Braille Spectator, Spring 2020


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


In this issue:


Celebrating Our Stories, Defining Our Future

By Ronza Othman
[Editor’s note: Ronza Othman serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD).  Below is the Presidential report she gave at the NFBMD state convention on November 9, 2019.]


Barack Obama once said, “A good story gives you the chance to better understand someone else’s life.  It can help you find common ground.”  We, each of us, though all being members of the Federation family, come from different backgrounds.  We have unique experiences that have shaped who we are today.  Those experiences color how we view the world and what we expect to take from it and give to it.  We have a great deal that distinguishes us from one another.  We have much more that we share with one another, and I’m not referring to our shared characteristic of blindness.  And yet, our individual and collective stories, while helping to shape our present, will only define our future in the ways we choose to let them. 


Sometimes the stories people construct around us are inconsistent with what we want our stories to tell.  These authors incorporate their own perceptions of who we are, what we experience, and what we are capable of doing (or are not capable of doing) when they craft those stories.  It is our responsibility to correct the misinformation in their stories and reclaim our own narratives as blind people.  We do this through our advocacy in areas such as education, employment, social services, and access to information.


It also is necessary for us to reflect on our stories in order to appreciate what we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned from those experiences.  More, it is necessary to assess whether the stories that define us are truly the representations we want to show to the world.  Do we own our stories, or do they own us?  The author Anika Utgaard stated, “One day, I woke up and began to question my story, and it is precisely when I began to question my story that I began to integrate that story and learn from it.” 


And when we assess our stories to determine if they are authentic representations not just of our past, but also who we are now, we can redefine our own narratives.  We also can define the future we want to have, not the future that has to fit within the construct of the stories of our past or the stories others tell about us.  We, in the NFBMD, are defining a future full of love, hope, and determination.  Every day, we reshape the narratives of the lives of our members, whether through advocacy, legislation, outreach, or the myriad of ways we fight for our freedom.


Imagine the blind child who struggles to read alongside her sighted classmates.  Imagine the anxiety and frustration she feels every time her class sits down for a reading lesson.  Her classmates, and perhaps even her teachers, tell themselves a story about her – one of lack of ability, perhaps even lack of intellect.  The story she tells herself is one of failure, perhaps even that she is not as bright as her classmates.  However, we in the NFBMD know that in fact this child is living a different story.  This child, like so many others, is not receiving appropriate Braille instruction, and she cannot read with her classmates because she hasn’t been given the tools to do so.  Now imagine the story told a different way, when the child reads her first complete story in Braille for the first time.  The frustration and anxiety will float away as she discovers the wonder of the written word. 


This hypothetical child’s story is unfortunately not unique to us, and it takes place all too often.  In fact, the NFBMD helped Kenny Smith, an 8-year-old, from Saint Mary’s County, and his parents work to change Kenny’s story just like the hypothetical little girl.  Kenny has lived his entire life in Saint Mary’s County, and he attends the Saint Mary’s County Public School system.  At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, the only Teachers for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI), and Orientation and Mobility (O&M) for the county left the district.  Despite Saint Mary’s County knowing well in advance that these key positions were going to be vacant, the school system did not make much effort to fill the positions.  As a result, when Kenny and other Saint Mary’s County blind students began the 2018-2019 school year, there was no one to teach them Braille, assistive technology, O&M, or any of the other skills necessary for children to access the curriculum.


Despite all of the efforts of the NFBMD, Saint Mary’s County did not hire an on-site TVI or O&M instructor at all for the 2018-2019 school year.  Eventually, more than halfway through the year, they engaged a TVI to teach Kenny remotely by computer.  It’s not clear how they believed that someone could teach Braille, including proper hand techniques, to an 8-year-old remotely from hundreds of miles away.  It’s even less clear how they thought remote Braille could be taught using an outdated computer system, that for several months, never connected the video chat program used to conduct the lessons. 


Meanwhile, Kenny continued to fall farther and farther behind his classmates due to the lack of Braille, technology, and O&M.  Finally, late in the school year, after it became clear that Saint Mary’s County was not addressing Kenny’s needs, not only for the current school year, but also not attempting to secure effective instruction for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year, the NFBMD decided it was time to rewrite Kenny’s story from this point forward. 


The NFBMD, with support from the NFB, filed a complaint against Saint Mary’s County based on Kenny’s lack of access to appropriate special education services.  We will not rest until Kenny receives the education services to which he is entitled under the law.  Kenny’s story will be one of triumph – overcoming an indifferent school district and the lack of meaningful Braille, technology, and O&M services for more than a year, because he has the NFBMD behind him.


Now imagine a blind employee.  Her employer refuses to provide her with meaningful reasonable accommodations because the employer believes that a blind person is not capable of performing the job.  The employer’s version of the story is that it is looking out for the employee’s safety and that of the people the employer serves. 


Now here’s the real story.  Olivia Chamberlain is a blind childcare worker with the Department of Defense (DOD).  She has been in her job for four years and consistently received outstanding performance ratings.  She has been promoted twice in the four years she has worked for the particular DOD childcare at issue.  Olivia had informal reasonable accommodations for four years because her previous managers had no concerns about her blindness.  She also had assistive technology accommodations.


In the summer of 2018, Olivia’s employer hired a new supervisor to manage the childcare program.  This individual did not believe that a blind person could perform childcare duties safely.  In fact, she ordered Olivia to have a fitness for duty evaluation, which in federal speak, means the new manager felt Olivia could hurt herself or the children if she continued in her current job.  The new boss told Olivia that she did not believe there was anywhere at DOD, even in the kitchen, where a blind person could safely work.


Olivia contacted the NFBMD.  We worked to first ensure Olivia’s area of DOD was educated about what a blind person was capable of doing and that discrimination solely on the basis of blindness is illegal.  We then worked to ensure that Olivia received her reasonable accommodations formally so no supervisor in the future could arbitrarily take them away.  We worked with Olivia to determine what additional accommodations would be helpful to perform her position and insisted that DOD provide them, particularly since the new manager was so abhorrent about reasonable accommodations that Olivia was working much too hard to perform her work without any accommodations.  We also assisted Olivia in filing a discrimination complaint against her new manager and DOD for failing to provide her with appropriate reasonable accommodations and for subjecting her to a fitness for duty exam simply due to her being blind.  Then, when her new boss retaliated against Olivia, we amended that discrimination complaint. 


We, in the NFBMD know the blind are perfectly capable of being competent childcare workers, teachers, and parents.  We will not allow anyone, not even the Department of Defense, to craft a narrative where an employee is shut out of this sort of work, or virtually any type of work, simply due to blindness.  When Olivia contacted the NFBMD, she took control of her story, and the version she is writing is an authentic representation of the abilities of the blind.


Desiree Gonzalez is a blind employee of Delaware North, a food service contractor that does substantial business with the Baltimore Orioles.  Desiree was hired in the winter of 2019 to provide catering assistance.  However, once she showed up on the first day of work with her guide dog, suddenly Delaware North claimed they didn’t have any work for Desiree and would call her if something became available.  Desiree knew that the story that Delaware North was telling her didn’t add up, because the Orioles play 81 games at Camden Yards, and there are dozens of other events at the park requiring catering services.  Desiree took control of her own story when she contacted the NFBMD.


When we met with Delaware North, we learned the story they were spinning to themselves was the food preparation area was not a safe place for Desiree’s service animal.  They also believed the dog was not hygienic and thus it could not be in the food preparation area.  They indicated they were researching options, and that is why they hadn’t called Desiree back into work.


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland very quickly disabused them of this false narrative about guide dogs.  We worked with Desiree and Delaware North to ensure she was granted a reasonable accommodation to bring her guide dog into the park, that the dog was given an appropriate location to be while Desiree was working in the small kitchen area, and that Desiree was given the opportunity to take breaks as needed during longer shifts to care for her dog. 


The NFBMD and Desiree changed the direction of her story by educating Delaware North about Desiree’s rights and abilities.  Once again, we refused to allow someone else’s version of our stories to keep us from meaningful employment.


Sometimes entities fight hard to retain the right to write our stories.  This seems to be the case with the Maryland State Board of Elections (MSBE). 


Prior to 2014, everyone in Maryland used an electronic voting system.  However, the Maryland State Board of Elections claims it changed over to a paper ballot for the 2016 election cycle because Federal law required a paper audit trail.  However, we know that electronic ballot machines are capable of creating a paper audit trail.  The real reason the Board of Elections changed to paper ballots is because it succumbed to bullying by candidates who were going to be placed lower on the ballot, requiring voters to move to a second or third page in a particular contest.  I’ll just note in the dozens of states that continued to use electronic ballot marking tools since 2016, no state believed its citizens were too incompetent to click “Next page” except for Maryland.


The Maryland State Board of Elections maintained an electronic Ballot Marking Device (BMD) for individuals with disabilities.  They did so because the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which the National Federation of the Blind helped get enacted, requires individuals with disabilities be able to vote independently and secretly.  But since the BMD ballot is distinct in shape, size, and appearance from the paper ballot, it is easily identifiable.  Individuals with disabilities are given access to the BMDs, but individuals without disabilities are, for the most-part, only given access to the paper ballot, resulting in segregated voting in Maryland based on disability.  And yet, the Maryland Attorney General had to tell MSBE that it had to increase the sample size of individuals using BMDs in order to protect the secrecy of voters with disabilities.


So MSBE implemented a two BMD user minimum in each voting precinct.  And they claim they believed this would be sufficient to mask the votes of individuals with disabilities.  In what world do “two” ballots ensure secrecy?  What mathematical genius decided that two was a large enough sample size?  Probably the same person who didn’t think Maryland voters could click “next page” on the BMDs.


As you would expect, MSBE data proves that in many, many precincts, there were not two ballots cast using BMDs, not just in the 2016 elections but in both the 2018 primary and 2018 general election.  In fact, in dozens of precincts, only one person, or even no people used the BMDs.  So, how is a single BMD ballot going to mask a single BMD ballot at a precinct?


It doesn’t, of course.  We tried working with MSBE in 2016, 2017, and 2018 to get them to change their two-voter policy, but they were not interested in doing so.  We tried working with the Maryland Legislature in 2019 to pass legislation to reinstate the secret ballot and desegregate voting based on disability.  However, MSBE opposed the bill. 


So, because voting is at the core of the American story, and because we have a fundamental right to vote privately and independently and for our ballots to be indistinguishable based on disability, we felt we had no choice but to sue the Maryland State Board of Elections.


Let me tell you about Marie Cobb’s, Ruth Sager’s, and Joel Zimba’s voting stories.  Many of you have similar stories, but these three individuals are our named plaintiffs in our lawsuit to desegregate voting in Maryland.


Joel Zimba is the only person who voted using the BMD at his local precinct.  All of the staff at the polling location and many of the candidates know him and call him by name.  Thus, Joel is deprived of a secret ballot because his ballot is the only one that looks different and everyone knows that he is the person who produced it.  


Ruth Sager went to her polling precinct and was told that the BMD was broken.  Incidentally, each voting location has, since 2016, only had one BMD.  She was instructed to have her husband fill out a paper ballot for her.  She declined and a poll worker attempted to read her the ballot; that worker had difficulty pronouncing names and with referendum costs.  Once that poll worker finished, the ballot scanner could not read Ruth’s paper ballot and a second poll worker had to act as her reader / scribe.  Ruth had to share her private voting choices with two different poll workers.  She spent nearly an hour voting at a location with no line. 


Marie Cobb arrived at her polling location and the staff told her they did not know how to operate the BMD.  She attempted to use the machine unsuccessfully before asking her 13-year-old granddaughter to help her.  Carly realized that the BMD’s electrical cord was not plugged in and was in fact still wrapped up and affixed to the machine.  Marie and Carly had to plug in the BMD, set it up, and figure out how to use it on their own.  Marie arrived to vote in the afternoon, and none of the poll workers had thought to engage the BMD before her arrival.  Marie has had similar challenges in every election since 2016.  It has taken her 30 to 60 minutes to vote in each election despite there being no line at her voting precinct.


Marie’s, Joel’s, and Ruth’s voting horror stories demonstrate how we are being denied our civil rights due to how Maryland operates its elections.  Their stories, and all of your stories, are why we will continue to fight to restore the secret ballot to the blind and desegregate voting based on disability in Maryland.


Jackie Anderson irrevocably changed our story when she had the idea to establish a program to teach children the blindness skills that they were either not receiving in school or that needed to be re-enforced.  Jackie’s idea for the NFB Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy, which was piloted in Maryland, has flourished into a national program with dozens of iterations.  We were delighted Jackie returned to us last summer to lead our Baltimore NFB BELL Academy.  The Baltimore, Salisbury, and Glenn Dale NFB BELL Academies provided blindness skills training, socialization, and access to blind role models to 23 blind children in Maryland.  I believe that the NFB BELL Academy is the most important program we operate as an organization.  We have determined that we will shape the narratives of our blind children when they are young so that they have the skills and confidence to write the stories they want for their lives.  We thank all our volunteers who made a difference by touching the lives of the 23 students who attended our NFB BELL Academies this year.   


We remain committed to giving young people the tools to define their stories.  This year, we established the NFBMD Internship Program to help give a high school or college student, or recent graduate meaningful work experience.  Tonight, at our banquet, we will award John T. McGraw Scholarships to two deserving students.  We have awarded Sharon Maneki Youth Empowerment Grants to two young people pursuing training and access to technology.  We not only give these young people the freedom to write their own stories through these scholarships and grants, but we grant them the control and confidence to do so.


