The Braille Spectator Spring 2015

The Braille Spectator

Spring 2015

Presidential Report

Delivered at the November, 2014 Convention

By Melissa Riccobono


Editor's Note: The convention of the NFB of Maryland held November 14-16 in Towson is over, but will not soon be forgotten! One of the convention highlights each year is the report given by our state president. All of our members and many others who worked with her in various capacities congratulate Melissa Riccobono on the fine job she has done for the past six years. We are happy she has already found new responsibilities. Melissa was elected president of the NFBMD Parents Division. As the mother of three children, two of whom are blind, she is perfect for this role. We know Melissa will work hard in whatever job she undertakes, and are happy she will remain on the NFBMD Board of Directors. The audio report will be on the NFBMD website soon.

Together with Love, Hope, and Determination, We Transform Dreams Into Reality

Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality. This is the new brand promise of the National Federation of the Blind. This brand promise is relatively short--just eleven words. Yet it is made up of extremely powerful words--together, love, hope, determination, transform. This one sentence captures beautifully what we do every day in the National Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. It is truly my honor as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland to share with you our accomplishments from the last year. It took determination to accomplish all that we have. Again, we have been turtles--persevering, stretching toward progress at times more slowly than we would like, but constantly moving forward with the determination to keep going until the job is done. Our progress has been fueled by hope--the hope of the blind of Maryland and throughout this country--and our victories have created more hope for blind people. And, above all else, all of our work is undertaken with love in our hearts for one another, for the blind who have gone before us, and for the blind who are yet to come. Finally, we would not accomplish all that we do unless we were working together. Together we have worked determinedly. Together we have hoped. Together we have loved. Together we have transformed dreams. So together, let us look back on our accomplishments and plan for our future.

At last year’s convention, we talked a great deal about choice--particularly the right of students to choose where they will receive rehabilitation training. We were, and still are, determined to give students any help they need to attend quality training at the place of their own choosing. I am pleased to report that two young people who have grown up in the NFB of Maryland, Nathan Clark and Jason Polansky, are now attending training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. We know this training will allow Nathan and Jason to gain even more hope for their futures. It will allow them to return to Maryland, or perhaps to travel elsewhere, and, with the skills and confidence they will gain, they will truly be able to successfully live their dreams. Of course there are other programs which provide similar training, including our title sponsor, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, Blind Inc., and the Colorado Center for the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland will continue to strive determinedly in order to make sure blind people in Maryland are able to receive the training of their choice in the years to come.

For many years, members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland have come determinedly together to Annapolis, with the shared hope of helping to pass laws which will make life better for blind people in Maryland. This work can be frustrating, tiring, and disappointing. Yet we take it on every year with love because we know transforming laws is one way to transform dreams. Under the able direction of our legislative chair, Sharon Maneki, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland took on three issues in Annapolis. Because of our work together, and our determination, I am pleased to report three Annapolis victories. First, we were able to convince the legislators to leave $250 thousand in the governor’s budget for the National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Commerce, Public Information and Education (CENA.) This center has many ambitious future goals including an accessibility hotline for governmental agencies, web resources for businesses who are developing websites and apps, and accessibility training for businesses, governmental agencies, and education institutions, just to name a few. We know this center will have an impact on the government, education, and businesses in Maryland and around the country. Access to educational materials and courses, government information, and commerce is our dream. Our work is helping to transform this dream into reality.

The Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) was another hot topic at last year’s convention, and a focus of our Annapolis efforts. The library receives funding from the Maryland State Department of Education, but had no actual line item in this agency's budget. Therefore, whenever budget cuts were needed, the Library for the Blind was an easy target. This has resulted in a variety of staff vacancies, hiring freezes, and the library continually having to figure out how to provide the high quality of service they want to give their patrons with less resources. Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland truly love LBPH, its services and programs. We were determined to use this love to educate the legislators about the importance of the library, and the fact that it serves blind people statewide. Our efforts were successful. On May 15th, Governor O’Malley signed SB419 into law. This bill states that, for the first time in its history, LBPH will be a part of the formula used to distribute money to libraries around the state of Maryland. It is our hope this will allow LBPH to have a stable funding source from 2016 and beyond. This bill could not have come at a better time. The library, as you heard this morning, is once again without a director. Because of other staff shortages, the hours for phone-in patron services have also been cut. These trends concern us greatly. Together with the love for our library, the hope for a brighter future for our library, and the determination for our library to continue to provide quality services, we will assist in transforming the library into the vibrant resource we know it can be.

Our final victory in Annapolis involves our dream for access to commerce and information in an increasingly digital world. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has tackled this issue in Annapolis in the past, but we have never been able to achieve the results we wanted. Instead of giving up, however, we persevered with determination and came up with a new approach. In the past we have attempted to pass stricter laws regarding accessibility of business, governmental, and education websites, which included incentives for greater accessibility, and penalties for accessibility violations. Some of these laws have passed; some have not. At times we have had luck enforcing the laws we were able to pass; at times enforcement has been weak. This year, we decided our energy was best spent making sure proper training is given to the web and app developers of the future--current students studying computer science and web design. On May 15, Governor O’Malley signed SB446 into law. This bill mandates that the Maryland Department of Disabilities, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, establish a work group to examine how Maryland colleges and universities currently handle the study of accessibility. This work group will make recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly on best practices for teaching web and app accessibility, barriers which are getting in the way of these practices, and how to overcome those barriers. The work group must submit a preliminary report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 15, 2015. Its final report to these entities is due by June 30, 2017. It is our hope that the recommendations of this workgroup will lead directly to more student knowledge about accessibility, which will lead to the creation of accessible websites and apps from the ground up in the years to come. This will truly transform our dream of accessible apps and websites into reality.

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is determined to protect the right of the blind to cast a private, independent, and secret ballot. Therefore, when the Maryland State Board of Elections failed to certify an accessible online ballot marking tool, (a tool members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland helped to test and create) members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland were eager to help with the lawsuit filed against the Maryland Board of Elections by the National Federation of the Blind. Together our members sat in court for hours in order to show the judge how important this issue is to us. There was a great deal of testimony given, but some of the most compelling came from our own Janice Toothman, who described in detail the horrible experience she had voting in the June primary election, and what a difference being able to mark an absentee ballot online, independently, in her own home, using her own assistive technology, would make in her life. Because of Janice’s testimony, the skills of the lawyers from Brown, Goldstein, and Levy, the support of the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and the determination of the National Federation of the Blind to fight for equal access to voting, the judge ruled in our favor, and the online ballot marking tool was available for use in the November general election. President Riccobono and I both took advantage of this tool, as did other blind and disabled people across the state of Maryland. This tool works. It allows blind and disabled people to mark our absentee ballots independently and privately--something all nondisabled Maryland voters are able to do. Unfortunately, our work is not done on this issue. The Maryland Board of Elections has filed an appeal in this case, so the fight for this accessible online ballot marking tool will go on. It is our hope to use this appeal as an opportunity to create strong case law which will serve well in similar voting cases across the country. The National Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland are determined to win this fight. Being able to cast a secret ballot is a right for all Americans. We will not stand for this right to be turned into only a dream.

