Braille Spectator – Fall 2015

A semi-annual publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

Judy Rasmussen, editor

Published on and on NFB Newsline by The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

Sharon Maneki, President

Comments and questions should be sent to


In This Issue


A Fabulous Friday at Convention

Another Successful BELL Program!

Why I Love UEB: As a Braille Producer and Reader

McDaniel hosts event detailing apps for the blind

Protecting the Rights of Blind Marylanders: The Annapolis Roundup

Blind Students Take Driver's Seat in Lansdowne

IN TOUCH – National Federation of the Blind with Gary O'Donoghue

Spectator Specs


A Fabulous Friday at Convention

By Sharon Maneki

Forget your superstitions and join us on Friday, November 13 at the NFBMD State Convention in Ocean City. The kick-off of the convention takes place at noon with the Board of Directors Meeting. Everyone is invited to attend. As you already know, everything will take place at the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City. Hurry and call 410-524-1000 to make your room reservation. Hurry! There are only a few days left to pre-register for the convention. Go to and select the pre-registration link on the home page.

Special Interest Activities

On Friday we hold many special-interest activities. The Parents of Blind Children Division will offer a morning of networking, an afternoon of learning and an evening of family fun. Some of the parent workshops include: how to encourage small children to read Braille; how to help kids with the new ways of Common Core math; and how to help yourself and your child manage stress. Throughout the weekend there will be numerous activities for Tweens and special activities for the younger set, with plenty of opportunities to make new friends.

There will be special meetings sponsored by The Maryland Association of Blind Students and by the NFBMD Deaf/Blind and Hard of Hearing Committee. We will also conduct a special seminar entitled “Dominating Diabetes” which will emphasize strategies for coping with complications and keeping up with new developments.

Committees and Information

Don’t miss the Resolutions Committee meeting as we determine our policies for the coming year. We will strengthen our organization by exchanging ideas on building membership. We will also learn about the advantages of ABLE accounts for people with disabilities.

Technology Activities

BISM will offer two helpful workshops about the iPhone and iPhone apps. The first workshop, from 2:30 to 4:00pm, is called Making the iPhone Work for You - “Learn About iPhone Apps, Gestures, and more …” People who already have an iPhone should attend this workshop to learn tricks and tips as well as how to use popular apps such as KNFB reader, transportation, grocery shopping, money readers, and Newsline options. The second workshop, from 4:00 to 5:00pm, is called What if I Had an iPhone? - “A Test Drive with the iPhone, KNFB Reader and other Apps.” People who do not have an iPhone but are thinking about getting one should attend this workshop. Please pre-register for these workshops by sending an email to or by calling Page Trammell, 410-737-2674.

What can the KNFB Reader do for you? Find out by attending one of the BISM workshops mentioned above. Thanks to our national office, one lucky convention attendee will go home with a free KNFB Reader. Be sure to put your name in the hat for this Reader if you have an iPhone or plan to get an iPhone soon.

Field Evaluators needed for the Transforming Braille Display. On Friday afternoon please take the time to try out and provide feedback on the prototype Transforming Braille Display.

The Transforming Braille Group LLC was established in 2012. The goal of this international group is to develop a stand-alone 20 cell refreshable braille display to enable braille readers to become part of the eBook revolution at a fraction of the current cost of refreshable braille displays.


Three of the nine managing members of the Transforming Braille Group LLC will be conducting field evaluations in the United States. The American Printing House for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, and Perkins School for the Blind will be conducting field evaluations from November 2015 through January 2016.

The Transforming Braille Display (TBD) works on its own by displaying braille from files on a SD card or by connecting to devices like the iPhone. The display is designed to work through USB and Bluetooth connectivity with smart phones and tablets. It is not intended to compete with high specification refreshable braille displays already on the market, primarily used in education and employment, but is intended to bring braille displayed e-books to a wide audience at an economical price. Libraries will be able to send braille formatted titles to patrons on a SD card. Users can also employ apps on their existing smart phone.

The Transforming Braille Display

  • Contains 20 eight dot refreshable braille cells that conform to NLS specifications for height and spacing

  • Interfaces with host devices through USB and Bluetooth

  • Bluetooth and USB connections are compatible with current devices

  • Supports Portable Embosser Format (PEF), Text, BRL and BRF file types only

  • Eight braille input key plus braille space key, used to enter file names or perform other functions, when connected to a smart phone or other device

  • Five-way cursor pad with arrows and center select, used to navigate the file system, move within a title, or for use when connected to another device

  • No note taking or translation capabilities

  • Will retail for under $500



Come visit familiar vendors, such as Freedom Scientific, ITG and the Torres Foundation. Be sure to try out the new voting system that we will use in the 2016 Presidential Election. Visit the Hetlioz exhibit. If you don’t know what that is, now is the time to find out. One example of a new exhibitor for the NFBMD is Christian Ministry Teachers. Pick up their free Braille, audio or large-print books. The exhibit hall will be open from 12:30pm to 6:00pm.