Maryland is piloting a Career Mentoring Program, along with Nebraska and Mississippi.  The National Federation of the Blind is working with the Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), Office on Blindness and Vision Services (OBVS) to implement a mentoring program for transition age youth emphasizing the skills for college preparation and job readiness.  We are grateful to all of the mentors who are sharing of themselves and their stories with their mentees to help lay the foundation for success for Maryland’s Career Mentees.


I 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 is the manifestation of you making the choice to control your own story. 


We continue to publicize that we own our stories and that we are the experts on blindness in our work with the Maryland legislature.  This year ushered in a new General Assembly, nearly 100 of whom were brand new.  We worked tirelessly to educate them about our issues related to equal access.  We attended more than a dozen hearings and testified at more than half a dozen.  We even attended four hearings at the same time one day. 


Though we did not get our voting bill passed and only some of our dockless scooter concerns were addressed by the 2019 legislature, we will not give up on these matters.  The General Assembly continues to support our work at the Center for Nonvisual Access (CENA).  CENA, in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Disabilities, has implemented a fellowship program to higher education institutions to incorporate accessibility concepts within the minimum areas of instruction within at least one course.  To this end, students will learn about accessibility concepts in their course of study, resulting in more accessible websites, applications, and materials.  This is one more way we are redefining our story, by ensuring that those who communicate information to us do so in a way that is accessible to us.


This past year has been a year of transition for the NFBMD.  At last year’s convention, Sharon Maneki passed the mantle of leadership on to me, and her faith in me has meant the world.  I’ve been working to learn her story, including the manual on how to run the myriad of programs and initiatives here in Maryland, and I’ve come to learn that what Sharon knows in her head would fill more than 100 encyclopedias.  Sharon’s story is intertwined with the NFBMD’s story, and she has been the driving force behind much of our activism these past 30 years.  But more amazing than the endless knowledge and skill she possesses is her heart.  Fortunately, Sharon remains an active, vital member of our organization with many pages of her story yet to fill. 


We implemented a membership initiative to formalize joining the National Federation of the Blind this year.  New members partake in an orientation and development process prior to even joining the organization so that they know the essence of what our organization is and so that we get to know them prior to accepting their membership dues.  We also “memberized” existing members throughout the spring and summer months, and this morning, we held our final “Memberization” Ceremony for existing members.  I traveled the state of Maryland and visited with all 10 chapters and four divisions throughout our Membership Initiative.  I met members I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet previously and got to know many I’ve known for years in deep and more meaningful ways.  I can say whole-heartedly that getting to know you all has been one of the best chapters of my story, and I will treasure it. 


In February, we lost one of our key leaders, Rachel Olivero.  Rachel managed our web and technology initiatives, including our website, our member and contacts database, and our convention registration platform, just to name a few.  Rachel’s sudden passing was devastating to many of us on a personal level.  We also struggled operationally as an affiliate because we were so dependent on Rachel for our technology needs.  Following Rachel’s passing, the Board and I worked to shore up our web and technology assets.  We also worked to institute a continuity of operations plan so that if any key member of the affiliate leadership team were to become unavailable or incapacitated, the affiliate could continue to operate seamlessly.  We hope to never need to deploy our continuity of operations plan, but should we ever need it, it is ready to go.


We also introduced a number of committees in the NFBMD.  It is my hope to grow and develop leaders in a myriad of ways, including by empowering members to take ownership of our programs and initiatives.  You will find a list of our committees in the agenda.  Please let me know if you are interested in serving on a particular committee. 


We are working hard to get our story out to the public and to narrate it in our own words.  This fall, we embarked on a marketing campaign with local area radio stations to advertise our convention.  We also held numerous Meet the Blind Month activities.  One I’d like to highlight in particular is the jointly sponsored Wizarding Weekend on Main in Old Ellicott City by the Parents and Central Maryland Chapter.  This incredible event resulted in blind Federationists interfacing with an estimated 10,000 people over two days.  We are raising expectations for the blind by getting out in the community. 


I am inspired by you every single day, whether it is sitting among you at a legislative hearing that was coordinated by our Legislation Committee, hearing our radio advertisement for this convention that our Public Relations Committee developed, attending the dozens of IEPs this year with members of the Advocacy Committee, giving out NFB scavenger hunt maps and instructions at the NFB Wizarding Weekend on Main that was organized by the Parents Division and the Central Maryland Chapter, eating crab alongside you as we raise funds for our students, or one of the dozens of experiences we’ve shared.  You are indelibly interwoven into my story.  I am so honored to fight alongside you to secure our right to equal access to education, employment, social services, voting, information, and freedom for the blind.  We have chosen to make our story about our fight for freedom and we refuse to allow those who will take that freedom from us to shape the narrative.


President Riccobono said, in his 2019 banquet address entitled “Choice, Exploration, and Resistance: The Road to Freedom for the Blind,”


“[W]e are working closely with a diverse range of companies and organizations on partnerships to raise the expectations for the blind in this nation. Despite this progress, we have not yet advanced far enough on our road to freedom to avoid all conflicts. There are those who simply do not believe what we do about blindness. There are those who fear we are pushing too hard for change. There are those who believe that conflict is to be avoided at any cost. To these individuals, we say that we do not seek confrontation as a matter of course. We seek freedom for the blind as defined by our growing expectations for equality. When we can combine our efforts with others to build that future, we choose that path. However, if our freedom is in question, we are not afraid to choose confrontation if it is necessary to go the rest of the way to equality. For nearly eight decades we have committed to take freedom for ourselves, to own it, shape it, and strengthen it into a powerful force that allows all blind people to enjoy the full rights and responsibilities of our nation.”


Anika Utgaard said, “I had to remind myself that I am the author of my own life, not anyone else.  Not society.  Not my family.  Not my friends.  And certainly not my enemies.  The sooner I decided to write myself a better story for my life, the sooner I could live the life I had dreamed of living.” 


Fellow Federationists, it is precisely by choosing to write our own stories, from our perspectives, focusing on our fight for freedom and equality, that we will define our individual and collective future.  It is this very story that will turn our dreams into reality and empower us to live the lives we want.



Using the Three Hands of the Federation Led to Success in the 2020 Session of the Maryland General Assembly

By: Sharon Maneki
[Editor’s Note: Sharon Maneki serves as NFBMD’s director of legislation and advocacy.  One function of this role is spearheading our legislative advocacy efforts.  Sharon is well-known in Annapolis for her tenacity and innovative methods for garnering support for our initiatives.  Below is a round-up of our 2020 legislative efforts.]


Did you ever wish you had a third hand when carrying groceries or turning the mattress over on the bed?  Think of how much more you could do if you had a third hand.  One reason for the success of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is its three-handed structure. The three hands of the federation are the national organization, the state affiliate, and the local chapters.   Our experience in the 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly illustrates the benefits of three hands.


Many of our ideas for state legislation come from national issues.  Access to information is one of our national priorities.  The state affiliate implements national issues in the state.  This year, in the Maryland General Assembly, we promoted access to information for the blind by:

  • advocating for funding for the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) to Education, Public Information, and Commerce;
  • initiating the renaming of the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped;
  • seeking nonvisual access to electric low speed scooter (E-Scooter) information;
  • ensuring access to materials used in higher education; and
  • assisting with a change in the executive branch that will improve access to information for deaf-blind individuals. 

We also attempted to end voting segregation in Maryland.  Our efforts with regard to voting will be described in the article “Segregated Voting: When Will It End?”.  The state convention determines the issues for the coming year, and the state president coordinates the work with the board of directors and the local chapters.  As the third hand, local chapters play a crucial role because they must visit the delegates and senators, write the letters of support, and attend the hearings.  How did the three hands of the federation and our partners in the Maryland General Assembly accomplish our agenda?


We got off to a great start on our agenda with our day in Annapolis on January 16.  More than 60 Federationists visited the 188 members of the general assembly and their staff to tell them not only what we need, but that we also are their resource on blindness.  One of the highlights of the day was our meetings with the new President of the Senate, Bill Ferguson, and the new Speaker of the House of Delegates, Adrienne Jones.  We offered congratulations to these new leaders and presented each of them with an NFBMD crab stress ball to release the stress and a Louis Braille commemorative coin as a symbol of the innovative leadership that they will provide in the coming years.  Ferguson and Jones pledged to remember blind citizens of Maryland have much to contribute to the state and will promote equality and opportunity for all citizens including the blind.


Success in the general assembly is built on relationships and partnerships.  Many thanks to Governor Hogan for appropriating $250,000 and to the Maryland General Assembly for protecting that appropriation in the budget.  Through its many programs, CENA teaches how to make websites and applications so the blind can achieve full participation in all aspects of community life. 


The three hands of the federation are actively involved in the national trend to change the names of libraries for the blind and physically handicapped to libraries for the blind and print disabled.  The National Library Service changed its name on October 1, 2019.  This change was initiated to clarify the mission of these libraries and to align with the terminology of “print disabled” used in the Marrakesh treaty.  Our national organization was a strong leader in making this treaty a reality.  The NFBMD initiated the name change of the Maryland library and members from our local chapters worked to make it happen.     


Many thanks to longtime friend Senator Nancy King for sponsoring SB326.  Special thanks to the following senators who cosponsored this bill: Senators Augustine, Beidle, Benson, Carozza, Eckardt, Edwards, Ellis, Feldman, Griffith, Guzzone, Hayes, Hershey, Jennings, Kagan, Klausmeier, Kramer, Lam, Lee, Miller, Patterson, Peters, Reilly, Rosapepe, Salling, Simonaire, Smith, Waldstreicher, Washington, West, Young, and Zucker.


A new friend, Delegate Cathi Forbes, sponsored companion bill HB604.  Many thanks to Delegate Forbes and to the following delegates who cosponsored this legislation: Acevero, Bagnall, B. Barnes, Barve, Boyce, Brooks, Cardin, Carr, Chang, Crosby, Cullison, Ebersole, Feldmark, Ghrist, Guyton, Haynes, Henson, Hettleman, Ivey, C. Jackson, Kerr, Kittleman, Korman, Krimm, Lehman, R. Lewis, Lopez, Mosby, Solomon, Stein, Terrasa, Valentino–Smith, C. Watson, Wells, and P. Young.  In addition to renaming the library, this legislation stipulates that at least one member of the State Library Board which advises the State Library Agency, must always be a blind person to ensure the unique needs of the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled are always properly considered.  


Oriana Riccobono offered the following testimony in favor of these bills to the House Ways and Means Committee on February 13, 2020.


“My name is Oriana Riccobono.  I am in the fourth grade and I attend Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore, Maryland. Please vote yes for HB604.


This bill says that a blind person should always be on the State Library Board. This is a good idea because someone needs to make sure that kids like me don’t run out of books to read. Adults like my mom need to have their books too. We need books in specialized formats and sometimes they are hard to get.


I read audio books or Braille books. I like to read Harry Potter, the Magic Treehouse books, and any books I can find about cats. My mom and I are reading the Little House on the Prairie books together.


Please vote yes on HB604 so that we can have fun reading just as sighted people do.”

The three hands of the federation are agile and flexible.  Although the state affiliate implements many ideas from the national office, local chapters also can bring problems to the state and national organizations.  The e-scooter issue is a good example.  E-scooters are a new form of transportation that are popular in many cities.  They are hazardous to blind people and other pedestrians.  The Greater Baltimore, Sligo Creek and Central Maryland chapters have been working with jurisdictions to protect the rights of pedestrians.  We decided to facilitate the introduction of state legislation to make sure blind pedestrians had the same access to e-scooter information as the sighted public.  The legislation requires e-scooter companies to maintain accessible websites and phone apps, and to place tactile identification on each scooter so blind people can communicate with the appropriate company.  Many thanks to the Bird and Lime scooter companies who supported this legislation.  Our partnership with the Lime company was especially effective.   


Many thanks to our legislative sponsors and cosponsors.  A longtime friend, Senator Joanne Benson, introduced SB607 and Delegate Dalyia Attar, who is serving her first term in the general assembly, introduced companion bill HB557.  The following delegates cosponsored this bill:   Anderton, Arikan, Bagnall, Barve , Boyce, Brooks, Carr, Chang, Charles, Ciliberti, Clark, Cullison, Feldmark, Forbes, Fraser–Hidalgo, Gilchrist, Guyton, Harrison, Haynes, Healey, Hettleman, Hill, Holmes, Jacobs, Korman, Krebs, Krimm, Lehman, Lierman, Lopez, Love, Malone, Moon, Otto, Palakovich-Carr, Ruth, Shetty, Smith, Solomon, Stein, Stewart  Terrasa, Wells, and Wivel.


Dezman Jackson offered the following testimony to the House Environment and Transportation committee on February 20, 2020.


“Please support HB 557, a bill that will provide information to blind pedestrians so that they can communicate with companies that offer electric low speed scooters (e-scooters) as a method of transportation.


I am active in the community and frequently travel throughout the streets of Baltimore.  I also teach orientation and mobility to blind people, which is using a cane to travel.  As their instructor, I travel with them to many places.  My students and I frequently encounter e-scooters.


