acted accordingly.  Letters were written to, and questions were asked of the Maryland State Department of Education.  The funding issues are far from over, but thanks to members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, our state legislators and the Department of Education are beginning to realize the importance of our library.  Sadly, I believe this library funding issue will continue to rear its head over the coming year.  I am confident, however, all of you will continue to answer the call to advocate for library services in Maryland whenever advocacy is needed.

The second issue we worked for in Annapolis will have long lasting impact on blind children in Maryland.  The NFB of Maryland advocated for Braille standards in reading and math for students in pre-k through grade 12.  These standards are needed because there are currently no guidelines concerning the skills students who read Braille need in order to acquire the knowledge expected of them academically at each grade level.  This is especially problematic when a child is taught Braille “just in case” they begin to lose vision, and only taught the alphabet and nothing more.  If that student loses more vision, he or she is definitely not ready to use Braille as his or her primary reading medium.  Similarly, if a child goes blind later in his or her school career, there are no standards to help parents and teachers decide what portions of the Braille code that child needs to learn in order to keep up with his or her class.  Members of the NFB of Maryland made these arguments and more to legislators and legislative committees.  Our hard work paid off on May fourth, when Governor O’Malley signed a law requiring the Maryland State Department of Education to create Braille standards for math, reading, and writing for students in grades pre-K through grade 12.

Susan Polansky and Jill Richman answered the call to serve on the taskforce committee which will create the math standards by the end of the 2010-11 school year.  I am honored to serve on this committee as well, and know the three of us will work with others in order to craft the best standards possible.  The standards for reading will be tackled during the 2011-12 school year.  Although the work ahead will be difficult, I feel that by 2012 we will have quality standards in place which will assist teachers, parents, and students for many years to come.

Braille standards are extremely important, but it is also important for blind children to appreciate what Braille can do for them in their daily lives, be around other blind children who read Braille, and interact with blind adults who can serve as role models.  To that end, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland created the Braille Rocks Club with funding from an Imagination Fund Grant.  (Just one more reason to see Jason Ewell at the Imagination Fund table and sign up for the Race for Independence!)  Our affiliate has been the recipient of many Imagination Fund Grants over the past few years.  Thanks to Debbie Brown, Bernice Lowder, Sharon Maneki, Treva Olivero, Judy Rasmussen, Yasmin Reyazuddin, Natalie Shaheen, and others, we have the pleasure of working with blind children from pre-K through grade 8 in Baltimore City and Montgomery County for two hours once a month.  The goal of the Braille Rocks Club is to help these children realize how fun and practical Braille and other tactile tools can be in all types of situations.  The children participated in a Dance Dance Revolution activity, made up “skating” routines in honor of the Olympics, played tactile baseball and football games, and worked on slate and stylus skills thanks to a visit from a leprachaun who saved the day!

Not only is the  Braille Rocks Club helping to introduce children to practical uses of Braille, it is also giving children and their families access to all the NFB of Maryland and the National Federation of the Blind have to offer.  One member of the Braille Rocks Club attended her first national convention with her mom due to the funding we were able to provide from our grant, and many club members are here at state convention with their parents this weekend.  In fact, you will have the pleasure of hearing from these Braille Rocks members tomorrow.

The Braille Rocks Club continues growing.  Just a few weeks ago, Lloyd and Judy Rasmussen met a blind eight year old, invited him to the Braille Rocks Club, and have, I believe, convinced him to become a faithful member based on the fun I heard he had during his first Braille Rocks meeting.

 The activities used during our Braille Rocks meetings are also being shared with the Jernigan Institute, which in turn, shares them with interested Braille enthusiasts from other states.  It seems probable that our work in Maryland with this program will serve to help children around the country; this is something of which we should be very proud. 

Although the funding for the Braille Rocks Club will end in December, it is the hope of the NFBMD Board to find ways to keep this program going and growing.  Thank you to all who have answered the call to help with this program over the past ten months, and thank you to those who will answer the call to help in the year to come.  We are always looking for new and energetic volunteers for the Braille Rocks Club, and it would not be successful without all of you.

Of  course, our discussion of Braille would not be complete without mentioning the third year of our Maryland Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (BELL) program.  This program was once again a huge success, thanks to the efforts of Jackie Anderson, Katie Russell, Jennifer Ribecca, and other devoted volunteers.  We helped nine children learn and improve Braille skills, and had tons of fun in the process.  BELL has become an annual summer event; I hope it will remain so far into the future.

Many members of the NFB of Maryland have answered the call to help advocate for individuals this year.  One of our long time members and former scholarship winners, Yasmin Reyazuddin, has been having an ongoing issue with her employer, Montgomery County government.  Montgomery County has purchased and implemented a new 311 system, so callers can get a plethora of information by dialing one number.  Yasmin was more than qualified to serve as a 311 operator, but unfortunately Montgomery County has been unwilling to provide her with the training and accommodations she needs in order to work in this capacity.  This is not due to lack of advocating on the part of Yasmin, or other members of the Sligo Creek Chapter and NFB of Maryland.  This situation is far from over, but I very much hope to have positive news to share regarding Yasmin’s situation during next year’s presidential report.

Leah Palmer is a student at Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Maryland.  She wants to be given the opportunity to earn her diploma along with her sighted peers.  Thanks to the help of Sharon Maneki, Leah will have that chance.  I know Leah and her family are very grateful that Sharon was there to answer their call.

During last year’s report, I spoke about the complaint the NFB of Maryland filed against Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS.)  Due to this complaint, we have been involved in discussions with Baltimore City Public Schools about the help  the NFB of Maryland can offer them and their blind students.  We have had one professional development training with BCPS as a result of these discussions, and we hope to have more such sessions in the future.  Rosy Carranza and Joann Wilson are working diligently in order to start an after school program with blind BCPS students in grades 6-12.  Unfortunately this program has not gotten off the ground; I hope to have good news to share about our collaboration with BCPS very soon.

We have a huge advantage living in Maryland—the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind is right here, and we are able to take advantage of all the support and resources the national office has to offer.  I believe however, we also do what we can to help the national office when needed.  This help is often provided in the form of our members making their presence known at various hearings, protests, and other events.  One such event which stands out from this year is those members who answered the call to sit in a hearing for Ann Blackfield and Tim Elder.  These two law students were denied the right to take the Bar Exam with the accommodations they requested—JAWS and a computer as opposed to a live reader with whom they were not allowed to work before the day of the exam.  Although we could not testify or speak, and the outcome of the hearing was not what we had hoped, our presence in the court room was definitely noticed and appreciated (at least by some.)  Thank you to those who took the time to participate in this hearing, and who answer the call in so many other situations to be the silent support the NFB so often needs to get our point across and succeed in the work we do.

