Braille Spectator, Fall 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 National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2019 Annual Convention: Celebrating Our Stories, Defining Our Future

·The BELLs Continue Ringing in Maryland

·Why Would We Even Try?

·Maryland’s Barriers to Disabled Students Must Go

·Chapter Spotlight: The Greater Baltimore Chapter

·Annapolis Roundup – A Year of Unfinished Business

·Why is There a Braille Message on My E-scooter?

·National Federation of the Blind Sues State Board of Elections Over Ballot Privacy

·Perspectives on the National Convention

·Spotlight on a Student: Nesma Aly – Living the Life She Wants

·Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Debbie Brown

·Ways of Seeing: A Tactile Art Exhibition


·Spectator Specs



The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
2019 Annual Convention:
Celebrating Our Stories, Defining Our Future

By Ronza Othman

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) will be holding its 53rd Annual Convention from Nov 8 to 10, at the Crown Plaza Baltimore Downtown Inner Harbor. Our theme this year will be Celebrating Our Stories, Defining Our Future. This is because we, the members of the NFBMD, come from a multitude of diverse and varied backgrounds. We each have a unique story that led us to find the National Federation of the Blind and decide to make its members our family. At this year’s convention, we will be celebrating those stories and finding the commonalities among them. Those commonalities are the threads that will define our collective future as an organization and as a movement.


Our national representative this year is Carla McQuillan. Carla is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon and a member of the NFB Board of Directors. She runs a Montessori preschool program and coordinates our national NFB Braille Enrichment in Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program. 


We will begin early on Friday, Nov. 8, with the Resolutions Committee Meeting and the Board Meeting. The Greater Baltimore Chapter, our host chapter, has planned some exciting tours for us of the downtown Baltimore area. We will, once again, have an exhibit hall, where a number of organizations will demonstrate services and goods specific to the blind. We are planning some workshops, including two focusing on stories: a workshop on oral history and a workshop on sources for books, stories, and information and how to access them. We will also hold a town hall, where members will be invited to share suggestions for what they want to see from their affiliate in terms of activities, programs, events, and focus. One workshop will focus on helping job seekers hone their job searching and interviewing skills. And, by popular demand, bingo is back!


The Parents Division is hosting a day-long seminar for parents and teachers on Friday. Childcare is available if needed. The students will also have a seminar on Friday. The Merchants Division will have a Symposium and Networking Reception Friday evening. 


This year’s dramatic reading of Braille/play is a Debbie Brown original creation. We will also have a game night Friday.


Saturday and Sunday promise to be equally exciting. We will have many dynamic and interesting presentations during general session, including Dave Steele, the Blind Poet. As usual we will work with our partners to ensure high quality services for the blind.


Members are strongly encouraged to bring their NFB Membership Coins with them and keep them on hand throughout the convention. We will award incentives and prizes to those who have their NFB Membership Coins with them throughout the weekend.


The banquet on Saturday evening promises to be as exciting as ever. We will hear from our national representative, award our NFBMD scholarships, and give some awards. 


We have a number of surprises in store this year. Please take advantage of the discounted rates for registration and meals by pre-registering prior to Oct. 12. Hotel reservations also are due by Oct. 12. For more information about pre-registration, how to reserve a hotel room, and to download the convention agenda once it becomes available, visit


The convention will be a time to have fun and grow, a time to meet new friends and renew old friendships, and a time of inspiration and enthusiasm. Come to the convention to experience the love, hope and determination we need to make our dreams a reality. 


The BELLs Continue Ringing in Maryland

by Judy Rasmussen


The NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy is one of the most important programs held across the country by affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind. Since Maryland was the first affiliate to host the BELL program, we have a high tradition to uphold. In true federation fashion, we continued to make a difference in the lives of young students across the state in 2019. A total of 22 students, ranging from age 4 to 14, participated in our three BELL Academies. 


As in past years, BELLs rang out in Baltimore, Glenn Dale, and Salisbury, each lasting two weeks. Though many of our students had been to previous BELL Academy programs, they were eager to come back to renew friendships with their peers and with blind volunteer role models. For volunteers, it is heart-warming to see how students have progressed with their reading and writing. For students, it is the chance to build on what they learned and experience activities they don't always do in school, like cooking.


This year's nationwide NFB BELL theme was: Placing Your Hands on the Future. Each NFB BELL Academy was encouraged to explore tactile learning. Thanks to the generosity of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, each NFB BELL Academy was gifted an inTACT Sketchpad and Eraser.  The sketchpads are designed to teach kids to draw objects they can feel. The sketchpad comes with a stylus and special paper which is fitted into the sketchpad frame. Students are given objects like a balloon which they can trace. Or, they can be creative and draw free-hand. Everyone traced a balloon, but then had the opportunity to create a three-dimensional balloon using craft supplies, and then make a mini-helium balloon (complete with mini basket).


On the last day, each student was given his/her own sketchpad to take home and use throughout the school year.


All three NFB BELL Academies enjoyed tactile activities with the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Students learned about outer space consistent with the library’s summer theme of the Universe of Stories. The lessons were tactile, auditory, and special, rather than visual. All three NFB BELL Academies also enjoyed activities courtesy of FutureMakers, including building three-dimensional structures.


Salisbury BELL

The NFB BELL Academy in Salisbury, hosted by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), emphasized reading, writing, singing, dancing, keyboarding, and community service.  Many of the students learned to read Braille music for the first time, and the group came together to perform “Lean on Me” at the NFB Salisbury BELL graduation. They also learned a complicated step dance, which they performed at their graduation. The students took field trips to a local pool, many of them learning to independently navigate the pool for the first time.  Additionally, they took a trip to a peach farm, where they picked peaches and later assembled peach baskets for blind seniors in the Salisbury area. In this capacity, they learned the value of community service.


Blind mobility instructor, Quinn Haverl, helped kids improve their cane techniques and everyone had lots of fun walking on a big trail that runs around the location of the BELL Academy site.


We appreciate Mindy Demaris, who is a certified teacher and gave of her time to teach Braille reading and writing to the Salisbury students. Amy Kraus, Danielle Earl, Heather Guy, and many other volunteers made the Salisbury program a success.


Baltimore BELL

We were pleased that Jackie Anderson returned to be the NFB Baltimore BELL Academy teacher this year. Jackie was the original instructor for NFB BELL when it first began. We are also grateful to Melissa Riccobono for coordinating the NFB Baltimore BELL Academy.


Each day, NFB Baltimore BELL Academy students rotated between sessions on reading; writing; independent living skills; and orientation and mobility. Students made pizzas from scratch, including rolling out the dough; baked pastries and desserts; and played many kinds of Braille games. The students took field trips to the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and to a local swimming pool. They also worked with clay, thanks to Baltimore Clayworks, and the students helped to create a sculpture that will be installed at the National Federation of the Blind headquarters. 


Glenn Dale BELL

Rene Donalvo once again served as the teacher for the NFB Glenn Dale BELL Academy.  Debbie Brown and Judy Rasmussen once again served as the lead coordinators. 


The Glenn Dale students wrote about all the things their hands can do, participated in both a sound quiz and a scavenger hunt, baked cakes in cups, and had great philosophy discussions about blindness. The Glenn Dale program included formal orientation and mobility instruction this year for the first time.


