Braille Spectator, Spring 2019


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

Ronza Othman and Sharon Maneki, co-editors.

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

Ronza Othman, President.

Comments and questions should be sent to


In this issue:


The Future Is Ours


The Road Less Traveled in the National Federation of the Blind


A Lasting Legacy: Remembering Rachel Olivero


Can I Have an ABLE Account if I am Forty-Fifty-Sixty Years Old?


Living The Lives They Want: How Do Blind and Sighted Spouses Make It Work?


Chapter Spotlight: The Sligo Creek Chapter, Then and Now


Senior Spotlight: Bryan Holley


Nothing About Us Without Us: The Federation Edition


Blind Marylanders sue Walmart, saying self-serve checkouts violate ADA


Student Spotlight: Jason Polansky - Living the Life He Wants


The Legacy of Change


Celebrating Louis Braille’s Birthday, Maryland Style


Spectator Specs


The Future Is Ours

By Ronza Othman


[Editor’s Note: Ronza Othman was elected as the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland at the 2018 Annual State Convention in November.  She gave the following remarks to the Convention as a means of sharing her background and commitment to the Federation with our members.]


“I am blind.”  Those words are three of the most liberating words in the English language.  But for many of us, they are some of the scariest words in the English language.  Some of us need to hear them hundreds of times before we realize those words apply to us.  Some of us need to literally fall in a hole and we still won’t realize they apply to us.  But thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, those words are liberating – an anthem of freedom that pierces the anxiety and frustration of trying to do things the sighted way when you have little or no sight.


I’d like to tell you a little about me, if I may.  I was one of those who was slow to accept my blindness, and slower to use the words.  I always thought I was unique – my family immigrated to the United States from Palestine just days before I was born.  I spoke almost no English when I started school, and I was the sixth of seven kids.  My family was loud, funny, and each and every one of them is a Type A personality – except me.  #Sarcasm.  My mom figured out when I was a toddler that I had “vision issues” and like most parents, she took me from doctor to doctor seeking a diagnosis, a reason, and a fix. 


In the Middle East and many other parts of the world, cultural and political norms cause families of the blind to hide their disabilities, and sometimes to hide the family members who have disabilities.  The word “blind” has very negative connotations, and resources don’t exist, or if they do they are inadequate.  Thus, fortunately, much has changed in the last quarter-century in much of the world.  But for most refugees and immigrants, who are already trying so hard to “blend” and be unnoticed in American society, having a child with a disability such as blindness is an additional challenge.  Having said that, though the Middle Eastern culture used to hide its blind, my mother rebelled against that notion from day 1.  And so my unwillingness to use the word “blind” – though perhaps had some societal cause, was in no way perpetuated by my mother or immediate family.


Yet English was my second language, and I was notoriously bad at it – I kept trying to add English endings to Arabic words, which as a little kid just sounds bizarre.  You’ll still hear my accent come out when I’m tired, sad, or angry.  Anyway, I went to kindergarten at my local public school where I have fond memories of playing with blocks.  That is all I remember about mainstream kindergarten.


I remember a test – I was five so I also remember really wanting the juice box they promised me if I finished the test – and they showed me three pictures – an umbrella, an apple, and a house.  I knew the words in Arabic, but I didn’t know them in English.  I told the juice box people what items were in the pictures, but apparently I did it in the wrong language – no one but me spoke Arabic apparently.  And off to a resource school for the blind I went – oh and I got to repeat kindergarten too.  And to add insult to injury, the juice box wasn’t even that good.


The resource school taught me to read, write, and speak English first.  But they wouldn’t teach me more than rudimentary Braille or cane travel because I “had enough vision to get by without them.”  They gave me large print books – and I believe that is when my need for a chiropractor originally began – a six-year-old shouldn’t be carrying such heavy books.  I was mainstreamed into the “regular” classrooms within a few months of getting there, which made me wonder, even at age six why I had to commute 90 minutes each way each day to just do what I would have done at my neighborhood school.  I did ask that question – in English – I was precocious – but I never got a satisfactory answer.


I remember a particular time when I got behind my “regular class” in reading and I worked out that my classmates were using context clues from the pictures in the book to learn words.  Large print books in my day looked like over-sized coloring books, and for a blind kid, all I saw were a bunch of wavy lines – rather disorientating.  I asked my “vision” teacher if someone could color in my book like the other kids so I could have usable pictures too – and I’m sure that was the most fun task one vision aide probably ever had – coloring my first-grade reader.  I have fond memories of “See Frog Jump” as a result.


I went back to my neighborhood school after second grade and attended a religious parochial school for junior high and high school.  I got the occasional visit from my vision itinerant, but mostly those were excuses to skip a math quiz or visit Taco Bell.  It took me longer than most to finish my homework, and I slept very little in high school in order to keep up with the required reading.  Oh, and I was a total nerd, complete with the public aid glasses – you know them – the ones that are huge plastic frames – with bifocals – and my mother insisted I wear them on a string so I didn’t lose them.  I didn’t go out alone at night and I only went if I absolutely trusted the person whom I was with.  I realize now that the people I was with were giving me non-visual cues, but it was clear to everyone but me that I was blind.


All this time, when people asked me, and mind you they absolutely had to ask – I never volunteered or self-identified – I would say I was “visually impaired.” 


When I went to college, I began figuring out something was different about me.  I realized I was the only one working so hard to complete assignments.  I got a job on campus I really liked but wasn’t brought back after freshmen year because I was “too slow in reading documents.”  I realized scantron sheets were everywhere – they are the devil – and my absolute loathing for them was disproportionate from my fellow classmates’.  I fell in a hole – literally – walking one night I jumped out of the way of a speeding car and ended up in a construction ditch.  I hadn’t even known it was there, and had I used blindness techniques or mobility skills, I’d have known of its existence before I fell in it.  I broke my ankle and two ribs.  But I insisted to anyone who would listen that I fell because of a speeding car, not because I “couldn’t see well.”  My vernacular was changing.


I applied for scholarships with the National Federation of the Blind, and I wish so fervently that someone had contacted me for more than the annual interview.  My college experience would have been so different – and I might have avoided that hole.  I finally did receive a state scholarship in Illinois when I was a first-year law student, and that State convention was my first exposure to adults who were blind and who were fine with their blindness.  In fact, they were thriving.


I showed up at the convention fully planning to take the scholarship money and run – law school is expensive and really intense.  But when I got to the hotel, I saw about 100 blind people who were laughing, talking, walking, navigating the hotel—and parking lot—on their own, and doing what many of us think of as basic things.  But for me, this was all new.  I thought I was doing great as a “low vision” person, but surrounded by people who had much less usable vision that I did, I felt like I was missing something fundamental. 


At that convention, I met people like Patti Chang, Debbie Stein, Fred Schroeder, and Ryan Strunk.  Fred Schroeder kept calling me “Runza” and it took me three days to figure out he was teasing me by calling me the name of his favorite Nebraska sandwich.  Then he talked to me about my own as well as cultural misconceptions about blindness - this was the beginning of a life-long conversation the two of us have been having about blindness and NFB philosophy.  Ryan Strunk kept asking me annoying questions like “But how do you read” and “How do you travel?”  I got defensive because my answers didn’t satisfy him… or, I realized, me.  I later thought long and hard about his questions and viewed them as a challenge to learn how to work smarter, not harder, and that meant learning blindness skills.  Patti Chang showed me that lawyering could be done as a blind person quite competently – which was something I was very anxious about – and she took me under her wing—whether I liked it or not—and brought me into her family.  Patti gave me one of my first jobs as a law clerk and she worked me as hard as every sighted employee she had—I think she worked me harder.  She taught me through words and actions what blind people could do in their lives—what blind lawyers could do—what I could do.  Debbie Stein gave me the gift of literacy; she too grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.  I tried to take the money and run but Patti and Debbie wouldn’t allow it—and Debbie taught me to read Braille. 


I’ve been fortunate to meet thousands of Federationists since that state convention, and I’ve learned a great deal from so many of them.  A Federationist, Nathaniel Wales, put a long white cane in my hand for the first time and taught me how to use it; I had to lose a bet to do it, but some of us are slow learners.  Federationists taught me cooking techniques.  Federationists showed me that independent air travel is not only possible but easy.  Federationists helped give me the confidence to move, alone, across the country to Maryland.  They showed me what technology is out there.  A Federationist, Joanne Wilson, helped me get my first Federal job. 


Melissa Riccobono was the first friend I made when I moved to Maryland a decade ago.  I learned from Melissa to be myself, it is OK to make mistakes, and to never stop learning.  The incomparable Sharon Maneki has influenced my life in so many ways.  I’ve learned that I am capable of so much more than I thought I was.  I learned that no one’s brain can store as much information as Sharon’s, but I like the challenge of trying to mine that brain.  Sharon is also one of the funniest people I’ve ever known – but her humor is so unexpected that it takes you a minute to realize she made a joke.  I’m so grateful for her faith in me as a leader, and I’m more grateful than I can ever express for her friendship and for her love.


These incredible Federationists and others helped shape me into the person I am.  They taught me self-confidence and that the word “blind” is not negative but freeing.  I hope to share the gift they’ve given to me with those who come after me.  They showed me that with the proper skills and attitude, the future is ours.  Because of them, because of you, my fellow Federationists, I can say with pride and confidence: my name is Ronza Othman, and I am blind.