As you can see, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has accomplished much over the past year.  Our work would not be possible however, without all of you who are so willing to make sacrifices and answer the call to serve our fantastic affiliate.

On a very personal note, this year has brought a great deal of change for my family and me.  My husband, Mark, our 3 year old, Austin, and I welcomed a new family member in May—Oriana Kay.  Now we are dealing with change of quite another sort—the sudden illness of my father.  Both of these events have made me realize how truly blessed my family and I are to have such a wonderful, supportive, and caring team behind us—the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  Thank you for all of your thoughtful gifts and congratulations after Oriana’s birth.  I was so grateful to be able to take a few weeks to concentrate on caring for Oriana and know the work of the affiliate was continuing well without my everyday involvement.  Additionally, a heartfelt thank you for all of the thoughts, prayers, and support you have given my entire family over the past few weeks while my father has been ill.  Knowing how much all of you care is a source of strength for me every day.  I truly miss being with all of you at this convention, but I am comforted knowing there are so many of you working together in order to make sure the convention runs smoothly even in my absence.  A very special thank you to Debbie Brown for her willingness to take over as chair of the convention; I am sure she is doing a fantastic job.  Thank you to Sharon Maneki and Ronza Othman for their work with the convention hotel.  Both of you have done and continue to do so much behind the scenes to make sure all convention arrangements are as they should be.  Thank you as well to Maurice Peret for answering the call and giving his talents to work with our student division.  It has given me a great deal of peace knowing our youth are being guided by such a capable mentor.  I know our student division is destined for great things in the coming year, and this would not be the case without Maurice’s guidance.  Another huge thank you to the NFBMD Board for answering the call to serve our affiliate in so many ways.  I appreciate your willing and capable help more than I can say.  Last, but certainly not least, thank you to all of the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland for all you have done and continue to do for this affiliate.  I look forward to a year ahead full of opportunities to strengthen the NFBMD, advocate for others, assist on a national level, and spread the philosophy of the NFB across the state of Maryland.  I cannot think of anyone I would rather have on our team to answer the call to change what it means to be blind. 



Behold the Possibilities


Editor's Note: Last year, nearly 300 seniors, service providers and families attended the fair. It was gratifying to watch people exchange ideas, visit vendor tables, and try things they hadn't done before. Learning doesn't just happen for seniors—it happens for the mentors as well. Come join us this year!

On Thursday, May 19, the NFBMD, in partnership with AARP, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services, the Maryland State Library for the Blind, the Maryland Technology Assistance Program, and others, will be holding a Possibilities Fair for Seniors Losing Vision and their families.  This fair will take place in the Members Hall of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place; Baltimore, MD 21230.  The fair will begin at 9:00 AM and end at 2:30 PM.

The primary goals of the Possibilities Fair are to:

  • Deliver information useful to seniors who are losing vision using positive role models whenever possible;
  • Demonstrate alternative techniques used by blind and visually impaired individuals in a manner that encourages their use by seniors losing vision and
  • Introduce seniors to the important mentoring role of the NFB.


The Possibilities Fair for Seniors Losing Vision will address the twin problems of helplessness and isolation faced by seniors.  We address the feelings of helplessness which result from a lack of knowledge through a series of stations and demonstration areas designed to engage participants in fun, educational activities.  For example, we plan to set up a mobility demo area where skilled blind travelers will demonstrate how useful a white cane can be even if an individual still has some usable vision.   We will give seniors a chance to experience how the cane, properly used, can help them to determine changes in the contour of a walking surface without having to look down and how the cane helps others know that the senior’s vision is limited.  In addition, we plan to demonstrate NFB-NEWSLINEâ, our newspaper by telephone system, which thousands of blind and low vision individuals use nationally, along with cooking, crafts, and other daily living and leisure activities.

Overcoming isolation requires positive role models for seniors and others who have confronted the fears associated with vision loss and resumed full and normal lives.  We are uniquely suited, through our membership network of thousands of blind people, to link seniors with mentors who will contact them after the fair, providing encouragement and answering the day-to-day "how to" questions that arise.  More than anything else, this single component of our fair makes it unique and results in positive outcomes.  People need to see success in order to believe it.

It is not too late to register for this fantastic event yourself, or pass along this information to friends and family who might benefit from attending.  The registration fee is $20, which includes lunch and a goody bag full of helpful products and resources.  To register online, or print an event flier and registration form, please visit  If you have questions, please contact Melissa Riccobono at (410) 235-3073 or

We are also looking for volunteers to help during the fair and blind mentors to follow up with seniors after the fair.  If you are interested please contact Melissa Riccobono at the phone number or email address above.  We hope to see many of you in May!




Editor's note: Many of us have watched Jason Polansky grow up.  One of my most vivid memories of him is when he was about eight years old and jumping up and down with excitement as he cut the ribbon and read a Braille speech at the opening of the Jernigan Institute. We know Jason is changing people's attitudes about blindness by his actions and his own determination to succeed.  As you will see from this article in the Frederick News Post, Jason has a bright future ahead of him.  Go get 'em Jason!


By John Cannon
(Originally published January 18, 2011)

Polansky's determination to swim despite being blind has given a lift to Catoctin's program and inspired more than a few competitors



Photo by Bill Green

Catoctin freshman Jason Polansky, who is blind, has competed in all of the Cougars’ swim meets this season, and his participation has led to some rousing scenes.













Catoctin freshman Jason Polansky wasn't the fastest swimmer in the meet.

He didn't set any records.

He didn't win his races.

No, what he did was even more amazing, and it caused an eruption of applause from teammates, coaches, opponents and spectators.

Despite being blind, Polansky jumped off the block, pierced the water and swam with all his might in the Cougars' season-opening meet against Urbana.

Polansky has bilateral anophthalmia, a rare condition that means he was born without eyes. Anyone who knows this bright and determined 14-year-old is accustomed to seeing him overcome obstacles caused by blindness. But when people watch Polansky triumph over adversity to compete in a high school varsity swim meet, like the one against Urbana, it triggers a wave of emotion.