NFB Glenn Dale BELL Academy students took a field trip to a bowling alley, where the students learned non-visual bowling techniques. They also took an imaginary trip to the Philippines. In preparation, students had to create their own passports by writing their personal information and drawing their faces using their sketchpads; they created a list of things they would need for a three-day trip. Volunteers served as immigration officers, the pilot, fellow passengers, and tour guides. Students looked at genuine Philippine artifacts, money, and ate spring rolls and a noodle dish. While playing Braille Jeopardy, students showed how much they had learned from this trip by answering questions correctly.


Some of the older students had the chance to write down 10 things they wish sighted people knew about blind people. Here are a few of their answers:

  • "We don't want to be excluded from games or assignments because we are blind."
  • "Don't move our canes without permission."
  • "We want apps on our phones that are accessible."


Parent Activities

Each NFB BELL Academy in Maryland ended with a parent seminar. Parents were educated about their rights with regard to the special education system. They were taught about non-visual ways of accomplishing tasks. Parents of NFB BELL Academy participants were also given training on how to help their children use the sketchpads, with an emphasis on helping the children to learn to both print and sign their names.


Thank You

None of the BELL Academy programs would have been possible without the dedication of the many wonderful volunteers who put in countless hours to ensure things were prepared ahead of time, and were flexible when changes had to be made with little notice. All of our teachers deserve hearty thanks for their dedication and persistence. The NFB Maryland BELL Committee—led by Melissa Riccobono, and included members Sharon Maneki, Debbie Brown, Judy Rasmussen, Erin Daring, Danielle Earl, Heather Guy, and Amy Crouse—worked for many months to plan for NFB BELL; their hard work shown through in the number and variety of dynamic lessons, activities, and field trips.


Contributions received from Friends of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the Central Maryland, Greater Baltimore, TLC and Sligo Creek chapters were very much appreciated, as were donations from private individuals and entities. The NFB BELL Academies are the most expensive program our affiliate runs. However, we will not stop holding them because investment in the future generation of leaders is essential to ensure that blind children grow up to work, serve others, and teach the next generation the skills they learned—and to live the life they want.




Why Would We Even Try?

by Talia Richman

Originally published by The Baltimore Sun; May 2, 2019


[Editor’s Note: Improving educational opportunities for blind children is one of the highest priorities of the federation. We are including the following article and President Riccobono’s response to it entitled “Maryland's Barriers to Disabled Students Must Go,” as an example of educational barriers in Maryland. As you will see, we have much work to do in the education arena.]


'Why would we even try?' Parents of disabled students almost never win in fights against Maryland districts.


It’s rare for the parents of students with disabilities to prevail in legal battles against Maryland school districts. In the past five years, they’ve lost more than 85 percent of the time, state education department documents show, even after investing tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours in pursuit of a better education for their children.


Advocates, families and attorneys say the trend is alarming and discourages people from fighting for the rights kids are guaranteed under federal law.


School systems are required to provide and pay for a range of specialized services — anything from speech therapy sessions to tuition at a private facility — to ensure that children with disabilities are properly educated. When parents dispute what’s being offered, they can file a complaint and take their case before a judge.


It’s a draining and complex ordeal that costs families time and energy and leaves their children’s education in flux. In recent years, roughly 100 families have gone through a so-called special education due process hearing. Judges have routinely sided with the school systems.


“I wouldn’t wish this upon anybody,” said Sarah Friedman, a parent who went through due process. “My daughter was let down first by the school system and then by the judicial system.”


Advocates say the odds discourage countless other families — especially low-income families — from attempting to go through with a due process complaint.


“Families see the data, and it’s like, why would we even try?” said Maureen van Stone, director of the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Project HEAL, a medical-legal partnership. “This is not what you want when children with disabilities are guaranteed these rights by federal law.”


Other states avoid such asymmetrical rates. A study examining due process hearings in Texas found districts prevailed in roughly 72 percent of cases from 2011 to 2015. A similar assessment in Massachusetts found school districts won in a little more than half of the due process hearings over eight years.


Van Stone said she understands “not every case is a winner.” Still, she argues the lopsided success in Maryland should sound alarms.


A representative of the judges who oversee these cases said every judge is impartial and assesses each situation on its merits. A senior official in the school system that fields the most complaints said districts work tirelessly to settle problems outside court to best serve kids.


Still, some parents question why they so often lose in the fight for what they see as their children’s legal right to “a free and appropriate” public education — and why lawmakers in Annapolis have quashed legislation they say would’ve helped level the playing field.


A last resort

Before a due process hearing goes before a judge, school systems and parents are supposed to work together to reach a resolution out of court. The majority of special education issues are settled that way, through mediation and other means, keeping the number of due process hearings low.


Lori Scott, chair of the Howard County Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee, says her organization counsels families on how to secure better services for their children while avoiding a due process hearing. Taking that step, she says, is a last resort no parent relishes — but one they will pursue if they feel it’s their child’s only chance.


Montgomery County’s Associate Superintendent of Special Education Kevin Lowndes said the district “bends over backwards” to resolve issues with parents before moving into due process.


“The cases that get to that level are ones we’ve done everything in our power to make a successful resolution,” he said, “but for whatever reason the parent wants something we feel we just can’t give them.”


Friedman says she spent four years in classrooms and conference rooms, trying to get the Montgomery County public school system to better educate her daughter. The girl, who Friedman requested not be named, has severe dyslexia. As she approached third grade, she couldn’t read well enough to order off an unfamiliar menu. At Dunkin' Donuts, she would ask her mom for the white one with sprinkles, unable to decipher the treat’s proper name.


She continued to fall behind her peers. In third grade, she read at the level of a new first-grader, documents show. She called herself dumb. She developed anxiety and deep shame about her inability to read.


Friedman pulled her daughter out of the Montgomery County elementary school and transferred her to a private school in Washington that specializes in teaching kids with learning differences. Her daughter began thriving, once getting into her mother’s car after school and announcing that she’d had the best day of her life: She read a chapter book for the first time. She told Friedman she never wanted to go back to her old school, which she dubbed “the death school.”


The family initiated a due process hearing to compel Montgomery County to pay the steep private school tuition, arguing the girl’s public elementary school failed to meet her needs. While it’s rare, judges can — and have — required public systems to pay private school costs. Districts can also agree to pay for private schools without going to due process; Baltimore, for example, plans to set aside $28 million next year to pay tuition for students who can’t be served in public schools.


Friedman and her husband burned through their vacation and savings during the adversarial 10-day hearing. It left Friedman wishing the school system would fight as hard for dyslexic kids as it does against them.


Last month, the Friedmans got the news: They, like so many other parents in Maryland, had lost.

“You deplete all your resources to fight for your child’s education,” she said. “I knew the world was unjust, but I never knew it could be like this for a child.”


The judge who oversaw the hearing concluded Montgomery County Public Schools was able to provide Friedman’s daughter a “free and appropriate education,” and that she had in fact made academic progress in third grade. The school system, which declined to comment on an individual case, argued it provided necessary academic and emotional supports for the 9-year-old girl.


The judges who decide these cases can’t speak to their rulings, which are confidential, said John Leidig, deputy director of operations for the Office of Administrative Hearings. Each case is decided on its individual facts, and the office declined to comment on the trend of parents losing most of the time.


Administrative law judges are overseen by the state’s independent Office of Administrative Hearings. Each of the roughly 55 judges in the office worked as a lawyer before their appointment.


In testimony earlier this year in Annapolis, the chief administrative law judge assured lawmakers that every judge assigned to a due process hearing is “trained, competent, neutral and fair.”