The Road Less Traveled in the National Federation of the Blind

By: Sharon Maneki


[Editor’s Note: Sharon Maneki served as the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland from 1986 to 2006 and from 2014 to 2018, in addition to holding other various leadership positions in Maryland since 1983.  She has served as one of the most prominent and effective leaders in the affiliate’s history, and her contributions in the areas of legislation, advocacy, mentorship, and youth development are unparalleled.  Though she has retired from the Presidency, she continues to demonstrate tremendous leadership in these and many other areas.  Below is the Presidential Report that Sharon gave to the 2018 Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind on November 10, 2018.]


Fellow Federationists:


Let me begin my report to you by reading a poem.


The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Robert Frost claimed that he wrote this poem for a friend and fellow poet, Edward Thomas, as a joke.  When Frost was in England, he and Thomas frequently walked in the woods.  Thomas was always indecisive about which road to take.  The interesting aspect about poetry is that it can have many interpretations.  For instance, when Frost read this poem to some college students, they did not view it as a joke; they took it very seriously.  Some critics say that this poem is about the inevitability of choice.  This poem was popular during World War I.  Therefore,  some view this poem as a statement about finality because so many soldiers were unable to go back to their home roads.  Edward Thomas, the inspiration for this poem, was killed in World War I, and could not go back to the roads of England.


Robert Frost wrote this poem in 1915, years before the National Federation of the Blind came into existence.  Even though Robert Frost was unaware of the Federation, I think the last line of his poem is a good description of our experience as blind people in our movement. 


“I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”


Think about society’s view of blindness versus that of the Federation.  The Federation’s view of blindness was revolutionary and certainly represented the road less traveled.  In 1963, when Dr. Kenneth Jernigan delivered his speech entitled “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic” he said,


No one is likely to disagree with me if I say that blindness, first of all, is a characteristic. But a great many people will disagree when I go on to say that blindness is only a characteristic.  It is nothing more or less than that.  It is nothing more special, or more peculiar, or more terrible than that suggests.


This simple concept was revolutionary because, if blindness is merely a characteristic rather than a handicap, then blindness does not in and of itself limit an individual in ways that are more significant than those imposed by the combination of other characteristics that an individual may have.  Over the years, we have expanded this concept.  Today we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future.  Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.  You can live the life you want! Blindness is not what holds you back!


I believe that choosing to join the National Federation of the Blind is choosing the road less traveled.  We could be home in bed or sitting on the couch doing nothing.  Instead, we are here at this convention supporting each other and improving the lives of all blind people in Maryland and across the nation.  On a personal level, I recognize that joining the NFB was one of the best decisions that I have made in my life.  It has made all the difference because of the many friendships that I have developed over the years with each of you.  We have played together, shared hopes and dreams, and struggled to overcome obstacles.  Thank you for touching my life and making it better.


Our willingness to take the road less traveled has made all the difference in the lives of blind people.  Consider some of our accomplishments during the past year.  Our convention agenda contains a page of pictures from each of our Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies which were held in Baltimore, Glenn Dale, and Salisbury.  These programs are one of the most important things that we do as an NFB affiliate.  Through our NFB BELL Academies, we are loosening the bonds of illiteracy while raising self-esteem and bolstering self-confidence.  Laurel Kirby was one of the students in our very first NFB BELL program.  Today she is in college.  This past summer, Laurel took the road less traveled and volunteered in our Baltimore NFB BELL program.  We thank all our volunteers who made a difference by touching the lives of the 25 students who attended our NFB BELL Academies this year.   


Melissa Riccobono has a beautiful singing voice.  She wanted the enjoyment of performing a concert, but took the road less traveled by also making the concert a fund-raising event.  She raised over one thousand dollars for our NFB BELL Academies.


This year we made it possible for three middle school students to attend the Independence 101 program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) through our Youth Empowerment Stipend grants.  These students began their journey on the road to independence by learning blindness skills and by overcoming their fears of blindness.  At our banquet tonight, we will award John T. McCraw Scholarships to two deserving graduate students.  Counting tonight’s recipients, we will have been awarding McCraw Scholarships to college students for 33 years.  We have taken the road less traveled by primarily funding these scholarships and grants ourselves, through our Bid for Opportunity dinner and auction, and our crab feast.


I want to congratulate and welcome all the staff and students from BISM’s CORE and SAIL training programs who are attending this convention.  Your choice to get adjustment to blindness training will make all the difference in your lives.  


Taking the road less traveled is not easy.  However, we are able to do this because we are an organization with commitment and synergy.  In his 2018 banquet address entitled, “Authenticity, Diversity, and the Synergy of the Organized Blind” President Riccobono offered the following definition of synergy by Stephen Covey:


“Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.” 


We can take the road less traveled because of the synergy of the National Federation of the Blind.


Our work with the Maryland General Assembly is another important part of our mission to ensure the full integration of the blind into society.  This work involves many members.  On February 22, 2018, we had to attend five hearings at the same time: 


  1. Melissa Riccobono led a group who attended the House budget hearing on the State Board of Elections (SBE).

  2. Eric Duffy led a group who attended the Senate budget hearing on the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) to Education, Public Information, and Commerce.  

  3. Ronza Othman led a group who attended the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on SB 823, a bill to strengthen the enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination by places of public accommodation.

  4. The rest of us attended the Senate Finance Committee hearing on SB 482, a bill to provide deaf-blind individuals with greater access to information.

  5. Then, all of us gathered at the House Health and Government Operations Committee hearing on HB 1088, a bill to strengthen enforcement of nonvisual access requirements.


Not too many groups could accomplish this feat.  This is a tribute to the depth of our NFB affiliate.


The road to full accessibility is long and arduous because the State of Maryland keeps putting up barriers.  When HB 1088 was heard in the House Health and Government Operations Committee, one of the delegates remarked that we have been complaining about the inability of Maryland to enforce accessibility laws for years.  Indeed, we have.  Federationists are like that.

Judy Rasmussen is a state employee.  She is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind.  She had the courage to take the road less traveled by testifying in hearings about roadblocks created by the state that prevent blind employees from doing their jobs.


It is most appropriate that our agenda also features a picture of Governor Hogan signing HB 1088/SB 286 into law on May 15th, 2018.  Maryland is the first state in the nation to pass a law that provides for a civil penalty against vendors who sell inaccessible information technology and information technology services to the state.  Maryland has 18 months to identify accessibility barriers and to inform vendors of those barriers.  Vendors have a year to remedy these problems.  For the first offense, vendors may be fined up to five thousand dollars.  For subsequent offenses, vendors may be fined up to ten thousand dollars.  Vendors do not have to make their products accessible if the cost of accessibility is too high.  However, the good news is that this law raises the exemption from 5% to 15% of the cost of each product.  Although the penalty is small, it is a good beginning. 


We appreciate the partnership that we have established between the Maryland Department of Disabilities and CENA at the Jernigan Institute.  A new feature of this partnership will be the awarding of three annual fellowships to help higher education instructors begin to include accessibility concepts contained within the minimum areas of instruction in at least one course offering in their institution.  One award of $2,000 will be made available to an instructor of a University System of Maryland school, or a professor of an independent Maryland college.  Two awards of $1,500 each will be made available to instructors of all community colleges within Maryland.  The idea for these fellowships came from a work-group created by the General Assembly in 2014 to study concepts in computer science, information systems, and information technology programs in higher education.  The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland urged the General Assembly to create this work-group because we recognized that we will only achieve true accessibility if all computer science students learn about it in college so that they can carry this knowledge into their future careers.  Accessibility must become second nature to all software developers.


At our convention last year, we applauded the Department of Disabilities for creating a position in state government to remind agencies of their accessibility requirements.  I regret to report that the Department let the year go by without even advertising this position.  The Department should understand that the National Federation of the Blind expects action.  This position must be filled, and the individual must not be a figurehead.  He or she must have the power to really do the job.  We must not be discouraged by this setback.


When the FIRST LEGO League announced its 30th season of challenging kids to think like scientists and engineers by building, testing, and programming an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® technology to solve a set of missions in the Robot Game, some students, with the help of the Maryland School for the Blind, were compelled to accept this challenge.  They wanted to compete on terms of equality with sighted peers from across the nation.  However, this simple desire was fraught with difficulties.  Primarily the robot building software provided to each team was inaccessible.  Team members knew instinctively to ask the NFB for help.  As a result, the MSB team was provided with alternate software which could be made accessible but required additional loading time.  Since problem solving challenges are timed, additional loading time posed a disadvantage to the teams who must use this alternate software.  Therefore, we and MSB are insisting that FIRST LEGO League incorporate nonvisual access into its standard software, and that no penalties should be imposed on teams who must use the alternate software. 


Do we have the synergy to convince Walmart to make its self-service checkout kiosks accessible to the blind?  The plaintiffs Cindy Morales, Linwood Boyd, Melissa Sheeder, along with the Maryland affiliate and the National Federation of the Blind, will persevere because of our commitment to take the road less traveled.


Consider another daunting challenge; on each June 14, we celebrate Flag Day.  In 2018, members of our affiliate really demonstrated our patriotism by protesting the Maryland State Board of Elections’ discriminatory practices toward voters with disabilities.  On the first day of early voting in Maryland’s 2018 primary elections, 81 Federationists and our friends formed a picket line near one of the early voting centers in Baltimore City.  We protested our loss of the secret ballot that came about when the SBE decided to discourage voters from using the electronic ballot marking device (BMD).  The supposition that our privacy would be protected if two voters used the BMD in every precinct, as recommended by the SBE, is a joke. 