After an afternoon of technology and learning, unwind in the pool with water aerobics, or learn how to play String Baseball on dry land.

You will not want to miss the Braille Apocalypse play performed by some of our elementary and middle-school children at 8:15pm. Don’t forget our Beach Island Party, with live music by MP Steel. To find out the location and times of all the events mentioned in this article, consult the agenda which will be on by the end of October. Print and Braille agendas will also be available at Convention.

Fabulous Friday is only the first day of our State Convention. Come and find out what will occur on Spectacular Saturday and Super Sunday! See you in Ocean City.

Another Successful BELL Program!

By Judy Rasmussen

Facts: Twenty-five students participated in our three BELL programs last summer. Students in all programs sang the "Cane Cha-Cha Slide" song, and "It's All About That Braille." At least 10 students participated for the first time. All participants, volunteers and teachers had a wonderful time! We were all exhausted at the end, but it was worth it!

The NFB of Maryland is never content with the status quo. Since the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program is one of the most important things we do, it was time to expand it to another part of the state. While still maintaining our two successful programs in Baltimore and Glen Dale, we expanded to hold our first BELL program in Salisbury. Members of our Delmarva Chapter and participants from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland's senior program all helped to make the program a rousing success! Seven students participated, ranging in age from three to 14. There were many new experiences for everyone! They enjoyed making sushi rolls out of gummy bears (yum), climbing trees, going to the beach, making a variety of snacks, making their own lunches, and of course, participating in many fun Braille-related activities.

In Baltimore, we instituted an expanded core curriculum called BELL EX. The curriculum was designed to give older students who had participated in previous BELL programs additional opportunities to work with technology, improve their reading speed, and have increased opportunities to prepare food for others. Five students participated in the expanded program. Highlights of this program included taking the city bus to the Library for the Blind to select books to read to the other seven younger students. Three students had never taken a city bus. Getting practice reading out loud is an essential skill as students progress to middle and high school.

The BELL EX students traveled to Melissa Riccobono's house to prepare lunch for the other BELL participants and volunteers. Without meaning to, parents tend to do things in the kitchen because they can do it faster, thus not giving their blind children the opportunity to experiment, make mistakes, and, most important, to feel success and pride about what they have accomplished.

The BELL Ex students also put on a play called "The Braille Apocalypse." This was a major undertaking because most of the students had never participated in a play, nor had they performed for others. Following along while others are reading, yet maintaining their characters is definitely something that takes practice and skill. The BELL EX students performed the play for everyone at the last day's activities.

All of the Baltimore BELL students traveled to the Jewish Museum of Maryland to make their own neighborhoods. Using big sheets of cardboard, construction paper, and Braille labels, students totally designed a neighborhood using their creative imaginations.

The Glen Dale program also offered many fun-filled activities. Making rice crispy treats in the microwave, practicing going up and down the stairs using their canes, rolling a special ball on the playground while quoting Braille contractions to each other, and drawing pictures on the new inTACT Sketchpad, were only a few of the many highlights. Traveling to a real working farm where students got to feed ducks, go in the chicken house to gather eggs, pet a variety of animals, and go on a hay ride was enjoyable for everyone.

Special thanks go to our five teachers: Carlton Walker, who taught in Glen Dale; Treva Olivero, who taught the younger Baltimore BELL students; Melissa Riccobono, who taught the BELL EX program; and Danielle Earl and Amy Crouse who planned the Salisbury program. A special thanks to Wendy Demaris who taught Braille reading in Salisbury. We are all ready to do it again next year!


Why I Love UEB: As a Braille Producer and Reader

Posted on July 30, 2015 to the National Braille Press blog

By Steve Booth

(Editor’s Note: Steve Booth served as Secretary and was recently elected Treasurer of the Greater Baltimore Chapter. He also works at the National Center for the Blind as a Braille Production Specialist.)

I admit I had my doubts about changing even one dot of a code that has worked so well since 1824.

Today I’m ready to concede that those who took a leadership role back in 1991 toward what is now the Unified English Braille Code (UEB) were true visionaries.

They started with the premise that any system can be improved. It’s hubris to think otherwise. They then dove into the mechanics of what exactly should be improved and what could be left alone. They did this with several audiences in mind: the braille reader, the producer, the transcriber, and the Braille teacher.