Blind people need access to the website and phone app to communicate with e-scooter companies.  We need to inform them when one of their scooters is impeding our ability to enter a building, get to the curb to cross the street, and other points of access.  Frequently scooters fall over and are laying on the sidewalk. If we cannot read the information on the scooter, then we don’t know which company to contact.  If we cannot fill the complaint form out on the website or use the phone app, we cannot provide information to the company.  I deserve the same access to information that sighted pedestrians have.  Blind people also have the right to use the streets just as all other citizens have.


Please vote in favor of HB 557 to protect the rights of blind people and all pedestrians.”


We monitor all bills introduced by the Maryland General Assembly to see if they will have an impact on blind people.  This year, we supported two additional bills in addition to our own priorities.  The first bill, SB667 will help college students because it requires all institutions in the University of Maryland system to advertise in the online schedule which courses will require the use of low cost or free digital materials and textbooks.  This bill will go into effect in July 2021.  We supported this legislation but wanted the committees to strengthen the accessibility requirements by removing the phrase “to the extent practicable.” The committees did remove this phrase. 


Lizzy Muhammad Park, who recently moved from Pennsylvania to Maryland and won a national NFB scholarship in 2014, argued our point in the following testimony.     


“My name is Lizzy Park and I am a blind graduate of Bryn Mawr College.  I am writing to advocate the use of concrete language in the bill regarding the accessibility of digital textbooks. Several courses, necessary for my Bachelor of Arts degree, required students to use Vital Source (an affordable alternative to paper textbooks).  Without accessible digital materials my degree in International Relations would have been impossible.  I was fortunate enough to attend a school that ensured the accessibility of all educational materials.  However, that is not the case for many blind students, especially when educational institutions assume that digital materials come with built-in accessibility features.  We are in the 21st century after all. Students with print disabilities need to access educational materials without worrying about whether or not the information will be accessible.


The use of equivocal language allows companies to forget about accessibility.  In contrast, firm language will hold companies accountable for various accessibility features.  I urge the committee to improve the wording in this bill so that accessibility is a requirement for all digital textbooks.  Digital avenues were created to make learning more accessible for all students: providing less weight to carry, lower cost, and the ability to read anywhere.  I believe that blind and print disabled students should be included in the quest for access.


Precarious language will only hinder disabled students as they fight for equal access to materials while simultaneously trying to learn said material.  Blind students should be given the opportunity to succeed in academics alongside their nondisabled peers.  As digital materials become more prevalent on campus and online, the only way to achieve this goal is to clearly state the need for accessibility in the bill.”


We also supported an administration bill, SB851, which would move the Telecommunications Access of Maryland program that includes the Maryland Relay system from the Department of Information Technology to the Department of Disabilities.  We believe that this change will bring about better access to information to deaf-blind individuals. 


President Ronza Othman offered the following testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on March 10, 2020.


“Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) urge the Senate Finance Committee to ensure that the Deaf-Blind citizens of Maryland receive effective and necessary telecommunications services by voting in favor of SB851.  For years, NFBMD has advocated for the relocation of the Telecommunications Access Maryland (TAM) program from the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DOIT) to the Maryland Department of Disabilities (DOD) and for the establishment of a Deaf-Blind Facilitator Program.  DOD is best positioned to administer TAM and its programs as a result of DOD’s proven expertise in disability policy, deeply rooted understanding and belief in the abilities of those with disabilities and different communication methods, experienced staff that have a variety of disabilities including blindness and those who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHOH), and a solid history of managing, implementing, and modernizing programs.  We have the greatest confidence in DOD’s ability to administer the TAM program so that Maryland’s deaf-blind population finally receives the services to which they are entitled under the law.


The Problem:

  • In its current location at DOIT, deaf-blind Marylanders are not able to receive effective or necessary telecommunications services and they are shunted aside by the needs of the larger population of deaf and hard of hearing individuals despite various Federal laws that define “deaf-blind” as a category of disability that entitles such individuals to access to telecommunications services in a manner that is accessible given the individual’s specific limitation.  This means that though they qualify for and are entitled to services, they are often not receiving the services that would enable them to communicate given their unique needs.
  • Though there is an urgent need for deaf-blind individuals to receive telecommunications facilitation services, and though the funding for such a program has been earmarked, there is nothing in statute that permits (AG opinion) any Maryland State entity to provide it.  As a result, the money sits unused and the deaf-blind population does not receive a needed service.
  • Certain members of the DHOH community have historically prevented the Deaf-Blind Facilitator Program from moving forward by arguing that the Governor’s Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing would be the best place to administer TAM.  However, this is impracticable and would further harm the deaf-blind community. The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community do not consider the deaf-blind to be part of their DHOH community and consider them to be individuals with “physical disabilities.”  As a result, ODHH does not attend to the needs of the deaf-blind and moving TAM there would further disenfranchise the deaf-blind. Moreover, ODHH does not have the infrastructure, operational capacity, or expertise to administer TAM (ODHH is a policy shop, not a program management office).
  • DOIT is an internally-facing operations entity whose mission, resources, and expertise are to support state employees and other departments, not the public.  TAM service recipients are members of the public and thus not receiving the best service possible given that TAM’s mission of serving the public is inconsistent with DOIT’s.


Why Does NFBMD Care About TAM?

  • TAM administers telecommunication access services for deaf-blind individuals in Maryland, and NFBMD is Maryland’s oldest and largest advocacy organization representing the blind and deaf-blind.
  • The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community do not consider the deaf-blind to be part of their DHOH community and consider them to be individuals with “physical disabilities.”  As a result, deaf-blind individuals are generally not represented by DHOH advocacy organizations.
  • Deaf-blind individuals use a combination of communication tools including sign language, Braille, large print, finger spelling, and other methods.  Thus, traditional services like Relay do not work in most instances without additional modifications such as Braille displays or other supports.  NFBMD is experienced in, and knowledgeable about such communication methods that augment traditional DHOH communication. TAM currently provides some deaf-blind technology services including Braille TTY or text telephone, where the sighted person in the conversation types into a keyboard and the deaf-blind user communicates back using Braille.  However, these methods can and should be modernized.
  • TAM also coordinates, in collaboration with the Maryland State Library, NFB-NEWSLINE, which is a free audio and app-based news service for anyone who is blind, low-vision, deaf-blind, or otherwise print-disabled that offers access to more than 500 publications, emergency weather alerts, job listings, and more.


Reasons for Supporting the Bill:

  • The law will finally permit the Deaf-Blind Facilitator Program to be established, tapping into funding that is already earmarked and providing a service that is desperately needed.
  • DOD will fairly and appropriately manage the resources in TAM consistent with the law to ensure that only the eligible programs receive funding, as defined by the bill. 
  • DOD, because of its experience and expertise with the deaf-blind community, deaf community, and blind community, will ensure that the specialized telecommunications needs of the deaf-blind citizens of Maryland are addressed and will no longer allow them to be shunted aside.
  • DOD has a proven record of understanding disability and special needs and emphasizing the abilities of individuals.  This philosophy will enhance the TAM program.
  • DOD, the entity which will manage and administer TAM, is an outward-facing entity whose aim is to serve the public, particularly the disability population in Maryland.  This mission is consistent with that of TAM.
  • Cross-collaboration among The DOD’s Advisory Board, which is the Maryland Commission on Disabilities (of which NFBMD President Ronza Othman is a member), the Governor’s Advisory Board of Telecommunications Relay (GABTAR), and the Governor’s Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing will ensure that the entities that are experts in DHOH and deaf-blind matters are working together rather than independently.  This will improve efficiency and effectiveness.


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland enthusiastically and fervently asks you to vote favorable on SB851, Human Services – Department of Disabilities – Accessibility Programs.  We believe that this bill is critical to ensure equal access to necessary and effective telecommunications services for Marylanders who are deaf-blind.  We have tremendous confidence in the Maryland Department of Disabilities’ ability to administer TAM and believe it can do so in a manner that enhances and modernizes TAM.  Further, given the experience and expertise of DOD and its staff, and given that they both understand disability on an innate level and live it every day as members of the communities covered by this bill, DOD is the best and only entity that can effectively and fairly administer TAM.”


All of the bills discussed in this article became law without the Governor’s signature.  Governor Hogan did not hold any bill signing ceremonies because of the COVID-19 virus.  Thanks to the work of the three hands of the federation, the governor, and our partners in the Maryland General Assembly, the blind citizens of Maryland will have greater opportunities to live the lives we want.



NFBMD Protects the Rights of the Blind During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s note: The 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic has arguably caused the biggest public health, economic, and access challenges of our lifetime.  Below is a description of how the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has met these challenges while preserving the rights of the blind.]


This spring, Maryland, the nation, and the world experienced unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.  The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) continued fully operating during the global emergency, and our operations have been consistent with, and in adherence to, all public health requirements including social distancing.  In addition to our regular work advocating on behalf of the state’s blind and low-vision citizens, the public health emergency created unique challenges for blind and low-vision Marylanders and our families.  Below are just some of the challenges we have faced and the actions we have taken in response.


During the past few months, we worked on the following matters:

  • Establishing NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund
  • Ensuring access to voting through on-site voting sites
  • Ensuring instructional materials and platforms for students who are engaging in remote learning are accessible
  • Working on ensuring transportation is accessible
  • Ensuring drive-up COVID-19 testing facilities serve those who cannot drive and other mechanisms exist for testing
  • Providing unemployment application and recertification assistance
  • Providing economic impact payment application assistance
  • Ensuring kiosks are accessible and/or alternatives are used besides inaccessible kiosks
  • Working with other disability organizations on a myriad of issues


NFBMD established a COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund to support Maryland’s blind residents and their families who are adversely impacted by COVID-19 and the resulting closures.  This fund provides financial assistance for groceries, medication, and other essential needs.  To be eligible, the requestor has to be legally blind or have a legally blind family member and has to be a resident of Maryland.  The need must have arisen due to COVID-19 directly or changes in employment or housing due to COVID-19.  NFBMD contributed the initial funds, but members of the community are able to contribute financially as well.  Anyone who needs to request financial assistance or anyone who wants to contribute should contact Ronza Othman, NFBMD president, at 443-426-4110 or at


NFBMD is fighting to ensure Maryland’s blind and low-vision citizens are able to exercise our civil right to vote anonymously and independently because voting is segregated in Maryland due to disability.  To that end, we have been advocating to the Maryland State Board of Elections (MSBE) for four years and attempting for two years to get legislation passed by the General Assembly to ensure people with disabilities and non-disabled voters use a single, accessible voting system so that the ballots of voters with disabilities are not identifiable, which currently is the case.  MSBE has not taken action to effectively desegregate voting in Maryland, and the General Assembly has failed to act on our legislation.  We also filed suit in federal court in 2019 to try to get a judicial fix for the problem.  That case still is pending.  However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Maryland initially decided to move its elections to entirely vote-by-mail, which would disenfranchise voters with disabilities who cannot independently vote a paper ballot, sign the certification on a paper ballot, or mail in a ballot without assistance.  NFBMD worked tirelessly to ensure that in-person same day voting sites were included in the state’s voting plan for the Special District 7 General Election on April 28, and the state-wide primary election on June 2.  This required direct efforts with the MSBE, the Maryland Department of Disabilities, and the governor’s office.  NFBMD worked with other disability advocacy organizations, such as Common Cause and Disability Rights Maryland on this effort, as this is a pan-disability issue. (See “Segregated Voting: When Will It End?” later in this issue.)  Governor Hogan specifically referenced the blind as needing in-person voting locations on a national Sunday news show following our advocacy.  NFBMD also organized transportation to the polls for those who were unable to get to same-day in-person voting locations via public transportation, paratransit, or other means.  Such services have been disrupted and altered due to COVID-19, and the voting locations were usually not in close proximity to the voters’ homes.


NFBMD is working with school districts to ensure blind and low-vision students have access to accessible materials and platforms for learning.  Since school buildings are closed, teachers of the blind who produce Braille, large print, and electronic materials are not able to access the equipment and technology they need to alter the formats of documents and materials to comport with students’ IEPs.  General education teachers also have been procuring commercially off-the-shelf instructional materials that are often not accessible.  NFBMD-linked school districts and teachers with external entities that can produce materials in accessible formats.  We also met with entities that produce inaccessible instructional materials to educate them about how to make their materials accessible.


NFBMD is working with MTA, WAMATA, and other local transportation agencies to ensure fixed transit and mobility continue to operate during the global pandemic in a way that is accessible to the blind, so our members can get to work, medical appointments, dialysis, grocery stores and pharmacies, and perform other essential travel.  Some challenges members experienced included:

  • Buses no longer operating in areas where they are needed;
  • The policy of boarding the bus in the back causing some riders with disabilities not to be able to identify the bus (the audible announcement is located at the front entrance), locate the back entrance for boarding in the short time the bus is stopped, and verbally communicate with drivers when audible announcements are not operating.
  • Some passengers with disabilities have been forced to separate from their Personal Care Attendants due to the rule that only individuals using wheelchairs may board at the front of the bus.
  • Some Mobility drivers and operators refused to take passengers to their jobs because they believed that employment was not deemed an essential activity.
  • Public transportation was not available for those needing to vote at some in-person same-day voting locations.