As always, much of the determination of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has been focused on the education of Maryland’s blind children. It is impossible not to approach this work with the love we feel for all blind children--they are our hope for the future, and we want to do everything we can to give them the love, hope, and determination (not to mention some mentoring and skills) they need to transform their many dreams into reality. Together we worked to raise money, recruit students, and helped teach two successful National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (NFB BELL) programs. I know all of you enjoyed the NFB BELL presentation this morning; this program is one of our most positive tools for helping blind elementary school children gain a positive attitude about blindness, Braille, travel, cooking skills, and new friendships with peers and adults alike. It is also one of our best tools to reach out to the parents of these children in order to support them, offer our love, give them hope for their children’s futures, and work determinedly with them to help their children get the things they need to become successful blind adults. NFB BELL absolutely changes lives.

I am very excited to announce we are working hard to add a third NFB BELL program to Maryland this summer. The program will be located on the Eastern Shore. This is made possible because of the enthusiasm of our Delmarva Chapter president, Danielle Earl, Delmarva Chapter member, Amy Crouse, and the support of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland--our convention’s title sponsor. Thank you all for working together with love, hope, and determination to transform the dream of a third NFB BELL program in Maryland into reality. I cannot wait to see what type of impact this program will have for children on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Because of our love for blind children, our hopes for their future, and our determination that they receive a high quality education which will give them the skills they need to compete with their sighted peers, the NFBMD has spent a great deal of effort in IEP advocacy work this year. Because of this crucial work, more blind students have stronger IEPS. More students are receiving instruction in Braille and keyboarding, and the appropriate use of assistive technology is becoming a reality for more students. Due to wonderful workshops provided by the Maryland Parents of Blind Children, parents have learned to demand more specific goals and objectives in their children’s IEPS. The Common Core framework for Braille, developed because of legislation dreamed up by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and with the assistance of NFBMD members, is an excellent guide for parents to use in the development of their children’s IEPS. Unfortunately, our work in this area is far from finished. This is most definitely an instance when we have to buckle down and become the fierce turtle--striding toward our goal of equal education for all blind children with the perseverance and determination we know so well. The hope we get from the progress we make, and the love we feel for the children and families we work with and for, will keep this determination strong. Together, we will continue to advocate at IEP meetings next year, and for as many years as it takes to insure our children have the education they deserve.

Of course, if blind children are to have equal educations, good teachers need to be available. Thanks to the determination of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, our hope for quality teachers of blind students in Maryland has grown stronger. New certification requirements for teachers of blind students were adopted by the Maryland State Department of Education in April, 2014. These requirements are an improvement over past requirements because they have more emphasis on blindness, and the knowledge and skills teachers truly need in order to teach blind students effectively. Additionally, these new requirements should encourage more people to enter this field because individuals no longer need a master’s degree in special education, along with vision certification, to become certified to teach blind students in Maryland.

Although our determination has gained us these victories, there is still unfinished business we are just as determined to rectify. In order for teachers to be certified to teach blind students, they need to be competent in Braille. We are still engaged in discussions to determine which Braille competency test teachers who wish to be certified and recertified need to take. Sharon Maneki and I will be attending a meeting regarding this in early December. Have no fear. We are very clear which test we want teachers to take, and we are determined for this workgroup to fully understand our position. It is very likely we will be able to share the results of these efforts in the presidential report next year.

Together with love, hope, and determination, members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland have worked to keep our affiliate vibrant, and to make sure those who are not familiar with our work learn about us, and are encouraged to join us. The Sligo Creek Chapter showed this type of determination by conducting a very successful seminar for blind diabetics in June. This seminar gave hope to its participants, that they could manage their diabetes independently and have a loving network of people eager to give advice and support.

The National Harbor Chapter once again worked with determination and organized a wonderful County Resource Day for the blind of Prince Georges County. Not only has the National Harbor Chapter almost outgrown its chapter meeting place, they have also outgrown the venue they have used for the County Resource Day. These are fantastic problems to have, and it is clear the National Harbor chapter is spreading love, hope, and determination together in Prince Georges County.

Thanks to the determination of our website committee, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland now has a redesigned website. This was a great deal of hard work, but once again, it was a labor of love, as the committee knows what a valuable tool our website is--it can spread our message of love, hope, and determination to all who visit it.

Finally, with the leadership of Ronza Othman, Sharon Maneki, President Riccobono, and many others, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has completed a very successful 75 Days of Action Campaign. In fact, we were so eager to start our campaign out right, that our Timonium, Lutherville, Cockiesville Chapter joined our Federation Family in July--although the true campaign did not kick off until September. As a new chapter president, Mary Jo Hartle is working hard to reach out to blind people in northern Baltimore County. She has a very strong board, and many loyal chapter members who are working together with her every step of the way. It is always exciting to welcome a new chapter; I expect very good things from this chapter in the future.

Ronza Othman worked with Nikki Tippett and Jason Adkins in order to hold chapter building events in Charlotte Hall and Cumberland. Sharon Maneki worked tirelessly to revitalize our At Large Chapter. All of our other chapter presidents are energized and excited about spreading our love, hope, and determination to the blind of Maryland, and inviting them to work together with us. Our labors are bearing fruit. There are new members from the At Large and Tri-county Chapters here at our convention. There are many other first time convention attendees from other local chapters. Although the 75 Days of Action campaign officially ends tomorrow, I see this work as far from over. These past 75 days have served as a launching point--as a beginning. Our work to build the Federation will never end. And, in this case, instead of frustrating me because we have done so much and still have far to go, I am instead energized because of the joy I receive from spreading our love, hope, and determination to others, together with my brothers and sisters in this movement.

Together with love, hope, and determination we transform dreams into reality… We truly do… And we do it every day. And together we will continue this work forever. We each have love, hope, and determination separately. But by joining together, we are more powerful, more loving, more hopeful, and more determined than we can possibly be alone. Thank you all for your work together with me this past year, and over these past six years of my presidency. It has truly been an honor to serve as your president, and I truly love each and every one of you, hope for your future, and am determined to continue to work together with you in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in order to transform all of our dreams into reality.