‘David versus Goliath’

Some researchers believe districts prevail much more often because they have far greater legal and financial resources than a family does. Another explanation special education experts offer is the districts will attempt to resolve cases that are less likely to be won and go to a hearing only if they are supremely confident in their chances. Others believe judges give deference to the judgment of district officials.


“It’s always been a David and Goliath issue,” said special education attorney Selene Almazan.


Project HEAL produced a report analyzing each of the 105 due process hearings from fiscal year 2014 to the second quarter of fiscal year 2019, most of which were initiated by the parents.

Judges sided with school districts in all but 14 cases. No parents won if they represented themselves.


Advocates caution that for every parent who makes it to a due process hearing, there are countless others without the resources to even consider taking on a fight they’re likely to lose.

Karen Kwasny is debating going to due process to fight for the right for her daughter, who has a variety of learning disabilities, to be properly educated in Carroll County Public Schools. But she’s torn.


“I’m afraid I’ll lose and the money wouldn’t be used for her education,” she said. “It’d be used to fight a system that doesn’t favor families.”


Perry Zirkel, a Lehigh University professor and recognized expert in special education law, warned against looking at the percentage of district or parent wins alone. Due process hearings, he says, are complex and nuanced.


“It all depends on the perspective,” he said. The same people “looking at the same data, can have different perceptions about what is fair or who should prevail in these cases. It’s not like science or mathematics.”


Due process complaints are filed against school districts across the state. The systems in Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel, and Harford counties, and Baltimore City have litigated several dozen. Montgomery County fields the most. It’s the largest school district in the state, and among the wealthiest.


For low-income families, due process brings additional, potentially insurmountable, hurdles. Project HEAL found an average due process hearing spans about four days — meaning a parent will likely have to take off work multiple days in a row. If they want a chance at winning, parents must bring in expert witnesses to testify on their behalf. These experts often come with  hefty price tags, as do lawyers.


The system’s “complex protocols and mandates disproportionately benefit wealthy, well-educated parents, who can deftly and aggressively navigate the due process system with the aid of private counsel and paid education experts,” according to an American Association of School Administrators report on national trends.


Meanwhile, the amount of money districts spend to fight parents in a due process hearing can sometimes exceed the cost of the service families are requesting.


That was the case for Sarah Davis, an Anne Arundel parent who asked the school system to pay for an independent evaluation to determine whether her daughter, then in eighth grade, is dyslexic. The district spent more than $30,000 in its dispute with Davis, according to documents provided to The Baltimore Sun. The evaluation — for which her family eventually paid — would have cost the district one-tenth of that.


“Anne Arundel County Public Schools exhausts all resources as we attempt to provide appropriate accommodations and/or services to all students with disabilities,” spokesman Bob Mosier said in a statement. “When there is disagreement about those accommodations or services, we attempt to reach resolution using collaborative means. There are times, however, when those avenues don’t result in an agreement. Our focus in all cases is meeting the needs of the student.”


School systems “shouldn’t be spending thousands of dollars to avoid paying for something that will cost a fraction of that,” said attorney Wayne Steedman, who represented Davis and other Maryland families in these cases.


Stalled changes

A Baltimore City delegate introduced a bill in this year’s session that would have imposed new regulations on the judges who preside over special education cases.


There are dozens of these administrative law judges, yet due process hearings are relatively infrequent. That means, according to Project HEAL, a judge, will on average, go 25 months between rulings on special education cases. Administrative law judges oversee cases stemming from more than 30 state agencies.


Del. Stephanie Smith proposed mandating additional special education training for judges. The training would have discussed how to recognize and avoid implicit bias and understand the perspective of a parent whose child has a disability.


Chief administrative law judge Thomas Dewberry testified in opposition, saying it was unnecessary because judges already receive extensive training on special education, and the law would undermine the office’s independence.


Smith withdrew the legislation. She did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

That pattern has been repeated with due process-related bills.


Another bill introduced in the session would’ve enabled families to recoup expert and attorney fees. It received an unfavorable report in the Senate.


For Baltimore schools, special education still a work in progress

In Maryland, the party that files the due process complaint carries the responsibility of convincing a judge that the special education services that schools provide are inadequate — a standard stemming from a 2005 Supreme Court decision.


The General Assembly has many times in recent years considered shifting the burden of proof to the school system, as states such as New York and New Jersey have done. Legislation would have required school systems to defend the appropriateness of the learning plans they’d crafted for students, even if it was the parents who filed the complaint. The Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which represents all 24 school systems, opposed the bill, saying it would increase the cost and duration of these disputes.


Supporters argued it would force districts to work more collaboratively with parents.

Legislation that would’ve put the burden of proof on school systems repeatedly failed.



Maryland's Barriers to Disabled Students Must Go

by Mark A. Riccobono

Originally published by The Baltimore Sun; May 3, 2019


As a blind parent, father of three children (two of whom are blind), and as president of the National Federation of the Blind, I was simultaneously frustrated and pleased to see Talia Richman bring attention to the critical issue of special education due process hearings in Maryland (“‘Why would we even try?’ Parents of disabled students almost never win in fights against Maryland districts,” May 2). I am all too familiar with the artificial barriers that some, often well-meaning, school administrators erect between blind students and their full academic potential. In most of these cases, securing high quality Braille instruction for blind students, particularly for those with some vision, leads to long, expensive and burdensome due process hearings similar to those Ms. Richman describes.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law governing special education, is a well-intentioned but flawed law that frequently dooms parents, advocates and students with disabilities to that adversarial process. Maryland can and must do better. In addition to the administrative battles, Maryland schools are failing to leverage a great wealth of Maryland resources to develop model educational programs. The headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind has been in Baltimore for 40 years, yet our frequent attempts to partner with Maryland school districts have gone unanswered. Imagine how much better our children would have it if we could partner in the classrooms rather than argue about our perspectives in the courtrooms.


We look forward to working with Del. Stephanie Smith, as well as the rest of the Maryland General Assembly, parents, advocates, administrators and students with disabilities to make the necessary special education reforms so our students can live the lives they want.




Chapter Spotlight: The Greater Baltimore Chapter

by Chris Danielsen


[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 continue highlighting a particular chapter or division in each edition of this publication. After all, members are the lifeblood of our organization, and chapters help build the foundation for membership. Since the spring 2019 issue, we have been spotlighting a Maryland chapter in each issue to share how that chapter originated, what makes it unique, and other interesting information about it. The next chapter to be highlighted in this series is the Greater Baltimore chapter.]


The Greater Baltimore Chapter is the oldest chapter in the organization we now know as the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. In fact, the chapter was established in October of 1965, before there was a state affiliate. Today, it has more than 150 members, many of whom attend its regular meetings, annual chapter picnics, and holiday celebrations.


Since its founding, the Greater Baltimore Chapter has met on the third Saturday of each month. The location of the meetings changed many times before April of 1979, when the chapter began meeting at what is now the NFB Jernigan Institute, where meetings begin promptly at 10 a.m., in the beautiful NFB of Utah Auditorium. Past meeting locations included the Towanda Avenue City Recreation Center and the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland facility on Strickland Street.