This protest is another example of taking the road less traveled.  Would a former president and leader of most organizations join us on a picket line?  I doubt it.  Dr. Marc Maurer was there.  President Mark Riccobono took time from writing his banquet address for the national convention to protest with us.  Most people in their 80s would have found an excuse to stay home; not Tom Bickford. 


We were successful in convincing the budget committees of the Maryland General Assembly to ask for a report from SBE.  In the Joint Chairman's Report for Fiscal 2019 Operating and Capital Budgets, the committees requested SBE to prepare a report to evaluate the impact of the two voters per precinct policy on voter secrecy.  Unfortunately, the report that the General Assembly received not only had no analysis, it didn’t even provide any data about the previous elections.  The report contained not a word about the impact of how this policy affected the secrecy of ballots cast by using the BMD. 


Of course, we asked the General Assembly to get another report.  Let me read a little from a letter by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and Disability Rights Maryland to the budget committees of the Maryland General Assembly.


We respectfully request that the Budget Committees of the Maryland General Assembly immediately ask the State Board of Elections (SBE) for a follow up report analyzing the Ballot Marking Device (BMD) usage rate during the 2018 primary election to determine if the two voter per precinct policy infringed on any voters’ rights to privacy during any of the recounts.  If the ballots of any other protected class of citizen were identifiable by gender, race, or ethnicity, for example, the General Assembly would surely insist that SBE revise its policies.


The General Assembly did ask for another report.  SBE has not complied yet.  We will get our secret ballot back because we have the synergy and the commitment.


In 2005, the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) created the Office on Blindness and Vision Services (OBVS) to appease the National Federation of the Blind in our quest for better services.  OBVS was definitely a step in the right direction.  Unfortunately, for several reasons, many people do not remain in the employment of state government.  OBVS has difficulty recruiting and maintaining counselors and teachers to provide services.  Consequently, OBVS does not have the level of expertise in blindness that we think it should have.  We look forward to strengthening our partnership with DORS so that we can help improve the quality of services.  We are also embarking on a new career mentoring partnership with DORS, and we look forward to the new opportunities for blind people that will be created by this partnership.


Working with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) is like trying to escape from quicksand.  In 2014, a committee of stakeholders which included the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, reviewed and revised certification requirements for vision teachers in Maryland.  This examination of certification and recertification requirements was mandated in 2010 by the enactment into law of HB 413 and SB 230.  Vision teacher certification had to be reviewed and revised to meet the new Braille standards for reading, writing, and math.  We all agreed that every vision teacher would take a Braille competency test by the time of their first recertification.  This means that teachers had five years to pass a Braille competency test. 


In 2017, when we offered to pay a large portion of the cost to take the National Certification in Unified English Braille (NCUEB) Test in conjunction with our Braille literacy conference, there were few takers.  Nobody at MSDE bothered to tell teachers about this recertification requirement and the Department never designated which test teachers were supposed to take.  When we investigated the problem, we were told that everybody in the certification branch was brand new and had no idea what we were talking about. 


It pays to keep records.  All of the stakeholders agreed on the necessary actions.  We had to endure more meetings to decide again what we had already decided in 2014.  The last meeting was in February.  The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly at MSDE.  Because of the demands of the Federation, the Braille competency test issue will finally be considered by the Board of Education at its meeting on December 4, 2018.  We look forward to the full implementation of the requirement that every vision teacher in Maryland will pass the NCUEB test by the time of their first recertification. 


The future for the education of blind children will be more promising beginning on November 26, 2018, because our own Conchita Hernandez will become the Low Incidence Specialist and Liaison at MSDE and the Maryland School for the Blind.  Conchita knows how to take the road less traveled, and the synergy of the National Federation of the Blind will assist her.


Because of our synergy and commitment, we have a bright future.  We still have many things to accomplish.  We must make sure that all aspects of information technology become and remain accessible to us.  We must continue to demand the right to a secret ballot that is afforded to every other citizen in Maryland.  There is a crisis in Maryland because of the shortage of vision teachers and orientation and mobility instructors.  As an NFB affiliate, we must work with all of the stakeholders to insist that this problem be addressed.  We must find ways to recruit new teachers into the blindness field and to make sure that they have high expectations for their students.  We must insist that the Office on Blindness and Vision Services develop personnel with expertise in blindness so that youth, working age adults, and seniors can obtain quality services to live the lives they want with full participation in society.


Our work is too important not to plan for succession.  I intend to follow the example of presidential succession set forth most recently by Dr. Marc Maurer when he stepped down from the presidency of NFB in 2014 and passed the mantle of leadership on to President Riccobono.  Like Dr. Maurer, I will be active and be available to advise and assist if asked.  As Hazel TenBroek put it: “It is impossible for me to retire from the Federation, for it runs deep in my blood and being.  I am at your service whenever you think I can perform some useful duty.” 

I am confident that Ronza Othman, if we elect her tomorrow, will be an excellent president.  She knows how to take the road less traveled. 


My wish for each of you as individuals, and for the Federation as a whole, is a Latin saying that President Woodrow Wilson kept on his desk in the Oval Office, “Illegitimati carborundum.”  Loosely translated, it means, “Don’t let the Bastards Get You” – be they fear, discrimination, low expectations, or an unyielding bureaucracy.  Let us continue to love and support each other as we plan for the future.  Let us continue to take the road less traveled and it will make all the difference. 




A Lasting Legacy: Remembering Rachel Olivero

By Ronza Othman


[Editor’s Note: It is incredibly difficult to write a memorial and tribute to someone we admire and respect, particularly when they have been such a vital thread in the tapestry of our lives.  What follows is an attempt to do so while sharing the essence of who one of our members was—a brilliant, generous, compassionate person who served the organization quietly but in critical ways.]


One of the most difficult things in life is saying goodbye to a friend.  It is so much more difficult to say goodbye to someone when she passes away unexpectedly at the prime of her life.  It is excruciating when she is part of our Federation family, and so much more painful when she is part of our family of the heart.  Little eases the shock and grief, and I, like many of you, miss Rachel Olivero every day; nonetheless, if we are lucky, we will leave a lasting legacy like she did.  She embodied our motto of love, hope, and determination, and she worked so diligently to advance the movement.  Though Rachel isn’t with us any longer, her spirit and the fruits of her labor will live on.


Rachel was born on September 22, 1982, and passed away on February 3, 2019, at the age of 36.  She moved to Maryland the first time in 2007, where she worked at the National Federation of the Blind as an Access Technology Specialist.  She left Maryland temporarily in 2012 for Nebraska, where she handled accessibility for a large health insurance company.  She moved back to Maryland in early 2015, where she became the Director of Organizational Technology at the NFB.  Rachel worked on emergency management and response in her spare time.


Rachel was in charge of the HAM Radio Group and managed the assistive listening program at National Convention.  She was the Chair of the Web and Technology Committee for the NFB of Maryland.  She managed State Convention registration and the affiliate’s contacts database.  She filled whatever gap was needed whenever she was needed, and she did so cheerfully and with grace.


I met Rachel Olivero nearly 15 years ago when a mutual friend introduced us to one another because he thought we shared a similar snarky sense of humor.  Rachel was one of the first people to make me a real lawyer by giving me $1.00 to retain my services.  Really, she wanted to have me on retainer so I couldn’t share her secrets.  I gave her that same $1.00 right back so I could have her on retainer for technology help.  Needless to say, I got much more value out of that $1.00 than she did.  I’ve learned that there are literally hundreds of people to whom she provided technology assistance.


We read several of the Harry Potter books together.  Even though we lived in different states at the time, we coordinated our shopping excursions at midnight to get the books every time they were released so we could get back for a group read-a-thon.  She was one of the masterminds behind NFB Quest at National Convention, which is a scavenger hunt somewhat similar to what Harry Potter experiences in Book 4, but Rachel was still in search of dragons for NFB Quest. 


When I got hired by the Federal government in 2008, I decided to live in Baltimore instead of Washington, DC, mostly because Rachel was already there.  I knew I’d have a built-in support system in Baltimore.  Shortly after I got to town, Rachel and I established Grey’s Anatomy night every Thursday.  We got together to watch Grey’s Anatomy, we dissected the medical procedures that were featured on the show (I was pre-med as an undergraduate and Rachel was an emergency management fanatic), and then we ordered and ate Chinese food, every single week.  Later, we took a first responder’s course together, where she encouraged me to “pump the baby harder; she’s just a doll.”  Rachel and I both were first points of contact for medical emergencies related to Federation events, and we ate Chinese to unwind after an emergency every time.


I often had Rachel over for dinner, but she wasn’t very adventurous in terms of what she was willing to eat, or so she claimed.  I cook Middle Eastern cuisine most often, as that is my background, so I usually made steak and potatoes for Rachel.  She never disappointed though—she would have some of the steak and potatoes, but she would also have some of whatever the rest of us were eating, and she either liked it or she pretended really well.  Rachel was a genuinely nice person, and there is not one single person who has a negative thing to say about her.  That attitude manifested in her committee work, her job, her interactions with stakeholders, and her willingness to eat food she may or may not have liked.


