Braille Spectator, Fall 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 to


In this issue:


  • The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2020 Annual Convention: Rise Up!
  • COVID-19 Can’t Keep Our BELLs from Ringing
  • State Board of Election Promotes Misinformation About Online Ballot Tool
  • Our History, Our Story
  • List of Presidents of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
  • Chapter Spotlight: The Greater Cumberland and Eastern Shore Chapters
  • Fighting for Equal Access to Education for Blind Students
  • The Convention Will Go On
  • Remembering Charlie Cook
  • Reflections on MTA Budget Cut Process
  • Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Judy Rasmussen
  • Spectator Specs


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2020 Annual Convention: Rise Up!

By Ronza Othman

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) will be holding our 54th Annual Convention from November 6 to 8, from anywhere and everywhere.  Our theme this year will be “Rise Up!”  This is because we, the members of the NFBMD, rise to meet every challenge we face, particularly during this unprecedented year, and mobilize to ensure we can live the lives we want.  This year’s theme celebrates our resilience, creativity, and unrelenting commitment to equal access to information, education, jobs, civil rights, and all the aspects of life in which we participate.  At this year’s convention, we will highlight our efforts, celebrate our successes, and map our way forward. 


Our National Representative this year is Pam Allen.  Pam is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana, chairman and first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, and executive director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. 


We will begin early on Friday, November 6, with the meeting of the Board of Directors.  This is an official business meeting, and we will read proposed changes to our state constitution, as well as proposed rules of engagement for the virtual convention.  The board meeting will be followed by the resolutions committee meeting.  The host committee, consisting of the At-Large, TLC, and Cumberland chapters, and chaired by Scott White, are hard at work finalizing arrangements for virtual tours, the Breakfast Club (a daily gathering to orient those interested to that day’s activities), and other fun and exciting activities.  You won’t want to miss our virtual tour of a museum via Aira. 


We will, once again, have an Exhibit Hall, where a number of organizations will demonstrate services and goods specific to the blind.  This year’s virtual exhibit hall will feature an Exhibitor Showcase, open office hours, and a robust exhibitor web page.  We also are planning some workshops, including a New Members Open House, where new and potential members can learn about our mission and programs, and ask questions about the NFB and NFBMD. 


The Parents Division is hosting a seminar on Friday morning for parents and teachers.  The students also will have a seminar on Friday afternoon.  The Merchants Division will have a meeting and reception Friday evening.  The Seniors Issues Division will hold its annual seminar Friday afternoon.  The Blind Parents Committee and the At-Large Chapter also will meet Friday.


Saturday and Sunday promise to be equally exciting.  We will have many dynamic and interesting presentations during General Session.  As usual, we will work with our partners to ensure high quality services for the blind.  We also will hear from members of the Maryland General Assembly and Congress, with whom we’ve worked to enact legislation to help us live the lives we want.  We also will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and celebrate the abolishment of subminimum wages in Maryland since the law we advocated for finalizes the phase-out of 14(c) certificates this year.


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


We have a number of surprises in store this year.  Please take advantage of the discounted rates for registration by pre-registering prior to October 16.  Those who register after October 16, will not be eligible to vote, to win door prizes, and for other incentives.  To register, visit  Please also be sure to enroll in voting for the NFBMD convention by October 16, by visiting  For more information about pre-registration and to download the convention agenda once it becomes available, visit


The convention will be a time to have fun and grow, a time to meet new friends and renew old friendships, and a time of inspiration and enthusiasm. Come to the convention to experience the love, hope and determination we need to make our dreams a reality.  Come to celebrate that we, in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland always rise up to meet whatever comes our way.



COVID-19 Can’t Keep Our BELLs from Ringing

by Lizzy Muhammad-Park

[Editor’s Note: This year has been unlike any other year, and this was true of our NFB Braille Enrichment in Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy.  Though we were not able to hold in-person sessions due to public health considerations, our children were nonetheless able to experience the BELL magic.  Lizzy Muhammad-Park served as our Maryland BELL coordinator for the first time this year, and she did a tremendous job.  Below is our 2020 NFB BELL Academy roundup.]


As you've all probably heard by now, the BELL program looked a little different this year.  I am pleased to say that the BELL Academy In-Home Edition was a success for our students.  Maryland had 12 participants this summer.  Each student was able to take part in one of our three two-week sessions held at either 11 a.m., or 6 p.m.  Classes were one hour long (Monday through Friday) and taught by well-known Federation teachers from throughout the country.  Before each class, students were to watch and follow along with a video teaching them the lesson for the day.  During the class, students had the chance to ask any questions they had about the video lesson, and have conversations facilitated by our teachers.  In addition to the classes, students also attended social hour at 3 p.m., each day. It was here they were encouraged to meet and chat with other young blind students.


Students received a box of materials before their chosen session began. It included sleep shades (called learning shades at BELL), braille paper, labeling paper, flashcards, a free white cane, slate and stylus, braille puzzle, foam shapes, jingle bells, tactile stickers, magnetic tape, a game kit, and more!  A huge thank you to our NFB National Center for gathering, packing and sending these boxes to participants—all at no cost to the students.  That’s right, BELL was free this year. It is because of the Federation’s generosity that our blind children could play accessible games, make instruments like rain sticks and tambourines, plant sunflower seeds, learn about Braille, and chat with new friends this summer.  The kids really loved it too! Maryland’s Braylee Mooney, daughter of Garret Mooney, said she enjoyed drawing Braille pictures because she thought you could only draw pictures in print.  Comments like this are what make our program necessary.


Garret Mooney, president of the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children, said he was glad, “The NFB did not let COVID-19 prevent us from putting on a program.”  He said so many kids are not provided Braille instruction, and that we made sure our blind children had something.  He finished by saying, “No matter how different it was this year, our kids were given the opportunity to become literate.”


To continue their literacy after the program, each student is receiving two Seedlings Braille books at no cost to their families.  Thank you to our National Headquarters for coordinating these efforts, and to Seedlings for sending these books free matter for the blind to each of our 2020 participants.


A special thank you to our Maryland mentors: Miranda Williams, Judy Rasmussen, Debby Brown, and Bernice Lowder.  Thank you to the parents who worked with their children through another home-based activity.  Last, but certainly not least, thank you to our affiliate President Ronza Othman, for asking me to coordinate this year’s program.  Though the National Office took care of most of my responsibilities and coordinated a nationwide program, I am so grateful to have served as Maryland’s 2020 BELL coordinator.  I even had the chance to mentor a few students myself.  I hope to see everyone again next year.  Stay safe, and let the BELLS ring on!




State Board of Election Promotes Misinformation About the Accessible Online Ballot Tool

by Ronza Othman

[Editor’s Note: The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and the National Federation of the Blind sued the State Board of Elections several years ago to encourage them to provide an accessible online ballot marking tool so blind people could request an absentee ballot and use this ballot to vote privately and secretly.  Although they created the tool and it is very good, the Board continues to discourage its use and promote misinformation.  The latest example was a September 8, press release.  Below is NFBMD’s response.]