The chapter’s founding president was Ned Graham, who, according to the recollections of longtime chapter members, served in that capacity throughout most of the 60s and 70s. Presidents since the late 70s have included many distinguished and still-active federationists, some of whom went on to much higher offices. The names of these individuals are: Raymond Lowder, Marc Maurer (who would of course go on to serve as national president), Althea Pitman, Mary Ellen Reihing (now Gabias), the late Fred Flowers, Eileen Rivera (now Ley), Lynn Mattioli (now Bailiff), Curtis Chong, Maurice Peret, Melissa Riccobono (who left the chapter presidency to serve as state president), Chris Danielsen, and Ellen Ringlein. Other distinguished longtime members include Patricia Maurer, who served as chapter treasurer from 1983 through 2015; Bernice Lowder, who has done any number of volunteer jobs for the chapter including providing child care; Barry Hond, who is still in charge of the chapter’s 50/50 raffle at each meeting;  Carol Siegel, who among other things Brailles the raffle tickets; Maryellen Thompson, who for years handled chapter nut sales and still performs functions too numerous to mention; Sharon Maneki, who despite founding and leading another NFBMD chapter, coordinates numerous activities and programs for the Greater Baltimore Chapter; and Mary Ellen Jernigan, whose contributions to the federation are many and ongoing. This is also the home chapter of current NFBMD President Ronza Othman.  Readers will by now understand federation presidents beginning with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan were chapter members. As a result, the chapter has long had the privilege of hearing additional remarks from the national president following the playing of the recorded presidential release.


A historic and ongoing concern of the chapter is the availability and quality of public transportation in Baltimore and beyond. During the airline battles of the late 70s and early 80s, chapter members participated in a simulated airplane evacuation to demonstrate the capacity of blind people to safely leave a plane in an emergency using white canes and guide dogs. In the early 2000s, when then-members Jim McCarthy and Terri Uttermohlen were detained by Maryland Transit Administration Police for failing to pay a Light RailLink fare, even though they had offered to pay the conductor because they couldn’t use an inaccessible ticket kiosk, chapter members protested the inaccessibility and the MTA’s action by demonstrating at the Camden Light RailLink station and aboard the trains. Today’s ongoing transportation concerns include the proliferation of e-scooters in Baltimore City and the seemingly intractable problems with the MTA Mobility paratransit service. In recent years, the chapter has also modeled advocacy by protesting against the showing of the movie Blindness at the Landmark Theaters, Harbor East and for fair wages at the Goodwill store on Greenmount Avenue. Chapter members also attended numerous hearings of the Maryland Board of Elections to protest its separate and unequal treatment of blind voters. Each year, chapter members write letters to members of the Maryland General Assembly and attend hearings to support our state legislative initiatives, stuff envelopes to support state fundraising appeals, and more.


The chapter also has a strong presence in the community. Since the mid-1990s the chapter has participated in Baltimore’s Christmas lighting of its Washington Monument, braving usually frigid temperatures to sell wassale and hot chocolate to the Baltimoreans who turn out for this beloved holiday tradition. For the past several years chapter members have also attended at least one Baltimore Orioles game. Both of these events serve as fundraisers, but more importantly, they integrate blind residents into the Baltimore community. On September 18, 2018, chapter members were proud to make National Federation of the Blind Night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of NFB headquarters in the city, a resounding success by handing out Braille alphabet cards to our fellow baseball fans. The Greater Baltimore Chapter is looking forward to hosting our extended family from across the state at the Crowne Plaza Hotel from Nov. 8 to 10. See you at convention, if not before!



Annapolis Roundup – A Year of Unfinished Business

by Sharon Maneki


The first year in the four-year term of the General Assembly is always a time of on-the-job training. More than one-third of the General Assembly was new and three of the four chairmen of Senate Committees also were new. We were busy building new relationships and renewing friendships. We wanted to make sure that every member of the General Assembly knows the National Federation of the Blind is a resource on blindness for them.


Our three main priorities dealt with access. The first two issues concerned access to information and the third issue was equal access to voting.


Once again Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly appropriated $250,000 for the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce (CENA). CENA does important work under the auspices of the Jernigan Institute and we appreciate the continued support of the governor and the General Assembly very much. One of the new programs that was established because of this appropriation was the Accessibility Inclusion Fellowship Grants Program. It is crucial for developers to learn about accessibility during their formal education. Through our Accessibility Inclusion Fellowship Program under a Nonvisual Accessibility Initiative grant administered by the Maryland Department of Disabilities, we are excited to be working with professors on incorporating accessibility concepts into their curriculum in a required course.


In 2019-2020 we will work closely with three grant recipients. Congratulations to Joyram Chakraborty, Ph.D., from Towson University; Austin A. Lobo from Washington College; and Susan Vowels, D.B.A., from Washington College on their selection as recipients of the Accessibility Inclusion Fellowship Grant. This is an important step toward our goal to make accessibility requirements an automatic part of web development rather than an afterthought.


Our second issue dealing with access to information concerned electric dockless scooters. Electric scooters (e-scooters) are a new form of transportation that has become very popular in cities in Maryland and throughout the nation. The appeal of these scooters is that they may be retrieved from and left anywhere because they do not need to be parked at a docking station or rack. As a result, users are leaving these scooters in locations that block curb cuts, obstruct sidewalks, block bus stops and stoops, and generally disrupt the flow of pedestrian traffic. The public is encouraged to contact the various scooter companies directly to report scooter misuse, request that a scooter be moved, or report an injury or other concern; reports are made by calling the company, visiting the website, or making a report using the app. The blind cannot identify the scooter companies’ names, phone numbers, or websites because the information on the scooter is available only in print. Blind people are further denied the opportunity to make reports or issue complaints, since scooter websites and apps are generally not accessible via access technology.


To remedy this lack of access for the blind, an old friend, Senator Jeff Waldstreicher introduced SB 805 and a new friend, Delegate Dalya Attar introduced HB 1243. These bills instructed scooter companies to create and maintain accessible websites and phone apps. The companies were also required to include tactile information, such as embossed print, on each scooter so that a blind person could identify the company and the phone number. The House passed HB1243.  Unfortunately, the Senate Finance Committee did not approve the bill until very late in the session. On the last day, the bill was caught in the end of session logjam and was not considered by the Senate for final action. We will ask the General Assembly to solve this problem in the next session. Meanwhile, we continue to work with scooter companies and transportation officials to make them aware of their accessibility responsibilities. See the article entitled “Why is there Braille on My E-Scooter” elsewhere in this issue. 


Spectator readers will remember that the blind of Maryland lost our right to a secret ballot due to policies of the State Board of Elections, in the 2016 and 2018 elections. The only way to restore the secret ballot to people with disabilities is to create one voting system for all voters. The House and the Senate considered legislation that would have accomplished this goal. Sen. Clarence Lam introduced SB 363 and Delegate Nick Mosby introduced HB 565. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee took no action on this bill and the House Ways and Means Committee sent their bill to Summer Study. This issue is not over. It is time for Maryland to learn the lesson that was established by the Supreme Court in 1954 that separate is not equal. Read about our lawsuit against the State Board of Elections elsewhere in this issue.


In addition to our priority issues we often work on other legislation that will benefit blind people. For example, we supported HB145/SB301. These bills require hospitals to provide a patient’s bill of rights and the necessary accommodations in reading and understanding the bill of rights to people who need them, such as the blind. These bills became law and went into effect Oct. 1.  Look for the specific rights in the patient bill of rights law in the “know your rights” section of our website at


The General Assembly and the governor enacted a new law to help parents with the IEP process.  Because of the passage of HB611, “if the parent disagrees with the educational evaluation of the student that was conducted by the local school system, the parent may request an independent educational evaluation at public expense in accordance with regulations adopted by the department.”