Rachel’s favorite thing in the entire universe was pie, and if she was able to have peanut butter pie, all was right in her world.  If she could have Cherry Coke too, then she was on cloud 9.  She was generally a very cheerful person, but if you gave her pie and Cherry Coke, she would go into orbit.  She also liked 3.14 and used it when she wrote code or did math as much as possible.


Rachel and I liked going shopping in my closet.  I have a shopping problem in that I buy a lot of things and never wear them.  Rachel enjoyed giving me a fashion show, and usually the clothes looked better on her anyway.  In the last three or so years, she really came to understand who she was and who she wanted to be.  Those who are lucky enough to do so tend to be content in life, and those who are happy with who they are have an advantage over everyone else because they can focus outward instead of inward.


Rachel was very protective of technology, and I had a hate-hate relationship with most of it.  And yet, she did not get annoyed with me when I cussed and fussed about technology.  She patiently waited me out and then calmly taught me what I needed to know.  She only mocked me a little when the issue was due to user error.  Her skill as a trainer was unparalleled.


Rachel, some friends, and I had a tradition that we would spend New Year’s together.  This was particularly difficult when some of us lived on the East Coast and some of us lived in Hawaii.  We managed to celebrate the ball drop in each time zone together via Skype a couple of years, and Rachel devised a playlist for all six hours.  The playlist was silly and perfect at the same time.  This was the spark that led to musical introductions at National Convention for speakers and a soundtrack before and after sessions.


Rachel came to my job to teach a group of individuals how to use a Deaf-Blind Communicator so the Randolph Sheppard vendors can communicate with deaf employees.  Even though this certainly would have been within the scope of her job, she took leave to do this.  She did whatever it took to make sure people received proper training on technology, and she always had her friends’ backs.


One winter evening, Rachel asked me to help her with a project.  Since Rachel rarely asked for help with anything, I agreed to help without knowing what the task was.  The two of us ended up climbing out two adjacent seventh story windows so that we could run antenna wire to one another.  Neither of us thought about the inherent dangers of hanging from the facade of a high-rise in Baltimore City until after we’d successfully run the wiring.  But that point, as Rachel put it, “it’s already done.”  So we watched Grey’s Anatomy and ate Chinese.  Rachel’s positive attitude and her resilience were prevalent in all aspects of her life, and they were infectious.


I once bought an entertainment center from a big box store, and unsurprisingly, it came flat-packed in a big box.  Rachel helped me assemble it, to my mother’s absolute astonishment.  Rachel assembled the complicated entertainment center in about 30 minutes, which left my mother speechless.  Rachel was a quiet presence in the background doing what needed to be done and she was successful at everything she touched, whether it was assembling a complicated entertainment center, building a registration system for convention, writing the code for an affiliate website, or anything else.


Rachel loved the Simpsons and could quote random lines from the shows.  She could also find an episode to compliment any life situation.  When the Simpsons movie was released, one particular scene tickled Rachel a great deal where Homer is singing to a pig he named Spider Pig, like Spider Man.  Rachel and I loved that scene above all others.  I assigned Rachel the Spider Pig ringtone in my phone because we loved it so much.  Sometimes, when Rachel called me, she would continue singing the Spider Pig song even after I answered just to make me laugh.  Rachel found humor in every situation and made sure her friends did too, even when we didn’t want to.  Her snark and sense of the ridiculous were so perfect for every situation in which she employed them.


It is impossible to share all of the beauty that is Rachel Olivero.  However, by sharing some of my favorite memories, I hope readers can get a sense of who she was and, if they knew her, remember their own stories.  Rachel embodied the Federation spirit.  She was love personified, hope manifested, and determination exemplified.  She lived the life she wanted—but more importantly to her, she worked diligently to ensure that her colleagues, friends, Federation family, and the blind everywhere lived the lives they wanted.  Rachel’s legacy lives in the technology she built, the training she gave, the staff she led, the policies she developed, the lives she saved, the people she helped, the guidance she provided, and the memories we made.  Her legacy is endless, and we are so lucky to have had the opportunity to know her and have had her as part of our Maryland Federation family.




Can I Have an ABLE Account if I am Forty-Fifty-Sixty Years Old?

By Albert Elia


[Editor’s Note: Recently, Congress enacted legislation that permitted the blind, and others with disabilities, to establish ABLE savings accounts that will largely not effect their eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and other public benefits.  Albert Elia, an ABLE expert, an attorney with TRE Legal, and a member of the National Federation of the Blind, gave the following presentation at the 2018 Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.]


An ABLE account is kind of like a 529 college savings plan, only it’s for people who have disabilities.  If you’re familiar with a ROTH IRA, an ABLE account works very much like that.  You can invest money in an ABLE account and do not pay taxes on any growth that you get in the account; thus you can put money into it and use it like a savings account.  The interest is tax-free or there are investment options just like a typical retirement account and those, too, grow tax-free.


Now, it’s important to know whether you qualify to get an ABLE account.  It is only for people with disabilities, and you must have had a qualifying disability—blindness is a qualifying disability—before the age of 26.  So, if you are currently blind, and are under the age of 26, you NEED to have an ABLE account.  For example: you win an NFB scholarship, and you have all this money that you got from the NFB, and you deposit it into your bank account.  Then, all of a sudden, your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit goes away because you have too much money in your bank account.  That won’t happen with ABLE.


One of the main purposes of ABLE is to ensure that all of the means tested government benefits, like Medicaid and SSI, are not impacted if you have money saved in an ABLE account.  As in the earlier example, say you are a student; you have scholarship money, all the money you get from your relatives to go to college and to pay for expenses, and anything that you earn from a college job.  You put all of that in the ABLE account, and it does not impact your SSI.


Second, you can use it for any disability-related quality-of-life expense.  This can basically mean anything that is legal.  So no buying drugs, but otherwise you can pretty much use ABLE for anything that you want.  You can use it to buy the self-driving car, or to pay for an Uber.  You can use it to pay for health care, or housing, or tuition.  You can use it to pay for pretty much anything, as long as it is a thing that increases your quality of life. 


Now, for everyone here who is NOT currently under the age of 26, if you were disabled prior to the age of 26 you can still open an ABLE account.  For instance, I am currently 44 years old and I became legally blind at the age of 17.  Last year I was allowed to open an ABLE account because I was legally blind, I was disabled, and this disability occurred prior to the age of 26.  So if you were disabled—you were legally blind or had another qualifying disability—prior to the age of 26, then no matter what your current age is, you can open an ABLE account that will, basically, allow you to save money tax-free for disability-related expenses or for retirement.  However, you can use that money before retirement if necessary; it is basically like free money that can’t be taxed.  And let’s face it, we need more free money that can’t be taxed so that we can support NFB, and then give NFB some of the money, right?


For those of you who don’t have an ABLE account, I want to give you two websites.  One is, and the second one, since we are here in Maryland, is  You can use either of these to sign up for an ABLE account.


In addition to a tax benefit for not having to pay taxes on the growth of funds, if you live in Maryland, you are a Maryland taxpayer, and you open a Maryland ABLE account through that website, then you actually qualify for a deduction on your state income taxes; up to $2500 per year for the money that you put into your own or another person’s ABLE account.  So, again you are going to save $2500 on your taxes; save the money; donate money to the NFB, or keep more of your money for yourself.


It does not matter what age you are, if you had a qualifying disability, like blindness, prior to the age of 26, you qualify to open an ABLE account, and you should all do so.  I opened one.  I am using it as an alternative to a retirement account, because I work for a small employer and we don’t have a retirement plan.  But, if you want to use it to simply save up money for that self-driving car when it comes out, or so you can pay for the Aira service, put the money in ABLE.


You can put up to $15,000 per year in an ABLE account or, if you are working and contributing some of your earned income, you can contribute your earned income up to an additional $12,000.  So basically, if you are working, you can contribute up to about $27,000 per year.  I would love to be able to contribute $27,000 per year; that would be a great problem to have to hit that limit.  In the meantime, even without the extra earned income, the $15,000 is still three times what you can contribute to an IRA.  It is a really, really valuable financial tool for people like us who have disabilities.  I urge you all to do it, and, like I said, especially you students out there.  You really need one because the last thing you want is to have to deal with SSI, having your benefits terminated, and having to go through the reapplication process.  Just put it in an ABLE account and you don’t have to worry about it.


There is not a means test for ABLE.  The goal of ABLE is to avoid a means test for benefits like SSI and Medicaid, which require means testing generally.  This creates a way to avoid the means test without being penalized.  However, ABLE does not reduce your income for purposes of income testing under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program and other income-tested programs.  This is because ABLE accounts are exempted from means testing but not income testing.






Living The Lives They Want: How Do Blind and Sighted Spouses Make It Work?

By Judy Rasmussen


[Editor’s Note: Dispelling myths and misconceptions about blindness to our families, friends, and the public is an ongoing educational process.  A topic that is of utmost interest is the relationship between spouses, when one is blind and one is sighted.  At our 2018 convention, four diverse couples shared insights as to what makes their relationships work.  Here is a summary of their remarks.]


Adelmo and Soledad Vigil from Alamogordo, New Mexico, (married for 43 years) stated that understanding and using each other’s strengths and sharing a philosophy that both are equal is the foundation of their relationship.  Adelmo said that his father-in-law had some misgivings about his marrying Soledad.  One question he had was what would happen if they were on the road and they had a flat tire?  Adelmo assured his father-in-law that he could change the tire.  He said that on the second day of their honeymoon, they did have a flat tire, and he changed it.  Upon their return, when Soledad told her father that Adelmo had changed the tire, he said he wasn't worried about his daughter any more.  Adelmo said that Soledad's family is his family.