2014 Convention Round-up

By Judy Rasmussen

Do conventions really make a difference in people's lives? They most certainly do! Here are just a few comments from people on the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland listserv.

From Ronza Othman: I had a great time. I loved the TLC Love Notes, the banquet speeches, the 75 Days virtual presentation, the massive exhibit hall, the parents and senior activities, the student activities and enthusiasm, the fact we were bursting out of the hotel at the seams, and that there was literally something for everyone at this convention. Thank you, everyone, for making it the best convention so far! Cheers to us, and Happy Birthday, NFB!

From Sherry, a parent: My son and I had a wonderful time! Kenny enjoyed playing with the children and I enjoyed many things, especially meeting lots of people and hearing their stories about all they've accomplished. It was such an inspiration seeing how well blind people got around and that they don’t let blindness stop them from enjoying life and doing what they want. Despite having some eyesight, I had a harder time finding my way around than those without eyesight. I really loved it there and am so thankful to the NFB for making it possible for Kenny and I to attend the Maryland convention.

The 2014 convention brought about some changes to our affiliate. Because Mark Riccobono is now president of the National Federation of the Blind, Melissa did not feel she could raise three children, run an affiliate, and accompany Mark to many events around the country. Sharon Maneki, who served as president of the NFBMD from 1986 to 2006, agreed to serve as president again. We are blessed to have Sharon assume this role, and as Federationists, we will do all we can to help "build the Federation"!

Barry Hond, who has served as second vice president for many years, indicated he wished to step down from his position. We certainly want to thank Barry for his many years of service, and know that even if he is no longer an officer, he will still remain very active.

A few of the many convention activities and presentations included:

  • a presentation on how to avoid falling victim to scams and identity theft presented by Legal Shield

  • a well-attended parents' seminar

  • a presentation by students who attended both BELL programs

  • Soundtrack To The Past: The songs that describe our history and remind us of the distance we have come toward living the life we want, presented by Christopher Nussbaum, a high school student and history enthusiast

  • A panel of giants in Federation history: Dr. Marc Maurer, Mary Ellen Jernigan, and President Mark Riccobono described the past, present and future of the Federation. The entire panel presentation can be found on our website:

Elections were held, and the following people were elected to officer and board positions:

President, Sharon Maneki; First Vice President, Debbie Brown; Second Vice President, Jessie Hartle; Secretary, Judy Rasmussen; and Treasurer, Shawn Jacobson. Elected board members were Darlene Barrett, Maurice Peret, and Melissa Riccobono.

We hope you will all be able to attend the 2015 convention in Ocean City, November 13-15.

Six resolutions were passed at the 2014 convention. The subjects of these resolutions were:

  • Lack of accessible information regarding benefits and eligibility for assistance from the state Department of Human Resources;

  • Urging the State Department of Education to hire a director and fully staff the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically handicapped;

  • Provision of adequate orientation and mobility instruction for K-12 students with visual impairments;

  • Urging the Department of Budget and Management to insure the accessibility of office information systems and websites to blind employees and citizens;

  • Calling on Maryland colleges and universities to support the TEACH Act; and

  • Urging transportation agencies to make their apps, websites and fare collection systems nonvisually accessible.


To read the full text of each resolution, go to

Jennifer Baker Award

By Judy Rasmussen

Jennifer Baker was a 23-year-old tenacious blind woman whose life was cut short due to a number of chronic illnesses. Each year at our state convention, the Jennifer Baker Award is given to a young person who has, or is currently, overcoming significant obstacles to achieve independence and obtain a quality education. It is a privilege to honor a young person who deserves recognition for the courage shown and for achievements made, often beyond expectations. The 2014 award winner is just such a person.

Five-year-old Aisha Watipur came to America from Afghanistan a little over a year ago. Multiple injuries from a bomb blast made her medically fragile and left her traumatized. Her injuries include missing one arm, her nose, and both eyes. Knowing no English, transported to a strange country with no family, and having to undergo several medical procedures would be enough for an adult, let alone a five-year-old.

Aisha Watipur exhibits the spirit of the Jennifer Baker Award. She was an eager participant in the 2014 Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program in Glendale. She seemed fearless as she explored her environment, was eager to learn about the six dots that make up the braille cell, and was full of questions for both adults and other BELL participants. Everyone who met her knew she has the potential to be a leader, will be able to learn braille, and was eager to help her blossom. Aisha has made significant progress in learning to read and write the braille alphabet. She gave a heart-felt thank you speech at the banquet where she received the award.

On January 4, 2015 at a Louis Braille celebration, the Sligo Creek Chapter presented Aisha with a uni-manual braille writer. Now she will have one both at school and at home. We feel certain that we will be writing more about Aisha in the near future. Congratulations, Aisha!


Anna Cable Award

By Judy Rasmussen

Anna Cable has been dead for many years, but her spirit lives on in the award we give in her honor every year at our state convention. Anna died at 108, and for all but the last couple of years of her life, she was active in her community. When Anna became blind, she was told she wouldn't be able to learn braille because "she was too old." The word "old" didn't sit well with Anna. She found a teacher, and did learn braille. She was very proud of this fact, and encouraged young people to learn this essential skill.

The Anna Cable Award is given to people who have become blind as adults, have learned braille, and are using it in their daily lives. This year, we gave the award to two worthy recipients. Both recipients would have made Anna proud.

Sondra Burchette is a resident of Pasadena. Before losing her vision at 48, she worked for the state of Maryland. Her job was to ensure that all physicians practicing in Maryland had their proper credentials. She loved her job, but after losing vision, the amount of printed material was just too much for her to handle. Due to budget cuts, she was handling the job of more than one person. Sondra stated she had worked since she was 17, and didn't want blindness to stop her from being productive.

Sondra attended the senior program sponsored by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (SAIL). She graduated in 2013, and then wondered what she would do. About a month after her graduation, Ruth Sager, the Director of the SAIL program, called and asked if she would be interested in volunteering to teach braille to newly blind people at the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) in Baltimore. Sondra jumped at the chance to give back. For the past two years, she has been traveling to Baltimore two days a week to teach braille to newly blind people. She looks forward to it every week, and is gratified when students realize that age is not a factor in learning to read and write braille. In addition to teaching braille, Sondra enjoys spending time with her grandchildren. Sondra says she was very honored to receive the award, and said she will continue to promote braille wherever she goes. She has been very active in our newly-formed Chapter At large. She is always willing to share her knowledge with others. Congratulations, Sondra!