We look forward to completing our unfinished business during the 2020 session. By working together with the governor and General Assembly we will be able to strengthen laws so that blind people can live the lives we want and be free of the barriers of discrimination.





Why is There a Braille Message on My E-scooter?

No, blind people aren’t riding scooters. They need to know whom to contact if they trip over them.

by Luz Lazo

Originally published by the Washington Post; Aug. 22, 2019


[Editor’s Note: The following article from the Washington Post, dated August 22, 2019 captures our work with scooter companies to ensure that we have nonvisual access to the information that we need.]


If that Braille message on the e-scooter you rented gave you pause, rest assured, it’s not “how-to-ride” instructions.


No, blind people aren’t riding scooters. They do, however, need to know how to contact the scooter companies when they encounter the devices, which present a hazard when left lying around.


“We may not ride it, but if we trip over it, we can read the Braille on it and find out who to report it to,” said Shawn Callaway, president of the D.C. Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. “We want the Braille on them to identify the company and their contact information.”

Some companies, including Lyft and Lime, are retrofitting their scooters with the information, conforming with local policies that require the Braille message and growing demand from advocates for people with disabilities that the information be accessible.


As the micromobility services expand, advocates have been pushing the industry to include company information that is available to the general public on the devices — such as a phone number or email address — in Braille, too. And more local governments are making it a requirement for companies.


In the Washington region, Montgomery County requires companies to comply with all federal, state and local requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The county specifically mandates that devices have permanently affixed tactile information “to enable blind and visually-impaired individuals to identify the ownership of each vehicle and provide for their direct communication with Participating Company via telephone, email or website.”


Maureen McNulty, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Department of Transportation, said she can understand that the Braille on e-scooters may confuse people, but in requiring the devices to have the embossed messages, the county is ensuring that visually impaired residents have the tools they need to report problems.


“We hope that all users will park e-scooters correctly,” she said. But when they don’t, “this regulation is intended to provide some agency to the visually impaired if an e-scooter should become a tripping hazard.”


Nationwide, the blind community has raised concerns about the impact the rapid proliferation of scooters is having on the mobility of blind and low-vision people. Local and national groups have pointed to increased hazards from scooters being carelessly left on sidewalks, bus stops and other locations where pedestrians travel.


“These scooters are virtually silent when in use, making it impossible for those using nonvisual means of travel to detect them,” the National Federation for the Blind said in a resolution it passed last month.


The organization called on Congress to set a minimum sound standard for dockless electric scooters and on state and local governments “to enact laws regulating scooter use to control parking, prohibit riding on sidewalks, and generally avoid disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic.” Scooter companies, the group said, should do their part and “place their company name, scooter identification number, and contact information on each scooter in a format accessible and easily detectable by the blind;” they should also “develop accessible websites and mobile applications so that blind pedestrians can easily communicate reports of misuse or injury.” In a letter to Maryland lawmakers this year, the state chapter of the National Federation of the Blind delivered the same message.


Callaway said there is consensus among activists nationwide that action is required because scooters have become a hazard for pedestrians and even more so for the blind.


“These dockless bikes and scooters have not been a friend of the blind community. They are hazardous. People leave them in the middle of the sidewalk, so it is quite dangerous,” he said. “It’s all about inclusion and safety.”


Some companies say they are considering adding the Braille message on all their scooters, not just where they are required to.


Lime, a global e-scooter company with a strong presence in the D.C. area, began to add Braille messages to its scooters in Chicago in June, then followed with its devices in other jurisdictions, including Montgomery County. The company said it is also enhancing training of its customer service team to ensure timely responses to accessibility-related reports.


“Lime is committed to working with people with disabilities and disability-rights organizations to make our products and services more accessible, while also addressing challenges that result from this new mode of transportation in a city’s public right of way,” the company said in a statement. “We’ll continue to make this a priority while reminding riders to park scooters out of the path of those walking or using wheelchairs.”


Lyft scooters in the Washington area also carry a Braille message with the company contact information.

National Federation of the Blind Sues
State Board of Elections over Ballot Privacy

by Danielle E. Gaines

Originally published by Maryland Matters; Aug. 2, 2019


[Editor’s Note: Protecting the Civil Rights of the blind 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 Ruth Sager, Joel Zimba, and Marie Cobb, are suing the Maryland State Board of Elections. The below story by Maryland Matters explains the facts of the suit.]


A group of Maryland voters is suing the state of Maryland, alleging that state policies require them to cast a segregated ballot.


The National Federation of the Blind, its Maryland affiliate and three blind registered Maryland voters – Marie Cobb, Ruth Sager and Joel Zimba – filed a lawsuit against the Maryland State Board of Elections in U.S. District Court on Thursday.


The lawsuit alleges the elections board is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws by maintaining a segregated system of voting that denies blind voters their right to a secret ballot and an equal voting experience.


At issue are the state’s policies for using ExpressVote ballot-marking devices – which can allow voters who are blind or have motor disabilities to use headphones, magnification, touchscreens and other features to independently cast ballots. The machines do not record votes directly but mark a paper ballot that is printed and scanned. ExpressVote paper ballots are a different size and shape than paper ballots filled out by hand, making those votes cast by Marylanders with disabilities immediately identifiable, advocates say.


From 2004 to 2016, all Maryland voters used the same electronic touchscreen voting machines, but new laws have since required paper records of all votes.


Groups such as the National Federation of the Blind argue that the state could now use ExpressVote ballot-marking devices to record all votes, resolving the segregated ballot issue, but the state board of elections has said acquiring additional machines is cost-prohibitive.

Instead, the board has voted in recent weeks to change election judge training and set a higher goal of five ExpressVote ballots per precinct in an attempt to anonymize the ballots cast using the devices.


A bill that would have required all voters to use the devices filed by Del. Nick J. Mosby (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard) failed to pass the General Assembly last session, though the House version of the bill was referred to summer study. After the board’s most recent policy votes last week, both lawmakers said they will likely reintroduce the legislation in 2020.


In the complaint, the National Federation of the Blind notes that the 2007 legislation requiring the ballot paper trail required certification of a voting system that would “provide access to voters with disabilities that is equivalent to access afforded voters without disabilities without creating a segregated ballot for voters with disabilities.”


The complaint says a later opinion from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office warned the board it would violate the new law if it did not either use one accessible ballot marking system for all voters, ensure that hand-marked and electronically marked ballots were indistinguishable, or require a significant number of voters without disabilities to use the ballot-marking devices.

In the most recent election, use of the ballot-marking devices was low or non-existent in precincts across the state. Statewide, fewer than 1 percent of voters used a ballot-marking device. Only one ballot was cast using a device at 22 precincts and 66 precincts failed to require any voter to use the device, according to the lawsuit.


While the state board voted to encourage local boards to encourage at least five votes by ballot-marking device at each precinct in future elections, the plaintiffs have little confidence that policy will solve the problem.


The complaint notes that sparse use of the machines has created other issues. The plaintiffs in the case have experienced varying levels of difficulty in voting since the new process began. 

Cobb said when she tried to vote at a Catonsville precinct in 2016, the poll worker did not know how to set up the ballot-marking device and she and her 13-year-old granddaughter set up the machine themselves, discovering that it was not plugged in.