"Our first meet was amazing," Catoctin co-coach Rebecca Scott said. "The entire pool deck was screaming for him. It brought tears to his mom's eyes, to my eyes, to (Catoctin co-coach Jen) Hosey's eyes.

"The Urbana swimmers were up -- all the spectators," she said. "Our swimmers were all cheering him along. He's (got) so much courage to get in and do what he does, that it's just completely inspiring to everybody."

Polansky has competed in all the Cougars' meets -- the 100-yard breaststroke and 50-yard freestyle are his main events. Like other swimmers, he jumps off the block when he hears the loud starting horn. As he swims in the outer lane, a teammate stands pool-side and holds a 10-foot PVC pipe with a tennis ball attached to it. When Polansky reaches the flags, which alert swimmers that they're approaching the wall, he gets tapped on the head or shoulders with the tennis ball so he knows it's time to begin his turn.

This is Polansky's first season as a competitive swimmer. He came out for the team because he was looking for an activity to help him stay fit, but this experience has done more than help him maintain physical health.

Polansky has enjoyed the camaraderie that comes with being a member of a sports team, and his determination to compete despite being blind has given a lift to Catoctin's young program, which is in its fourth season.

"He's just an inspiration because he's doing such an awesome job in the water," Catoctin senior swimmer Melissa Swanson said. "He's just proven that he can do anything and he can overcome anything."

Overcoming adversity

Polansky was born with empty eye sockets because his eyes never developed. So unlike some other blind people who have eyes, he had no way to detect whether it was light or dark.

Like any set of typical parents, Susan and Edward Polansky had no idea how to raise a blind child. They would learn, and talking with parents of other blind children helped. They were advised to have the same expectations for their son as they would if he had sight.

Polansky eventually got a set of prosthetic eyes. He worked with teachers for the visually impaired, who taught him Braille and adaptations that would allow him to perform academically like his peers. He has an orientation and mobility instructor, who teaches cane travel skills.

Instead of attending a school for the blind, he would be mainstreamed and attend public schools in Frederick County.

Polansky has an excellent memory and an inborn sense of direction, which helps him get around.

When Polansky interacts with someone with sight, such as a classmate, he might be the only blind person they ever know. Realizing this, he wants to show he isn't limited by blindness. His history of physical activity helps prove that point.

Polansky began taking swimming lessons at the Mount St. Mary's pool when he was 3 1/2. Eventually, he was jumping off the diving board.

"At first, I was scared to jump off the diving board," he said. "And then my teacher was like, 'Come on, you can do it.' And I did it and I liked it."

Polansky's swimming teacher originally had plans to enter another profession. But he was so fulfilled by the experience of watching students like Polansky make progress in the pool, he decided to be a teacher.

The determined Polansky was well-known at Mount St. Mary's pool. Two lifeguards at that facility were Hosey and Scott, who would later become Polansky's swimming coaches at Catoctin.

Playing sports

To help him avoid obesity, Polansky has always been physically active. Aside from swimming at the Mount and working out at the gym, he likes to ride a tandem bike with his father.

He learned all about sports from his older brother Kevin Riffle, who's into physical fitness and serves as a role model for Polansky. And when Polansky was in elementary school, he heard classmates talking about playing tee-ball. So, he asked his parents a question -- why couldn't he play tee-ball?

There was no reason he couldn't.

Legally blind people -- who may possess some sight -- play sports against athletes with sight, and some go far. Legally blind athletes who reached grand stages include Marla Runyan -- who competed for the United States in the 1,500-meter run at the 2000 Sydney Olympics -- and cross country skier and biathlete Brian McKeever -- who was named to Canada's 2010 Winter Olympics team.

Even if he didn't become a world-class athlete and even though he had no sight at all, Polansky could experience athletics. He played tee-ball for one year. After hitting the stationary ball, he used a clicker and a person running with him to navigate the base paths.

Later, Polansky met someone who wrestled, so he tried that sport, which other blind athletes have participated in.

"It was a good experience, but it just wasn't my thing," Polansky said. "It's good to try things out."

When he came to Catoctin, he would try competitive swimming for the first time. In fact, his English teacher happened to be Coach Hosey, who remembered Polansky from her days as a lifeguard.

"He was amazing when I saw him at the Mount going off the diving board," she said. "So, I was very excited to have him be a part of the competitive team here."

Swimming coaches often instruct by example for athletes with sight, but Hosey and Scott would have to find another way with Polansky.

"It's made us better coaches because we have to think and break down even further than what we do normally," Hosey said.

In practices, Polansky uses adapt taps, a navigation system for visually impaired swimmers invented at Notre Dame. Adapt taps have flexible rods with a buoy on one end and a clamp that hooks onto the lane line at the other end. Adapt taps help blind swimmers stay positioned in the lane, and the devices can be used instead of tapping poles to notify them when they're under the flag.

This navigation has helped Polansky swim straighter.

"He's dropping time, he's swimming straight," Hosey said. "It's really amazing to watch."

During meets, someone sight-guides Polansky toward the block. When swimmers are instructed to get up on the block, he does so by himself. Being a first-year competitive swimmer, he had never jumped off the blocks before.

"I was a little scared at first," he said. "But I guess after you do something, you just get more comfortable with it. So I'm pretty comfortable now."

This season

Hosey calls Polansky a gamer, and the swimmer has been getting better times in the breaststroke. Also, his strokes are legal, which can be a challenge for swimmers with sight.

"My goal is to improve my time and improve my strokes and keep getting better," Polansky said. "I'm not really concerned about winning, I'm really more concerned about improving. I am concerned about speed, I want to get faster, but I want to make sure my form's right. I've been legal every time, but I just want to get better. That's pretty much it."

He made his quest sound like it was no big deal, but anyone who watches him feels otherwise.

"For us to witness not just our team but the opposing teams cheering for him and wanting to get to know him," Hosey said. "It's just been a really amazing feeling and inspiring to see these kids get motivated by what he does on a daily basis."

As the season progressed, Polansky began competing in relay meets. His teammates tell him when it's time for him to go.

"They're very supportive of me," he said.

Polansky discovered the true benefits of being on a sports team -- joining forces with others in pursuit of a common goal and forming bonds. He enjoys activities like team pasta parties.