NFBMD worked with the Maryland Department of Disabilities to educate Department of Transportation staff and programs that employment is an essential activity, and in fact, following our advocacy, Governor Hogan specifically referenced such in his press briefings.  NFBMD shared specific incidents of transportation-related discrimination with the entities responsible for enforcement, and this has resulted in some education and outreach.  NFBMD worked with Disability Rights Maryland to ensure that public transportation was made available for the April 28, District 7 special election and the June 2, state-wide primary election.


NFBMD worked with the Maryland Department of Disabilities to ensure COVID-19 testing facilities were accessible to Maryland’s blind.  For example, we advocated to ensure drive-up COVID-19 testing facilities have a mechanism for walk-up patients since the blind are not able to drive due to disability and public transportation is not advisable for those experiencing symptoms or for those suspected of having COVID-19.  These include having secure locations for conducting the testing, places to wait if there are lines that adhere to social distancing requirements and that does not spread the virus to others, and making sure the process is accessible, including any documents and releases that must be completed.  NFBMD suggested, and the state agreed, to have alternatives to drive-up testing facilities, including walk-up testing facilities and mobile units that go out to neighborhoods where testing is needed.


The Maryland unemployment application and certification system through BEACON was not accessible to individuals with disabilities who use assistive technology.  NFBMD worked with the Maryland Department of Labor, DOIT, and MDOD to have the platform assessed by MDOD’s accessibility staff so the developer can have a list of needed changes.  Some have been implemented, but there are others that still need to be resolved.  NFBMD works directly with individuals to link them with members of the DOL staff who can assist them in filing their applications and/or recertifying on a weekly basis using alternative methods other than the website.  This is necessary since the phone system is so overloaded that individuals cannot get a live person most of the time and the only reason the blind cannot use the electronic system is the lack of accessibility.  This lack of accessibility is in violation of federal and Maryland state laws, and thus we urge DOL to make their system 100 percent accessible right away.


Many of our members are on fixed incomes through social support programs like SSI, SSDI, and DDA.  Their incomes are below the threshold for being required to file income taxes, and thus the IRS was not aware they were eligible for an Economic Impact Payment.  We worked with many members, particularly those who do not have access to computers, to file the paperwork with the IRS needed to obtain their EIP.


Given that the world has adopted a culture of having less physical contact, kiosks are being used more frequently—and likely will grow in popularity.  For example, doctors’ offices now often requiring patients to check in using a kiosk rather than with a live person.  Often, these kiosks are not accessible to the blind and low vision populations.  NFBMD has worked with some doctors’ offices to educate them on what it means for a kiosk to be inaccessible and what an office’s obligations are to provide an accessible alternative.  NFBMD also worked with the Maryland Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Administration, concerning a Request for Proposal (RFP) for internet kiosks, which initially did not require accessibility.  As a result of NFBMD’s advocacy, MDOT amended and revised the RFP to ensure the appropriate legal requirements for accessibility were included.


Many communities are now meeting virtually rather than in-person.  However, for the blind to fully engage, the platform has to be accessible.  NFBMD has worked with a variety of entities to share proven practices for accessibility for virtual meetings and events, including sharing what platforms work best, how to convey visual information non-visually, how to streamline logging into such systems, and how to make it easier for individuals without smart devices to participate.


NFBMD partnered with other disability organizations, including Disability Rights Maryland, on the following, which required direct advocacy with the governor and state and federal entities.  These include ensuring:

  • support workers for persons with disabilities are essential employees;
  • PPE and testing be provided to programs and facilities;
  • federal resources more clearly target the crisis in our communities;
  • health care be provided without discrimination, provide needed accommodations, and that any crisis care standards avoid bias or protocols that disadvantage people with disabilities;
  • businesses accommodate people with disabilities;
  • hospital visitor policies include accommodations for persons with disabilities;
  • accessible polling places be available for persons who cannot vote with privacy or independently by mail;
  • distance learning plans be created for students with disabilities;
  • accelerated parole due to COVID-19 in Maryland should include individuals with disabilities and not just those age 60 and over; and
  • many more issues. 


The areas referenced in this article are just some of the efforts NFBMD has undertaken to protect the rights of blind Marylanders in recent months.  NFBMD will continue to work to protect the rights of the blind in Maryland to access information and services during COVID-19. 



The Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s Note: Rachel Olivero was a vital member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in numerous ways.  Rachel managed the affiliate’s web and technology needs and was responsible for our digital and electronic systems.  Rachel Olivero passed away unexpectedly in February 2019.  Below is a tangible way NFBMD has decided to honor Rachel’s legacy.  NFBMD President Ronza Othman gave the following presentation at the 2019 Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Banquet on November 9, 2020.]


Once in a generation, we meet someone who changes the landscape of how we do what we do.  These innovators are critical because they help to brush away the extraneous so we can operate programs efficiently.  They become imbedded in the fabric of our organization, and we rely on them for a myriad of things.  These are the people for whom no job is too big, and no ask is unreasonable.  They’re also the people for whom even the mundane and monotonous work is a challenge because they come up with innovative ways to do it better, faster, more easily.


Rachel Olivero was one such person.  Rachel joined the Maryland affiliate in 2007 after having grown up in the Wisconsin affiliate and then moving to the Indiana affiliate.  She moved to Maryland when she joined the Access Technology Team at the National Center.  Though she left for Nebraska for a few years, she continued to support Maryland even during that time.  She returned home to us in 2015. 


Sadly, we lost Rachel very unexpectedly this past February to complications from pneumonia.  She was 36. 


Her legacy lives on in Maryland though, and she will indelibly be part of our story.  She built our website and led the effort to modernize it.  She built our connections database, which has more than 8,000 unique contacts, and she led the effort to keep it operational.  In fact, I think she was the only person who truly understood it.  She built our convention registration platform.  She built our crab feast, spring concert, and any other online registration system we have. 


She often went along with Sharon, Melissa, and me to IEPs, so she can tell the school districts what the best technology is for the particular student’s needs.  She worked with employers and members to figure out what software worked with what other software, so that our members could work independently. 


And if there wasn’t a solution out there for a particular challenge, she built one.


Rachel’s life mission was to advance technology accessibility.  She poured her heart and soul into doing this, and she was very successful.


Rachel was particularly notable for her huge backpack.  You could count on her to have a number of radios (she was an emergency preparedness guru and a ham radio operator).  She loved pie like it was her job.  And if you ever needed anything fixed, tightened, loosened, cut, or broken, Rachel would whip out her handy multi-tool and take care of it for you.


In honor of Rachel’s legacy to us, I am pleased to announce that the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has established the Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award.  We will give out this award only when we feel someone has demonstrated the virtues that are reflective of Rachel’s. 


This year is one such year.


The recipient of the inaugural Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award is someone who dedicated their career to ensuring accessibility in technology.  This person advocates in a variety of settings to make sure policy-makers understand the need for accessibility, and works to teach future generations the technical skills to imbed accessibility in technology platforms.


This individual has:

  • Published at least eight books, including "Ensuring Digital Accessibility Through Process and Policy," which he co-authored with Dan Goldstein and Anne Taylor
  • Authored more than 130 articles
  • Serves on the Board of the Friends of the Maryland Library, to ensure technology innovation in our library services
  • Received the 2010 Jacob Ballotan Award
  • Has two patents for his work on accessibility and security
  • Was the Shutzer Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University to investigate the relationship between human-computer interaction for people with disabilities and US Disability Rights
  • Is a professor at the University of Maryland, with a PhD from UMBC.


The recipient of the 2019 Rachel Olivero Accessibility and Innovation Award is Johnathan Lazar.


I’ll read the inscription on the plaque:


Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award

Presented to

Dr. Jonathan Lazar

For your dedication to equal access to information, for your creativity in spreading knowledge about accessibility to future web developers, and for your leadership in eliminating accessibility barriers.

You enhance the present; you build the future.

November 9, 2019


And because we also wanted to give the recipient of this award a token of appreciation that aligned with Rachel’s most cherished and useful tools, along with this plaque, we present to Jonathan, a multi-tool.


Dr. Jonathan Lazar Wins the Inaugural Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award

By Hayleigh Moore – University of Maryland

November 15, 2019

[Editor’s Note: The below article was published on the University of Maryland website.  It features Jonathan Lazar, the inaugural recipient of the NFBMD Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award.]


Dr. Jonathan Lazar, professor in the College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) at the University of Maryland, is the recipient of the inaugural Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award, presented by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Maryland during its annual state convention on November 9th. Lazar was honored with this award for his contributions in ICT accessibility research, practice, education, and policy, and for his leadership in moving accessibility innovations from research to practice. 


The award was named in honor of the late Rachel Olivero who served many roles over the years at the NFB's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, most recently as Director of Organizational Technology. For years, she was instrumental in developing access technology innovations and worked closely with Drupal to modernize NFB’s website. The NFB is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans, providing programs, services, and resources to defend the rights of blind Americans, and is prominent in the disability rights and civil rights world. Its mission is to ensure that Blind people have the right to independence, as well as equal opportunities to access information, education, and employment. 


Lazar has a long history of working on ensuring that digital technologies and content are accessible for people with disabilities. Prior to his arrival at the UMD iSchool, Lazar taught at Towson University for 19 years as a professor of computer and information sciences, served as director of the Information Systems program, and founded the Universal Usability Laboratory. While at Towson University, he authored or edited 12 books and published over 140 refereed articles. He is probably best known for his books “Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction,” “Ensuring Digital Accessibility Through Process and Policy,” and “Disability, Human Rights, and Information Technology.” But, he has also had a major impact on policy and law. He served as an expert consultant in the landmark NFB v. Target case in 2007 and 2008, was the accessibility advisor to the US Federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board in 2009 and 2010, and multiple Federal regulations (such as Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Accessibility of Web Sites and Automated Kiosks at U.S. Airports) cite his research. His dedication to the rights of people with disabilities is so deep that he even took a leave of absence from his professorship in 2017-2018 to go back and be a graduate student again, earning an LLM degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where his studies focused on disability rights law.  


At the UMD iSchool, Lazar has made significant contributions to the college’s research and teaching through his wealth of expertise in ICT accessibility and legal frameworks, assistive technologies, and human-computer interaction. He is the Associate Director of UMD’s Trace Center, the nation’s oldest research center on technology and disability. He is also an active faculty member in the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. He is passionate about providing his students with hands-on learning experiences with organizations involved in accessibility, including organizing trips for the students to Gallaudet University, the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, among other places.  Even before he came to the University of Maryland, he was well-known for his accessibility work in the University System of Maryland (USM), having been named a recipient of the 2017 USM Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Research and the 2011 USM Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Public Service.


"We established the Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award to memorialize Rachel Olivero’s legacy of ensuring equal access to information through creative, innovative, and accessible technology and other means," said Ronza Othman, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. "Jonathan Lazar embodies the characteristics that made Rachel such a vital and successful advocate and expert. Jonathan is the perfect person to receive this award in its inaugural year."


Lazar is a passionate champion for accessibility innovation – and is honored to be the first ever recipient of the NFB Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award. The UMD iSchool is proud to have Lazar as a faculty member and grateful to be associated with the legacy of Rachel Olivero.


Protecting Voting Rights During the Coronavirus Emergency: A Victory for the Blind and Voters with Disabilities

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s Note: The 2020 COVID-19 global pandemic altered how people access essential services and perform critical tasks.  Voting is one such area that has changed as a result of the pandemic.  Unfortunately, the needs of voters with disabilities are not always considered when those responsible for implementing voting mechanisms adapt due to external factors; voting is a fundamental right, and NFBMD has continued to fight for equal access to voting.]


Protecting the rights of blind voters is always challenging. It became even more challenging because of the coronavirus outbreak. On March 17, when Governor Hogan renewed his proclamation of the State of Emergency in Maryland, he also postponed the presidential primary election that was to take place on April 28 and moved it to June 2. The proclamation also stated, “No later than April 3, 2020, the State Board of Elections (SBE) shall, in consultation with the Maryland Department of Health, prepare and submit to the Governor a Comprehensive Plan for the conduct of the Primary Election.” He further ordered that the election to fill the vacancy in the Seventh Congressional District be held on April 28 as planned but that it should be conducted by using a voting by mail system.


SBE made “a unanimous decision in late March against offering any in-person voting for the special general election or the rescheduled June 2 presidential primary out of concern for public health and the health of poll workers.”


This decision against any in-person voting, while using a vote by mail system, denies the right to privacy and a secret ballot for blind voters. We joined with other disability groups to protest this action. On April 13, SBE reversed itself and allowed limited in-person voting for the April 28 election. Later, the board also allowed some in-person voting for the June 2 state-wide presidential primary election. Since vote by mail is likely to continue in the future, an important precedent was established in the April 28 and June 2 elections. This precedent clearly guarantees that there must always be some in person voting to protect the right to privacy and a secret ballot for voters who are blind and those with disabilities. Below is the first of two letters that NFBMD wrote to SBE outlining the arguments for in-person voting.


April 1, 2020



Maryland Board of Elections

c/o Linda Lamone

151 West Street, Suite 200

Annapolis, MD 21401


Re:      Ensuring Voting Rights of Blind and Print Disabled Voters


Dear Chairman Cogan, Vice Chairman Hogan, and Members of the Board:


I write to you as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland on behalf of my organization and its approximately 2,000 members regarding the plans the Board of Elections (“Board”) is forming at the request of the Governor for the April 28, 2020 special general election for the 7th Congressional District and the June 2, 2020 primary presidential and municipal elections.  As the foremost organization led by and advocating for the rights of blind and other print disabled Marylanders, we have profound concerns regarding the plans that the Board approved on March 25, 2020 for the April 28 election and those called to be drafted for the June 2 election.  Our respectful request is that the Board reconsider those plans before it reports a comprehensive plan to the Governor on or by April 3, 2020.