September 30, 2020



Maryland Board of Elections

c/o Linda Lamone

151 West Street, Suite 200

Annapolis, MD 21401


Re:      September 8, 2020 Press Release - Ensuring Voting Rights of Blind and Print Disabled Voters


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


I write to you once again as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland on behalf of my organization and its members regarding a press release your public relations firm issued on September 8, 2020.  The content and intent of the press release was completely inappropriate and outright discriminatory.  The press release is a further attempt to continue segregation of voters who are blind and have print disabilities and discourage those populations from exercising their constitutional right to vote.  As a result, we urge SBE to issue a press release correcting the misinformation the September 8 release conveyed that explicitly clarifies that email ballots are safe, inexpensive, and accessible to all.  The correction should attempt to mitigate the chilling effect for voters with disabilities that the previous press release created by making it clear that email ballot delivery is not less desirable than hard-copy ballot delivery.  The press release should also state outright that individuals with disabilities rely on this form of voting to exercise their constitutional right to vote.


The September 8 press release, issued by Kelly Jones, begins with the title, “Get your ballots sent by mail, not email, to save time and money.”  In beginning the press release with the phrase “The Maryland State Board of Elections reminds,” Ms. Jones is speaking for you.  It is also public knowledge that the PR firm where she works represents SBE.  Moreover, she quoted Administrator Lamone, who also, through her words, created a chilling effect on using email-based voting.  The press release failed to reference the use of the email ballot delivery system for individuals with disabilities and failed to offer any alternatives for that class of voter.


The press release states, “When a ballot is sent to a voter by email, the voter must print the ballot, fill out the ballot, find an envelope, and pay for postage. Local election officials are also required to copy any ballot printed on standard paper onto an official ballot to be scanned and counted.”  While this is factually true, including this language in a release with a subject line and intent to discourage this method of voting creates the false impression that it is unsafe or unsecure for SBE workers to copy the emailed ballot onto an official ballot. 


Ms. Lamone also stated that completing a paper ballot is more convenient and saves the voter money.  This is categorically false if the voter has a disability who cannot independently complete the paper ballot.  That individual will need to get someone to assist them to complete the ballot, which takes time and money, as many such voters have to hire someone to assist, whereas completing the emailed ballot costs nothing.  In fact, for a significant segment of the Maryland voter population, it is cheaper and saves time to use the emailed ballot.


I’d also like to remind the Board that SBE established the emailed voting method as a result of litigation the National Federation of the Blind brought against it because the previous vote-by-mail method was paper-based only and thus discriminatory.  Issuing a public statement discouraging the use of a system the State deployed after being found to have discriminated against blind and disabled voters both chills the use of this legally mandated process and further perpetuates the Board’s and SBE’s attitude that the votes of the blind and disabled in Maryland are unimportant.  This is untrue and frankly offensive.


One leader in the disability community, Michael Bullis, Executive Director of the Image Center of Maryland, who is also a member of NFBMD, stated in an email to SBE responding to the September 8 press release, “Essentially, I was given the choice of obtaining a printed ballot by mail and having someone else fill it out for me or, obtaining an online ballot and endangering the health of your employees, or, going to vote at a polling place and endangering my own health.”  This was the impact of your September 8 press release among the disability community in Maryland.


As you well know, the key to our democracy is access to the ballot.  Decisions that foreclose that access have widespread and lasting implications for both the disenfranchised voter and the public at large.  There is a means to have a safe and accessible election for blind and print disabled voters by equally marketing all of the voting methods without prioritizing one over another, and we urge you to do so.




Ronza Othman

[CC’s omitted]

Our History, Our Story

by Marc Maurer

[Editor’s Note: President Emeritus Marc Maurer gave the following remarks at the 53rd Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  Dr. Maurer outlined the history of the Maryland affiliate and provided a description of many of our leaders throughout our first 53 years.]


Thank you very much Madam President.  The organization that first became an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind was organized in 1927, and it joined the Federation in 1945.  It wasn’t especially an active organization.  Its president was named Rosario Epsora, known as Rosy to his friends, and it was essentially a one human being organization with a few members to give it an appearance of legitimacy.  The organization was suspended from membership in the Federation in 1960 and it was reinstated in 1961; but after its reinstatement questions were raised about the policy of the organization because it was known as the Brotherhood for the Blind, and the name meant precisely what it said.  Women were not permitted in the organization, and also, this particular brotherhood was a brotherhood of white people only; black people were not permitted either.


John McCraw started talking about how it is that he’d like to join the organization.  What happened was that our national president at that time, a man by the name of Russell Kletzing, said he couldn’t force the organization to take John, but if John wanted to form his own organization, Russ would see what he could do.  In 1966, the organization was reorganized so that it had a chapter that John McCraw put together and it also had a chapter of people who had come in from the other organization.  It was called the Free State Association and it was our affiliate – the Free State Federation of the Blind. 


Our current organization is from the reorganization of 1966.  Our president at the time it came together in 1966 was a fellow by the name of Albert Balducci.  Now I looked around and didn’t find a lot about Albert except he was in the former organization and he was an employee of the National Brewery.  That of course gives you some legitimate recognition in Maryland because National Bohemian Premium Beer, is now Natty Boh.  He didn’t last long as president. 


In 1968, John McCraw became president.  John was a big guy, but the thing that was most notable about him is that he had the biggest voice I think I’ve ever heard.  When he walked into a room and spoke, everybody listened.  There was no choice about that because he had the hugest, deepest, most rumbling voice.  He wanted to get things together.  During the time of his presidency, and he remained president for 10 years, he also pursued becoming a member of the Board of Directors of the Workshop for the Blind.  During his time on the Board, the name of the organization was changed from the Maryland Workshop for the Blind to Maryland Industries and Services for the Blind, which is now BISM.  He became chairman of the Board, as well as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, which adopted this new name later by the reorganized affiliate in 1970.  John helped Blind Industries know that paying subminimum wages was a very bad idea, and so that plan of payment to the workers stopped under his leadership.  John McCraw died in the presidency in 1978. 


We had had the National Convention in Maryland in 1978, and John was the leader of our welcoming affiliate and he did an extraordinary job to welcome us here.  That was the first year we started talking about building a National Center for the Blind.  We gave tours of the building.  It was a wreck at the time, but he gave tours of it anyway.  It was hot, and it was raining, and I was sitting outside in the rain, which was fine because it cooled me off, and then I would give tours and come back and sit outside until the next group came along.  John was our leader during that time, and he brought the National Federation of the Blind into Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.