"I like the teamwork part of it, I like to get to know people and talk to people with the same interests and just encourage each other and cheer for each other," he said. "It's just fun. I made a lot of friends from the swim team."

"He's the nicest boy," Swanson said. "He's hilarious, and he's just the most optimistic kid that I've ever met in my life."

Polansky's not one to hog the spotlight, either. He's told teammates people should cheer for everybody else as much as for him. Of course, when he made his competitive debut against Urbana, he got the loudest applause.

"I cried," Susan said. "We had no idea that people were going to respond like that."

She understands that people are amazed at seeing her son jump in the water and compete by swimming from one end of the pool to the other. While proud, she's not surprised to see Polansky do such things.

She said: "We have learned over the past 14 years, if you really know about blindness and blind people, you know that they can do pretty much anything they want to do as long as they have the training and the background to do it, and the desire to do it."


Blind Driver Challenge: Why Did We Do It?

By Judy Rasmussen

It is obvious that, if you lose  vision as an adult, one of the hardest things to give up is driving. And if you were born with limited or no vision, you often felt left out of the mainstream of society when your friends started driving and you couldn't.  Many people feel that when driving is no longer an option, they have to lower their expectations of what they can accomplish in the future.

Many have questioned why the National Federation of the Blind would consider undertaking the creation of a car that blind people can drive.  They said it wouldn’t work, that it's too expensive, and "aren't there many other things we could spend our money on—given our limited resources?"     

There is no limit to the things that need to be done to change what it means to be blind.  So, why did we submit proposals to several universities asking them to accept the challenge of creating a vehicle equipped with the technology needed by blind people to drive it safely and independently?

To answer this question, it is imperative that we look at the big picture. Thirty years ago, blind children weren't taught to use canes because it was felt they didn’t need them until they grew much older.  After all, people took them places. Because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, it is now common practice to teach children at an early age to use canes to increase their overall independence. Sixty years ago, blind people couldn't even take Civil Service examinations in order to apply for federal jobs.  Blind people can now serve on  juries, vote independently using an audio or large print ballot, and take their dog  guides to hotels, restaurants etc. These victories were won by the National Federation of the Blind one step at a time. Often we faced opposition from people who felt we were wrong and should leave everything the way it was. But we didn't give up, and we continue moving toward our goals of security, equality and opportunity.   

When Virginia Tech accepted the challenge of creating such a vehicle, nobody was absolutely certain it would work.  We all dreamed it would, not because we thought we would be driving in the next year or two, but because if we could do this, the possibilities for creation of new technology would be endless.

The excitement continued to build as we learned that unmanned vehicles had been tested successfully by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on several kinds of courses.  During the 2009 Youth Slam, several students had the opportunity to test user interface technology being developed for the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle.  And at the 2010 national convention, we began hearing about the "race for independence." We learned that the car would be driven by a blind person at the   Rolex 24 in Daytona Beach, Florida in January, 2011. Who would be selected to drive this vehicle, and, more important, would it really work? 

After extensive practice and testing, the selection was made.  The driver was our own Mark Riccobono. Mark would drive the vehicle, equipped with special gloves and a seat insert that would vibrate on portions of his legs or back to give him directions as he drove around the road course at the Daytona International Speedway. Mark had to drive the car around barrels placed on the course, and steer it around boxes thrown from a van.  He had to pass that van without colliding with it.  Then, to complete the course, he had to drive between more barrels in order to cross the finish line.  

Ray Smith, a newer member of the NFB of Maryland, attended the event and was happy to share his thoughts about the excitement and the hope and pride he felt. Ray has only been blind since 2007, and has had to learn many new skills during the past four years.  Ray stated that when seven bus loads of blind people pulled up to the track, he heard comments from other spectators wondering what all these blind people were doing here. He said that prior to the race, everyone in the stands chanted slogans and made up new songs.  However, when the race started, everyone grew quiet. When Mark successfully completed the course, the new slogan was:  "NFB at the DMV."

Ray said that for him, it wasn't just about the race; it was his chance to share with other people at the event the things he had learned about being blind.  He said one of the highlights of the event was getting on the bus to return to the hotel.  When Mark boarded the bus, everyone cheered. But the little voice that made the biggest impression on him was Mark's four-year-old son Austin who said, "My daddy won the race."

Melissa shared that when she and Mark were getting their two children ready to go to the Ihop the next morning, Austin asked, "Daddy, are you going to drive?"

We don't know what the future holds in terms of whether we will actually be driving a car on the highway and in city traffic any time soon.  We do know that with this landmark achievement, we are one step closer to achieving a dream that was once thought impossible. Who knows?  Maybe blind people will be the ones offering rides to our friends and relatives

For more information about the National Federation of the Blind Blind Driver Challenge, visit!



Voice of Maryland’s Blind Speaks out for Civil Rights

By Sharon Maneki

The annual day in Annapolis for the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was held on January 27, 2011.  Despite the fierce snow, hearty Federationists made it to Annapolis to introduce themselves to the over 40 new senators and delegates who were elected to the General Assembly for the first time.  We also renewed old friendships with our many supporters and congratulated them on being able to serve the citizens of Maryland once again.

Our focus this year was on strengthening civil rights.  Thirty-four states allow their citizens to use state courts to seek a remedy for discrimination by places of public accommodation.  Our goal was to make Maryland the 35th state to permit this redress of discrimination.

Although much business is conducted over the internet, Maryland law does not consider the internet a place of public accommodation.  Businesses in Maryland can discriminate against the blind by creating websites without considering nonvisual access.  Our goal was to change the definition of a place of public accommodation in the law to include the internet.


Voices for Using State Court

Senator Lisa Gladden introduced SB642 and Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk introduced companion bill HB285 to allow persons who face discrimination by businesses to pursue their complaint in state court.  Here is a sample of the testimony offered by Federationists which explains the need for this legislation.  Portia Price is treasurer of the Maryland Association of Blind Students.  Janice Toothman is a member of the board of directors of the Sligo Creek chapter. 


Subject:     Support for SB 642

To:            Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

From:        Portia Price

Date:         March 2, 2011    


I am asking you to vote in favor of SB 642 so that other blind persons will not have to face the humiliation and embarrassment that my friends and I suffered.