The other recipient was Karen Crosby. Karen lost her vision due to a stroke. Because she had a background in special education, she was determined to learn some skills and remain independent. She, too, attended BISM's SAIL program, but not at the same time as Sondra. Karen says she "really took to braille." She said she labeled her clothes, her appliances, and food items. She said that sometimes she would be asked to teach the class during the SAIL program if the teacher was called away. Seeing that Karen was committed to braille, Ruth Sager asked if she would like to volunteer at LBPH as well. She and Sondra work together one day per week, and have become very good friends. Karen is vice president of the BISM support group that meets on the first Friday of each month. Karen will start teaching three new students when she returns to LBPH in March after recovering from a broken ankle.


NFBMD 2014 Scholarship Winners

By Melissa Lomax

Editor's Note: The NFB of Maryland is proud to continue its tradition of awarding scholarships to deserving college students annually at the banquet of our state convention. Money is raised from donations, but is mostly funded by the crab feast in August sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Chapter, and the dinner/auction coordinated by the Sligo Creek Chapter. The deadline to apply for the 2015 scholarship program is April 15, 2015.

This year, we awarded two scholarships to blind college students demonstrating academic excellence and community involvement. The recipients, David Toro and Amir Abdolrahimi, not only received a check to assist with tuition--NFBMD paid for their trip to both the NFB national convention in Orlando, Florida and the NFBMD state convention in Towson, Maryland. At both conventions, scholarship winners were mentored by blind adults serving on the Scholarship Committee, and others in the Federation.

David Toro is a freshman at Frostburg State University. His dream school has always been Berklee School of Music, and since he was recently accepted there, David will transfer in 2016. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music business with a minor in songwriting. He aspires to become an entertainment lawyer focusing primarily on record labels and performers in the music industry.

Amir currently attends law school at the University of Baltimore. Though his primary interest is disability rights law, he is open to other law fields, since he believes his internships and classes have the potential to lead him to a different focus.

For both David and Amir, the NFB national and state conventions had a profound impact on their confidence and career ambitions. Amir met dozens of blind professionals in different fields, including a man who runs a company doing liposuction. Several people he met worked in fields Amir previously doubted blind people could succeed in. David shared similar experiences as he was able to meet blind lawyers and musicians. With thousands of blind people, both men found it surprisingly easy to relate with others’ stories and to give advice. It was not until Amir attended the NFBMD state convention that it fully sank in--the NFB truly is a family. For David, it became evident at the national convention that in order to succeed in school, a career, and life overall, he would benefit greatly from receiving adjustment-to-blindness training.

For both winners, the greatest benefits from this scholarship program were not the monetary rewards but the community. The mentors answered David’s questions about the law field and they encouraged Amir to continue seeking ways to give back. In the future, Amir would like to become a mentor himself, assisting those new to blindness or new to the NFB family. David encourages anyone interested in gaining confidence to become connected to a large group of people who understand blindness to apply to this life-changing scholarship program.


Dezman Jackson and Blind Industries Help People Adjust to Sightlessness

By Rachel Anne Warren, City Paper, Updated January 6, 2015

Editor's Note: In the article below, you will learn more about Dezman Jackson, a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the NFBMD. Dezman has served on the NFBMD Scholarship Committee for the past two years. In his quiet way, Dezman demonstrates by his actions and mentoring skills what it means to be a Federationist.

Dezman Jackson is sitting at a table in a boardroom typing on a device. “You can use speech on your phone, and it will speak the messages to you,” he says. “I have it speaking so fast that most people can’t understand it. But 80 percent of the time, I mute speech and use this.” He pulls out a leather pouch that is just a little smaller than a standard keyboard. The rows of differently shaped buttons look complicated, like something only Robert Moog could design. “It’s called a refreshable braille display. Basically it just transmits what’s on your screen to these pins that pop up and down, so you can read the messages from your phone in Braille. I connect to this device via Bluetooth.”

People, especially on the bus, are curious and ask him, “What is that thing? Are you playing music?”

The machines cost a lot--between $3,500 and $15,000 each--but there are government programs which financially assist those who can’t afford one on their own. By assisting employers or employees in getting accessible technology, the Department of Rehabilitative Services allows disabled people to remain, or get, on even footing with those who don’t have a disability.

Jackson offers a cane in one hand, and a plastic blindfold in the other. The blinding process is called immersion, and usually lasts three weeks for new students. The goal of immersion is to teach people with low vision how to live independently without relying on their diminishing sight.

It’s always bustling at the building off Washington Boulevard that houses Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), where all students are legally blind, dealing with a progressive blindness disease, or are fully blind. And most of the employees are blind, too. Framed photos of blindfolded groups white-water rafting and working with power tools in the on-premise wood shop line the walls.

“It’s only been recent that blind people have been able to be certified in teaching other people travel because for years it was viewed as a profession that only sighted people could assure safety,” he says. “So we were kind of locked out of the profession.”

Many blind adolescents are pushed into professions such as music or massage therapy early on because it seems those jobs don’t really require sight. “History has kind of shown the progression,” Jackson says. “At one point, blind people were walking around on the streets as beggars. Eventually people worked into what we call blind trades, which is good because it showed that blind people have something to contribute, and can be productive in society. But we are constantly trying to push forward and raise expectations even higher.”

When Jackson grew up in Mobile, Alabama, he was one of the very few blind students integrated into the public school system. “I was fortunate that I was able to get a lot more training than some,” he says. “But the component that I didn’t have access to was that I didn’t see a lot of successful blind people, adults. Teachers, as great as they were, were sighted.”

In high school, Jackson began to question his own future and what was available to him. “Around the time I was turning 16, you know what happens at that age--you get your driver’s license,” he recalls. “I didn’t have the confidence to get around my neighborhood and nobody really expected me to, anyway. And at that point I just started wondering, ‘what is life gonna be like for me?’”

It was also difficult to find a job. “I know I didn’t get to work a summer job like all my friends did,” Jackson says. “It wasn’t as easy for me to convince somebody I could go to McDonald’s and work behind the counter.”

But on the night of his homecoming dance, something very small happened that helped him gain more confidence. “I took a girl to the homecoming dance. I was able to look up directions from my house to my high school, and that was huge for me because I felt like I had some sense of control,” he recalls. “I wasn’t driving, but I was giving directions.” He doesn’t think twice about finding directions now, but at the time it was a big movement toward his future independence.

Jackson completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in psychology, but he says he still struggled at times. “Ninety percent of what we teach here is confidence,” he says. “A problem-solving approach to things, and I really didn’t have that at the time.”

As the lead rehabilitation instructor and mobility specialist, Jackson embodies that problem-solving approach to life. “Go ahead and put your blindfold on,” he says.