Now when he died, a new president came, named Willy Thompson, who was a vender.  Willy kept the organization together.  Willy was a good fellow, but he did not have the stature of John McCraw. 


Jim Omvig came to be president after that.  Jim Omvig was a lawyer.  He had been a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, by that time, well over 10 years.  He became president in 1982 and he continued in office until his health kept him from continuing. 


I became president in 1984.  I served in that office until 1986.


Then Sharon Maneki came along.  There are many things that could be said about Sharon Maneki, but we only have a few minutes.  Let’s say that Sharon got to be known by every member of the legislature in Maryland and she got to be regarded with enough honor and respect that the Maryland General Assembly wanted her to be recognized as one of the principle people to have expertise in the matters dealing with blindness in our state.  Sharon also did a thing: she got to know every single member in the affiliate and she still does it.  Not only that, she knows how to be helpful to every single member of the affiliate.  In support of our current president, she still does.  She served for 20 years.


Then Michael Gosse was elected to the presidency and he served for two years. 


Then came Melissa Riccobono.  Melissa began to travel the state and to know everybody as well and to serve in a capacity that would bring life and spirit to our Federation family.  She served from 2008 until Mark Riccobono became president of the National Federation of the Blind in 2014.  Not that she didn’t make a good president, but it was felt that if she were going to be a state president, it would be a conflict if she served in that office and Mark Riccobono served as the national president.  I understand that nature of conflict, so she did not seek re-election.


In 2014, Sharon came back.  Now Sharon did not really want to come back, and she tried to talk me into doing it.  I thought, “I can’t compete in this arena, you’ve done it before, and you already know everyone in town.  So you better do this.”  She said, “Yeah, but I did that.”  And I said, “Well, do it again.  You’re very good at it.”  And she was re-elected.


We started searching, because one of the reasons I ceased to be national president myself is that life does not go on forever, and Sharon noticed it might not go on forever for her too.  So we were looking for somebody who could carry on and bring the spirit that we need in the Federation, and we found Ronza Othman could serve in that capacity. 


So that’s our current president. 


And so, Ronza, I recommend maintain the policy of permitting people of any color, any race, any sex, and any sexual orientation to be members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. 


You know, one thing before I cease, the reason that we have an organization is that the needs are great.  I’m sure we’ll hear about the Maryland needs this afternoon.  The educational programs always need help.  The rehabilitation programs always need help.  Access to information challenges always are in need of help.  The participation in government and business always is in need of help.  And there isn’t anybody who knows how to do this better than we know.  If we don’t do it, nobody will, and we have to carry this spirit.  We always are in search of a leader who can make sure we know this in our hearts, that we know it in our minds, and that we can carry it into effect in the most imaginative way, and that’s why we’ve got Ronza Othman as president.




List of Presidents of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

[Editor’s Note: The Braille Spectator is an excellent way of documenting our history.  To that end, we will publish key historical information in order to maintain a record of key events in our history.  Below is the list of past and current NFBMD presidents.]


  1. Albert Balducci, 1966 - 1968
  2. John McCraw, 1968 - 1978
  3. Willy Thompson, 1978 - 1982
  4. Jim Omvig, 1982 - 1984
  5. Marc Maurer, 1984 - 1986
  6. Sharon Maneki, 1986 - 2006
  7. Michael Gosse, 2006 - 2008
  8. Melissa Riccobono, 2008 - 2014
  9. Sharon Maneki, 2014 - 2018
  10. Ronza Othman, 2018 – present




Chapter Spotlight: The Greater Cumberland and Eastern Shore Chapters

by Sharon Maneki

[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.  In this edition, we will highlight two chapters – Cumberland and Eastern Shore.]


The Greater Cumberland Chapter and the Eastern Shore Chapter are long-time fixtures in the Maryland affiliate.  The Eastern Shore Chapter was founded in 1968 under the name of the Chester River Federation of the Blind, but in 1970, it became known as the Eastern Shore Chapter.  For a period of time in the 1990s, the Eastern Shore Chapter temporarily disbanded and was restored in 1995 with a new name: the Delmarva Chapter.  This name change was an attempt to attract members from Delaware and the Virginia shore.  In May 2017, the chapter name returned to the Eastern Shore Chapter, which remains its name to this day.  The Greater Cumberland Chapter was established in 1969 under the name Associated Blind of Greater Cumberland Chapter.  Sometime in the 70s, the name was simplified to the Greater Cumberland Chapter.


It is interesting to note the many similarities between these chapters.  Even though these chapters have existed for decades, they have the same need as all NFB chapters for money and members.  Chapter activities today are similar to what they were in the 1960s and 70s.  For instance, here is a partial report about the Cumberland Chapter, taken from the first edition of the Braille Spectator:


“As the sixth month of the Federation’s newest affiliate closes, we would like you to know that we have not been asleep.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we held our first project, which was the sale of candy.  This was so successful that it will become an annual fundraising project for the ABGC.  Following the holidays, we began in earnest to get into the swing of things.  Acting upon a request from Dr. Isabelle Grant in collaboration with Dr. Mae Davidow of the Pennsylvania Federation, we initiated a successful campaign—collecting eye-glasses which will be distributed for purposes of sight conservation in other lands.”


It is no surprise membership and fundraising were concerns of these new chapters.  Here is an excerpt from the first edition of the Braille Spectator from the Chester River Chapter:


“The main project of our chapter is the enlargement of membership.  Having determined that the Kent and Queen Anne’s County area does not have a large enough blind population to support a viable chapter, we have begun to contact people in other parts of the Eastern Shore.  The plan is to make the Chester River Chapter of the Free State Affiliate the nucleus of a greater chapter which will cover the whole Eastern Shore.  Financial assistance for this project has come from a grant from the NFB, through the Free State Affiliate to our Eastern Shore Chapter development.  We have also received moral support from Free State officers who have come to work with us on three different occasions.  But, we will need more funds for the intensive work which this job will take, and as this goes to press, final preparations are being made for a concert by the Sho’men, a group of Washington College students, a concert that will benefit the Chester River Chapter.”


By 1971, the Maryland affiliate followed the national trend and changed its name from the Free State Affiliate to the NFB of Maryland, and “NFB of Maryland” was added to the end of all chapter names.


Over the years, many members from both chapters have been employees at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, since BISM has plants in both Cumberland and Salisbury.  As you might expect, many of the chapter presidents were also BISM employees.  Some of the presidents from the Greater Cumberland Chapter were the late Albert Gregory, Jearl Konrad, and Ron Burns.   Jason Adkins, who still works at BISM also served as president inh the 2008 time period.  The longest serving president of the Greater Cumberland Chapter is Jean Faulkner, who retired from BISM after working there for 43 years.