In 2008, I attended a summer program in Baltimore to help me to learn to read and write Braille, to travel independently by using a long white cane, and to perform other tasks such as cooking so that I can live independently on my own.  To encourage the students not to sit at home and be couch potatoes, we frequently had evening activities such as shopping, attending sports events, and generally doing other things that teenagers like to do.  One evening, we decided to go to an ice skating rink because it was hot and we thought ice skating in the summer would be fun.  The proprietor refused to let us ice skate because we were blind.  He said that we would get in the way of the other skaters.  He wanted us to come back another day so that he could have extra help on hand to put the skates on for us and lace them up.  We did not need this type of assistance.  Implying that blind persons do not know how to tie their shoes was insulting and demeaning.

We should have been able to use the ice rink like any other paying customer.  Eventually we were able to ice skate but only because the National Federation of the Blind brought the press to the ice skating rink.  If I had been by myself and was refused entrance the press would not have covered my problem.  If business owners can be taken to court, as provided in SB 642, for refusing to allow blind persons to use their facilities, there will be fewer arguments, embarrassment, and more opportunities for blind people to participate in the community.  SB 642 will help me and other young blind people to be active members of society.


Subject:               Support for SB 642

To:            Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

From:        Janice Toothman

Date:         March 2, 2011    


I am blind and I also have a hearing disability.  I use a guide dog so that I can travel independently.  SB 642 is necessary so that businesses will permit me and my guide dog to use their services without arguments and harassment.  This bill will lessen the humiliating experiences that I am forced to endure because I choose to use a guide dog.

I recently wanted to buy jewelry at the Dress Barn in Bowie, Maryland. The security guard refused to allow me to enter the store because I had a guide dog.  It was very humiliating to be kept outside as other customers entered the store.  After much insistence on my part, the security guard eventually brought the manager over to discuss the problem with me.  The manager allowed me to enter the store and had a member of the staff assist me with my purchase.  If I could have told the security guard that I could take the store to court the matter would have been resolved more quickly and efficiently. 

It is true that current law gives me the right to be accompanied by a guide dog in places of public accommodation.  The problem is that owners are still reluctant and are not worried about denying services because they are not concerned about breaking the law. They know I cannot quickly take them to court.  I do not have the time or the money to go to court over minor matters.  The courts will not be flooded with cases.  I should have the same remedy for discrimination in public accommodations as I have if I face housing or employment discrimination.

My rights should be protected and I should have the same ability to participate in community life as my non-disabled peers.  Please vote in favor of SB 642.


Voices in Favor of Making the Internet Accessible to the Blind


Senator Jamie Raskin introduced SB596, and Delegate Sandy Rosenberg introduced companion bill HB580 which would encourage businesses to make their websites accessible to the blind by including the internet in the definition of a public accommodation.  In his notice to constituents, here is how Delegate Rosenberg described the hearing on HB580.


“Same goal, different views - March 8


We kept it simple but said it differently. My bill would extend Maryland’s public accommodations law to business websites and prevent discrimination because of someone’s physical disability.
“If you want to buy a plane ticket or purchase a book at Amazon, it’s a very simple transaction,” I told the members of the Health and Government Operations Committee, “but if you’re blind, it isn’t – unless the website is designed correctly.” My goal: put my fellow legislators in the shoes of a blind person. “Wheelchair ramps that provide accessibility to a building are now commonplace,” stated the next witness, Andy Freeman. “Websites that the blind can use should be as well.” A practicing lawyer, Andy used a precedent for what our bill seeks to accomplish. “Shopping is a good thing, but for us, this is a civil rights issue,” declared Sharon Maneki, the leading advocate for the blind in Maryland. Sharon made it personal. “Each of us brought a different perspective to the legislation. Our goals were identical.”


At the hearing on HB580, Michelle Clark, President of the National Harbor Chapter, explained her struggle to the delegates as follows.


Subject:     Support for HB 580

To:            House Health & Government Operations Committee

From:        Michelle Clark

Date:         March 8, 2011    


HB 580, a bill to clearly state that the internet is a place of public accommodation, is necessary to eliminate barriers to discrimination that I and many other blind people face. 

I lost my sight in 2005.  After I learned how to function as a blind person, I wanted to return to work, but could not get a job.  I decided to go back to school to make myself more marketable.  I enrolled in the computer science PhD program at Capella, an online University, in the spring of 2010. 

My first course was a dreadful experience.  I took Information Technology Research and Practice and was ordered by the professor to withdraw from the course because I could not submit my assignments on the required learning content system called BlackBoard.  I told the University that there was an accessible version of BlackBoard, but they refused to upgrade their systems to this accessible version. I could have completed the course if the University would have upgraded its technology.  I am currently trying to get the University to return my $4,000 since I was not allowed to complete the course. 

Discrimination by businesses that provide services over the internet will be reduced by the passage of HB 580.  The internet is not just a recreation tool or a way to obtain luxury items.  Please vote in favor of HB 580 so that all blind persons, including me, can have the opportunity to obtain an education.



Stay tuned to the next issue of this publication for the results of our efforts. 



Calling All Cooks


Friendships are formed, families share what happened during the day, and everyone relaxes over a delicious meal. When inviting friends over, we all pull out those favorite tried and true recipes we know our guests will enjoy. Based on how many meals we have shared together, there is no doubt that there are many good cooks in our affiliate.  We want to collect those favorite recipes—they don't have to be fancy, just ones you think others would enjoy.

We plan to produce an NFB of Maryland cookbook as a fund raiser.  Cookbooks will be sold at the national convention. They will be produced in Braille, on CD and in large print.  Our goal is to collect approximately 100 recipes of all types. If you wish to submit a recipe, send it by e-mail to Darlene Barrett at or to Judy Rasmussen at by May 15.  Be sure directions are clear and specific. We would like to include one line of text about each person submitting a recipe. If you know what you would like us to say, include the text with your recipe.

If you do not have access to e-mail, call your chapter president or anyone you know who has e-mail to get your favorite recipes to us.  We look forward to sharing our special favorites with Federationists and others around the country. Happy eating!





Editor's Note: I have known Melba Taylor for a long time.  She is a member of our newly formed National Harbor Chapter.  As you will see from this article, she is a hard worker and proud of her accomplishments—as she should be.  Congratulations, Melba!


Melba Taylor on Winning the Connelly Award


Under the Randolph Sheppard Act via the Maryland Business Enterprise Program for the Blind, I have been extremely blessed with this tremendous opportunity to manage a large military food service operation. Along with my teaming partner, Son’s Quality Food Company, we have proven that blind managers can succeed and excel in operating large, complex, multi-faceted food service contracts.