They were also looking at a code that, although it worked remarkably well with computer technology, still required human intervention to fix those parts that didn’t work. I know first-hand about those fixes! Formerly I worked as an assistant production manager at National Braille Press and now work in the Braille Certification Program of the Library of Congress, administered by the National Federation of the Blind. UEB has made my life far simpler ... but I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The primary goal, according to the records of 1991, was to “make the acquisition of reading/writing/teaching Braille easier and more efficient ... [to] help reverse the trend of steadily eroding usage of Braille itself.” Given the abysmal rate of 9.5% of blind school-age children who list Braille as their primary reading mode, this makes good sense.

All told, UEB eliminates nine contractions that were found to be the most ambiguous: by, into, to, ble, com, dd, ation, ally, and the o’clock contraction. Each of these could represent something other than themselves, depending on their placement in a word.

UEB is also closer to its print equivalent, for example, Braille will no longer join the contractions “of, and, for, the, with” in sequence without spaces. And the period. There is now only one dot formation for a period, instead of four different ways to represent it. Just as there are opening and closing parentheses in print, the same is true for Braille. Word division is no longer recommended: “It is no longer preferable for words to be hyphenated.” When was the last time you used a dictionary to divide words between lines? I never did until I worked in the field. We have spent way too much time teaching word division to potential transcribers.

The list of improvements goes on, too many to elaborate on in a blog post. As a Braille reader since the early 1960s, I have quickly adjusted to UEB. Anyone interested in acquiring some UEB skills while reading good material should subscribe to Syndicated Columnists Weekly, a short weekly from National Braille Press. I’ve been reading it for decades. NBP started producing it in UEB at the beginning of the year and I was able to adjust to new UEB symbols in the context of the material. NBP also offers a free UEB Briefs Symbols list if you ask for it (

As a Braille producer, my life is far easier. I no longer need to search for hyphens and dashes (to eliminate spaces around them) because Braille now follows print rules. I can more accurately translate documents from Braille to print with better results. Without word division, Braille production is faster, plus the code offers more flexibility in handling the large variety of print styles now in use.

All in all, I’m completely in favor of these changes for a host of reasons that I would not have understood had I not been a Braille producer, trainer, and reader. And did I mention, America has now joined six other English-speaking nations in its adoption of UEB, which means we all share the same code. I think Louis would have been pleased about that. His code was meant to be useful, above all.

McDaniel hosts event detailing apps for the blind

Jon Kelvey, Carroll County Times

Updated May 1, 2015

(Editor's note: As you will see from the below article, technology was the hook to get people together in the hope of starting a new chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. It worked! On June 6 the Carroll County Chapter of the NFB of Maryland was born. The following officers were elected: President: Cathy Orzolek-Kronner; Vice president: Chris Nusbaum; Secretary: Brian Kesling; and treasurer: Chris Day. We look forward to hearing many good things about this new chapter.)

Ever since she was in the eighth grade, McDaniel College social work professor Cathy Orzolek-Kronner has been growing progressively closer to being totally blind. Now, at age 50, her vision has diminished to the point that when she started a year's sabbatical in August, she knew she needed to dedicate her time to learning how to better navigate her world and to conduct her academic work as a blind person.

"As part of my sabbatical--part of it was to learn, to become more familiar with different assistive technologies, or apps or programs [for blind people]," Orzolek-Kronner said. "I needed to get up to speed because I cannot act as quickly as my colleagues."

Now, in a free Saturday event, Orzolek-Kronner will be sharing what she has learned about the world of accessibility technology, from iPhone apps to Braille readers, that makes the lives of the blind and those with low vision easier. The event will also serve as a way to test the waters for community interest in forming a Carroll County chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, an advocacy organization headquartered in Baltimore.

Chris Nusbaum, a junior at Francis Scott Key High School, will join Orzolek-Kronner in presenting Saturday. Nusbaum is the vice president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students, the student organization associated with the National Federation of the Blind.

"The goal of this [event] is to introduce those who might not be as familiar with this technology as Cathy or me, to introduce them to the technology, and more importantly, to talk about how that tech can and does empower blind people," Nusbaum said. "Really, technology is, for blind people, a liberator. It gives us the freedom to access information like we have never had access to it before."

As an example, a blind person reading non-Braille paperwork presented to them on the spot was once impossible without asking another person to read it aloud.

"One of the apps I am going to talk about is KNFB Reader. What this app does, I can take a picture of a printed page, say, a page out of your newspaper, and instantly the technology within the app scans the print … and converts that to a readable text and then reads the text on the page back to me," he said.

"A teacher can give me a paper … I can take a picture of it and by the time the teacher is done passing out the papers, I would have it on my iPhone, ready to follow along with the class."