Our principal concern is the Board’s decision not to have any in-person voting in the two aforementioned elections -- the decision having been affirmed by a vote of the Board for the April election, and tentatively the sense of the Board for the June election, which we understand is to be voted on at the Board’s April 2, 2020 meeting. 


Having at least one location in each county for in-person voting using the accessible ExpressVote ballot marking device (“BMD”) is essential for blind and other print disabled voters to be able to independently and privately exercise their right to vote.  This is because there are a substantial number of such voters who cannot access a printed ballot, which includes the ballot that results from the online ballot marking tool which is not submitted electronically, but rather must be printed, signed, and mailed by the voter.  Some of our members do not possess the equipment, such as a computer and printer, or technological sophistication to mark a ballot in that manner but are capable of voting via the BMD.  The barrier to voting in this manner is exacerbated by the closure of public facilities such as libraries, where some blind voters without the necessary equipment had printed their ballots in past elections.  Further, it is a mistaken notion – expressed by a member of the Board during the March 25 meeting – that individuals with disabilities presumably live with a nondisabled person who can assist them with completing and mailing a ballot obtained via the online ballot marking tool.  Many National Federation of the Blind of Maryland members, including myself, and others with print disabilities live independently in households without sighted family or friends and are capable of voting independently via the BMDs.  We want to maintain and are entitled to maintain that independence.


The above noted considerations are many of the reasons that the law requires at least some in-person voting as express mandates under the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  These antidiscrimination laws are among those cited by your counsel during the March 25 meeting as principles that suggest individuals with disabilities must have an opportunity to vote in person, even in the present circumstances.  Our view is that these laws do not merely suggest, but instead require, such an opportunity.


HAVA mandates that “[t]he voting system shall--be accessible for individuals with disabilities, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters…”  52 U.S.C. § 21081(a)(3)(A) (emphasis added).  Likewise, Title II of the ADA, and the Rehabilitation Act which is at least co-extensive with the ADA, requires that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity [i.e., voting], or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132.  In providing aids, benefits, or services, public entities such as the Board may not “[a]fford a qualified individual with a disability an opportunity to participate in or benefit from the aid, benefit, or service that is not equal to that afforded others,” nor may public entities provide qualified individuals with disabilities “an aid, benefit, or service that is not as effective in affording equal opportunity” to gain the same result or benefit as provided to others. 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(1)(ii)-(iii).  Furthermore, public entities “shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford individuals with disabilities… an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of a public entity.”  Id. § 35.160(b)(1).  Public entities must also “take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with… members of the public… with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.”  Id. § 35.160(a)(1).  To be effective, the “auxiliary aids and services must be provided in… such a way as to protect the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability.”  Id. § 35.160(b)(2).


The lesson of these statutes is straightforward: blind and print disabled voters in Maryland must be afforded the same opportunity to vote independently and privately as their nondisabled peers.  For the reasons discussed above, prohibiting in-person voting for voters with disabilities violates that right.  And, in the case of the April 28 special election, Maryland law separately and expressly states that “[e]ach local board shall establish at least one voting center for the use of any eligible voter who chooses to cast a ballot in person in a special election in accordance with this section.”  Md. Code, Election Law § 9-503(a).  The Election Law provision permitting alternate voting systems in a state of emergency does not clearly abrogate the in-person requirement, much less override the federal anti-discrimination laws discussed above that preempt and invalidate any contrary state action.


And so, as a disability rights organization, we join the voices of the many voting rights organizations that are communicating these same concerns, as well as the President of the Maryland Senate and the Speaker of the House of Delegates who pointed out yesterday in a letter to the Governor that even if in-person voting is not carried out broadly, it must be available to voters with disabilities.


We are cognizant of the public health concerns discussed in the Board’s March 25 meeting, which focused on possible COVID-19 transmission at voting centers or a possible lack of poll workers.  However, the previously discussed laws make it is essential that public services, programs, and activities – especially affecting the constitutional right to vote – not be curtailed based on assumptions or speculation of risks that are not based on reliable data.  The Board’s staff presented a proposal for in-person voting, which was formulated in consultation with the Maryland Department of Health.  The Board rejected that proposal largely on the basis of the comments about COVID-19 by Webster Ye, the Director of the Department’s Office of Governmental Affairs, which were repudiated by the Governor the next day.  Emily Opilo & Meredith Cohn, Models show coronavirus infection ‘peaking probably around Fourth of July,’ Maryland health agency official says, Balt. Sun. (“‘The health department disputed that,’ Hogan said. ‘That guy who works for the health department I think just made up his own personal opinion to some group and it got quoted in the paper. He’s not in any of our discussions or our meetings… It’s something he never expressed to anyone else.’”) (emphasis added), available at:


The Board discussed the possibility of a lack of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) for poll workers as a risk factor.  Health authorities continue to advise that use of PPE, such as face masks, is necessary only when the wearer is sick himself or herself, or is caring for someone who is sick; it is not advised that members of the general public should use PPE.  Jacqueline Howard, WHO stands by recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or not caring for someone who is sick, CNN, available at: Thus, poll workers in these very limited in-person voting locations do not appear to need PPE.  But in the event that PPE use is desired, it is not clear that supplies will not be available and precluding in-person voting on that basis is inappropriate.


The presence of a state of emergency is not an exception to the protections of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.  Indeed, courts have found violations of those laws when public entities fail to provide for the needs of individuals with disabilities during emergency conditions.  E.g., California Found. for Indep. Living Centers v. Cty. of Sacramento, 142 F. Supp. 3d 1035, 1062-63 (E.D. Cal. 2015) (holding that certain aspects of a county’s airport evacuation plan violated the ADA by failing to account for the needs of people with mobility disabilities); Brooklyn Ctr. for Indep. of Disabled v. Bloomberg, 980 F. Supp. 2d 588, 643-44 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (finding that the city violated the ADA by failing to account for accessibility to people with disabilities in its evacuation plans and rejecting the city’s argument that ad hoc accommodations were sufficient).


In view of all of this, we believe that there is an appropriate balance to be struck that preserves the rights of blind and print disabled voters while employing feasible and non-burdensome precautions.  As such, we request that the Board make a limited number of voting centers available for in-person voting at both the April 28 and June 2 elections (which may most easily be done at local boards of election offices), using BMDs that can be easily deployed out of current inventory as the exclusive means of voting at such centers.  Because we anticipate that others who did not receive their ballot (which the Board’s counsel estimated ranges from 1-4% of the electorate) will also need to vote in person, the exclusive use of BMDs will have the necessary effect of preventing the segregation of blind and print disabled votes as well as preventing the breach of privacy that results from channeling only disabled voters to BMDs.


We agree with the Board staff and its counsel that there is a safe way to carry out in-person voting, working within guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.  With the in-person voting limited to one voting center per county, common sense measures like those employed at grocery stores and other essential facilities can be carefully and consistently applied.  We also believe that by focusing on the small number of voting centers, the need for poll workers is greatly reduced and adequate numbers of them can be fielded from the existing group of volunteers, those that have been offered by other groups such as the League of Women Voters, and/or recruitment of younger volunteers from colleges and lines of work that are currently closed.  The Board should also consider allowing a limited number of public facilities such as public libraries, colleges, and workplaces to be opened for the purpose of allowing voters with disabilities to print ballots completed via the online ballot marking tool.


            We also want to be clear regarding the proper canvassing of votes submitted via the online ballot marking tool.  Our understanding is that in prior elections, ballots completed via the tool and submitted by voters with disabilities were deemed valid even if the voter’s signature was not a precise match to the signature on file with the Board.  This was the case because some individuals with disabilities are not able to produce an identical signature due to medical conditions that cause hand tremors or prevent a visual reference for prior signatures. Any reversal of that policy to require an identical signature verification would disenfranchise many of these individuals and would have a disparate impact on individuals with disabilities. 


We hope that you consider these common sense approaches to choose a course that enables all Marylanders to have an equal right to vote and not one that prevents it in violation of the law and basic fairness.







Ronza Othman

[CC’s omitted]


Chapter Spotlight: Greater Carroll County

By Christopher Nusbaum

[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 Carroll County Chapter.]


Every active Federationist knows that one of the hallmarks of our movement is its tenacity.  We are an organization that never waivers on our principles, never strays from our mission, and never gives up, regardless of the obstacles placed in our paths.  Give us an unresponsive government, and we flood Annapolis or Washington with calls, emails and visits until the blind get what we need.  Give us an agency establishment whose programs limit the capacity of blind people, and we counter by starting our own training programs and imbuing them with our positive philosophy.  Give us a group of students at a seminar who are convinced that grilling over an open charcoal grill is completely out of the realm of possibility for blind people, and President Riccobono fires up the grill and shows them how it’s done.  Give us an area where organizing a chapter seems inconceivable, and we somehow find enough committed blind people to get a strong chapter off the ground.  Such is the strength of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).


If I needed a reminder of this tenacity, I got it in 2014 when Sharon Maneki gave me one of those “assignments” for which she is so well-known.  In an email to her sometime in that year, I noted that I wished we could have a chapter in Carroll County, but I didn’t think there would be enough blind people in the area to do anything worthwhile.  There were very few of us in the area, and the blind people I knew were either already in another organization or not interested in joining any organization of blind people, let alone organizing one. Sharon came back with a response one might expect to see from her: “Well, let’s start one! I’m sure we can find the people.”  Before I could protest, I was introduced to Dr. Cathy Orzolek-Kronner, a newly-blind college professor who was talented, energetic and looking for something to get involved in.  It turns out that Ronza Othman (then membership chair) and Melissa Riccobono (then affiliate president) had been talking about starting a chapter in Carroll County as far back as 2010, a year before I joined the organization.  They had already recruited Cathy, so there was no need for me to do any further prodding.  So, with our “dynamic duo” in place and with the support of Sharon and Ronza, we got to work.


From the start, it was clear that organizing a chapter takes patience, energy, courage, and—most of all—a lot of hard work.  After we planned our organizing event and figured out how we would engage those who attended, the hardest part was suddenly upon us: getting people to come.  Ronza checked all the records of our state affiliate and national organization, and sent her findings to Cathy and me.  I will never forget the size of that spreadsheet. There were 68 columns in all, each one containing the name of and contact information for someone who had some kind of contact with the federation at some point in time.  In almost every case, neither Cathy nor I had ever heard of the person we were supposed to call.


I have always been a generally outgoing person who is comfortable talking with anyone on the phone.  Fortunately, Cathy shares that quality.  However never before had either of us made cold calls to complete strangers to ask them to do something.  Never before had we sat at our desks and called every number on a list as if we were telemarketers; we usually hung up on people who did that.  But it was the “homework” Ronza gave us, and it was necessary for the cause, so we knew it must be done.  As we expected, we received a variety of responses.  Some were enthusiastic, some were uncertain, some were disinterested, and some sent us to voicemail and never called us back.  A few memorable people were outright hostile; one told me he “wanted nothing to do” with me or my group before angrily hanging up on me, while another told us that he would “call the cops” if anyone from our organization ever called and asked for his wife again.  Despite those notable rebuffs, we ended up with a few people who committed to coming to our event, along with many people who were considering the idea.


On May 2, 2015, we gathered in a room on the campus of McDaniel College where many of Cathy’s classes were held.  We expected 10 people would come if we were lucky, but we surprisingly ended up with 17 people in attendance. Finally, we could see that all our organizing efforts bore tangible fruit.  Those on our phone list who committed to coming were in attendance, as well as many who were at first undecided.  One couple even came up from Reisterstown after seeing an article about our meeting in the Carroll County Times, which wasn’t published until the day of the event.  Particularly gratifying was the presence of a large contingent from Carroll Lutheran Village (CVL), a retirement community in Westminster.  These were seniors who were losing vision and were interested in seeing the aids and appliances we demonstrated, both high-tech and low-tech.  Even so, as we discussed with the attendees our intention to start a chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Carroll County, the cynical part of me doubted that we would see the seniors again. To my delight, all of them returned in June, as did most of the people who attended our May organizing event. At that June meeting, a constitution was adopted, elections were held, and the Greater Carroll County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was born.


The five years that followed have seen remarkable growth, both in our membership and in our influence on the community we serve.  We championed the improvement of public transportation in the county, and two of our members were appointed to the Transportation Advisory Council, where they continue to bring the concerns of blind people to the county government.  We held various community events, which brought the philosophy of the federation to a public whose exposure to blind people is quite limited, if they have had any exposure at all.  Recently, we held a technology workshop where blind and sighted people alike could learn about the tools blind people use to live, work and play.  In response to the ever-growing popularity of Zoom as a virtual meeting platform, we recently conducted an introduction to Zoom for our members, and subsequently did the same for all Maryland Federationists. We made our mark on CLV, where we now meet, demonstrating to the residents and staff that blind people are a competent, confident cross-section of society who enjoy life and want to be active in our community.  Ever since we began meeting at CLV, we made a post-meeting tradition of having lunch together at the bistro adjacent to our meeting room. The staff there marveled at us when we first came, but grew to expect and welcome us.  They are no longer caught by surprise at this boisterous group of blind people who disrupt the quiet of the early Saturday afternoon.