Soledad said they raised two beautiful sons and now have six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.  She said she never thought of Adelmo as someone she would have to take care of.  She thought he was as handsome as a prince.  She said that when her great-granddaughter saw Adelmo, she thought he was the prince from Snow White.  They both said that blindness was not the primary focus of their relationship; rather, it was honesty and love.


Eric and Krystal Guillory from Ruston, Louisiana, (married for 15 years) shared some humorous and serious experiences that happened throughout their marriage.  The Guilorys have two children, Austin and Brie.  Eric said that when Austen was four years old, he asked when he was going to become blind like Daddy.  Eric said he told him that there was no reason to believe that he would.  He said that about three years later, his daughter asked him the same question. He said his children knew several blind adults, but he was taken aback by their questions.  He said that his heart was warmed, as well, knowing that his children did not feel that being blind was a tragedy.  Eric said some teenagers asked their children if their parents ever embarrassed them because Eric was blind.  Their kids said yes, they were sometimes embarrassed by their parents, but not because Eric was blind, "but because they were mom and dad."


Krystal said that when her family knew she was going to marry Eric, several had some misgivings.  She said her father seemed to be the least concerned.  She said her sister-in-law was the biggest problem.  One day her sister-in-law asked if she ever got a break.  Krystal thought she meant because she had two children.  Her sister-in-law said that she meant that Eric did not give her any help with the kids or the chores around the house.  The assumption was that Krystal was taking care of her husband as well.  Krystal said she set her straight.

Krystal said that, one day, when she was sharing with her friend about when their children were babies, she tried her best to put onesies and other baby things in the same place in the drawers so Eric could find them to help dress the children.  Her friend said that putting things in the same place had nothing to do with blindness, rather “it was a man thing."

Kristal also shared that she often got dirty looks from people when Eric was carrying the heavy things when they went shopping.  Ignoring the very dirty look she received from a cashier at a hardware store, she gave the very large trash can they had just purchased to Eric, and told him to carry it to the car.  Kristal's philosophy was that Eric was the guy, and he should carry the heavy things, and he did.


Melissa Sheeder and Aaron Carpenter from Baltimore (married for eight years) were the next panelists.  Melissa said her family was very happy that she was marrying Aaron because, as the other panelists previously stated, they were sure she would be taken care of.  Aaron had other ideas.  Her family thought he should take off from work every time she or their daughter had a doctor's appointment.  Aaron said that one of the first times they invited his family over for dinner, there was some real concern that Melissa would not be able to do the cooking and clean-up.  Melissa was frying pork chops.  Aaron said his sister was very nervous about the grease, but everything turned out fine, and everybody had enough to eat.  Aaron said that educating his family is still an ongoing process.  Aaron said that if it were up to him, he would just wash his clothes and leave them in the laundry basket.  Melissa is just the opposite—everything has to be folded.  Aaron said that when they travel, Melissa packs everything for him.  He likes that very much.


Ellen and Ken Ringlein from Baltimore (married for 19 years) have worked on many Federation projects together.  Ellen stated that unlike the other panelists, their families don't live in the area, so there isn't too much interference in their daily lives.  She stated that she often has to ask Ken to let her carry the heavy grocery bags upstairs.  Ellen said that a few years ago, Ken had a scare.  There was a possibility that he would be facing vision loss due to a retinal detachment.  Ellen said that as they were sitting in a waiting room, she told Ken that if he were to lose his vision, they would work it out.  She said she didn't marry him because he could see or drive her places, but because he was who he was.


Ken said that when he was dating Ellen, he knew she was cute, smart, and socially active.  He also realized that she was living on her own, so she could take care of herself.  He knew other blind adults like Aloma Bouma, and this also helped.  Ken said he has to be careful in public.  He said he sometimes likes to just hold Ellen's hand when they walk.  He doesn't want the public to think he is just leading Ellen around.  On the other hand, he said he often wears a National Federation of the Blind baseball cap, so the public may think he is the one who is blind.


All of these panelists shared from their hearts the true meaning of a relationship.  It isn't how much money you make, the type of job you have, or whether you live in a fancy house.  It doesn't matter, either, whether one spouse is blind and the other is sighted.  These couples are demonstrating that the NFB philosophy works!




Chapter Spotlight: The Sligo Creek Chapter, Then and Now

By Lloyd and Judy Rasmussen


[Editor’s Note: The Maryland affiliate has a rich and varied history that is not widely known.  As we move forward with our Membership Initiative, we will be highlighting a particular chapter or division in each edition of this publication.  Afterall, members are the lifeblood of our organization, and chapters help build the foundation for membership.  We will be spotlighting a Maryland chapter in each issue to share how that chapter originated, what makes it unique, and other interesting information about it.  The first chapter to be highlighted in this series is the Sligo Creek chapter.]


It is good to reflect on the past and learn from it. As most of you know, the National Federation of the Blind, or NFB, was organized in 1940, but it took time for the federation’s message to spread to every state and to counties within each state. This article will provide a history of the Sligo Creek Chapter (as we could determine from people who helped organize it). Whether we go back to 1968, when the Sligo Creek chapter was founded, or to 2019, one thing that stands out is that it takes a great deal of determination and effort to start a chapter and to keep it growing. Tom Bickford and Allen and Billie Ruth Schlank provided us some background information concerning the formative years of the chapter.


When starting a new chapter, the questions are always "where do we hold the meeting, how do we recruit members, and who will be the speakers?" The Schlanks, who lived in Prince George's County at the time, offered their home for the first organizing meeting. To recruit members, they obtained the names of people who had joined the Blind Bowling League. They also contacted an organization called the International Academy, which was training blind people to do computer programming/data entry using punch cards. People from several states participated in this program. The calls paid off. Members from the blind bowling league, the computer training program, and others who heard about the meeting through advertising on the radio, attended. A new chapter was born.


The chapter was originally called the Twin County Chapter. There were members from both Montgomery and Prince George's Counties present at the organizing meeting, where Billie Ruth Schlank was elected to be the chapter’s first president. The name of the chapter was changed to the Sligo Creek Chapter in about 1972.


The Twin County Chapter was the third chapter organized in Maryland. At that time there were two chapters in Baltimore, one primarily for African American people and one for white people. The Twin County Chapter began its life with both African Americans and white people as active members.


During the first several years, the chapter met in a community center called the Jessup Blair House in Silver Spring. It was free, and Lloyd was allowed to keep a key to the building from meeting to meeting. We now rent rooms in some of Montgomery County's public libraries.


Though they probably did not attend the organizing meeting, Clara Sisselman and Anna Cable joined the chapter shortly thereafter. As most of you know, every year at our state convention, an older person who has made a real effort to learn braille is honored with the Anna Cable award. Anna lived to be 108 and was an active member until poor health stopped her from participating in many activities.  Clara Sisselman, a retired teacher, left $50,000 in her will to the NFB of Maryland’s scholarship program; helping middle and high school students attend independent-living training programs, college students obtain their degrees, and blind youngsters attend BELL Academies would not have been possible without this generous gift.


Then there is Tom Bickford. He has contributed both to the Sligo Creek Chapter and to the organized blind movement in many ways. In 1969, Tom headed the committee that determined what song the NFB of Maryland would use for its theme song. As a result, "Glory, Glory Federation" is the chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Federation," a song we all know and still love. Tom is also the author of the book The Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane. This book is available in braille and audio formats from NLS and its BARD download service, and can be read from the NFB website starting at Tom has also written numerous articles for the Braille Monitor, described his 60 years in the federation in a speech at the 2015 national convention, and is always willing to help wherever he is needed.


In 1990, while waiting in a long restaurant line at a national convention in Dallas, several of us created the "Ode to the Code." Sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells," this song describes the benefits of learning braille and how it is "here to stay." This song has been sung at numerous state and national conventions and is loved by many. While writing this song, we decided to call our group The Sligo Creek Digital Communications Consortium; this is because you read braille with your digits, and braille is a six-bit code for reading and writing.


Similarly, in 1992 at a chapter picnic, the song "White Cane Freedom March" was born. It describes many of the experiences blind people face while traveling from place to place. Sung to the tune of "As those Caissons Go Rolling Along", it is catchy and fun to sing.


In 1997, several Sligo Creek Chapter members, along with other Federationists, decided that it was time to record federation songs to help preserve NFB history. We sold cassette copies of these songs as a fund raiser for the NFB of Maryland. We called ourselves The Cane Raisers. As part of this project, Debbie Brown composed "A Technology Song", which is sometimes also called "I Guess I Never Will." The message of this song is that without a good foundation of basic skills and a positive attitude toward your blindness, technology alone won't be sufficient to help you live the life you want. Links to these songs can be found in the article "Telling Our Story through Song" within the NFB's 75th anniversary eBook, Building the Lives We Want. This publication is available in several formats from Singing songs about our history is a great way to remind all of us why we need to continue to advocate for the rights of blind people in all aspects of life.