Nusbaum will discuss a number of other apps, including NFB Newsline, which allows blind people using an iPhone to listen to, or read on a Braille display, more than 300 newspapers and magazines. He will also demonstrate the LookTell Money Reader, which allows a person to hold a piece of paper currency up to an iPhone's camera lens to identify its denomination.

"You know how many blind people have been ripped off because they think they are handing a person a $1 and they hand them a $10?" Orzolek-Kronner asked. "Now they have an app for that."

Not all technologies that assist blind people or those with low vision come from Apple, but Nusbaum said the iPhone maker has long been the pioneer in the field.

"When I first got a touch-screen iPod, I didn't think I would be able to use it easily. But Apple has built in a really intuitive set of gestures in all of their devices which allow a blind person to operate a touch screen," he said. "Companies like Amazon with the Kindle and Google with their Android devices, and companies that make touch screen kiosks in airports and such, they have not been made accessible. They could be, it's just a matter of their putting the time into developing the software. That's something the National Federation of the Blind is working on at a national level."

And the National Federation of the Blind is really the overarching reason for the event, according to Nusbaum."

We are using technology as this topic to generate interest, and while we want to help educate blind people about the technology that is available to us, we also want to build a network of blind people," he said. "The best way of learning about blindness and learning blindness skills and developing a positive attitude about blindness is by getting to know blind people … We will also be introducing the network and the family of this organization to people in Carroll County with the goal of creating an active, energetic and long lived chapter here."


Protecting the Rights of Blind Marylanders: The Annapolis Roundup

By Sharon Maneki

The 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly was a challenging one. We had to introduce ourselves and educate 58 new Delegates and 11 new Senators. We were successful in promoting the right to read and have access to information, the right to work, the right to use new forms of transportation, and the right of blind children to learn to travel.

Learning to Travel

Because of our efforts more parents and students will learn about the value of Orientation and Mobility instruction. We expect that many more students who need this instruction will receive it over the coming years. The Maryland General Assembly passed HB535/SB538 and Gov. Hogan signed them into law on May 12. Here is how Fatoumata Boiro explained the need for this legislation to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 4, 2015:

“My name is Fatoumata Boiro. I came to the United States from Guinea in 2006. I came to tell you my story so that you will understand why SB 538 is an important bill.

I have had trouble seeing throughout my entire life. At the end of the ninth grade, I went to Johns Hopkins and the doctors told me I had retinitis pigmentosa. My family and I didn’t know that we could get help from the Prince George’s County School System. I attended Duvall High School in Lanham, Maryland and graduated in June of 2014. When I was in high school, I stopped going out at night because I couldn’t see. I tried to do my school work the best that I could, but I was always in pain. My parents were afraid to let me go on some of the school field trips because I wouldn’t get the help I needed. I was on the track and field team but I could only participate in the summer. I couldn’t participate in the fall or winter because it got dark too quickly and I would have no way to get home.

Finally, at the end of my junior year, the school nurse told me to talk to my guidance counselor about my vision problems. I got a little bit of service to help me with my academic subjects in my senior year, but no one told me I could get orientation and mobility instruction. No one gave me a cane or suggested how I could avoid tripping or falling.

I had a part-time job to help my family. I couldn’t make much money because I had to limit my hours since I couldn’t get home in the dark. I knew I had to find a better way because my vision was getting worse.

I am currently attending the rehabilitation program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. I should be in college or working but I can’t because I didn’t get the skills that I needed in school. Today I am learning how to travel by myself by using my white cane. It is hard for me to learn, but I am determined to be successful.

Please vote in favor of SB 538 to help blind children learn orientation and mobility when they need it. I want other children to have the opportunities that I missed. Thank you.”

The Right to Read and Access Information

Gov. Hogan appropriated $250,000 to continue the work of the CENA, the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. The Maryland General Assembly kept that money in the budget. We look forward to the great things that CENA will accomplish, especially its plan to provide access to the over 10 million books in the HathiTrust.

Gov. Hogan proposed a very severe cut to the programs at the Library for the Blind. Library services would have been eliminated because the cuts were scheduled to occur over a period of ten years. Because of our advocacy, the Maryland General Assembly struck this plan from the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2015.

The Right to Work

We joined with BISM to protect the jobs of blind Marylanders, especially those who work in BISM’s Baltimore plant. Although HB349 was passed by the Maryland General Assembly, it was heavily amended to remove the most objectionable part. The current bill, which became law, calls for further study. The legislators want to know how BISM’s procurement priority would impact the Minority Business Enterprise Program. The Maryland General Assembly also struck language from the bill that would have prevented BISM from bidding on janitorial product contracts. Protecting the livelihood of blind persons is one of our highest priorities. Here is how the Cumberland Times described the outcome of this legislation:

“Amended bill affecting Blind Industries passes

Posted on Apr 14, 2015

by Matthew Bieniek

CUMBERLAND — A heavily amended bill affecting Maryland’s main organization serving the blind passed the General Assembly during the session’s final day and is ready to go to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan for signature.