One of the proudest achievements of the Greater Cumberland Chapter was convincing Allegheny County Government to host a Randolph-Sheppard business enterprise location in their courthouse.  Jearl Konrad operated this location for many years.  Later, the late Don Glover took over and operated this location along with other vending facilities.  Unfortunately, this facility is closed, but the chapter hopes to get other opportunities for the business enterprise program in Cumberland in the near future.


Two founding members of the Greater Cumberland Chapter worthy of note are the late Georgia and Floyd Myers.  They became involved in the chapter because their daughter was blind but performed many tasks from driving to serving as treasurer of the chapter.  Under Georgia’s guidance, the chapter sold United States flag pins for many, many years.  Georgia also strived to make sure the blind of western Maryland were not forgotten by service providers.  She was a member of the BISM Board of Trustees for many years.  In 1987, Georgia was the first person to receive the NFB of Maryland Kenneth Jernigan Award for her contributions to the blind of Maryland.  The Kenneth Jernigan Award is the highest honor awarded to a member of the NFB of Maryland.  Dr. Jernigan was president of the National Federation of the Blind who is credited with building the organization into a national movement.  He also developed many of the training techniques used in NFB training centers today.


Jean Faulkner received the Kenneth Jernigan Award in 2019 for her persistence and perseverance in holding the chapter together and for spreading our positive philosophy on blindness.  There are many challenges when trying to keep chapters strong in a rural area, but Jean is always looking for new opportunities to fundraise and gain members.


In 2005, the Gormley family moved to Frostburg and became active in the chapter.  Patrick Gormley is a renowned trumpet player who plays with the Alleghany County Symphony and many other orchestras.  He has served as secretary and vice president of the chapter.  His late wife, Tina, who died in 2015, was an avid fundraiser, cook, and singer.  She also made invaluable contributions to the chapter.  Their daughter Andrea also participated in state conventions and chapter activities.


If you go to Cumberland, make sure to stop by and meet two of the newest members of the chapter, Chris Myers and Carol Davis.  Chris is a radio board engineer at WCBC in Cumberland.  When he’s not at the radio station, you will find him at their store, The Craft Table.  You can purchase or order handmade wreaths and seasonal décor for the home or office.  Carol makes the crafts, while Chris keeps books.  The address is 11 South Liberty Street, Cumberland, MD 21502.  The phone number is 240-642-8828.  The email address for The Craft Table is


As in Cumberland, many of the presidents of the Eastern Shore Chapter were BISM employees.  These individuals include the late Deeke Spence, Knowles Hovington, and the enthusiastic, energetic Ray Jackson, who served as president and as a member of the NFBMD Board of Directors from 2005 until his death in 2013.  In the 1980s, president Benny Bagwell was an enterprising leader who helped the chapter by selling employees anything they wanted for lunch, a coffee break, or just to make the work day faster.  The chapter continued its enterprising spirit in the 1990s and early 2000s.  During this time period, we held our annual convention in Ocean City.  The chapter was a great host for our morning hospitality and helped everybody survive by selling delicious snack packs.


From 2013 to the present, women have come to the forefront in leadership of the chapter.  Danielle Earl, manager of Senior Programs at BISM, took over immediately after Ray’s death.  She was followed by Patricia Behr, and the current president, Heather Guy, who began her first term in 2019.  Heather also is a rehabilitation specialist in the senior BISM training center.  Each of these ladies did a great job in moving the chapter forward.  Patricia Behr is a member of the BISM Senior Support Group and a community activist.  After serving as president, Patricia moved into the position of chapter secretary, which demonstrates her dedication to the chapter and willingness to serve.


During Danielle’s tenure as president, the NFB BELL Academy came to Salisbury.  With the help of BISM, students in Salisbury have experienced the fun and growth of BELL for four years.  Many thanks to the many chapter volunteers, especially Tim Meagher, the chapter treasurer, who serve as role models for the blind students and help with activities.  Special thanks to Danielle Earl and Heather Guy, who teach independent living skills, and Amy Crouse, who helps with writing Braille.  Mindy Demaris is a teacher of blind students in Wicomico County Public Schools.  She is a vital part of the program because she helps recruit students and organizes reading activities and more.  The BELL Academy in Salisbury is a big hit with all participants, especially the parents and students.  Everyone is looking forward to BELL in Salisbury in 2021.


Under Heather’s leadership, the chapter held a special fundraiser and was able to assist two of our BELL students to repair their assistive technology.  Making sure the chapter members know about community resources, such as food banks, is another priority for Heather.


Congratulations to both the Cumberland and Eastern Shore Chapters for their longevity in the Maryland Affiliate!  These chapters are fine examples of persistence and creativity.  With love, hope, and determination, they encourage blind people to turn their dreams into reality.




Fighting for Equal Access to Education for Blind Students

by Garret Mooney

[Editor’s Note: One major area impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency is education.  Blind and low-vision students are experiencing challenges obtaining access to curricula, textbooks and learning materials, Braille, and Orientation and Mobility (O&M) for example.  NFBMD and the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children (MDPOBC) are working hard to ensure every blind student in Maryland receives a free appropriate public education that meets their needs.  MDPOBC President Garret Mooney spearheaded an initiative this summer to engage all 24 Maryland school districts on how they are ensuring equal access to education for blind and low vision students.  Below is the letter MDPOBC and NFBMD sent to the Maryland State Department of Education and all 24 school districts, which began the conversation.]


August 3, 2020


Dear educators,


We are writing on behalf of the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, especially the members of our Parents of Blind Children Division.  We have concerns about the access to the curriculum that blind and low-vision students will have in the 2020-21 school year.  We feel compelled to remind you of your obligations and to outline steps that should be taken by every school district.


In March of this year, districts throughout the state of Maryland closed schools to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Districts transitioned K through 12 education from in person to completely online.  Due to the quick and unexpected nature of this shift, many students state-wide suffered from accessibility barriers to their education—for example, many students did not have a home computer, stable internet, or an able parent who could help them complete assignments. Blind and low-vision students were not immune from these problems.


Blind students not only faced the same problems as their sighted peers, but also were not provided the services guaranteed under their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).  Blind and low-vision students were frequently not given their instructional materials in an accessible format.  The online learning platforms deployed were inaccessible and prevented students from fully participating in classroom instruction.  Essential services, such as instruction in Braille and the availability of Braille materials, were halted or drastically reduced to the point of being ineffective.  Most students received limited mobility instruction, if they received it at all.


We understood that school districts were not prepared for the changes that occurred in the spring of 2020.  However, the school districts have had time and should be ready in the fall of 2020 to meet the individualized needs of blind and low-vision students.  COVID-19 is not an excuse for any district to fail to provide services to blind or low-vision students.  Federal and state laws make this perfectly clear, and anything less than equal access to the curriculum is unacceptable.


As you know, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) assists states with funding special education programs so long as they meet certain requirements.  In summary, states must provide a free and appropriate education to disabled students that meets their unique needs and prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.