“The plug was still wrapped up and affixed to the back of the machine, indicating that the BMD had not been used at all that day, even though Ms. Cobb arrived to vote in the afternoon,” the complaint states.


Once set up, Cobb called a National Federation of the Blind employee who taught her how to use the machine, the complaint states.


Sager was told in 2018 that the ballot-marking device at her Pikesville polling place was broken. She had to have a poll worker read the ballot aloud and mark her votes, though the worker failed to clearly communicate parts of the ballot, including the correct pronunciation of candidates’ names, according to the complaint. When the scanning device rejected that initial ballot for errors, Sager had to go through the process again with another poll worker “and was denied the right to vote privately and independently altogether.”


Zimba, who lives in Baltimore, was the only person to use the ballot-marking device at his polling place in 2018. Since election judges there know him by name, he has little to no confidence that his ballot is secret at all, according to the complaint.


Another concern that has kept Maryland’s current system in place is candidate complaints dating back to 2016. As the state was prepared to use ballot-marking devices for early voting, races that included more than seven candidates would have split the list of contenders between multiple screens, drawing complaints from down-alphabet candidates.


Advocates like the NFB have said those concerns are overblown. The ballot-marking devices won’t allow voters to cast a ballot without navigating through all screens of candidates for a given race.


In February, Jonathan Lazar, a University of Maryland professor who specializes in disability and technology research, told lawmakers that 19 other states and the District of Columbia used the ExpressVote system in 2018, without significant issues.


The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the state board to offer ballot-marking devices to all voters by default unless they specifically request to hand mark a paper ballot.


The state board did not immediately respond to the case’s filing on Thursday afternoon.

Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said the lawsuit was necessary to force the board to stop “tinkering with its separate and unequal solution and instead implement a policy that protects the rights of all voters and the secrecy of our ballots.”

Ronza Othman, a civil rights attorney and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, said state advocates have been lobbying for a meaningful change for years, to no avail.


“When we could not get the board to listen, we appealed to the state legislature, but the board fought us there too. Enough is enough. We are taking the board to court to protect the right of all Maryland voters, including the blind, to cast our ballots privately and independently,” she said in a statement.



Perspectives on the National Convention

by Judy Rasmussen


[Editor’s Note: Judy Rasmussen, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD), also serves as the chairman of the NFBMD ambassadors committee. This committee is charged with providing first-time convention attendees with orientation to the numerous convention activities and mentorship.]


I have been attending NFB conventions since 1979. There are things I remember vividly about my first convention—meeting people from many states and foreign countries, the first day of opening session when everybody was yelling for their state, and most importantly, meeting our national leaders. Our national leaders were eloquent, and with their words and actions demonstrated that blind people were competent and that through collective action we can accomplish great things. That struck a deep chord in me which still resonates to this day.


While each convention has many of the same favorite traditions, the presidential report, the banquet speech, the roll call of states, etc., each one is special and different from the previous convention. As a veteran, it is normal for me to look forward to attending a convention because I know what to expect. However, for first timers, it can seem daunting, frightening, and exciting all at the same time.


In 2019, more than 40 first-time Marylanders attended the convention in Las Vegas. While there are many people whose stories should be printed, this article will focus on Rex Martin, Eddie Poindexter, and the Day family, all of whom attended their first conventions.


Rex Martin

Rex Martin, a resident of Frederick, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa—a disease which causes progressive vision loss—in his 40s. He wasn't going to let that stop him from living a full life. Prior to losing his vision, he worked as a financial analyst for IBM and the Computer Science Corporation. He said he worked "until he could no longer see the computer screen."


Rex knew he wanted more than to sit at home and feel sad about his vision loss. A doctor at the Hoover Low Vision Clinic told him about the Seniors Achieving Independent Living (SAIL) program run by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. He heard about the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland from the SAIL staff.


Rex has been attending the SAIL program for several months. He said he is feeling more confident all the time. When he heard that several of his colleagues were going to attend the NFB convention, he decided he would really like to go. Rex has been attending our at large chapter meetings on a regular basis and had heard about the convention from others on the call. The at large chapter meetings are monthly telephone calls which provide information about the federation for people who do not have a chapter in a location where they can attend meetings easily.


Rex felt that one of his first challenges would be traveling in the airport. It is much easier if you can read the signs to locate the security area, the gate from which you are leaving, and the baggage claim. He said it wasn't as hard as he thought.


Before going to the convention, he looked through the agenda and diligently recorded all the meetings he wanted to attend. He said that one of the things that struck him was the sheer number of people there, and how everybody was so friendly. We were all telling stories about our getting lost in the casino (you had to travel through the casino to get to all meetings). He said the technology meetings were a little over his head, but he found it helpful just to listen to what was available.


He was impressed with the number of people attending the rookie round-up. He also enjoyed meeting other seniors experiencing vision loss. He gained a broader perspective on what others were doing, and he said he definitely did not feel so alone any more. While attending the seniors' meeting, he had the chance to meet Eddie Poindexter, another member of the Maryland chapter at large. Rex said he is ready to go to the 2020 convention in Houston.


Eddie Poindexter

Eddie Poindexter is a resident of Charles County. He grew up believing that hard work would get you somewhere. He started his work life as a custodian for the Architect of the Capitol, in Washington, DC. Many congressmen and senators knew him by name. He enjoyed his job, was promoted to labor leader, and by the time he retired, he was the building superintendent. He said that he felt honored that people trusted him enough to manage such secure facilities. Diabetic retinopathy and detached retinas caused him to retire earlier than he wanted to. Eddie said that when he had good vision, it was very hard for him to ask for help with anything—especially driving directions. When he lost vision, it wasn't any easier for him to ask for help.


He said that one of his most memorable moments at the convention was not all the speeches, although he enjoyed them. He stated that one day he got really lost and pushed a door open to see where it would lead. He found that he was outside the hotel. There was so much noise around that he totally lost his sense of direction and became frightened. When a kind woman helped him, he realized that it was OK to ask for help when needed. He also realized that he could have been dependent on someone to take him everywhere, or he could have the adventure of exploring the hotel on his own, which he did. When people lose their vision, one thing they learn quickly is people don't always want to go where you want to go. Getting somewhere new, even though it is hard and you may get lost, is all worth it in the end, because you learn that not having sight doesn't mean you can't still have fun and make your own decisions.


Eddie said that he enjoyed meeting old friends from a senior retreat for newly blind people he attended in South Carolina last year. He plans to return to the same retreat in September.


Eddie said he is learning to use speech to operate his computer. While he knows he still has a long way to go, he is determined that vision loss will not stop him from living the life he wants.


The Day Family

Many federationists have had the privilege of knowing the Day family for quite some time. Derrick and Meredith attended our BELL Academy programs for many years. Their mother, Chris, has been active in the Maryland Parents' Division and serves as the treasurer of our Carroll County Chapter.


There is something for everyone at our conventions. Derrick and Meredith both attended our youth track. Never having attended the youth track, I was definitely curious about the types of activities in which students age 11 to 18 participated. Here is just a sample.


One of the Day kids' favorite activities was making marshmallow guns. Taking a piece of PVC pipe, the idea was to get a marshmallow inside the pipe and blow it out the other end. By putting a turn in the pipe, they could create a marshmallow cannon, which of course was probably more exciting than making a regular old marshmallow gun.


