Braille Spectator Spring 2021


Braille Spectator, Spring 2021



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:


  • Rise Up!
  • Interacting with the Maryland General Assembly During the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Student Spotlight: Mirranda Williams
  • Jean Faulkner: A Person Who Lived Life to the Fullest
  • Tribute to a Colleague and Friend: Naomi Jean Faulkner, 1942 – 2020
  • Protecting the Rights of Blind and Disabled Voters: An Example of Failed Leadership in the Maryland General Assembly
  • Student Spotlight: Lizzy Muhammad Park
  • Chapter Spotlight: Central Maryland
  • Students Speak: Building and Using Your Blindness Network
  • The Blind Speak Out for Accessible K-12 Education
  • 2020 Convention Awards
  • Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Jen White
  • Western Maryland: The Greater Cumberland Chapter Reimagined
  • Spectator Specs



Rise Up!

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 7, 2020.]


Recently, I had the opportunity to tackle an item from my bucket list.  I’ve always wanted to go parasailing, but I could never quite do so.  For those of you who might be curious, parasailing involves being harnessed to a large sail that resembles a parachute and being towed behind a fast-moving boat.  The speed of the boat creates an air current that pushes the parasailer up several-hundred feet into the air. 


I’ve experienced several obstacles to being able to parasail.  Sometimes the weather didn’t cooperate and the wind was too strong to safely go up.  Sometimes the water was too choppy or the current too strong to permit safe parasailing.  Sometimes my travelling companions decided they wanted to do something else instead at the last minute.  One time there was a traffic jam and we missed our appointment.  Another time the wife of the boat’s captain went into labor.


Finally, a few weeks ago, the weather decided to cooperate; the current was perfect; my fellow travelers agreed to the experience, come hell or high water; we stayed within walking distance from the marina where our boat would set sail; and to my knowledge my captain’s wife was not in labor.  There was only one problem—I was recovering from the coronavirus and had virtually no energy to sit upright, let alone walk to the marina, board the boat, fasten myself into the harness, and swing myself back onto the deck of the boat when the sail ended. 


But I was committed!  I was going to literally rise up regardless of what it took.  I dug deep and found the energy to walk to the marina; to board the ship; to find my balance as I stood on deck; to fasten my harness and emergency parachute; to step over rigging and lines, around the sale bar; and sit down onto the deck of the boat at the very edge.  Then, I rose.  And it was incredible! 


I spent about 10 minutes atop the world.  I felt the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, and the energy and joy pumping through my blood.  Then, the captain dipped me into the ocean and I got sea water in my nose.  But I rose up again and swung myself onto the deck – and for those of you who have been parasailing, I stuck the landing like an Olympic gymnast. 


Why am I telling you all about parasailing?  Because my experience is a great metaphor for what we in the NFBMD experienced this past year.  Despite unprecedented challenges, we were determined to rise up, and we did!  We don’t know how to do anything different as Federationists after all.


Andra Day’s song “Rise Up” includes the following lines:

I’ll rise up

I’ll rise like the day

I’ll rise up

I’ll rise unafraid

I’ll rise up

And I’ll do it a thousand times again

And I’ll rise up

High like the waves

I’ll rise up

In spite of the ache

I’ll rise up

And do it a thousand times again.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


This past year was perhaps one of the most challenging in our 54-year history.  The COVID-19 pandemic decimated our programming and fundraising efforts.  We had to cancel event after event in order to keep one another safe, and that meant we were not able to raise the funds upon which we depend.  We also found ourselves engaged in advocacy not only in our usual areas of work, but also in new and emerging areas that were created as a result of the pandemic.  We had to cancel all of our in-person chapter meetings and move them to a virtual platform none of us knew how to operate.  In essence, we had to rise up because we didn’t have our usual infrastructure in place. 


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


First and foremost, we had to figure out how to help our members as they experienced the challenges of COVID-19.  We established the NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund early in the pandemic.  The purpose of this program was to provide grants to blind Marylanders and families with blind members who were experiencing financial challenges directly because of the pandemic.  The NFBMD Board of Directors set aside some funds specifically for this program, but we also encouraged members and friends to donate to this effort.  Our members and chapters generously contributed $3,900.  The NFBMD awarded grants to 16 individuals and families in the total amount of $13,333.  These grants covered the cost of rent, utilities, medication, groceries, and other essentials for Maryland’s blind.  The NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund continues to be available to assist our federation and Maryland family through this incredibly difficult time.  Despite the anxiety we all felt about the toll the pandemic could take on our financial resources, we rise up for our federation family and all blind Marylanders.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


With the pandemic came a number of new challenges.  These included inaccessible distance learning, an inaccessible state unemployment portal, inaccessible public health information, and so on.  We in the federation rose up to hold our government accountable for ensuring accessibility even in a pandemic.  We rose up to fight the notion that civil rights may be set aside during an emergency, and we categorically rejected that notion through our collective action.  We engaged in significant case work to ensure equal access to information, systems, education, employment benefits, and all aspects of life.  We did not allow government to use the pandemic as a vehicle for exclusion as though we, Maryland’s blind, were not deserving of equal access. 