Winning the Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Army Food Service is confirmation of what we’ve known to be true – the Freedom Inn Dining Facility is the best of the best in providing the highest quality food service to our troops.  I am extremely proud of the efforts from every member of our team. 

Participating in such a prestigious and tough competition requires discipline, dedication and desire. I’m a fierce competitor, I believe that accepting challenges brings out the best in people, and I was taught to strive for excellence in everything I do.     

I have been here at Fort Meade for eight years now. During these eight years, we have won at the regional level and represented the Installation Management Command – Northeast Region in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.  We won the runner-up award in the small garrison category world-wide competition in 2005.  I attended the ceremony in Miami in April 2006 to receive the runner-up award, and was truly inspired to keep competing until we won “the big trophy”.     

To win this year, we beat out 33 dining facilities to represent the IMCOM – Northeast Region; then in December, we competed against six facilities including dining facilities at 1) Fort Bragg, NC; 2) Korea; 3) Schoefield , Hawaii; 4) Fort Bliss, Texas; 5) Grafenwoehr, Germany; and 6) Qatar.

We will receive the winning trophy during an awards ceremony on April 2, 2011 in Schaumburg, Illinois.  Upon returning home with our trophy, the Fort Meade Community will hold a base command ceremony in our honor. 

About the Connelly Program:

Three Connelly judges (two military and one civilian) evaluate participants' performance in eleven categories:  dining facility administration, training/supervision, food service sanitation and safety, food preparation and quality, appearance/attitude of food service personnel, headcount procedure, command support, serving troop acceptability, dining area, equipment & facility, receipt, as well as  storage and operations.

The objective of the Department of the Army’s Philip A. Connelly Award program is to promote and improve army food service through awareness with incentives, competition and media attention.  The Connelly Award program encourages and recognizes deserving units for superb performance, as well as rewards individuals for stellar management practices.  The program is co-sponsored by the International Food Service Executives Association (IFSEA).  I have been a member of IFSEA since 2005 and have received three IFSEA certifications – Master Certified Food Executive (MCFE), Certified Professional Food Manager (CPFM) and Certified HACCP Manager (CHM).


Getting Involved in the Maryland Affiliate

By Melissa Riccobono

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland needs you, your talents, and skills!  There are many ways to get involved in our Maryland Affiliate.  Of course you can attend a local NFBMD chapter meeting once a month.  You can help with chapter and/or state fundraisers.  You can make calls to your senators and delegates in order to help advocate for our issues in Annapolis.  You can even volunteer to write an article for the Braille Spectator!

         There are however, two fairly new ways to get involved in our affiliate which you might not have heard about before.  These are exciting opportunities, but they will only work with your participation.  I hope you will take the time to get involved.

         Our first opportunity was mentioned in the presidential report—our new At Large Chapter.  This chapter meets on the second Thursday of every month at 7:30 PM.  The unique thing about this chapter is that it meets via conference call.  For those of you who have always wanted to check out an NFBMD chapter meeting, but do not have a chapter near you, this chapter is for you!  We have guest speakers almost every month, talk about affiliate and national happenings, and get to know and support one another.  To become a part of the At Large Chapter, please mark the second Thursday of the month, 7:30 PM, on your calendar, and call 424-203-8075.  Then enter access code 720125.  The current members of the At Large Chapter look forward to your participation, and your ideas for future projects and discussion topics.

         In addition to the At Large Chapter, Janice Toothman, a board member of the Sligo Creek Chapter, is taking the lead in developing a guide dog division in Maryland.  This division will work to educate the public about the rights of dog guide users, assist in advocating for those whose rights were violated, and provide information for those interested in training with a guide dog.  You do not need to be a current dog user in order to become a member of this division.  You only need to be interested in guide dogs, willing to help with education and advocacy, and/or seeking information about training and traveling with a guide dog.  If any of this description applies to you, please contact Janice Toothman to let her know of your interest in forming this division.  Janice can be reached at  It is Janice’s hope to have enough interest by our upcoming state convention to form the Maryland Association of Guide Dog Users.  This is a hope I share; please get involved and help our Federation family grow.



         The following resolutions were passed at the 2010 convention of the NFB of Maryland.


Resolution 2010-1
Regarding Maryland Identification Cards


         WHEREAS, in today’s complex world where security concerns abound, it is mandatory for each individual to have a standard recognizable form of personal identification; and

         WHEREAS, a driver's license is the most common form of personal identification for most Americans; and

         WHEREAS, to accommodate individuals who cannot or do not drive motor vehicles, the State of Maryland issues photo identification cards; and

         WHEREAS, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) has responsibility for both issuing these identification cards and for determining the procedures and requirements that individuals must follow to obtain this form of identification; and

         WHEREAS, MVA requires every individual to sign his or her identification card when that card is issued, a task that the vast majority of blind persons are able to execute successfully; and

         WHEREAS, executing a signature on an electronic pad, as required by MVA, may be cumbersome for blind persons, however such signatures may be executed with some personal guidance; and

         WHEREAS, MVA personnel frequently either assume that the blind applicant is unable to execute a signature and automatically affix the notation "unable to sign" on the applicant's ID card, or affix the same notation even when the signature has been executed but the card issuers believe that the signature is illegible; and

         WHEREAS, MVA personnel should never affix this notation without first properly determining that the applicant is truly unable to execute a signature, and then informing the applicant that this notation will be affixed on the ID card; and

         WHEREAS, the notation, "unable to sign", is demeaning to the card holder who is able to execute a signature, and implies a sense of incompetence in the minds of officials who must examine these cards to establish proof of identification: Now, therefore,

         BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this twenty fourth day of October, 2010, in the city of Annapolis, Maryland, that this organization condemn and deplore MVA's practice of affixing ID cards with the "unable to sign" designator; and

         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly recommend that MVA immediately cease the practice of automatically designating ID cards as "unable to sign"; and

         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urges MVA to work with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland to develop procedures to enable its personnel to properly assist blind persons to execute their signatures if such assistance is required.