Initially, leaders of the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland feared the bill could cause layoffs throughout the organization, especially in Baltimore. Amendments to the bill before passage, though, alleviated those concerns and the final bill wasn’t expected to cause problems for the organization, said Christina Davis, a senior director with BISM.

“We supported the bill; we find it to be favorable to BISM,” Davis said. The final version of the bill retained language making BISM a preferred subcontractor in the state procurement process for janitorial products and services in most circumstances. The original bill would have removed the preference and BISM officials said that could have cost the jobs of hundreds of blind people employed by BISM, which is a nonprofit and the largest employer of blind men and women in the state.

Supporters of the original bill wanted to open the process to competitive bidding, which would also bring the state’s normal rules on providing a certain percentage of contracting work to enterprises that employ minorities.

Sales of janitorial supplies bring in about $3 million in revenue to BISM. Loss of the contracting preference would have cut those revenues, but a reliable estimate of the losses was not feasible, state officials noted.

Blind people in Maryland face a 70 percent unemployment rate and discrimination, BISM officials said.

Staff at the Cumberland location of BISM declined comment and referred the Times-News to the state office. At last report, 76 associates were employed at BISM Cumberland.

The biggest change in the final bill is the merger of a pricing committee for Blind Industries products with one designed to price items produced by the Employment Works Program. That program facilitates the distribution of procurement contracts for supplies and services among community service providers and businesses owned by individuals with disabilities, according to a fiscal and policy note to the bills prepared by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services. The pricing committees are designed to ensure that pricing for state-procured products from the organizations are at fair market value.

In addition, the bill requires the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs and the Department of General Services to submit annual reports on the effect of a statutory procurement preference for BISM’s janitorial supplies on minority business enterprises.”

The Right to Use New Forms of Transportation

On the last day of the session, the Maryland General Assembly passed SB868, a bill regulating how transportation network companies (services such as Uber and Lyft) will operate in the state. These companies will be regulated by the Maryland Public Service Commission. Because of our advocacy, this bill contains language instructing the Public Service Commission to issue regulations to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of disability, and guarantee accessibility of all websites and apps.

Other Bills of Interest to Readers

Important legislation regarding access to healthcare was enacted by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Hogan. SB792 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the organ transplant process. The law reads in part:

“(A) a covered entity may not solely on the basis of an individuals disability: (1) consider a qualified individual ineligible to receive an anatomical gift or organ transplant; (2) deny medical and other services related to organ transplantation, including evaluation, surgery, counseling, and post transplantation treatment and services; (3) refuse to refer the individual to a transplant center or a related specialist for the purpose of evaluation or receipt of an organ transplant;(4) refuse to place a qualified individual on an organ transplant waiting list; or (5) place a qualified individual at a lower–priority position on an organ transplant waiting list than the position at which the qualified individual would have been placed if not for the disability; “.

This legislation will be very important to blind diabetics who need kidney transplants, etc.

Many thanks to all who helped make the 2015 session of the Maryland General Assembly a very productive one for the blind of Maryland. The rights of blind citizens to live the life we want were enhanced by the work of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Hogan.

Blind Students Take Driver's Seat in Lansdowne

From the Baltimore Sun and Arbutus Times August 10, 2015 by Heather Norris

(Editor's note: When your ride shows up late, or doesn't show up at all, many of us wish we could get behind the wheel and go where we want, when we want. For the next few years at least, that won't be possible. Learning good independence skills will at least level the playing field. The article below describes the excitement experienced by students enrolled in BISM's core training program as they got behind the wheel and drove through an obstacle course in a parking lot.)

The excitement was palpable Sunday morning on a parking lot in Lansdowne. Students from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland got what was, for many, the once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive a car. Students of BISM's Comprehensive Orientation, Rehabilitation and Empowerment training program cheered each other on, each student drove through a series of obstacle courses, including one that required them to weave between traffic cones with only a driving instructor's voice to guide them and small speed bumps to designate where to begin turning the wheel.

BISM student Waqas Sheikh didn't need much preparation time before hitting the road. The Havre de Grace native got his license, as did many of his classmates at the Aug. 9 session, while he was in high school. He drove for years without any problems.

While he was a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, though, he began to notice problems with his vision. Eventually, he said, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a disorder in which an individual experiences a gradual loss of vision.