Today, Sligo Creek is a very diverse chapter. We continue to hold outreach events to recruit new members and to educate the public about blindness. We held a diabetes seminar where over 100 people attended, we have been proud to host a BELL Academy for the past seven years, and, along with other chapters, participate in educating our Maryland and national legislators.

Since 2015 our chapter has hosted a Louis Braille event at a local library. We have educated sighted children, parents, county council members, and other adults about braille and the need to teach it in our school systems. As a result of one of these outreach events, and with the help of Yasmin Reyazuddin, the Montgomery County public library system has made several braille books available for blind children to borrow from some of its branches. We were also able to present a blind child with a one-handed braille writer.


Our most recent outreach event was called Hands-On Use of Non-Visual Technology (HUNT). This seminar was designed to provide people with information about free or low-cost technology to help with daily activities.


We’ve also conducted numerous fundraisers over the years.  It is astounding to think about the thousands of pounds of nuts that have been sold by our chapter in the past 38 years. Al Saile, an early president of the chapter, sold hundreds of pounds of nuts while walking up and down the aisle of a commuter train, on his way to and from work. We have also conducted bake sales and candy sales throughout most of our 50-year history.


For approximately 20 years, the Sligo Creek Chapter has organized an annual dinner and auction to raise money for the NFB of Maryland’s scholarship program. The Knights of Columbus and St. Paul's United Methodist Church of Kensington (Tom Bickford's church) have contributed substantially to the scholarship fund over many years. Denise Rush and her friends have also made substantial contributions to the scholarship fund.


Debbie Brown has been the Sligo Creek Chapter president since 1994. She is doing a fine job, and we owe her a debt of gratitude for her patience, dedication, and care for chapter members.


The Sligo Creek Chapter will continue to be an integral part of the Maryland affiliate. We look forward to many more years of outreach, education, and chapter building. Let's continue to build the federation and change what it means to be blind in the Washington suburbs.




Senior Spotlight: Bryan Holley

By Ronza Othman


[Editor’s Note: Bryan Holley received the Anna Cable Award at the 2017 NFB of Maryland State Convention.  This award is given to a person who lost their vision later in life and demonstrates Anna Cable’s zest for life, including learning Braille.  Bryan’s enthusiasm for life shines through everything he does.]


Bryan Holley is an active senior in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  He is the youngest of six children, four sisters and one brother (deceased).  He is married with two adult sons and two adult godsons.  He is quite tall, standing at 6 ft 5 in, but he is a self-described baby at heart.  Also, though he loves to play basketball, his wife regularly beats him.  He was born in Maryland and raised in Baltimore.  Bryan describes his childhood as “fantastic.”


Bryan’s name is spelled with a “y” because his mother wanted to name him “Bryant,” but the nurse who helped fill out his birth certificate forgot the “t.”  Nonetheless, his mother always called him “Bryant.” 


Bryan graduated from Morgan State University.  He worked for Entenmann’s Bakery as a driver, delivering cakes and pies to stores. 


Bryan became blind in 2010 at age 51.  He voluntarily moved to a different position with the company, unloading tractor trailers and conducting quality control of products.  He retired from Entenmann’s after 30 years. 


Bryan struggled with his blindness at first because he did everything “the sighted way.”  He had to learn to use assistive technology and low technology devices to be able to access information again.  He felt that he was the only blind person in the world because he didn’t know any other blind people when he was going through his transition to blindness and first learning adjustment to blindness skills. 


Bryan met another blind person for the first time at a rally.  He decided that he needed to learn what she knew because she could get around better and more independently than he could.  Nonetheless, he did not truly link into the blind community until 2016 when he attended Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).  He completed the Senior Adult Independent Living (SAIL) Program on September 5, 2018.  While at BISM, he learned how to cook, independently travel, read Braille, and apply computer skills. 


Bryan is an active volunteer with his church, where he is helping to lead a capital campaign effort to acquire a building.  He also runs the ministry sound board, having adapted it for blindness by fixing bumps where needed.  He is also the President of the BISM Support Group, which meets monthly; members of the group do not have to be BISM alumni.  The group discusses technology and skills that may be useful to the blind. 


Bryan’s philosophy on life is simple: his sight might be gone, but his vision is crystal clear.  Bryan exudes positivity and enthusiasm for life and adventure.  He offers the following advice to anyone who is either going blind or who has recently become blind: This is not the end of life – keep moving. 




Nothing About Us Without Us: The Federation Edition

By Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette


[Editor’s Note: Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette has been active in our Federal legislative efforts but only recently became involved with state legislative advocacy.  He attended his first Day in Annapolis this year, and he shared some reflections below.]


On January 24, 2019, I had the privilege of participating in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland's annual day of state legislative advocacy, the Day in Annapolis (DIA).  It was my first DIA and it was a truly remarkable and rewarding experience.  Though I have participated in several Washington Seminars, both as a state affiliate representative and as a staff member of the NFB national office, there is something uniquely invigorating about local and state advocacy.  This year's DIA brought that sentiment home for me and I'd like to share a bit about the experience.


The first thing that struck me was the elegance and beauty of the state capitol buildings.  Maryland is a very old state and its capital, Annapolis, is teeming with history.  The various buildings that make up the state legislature and the member offices are stately and make you feel like you are truly navigating the halls of power.  The food in the Senate canteen wasn't half-bad, either.


Another thing that jumped out at me was the energy and passion of my fellow Maryland Federationists.  Most of my colleagues were veterans of this annual day of advocacy and were more than generous in sharing their wisdom and tips for newcomers.  Led by the fearless and inimitable Sharon Maneki, a veritable institution in Annapolis, the Federation troops were well-prepared, fired up, and ready to go.


As the day progressed and as my team and I (we called ourselves the "A-Team" and I insisted on being Mr. T) speed-walked from meeting to meeting, it became more and more clear to me that the NFB was a known commodity in Annapolis.  Several delegates mentioned meeting with NFB members in previous years while still others noted that they had sponsored our initiatives in the past.  Some of these folks were new, having been elected to their first terms in the 2018 elections.  These meetings were especially enjoyable as we had the responsibility of not only advocating on behalf of our three specific legislative initiatives, but we also had to introduce these new legislators to the NFB of Maryland.  Making a good first impression was vital and the A-Team relished the opportunity to put the Federation philosophy on display.


Though all three of the legislative priorities that we focused on are important, the matter of the secret ballot for blind voters was the one that resonated most with me.  I actually met the broken voting system personally when I tried to vote in the primary elections in the summer of 2018.  The precinct at which I voted did not have a functioning accessible voting machine and the folks staffing the precinct did not know anything about the machine.  While the secret ballot issue is different than the matter of non-functioning machines and untrained precinct staff, it is all a part of a broader problem; namely, we exist within a dysfunctional, inefficient, and often inaccessible voting system that places unique burdens on voters with disabilities.


With this personal background and with the physical copies of the two different types of ballots in hand, it was my job to present this issue at each of our meetings with delegates and/or their staff.  I found that this issue seemed to strike a nerve with most offices we met with, including some expressions of genuine outrage.  Given that access to private, accessible voting is a core civil right, it certainly should have been an outrage.  And it most certainly is!


After 15 or so nearly back-to-back meetings, it was time to rejoin our army of Federationist advocates for crab and conversation at a local restaurant.  The energy at the restaurant was just as electric as it had been when we set out in the morning.  We recapped our meetings and shared the results out loud.  The number of pledges of sponsorship and the pronouncements of support piled up and by the end it seemed as though we had won the day.  That means that we, as the organized blind, took our lives into our own hands and made our voices heard among those in a position to make laws and policies that will affect us.


There is an old saying in the disability rights movement: "Nothing about us without us."  When the Federation shows up in Annapolis or in the state capital of any other state, or when we flood Washington every year for Washington Seminar, or when we make the calls and write the letters throughout the year, we are actualizing the mantra of "Nothing about us without us."  We are making an impact, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of blind people everywhere.  And nothing makes that fact more real than participating in grassroots advocacy, such as the Day in Annapolis.  It was fun, it was meaningful, it was rewarding and I can't wait to do it again next year.




Blind Marylanders sue Walmart, saying self-serve checkouts violate ADA

By Sarah Meehan – Contact Reporter – The Baltimore Sun

Saturday October 29th, 2018


[Editor’s Note: Protecting the Civil Rights is an important part of our work.  That is why the National Federation of the Blind, The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, AND Cindy Morales, Lynwood Boyd, and Melissa Sheeder, are suing Walmart.  The below story by the Baltimore Sun explains the facts of the suit.]


Three blind Maryland residents and the National Federation of the Blind are suing Walmart, alleging that the company violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because its self-checkout kiosks are not fully accessible to blind customers.


The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, also claims that an employee at the Walmart in Owings Mills allegedly attempted to take money from one of the plaintiffs while she was checking out at the store.


The suit claims that a staff member at the Owings Mills store on Reisterstown Road was assisting Cynthia Morales with a purchase at a self-checkout kiosk in July 2017 when the employee selected an option for cash back from her debit card and took $40 without her knowledge.


“It’s important for blind people to be able to use the machines independently … so that people are not stealing from us,” Morales, a Parkville resident, said in an interview.  “We should be treated like everybody else — when we come into the store we would like to check out at the self-checkout quickly just like everybody else, and I know that the technology is out there.”