Most importantly, ours is a chapter that constantly changes lives through the alternative techniques and positive attitudes we learned from our membership in the NFB.  Since our inception, we tend to bring in more and more members who are newly-blind and looking for resources.  Almost universally, these new members find much more than they were looking for.  I will never forget the conversation I had at one of our picnics with a member who had only been with us for a few months.  She told me she had joined us at a time when she was in the depths of depression, fearing that her life was virtually over because she was blind.  She expected she would find in us a group of people who would understand her plight and would commiserate with her.  We did indeed understand her plight, but we made it clear to her that her life was not hopeless.  She told me she found a new lease on life because of her participation in our chapter, and she would always be grateful to us for lifting her out of the depression that previously consumed her.  Less than a year later, she passed away, and we deeply miss her.  However, we can take solace in the knowledge she left us as a Federationist through and through.  In our relatively brief existence, we have lost several other members, many of whom were in that original group of seniors and one of whom died on the very day our charter was presented to us. We carry on our work in their memory, knowing we have done our part to add some joy to their lives.


As I close this spotlight on our chapter, I conclude that the story of the Greater Carroll County Chapter is a classic NFB story. It started as a dream hoped for by a few, though not expected to turn into reality. Then, with the backing of determined NFB leaders, the dreamers slowly came to believe their dream could be realized. Then, the dream did become reality, and all doubts were put aside. Now this chapter, which I once called “the little chapter that could,” is five years old and stronger than ever. This strength comes not only from good leadership, though we have that in abundance, guided by current President Brian Keseling. It comes not only from an active membership, though our membership has always been small but mighty. It comes from the love, hope and determination of the NFB, which transforms dreams into reality.


Segregated Voting: When Will It End?

By Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s note: Sharon Maneki serves as NFBMD’s director of legislation and advocacy.  She led our fight to desegregate voting in Maryland based on disability.  Below is an update on our efforts.]


When will segregated voting end in Maryland?  The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) intends to make sure that it does end. As Spectator readers know, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the NFBMD, and plaintiffs Marie Cobb, Ruth Sager, and Joel Zimba sued the Maryland State Board of Elections in August, because its policies promote segregated voting for persons with disabilities.  On February 10, 2020, the judge ruled in our favor with regard to the board’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.  This means we can continue with the litigation, which is slowly making its way through federal court.  We are not putting our eggs in one basket, so we continue to urge the governor and the legislature to take action.  This article summarizes our activity on the legislative front. 


In the 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly, Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Nick Mosby introduced legislation on our behalf that would have ended segregated voting in Maryland.  The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs, and the House Ways and Means committees sent these bills for further study during the interim.  The following article summarizes the study from the House Ways and Means Committee. 


On Ballot Privacy Issues, House Lawmakers Look to 2022 for Big Change

By: Danielle E. Gaines

(taken from the November 6, 2020 edition of Maryland Matters found at


Del. Nick J. Mosby (D-Baltimore City) plans to introduce legislation next session to guide the state's future election technology to ensure equal access for Marylanders with disabilities.


Maryland lawmakers expressed dismay and optimism Tuesday about efforts to guarantee secret ballot access for disabled voters in the state.


While policies for the 2020 election—which are the subject of a lawsuit by blind voters—are already set, the state’s current elections equipment contract expires in 2021 and could allow for a big change.


“It’s too late right now to do much of any changes for 2020 because the elections are right around the corner, but I’m looking forward to seeing what my colleagues come up with for next session to help resolve this issue long-term,” said Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s).


Washington chairs the Election Law Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee, which referred the issue of equal access to secret ballots to a summer study last legislative session.


The issue of ballot segregation and secrecy has been an issue in Maryland since 2016, when the state implemented a paper ballot voting system.


While the vast majority of voters hand-mark 8 ½ by 11-inch ballots, voters who are blind or have motor disabilities can use an ExpressVote ballot marking device, which provides headphones, magnification, touchscreens and other features to independently cast ballots.  The machines do not record votes directly but mark a paper ballot that is a different size – 4 ½ by 14 inches – and list only the candidates the voter selected, making those votes cast by Marylanders with disabilities immediately identifiable, advocates say.


In 2013, the attorney general’s office said the state board would have to adopt one of three policies to avoid creating a segregated ballot for voters with disabilities:

  • require all voters to use a ballot marking device;
  • require identical ballots for voters who cast ballots with a marking device; or
  • ensure that enough voters without disabilities use ballot marking devices to anonymize those ballots cast by voters with disabilities.

The board chose the third option with varying amounts of success.


In the 2018 general election, ballot-marking devices were used for less than 0.1 percent of ballots cast in Harford County, but for about 7 percent of all ballots cast in Prince George’s County.


At 22 precincts in Maryland, only one ballot was cast using a marking device; at 66 precincts, zero ballots were cast using a device.


The State Board of Elections voted in June on policy changes intended to increase use of the machines.  In 2020, precincts will be encouraged to have at least five voters use a ballot marking device and election judges’ training on how to operate the machines will be more robust.  Election judges will also use neutral language – without mentioning disability or accessibility as they have in the past – that could lead to more voters opting for the devices: “You have two ways to mark your ballot: either by hand or with an electronic device.  Which do you prefer?”


But advocates doubt that the policies will resolve the issue.  The National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit in August seeking a court order to require the use of ballot-marking devices to all voters by default unless they specifically request to mark a paper ballot.


In court filings, the state has argued that the new policies will address past issues and that voters with disabilities have not been denied meaningful access to voting in person by secret ballot and that requiring all voters use marking devices is an unreasonable change.


Maryland currently has a lease for about 3,500 ballot marking devices from ES&S but would need about 18,000 to implement universal use. The cost was estimated last year at about $12 million, with the state and counties splitting the cost.


The Election Law Subcommittee on Tuesday zeroed in on the state’s current contract with ES&S, which expires in 2021.  While ES&S is the country’s largest voting technology manufacturer, two other companies—Hart Intercivic and Dominion Voting—offer ballot marking devices that produce ballots indistinguishable from paper ballots.  Both of those devices also eschew use of a barcode to record a voter’s ballot, something which the ES&S system does.  The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in June that would prohibit the use of barcodes on ballots and some states have banned the use of barcodes because of security concerns.


While Del. Jessica Feldmark (D-Howard) asked legislative analysts about the cost to shift to a new voting system, costs in the election technology industry are notoriously vague.


“I asked them what their costs were, and they didn’t tell me,” Stanford Ward, a Department of Legislative Services analyst, told the subcommittee.


Ward said he was going to try to get more information about comparative costs of voting systems through national organizations.


Feldmark said the committee should work toward an overhauled voting system in 2022 as a goal, while still expressing concern that new policies for 2020 may not be adequate enough.


“It’s both understandable and disappointing. I don’t think we should be looking for democracy deferred,” she said.


Del. Nick J. Mosby (D-Baltimore City), who introduced legislation last session that would have required all voters in the state to use the ballot-marking devices, said he is working on a new bill for 2020 that would aim to set minimum requirements for voting technology in the state’s next procurement.


“Voting is a fundamental privilege as an American.  It’s critically important that all voices matter, whether its disability, race, religion or gender, are heard,” he said after Tuesday’s briefing. “As a state, we should hold that in the highest regard.”


In the 2020 session, Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Nick Mosby once again introduced legislation that would make the BMD the default voting method for all.  People would still be able to request a paper ballot if they wished.  Many thanks to Senator Lam who sponsored SB757 and the following senators who cosponsored SB757: Senators Carter, Feldman, Jennings, King, Lee, Rosapepe and R. Young.  Many thanks to Delegate Nick Mosby who sponsored HB1314, and the following delegates who cosponsored HB1314: Delegates Acevero, Anderson, Attar, D. Barnes, Boyce, Bridges, Carr, Chang, Charkoudian, Charles, Conaway, Crutchfield, Ebersole, Feldmark, W. Fisher, Gilcrest, Haynes, Hettleman, Hill, Hornberger, Ivey, Kaiser, Kelly, Korman, J. Lewis, R. Lewis, Lierman, Lopez, Love, Moon, Palakovich Carr, Proctor, Qi, Queen, Rosenberg, Smith, Solomon, Stewart, Turner, Walker, Washington, R. Watson and Wells.  Unfortunately, the committees took no action, so these bills failed.  


In addition to working on these voting bills, we also testified at the State Board of Election budget hearings.  Here is our testimony before the Senate Budget and Taxation committee on February 25, 2020. 


“Since the 2016 elections, disabled voters lost their right to a secret ballot because of the policies of the State Board of Elections (SBE).  While it is true SBE made some changes to its policies for the 2020 election we already have evidence these policies still are ineffective.  The NFBMD wishes to raise the following questions about the budget of the SBE. 


For the 2020 election, SBE changed the number of voters it would encourage to use the Ballot Marking Device (BMD) from two voters to five voters.  They also developed different language to inform voters of their options in casting their votes.  We have evidence that these “new policies” were ineffective in the special election conducted on Feb. 4.  Voters were not informed the BMD was available for their use.  Since BMDs were not ready and poll workers did not know how to fix them, some blind voters had to wait several hours before they could cast their votes.  This special election only involved three jurisdictions, Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties, and only those parts of the jurisdictions that were in the 7th Congressional District.  If election officials could not follow the new policies in a small special election, how are they going to do it in the presidential election where there is heavy voter turnout?  Discrimination against disabled voters will continue in the 2020 election.


Some of the leases on the current BMD machines expired in March 2019 and the leases on the remaining BMDs will expire in March 2021.  Since these leases are expiring, SBE has the perfect opportunity to eliminate the problem of having two ballots that differ in size and content.  Does the budget contain money for leasing or purchasing BMDs for future elections?


Why does the state of Maryland continue to pay for a voting system that discriminates against disabled voters by creating two voting systems?  The Supreme Court decided 65 years ago that separate is not equal.  It is time for Maryland to abide by this principle.  If the ballots of any other protected class of citizen were identifiable, the general assembly would surely insist SBE revise its policies.  Blind and disabled voters deserve the right to equality in voting and a secret ballot too.


When will segregated voting end in Maryland?  Clearly, blind people will face segregated voting in the 2020 elections.  Segregated voting may end by the 2022 elections, if the governor and general assembly take action, or the court rules in our favor and the state does not appeal.  One thing we know for certain, the NFB will not rest until segregated voting ends in Maryland. 


Senior Spotlight: Wendy Ruth

By Judy Rasmussen

[Editor’s note: Wendy Ruth received the Anna Cable Award at the 2019 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.  Wendy’s enthusiasm for life shines through everything she does.]


Reading is such a fundamental part of our daily lives. We often take for granted we can read what we want when we want to read it.  Reading print is obviously the common way to gain knowledge, locate a destination, or prepare a recipe.  Many federation articles have been written emphasizing the importance of reading, and reading Braille in particular.  Learning to read with your fingers rather than your eyes can feel overwhelming and something that is impossible to do, especially if you lose vision as an adult.  Individuals who have had the determination to succeed at learning to read in a totally different way deserve special recognition.  In addition, what one person is able to do inspires others to keep going when discouragement sets in.


For more than 20 years, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) has given the Anna Cable Award to an individual who learned to read and write Braille as an adult.  Many of you may know Anna Cable was told that in her 60s, she was too old to learn Braille.  For a woman who fought for the right of women to vote, worked as a secretary for the federal government in the 1940s, and had been an advocate for education, this was nonsense.  I don’t know who taught Anna to read and write Braille, or how she found the NFBMD.  I remember meeting her at my first chapter meeting after moving to Maryland from Illinois.  I could tell she was a spunky lady and that she believed in blind people living productive and meaningful lives.  Anna lived during three centuries.  It was a joy and privilege to attend her 100th birthday party at the assisted living facility where she was living.  The federation will continue to honor people who have met the challenge and are enjoying reading again, not just to remember Anna, but to encourage and strengthen everyone who desires to learn and overcomes the stigma and stereotypes surrounding blindness, and in particular, blind people who are over a certain age.


The 2019 recipient of the Anna Cable Award, Wendy Ruth, is a deserving individual.  A Hagerstown resident, she is an example of the reason the award continues to be given.  Wendy stated that as a child and young adult, she was an avid reader.  She said that in fourth grade, she noticed she was having some problems with her eyes. She began wearing glasses but many people wore glasses, so that wasn’t a big deal.


At the age of 22, she noticed her vision had gotten worse.  Doctors thought she might have a brain tumor, so many tests were done to determine what was causing her vision loss.  There was no brain tumor, but she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa.  She was determined to get her driver's license though.  After all, it was a rite of passage, and she thought that if her vision became worse, she wanted to enjoy driving as long as she could.  Looking back now, she said she probably should not have been given a driver’s license. She has not driven for 30 years.


Wendy attended school to become a paralegal secretary, but never worked in that field.  She worked as a cashier at a gas station and did all the paperwork for her husband’s carpet cleaning business.


Wendy said that as her vision became worse, she was feeling not only the loss of her vision, but the inability to enjoy one of the pleasures most important to her in life—reading the printed word.


Finding help is one of the most difficult things after vision loss occurs.  People are sure they are the only ones experiencing vision loss.  Many people ask their eye doctors, who unfortunately are not always knowledgeable as to where resources are located.  In Wendy’s case, her eye doctor told her to contact the Division of Rehabilitation Services, who then put her in touch with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.  She has been enrolled in their Seniors Achieving Independent Living program for the past two years.