Competition is always exciting for young people. Each student made a boat out of foam, straw, and tape. Then everyone put pennies on their boat. Whoever could put the most pennies on their boat without it sinking won the prize. Derrick said he was able to put 50 pennies on his boat, which he thought was pretty cool.


Making magnetic slime, throwing ping pong balls that rattled, participating in a variety of activities at the Braille carnival, and collecting boxes of free Braille books at the Braille book fare were other highlights of their convention experience. Making friends from Alabama and Kentucky (they now FaceTime), are all benefits they continue to enjoy.


Chris stated because their plane was delayed due to weather, they sat in the Charlotte airport for 36 hours. She missed the parents' seminar, which was one of the big reasons she wanted to attend the convention. She said the biggest thing she gained was mentors were available for her children, not just from Maryland, but from all across the United States. Watching them participate in activities with both children and adults was exhilarating and broadened her perspective on just how far-reaching the federation really is.


The Day family, as well as others from the youth track, know a secret that will hopefully be shared with all of us in the next month or so. Whatever new product is coming, they were able to test it. When asked if people of all ages would want one, the response was: "yes, any social person would want one." Stay tuned—exciting things are on the horizon.


Get ready—Houston is just around the corner!



Spotlight on a Student:
Nesma Aly – Living the Life She Wants

by Ronza Othman


Nesma Aly has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland since she was a small child. Nesma is now a bright young woman, striving to live the life she wants.


Nesma is currently in her second semester of study at George Mason University, majoring in psychology with a minor in assistive technology. She plans to have a business in counseling as a therapist for teens and young adults because, as she says, “I want to help those who are going through a hard point in their life draw strengths from their weaknesses.” She also plans to work in the assistive technology field because she wants to help others who are blind access technology resources that will enable them to learn and work effectively.   


Nesma was born with a rare form of osteoporosis, a life-threatening disorder that largely impacts a person’s bones. However, it also may cause blindness due to dense bones putting pressure on facial nerves. Nesma was hospitalized as a child and needed two bone marrow transplants, which caused her to fall behind in school. She did not regularly begin attending school until the third grade which is around the time she and her family found the National Federation of the Blind. 


She realized in fourth grade that she was significantly behind her peers in reading. She shared that she used to pick up chapter books and pretend to read. 


Nesma attended the NFB BELL Academy, and later, she served as an NFB BELL volunteer.  She shared, “sitting in a little desk, as I helped the students learn, brought back memories of when I was graduating from the same program. Watching the young students on stage receive their hard-earned certificates brought me the joy of achievement.” Nesma is a staunch advocate of Braille.


Nesma was awarded the NFBMD Jennifer Baker Award in 2010. This award is given to a blind child who has overcome significant health and other challenges to learn alternative techniques of blindness, with an emphasis on Braille.


Nesma understood that she needed additional training in alternative techniques. She enrolled in the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) Comprehensive Orientation, Rehabilitation, and Empowerment (CORE) Program. However, she was eager to begin her college studies, so she left BISM in December 2018 to enroll as a freshman at George Mason University in the spring 2019 semester.


Nesma has served as an intern with the National Institutes of Health, in their Office of Budget and Financial Management. She has also volunteered with a variety of entities, including serving as a camp counselor and a community-based mentor. Nesma serves as a board member for the Maryland Association of Blind Students, as well as a secretary for the Visually Impaired Patriots, an organization at George Mason University that advocates for the needs of blind and low vision students, as well as educates the university’s community of the needs of individuals with visual impairments.


Nesma was selected for the 2019 NFB/Humanware STEM Internship. Nesma worked in Humanware’s marketing program in Longeueil and lived in Montreal, Canada in July and early August. She traveled to Canada alone and lived independently in an apartment for the first time. Nesma worked on a variety of projects during her internship, including generating and disseminating documentation for controlling the Juliet Pro 120 via the web. She shared that the NFB/Humanware internship has helped her gain more confidence in herself and in what she can do in life.  


Nesma may be young, but her energy and commitment to living the life she wants is an inspiration to us all.



Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Debbie Brown

By Melissa Riccobono

[Editor’s Note: Most of us know the names of our affiliate’s leaders, and we associate them with the projects and events they have led. However, we don’t always know how they came to be leaders in our organization. We are beginning a series that profiles our affiliate’s leaders so that our members can get to know them better on a personal level. We are beginning this series with Debbie Brown, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and president of the Sligo Creek Chapter. Debbie has the distinction of being the longest chapter president currently holding office in Maryland.]


Have you ever read a book in Braille produced by the National Library Service for the Blind? If so, it is quite likely you have been helped by the work of Debbie Brown. For the past 31 years, Debbie has worked in Quality Assurance at the Library of Congress for the National Library for the Blind. She reads Braille books to make sure they are formatted correctly, there are as few Braille errors as possible, and they are put together correctly so you can read smoothly from page one until the last page of the book.


In her spare time, Debbie enjoys music, reading, and is active in her church. She does not enjoy cooking, but does it because she has to eat. She does not particularly enjoy traveling, but does it because she does want to get from place to place and live the life she wants. In addition to all of these things, Debbie has served in many offices in the National Federation of the Blind on a national level. Since 1994, Debbie has served as president of the Sligo Creek Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and she also is the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.


Debbie joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1986, while she was living in Florida. Debbie says she joined the NFB because she began to read our literature and what it said “just made sense.” Someone called her and invited her to a chapter meeting, and she thought since the literature made so much sense, it would only be a good idea to check out the local chapter. At the local chapter, Debbie found she was welcome, and also that she was valued for her ability to work hard and give back to the chapter. She was not just told to “sit in a corner.” Debbie has been working hard for the National Federation of the Blind ever since.


Debbie’s degree is in English education. She may never have taught in a school, but she has used the skills learned from this degree to teach Braille to countless children, adults, and seniors over the years. Not surprisingly, the thing Debbie enjoys most in her work with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is working with the children in our Glendale NFB BELL Academy. She loves seeing the children gain skills in Braille and confidence in so many other areas. Debbie also enjoys directing the Braille Is Beautiful Players as they put on theater style plays at the state convention. Debbie finds plays that have parts for everyone. Even very new Braille readers are welcome to participate. If you attend the Picnic & a Play at this year’s state convention, be sure to thank Debbie, along with the other players, for her dedication to this effort.

If you have not had the opportunity to talk with Debbie, I encourage you to do so. She is friendly, helpful, down to earth, and is always pleased to help people in any way she can. I am lucky to call her my colleague and my friend.

Ways of Seeing: A Tactile Art Exhibition 


[Editor’s Note: The following article contains excerpts from a report written by Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, Ph.D. Readers will recognize many of the names in this article. Many federationists from throughout the country participated in all aspects of the exhibition. Of course, members from Maryland, especially the Greater-Baltimore Chapter, played a prominent role. For instance, one of the featured blind artists was Marguerite Woods, president of the At-Large Chapter. And the author of the report, Fogle-Hatch, is a board member of the Greater-Baltimore Chapter. This exhibition definitely demonstrates that there are many ways of seeing.] 


Ways of Seeing was a multisensory art exhibition, co-curated by Anil Lewis and Sarah McCann, that was accessible to both blind and sighted audiences providing an opportunity for an immersive art experience. Both the content of the exhibition (artworks), and information (labels), were fully accessible to blind people. At the same time, art was designed to appeal to sighted audiences, creating an integrated experience for all visitors. Through programming, dialogue was generated about the different experiences of the work on display. 