Resolution 2010-2
Regarding the Existence of the Office of Blindness and Vision Services (OBVS)


         WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has a long-standing commitment to separate identifiable services for the blind because this model delivers the best quality service to blind rehabilitation clients; and

         WHEREAS, the most recent attempt by the organized blind of Maryland to create a separate rehabilitation agency for the blind in Maryland occurred in 2004 and 2005 because blind clients of the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) were receiving sub-standard services; and

         WHEREAS, in response to our call for a new agency DORS created the Office of Blindness and Vision Services (OBVS) in January 2005; and

         WHEREAS, under OBVS and the leadership of its Director, Sue Schaffer, services for the blind have improved, e.g., there are clear lines of accountability, the blind have an opportunity to raise concerns and these concerns are carefully considered in a collegial fashion leading not only to improvements to services for particular individuals, but also to enhanced programs and policies; and

         WHEREAS, while we have come a long way, there is still a need for improvement to the quality of services available to blind clients, for instance, counselors and supervisors are not always up to date on the latest devices that will help clients reach their employment goals, and too many counselors still take the quick route to closure by merely offering magnifiers instead of introducing clients to the benefits of non-visual techniques; and

         WHEREAS, in June 2010, Susan Paige became the new Assistant Superintendent for DORS and may wish to reorganize its structure: 

         Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this twenty third day of October, 2010, in the city of Annapolis, Maryland, that this organization urge the new Assistant Superintendent of DORS to support the OBVS model of separate services for the blind; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the new Assistant Superintendent of DORS to continue to provide adequate funding to at least maintain current initiatives at OBVS and to allow all OBVS staff members to continue to develop expertise in blindness; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirms its commitment to work in concert with OBVS and with the new Assistant Superintendent of DORS to ensure that blind clients receive the highest quality of rehabilitation services.



Regarding nonvisual access to Blackboard


WHEREAS, in these difficult economic times, employers are demanding a highly skilled workforce; and

WHEREAS, obtaining at least one college degree is becoming a necessity in today’s competitive employment market; and

WHEREAS, instructors and professors at most colleges and universities require their students to use learning management systems to access the curriculum, to post assignments and to participate in class discussions; and

WHEREAS, Blackboard, a leading producer of learning management systems, recently updated its platforms by adding nonvisual access features and has also provided nonvisual access guidelines, allowing professors and instructors to post their work so that it will be user friendly for persons who depend on nonvisual access technology; and

WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Maryland state law require colleges and universities to ensure that blind or visually impaired students and faculty have access to online learning which includes learning management systems; and

WHEREAS, too many universities such as the University of Maryland at College Park and Capella University have refused to upgrade their Blackboard systems to the currently accessible version and have not adequately trained faculty to follow the accessibility guidelines even though they have been informed of the existence of these features and products; and

WHEREAS, such practices impede student progress toward an equal education and deprive them of the economic benefits of employment because it takes too long to get a degree when they are forced to drop courses; and

WHEREAS, advocacy organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and the 51 other affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind across the country have a responsibility to issue accessibility report cards and other types of documents that inform the general public concerning which universities violate the law by ignoring requirements to provide nonvisual access to online learning and learning management systems:  Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this twenty fourth day of October, 2010, in the city of Annapolis, Maryland, that this organization insist that all colleges and universities that reside in or do business in Maryland immediately begin to upgrade their learning management systems, such as Blackboard, to ensure that blind and visually impaired students and faculty have access to these systems as required by law; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these colleges and universities to provide adequate training to their faculty members on accessibility so that real access may be achieved; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge college and university procurement officers to negotiate contracts that demand nonvisual access in both the original product and upgrades to that product as required under state and federal law.



Regarding planning and timely purchase of equipment for DORS clients


         WHEREAS, the purpose of Vocational Rehabilitation is to assist persons with disabilities to become employed tax -paying citizens; and

         WHEREAS, if Vocational Rehabilitation clients are to attain their employment goals, the client and counselor must plan in advance, as a part of the Individualized plan for Employment (IPE), to assure orderly and timely delivery of services that are needed to reach the employment goal expressed in the IPE; and

WHEREAS, clients in adjustment to blindness orientation centers or those leaving high school are developing skills in Braille, the use of computers and other techniques which frequently require specialized equipment; and

WHEREAS, evaluating clients’ needs by the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) and procuring this specialized equipment can take several months; and

WHEREAS, after training has been completed, maintaining the acquired skills while simultaneously conducting an aggressive job search or pursuing other IPE activities is critical to clients' ultimate success; and

WHEREAS, timely delivery of the needed equipment is also critical for maintenance of skills clients have recently acquired; and

WHEREAS, while there have been improvements in the timely delivery of equipment for clients who are transitioning from high school to college, there are still long unnecessary delays in purchasing equipment for clients as they are leaving orientation centers; and

WHEREAS, it is pennywise and pound foolish for DORS to spend money sending clients to orientation centers only to have them graduate from those centers without essential equipment to maintain their skills, resulting in a loss of momentum they have already acquired to take the next steps toward their employment goals; and 

WHEREAS, a better approach would be to buy the equipment before clients graduate so there is no break in skills development, which would also provide clients extra time to gain additional proficiency in those skills:

Now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this twenty fourth day of October, 2010, in the city of Annapolis, Maryland, that this organization urge DORS to schedule technology evaluations and the purchase of necessary equipment at least 120 days prior to the clients' expected graduation from high schools, colleges or adjustment to blindness training centers.



Exciting Opportunity for Blind Parents

By Melissa Riccobono

         When my husband, Mark, and I became parents for the first time four years ago, we had a variety of questions.  Some of these questions were common to all parents: What will we do if our baby won’t stop crying?  How will we function on little sleep?  What diapers, wipes, and bottles are best?  Are we truly ready to be parents?

         Other questions and concerns were specific to us as blind parents:  What stroller will be best to pull behind us instead of pushing?  How can we best carry our baby on a bus?  Where can we get Braille books with pictures that we can read to our baby?  How will we keep track of our baby when he or she learns to crawl and walk?  How will we handle negative public attitudes regarding us as blind parents?

Now that we are parents of two children, we have had some time to figure out techniques that work for us as blind parents, but we still have many questions, and will continue to have questions until our children are grown.

Mark and I are very lucky.  We have many people in our lives who are able to help us with the answers to all of our parenting questions.  We have sighted family and friends who help with the more general questions, and we have family and friends in the National Federation of the Blind who help with the blindness specific questions.  I know there are other blind parents in Maryland however, who do not have this type of support, and/or would like to give support to other blind parents as well as getting support for themselves.  One of these parents recently became a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the NFBMD.  She came to me with a question.  “Is there any way I could meet other blind parents, maybe once a month or so, just so we can talk and give support to one another?”  I am excited to announce that, because of that question, soon blind parents in Baltimore and surrounding areas will have a chance to interact with and support one another in person on a monthly basis.