Wendy began learning Braille and realized that while she could no longer see the printed word, she could have the pleasure of reading words and sentences herself.  She said she began practicing reading from six to eight hours a day.  She lives alone, so labeling cans and other things she could no longer read became essential.  She is reading several books at the same time.  She said she still has trouble with some symbols, like punctuation marks, but she is not going to give up.


Wendy is a member of the NFBMD at Large Chapter, and is interested in learning new ideas and ways to do things.  She hopes to return to work in the near future.  Knowing Wendy, she will succeed.  We will all rejoice when she finds employment, and we will continue encouraging others to take the next steps toward increased independence after vision loss.



A Magical Meet the Blind Month Event

By Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s note: October is Meet the Blind Month.  Below is an article about a particularly magical Meet the Blind Month event sponsored by the Maryland Parents of Blind Children and the Central Maryland Chapter of the NFBMD.]


Teresa Graham serves as first vice president of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children (MDPOBC) Division.  Teresa and her children also are longtime Federationists.  In 2019, Teresa and her business partner, Stephanie, opened a business called the Flower Barn in Ellicott City.  In 2016 and 2018, there were serious floods in Ellicott City which caused many of the businesses and restaurants to be closed for long periods of time.  Teresa and her family thought up an activity that would both draw the public into Ellicott City to help the businesses on Main Street and to “meet the blind.” 


The Wizarding Weekend on Magical Main Street was an outstanding success in both goals. Members of MDPOBC, Greater Baltimore chapter, Central Maryland chapter, and Maryland Association of Blind Students (MDABS) worked on activities from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., on both Saturday and Sunday.  The public came out in droves, more than 10,000 individuals, to get Harry Potter memorabilia, eat magical food and drink butter beer and pumpkin juice, and make crafts and potions.  Participants received Braille and print versions of activities.  It was great to see so many families interacting with blind people who ran many of the activities.  Blind and sighted alike reminisced about their favorite Harry Potter books.  The following articles are transcripts of TV coverage that the event received. This Meet the Blind Month was outstanding and one that we will remember for many years.


Harry Potter 'Wizarding Weekend' in Old Ellicott City to raise money for good cause.  (taken from WBALTV 11 article)

WBAL-TV 11, October 3, 2019, Jennifer Fraciotti, News Anchor



Calling all Harry Potter fans!  Grab your broomsticks and head to Old Ellicott City this weekend, where you can have some wizarding fun, support local businesses and raise money for a good cause.  Main Street is turning magical for “Wizarding Weekend.”  More than two dozen businesses are joining in the fun Oct. 5-6 from 10 a.m. until close.


Fans can get chocolate frogs at Sweet Cascades. Gamers Corps is offering 9 3/4% off Harry Potter products.  “Main Street already resembles Diagon Alley, so when the opportunity arose to turn it into Diagon Alley, we definitely jumped on it,” said Ashley McManus, co-owner of Gamers Corps.


“We have wands and robes and all of the stuff to turn yourself into Harry Potter or be part of whichever house that you love,” McManus said.

The Harry Potter theme is the brainchild of Flower Barn co-owners Theresa Graham and Stephanie Wells.  Graham’s 13-year-old daughter, Naudia, is blind and said the J.K. Rowling series opened up her world.


“Braille is a big deal, so when she was engaged so much in Harry Potter and was reading all these books, I was like, ‘Yes, we're doing it,’ you know? She loves Harry Potter,” Graham said.


Proceeds from some of the magical activities will benefit the National Federation of the Blind.


“It's fantastic because it just shows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you,” said Sharon Maneki, with the National Federation of the Blind.


“It has brought so much attention to Old Ellicott City. I think it's going to be great,” Graham said.




Harry Potter Fans! Ellicott City Is Hosting A Wizarding Weekend Oct. 5-6

September 30, 2019 at 1:36 pm (From WJZ, Channel 13 Broadcast)



If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter book or movies series, then you may want to head to Ellicott City this weekend.


That’s when the town will host its Wizarding Weekend on Magical Main (Street).  Starting at 10 a.m. on Oct. 5, several stores and restaurants along Ellicott City’s Main Street will transform into its own Diagon Alley, hosting wizarding activities, discounts and special Harry Potter themed menus.


Wizarding attire is highly encouraged—so grab your wands, brooms and robes.  A costume contest will be held on Oct. 5 with judging at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.  A $5 donation to the National Federation of the Blind is required to enter the contest.


Bands will also perform at the Flower Barn from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and a DJ will keep the party going through the evening.


A scavenger hunt will also be hosted by several stores, taking you through the streets of Ellicott City.  At each store, you have to locate a wizarding item and will receive a postcard while supplies last—to create a 10-page Magical Main book.  A $5 donation is also required for the scavenger hunt.


Stop by Sweet Suds to pick up your “golden snitch” bath bomb with proceeds benefitting the National Federation of the Blind and enter our raffle to win your very own set of wands!

Southwest Connection giving away a Wizard Charm Bracelet with a min. $15 purchase & a Special Hedwig Charm with a $25 purchase. Limit one per person so everyone can get one.  Limited bracelets available each day.


Here are some featured food items:

  • Moorenko’s Ice Cream will have Polyjuice Potion sorbet, Buttered Popcorn with Jelly Flops, Fire Dragon Chocolate, Levioso Gummi Bear and Mrs. Weasley’s English Toffee ice cream.
  • Parkridge Creamery will offer Butterbeer floats.
  • Southwest Connection will have butterbeer fudge and pumpkin pie fudge available. They’ll also have a Harry Potter-themed charm bracelet for sale.
  • Sweet Cascades Chocolatier will have Golden Snitches, Canary Cremes, Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bots, Sipping Chocolate and Butter Beer.


Adults 21 & over can have fun too! Phoenix Emporium is offering 20% off all Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers. Judges Bench will have specialty drinks and a costume contest.


Most stores will have events Saturday and Sunday.


There will also be ghost hunts, a photo booth and a House Cup competition. For a full list of participating stores and restaurants, click here.



Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Shawn Jacobson

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 continuing a series that profiles our affiliate’s leaders so our members can get to know them better on a personal level.  Our next leader profile features Shawn Jacobson, Treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and Treasurer of the Sligo Creek Chapter.]


In order to have a strong organization of any type, you first need a motivating, personable, intelligent, and dedicated leader.  In the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD,) of course, our president, Ronza Othman, checks all of these boxes!  The other thing which is absolutely vital is a trustworthy, detail oriented, organized, and mathematically competent person to serve as treasurer.  In the NFBMD, we are very lucky to have Shawn Jacobson serve in this role.


Shawn has been involved in the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) since the mid ‘70s, when he joined our organization as a student at the Iowa School for the Blind.  He became more active in the Iowa affiliate while attending college at Iowa State University.  In 1984, Shawn moved to Washington, DC to accept a job.  He was active in the DC affiliate until the early ‘90s, when he joined and became a vital part of the NFBMD.


It is no surprise Shawn serves as treasurer for the NFBMD, the Sligo Creek Chapter, and the NFB Writers’ Division.  He is a mathematical statistician, working for HUDD.  Shawn shared he is transferring into a supervisory role, which he plans to hold until June of 2021, when both he and his wife plan to retire.  After their retirement they plan to take a six-week road trip out west, and eventually move back to Iowa.


Shawn and his wife, Cheryl, have two grown children.  They adopted their daughter from China, and their son from Russia.  Shawn is very active in his church, and loves to read and write in his spare time.  Shawn had stories published in Magnets and Ladders, Slate and Style, Future Reflections, Breath and Shadow, and the Braille Monitor.  He is always excited to share his stories with others, and does all he can to promote the annual writing contests sponsored by the NFB Writers’ Division with youth and adults alike.


Shawn is a steady leader who is always willing to do what needs to be done.  We have been very lucky to have him as our treasurer, and will certainly miss him a great deal when he moves away.  I hope all of you will try to get to know Shawn better while he is still here in Maryland.


Why I Write

By Shawn Jacobson

[Editor’s note: Shawn Jacobson is a great example of someone who does not let blindness hold him back and who lives the life he wants.  Shawn has worked for the federal government as a statistician for 36 years.  He also is a long-time Federationist.  For many years, he has served as treasurer for the NFBMD and for the Sligo Creek Chapter.  He also serves as treasurer for the Writer’s Division.  The following article was taken from Winter 2019 edition of Slate and Style, a publication of the NFB Writers’ Division. At the end of the article, you will find links to other articles written by Shawn for your reading pleasure.]


The first Holy book I read, the first book to pour the molten spirit of wonder into my soul, was The Witches of Karres.  I received the book in the mail one otherwise boring late summer day in 1971.  I drank deeply of the spoken words as a thirsty man might gulp down water.  I read the book four times in four days reading late into the night in my bedroom.  I played record after record until everyone else in the house went to sleep and beyond.


I share this with you because this was a pivotal time in my reading life, a station in my journey to becoming a writer.  However, it was far from my first experience with books.  My first experience with the written word was going to the Marshalltown public library, a magnificent building of high ceilings and sweeping staircases, with my grandmother.  She would pick out books, 10 at a time, and read them to me over the next week.  I would look at the pictures as she read, and I would always be surprised and disappointed when we were finished.


My first experience with a library having blindness-friendly books was a trip to the Iowa Commission for the Blind in Des Moines.  There, I saw talking books, rack upon rack of them.  Each rack towered over my head.  Stairs led up and down to other floors full of bookshelves.  These were the days when talking books were on large records that played at normal phonograph speed, and the cases containing the books were huge, black, and buckled together with black straps.


Eventually, as I read, I gravitated to science fiction.  Its wonder and its sense of adventure were a refuge for me once I reached the Iowa School for the Blind.  I had been an only child and was over-protected, or spoiled, depending on your point of view.  Suddenly, I was thrown in with a bunch of other boys: some older, many more experienced, and none inclined to see me as the center of the universe.  I remember throwing a lot of tantrums and getting the reputation as a crybaby, a bad thing in the pre-therapy age I grew up in.  As a result, I learned to treasure my own company and any means of escape from my life I could find.  Stories of rockets and other worlds served as an escape from a world I wanted no part of.


I did read other books.  In those days, there was not enough science fiction being recorded to fill my reading time.  One book I remember was Run to Daylight.  I had a schoolmate who was a raved Packer fan, and a bunch of us students would pile into his room after school to hear the book on his talking-book machine.  These reading sessions inspired some ill-advised football matches in the play area behind the boys’ dormitory.  These games came to an abrupt halt when one of my schoolmates got injured.


And there were other books.  I read Catcher in the Rye for all the dirty words before I read it for three different English classes.  I read some westerns because the west fascinated me.  I read a lot of nonfiction works in order to satisfy my curiosity about the world.  And, of course, I read Follow My Leader, though I found the blind protagonist's life quite different from mine.  But then, I would always return to stories of great expanses of space, my favorite experience with Braille was reading Have Spacesuit Will Travel.


Eventually, I left the Vinton School and started on a whole new set of adventures.  I remember reading Will, G. Gordan Liddy’s bizarre autobiography.  I remember reading Atlas Shrugged and finding that it resonated with my feelings of deep alienation.  My bad attitude towards the old Braille school led me to explore Libertarian writings and other political philosophy that encouraged individualism. 


College also featured adventures in religion.  I toyed with Wicca until I found that the wicked experience had little to do with the wonder I’d seen in the books of my childhood.  I also entertained Mormon missionaries and explored their beliefs, though I had not attained the level of maturity needed to make a commitment.  Eventually, I gravitated to a Lutheran church that was across the parking lot from the graduate dormitory at Iowa State University.


After graduation, I moved from the college life to the work world.  My reading decreased as I faced the challenges of work, family, and a new part of the country to call home.  Yet, in due time, I returned to books.


One night I read Ingathering, the complete people stories of Zenna Henderson and I felt the presence of a higher power calling me through the words.  The spirit called to my inner self in its own divine language.  To translate this into English would be no more possible than it would be possible to translate the works of Shakespeare into COBOL, or some other language for machines.  Yet this I can say, atheism, and paganism, were no longer options for my life.


And I felt compelled to write.  I write because the spirit of wonder calls to be passed along, to be shared.  I do believe that whatever higher power rules such things commissions some to put this spirit into words, to pass it along to whoever is meant to read, and to be touched by such words.


And so, what is it that I enjoy writing?  I most enjoy writing stories in which vastly different creatures, humans and others, try to reach out to each other, to communicate and share.  I think I like such stories because I have always felt myself to be something of an alien in my own world.  Furthermore, I feel that such stories fit the calling which led me to write in the first place.  After all, if we are to love the higher power, we must be willing to love beings very different from ourselves.


I also like to write stories in which wonder and strangeness break into our world.  So, I write science fiction stories set in bowling allies, where I spend much of my childhood.  I also wrote a story in which the alien reaches out to us in a bingo hall.  I look forward to writing a story in which the wondrous reaches out to a protagonist working on a latch-hook rug; my wife got me into the hobby when we adopted our daughter from China. To me, tales of wonder set in the commonplace of our lives have a special meaning.