In addition to Morales, other plaintiffs include Linwood Boyd, a Pikesville resident who was shopping with Morales when the alleged incident occurred; Baltimore resident Melissa Sheeder; the National Federation of the Blind Inc. and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction that would require Walmart to make its self-service kiosks throughout the U.S. accessible to blind customers; a declaration that Walmart has been violating the ADA; and court costs and attorneys’ fees.


According to the suit, Morales and Boyd were checking out at a self-service kiosk when Morales handed an employee her debit card and instructed the employee to enter her pin number on the keypad.  She expected to pay about $80 for her items, according to the suit.  During the transaction, the screen prompted the users to take money from the machine, the suit claims.  When Morales and Boyd left the store, they asked a bystander to read the receipt and realized Morales was charged about $120.


They re-entered the store and called police, and the $40 was ultimately returned, according to the complaint.


“Money was stolen from one of our members and certainly we deplore that,” said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind.

Danielsen said that even without the incident at Owings Mills, it’s “unacceptable” that sight-impaired patrons can’t serve themselves.  “The technology exists for Walmart and other entities that are using these kind of self-service kiosks,” he said.


Sheeder claims in the suit that she shops at Walmart at least once a week, and she and a friend attempted to use a self-checkout kiosk in July 2018.  When they were unable to operate it, they were directed to a full-service checkout lane, where they had to wait in line.


“We don’t tolerate discrimination, and we believe our checkout procedures comply with applicable law,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, said in an emailed statement late Friday.  “When we learned of this specific situation with Ms. Morales, we looked into the matter and as a result, the associate is no longer with the company.  We take this matter seriously and will respond as appropriate with the court.”


Danielsen said he’s not aware of any large retailers that incorporate self-checkout kiosks that are fully accessible to blind people, but he pointed to self-service software for machines such as ATMs, Amtrak ticket booths, and taxicabs that allow blind people to operate the devices independently.


“We know that it’s possible to make a self-checkout kiosk accessible.  It just has to be thought of at the design stage,” said Jessica P. Weber, an attorney who is part of a team from the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy representing the plaintiffs.  The lawsuit says the National Federation of the Blind attempted to work with Walmart to address problems with the kiosks prior to filing suit.


“The civil rights of blind people can’t wait indefinitely and so we’re going to forge ahead,” Weber said.




Student Spotlight: Jason Polansky - Living the Life He Wants 

By Rose Warner 


[Editor’s note: Rose Warner is a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter who won a national scholarship when she lived in Illinois.  As a reporter for the Spectator, she chose to write about Jason Polansky.  Jason and his parents have been members of the NFBMD since Jason was two years old.  It is great to see his progress as a senior in college.]

Jason Polansky is a senior marketing major at Messiah College located outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Originally from Frederick County, Jason is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  He is interested in getting into the music industry, but not as a musician.  Jason wants to become a manager for musicians.

He took one step towards achieving his goal by “studying domestic” for a semester in Nashville, Tennessee through a program called “BestSemester” at the Contemporary Music Center.  The goal of this program is to immerse students in the music industry.  There are three tracks students can choose from: a manager track, a technician track, and an artist track.  There were 22 students in the program, equally distributed throughout the three groups.  Predictably, Jason chose the manager track.

By combining their talents, these students made all the components for putting on a show.  The artists wrote the songs and performed.  The techs handled sound, lighting, set design, and recording.  The managers, including Jason, planned and marketed the show.  The managers also learned about record deals.  Additionally, they learned negotiating tactics when dealing with tour managers and venue directors.  


Every Thursday, this group of students put their talents to the test.  They put on concerts, leading up to a tour at the end of the semester.  Specifically, Jason’s group rotated so that each could practice specific skills.  One week, Jason was the “producer of the show” in which he got to decide the order of the performers.  Another week, he critiqued the work of the techs and the performers.  He also helped with the promotion of the show by advertising it on social media and developing posters.  Yet another week, he helped develop press releases about the upcoming concert.  Since he was a manager, Jason booked hotels and transportation for the final multi-state tour and kept the tour on budget. 

Jason’s hard work paid off.  The tour was a huge success, consisting of stops at four colleges.  Jason was disappointed that the show at his college had to be cancelled due to snow.  The truck with all of the supplies was able to make it on campus, but the bus with all of the students could not!  Jason said this taught him to “expect the unexpected.”  Their final show had 100 attendees!  


Jason’s favorite part of his experience was the people he got to meet.  He said, “we became like a family, working together all day every day.”  Jason made sure he made the most out of being in Nashville; he attended local NFB chapter meetings while he was there!

Jason explained that his biggest challenge was setting up and tearing down the shows, especially during the tour.  Navigating that as a blind person was difficult, but Jason and his classmates quickly realized that Jason is an excellent truck lift operator.  All of the sound equipment and props needed to be loaded and unloaded from the truck.  Someone with stellar communication skills needed to operate the lift, and Jason volunteered. 


As it turned out, the director of the program had worked with a blind student several years ago.  Jason had less educating to do than he might have expected.  The director had high expectations for Jason and ensured that Jason got the most out of the program by having a taste of every aspect of managing musicians. 

Jason was very inspired by his “BestSemester.”  After graduation in June, Jason is currently considering going back to Nashville so that he can network and look for a job.  He knows the music industry is difficult to get into.  He hopes one day to become a booking agent.  But he knows he will need to work his way up.  He might start by promoting concerts for a venue.


Jason realizes that many people obtain their jobs by “who they know;” Jason understands the importance of networking.  One way he plans to network is by being active in the “BestSemester” Facebook group made up of alumni of the program Jason participated in.  Job offers are posted there, and there are over 500 people in the group! 

Jason is living the life he wants, taking steps to achieve his dream of becoming a manager.  He is working very hard to network in Nashville so that one day he will be able to make his dream of becoming a music manager a reality.  And I have no doubt that his dream will come true. 




The Legacy of Change

By Mark Riccobono


[Editor’s Note: President Riccobono gave the following address as part of a panel entitled “The Future is Ours” at the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Annual Convention in November 2018.  This convention reflected Sharon Maneki’s retirement as President of the affiliate.  President Riccobono shared his thoughts and provided some reflections about protecting the legacy of our veteran leaders, embracing change, and harnessing new leadership—and how combining the three results in a strong organization.  Below is his presentation.]


I have here in my hand a medallion; this is a coin, and if you’ve seen the Louis Braille coin, it is bigger than that.  On one side it has the NFB symbol—our logo, absent our name, which is viewed as six blind people with canes—and on the other side, it says “National Federation of the Blind Member” and three Braille characters, “TGR.”  This is going to be the official NFB medallion starting January 1, 2019.  If you are a member of this organization, you will get one of these membership medallions, but only if you are a member.  I urge you to become a member. 


Our President gave a great presentation earlier today about Robert Frost.  Robert Frost had a saying about the future.  He said, “I go to school the youth to learn the future.”  I think that’s what this panel is about today.  The future is ours.  It’s a short but complex declaration.  The future is ours.  And when we say this in the National Federation of the Blind, we of course also mean, “ours is the future.” 


In our early decades, this was not a declaration for us.  This was in fact a question; the future is ours?  It’s a symbol of progress as an organized blind movement.  What happened with respect to blind people before the founding of the National Federation of the Blind and really throughout all of history was directed by others, not by blind people.  And the future used to not offer much hope to us as blind people. 


That began to change in 1940 when we founded the National Federation of the Blind.  But it was not immediate.  It took work.  It took determination.  It took leaders that had a belief that the future could be ours, a faith that I am going to talk about in a little bit.  It was not a sure thing; it was a new thing that the future could be ours.  But over the decades, we have built a solid foundation which makes this no longer a question but in fact a declaration that the future is ours.


When we think about “future,” we think about a few different things in the National Federation of the Blind.  We think that we are building for tomorrow, and that really starts today.  We acknowledge and honor what makes it possible, all of the work that has happened previously in the National Federation of the Blind.  Imagine how difficult it would be today if we did not have Dr. TenBroek, who believed the future would be ours when probably hardly anybody else did.  It’s a little easier for us today.  There are a lot of us who believe it, but back then, not so much! 


The future today in the National Federation of the Blind connotes hope and opportunity, and that is because we’ve created it to be that way.  We now have an understanding that we start with the belief that we can determine what the future looks like for blind people.  We can bend the arc of the universe in the way that we want it to be. 

And of course, when we think of the future, we expect to be part of it, and that it belongs to us.  And that brings us to “ours” and that is where I urge you to be a member of this organization. 


We’ve been talking a little about passing the torch and moving forward in the organization with a new set of leaders.  I want to make sure we acknowledge that while we will have new leaders into the future, we continue to need the leaders that we’ve had.  Why?  Because of the legacy that they have given to us to carry forward.  Because they continue to need this organization, and because, more importantly, we continue to need them, their perspective, and what they continue to offer us in the building that they have done in the time that they have dedicated to this organization.  If you have any doubt about that, I would encourage you to go back and listen again to Sharon Maneki’s report from this morning. 


There’s another thing that the future brings with some certainty.  Things are going to change.  In fact, change brings uncertainty, but we want them to change.  They have to change if we are going to really own and understand that the future is ours.  The reason that we can move forward with confidence knowing that changes will happen is because of that bond of faith that we have with each other, that we’ve built our organization upon, that is the foundation that we hold to and pass to every new generation.  Many of you know and have heard me repeat Dr. TenBroek’s words from our 25th anniversary, “a faith that can move mountains and mount movements.”  I’ve never thought of a better way to say it then the way Dr. TenBroek did.  It is certain that we will make changes.  And we have to make changes.  That’s how we as an organization will have built the position that we have, that we’ve heard so much about in the last two days. 