         The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland will be starting a group for blind parents this May.  The group will meet once a month at the Maryland State Library for the Blind: 415 Park Ave. Baltimore, Maryland 21201.  We are hoping to meet on a Wednesday morning from 9-11.  Unfortunately, as of the printing of this newsletter, we are unsure which Wednesday of the month will be best.  Please watch the NFBMD website, NFB Newsline, and future Spectators for exact details.  Of course anyone interested in this group can contact Melissa Riccobono at 410-235-3073 for up-to-date meeting details.

         This group is truly for everyone.  We welcome blind parents with children of any age, and blind grandparents are also more than welcome to attend.  Those who are expecting a child, or those who would like to become parents someday and have questions about parenting as a blind person are welcome as well.  Activities for children attending the group with their parents or grandparents will be available.  This will give parents a chance to interact without bored children interrupting, and will also give the children a chance to interact with one another.

         I am extremely excited about the formation of this group, and look forward to meeting many blind parents in the months to come.  Please spread the word, and get ready to ask and answer questions, share parenting stories, give and receive advice, and help to make this new group a valuable resource for blind parents in Maryland.






              In December 2010, David Maurer, son of Marc and Patricia Maurer, obtained a BS in Business from the Colorado University at Denver.  He is currently working in real estate in the Denver area.

              Barbara Cheadle, President Emeritus of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, earned an MS Degree in Library Science from the University of Maryland at College Park. 

     Congratulations to the graduates!




In September 2010, Sharon Feinman, a member of the Central Maryland Chapter, lost her battle with lung cancer and multiple sclerosis.  She loved cats, and her favorite hobbies were crocheting and looking after her grandchildren.  We will miss her sparkling personality.  Her courage in meeting increased physical challenges was an inspiration to all who knew her. 

              On December 22, 2010, Wilneta Sutton died of a massive stroke.  Wilneta was a charter member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and was a member of the Federation for over 40 years.  She loved to attend national conventions and always encouraged other blind persons to fully participate in all aspects of life.  At the 40th NFBMD Convention, Wilneta made a superb presentation about the early days and our first Maryland Convention.  She came to Ocean City specifically to keep her word on delivering this talk.  She returned immediately after her talk to care for her husband, Clairman.  This is but one example of Wilneta’s dedication. 

              In late February 2011, Mark Plantz died suddenly.  Over the years, Mark had been a member of both the Sligo Creek Chapter and the Greater Baltimore Chapter.  Mark was always interested in raising funds for the Federation.  He created his own swimathon by gathering pledges for his swim around Fort McHenry.  Federationists walked around the perimeter of the Fort cheering Mark on as he completed his journey around the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner. 

              Connie Taylor died suddenly of a heart attack on March 23, 2011.  Connie was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.  She had a great sense of humor and was always willing to help people, especially diabetics.  At our most recent convention, Connie gave an excellent presentation on how she was able to keep her job as a nurse at shock trauma despite her loss of vision.  She was always willing to share her story and encourage others.  We will miss her enthusiasm and friendship. 

              Judy Knight, the mother of one of our Braille Rocks students, died on March 15, 2011. Judy devoted herself to providing her son, Jonathan, with opportunities to allow him to reach his full potential. She was a fierce advocate for children with multiple disabilities.  Not only was she concerned about her son, Jonathan, but when she became the owner of the AOK Cleaning Company, she hired many people with disabilities.

              May they rest in peace.




Bernice and Raymond Lowder proudly report the birth of their 9th grandchild. On January 14, 2011, their daughter, Rachael, gave birth to a bouncing baby girl named Kachel.  All of the Lowders, from Grandma to children and grandchildren, are members of the Federation who regularly attend conventions and meetings of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.  We look forward to meeting our newest member.

Ray Smith, a member of the National Harbor Chapter, proudly announces the birth of his first grandchild.  Joshua Godbolt was born in February 2011.    

Longtime Federationists in the NFB Parents Division, Loretta and Joe White, have a new grandchild.  Their daughter, Holly, gave birth to her first child, Brianna Jasmine Steed on March 7, 2011. Holly gained lots of experience with children from her days of helping with childcare at numerous state conventions.  Her sister, Nicole, is enjoying her duties as a doting aunt.

Congratulations to the new grandparents, and parents!   




Tim Elder is spending a year in Maryland as a disability rights fellow with the law firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy.  Tim won two NFB national scholarships.  He passed the Maryland bar in January 2011. As those who attended the 2010 NFBMD convention will remember, Tim had to take the bar exam without the accommodations of his choice.  The NFB took on this problem and future law students will be able to use the accommodations of their choice when taking the bar exam.  In September 2010, The Daily Record recognized Tim Elder’s leadership and legal achievements by designating him as one of its recipients of the Very Important Professional’s by 40 awards.  Congratulations to Tim on this prestigious award, and on his passing the bar in Maryland. 

Patrick Gormley placed third in the experts division of the 2011 Braille Readers are Leaders Contest.  He read 8,276 Braille pages.  Congratulations to Patrick and all of the contest participants. 

On March 9, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind announced that Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, was named a 2011 Forward under 40 honoree by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Alumni Association.  The Forward under 40 award program honors University of Wisconsin graduates under age forty who are making a positive impact on the world.  Riccobono is a 1999 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.




April 30:  Be OK With Blindness Workshop for Parents and Blind Children

Blind Industries and Services of Maryland

8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Sponsored by NFB of Maryland Parents' Division and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.


May 4: Braille Readers Are Leaders party

National Center for the Blind

9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and Friends of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.


May 19:  Possibilities Fair for Seniors Losing Vision and Their Families

National Center for the Blind

9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and the Division of Rehabilitation Services.


June 19-August 5:  Independence 2011

Program for blind and low vision high school students in the 10th through 12th grades

Sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.


July 3-8:  National Federation of the Blind Convention

Orlando, Florida.


August 6: Crab Feast

Columbus Gardens, Baltimore Maryland.


August 8-19: Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning BELL Program for children pre-K through fifth grade

National Center for the Blind.


October 30-November 1:  National Federation of the Blind convention

Ocean City, Maryland.