And I like to write about travel.  My grandparents, and later my wife, blessed me with the opportunity to travel all over the United States and abroad.  And so, especially in my poetic writings, I try to pass this blessing along to whoever wants whatever joy in wandering that I can provide.  So, at this opportunity to take stock of my life with books, I ask myself what I hold dear.  I still remember with fondness The Witches of Karres, though I've not read the book in 35 years.  I also cherish Zenna Henderson’s people as brothers and sisters from another planet; they call me to anticipate the wonders that are to come.  And I also read outside of the realm of science fiction; you will see me reading books about sports, politics, and the old west from time to time.


As I continue my writing journey, I look forward to plumbing the expanses of wonder in what I read and in what I write.  I hope I can pass this along to anyone wanting to start their own journey into the future.


Other Stories and Poems by Shawn Jacobson:

From Magnets and Ladders, a semi-annual publication, featuring work from disabled writers:


Spring/Summer 2019: Poems include: “Tumbleweed” (won first place), “The Furloughed King,” and “Okie”


Fall/Winter 2019: Poems include: “The Mountain I Can’t Climb” (won second place),” Angel Light,” and “Fragile”


Fall/ Winter 2017-2018: Includes fiction story titled “Cosmic Bowling” and a poem called “Cane of Cchulhu”


Spring/Summer 2017: Includes a poem called “Peak View,” a poem called “Wendover Interlude,” and a fiction story called “Tomorrows Blossoms”


Fall/Winter 2016: Includes a fiction story called “Shoedinger’s Shaggy Dog”


Spring/Summer 2016:  Includes a poem called “Spring Freedom”


Fall/Winter 2015-2016: Includes a poem called “Scenic Iowa”


Spring/Summer 2015: Includes a fiction story called “The Legend of Sam the Sighted” and a nonfiction story called “Searching for Wonders”


Spring/Summer 2014: Includes a fiction story called “The Road to Mars,” a poem called “Hard Shell Haiku,” and another poem called “The Dark Side”


Fall/Winter 2013-2014: Includes poem called “Reflections,” a fiction story called “They’re out for Blood,” and another fiction story called “Blue Christmas”


Fall/Winter 2012-2013: Includes a poem called “But Not Today”


Spring/Summer 2012: Includes “The Kraken at Sunset”



From Bewildering Stories, a monthly science fiction magazine:


March 2020: Includes story called “Space Tapestry”


May 2020: Includes poem called “Redshirt”


Published in 2017: Includes “On Memory Lane”


Students Speak Up for Accessible Instructional Material in Higher Education

By Amy Bishop

[Editor’s note: Each year, we join Federationists from throughout the country to advocate with Congress in Washington, DC.  We were looking for co-sponsors for the accessible instructional materials in higher education act.  This legislation will remove barriers to equality in the classroom by creating a set of guidelines that clearly define accessible instructional materials.  The National Association of Blind Students collected stories from students throughout the country to be distributed to each member of Congress.  Individual stories made our case for the legislation more effective.  Of course, Maryland students had stories to add to this collection.  Here is what Amy Bishop, a student at Anne Arundel Community College, who came to the US from China in 2013, had to say.]


I started taking English as a second language sequence classes at my local community college.  When I was about to start the advanced level, the curriculum started to change to a more online basis.  The department would not let me take the newer version because it was not accessible to me.  They wanted me to stay with the old curriculum.  They told me that they would ask a teacher to teach a special section of that class, so I could get through it.  I spent a lot of time getting advocates to help me make the college let me take the newer class.  It was very frustrating for me, because instead of me focusing on my education, I needed to spend a lot of my time finding people to teach the school.  The school did not even have an accessible placement test for me.  I did take the English placement test, but it was very challenging due to technology issues.  I could not even take it by myself because of the technology problems.


 I did not take the math placement test because it was not accessible at all.  My disability service counselor had to use my high school GPA to place me into my math class.  Because of the online parts of the math class, I had to spend time testing the accessibility of the materials and work with the college and publisher to correct accessibility issues.


While other students get a break between semesters, I will spend my time trying to assist the college in making sure I can take my math class next semester.  AIM High, H.R.5312 -S.3015, would really benefit me because I could just focus on my studies instead of spending so much time and energy advocating for equal access.



Student Spotlight: Briana Broadwater


[Editor’s note: Briana (Bri) Broadwater is new to the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  She is a 2020 National Federation of the Blind National Scholarship finalist.  Bri graduated from C. Milton Wright High School in Harford County in May.  She will be attending Rowan College in New Jersey, where she intends to study psychology.  Bri is a varsity cheerleader and founder of her high school’s Creative Writing Club.  Below is Bri’s scholarship application essay, which will introduce Bri in her own words.]

I throw people.  Wondering what that means, aren’t you?  It means that I do not let my visual impairment dictate what I can do.  Being blind is a part of me, but it is not my whole story.  It is not a reason to limit myself.  Quite the contrary, it gives me a reason to show others that the limitations one sets are self-imposed.  Almost anything can be possible if you are willing to work hard enough to see it through.


As a child, I was never one to shy away from a challenge.  Because my biological parents are chronic substance abusers, I faced challenges constantly.  From a young age I learned to work with the skills I had, so that my siblings and I could survive.  My accomplishments, such as reading print and riding a bike, surprised many.  As a result, those same people forgot that there were tasks I did struggle with as a visually impaired child.  I pushed forward, and I adapted.  I figured out ways to complete tasks that most find routine—walking to the store, reading directions, matching clothes, etc.—with the resources I was given.


In school, I excel as both a tactile and visual learner.  I have been privileged to have a Braille technician/transcriber available to me as I attended the schools that housed my county’s vision program; however, this did not mean that materials have regularly been accessible to me.  Most teachers and staff are not properly trained in dealing with a student who requires any sort of accommodations, so most tend to neglect those students’ needs.  Alternately, there have been teachers who express a vast curiosity in me and seek to learn more.  They want to know what works for me and what does not.  I have been asked many such questions by teachers, so that they may not only modify their teaching for me, but also for future students.  My school also has a Sensory Fair where I work alongside professionals in vision and hearing, showing students and teachers what it is like to have disabilities like mine.  I have also been asked by my former Psychology teacher to give separate presentations to further educate classes.


Outside core academics, I am involved with many extracurricular activities such as the C. Miltones (school acapella group) and Advanced Choir.  I have received many opportunities such as singing at a radio station and for the superintendent of schools. I founded a Creative Writing Club to inspire creativity and peer partnership at my school. Throughout my freshmen and sophomore years, I starred in the fall musicals produced by the Stage Wright Theater Company.  I am still heavily involved in the drama program.


Returning to what hooked you in—“I throw people.”  During my junior year, my best friend suggested that I try something far outside my comfort zone.  She asked me to cheer with her.  When I attended tryouts, I was convinced that the coaches would not allow me to participate.  Cheer is a dangerous and complex sport that requires precision.  I was proven wrong when I made the JV team.  It wasn’t easy, and there were so many times when I questioned why I was doing it.  Nevertheless, I pushed myself harder and worked on everything I could, and I love it.  Cheering has reconciled within me the idea that my world is what I make it.  I am proud to be one of the first blind cheerleaders to compete.


My whole life I have been a role model and mentor for special needs students in my community.  I was told that my example would reassure these students that we are all so much more capable than society expects.  Owning that responsibility has taught me that not only am I doing what I love, I am influencing others to be their best selves and embrace who they are.  I am not a single story.  I am many stories that reveal a girl who is more than she was ever expected to become.


There Are Blind People Out There Who Want to Play

[Editor’s note: In the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), we constantly look for new opportunities to help each other live the lives we want.  NFB leaders convinced the Mattel Games Corporation, not only to produce Uno cards in both print and Braille, but also to sell these cards in public stores such as Target.  Sighted children who may become employers in the future, learn about the capabilities of blind children as they play a game together.  Sighted members of the public also learn blind people know how to have fun too.  In the following article taken from the October 22, 2019 edition of the Carroll County Times, Federationists Derrick and Meredith Day give their view on this new opportunity.]  


‘There are blind people out there that want to play’:

Carroll County students tested new Braille Uno game

By Akira Kyles


Two visually impaired siblings and Westminster students took the opportunity to test Mattel’s latest Uno Braille cards in hopes of adding more fun to other visually impaired homes.  Derrick, 13, and Meredith Day, 11, heard about beta testing for Mattel at a convention for the National Federation of the Blind in Las Vegas over the summer and decided they would be interested in giving the product a try.


“We basically said what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what we would basically change for the production,” said Derrick.  “Technically, if you’re talking about manufacturing terms, that was a prototype, they hadn’t really started manufacturing them yet.  So, they wanted us to give them almost like critiquing their design.”  Meredith and Derrick attend West Middle School, where they receive an education through the Carroll County Public Schools visually impaired program.


The Uno Braille cards were released earlier this month and are sold exclusively at Target.


UNO Braille packaging features Braille—a tactile writing system used by people who are visually impaired—on the front and back for clear identification, and directs players to, where they can find play instructions featuring Braille readable files for download.  Players can also access voice-enabled instructions through Amazon Alexa and Google Home, according to a Mattel news release.  “With the launch of UNO Braille, we’re making a real impact on a community that has been underserved by providing a game that both blind and sighted people can play together,” said Ray Adler, Global Head of Games at Mattel via the news release.  “We are proud to have UNO Braille on-shelves and to be making UNO more accessible and inclusive to even more families.”  Both Meredith and Derrick said they enjoyed beta testing the cards to contribute some fun to the blind community.  “When you think about a lot of games, and especially toys in general, there’s not many toys for a blind person,” said Derrick.  “I heard this on an interview that they did with Anil Lewis, who is a member of the NFB, he said ‘a trip to the toy store for a blind person is not very exciting,’ because you go and you’re like here’s a box and here’s another box and here’s a third box. There’s actually something to look forward to because you actually can buy something that you could use and that you could apply to yourself.” Derrick and Meredith are pleased that the cards are all-inclusive, so both those who are visually impaired and those that aren’t can play together.”


Spectator SpecsSpectator Specs


Rod Boudreaux passed away on February 18, 2020.  Rod was blind at heart and a member of the Greater Carroll County Chapter.  As a member of the Volunteer Medical Engineers, he was very inventive and devised many solutions to help members with difficult tasks.  One of his most popular inventions was an audible soccer ball.  We will miss Rod’s kindness, creativity, spirit, and willingness to solve problems so that blind people could continue to live the lives we want. 



On March 14, 2020, Olivia Chamberlain and Jake Davis welcomed their daughter, Raissa Grace, who arrived at 2:45 a.m.  She was 19.5 inches long and 5 pounds 14 ounces.  Olivia is a member of the At-Large Chapter and the Blind Parents Group.  Congratulations to the happy little family!


On March 18, 2020, Ein Ace Carpenter was born at 9:40 a.m., to Melissa and Aaron Carpenter.  He was 7 pounds 1 ounce and 20 inches long.  Big brother, Luke, and very protective big sister, Ren, are enjoying their new baby brother.  Melissa and Aaron are members of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children Division and members of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.  Melissa also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Parents of Blind Children Division. Congratulations to all the Carpenters!


On May 26, 2020, David and Faith Waybright became parents for the first time.  Elizabeth Rose arrived at 9:50 a.m.  She weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces and she was 20.5 inches long.  Faith and David can’t wait to introduce Elizabeth to the Greater Baltimore chapter and the rest of the NFBMD.



Congratulations and best wishes to the following high school graduates: Nia Phipps, who graduated from St. Paul’s School for Girls in Baltimore;  Brandon Pickrel, who graduated from Northern Garrett High School in Accident, MD; Jimmy Zimmer, who graduated from Parkside High School in Salisbury, MD; and Qualik Ford, Casandra Shorter, and Tyler Hoppe, who all graduated from the Maryland School for the Blind. 


The following students have completed 8th grade and are moving on to high school: Mercy Rao, Derrick Day, Naudia Graham, Alexis McPhail, and Austin Riccobono.  We look forward to reading about the future accomplishments of these students!



Congratulations to Shawn Jacobson, treasurer of the NFBMD, who also manages to find time to pursue a writing career.  Shawn won first place in the NFB National Writers’ Division 2020 contest in the fiction category for his story entitled, “Storm Magic.”  See “Why I Write,” an article by Shawn, earlier in this issue. 


Joe and Eleanor Schisler, members of the Central Maryland chapter, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on June 13, 2020.  May you have many years of health and happiness together.


Congratulations to Nathan Clark who began his employment on March 9, 2020 at a software company in New Jersey called ADDTEQ.  Nathan is enjoying his position as a Quality Assurance Analyst and looking forward to all the opportunities brought from a paycheck.


In Maryland, every student must perform 75 hours of service learning (community service) to graduate from high school.  They can start this requirement in middle school.  Congratulations to Derrick Day who received the Distinguished Service Award.  Derrick completed 85 service learning hours by the end of 8th grade.  He not only completed the requirement, but exceeded it.  Way to go, Derrick!


Braille Readers are Leaders Winners:

Maryland had five participants in the NFB Braille Readers are Leaders contest for 2019-2020.  Aisha Safi won 1st place overall in the competition and first place in the grade 4-5 category.  She read 7,798 pages.  Zanyiah Bell won 3rd place in the same category.  In the grade 6-8 category, Mercy Rao won second place and Isaiah Rao won third place in the same category. 


Paul Wales, grade 9, won the Breaking Limits award. 


Braille readers are definitely leaders!  We look forward to the continued progress of these students and we are very proud of their achievements.