Sheikh describes his experience of losing his sight as a sort of tunnel vision that becomes narrower and narrower.

He has not been able to drive for years now and said his vision today amounts to pinpricks of clarity.

Even though he was easily able to locate the seat belt and the transmission, he said he was still nervous about driving a car again. The last time he drove, seeing the road was so difficult that it was more stressful than enjoyable, he said.

"It's the trust aspect," he said, noting that, even though Sunday morning's group was encouraged to feel a map of the course made of twine glued onto a board and many turns were preceded with a makeshift bump made out of pieces of garden hose, the experience relied largely on listening to the exact directions given by the driving instructor. "It's tricky enough if you can see," he said.

"I never thought I would ever get the opportunity" to drive, BISM student Mike B. said. Having never driven before, he said he had no idea what to expect, but was thrilled with the experience.

"It wasn't really that difficult," he said. "It was just a blast."

Melissa Lomax, who works as the youth coordinator at BISM, organized the program.

Lomax first drove at a school similar to BISM based in Colorado. She loved the experience so much, she said that she wanted to bring it to the students at BISM.

"It was a lot of fun just being able to do that," she said of her first experience operating a car.

After running into apprehension from several local driving schools she approached with the idea, she decided to take a different approach.

"I said, 'Let me look for a driving school that has ex-cops.'," Lomax said.

She eventually found Street Smarts Driving Academy, run by current and former law enforcement officers with headquarters in Ellicott City. Prior to getting behind the wheel, the group sat through a classroom driving lesson hosted by Street Smarts Instructors Chip Sheehan, John Mynaugh and John Parrott. They used sponges to teach the students about applying the brakes and Frisbees to discuss the steering wheel. The group said they had never taught a course to vision-impaired students before, but said they were happy to help. We still like giving back to the community, and this was a great way to do it," Mynaugh said. The driving program was incorporated into BISM's CORE program, which aims to prepare blind adults for independent living, said Anica Zlotescu, a BISM job readiness instructor. As part of the CORE program, students live in apartments in downtown Baltimore and must learn to travel independently by public transit to get to class five days per week, where they cook for themselves, read Braille, use technology and fine-tune other skills. Thrown into the mix, she said, are programs like the driving experience, and even white water rafting. Even the fun things the group does help the students develop, Zlotescu said. For example, she said, the experience behind the steering wheel of the car gives the students a better understanding of what the drivers they depend on as pedestrians to obey traffic laws are experiencing. Plus, it's a great time, she said. I think it's significant because getting your license is sort of a rite of passage," Zlotescu said. "Blind students sometimes miss out on that."

IN TOUCH – National Federation of the Blind with Gary O'Donoghue

(Editor's Note: Every week, the Radio 4 channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation runs a 20-minute program of items of interest to blind people, called "In Touch." Gary O ‘Donoghue, who is blind and is currently a reporter in the Washington bureau of the BBC, attended the 75th anniversary convention of the NFB in Orlando this past July. He covered many themes of the convention, including our Guinness World Record for holding 2,480 umbrellas in the air for five minutes.

We thought Spectator readers would enjoy Mr. O’Donoghue’s discussion with Federationists who are very familiar to us. The portion of the interviews we are focusing on centers around employment, or in many cases, the lack of it. Mr. O'Donoghue interviewed four Marylanders: Yasmin Reyazudden, Tom Bickford, Rose Sloan, and President Mark Riccobono. Portions of this interview are printed below. You can read the entire transcript, and play the audio of the program by going to . Transcript courtesy of the BBC.)

O’Donoghue: 70% of blind Americans do not have a job, and it’s one of the big campaigning issues for the National Federation of the Blind. They also take companies to court who discriminate against blind employees and refuse to provide reasonable adjustments to help them do their jobs. Listen to this story – Yasmin, one of their success stories in the courts this year.

Yasmin: In 2000 I got a job with the local county government in Maryland; it is a suburb of Washington, DC. In 2005 they decided to open a call centre for the whole department. The call centre was very accessible, we had a local phone number, we did not have to use anything attached to the computer, although we had to put in data. In 2008 the county decided that they wanted to combine all the different call centres because there were several call centres. At the beginning they said oh we will make it accessible. And every time I would ask them anything they would say oh we’re checking on that. They kept on telling me that they were making arrangements to make the call centre accessible, and then they later told me that it was not accessible, it was not going to be, it was going to cost them a lot of money, more than $500,000, and they basically told me that I had to find another position in the department.

O’Donoghue: So, having told you that they would work it out, they then said it won’t work, oh and by the way you’d better find another job?

Yasmin: Yes.