How is your district implementing the provisions of IDEA in light of COVID-19 limitations?


Maryland law clearly recognizes the unique needs of blind and low-vision students.  For example, the Education Article, Title 8, Subtitle 4, Section 8-408 of the Annotated Code of Maryland mandates, “…in developing the individualized education program for a child who is blind or visually impaired, provisions shall be made for instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media, including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in braille or the use of braille, that such instruction or use is not appropriate for the child.”  Students must receive sufficient instruction in Braille to meet the standards laid out in the Maryland Common Core State Curriculum Frameworks for Braille in English, language arts, and mathematics.


Just as there is a presumption that blind and low-vision students need Braille, there also is a presumption in the state’s statute that they need orientation and mobility services.  The IEP team may determine that it is not appropriate for a particular student to receive orientation and mobility, but this determination must be supported by specific evaluation results.  “A child may not be denied orientation and mobility instruction solely because the child has some remaining vision.”  If the IEP mandates mobility services for a student, these services must be provided for the entire school year.


How is your school district providing the unique services blind and low-vision students need?


School systems must “develop policies and procedures for the purchase and acquisition of accessible textbooks and supplemental curricular resources, in print and digital format, that support teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.”  The law is very specific, requiring blind students receive accessible instructional materials at the same time as their sighted peers.  Every local school system in Maryland is required to purchase only accessible instructional materials.  Therefore, the district is obligated not to purchase materials that cannot be made accessible.


How will you ensure all online platforms and instructional materials used in your local school system are accessible as required in COMAR 13A.06.05 School Supplies and Equipment, Purchase and Use of Accessible Teaching and Learning Materials?  Please provide us with a list of technology being used to provide instruction to all students in your local system and any lists of such technology or material that has been approved for its accessibility. 


Additionally, the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland would like to know the specific steps you are taking to ensure:


  • Blind and low-vision students receive required evaluations for special education services mandated under IDEA
  • Your school system’s procedures to review students’ IEPs annually and to expediently respond and process parent complaints, as well as resolve any disagreements with the parent as prescribed by IDEA
  • Your school system’s procedures to deliver all instruction and services mandated in the IEP
  • Your school system obtains accessible technology-based instructional products, hardware and software, to provide accessible instructional materials in a timely manner for all blind and low-vision students
  • Your school system’s procedures to provide services and instruction for English as a second language students.


All blind and low-vision students are entitled to the same education as their sighted peers.  Despite COVID-19, state and federal laws, and regulations have not become unenforceable and school systems still are bound to uphold them.


While we appreciate the difficulties that you face during these unprecedented times, blind and low-vision students must have a quality education.


We are offering to partner with you by serving on any committee or focus group responsible for evaluating, advising, and deciding instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Please understand, we will take any steps necessary to ensure equal access to the curriculum for blind and low-vision students. We look forward to working with you and your prompt response to our concerns.



Ronza Othman, President

National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

Phone: (443) 426-4110   


Garret Mooney, President

Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Phone: (480) 433-8003



The Convention Will Go On

by Judy Rasmussen

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


In March, the coronavirus began hitting the United States with a vengeance.  Some thought it would last a short time, others thought it would go on for months.  As more and more events were cancelled, we began to wonder about the NFB national convention, which was scheduled to take place from July 14-18 in Houston.  The thought of cancelling it would have been one more blow to the already long list of Federation activities which had been postponed or canceled altogether.  Then we got the word!  Like everything else we had been hearing about, the NFB convention was going “virtual.”  What would that look like?


On one hand, we were relieved there would be a convention.  On the other hand, would it be the same?  Would there be the same energy and enthusiasm as at past conventions?  One of the big advantages of in-person conventions is the mentoring that takes place in the hallways, at lunch, sitting next to somebody in general session, or getting lost trying to find a meeting.  Would we really enjoy the convention from home?  How could we help attendees who did not have access to a computer or a smartphone enjoy the convention?


Then the agenda was released.  Our favorite activities were still there with Zoom links listed to access them.  Even though we still had concerns, things were looking better.


Many of us attended the rookie roundup a week prior to convention.  We were still going to have door prizes, an exhibit hall, and almost everything (even virtual tours), that was a part of every other convention.


When we learned that registration was free, we realized that a golden opportunity was available to spread the word about our organization to people who would not have been able to attend the convention because of health, cost, or a number of other reasons.  We set to work, and spread the word we did!


Every year the NFB holds a contest to see which state registers the most participants.  The prize is the winning state takes home the attendance banner.  Ronza Othman and Norma Crosby, presidents of the NFB of Maryland and of Texas respectively, made a wager that their state would win.  We are proud to report Maryland took home the attendance banner with 593 participants registered, which is more than have ever attended previous conventions.  A total of 186 first-timers registered, which also is a record.  More than 8,000 people registered from the US and other countries.  This demonstrates the commitment of our members to spread the word, and the reputation of the NFB to hold conventions that have excellent and meaningful content, and faith we could host such an event with little notice and no previous experience in doing so.


Advantages of a virtual convention: participants could move easily in and out of meetings and attend more than one at the same time.  All 250 meetings were streamed and recorded.  Nobody got lost.  There were no crowded elevators or long food lines.  All state caucuses were held simultaneously.  Because it was essential everybody be able to participate, even if they had no computer or smartphone, the NFB was able to arrange for streaming of the convention on NFB Newsline, a service which provides more than 500 publications free to blind people in the United States.


Since we used the Zoom platform for all sessions and meetings, participants could access any event they wanted to attend using their landline phone if that is all they had.  The Maryland affiliate did many things to help people adjust to this very different kind of convention.  A first timer’s call several days prior to the convention provided telephone numbers for people to call if they were having trouble with technology, needed information about a particular seminar or meeting, or were just feeling overwhelmed with the whole concept.  The energy was beginning to build!


We are very grateful to Chris Nusbaum, Brian Keseling and Derrick Day for helping Marylanders and others with technology questions throughout the convention.  It is often very gratifying to know the person helping you is blind like you, they have worked through the difficulties, figured them out, and are willing to share their talents with others.  After all, with nearly 600 Marylanders registered, there were bound to be some glitches.


Sondra Burchette and Dezman Jackson worked tirelessly to patch people into the convention through the phone number the Maryland Library for the Blind and Print Disabled graciously provided to us.


Debbie Brown and Lloyd Rasmussen from the Sligo Creek Chapter held a “breakfast call” every day prior to the start of the sessions, to read Zoom numbers for all meetings occurring that day.   At least 25 attendees came to these meetings.  It was gratifying to see people taking notes on their slates and note takers to make sure they didn’t miss anything.  Many of us observed people who did not have technology skills attending meetings on a regular basis, so the “breakfast calls” were definitely worthwhile.