“We start off on this hard floor on the first day when we’re teaching people how to hold and use the cane” and listen to the sound the cane makes. Jackson goes on to explain that, with practice, a blind person can even tell where an opening in a hallway is just by feeling how the cane cuts through the air flow.

“We’re basically about helping people get their life back after they lose their sight,” he says. With the help of government funding, BISM aims to be the center point for blindness in the state of Maryland and across the East Coast. With programs and classes focusing on life skills such as taking care of a house, cooking, traveling with a cane, reading Braille, and using technology, the goal is for students to gain optimal independence whether they are blind or losing their eyesight.

“I think we give way more credit to our eyes or our ears, or sense organs, than is necessary,” he says. “Vision happens in the brain, you know? Your eyes are really just a vehicle. The brain will actually take what might be used for vision for a blind person and remaps it to visualize the way we learn to see things. Seeing doesn’t have to happen with the eyes. You just have to be more inquisitive to get a sense of the world around you.”


Benefits of Training at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM)

By Melissa Lomax

Editor's Note: The NFBMD is proud to sponsor middle and high school students to attend training programs around the country. We spend an average of $10,000 annually to assist college students to achieve their career goals, and middle and high school students gain independence. Below is an interview with one of the students who participated in Independence 101. As you will see from the article, she gained much from the experience.

Alycia “Aly” Levy has enough energy to light up a room and enough drive to accomplish any goal she sets for herself. Aly is currently a freshman in high school, and her favorite subject is English. She enjoys arts and crafts and spending time with her animals. Though she has yet to establish a career goal, she believes that her love for animals will stem into a career as a veterinarian or something similar. Aly believes that with everything comes struggles, and blindness is no exception. “But even still,” she says, “I try to do the best.”

With help from NFBMD, Aly was able to attend the 2014 Independence 101 summer program hosted by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). This three-week comprehensive life skills program focuses on building confidence and independence for blind middle school students. Skills for independence were developed through braille, technology, independent living, and travel classes. Out of these classes, Aly learned the most from technology class, and though travel presented her with the most difficulties, she admits to learning new skills. Outside of classes, Independence 101 participants visited points of interest in Washington, D.C., went rock climbing, explored local malls, and much more! The best activities, according to Aly, included the trip to Six Flags and to Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park. Both the high school and middle school students worked together to design an activity just for Aly. In the middle of the program, Aly celebrated her birthday with us! We baked brownies and placed braille letters on them, and then we celebrated with dancing and food! The graduation ceremony still holds significance for Aly. After all the awards were distributed, Aly and two of her friends performed their original song, “Do You Want to Go to BISM?” Written to the tune of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” From the movie "Frozen."

After attending the Independence 101 summer program, Aly believes that she has learned skills that make her a much stronger person. She now uses her cane frequently, and during Thanksgiving, she was able to assist her mother with cooking. As an avid reader, Aly appreciates now knowing how to download her own books on the NLS BARD iPhone app. During the program, Aly met Feven Geleta, who soon became one of her closest friends. “I loved our friendship because she made me feel like an older sister,” Aly explains, “But then there were times when I felt like the younger sister because I would be upset and Feven would encourage me to be happy.” The counselors have the same impact on Aly. Today, she still talks with several counselors because she is able to relate with them--they are closer to her age and they are blind, so to Aly, they are some of the people who truly understand all that she endures. Overall, her experience this summer has reshaped her thinking in several ways. Without the NFB of Maryland, this opportunity may not have been possible.


Memories of Pauline Johnson

Pauline Johnson, a long-time member of the Sligo Creek Chapter, died in November, 2014. Pauline was passionate about the Federation, cared very much about members who were ill or had special needs, and spent much time educating her co-workers and friends about blindness. Her other passion was increasing our membership. Our theme song for the 75th anniversary "Let's Go Build The Federation" speaks to Pauline's spirit and determination.

Here are some fond memories of Pauline shared by several of the Federationists who were privileged to know her.

Sharon Maneki stated how much she appreciated Pauline's willingness to get on with her life after blindness. Despite many obstacles, Pauline was able to maintain her job with the Prince George's Department of Mental Health Services. She was always willing to testify before the legislature in Annapolis. We were all proud that we were able through legislation to help Pauline maintain custody of her granddaughter.

Lloyd Rasmussen recalled that on the way back from an NFB convention, Pauline was put in first class and sat by Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico. It is hard enough to get an actual appointment with a senator or congressman, and here he was, sitting right next to her. Never one to be intimidated, Pauline used the opportunity to educate him about the legislative issues the Federation was working on at the time.

Shawn Jacobson remembered how Pauline helped him obtain speakers and attendees for a leadership seminar to educate the Hispanic population about blindness.

Terry Powers stated how much she enjoyed teaching Pauline ways of folding money, and giving her tips on using her cane efficiently.

Tom Bickford said she was a friend with an open heart and open arms.

Michelle Clark said she appreciated Pauline's sharing her tips on how to deal with men, which Michelle did not share with the group.

Barbara Kean remembered the Thanksgiving she invited Pauline to her house. Pauline's MetroAccess ride was several hours late in picking her up. By the time her ride finally came, Barbara said she felt like she and Pauline were sisters.

Joyce Brooks was always amazed at how many cakes Pauline would bake for the scholarship auction and then how often she would buy them back.

Fernisha Johnson talked fondly of her grandmother. She said that even when Pauline was in the nursing home and quite ill, she still talked about going to convention. Pauline was the greatest influence in her young life. She told Fernisha that you have to work hard for what you want in life.

There are many other things we could say about Pauline. In her memory, let's go build the Federation!


Ongoing Battle Against Discrimination Continues

By Judy Rasmussen

When a blind person becomes competitively employed in a job he/she enjoys, all of us share in the victory. Yasmin Reyazuddin and all of us rejoiced when she became employed as a contractor with Montgomery County in 2001, and a full-time employee in 2002. In December, 2004 she began working on the Department of Health and Human Services information line. She remained in this position until December, 2009.

In 2008, Montgomery County purchased Siebel software to transition to a Customer Relationship Management system. The purpose for the change was to allow County residents to have one point of entry to access services. By calling 311, residents could be referred to any County service quickly.

Whenever a new software system is purchased, all employees experience some anxiety. Eventually, the newness wears off, and people become accustomed to the new system. However, if you are blind and the software purchased is not readable by your assistive technology, you are in real trouble. Such was the case with Yasmin. Since she was not allowed to test the software prior to its purchase, nor at any time during the County's customization, she had no way of knowing whether she would be able to assume her duties in this new environment. As it turned out, the Siebel CRM software was not accessible when used with her screen reader. Consequently, Yasmin was transferred to another County position which does not fully utilize all of her skills. She is still providing a valuable service to County residents, but she does not handle nearly the volume of calls she could be handling if she had remained in the 311 call center environment. This transfer affected her pay grade, and there is no room for upward mobility in her current position.