O’Donoghue: What did you think at that time?

Yasmin: Disappointment, frustration.

O’Donoghue: So it’s been going on for five years?

Yasmin: Yes.

O’Donoghue: It must have had a real impact on you.

Yasmin: I’m frustrated, I am not happy, it’s just not right, because most of the time I’m going to work and, because I don’t have much to do I’m dozing off. I want to be busy, I want to be active, I want to do things, I want to help people.

O’Donoghue: And what’s happening now with the case?

Yasmin: Last year, in 2014, there was a judge who basically said the county was right, the county did not make any mistakes in not giving me the access. So we appealed the case, so then in June the appeal judge gave the verdict that we were right, the county has to spend the money to take care of the accessibility of the software and the program. Otherwise, if they cannot do that then we will have a trial, a jury trial.

O’Donoghue: Have you ever been tempted just to give in?

Yasmin: No, no I’m not going to give up. This process may be slow, but I know that slow and steady wins the race.

O’Donoghue: The NFB has ploughed a lot of money into Yasmin’s case because, 25 years after the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, they believe that the idea of reasonable adjustment to make systems work for blind people should have filtered through to employers. Mark Riccobono is the organisation’s president.

Riccobono: Technology should be a game changer really, by providing greater access to information. But because often times it’s built to be inaccessible, it does shut blind people out of jobs, particularly where enterprise software is deployed, without consideration for accessibility. That messes up all of the accessibility that had been there for people who are blind.

O’Donoghue: And when it comes to things like the attitudinal problems and the technology problems, when does an organisation like NFB decide – how does it decide to try and work with people, and then how does it decide when to go to court?

Riccobono: Well, you know, it’s an interesting question because it becomes probably more difficult to determine as we evolve and become more dynamic in our scope. Our preference always is to reach out and work with folks. The legal process is long, it’s painful, it’s expensive, it does get you there but it’s not usually the most effective way.

O’Donoghue: And it’s not just issues of discrimination or access technology that blind Americans have to deal with in the workplace. For example, there are laws on the statute book here that allow employers to pay disabled Americans less than the minimum wage.

Sloan: I’m Rose Sloan, and I’m a government affairs specialist for the National Federation of the Blind. Right now in the United States, believe it or not, it is actually legal for entities to pay people with disabilities sub-minimum wages. This 14C, as we call it, of the Fair Labor Standards Act, was enacted into law in 1938, and in 2015 it is still in effect today. And I’ve seen with my own eyes that individuals with disabilities are literally being paid zero dollars and zero cents per hour.

O’Donoghue: How does that work?

Sloan: So a person without a disability first does the task at hand and they are timed, and then after that the people with disabilities who are expected to do the job are also timed, and their wages are based upon how many caps on pens or how many widgets they complete in their time test. And that is how their wage is determined.

O’Donoghue: Is this mainly happening in sort of unskilled sort of manufacturing areas of the workforce?

Sloan: It is happening in manufacturing, and most of the entities that are paying people with disabilities less than the minimum wage, believe it or not, are non-profits, and these non-profits claim they’re helping people with disabilities. They claim they’re training them in order to get competitive integrated employment.

O’Donoghue: Just for our listeners – non-profits are kind of charities and that kind of outfit.

Sloan: Yes, yes. And – but 95% of the individuals that go into these sub-minimum wage employment, I don’t even like to call it employment, excuse me – sub-minimum wage environments, never leave. They never obtain the competitive integrated employment they strive for and that’s why the National Federation of the Blind and over 80 disability organisations in the United States support the repeal of Section 14C.

From the NFB Archive--Jacobus tenBroek: Among the blind delegates in attendance there were three blind physicists. There was one blind chemist, there were two university instructors of the rank of full professor. There were 13 lawyers. There were three chiropractors, one osteopath, 10 secretaries, 17 factory workers, one shoemaker, one cab dispatcher, one book mender and 61 housewives.

O’Donoghue: Tom Bickford was in the audience that day and I caught up with him down by the pool. Can you cast your mind back to that one in ’57, what sort of atmosphere was it like?

Bickford: One of the things that has been an issue in the United States was that we were meeting in New Orleans and the hotel would not let us meet in their meeting rooms because we had African American members. So we met in a lodge hall down the street.

O’Donoghue: So they were not only getting discriminated against because they were blind but because they were black as well.

Bickford: Correct, correct.

O’Donoghue: And what sort of things were discussed at that first meeting?

Bickford: A lot of the issues were about finding financial aid for blind people. Employment was still a hard thing to do, even though it was pointed out by our national president, Dr. tenBroek, that we had so many lawyers, businessmen, secretaries, people. He was pointing out that blind people had been refused service, even in Las Vegas where gambling is legal, one person was denied an opportunity to gamble.