Many Marylanders added an extra special touch to the convention.  A half hour prior to each general session, Anil Lewis, Melissa Riccobono, and Chris Danielsen held a running commentary discussing highlights of the previous days’ sessions, as well as a preview of what was coming next.  In the background you could hear a faint “general session this way.”  Human talking signs are a part of every convention, and just hearing those words made the convention seem more normal for those of us who have attended previously.


A perplexing aspect of holding a virtual convention: how would we vote for board members, on resolutions, and any other matters that came before the convention?  Voice votes would be impossible using Zoom.  Once again, the NFB found a solution that for the most part worked.   We were given specific instructions as to how to register to vote, given an opportunity to practice, and had many opportunities to use our phones to cast our votes.  Until we crashed the system with too many votes being cast at once.  It was a great way to include everybody in the process.


Resolutions are an essential part of every convention.  The resolutions that are passed set the policy for the organization and the priorities the NFB will work on in the coming year.  Sharon Maneki ably steered 29 resolutions through the Resolutions Committee.  Equal education for blind students, accessible voting, and more money for programs for the older blind were only a few of the issues covered.


Derrick Day, a teenager from Carroll County, presented a resolution before the committee and the hundreds of people listening.  Derrick wants to participate competitively in robotics competitions using Lego Mindstorms.  The accessible workaround for programming these robots puts blind competitors at a disadvantage because it takes much longer for their software to load.


Many Marylanders did little things for people to make this convention special.  What began with some trepidation and disappointment ended with pride and a feeling of unity and strength.  We pulled it off and proved to ourselves, agencies for the blind, family members and friends that we have the will and the tools to move forward despite significant setbacks and challenges.  We hope the 2021 New Orleans convention will be held in person, and the opening session will be filled with that boisterous and enthusiastic roar.  See you in New Orleans!




Remembering Charlie Cook

by Frederick N. Rasmussen

Baltimore Sun, July 14, 2020

[Editor’s Note: Charlie Cook was a longtime member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and the NFBMD.  He always supported our efforts with enthusiasm.  Charlie lost his battle with cancer on July 2.  Below is an interesting obituary about Charlie’s life and about his contributions as a staff member of the National Federation of the Blind for 20 years.  The below article by Frederick N. Rasmussen appeared in the Baltimore Sun on July 14.]


Charles R. Cook, a National Federation of the Blind computer programmer who designed technological solutions for Braille translation, died of cancer July 2 at Stella Maris Hospice.  The South Baltimore resident was 73.


“Charlie was a great person, who number one, was a man who lived life to the fullest and found everything to be an adventure that had to be lived daily,” said Mark A. Riccobono, who since 2014 has been president of the National Federation of the Blind.


“He was a very friendly and warm person, and when he talked to you, you knew you had his full attention,” Mr. Riccobono said.  “He was a smart guy who could look at any situation, give you an opinion on it, and always asked the right critical questions.”


Charles Roundley Cook, son of Albert Cook, and his wife, Elizabeth Cook, who owned an employment agency, was born and raised in Lake Forest, Illinois.


He was a graduate of Lake Forest Academy and was 19 years old when he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1966 from Mount Shimer College in Mount Carroll, Illinois.  He did graduate studies at the University of Chicago.


Mr. Cook left Chicago in 1969 and moved to Wyoming, and then to Boise, Idaho, with his wife, the former Judy Tucker, whom he married that year.  In the early 1970s, he taught himself computing and worked for a marketing firm, and then moved to Santa Monica, California, when he took a job with Universal Studios.


He returned to Boise and then went to work for a bank writing computer programs.  After leaving the bank, he established Inline Computing, a computer consulting firm, and Carlson and Cook.


In 1979, Mr. Cook came to Baltimore after being hired by the National Federation of the Blind to work at its headquarters in the city’s Riverside neighborhood.  He was given the task of writing one of the first computer programs to translate digital text into Braille.


“This was an urgent need at the time because the NFB had received a grant to provide job information to blind and deafblind people,” according to an NFB profile of Mr. Cook.  “A recorded bulletin over the telephone would work for the blind but not the deafblind, so Charlie created the means for the information to be produced in Braille.  His program NFBTrans, was later made available for free to anyone who needed it.”


Wrote Christopher S. Danielsen, NFB’s director of public relations: “Using it helped me through law school and I know that’s only one countless example of its use.”


Mr. Cook “went on to create other early programs designed to work with the text-to-speech technology, which was only just starting to emerge, so that blind staff at our office could work with the computer system,” Mr. Danielsen wrote.  “It’s important to note that there was not commercially available computer technology for the blind at that time.  He also mentored other blind programmers and through all of that work established himself as an early pioneer of digital accessibility.”


Gary Wunder, who is blind, and worked for 31 years as a computer programmer at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, Missouri, before retiring in 2014, vastly benefited from Mr. Cook’s work.


“What was so cool about Charlie was that he gave the blind the same kind of computer access that sighted people had,” said Mr. Wunder, who is the editor of The Braille Monitor, the NFB’s magazine, and lives in Columbia, Missouri.


“He developed the technology and made it work and he’d tell software manufacturers this is what you need to make,” he said.  “I’m blind and I have the same efficient and full computer access as a sighted person.  It’s not just only about how you feel about yourself, but it enables you to get and do a job and earn the same pay as a sighted person, and not have to tell an employer, ‘Well, I can do a little bit of this job,‘ no, you can do the whole job.”


Mr. Cook had not retired at his death.


“Charlie put his heart and soul into working it out,” Mr. Riccobono said.  “He also had many interests that he liked sharing with others whether it was his knowledge, technology knowledge or even a book.  He loved sharing with others.”


Said Mr. Wunder: “He was not just another chip head.  That’s what he did for a living.  He had many interests.  Charlie was a Renaissance man.”


In addition to his professional life, Mr. Cook was a musician, gourmet cook, oenophile and neighborhood activist.


During the 1980s, Mr. Cook organized a people-oriented band to protest job cuts and rate hikes and celebrate Baltimore at the City Fair.


An accomplished folk musician, he was a founding member of the Idaho Folklore Society when he lived in Boise.  A self-taught musician, he mastered the hammered dulcimer, concertina, harmonica, pennywhistle, banjo and bagpipes.


“He played the hammered dulcimer at brunch at the Admiral Fell Inn and the banjo at Bertha’s and the Cat’s Eye Pub in Fells Point,” his daughter, Karyn Chisholm of Canton, said.  “He was a very smart and intelligent man.”


For years, he was a well-known street busker in Fells Point who dressed in a striped vest and railroad engineer’s hat, and could often be found in front of the China Sea Marine Trading Co. on the Ann Street wharf, playing his concertina and banjo while talking to owners Steve Bunker and Sharon Bondroff, and their parrots.


“He was a frenzied collector — when something struck his imagination he would read and research tirelessly, and scrounge paycheck-to- paycheck to acquire just the right piece,” his son-in-law, Steve Chisholm, wrote in a sketch of Mr. Cook.