In April, 2011, with the help of the National Federation of the Blind, Yasmin filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County, claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit alleged that the County failed to accommodate her need for accessible software to continue doing her job.

In legal matters, things usually move slowly. In March, 2014 a summary judgment was issued by the Circuit Court in favor of Montgomery County. The judge ruled that the County was not at fault by purchasing an inaccessible software system, because Yasmin had been transferred into another County position, and therefore had been accommodated. The judgment also stated that it would be an undue hardship for the County to retrofit the current system to make it accessible for one employee.

Not satisfied with this ruling, the Federation appealed the decision. On January 28, 2015, before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, oral arguments were heard by a three-judge panel. The NFB, represented by Brown, Goldstein and Levy, argued that the lower court incorrectly interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act. Purchasing an inaccessible software system in the first place renders it impossible for any blind person to apply for these customer service positions. The County's argument is that the cost is too great, and it has not been proven whether the current system customized according to County specifications could be made accessible. Representatives from Oracle (vendor of the Siebel software) claim that the County made so many customizations to the system that they broke the accessibility features built into it.

The judges will next rule on whether there is a dispute in the facts of the case, and therefore whether the case should be referred back to a lower court for a jury trial.

The Federation never gives up--we may lose some battles, but we won't lose the war!


Students compete in Braille Challenge, finding friends and competition

By Joe Burris The Baltimore Sun


Chris Nusbaum at the regional Braille Challenge at the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore. (Joe Burris / Baltimore Sun)

Winners of local Braille Challenge will head to nationals in Los Angeles.

Blind students find friends and compete at Braille Challenge.

Chris Nusbaum of Taneytown said that he and other blind students don't always readily take to learning Braille. His first few years with the touch-sensitive writing system meant being pulled from regular classes at Running Meade Elementary School to practice. No fun, he said.


Dundalk 14-year-old doesn't let blindness keep him out of the hunt

Then Nusbaum took part in the Braille Challenge, a national academic competition for students ages 6 through 19. The meet that tests students in such areas as reading comprehension and graph reading not only fueled Nusbaum's competitiveness but it allied him with other blind and visually impaired students.

"I found that they were blind kids just like me that I can bond with and who loved Braille, and we can have fun while still cultivating those Braille skills," said Nusbaum, 16, who on Saturday took part in the regional round of the Braille Challenge, which was held at the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore.

Sponsored by the school and the state Department of Education, the challenge pits students in test competitions that require them to read Braille and type into a Braille device.

The competition was created by the Los Angeles-based Braille Institute of America, whose officials say it's the only academic competition for blind students in the U.S. The institute developed the competition 15 years ago to encourage blind children of all ages to fine-tune their Braille skills. More than 1,000 students participated last year, officials said.

Winners of the regional meet head to the national Braille Challenge, which is slated for June at the institute headquarters. Only 60 students advance to the national challenge annually.

Nusbaum has reached the finals each year from 2007 to 2010 and finished as high as third place in 2009.

"As a blind person, I know how important Braille is in my life," said Nusbaum, who said he would like to someday become a teacher for the visually impaired. "Braille is really what I use to access the outside world, what I use to access my classroom material, read books and communicate with my friends through texting and email."

Jacqueline Otwell, an educational consultant for outreach service for the Maryland School for the Blind and coordinator for the Braille Challenge, said many students come from traditional schools.

"They don't have opportunities to sit next to two students that can read and write Braille," she said. "It's great friendship building."

School for the Blind officials said the regional event draws students from as far away as West Virginia.

Students said that while the meet offers a chance to forge ties and make friends, it is also quite competitive. Winners get prizes of cash and state-of-the-art technology.

"It can be a little nerve-racking, but otherwise it's really fun when you have the skill of Braille and can do your best to compete in the challenge," said Julia Stockburger of Perry Hall, who has attended the national competition in each of the past three years.

"I learned that when you try your best you can achieve great things," added Julia, who is 9.

Much of that achievement has come with the advent of new technology, said Michael Bina, president of the Maryland School for the Blind. Such technology includes devices that generate Braille characters and Web applications that eliminate the need to view a screen.

"Technology has opened up the door for kids," Bina said. "It has made the playing field level for kids. It has allowed them to be more competitive. They don't have to wait for someone else as an intermediary to give them information."

The new technology had led some to believe that paper Braille would become obsolete. Not so, Bina said.

"You talk to blind adults, blind students," said Bina, "and they love their books. They read them just like I read mine."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun

Editor's Note: Listed below are the names of all students who participated in the Braille Challenge. We are pleased that several of the winners have participated in our BELL programs.

Novice: (Kindergarten an Pre-K)

1st: Maddox Dalyai

2nd: Oriana Riccobono

3rd: Nadiya Albrecht

Apprentice: (First and Second grades)

1st: Meredith Day

2nd: Maria Zoerlien

3rd: Tyler Huber

Honorable Mention: Nadezda Chernoknizhnaia

Freshman: (Third and Fourth grades)

1st: Sujan Dhakal

2nd: Julia Stockburger

3rd: Anthony Moncman

Honorable Mentions: Derrick Day, Mossila Gaba, Naudia Graham, Devon Lengel, Alexis McPhail

Sophomore: (Fifth and Sixth grades)

1st: Kayla Harris

2nd: Feven Geleta

3rd: Melika Aziminia

Honorable Mentions: LaShai Richardson, Mitchell Villanueva, Ladrea Stanton, Virginia Jacobs

Junior Varsity: (Seventh and Eighth grades)

1st: Gracie Zuzarte

2nd: Andrea Darmawan

3rd: Nesma Aly

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Shallue, Steve Lin

Varsity: (High School)

1st: Christopher Nusbaum

2nd: Naim Abuelhawa

3rd: Steven Cantos

Honorable Mentions: Nick Cantos, Cody Mulligan, Caroline Carbaugh, Leo Cantos


The Race in Annapolis Is Under Way

By Sharon Maneki

Each year, the Maryland General Assembly has 90 days to pass the state budget and to enact legislation. The session began on January 14 and no matter what, it will end on April 13. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was off to a fast start as well. On January 22, 55 Federationists visited the 141 delegates and 47 senators who make up the General Assembly. We had to educate many new members about our message of hope and determination to ensure that every blind person in the state can live the life he or she wants.