We determined we must rise up to ensure students receive the educational services to which they are entitled under the law.  To that end, the NFBMD and the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children engaged with all 24 Maryland school districts.  We reminded them of their obligation to provide quality and accessible educational services.  We reminded them of their absolute obligation to use accessible virtual learning platforms and curricula.  We pushed back on school districts that did not do so.  We engaged with numerous school districts to remind them that Braille, orientation and mobility, and other blindness skills are mandatory even in a virtual learning environment.  We collaborated with these districts to find creative ways to provide such services while maintaining the health and safety of students, families, and teachers. 


We engaged with the Maryland School for the Blind concerning English language learning instruction and how to equip parents with limited English language skills to help their children maximize virtual learning.  WE also supported the participation of 12 Maryland children in our first ever National Braille Enrichment in Literacy and Learning Academy, because if the school districts won’t teach them effectively, we’ll teach them ourselves.  We rise up for students, for equal access to education, for opportunity.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


We determined we must rise up to protect employees.  Maryland rolled out the Beacon state unemployment system despite its lack of accessibility.  We fought to ensure that the system was made accessible.  We partnered with the Maryland Department of Labor to assist more than 15 individuals gain access to the unemployment portal.  Since the system requires weekly recertification, the casework we undertook involved numerous interactions with the Department of Labor for each individual.  We also directly assisted Federationists to complete the paperwork required for them to receive their economic impact payments.  We bridged the technology gap for many Federationists who could not independently complete these documents. 


We determined it was necessary to rise up to ensure that employment related examinations are accessible.  Maryland uses an entity to administer the examination that is required to obtain a license to sell health and life insurance in Maryland.  One of our members, Joshua Lipsey, attempted to take this exam only to find out the exam platform and course study material were not accessible.  Because of the pandemic, the provider initially refused to provide in person accommodations.  NFBMD took up the challenge, and this summer, Joshua Lipsey sat for the health and life insurance certification examination with the use of a human reader and other accommodations.  We rise up for employment, to protect workers, for opportunity.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


We determined it was necessary to rise up to protect patients.  Early on in the pandemic, we collaborated with the Maryland Department of Disabilities to ensure COVID-19 testing facilities did not exclude the blind.  To that end, we provided input on mechanisms the state should implement to ensure drive-up testing facilities are accessible to those who cannot drive.  We suggested the state establish walk-up testing facilities, and the state followed our recommendation and implemented all of our suggestions for how to operate such facilities, thus ensuring equal access to the blind.  We provided the health care industry with best practices to enable the blind to obtain quality health care while adhering to social distancing and other public health precautions.  We worked with Disability Rights Maryland and other disability organizations to modify Maryland state policies to ensure patients who are blind and who have other disabilities are able to have access to readers, interpreters, and other support personnel in hospitals and medical facilities.  We rise for patients, for health care, for opportunity.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


We determined it was necessary to rise up to protect our constitutional right to vote.  We in the NFBMD rose up on voting issues nearly a decade ago, and we have yet to stand down.  We continue to litigate and advocate to desegregate voting so there is not one system for the blind and disabled and a different voting system for everyone else.  We continue to fight to preserve the secrecy and privacy of our ballots.  But in 2020, we faced a new challenge.


The Maryland Board of Elections initially indicated it intended that voting for the District 7 special general election would be vote by mail only.  Now one of the times we rose against discrimination in voting resulted in the state implementing an accessible vote by mail mechanism so voters could independently, through the use of assistive technology, receive and complete their ballots electronically.  However, there are blind and print disabled Marylanders who, for a myriad of reasons, cannot use this method to vote.  Perhaps they are newly blind and do not know how to use assistive technology.  Perhaps they do not own a computer or a printer.  Perhaps they previously completed and printed their ballot at their workplace or at the library, or at another public location, all of which were closed due to the pandemic. 