“After a gift of a Yoshitoshi print from a former wife Bess, he became a minor authority on the 100 Aspects of the Moon print series, eventually acquiring as many as 30 fine examples of the pressings,” he wrote.  “He went on a similar journey in collecting African masks, and could wax eloquently on the specific tribal traditions and ceremonial uses of any of the dozens of venerable carvings he acquired and displayed.”


In his kitchen, Mr. Cook made meals using wild game and prepared sweetbreads.  “He’d spend bustling hours in the kitchen preparing sauces and morsels; the only help he would accept: frequent refills of his glass from a fine wine in his collection,” Mr. Chisholm wrote.


“He was not a great traveler.  Instead, he could find depth and breadth of experience in place — on the streets of Baltimore, in the world of books or in the ones and zeroes of technology,” he wrote.


Due to COVID-19 pandemic, plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.


In addition to his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. Cook is survived by two brothers, Stephen Cook of Silver Spring and Frederick Cook of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia; a sister, Carolyn Cook of Glendale, California; and six grandchildren.  Marriages to the former Judy Tucker, Lorinda Riddle and Elizabeth Garrett ended in divorce, and at the time of his death, he was separated from the former Shirley Johnson.




Reflections on MTA Budget Cut Process

by Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s Note: The Maryland Transit Administration announced in late summer it would implement major cuts to MTA services effective early 2021.  These cuts included the elimination of many fixed bus routes, decreased frequency on dozens of other routes, and service reduction on Marc Train.  The purpose of the budget cuts was to address the MTA’s budget shortfall in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  NFBMD and numerous other disability organizations determined that the service cuts and reductions disproportionately and adversely impacted blind and disabled riders.  Though in early October MTA halted plans to implement their proposed cuts, we are concerned that at some future date MTA will implement changes that follow the same principles of exclusion and disparate impact.  Below is a letter NFBMD Board Member and Director of Legislation and Advocacy Sharon Maneki wrote to the MTA.]


To:                  Secretary Gregory Slater, Dept. of Transportation



From:             Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland


Contact:         Sharon Maneki, Director of Legislation and Advocacy

National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

9013 Nelson Way

Columbia, MD 21045

Phone: 410-715-9596



Date:               October 5, 2020


The members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland appreciate the abandonment of the proposed Maryland Department of Transportation/ Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT/MTA) $150 million cuts that were to go into effect in January 2021.  The process used to make the proposed decisions was deeply flawed.  I am writing to you to share our concerns about the process that MTA and MDOT use when determining budget cuts.  We recognize that more budget cuts will be coming and feel it is necessary for your department to reflect on how this process takes place.  The budget process should reflect the values of society.  Below are some principles and priorities that should be considered if budget priorities are to be guide posts for the values of society.


The Guiding Principles when Determining Budgets

The process of developing a budget must be transparent, equitable, and contain input from stakeholders.  From our vantage point, the process used in developing the January 2021 proposal violated these principles.  The data analysis needs to be transparent.  What data was used to drive the decisions made in the 2021 plan?  If only data during COVID was used, the ridership statistics are not very valid because the government encouraged people not to use public transportation and urged people to stay home.  It should be obvious to the reader what data was used in the analysis.  In the case of the 2021 plan, data should have been collected from before, not just during COVID.


The proposal also lacked transparency because information given to the public was not entirely accurate.  According to Section 2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act entitled Public Entities, “each public entity operating a fixed route system shall provide paratransit or other special service to individuals with disabilities that is comparable to the level of service provided to individuals without disabilities who use the fixed route system.”  People were told that the 2021 plan would have no effect on the availability of paratransit services because the effect would be under evaluation for one year.  This was not a true statement. If a bus route was being eliminated, mobility service to that area would also be eliminated because of the three quarter mile rule.  This rule can be found in CFR 37.131.  It states that if there is no public transportation in the area, the public entity does not have to provide paratransit services.


Equity is an essential principle that was definitely omitted in the development in the 2021 plan.  The plan had an adverse effect on the nondriving public especially people with disabilities.  There is no evidence that the effect on the lives of individuals was ever taken into consideration.  The plan would force disabled individuals to become prisoners in their own home due to the lack of access to transportation.  Under the principle of equity, everyone should feel the pain not just people on limited income who cannot drive.


While we understand why the scheduled October hearings were canceled, MDOT/MTA must regularly seek input from stakeholders such as riders of fixed route transportation and people who use paratransit.  This input should be sought throughout the entire process not after the plan has been developed.  If there had been more consumer input from the beginning, the plan would have achieved its goal to save money without doing so much harm to the people who need transportation.


Priorities to be Considered in the Budget Cutting Process

The 2021 proposal was discriminatory, immoral, and unfair.  To avoid such future problems, the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland suggest the following priorities:


Access to government should never be denied.  The 2021 proposal called for the elimination of Route 215, Downtown Baltimore to Annapolis.  This is an example of blatant discrimination.  Elimination of this bus route would mean that the only people who could provide input to the General Assembly and to the Governor would be those who can drive.  Think about the message that this plan sent to people with disabilities and others who cannot drive.  The plan was implying that our input does not matter.  The only people who count are the driving public.


Access to medical care should never be denied.  In the 2021 plan, access to twelve vital dialysis centers would have been denied because of the proposed elimination of service.  There were also several examples of reduction or elimination of transportation that would have prevented access to Johns Hopkins Hospital.  It is immoral and unfair to deprive the nondriving public of access to the premier research hospital in the state.  Yet again, another example of discrimination.


People with disabilities must have access to training and this access should not be denied by lack of transportation.  If the state is going to pay for such invaluable services such as those provided by the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, the Maryland School for the Blind, the Workforce and Technology Center of the Division of Rehabilitation Services, the League for People with Disabilities, etc., reducing the services due to lack of transportation is not only fiscally irresponsible but is also detrimental to the quality of life for individuals who use these programs.


There is a 70% rate of unemployment and underemployment among people with disabilities of working age.  Therefore, access to employment opportunities should never be denied.  For example, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) is the largest employer of blind people in the state.  Reduction and elimination of transportation service to BISM should be avoided.  Reduction of service should also be carefully evaluated because if an individual cannot get to a job on time, there will be no job.


When determining budget cuts, access to quality of life issues must also be evaluated.  Are budget cuts reducing access to grocery stores, access to education, or access to community activities?  It is unfair and immoral to imprison disabled people in their homes just because they lack the ability to drive.



The executive departments of the state have difficult decisions to make when they are forced to rearrange priorities and cut service.  However, these difficult decisions can be tolerated if the process used to reach these decisions is transparent and equitable.  Consumer input from the beginning of the process will also lead to better decisions.  The five priorities outlined above of type of access that should never be denied will eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability.  These priorities will also reduce discrimination against seniors and others with limited incomes.  If Maryland is to be an equal, open society to all of its citizens, these priorities must be followed when determining government budgets and policies.




Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Judy Rasmussen

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 Judy Rasmussen, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.]


Also known as Fearless Crab, Judy Rasmussen, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1975.  Judy first joined the Federation in Washington, DC.  She was invited to a meeting where Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was reorganizing the DC Affiliate.  Judy went very reluctantly to this meeting.  She just knew the NFB was full of mean people who didn’t believe in folding canes or braille markings on money.  At the meeting, while listening to Dr. Jernigan question the director of a local agency working with blind people, Judy was struck by two things.  First, the agency director was not really answering any of Dr. Jernigan’s questions.  Judy felt, as the director of an agency, he should be able and willing to answer the types of questions Dr. Jernigan was asking.  Second, Dr. Jernigan was not being mean.  He was asking reasonable questions. So, Judy became a Federationist.


Before joining the Federation, Judy worked for six months at a workshop making subminimum wages.  She was a college graduate who wanted to be a teacher, but she was discouraged by many people from fulfilling this dream.  She had no confidence in herself, and really did not know how to transition from college into the workplace.  This may be why Judy works so hard as a rehabilitation counselor today.  She wants to make sure her consumers have all of the opportunities they need in order to follow the dreams they have.


Judy was the treasurer of the NFBMD for 20 years before her time as affiliate secretary.  She is a devoted member of the Sligo Creek Chapter.  At present she holds no leadership position in the chapter, but this suits her just fine.  Judy says she loves to give younger people a chance to serve on the chapter board.  She always will help where needed.  She doesn’t need a board position in order to do that.


And help Judy does!  Whether it’s working with students at the Glendale BELL Academy, auctioning off items at the Bid for Opportunity event, or helping first time convention goers feel welcome, Judy is there.


In her spare time, Judy is most active in her church.  She truly misses teaching Sunday School, which she has done since 1996.  She also misses ringing handbells in the bell choir.  Judy is a full Deacon at her church and is very proud of her church involvement.  Judy and her husband, Lloyd, have led devotions at state and national conventions for many years.  (Incidentally, Judy and Lloyd met while they were both involved in the DC Affiliate.)


Judy is an extremely friendly person.  She enjoys talking to others, learning about them, and truly getting to know them.  The NFBMD is very lucky she decided to join the National Federation of the Blind 45 years ago!




Spectator Specs

Great Publicity

On September 8, NBC News4 Washington Investigation Team featured an item called “For Blind and Deaf Students, Virtual Learning Brings Extra Challenges.”  Featured in this investigative piece were our own Naudia and Teresa Graham, and Melissa Riccobono.  Congratulations on a great interview!  To listen to the video presentation, visit



Charlie Cook, a long-time member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and a member of the NFB staff, died on July 2, after a long battle with cancer.  Please see an article about called Charlie earlier in this edition entitled “Remembering Charlie Cook.”

Ruth Frech, the mother of Karen Herstein, died on Friday, July 31.  Ruth was a member of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children (MDPOBC) Division and began attending national and state conventions in 1997.  She lived a long and fruitful life, making it to age 93.  Although there is no memorial service, the family requests those who wish to honor Ruth’s memory make a contribution to the NFBMD.

Susan Baker died after a very long battle with lung disease.  For the past several decades, Susan came to our state conventions to recognize students who overcame challenges and achieved progress in the skills of blindness.  The presentation of the Jennifer Baker Award was always a highlight.  Like the students we recognized, Jennifer Baker, Susan’s daughter, achieved many things the “experts said she could never do.”  Jennifer not only learned to read and write Braille, but was an avid reader who thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities that books offered to her.  We will continue to offer the Jennifer Baker award at our convention but we will miss Susan’s presence. 

May they rest in peace.


Wedding Bells

On September 25, long-time Federationist and member of the Greater-Baltimore Chapter Sheria Young and Earl Smith were married.  Sheria met Earl when he was a student in the BISM Core Rehabilitation Program and they claim it was love at first sight!  They were married in the Zion Baptist Church.  Earl is in the Business Enterprise Program.  He manages the House of Five Hats, which is a cafeteria on Ft. Meade.  Congratulations to the newlyweds!


Significant Anniversary

Congratulations to long-time Federationists and members of the Greater Baltimore chapter Mary and Orlo Nichols.  They celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary on Wednesday, September 16.  May they have many more years of happiness together.


Significant Birthday

Ruth Stewart celebrated her 80th birthday on September 19.  Ruth is a long-time member of the Greater Baltimore chapter.  Congratulations and best wishes to this Octogenarian!


New Jobs

Congratulations to Michelle Lindsey from the Sligo Creek Chapter who recently started her job as a certified nursing assistant with Griswold Home Care!


Congratulations to long-time Federationist Jason Polansky.  Jason started his new job with Accessible Pharmacy LLC.  Jason is the director of business development for the Central Pennsylvania Region. 




Peale Museum Promotes Accessibility and Universal Design:

Congratulations to Cheryl Fogle-Hatch who consulted with students from the University of Maryland during the 2019-2020 semesters to create a virtual exhibit promoting universal design and accessibility!  The exhibit promotes participation in all aspects of community life for people with disabilities.  To check out the exhibit, visit  Federationists, such as Marguerite Woods, contributed to the exhibit! 


Congratulations to Melba Taylor, who was honored by the Prince George’s Commission for Disabled Individuals.  She was recognized for her entrepreneurial success and contribution to the community during their ADA 30th Anniversary Virtual Celebration held on July 25.  For the past 17 years, Melba operated military dining facilities at the Fort Meade Army Base.  She managed various operations during her 22 years under the Randolph Sheppard Program.  Melba is president of the Maryland Association of Blind Merchants and a member of the NFBMD Board of Directors.  She was one of four Prince George’s County residents honored during the celebration.



New Book Published

Fred Kamara from the Sligo Creek Chapter recently published a new book entitled Light in the Darkness about his experience with blindness growing up in Sierra Leone, where the culture believed blindness was a curse and a blind person was half-dead.  To purchase the book or learn more about it, visit


Marguerite Woods is featured in a documentary entitled “I am More Than My Hair.”  From the time we are young, girls are pressured into a set belief of beauty standards.  Hair is certainly high on the list and is often labeled as our “crown and glory.”  Where does this notion fit for females with alopecia (the partial or complete absence of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows)?  “I Am More Than My Hair,” is a companion piece to the newly released book, of the same title.  The documentary-style film features interviews with females who’ve experienced hair loss, due to health-related conditions and their journeys of self-empowerment to see beauty beyond the media’s standards.


In September, this documentary was presented at the DC Black Film Festival.  The documentary was produced by Alyscia Cunningham.  Congratulations, Marguerite!