We were pleased to visit with returning members and friends to enlist their continued support for our legislation. Two highlights of the day were the passage of a special resolution and our chance to recognize Senator Joan Carter Conway. Both the House and the Senate passed resolutions congratulating the National Federation of the Blind on its 75th anniversary. A special thank you to the representatives of District 46, Senator Bill Ferguson, and delegates Peter Hammen, Luke Clippinger and Brook Lierman who sponsored these resolutions.

Senator Joan Carter Conway has been a champion for the blind throughout her tenure in the Maryland Senate. Since she was unable to attend our 2014 Convention, we took the opportunity to thank her in person and to recognize her many contributions, especially in education, to improve the lives of blind children and adults in Maryland. At our convention, we gave special recognition to Senator Roger Manno and Delegate Frank Turner for their efforts in the General Assembly last year. All three of these individuals have used their leadership to promote greater opportunities for the blind.

We are promoting three initiatives in the Maryland General Assembly this year. SB 538 and HB 535 will improve orientation and mobility instruction for blind and visually impaired children by requiring school districts to notify parents of this type of instruction and by requiring the IEP team to discuss and evaluate the child's current and future need for this instruction. Our second issue is supporting legislation, SB 550 and HB 1083, which will offer greater protection to disabled parents who go to court to settle custody decisions for their children. The third issue is to strongly urge the Maryland General Assembly not to cut the $250,000 that Governor Hogan appropriated in his 2016 budget for the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. For further explanation of our legislative program, go to and select Current Advocacy Issues and read the fact sheets.

It is time to write letters and to attend bill hearings. Keep your eyes and ears open to upcoming information on the listservs. The clock is ticking. We hope to end our race with three victories.

Dundalk 14-year-old doesn't let blindness keep him out of the hunt

Taken from The Baltimore Sun, December 24, 2014, By Brittany Cheng

Editor’s note: Blind youth, Cody Mulligan, lives the life he wants. Cody will be familiar to Spectator readers because of his many years of participating in the Braille Challenge and the Braille Readers are Leaders contests.


Picture: Cody Mulligan poses with his target sheet, his stepfather, Jay Hessler, and his mother, Sarah Mulligan.

Cody Mulligan is unique for a hunter, and not just because he's 14. The Dundalk resident is also blind.

Despite a disorder that left him blind, Dundalk's Cody Mulligan is determined to continue hunting.

Cody Mulligan was listening.

The 14-year-old heard the crack of the gunshot firing at the closest target, 7 yards away. He caught the sound of the bullet as it sliced through the air and lodged in the side of the low ridge, behind two rows of bright yellow, rectangular signs. He didn't need to look to know what had happened.

"You missed," he told his stepfather. "I can hear a lot of dirt flying."

It was a cloudless, breezy Sunday afternoon in October at the outdoor Baltimore County Game & Fish Rifle Range on Northwind Road in Baltimore, and Cody was waiting for his turn to shoot. It would be one of the last few times the Dundalk resident could practice before the Nov. 15-16 Junior Deer Hunt Days, an annual state-sponsored, two-day event that allows minors to hunt on private and designated public grounds.


Picture: Cody Mulligan takes aim at the shooting range at the Baltimore County Game and Fish Rifle Range.

Cody already had met the requirements for participation: He passed a hunter-safety course in August and received his hunting license in October. In that way, he is like most of his fellow youth hunters. But the way in which Cody is unlike them, and so many other people, is what makes his hunting trips so extraordinary: He is blind.

No 'easy blow'

Cody wasn't born without his sight. When the teenager was younger, he had learned to read the letters of the alphabet and he could differentiate among the colors of the rainbow.

Then things changed, said his mother, Sarah Hessler.

"He would overreach for things that were right in front of him," she said. "That was pre-K at the time, and his teacher mentioned he was having vision problems."

Concerned, Hessler rushed her son to see a doctor, who returned with a diagnosis: juvenile Batten disease, a rare neurodegenerative disorder that causes affected individuals to lose first their vision, then their acquired developmental skills, motor abilities and cognition.

Cody was 4, and within a year, he had lost his sight.

It was unavoidable. Although Batten affects about 1 in 100,000 individuals worldwide, both Hessler and her ex-husband, Cody's biological father, had carried the recessive gene and passed it along.

"But Cody, he's done well with it. He's resilient," Hessler said. "It was a lot harder for us as parents. … It wasn't an easy blow."

Cody said he can't tell the difference between colors but is able to perceive light. He can, for instance, tell whether the sun is up outside or whether a room's lights are on. He has memorized the layout of his house's interior and exterior, but at school and elsewhere, he uses a 52-inch folding cane to help detect nearby objects and get around.

We hope that this story will inspire others with a disability to go after and achieve their goals no matter what. - Sarah Hessler, Cody's mother

Cody regularly sees a pediatrician and a neurologist, who track the progression of the disorder, Hessler said. It hasn't affected him quite as harshly as others his age; Cody has retained most of his cognitive abilities, she noted.

He can speak coherently and walk properly. He's bright. He's a 10th-grade environmental-studies magnet student at Sparrows Point, where he is on the wrestling team.

Cody is a lot like any other kid, Hessler said. There was a long pause before she spoke again.

"It's going to get a lot worse."

Goodwill hunting

One by one, Cody removed each component from its compartment and assembled the Ruger Super Redhawk 44M at the outdoors range that Sunday afternoon. He held the gun steady and checked to see whether the safety was on before he loaded the bullets.

"All ready?" asked Jay Hessler, his stepfather. Cody nodded.

With Jay's hand placed gently on his back, Cody adjusted his aim as he listened to his stepfather's instructions, his finger still outside the trigger guard as he waited for the go-ahead. Jay gave it: "Now."

Cody's first hunting trip was three years ago, with his childhood friend, Wayne. The two boys, then 11 and 12, went squirrel hunting, and even though the younger Cody didn't shoot anything, he liked it enough to ask Jay, who also hunts, to help him get a license.

Jay said yes. The sudden interest in hunting wasn't a surprise; Cody always had loved the outdoors, his parents said. Cody played adaptive soccer and baseball growing up, and he often went fishing and dirt-bike riding, too.

"He just wanted to do it all on his own," Jay said. "He pushed me to figure out how to make it happen for him."

Blind hunters are rare but not unheard of, said Pete Jayne, who has worked for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for 32 years. In 2000, then-13-year-old Danielle Shives, who lost her vision after a brain tumor, also passed a state hunter-safety course and was licensed.


Picture: Cody Mulligan takes aims at the shooting range at the Baltimore County Game and Fish Rifle Range with the guidance of his stepfather, Jay Hessler.