In closing my portion of this panel, in thinking about “the future is ours,” I would like to acknowledge that we have been blessed in this organization to have had the leaders that have given their faith, their time, their talent, and their heart to this organization, and therefore have shaped what is today our presence.  You know them very well: our good friends Marc Maurer and Sharon Maneki and many other people— we could spend a lot of time listing names.  But it is because they have dedicated their efforts that we can even think about what the future is for our organization.  We’re blessed to have had them.  But if we’re really going to honor what they have done, then we need to feel the challenge, we need to answer the call to make the future ours.  It will not be given to us.  We still have work to do.  We still have sacrifices to make.  And in fact, for this generation of leaders, including myself, it would be easy, easier than any other generation, to just coast.  But the future is too valuable to let that happen.  Our future is too valuable to let that happen.  Ours is the future.  And at this convention, we’re celebrating not only where we’ve been but also where we’re going, and it is going to take each and every one of us in this room to help shape that future.  I’m honored to have the opportunity to work both with the leaders that we’ve had and will have going forward, and the leaders that we’re building up, because as we come to these conventions, we school them on what we know we will learn about the future that will be ours.  




Celebrating Louis Braille’s Birthday, Maryland Style


As most readers know, Louis Braille’s birthday is on January 4.  This presents a great opportunity to promote and celebrate the use of Braille.  Here are how two chapters chose to celebrate this important occasion in 2019. 


At the January meeting of the Central Maryland chapter, which occurred on January 6, a few days after Louis Braille’s birthday, the chapter conducted a special program about Braille.  One of our members, Nasim Shigri, who has been studying Braille for only a few months, received lots of encouragement after he read a few sentences for the audience.  The highlight of the evening was our four special guests: Khloe DeLeon-Talbert and the Rao children—Mercy, Isaiah, and Jonah.  Khloe, an avid Braille reader who is in the third grade, read a story in Braille that she wrote herself.  The Rao children, ranging in age from 11 to 13, read interesting facts about Braille that they obtained from the Perkins School for the Blind website.  Even the long-time Braille users learned something new from the following facts that the Rao children shared.


  • Braille started out as a military code called “night writing.”  It was developed in 1819 by the French army so soldiers could communicate at night without speaking or using candles.  Fifteen-year-old French schoolboy Louis Braille learned about the code, and eventually developed the more usable, streamlined version of the braille alphabet we know today.

  • There’s an asteroid named Braille.  In 1999, NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe flew past an asteroid while on its way to photograph the Borrelly comet.  NASA named the asteroid “9969 Braille” in honor of Louis Braille.

  • Some braille reader’s fingers can really fly!  While the typical sighted person can read 300 words per minute, some fast braille readers can whip through a book at a speed of 400 words per minute.  The secret to reading braille so quickly is a light touch—and using both hands (one hand reads while the other is poised to start on the next line).

  • Braille helps criminals go straight.  The American Printing House for the Blind runs a program called the National Prison Braille Network (NPBN) that teaches inmates to transcribe print documents into braille.  The program gives inmates valuable job skills and helps them stay out of trouble once they leave prison.  The recidivism rate for NPBN participants is estimated at less than 3 percent, far below the national average of 76 percent.

  • Braille can be delicious.  You can show your support for braille in a tasty way by baking braille cupcakes for your friends.  (Use M&M’s to make the braille letters.)

  • LEGO bricks could someday come in braille.  A Brazilian foundation has invented a LEGO-style brick that can help children who are blind learn to read and write, while building cool toy structures.  Braille Bricks, created by the São Paulo-based Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, are similar to LEGO bricks, but each brick has a raised Braille letter on top, which allows the bricks to interlock. The Foundation is working to convince the toy industry to produce the bricks.

  • Braille is the latest trendy tattoo.  Some braille tattoos are simple (like “love”) and some are complicated (like the lyrics of an entire song).  Most people get flat (ink) braille tattoos, while others reportedly get small surgical beads inserted under their skin to create raised braille dots. If you’re not ready to go that far, temporary braille tattoos are also available.


The Sligo Creek chapter wanted to heighten public awareness of Braille, so they conducted a special Braille program at the Davis Library in Bethesda, Maryland on January 19.  Many members, students from the BELL (Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning) program and their parents, participated in this event.  Here is how Debbie Brown, president of the chapter, described this fun afternoon:


Thank you to everyone at the Louis Braille birthday party yesterday.  We think we saw about 15 people we didn’t know—children and adults.  We sang Happy Birthday to Louis Braille in English, French, Spanish, and Farsi.  Paul and Luis, two BELL students, sang “Live the Life You Want” to everyone who would listen.  Donna Koh from the NLS music section was with us, and we got a chance to talk to Paul’s and Aisha’s parents about Braille music.  This was appropriate since Louis Braille also invented Braille music.  The children got to make tactile bookmarks and write their names in Braille.  It was miserable outside, but we had a cozy afternoon inside celebrating Louis Braille’s 210th birthday.




Spectator Specs




On February 3, 2019, Rachel Olivero unexpectedly passed away as a result of pneumonia.  Rachel was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter for the last eleven years and a member of the staff of the National Federation of the Blind for eight of the last eleven years.  You can read more about Rachel’s contributions in this issue of the Braille Spectator in the article entitled “A Lasting Legacy: Remembering Rachel Olivero.”  May she rest in peace.


On February 5, 2019, Larry Richardson died after a long illness.  Larry was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter for more than 30 years.  He also worked at BISM for 30 years as a machine operator.  Larry and his whole family have always participated in NFBMD activities with enthusiasm.  We will miss his kindness, loyalty, and sense of humor.  May he rest in peace.


New Baby:


Congratulations to Nicole Fincham Sheehan and James Sheehan on the recent birth of their daughter.  Cacia Noelle Sheehan was born January 29, 2019, at 10:55 a.m.  She weighed 6 pounds and 13 ounces and was 20 inches long.  Nicole was an active member in NFBMD for decades.  She and James moved to Florida but still keep in touch with their NFBMD friends. 




Congratulations to Tyron Bratcher who earned a BS degree in Social Work from Coppin State University in December 2018.  Tyron is a long-time member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter. He hopes to get a job in social work in the near future.


Congratulations to Amber Woods who earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College in December 2018.  Amber is the First Vice President of the National Harbor Chapter.  She already has a side business as a travel agent and hopes to work as a Contract Specialist with the Federal Government.



Braille Readers are Leaders Winners:


Maryland had five participants in the NFB Braille Readers are Leaders contest for 2018-2019.  Aisha Safi won 1st place in the grade 2-3 category.  She read 1,995 pages.  Zanyiah Bell won 3rd place in the same category.  She read 1,099 pages.  In the grade 4-5 category, Jonah Rao won 3rd place for reading 721 pages and Isaiah Rao won honorable mention for reading 690.  In the grade 6-8 category, Mercy Rao won 3rd place for reading 850 pages.  Braille readers are definitely leaders!  We look forward to the continued progress of these students and we are very proud of their achievements.


Lego League Team Achievement:


On January 19th, several NFBMD members participated in the Middle School Lego League Qualifier Competition.  The team was sponsored by the Maryland School for the Blind.  They won 1st place in the research project category of the competition.  A future issue of the Spectator will contain an in-depth story about the challenges and achievements faced by the students.  Congratulations!


Brandon Pickrel Recognized


Brandon Pickrel, a junior at Northern High School and a long time Federationist, was selected by the Dapper Dan Club of Allegany County as the recipient of the 2019 Most Courageous Award.  The Dapper Dan dinner was held February 24th at the Ali Ghan Shrine Club in Cumberland.  Debra Ahern, a counselor at Northern High School in Garrett County, offered the following explanation of this award.  Congratulation Brandon!


Every year, the Dapper Dan Club honors many of our area's best athletes, including those in youth, high school, collegiate, and post-collegiate athletics.  The honor Brandon has been selected to receive is one of the most prestigious awards given by the Dapper Dan.  It truly exemplifies the role that athletics can play to help boost confidence, overcome difficulties, work together, and persevere in times that require great fortitude.  Brandon is visually-impaired and typically runs with a guide.  Most people tend to assume that Brandon's impairment is a limiting quality, but in fact, it tends to be Brandon's guide that slows him down.  It is extremely hard to find a guide who can keep up with him.  Coach Hawkins can attest to this fact after running part of a race with him and feeling like his heart was going to explode.


Brandon has participated in cross-country for three years and track for two years (with the third year coming up very soon) for Northern.  He is a tremendously hard worker with a great positive attitude that is absolutely infectious.  What he has done over the past three years has been nothing short of amazing.  This past season Brandon was an integral part of the Varsity team, running in Regionals.  His best race for the year was a 20:35 for three miles.  Even though Brandon has steadily improved and has posted some fast times, he is never satisfied and always believes he could have done better and run faster.  It is this prevailing thought that he can always improve that drives him to work so hard. 


Brandon has also recently raced and completed two half-marathons.  That's 13.1 miles!  That is an amazing accomplishment for anybody.  Brandon has a lifetime goal of qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon.  We are all excited and proud of Brandon for receiving this great honor and look forward to all that he will accomplish in the future.