The exhibition, titled “Ways of Seeing,” ran from June 7 to July 20, at Gallery CA, 440 E. Oliver St., Baltimore.


Attendance at the events and throughout the six-week run was estimated at 375 people, including both blind and sighted visitors. Many people engaged with the art, touching the paintings and sculptures, and playing with components of the installation piece.


The art displayed in the “Ways of Seeing” exhibition included paintings, sculpture, wood carving, and works comprised of mixed media. The exhibition consisted of eight stations created by 10 artists; two stations were created by collaborating artist pairs, and the remaining six stations were produced by individual artists. Both blind and sighted artists were represented in the exhibition.


The artists in the exhibit were: Luanne Burke (Colo.), Jenny Callahan (Colo.), Cindy Cheng (Md.), Del Hardin Hoyle (N.Y.), Sallah Jenkins (Md.), Dominic Terlizzi (Md.), David Ubias (Pa.), Michael A. Williams (Tenn.), Marguerite Woods (Md.), and George Wurtzel (Tenn.).

“Ways of Seeing” was designed, from the beginning, to be accessible to blind people. To that end, the label text that was placed next to each work of art was produced in both Braille and print. Label text was also made available electronically via the WayAround smart phone app. WayAround added accessible information about each piece of art and artist. This information was available for smartphones via the WayAround - Tag and Scan app for iOS or Android. This allowed blind people to navigate the exhibition independently.


In addition to the exhibition opening, we planned and implemented two programs related to the themes of the exhibition. The first event was a community art project. The second event was a moderated panel discussion of tactile art. Both events took place at Gallery CA. 


“Dots Are Not Created Equal” Community Arts Workshop with Jenny Callahan 


On Saturday afternoon, June 15, eight blind adults joined artist Jenny Callahan for a workshop to create two tactile graffiti panels that completed her work in the exhibition. Tactile graffiti includes images made from Braille, paper, glue, clay, origami paper, paint with texture, etc. The artist led participants through the creation of the piece by sharing her own experience of navigating through information that is often redundant, off scale, or difficult to sort through. This workshop offered an opportunity for participants to create their own tactile communication using provided supplies with guidance and encouragement from Callahan. 


Tactile Art Panel Discussion 

On Saturday, June 22, 40 people gathered for a discussion of tactile art. The panel—moderated by Lou Ann Blake—included President of the National Federation of the Blind Mark Riccobono, Colorado tactile artist Ann Cunningham, and Maryland artists Sallah Jenkins and Marguerite Woods. As Riccobono explained in his panel remarks, he has “not yet found the limits of what blind people can do, including making art.”


To read more about this innovative exhibit visit 



Spectator Specs



Richard Grove passed away on April 14.  He was a long-time member of the Greater Cumberland Chapter, and though he was not able to attend meetings regularly in recent years, he stayed connected with the organization.


Tim Wolfe died on Saturday, May 11, after a long battle with the complications of diabetes. Tim was a member of the Central Maryland Chapter for many years, until his health failed. He was the first blind civilian to work for a police department in Maryland. He was a community liaison officer for the Howard County Police Department. Tim loved life and fought valiantly to live it each day.  


Elvita Palmer lost her long battle with cancer on July 20. Elvita was a longtime member of both the Maryland Parents of Blind Children (MDPOBC) Division and the National Harbor Chapter. She was an ardent advocate and an enthusiastic promoter of the NFB. Her courage, dedication and spirit are examples to all of us. Our sincere sympathy goes out to her daughter Leah and the Palmer family. 


In early August, Jasmin Young passed away. She belonged to the Greater Carol County chapter.  Although she was relatively new to the chapter and the NFB, she was a delightful and enthusiastic member. 


Bob Rhodes passed away from heart failure on Aug. 25.  Bob and his wife Mary were original Greater Carroll County Chapter members when it stood up and have remained active.  


May they rest in peace.



On May 19, Darlene Barrett and Jerry Price were married. Darlene is the President of the Central Maryland Chapter and the door prize diva at state convention. Jerry runs the technology education programs at the Library for the Blind. 


Wedding bells have been ringing in the Greater Baltimore Chapter with the marriage of three couples. On Sept. 5, two longtime chapter members, Tyron Bratcher and Melissa Watko, were married. Tyron is a native of Maryland and joined the NFB as a teenager. Melissa is originally from Michigan.


Marlena Bogdan and Matt Steele were married on Sept. 29. Marlena is a longtime member of the chapter who also works at BISM. Matt frequently accompanies Marlena at state conventions and other chapter events. 


On Oct. 5, longtime federationist Raymond Lowder and Mary Martin were married.  Raymond served as president of the chapter in the 1960s and has continued to be an active member. Mary learned about the NFB through her sister who is also a member of the chapter and plans to join Raymond in chapter activities. 


Congratulations to all the newlyweds!


New Baby

Denna Lambert became a new parent. She recently adopted a baby boy, Kaleb Arthur Devante Lambert, born on May 17, weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces. Congratulations to this new family! Denna is looking forward to learning and sharing new experiences with other parents.



Congratulations to John W. Owen, III, who was named as the director for the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) in late September. John was previously the assistant branch chief for LBPH and has been the acting director since Leslie Bowman departed in spring 2019 to become the director of the Missouri Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. We are delighted that an old friend and colleague will continue leading our library.


Congratulations to Jason Polanski who graduated from Messiah College in May with a Bachelor of Science in marketing. Jason already has a job. He works for Microsoft as a talent recruiter for people to serve in engineering and operations positions. 


Thirty-three blind students participated in the 10th Annual Maryland Regional Braille Challenge in 2019. All contestants are divided into six categories and tested on fundamental Braille skills such as reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, proofreading, and charts and graphs. Congratulations to the following students:


Novice Division (pre-k to kindergarten)
1st Place – Jeremiah Mude
2nd Place – Hank Genelin


Apprentice Division (1st and 2nd grades)
1st Place – Eniola Osunkoya
2nd Place – Henry Tucker
3rd Place – Elizabeth Riccobono


Freshman Division (3rd and 4th grades)
1st Place – Noah Mude
2nd Place – Khloe Deleon Talbert
3rd Place – Zanyiah Bell
Honorable Mention – Aaron Shrieves
Honorable Mention – Adam Shrieves
Honorable Mention – Orianna Riccobono


Sophmore Division (5th and 6th grades)
1st Place – Naomi-Jean Mills
2nd Place – Meredith Day
3rd Place – Maria Zoerlein
Honorable Mention – Tyler Huber
Honorable Mention – Nadezda Chernoknizhnaia
Honorable Mention – Jonah Rao
Honorable Mention – Isaiah Rao


Junior Varsity Division (7th and 8th grades)
1st Place – Julia Stockberger
2nd Place – Anthony Moncman
3rd Place – Sujan Dhakal
Honorable Mention – Alexis McPhail
Honorable Mention – Derrick Day
Honorable Mention – Sydney Smith
Honorable Mention – Naudia Graham
Honorable Mention – Hannah Wages
Honorable Mention – Noah King
Honorable Mention – Mercy Rao
Honorable Mention – Kyle Ordakowski


Varsity Division (high school)
1st Place – Yael Korc
2nd Place – Qualik Ford
3rd Place – Gracia Zuzarte


We are proud of all of these students. We look forward to the results of the Maryland Regional Braille Challenge in 2020.