Jayne, however, had not heard of a hunter with Batten disease. Neither had Margie Frazier, executive director of Batten Disease Support and Research Association, the disorder's largest advocacy group in North America.

But Cody's disability did not mean his application for a hunting license was any different. He still had to follow the standard procedure: Complete the hunter-safety course, scoring at least 80 percent on the written test, and pass the field exam. Once he did, he would be eligible to pay the $10.50 fee for a junior hunting license.

Passing the test

Eugene "Butch" Janeczek's sister had a neighbor whose son was blind. One day, Janeczek saw the boy ride his bike, and he was befuddled, not knowing that such a thing was possible. It turned out that the boy could sense the fence and rely on the sounds he heard.

"That made me understand that with Cody, his senses are more sensitive in the hearing," said Janeczek, head instructor at the Baltimore County Game & Fish Protective Association, or BCGF, where Cody took his hunter-safety course.

As he sat at the head of a BCGF table in October, Cody held his hands in his lap, eyes cast toward the wooden surface, and listened to his mother and stepfather speak. When it was his turn, he needed a bit of coaxing from his parents before he opened up. Even then, his answers were brief.

"It's a lot," Jay Hessler said. "And not being able to see what's going on and take other people's words for granted, he's got to put lots of faith and trust in other people."

To help Cody prepare for his test in August, Sarah Hessler would read aloud passages of the hunter-safety course textbook to her son. On test day, Cody recited the information to his proctor, who recorded his 50 answers on a paper copy.

Each year, 180 to 200 people pass the BCGF class, but just seven to nine manage a perfect score. Cody was one of them.

"He's like a sponge," Sarah said. "He absorbed it all."

Not everyone who scores well on the written test passes, however. Recently, the BCGF failed a 10-year-old girl because she wasn't able to hold a gun safely.

But Cody's strong performance on the field test reassured the testers, said Terry Crawford, a BCGF board member. They would not have passed Cody if they had not been confident in his ability to handle a gun safely, he said.

"We promote safety. Butch is a part of that. We're a stickler for that, and we harp on that," Crawford said.

Janeczek added: "One of the life lessons taught to me years ago was: 'Sorry' will not get a bullet back."

A 'careful' approach

Maryland law allows people with disabilities, including vision impairment, to hunt from vehicles, Jayne said. It also permits the use of laser sights, which project a dot of light onto the target to allow the mentor in charge — in Cody's case, Jay Hessler — to track the gun's aim.

Dr. Judith Goldstein, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute who studies low vision and vision impairment, said the recoil of a gun presents some safety concerns for a sight-and-guide approach. But laser sights make the process safer for the mentor because "a lot of the cues are verbal," she said.

Mentors "don't have to be quite right over the shoulder; they can be slightly to the side," said Goldstein, who is not Cody's doctor. "And the hunters themselves feel a bit more independent, as they feel like they're able to be aiming more themselves."

This is important, she said, because it's not just about shooting a gun.

"I often don't have people coming to me about hunting who have never hunted before, or whose family doesn't hunt," she said. "So it's really about a culture, an activity that people are familiar with and want to maintain. And so what we want to do is make sure people are able to engage in these activities, so their quality of life, from their family perspective and social perspective, is good."

Frazier, the BDSRA executive director, said she applauds families like Cody's "who want to make sure their children have opportunities of all kinds."

But she noted that her greatest concern is with the way Batten disease will manifest when Cody loses some of his cognitive and motor skills, and she recommends that children with the disorder not be left alone with a gun.

"The parents and guardians should be very, very careful," said Frazier, a social worker by training who has worked with people with disabilities for more than 20 years. "We have to be very, very mindful about sight impairment and dementia and having anything of a fatal nature close to a child."

It all boils down to safe habits, Goldstein said. Operating a gun requires sufficient training, even for those fully sighted. "A visually impaired person is no different," she said. "They need to know how to use that gun properly."

Said Jayne: "At a very distant level, it seems illogical to allow a blind person to hunt. But if you understand how this is being done and the challenge to the young man and the responsibility of the mentor, it can be … a real thrill for him to be able to practice it safely and ethically."

A dream not deferred

During the Junior Deer Hunt Days, Cody followed his stepfather to Crawford's private farm for a chance to catch a deer. He did not bring one home; two of the deer he spotted were too far away, and a third was too small.

He went to Green Ridge State Forest earlier this month but also returned empty-handed. He had taken one shot and missed.

Allowing Cody to hunt is not necessarily about catching a deer, though; it's about helping him to realize his dreams, his mother said. Cody's next hunting trip will be in January.

"We are always proud of his goals and achievements," she wrote in a message, "and we hope that this story will inspire others with a disability to go after and achieve their goals no matter what."


Spectator Specs


Longtime Federationist, Tina Gormley, died on March 4th after a two month battle with various complications that developed after a scheduled surgery. Tina found the NFB through our state scholarship program. She also found her husband Pat at the same convention where she received her scholarship. Tina was an active member and served for a time as Treasurer of the Sligo Creek Chapter. She was an excellent fundraiser. People still talk about her baking and cooking abilities, especially her potato salad. When Tina and her family moved to Frostburg, they continued to be active in the Greater Cumberland Chapter. When Tina’s vision was restored enough for her to be able to drive, she did not forget her Federation family. She was also very active in her church and many other service clubs. We will miss her kindness, generosity and caring spirit.

We are sorry to report the death of Annie Gordon. Annie learned of the NFB later in life and was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter. She was very delighted to attend our National and State Conventions.

May they rest in peace.


In August 2014 David Rissling-Venit graduated from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He earned a BA in Music. David has several part-time jobs including announcer for wheelchair basketball at the University of Alabama, and a musician for the University of Alabama Afro-American Gospel Choir. David is also a professional musician for local churches. He already has a great reputation for enhancing the religious experience through his musical talent and hopes to obtain additional paid positions.

Aaron Richmond graduated from Goucher College in December 2014. He earned a BA in International Relations. Aaron plans to get a job abroad and to teach English as a second language.


Jason Polansky, at 18, is the youngest person to pass the National Certification in Unified English Braille from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. This test measures competency in both reading and writing Braille using the new Unified English Braille Code. Congratulations, Jason!


Shirley Riffle was recognized for her many years of service in the rehabilitation department at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland on February 26, 2015. At its annual State Conference, the DC/MD Chapter of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired presented its Recognition of Excellence in Direct Service Award to Shirley Riffle. Shirley has been a part of the rehabilitation staff for over 20 years. She has spent much of her career working with newly blind seniors who attest to her tremendous abilities to listen and offer encouragement. Congratulations to Shirley Riffle for this well-deserved award.