O’Donoghue: So you couldn’t even lose your shirt if you wanted to as a blind person.

Bickford: No, they kept us out, they didn’t have to say why, and we have improved the legal situation so that at least now people have to explain why, even though we do have the law on our side.

O’Donoghue: Were people cross about it at the time, I mean how cross were they about the way they were treated, or did people tend to accept it?

Bickford: There was largely a lot of acceptance, people didn’t get up and shout and rave about it. But we did talk quietly about it and talked with other blind people about the issues.

O’Donoghue: Is it better than it was, Tom?

Bickford: Oh, far better, yes partly because of the laws, but also partly because more blind people are getting out and showing themselves to the world, just getting out and walking, going shopping, we have money to spend. And that’s one thing that often happens--if you have money to spend, they’ll take it.

O’Donoghue: And what about the organization itself? Sometimes criticized for being full of zealots, of brooking no dissent. What does it expect nowadays of its members?

Riccobono: We still need to be honest with each other as blind people about whether we’re really gaining – whether we’re really operating at the maximum level of independence that we can or should as individuals. And I guess that’s the thing--to be part of the National Federation of the Blind, you do have to have a basic level of comfort with that, that I’m going to push you to push yourself a little farther, not because I think you’re inferior, but because out of love I know it will help you. Because that’s what helped me--someone came to me and said you can do better than this, why don’t you do this. And sometimes it wasn’t always direct, sometimes it was by mentoring, sometimes it was by putting me in a challenging situation which I didn’t recognize was going to be challenging, but they knew I could do it. So what we hope to do is emphasize to folks that our work is really out of love and hope, and that we challenge people because we want all of us to do better, that we recognize we’re all connected in that way as blind people.

Spectator Specs


I am sorry to report the following:

Bill Madden, a member of the Senior Issues Division, died suddenly last spring. Bill did not let his loss of vision prevent him from living a full and meaningful life. He was always ready and willing to encourage other seniors.

Leah Williamson lost her battles with a variety of health issues on May 8th. Leah was only 31. She was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter who strove valiantly to maintain her independence. Her courage and persistence were an example to all that knew her.

Burnell Brown died suddenly over the weekend of July 25. Burnell had been with us at the 75th Anniversary National Convention and had attended the Sligo Creek Chapter meeting on July 18th. Burnell was very active in both the NFB of Maryland and the NFB of D.C. Over the years, she served as both president and treasurer of the Deaf-Blind Division of the NFB. Burnell was a good friend, dedicated colleague, and avid believer in our movement.

On August 10th, long time Federationist, Shirley Morris, lost her battle with cancer. Shirley had been battling cancer for decades. Shirley assisted her husband Don with his many tasks in the blind merchants division and as chairman of the BISM Board of Trustees. Shirley also worked tirelessly in the Federation handling registration at both the national and state conventions. She was a great organizer and very efficient at everything she did. The NFBMD convention ran very smoothly from the late 1980s through the 1990s because of Shirley’s skill and dedication. Shirley received the Kenneth Jernigan Award, the highest award given by the NFBMD, in the 1990s. We will miss her humor, her steadfast commitment, but most of all her friendship.

On August 26th, Eliza Brown, a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter for many years, passed away. Eliza became interested in the NFB because of her blind sister Doris Johnson. Eliza was "blind at heart" and stuck with the Federation even after her sister’s death. She volunteered at the National Center for decades and helped bring our message of hope to thousands of people by working with the mass mail program. Eliza had initiative and would spring into action at the Christmas repast and other chapter activities whenever she saw a need. She was a loyal, dedicated, passionate member. We will miss her spirit of volunteerism.

On September 19th, Sondra Harris, a member of the Board of Directors of the Sligo Creek Chapter, died of complications from open heart surgery. Sondra was very active in recruiting new members, helping other newly blind people, especially those on dialysis, and assisting with fund raising activities. We will miss Sondra's lively spirit!

May they rest in peace.


Cheryl Fogle-Hatch earned a PhD in archaeology from the University of New Mexico.

Rachel Becker earned a Master’s degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Institute.

Autery Weekes and Dami Onafeko earned Associate’s degrees from Prince George’s Community College. Autery intends to get a B.A. degree from Bowie State University, and Dami intends to get his B.A. degree from Howard University.

Alycia Breitschwerdt and Tyron Bratcher earned Associate’s degrees from the Community College of Baltimore County. Alycia intends to earn a degree in Recreational Therapy from Frostburg State University. Tyron intends to earn a B.A. degree in counseling from Coppin State University.

Congratulations to all the graduates.