We rose up to advocate for in-person voting locations that use the Ballot Marking Device, which is accessible.  We contacted the Board of Elections and the Governor, and they heard us.  In fact, Governor Hogan specifically referenced the need to ensure blind voters are not disenfranchised as one major reason to preserve in-person voting in a national news interview.  Maryland maintained in-person voting locations in the District 7 special general election, as well as in the presidential general election.  We rise up to protect our sacred right to vote, for privacy, for equality.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


Though much of our work this past year has focused on preserving access in light of the pandemic, we also continued with our routine efforts to ensure the blind live the lives they want.


This summer, we learned the Maryland Department of Transportation was soliciting vendors to provide kiosks at Motor Vehicle Administration Offices.  We are all familiar with these kiosks, as they are the means by which individuals check in to the MVA, receive a number, and are directed to the appropriate area for services.  Though Federationists are not yet visiting the MVA to request to be issued driver’s licenses, we do visit the MVA to get state ID cards, sign up as organ donors, and numerous other tasks.  With the Real ID Act implementation date eminent, most blind Marylanders will likely visit the MVA in 2020 or 2021.


The solicitation did not require MVA kiosks be accessible.  In fact, when a prospective vendor asked about accessibility requirements, the Department of Transportation stated that accessibility was not required. 


We determined it was necessary to rise up to ensure access to inaccessible kiosks.  We contacted the Maryland Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater not only to remind DOT of its obligation to ensure all customers have equal access to their programs and services, including kiosks, but to also remind Secretary Slater Maryland state law requires Maryland must procure accessible technology and that vendors must furnish accessible technology.  We were well aware of the law on this because we wrote the law and advocated for its enactment in 2018. 


We worked with MVA to redraft its procurement solicitation and provided technical assistance to ensure the language was accurate and consistent with the law.  We provided the procurement team with training on how to ensure accessibility from the onset of the procurement, and we helped develop template language that is now used in every procurement solicitation the Department of Transportation uses.  We rise up to protect our right to information, for inclusion, for equality.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


As ever, we determined it was necessary to rise up in the Maryland Legislature.  We advocated to modernize our Library for the Blind, to ensure access to information in connection with dockless electric low speed scooters, and to preserve our sacred right to vote independently and privately.  We worked with Delegate Cathi Forbes and Senator Nancy King to successfully enact legislation that changed the name of our library to the Maryland Library for the Blind and Print Disabled and to ensure that at least one blind person sits on the Maryland State Library Board.  This legislation became law on October 1, 2020. 


We also worked with Delegate Dalia Attar and Senator Joanne Benson to successfully enact legislation that requires that dockless electric low speed scooter companies make their websites and mobile applications accessible; we also advocated that they place tactile markings on their scooters.  We fought for this so the blind can engage with those companies and non-visually identify the scooter company, as well as how to contact them as we interact with their devices.  This law took effect on October 1, 2020.


Once again, we worked with Delegate Nick Mosby and Senator Clarence Lam to attempt to desegregate voting based on disability in Maryland.  The legislative session ended three weeks earlier than usual due to the pandemic, and we did not get this legislation passed.  We already made plans to reintroduce this legislation in the 2021 legislative session.  We rise up to protect our right to information, for privacy, for equality.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


We determined it was necessary to rise up this year to ensure Maryland knows the blind are present, we are productive, contributing members of society, and our long white canes and guide dogs are symbols of our independence.  We engaged with all 24 counties and the governor’s office to obtain White Cane Awareness Day proclamations, and we were successful.  Now, every single county in Maryland, and the state as a whole, knows we rise up for independence, for inclusion, for equality.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


We in the NFBMD rise up every day, in routine times, and in a pandemic.  We stand steadfast to protect the rights of Marylanders, and we dig deep to do whatever it takes to protect our civil rights.  I have been inspired every day by the resilience of our members, our leaders, our partners.  I have been inspired by those members who have recently gone blind and yet learned the Zoom platform in order to participate in our weekly affiliate COVID-19 conference calls.  I have been inspired by our chapters that transitioned seamlessly to virtual meetings despite in all but the At Large Chapter’s case having literally never met virtually prior to the pandemic.  I have been inspired by Federationists who have given selflessly to the NFBMD COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund despite the uncertainty of their own financial situations.  I am inspired by the Maryland students who have led the nation in programming for blind students through the MDABS weekly Chill Hour.  I am inspired by the Merchants Division that has worked with its members to find creative ways to bring in income while so many Randolph Sheppard businesses are closed.  I am inspired by the Maryland Parents of Blind Children who took on every single school district and still managed to hold a month-long Meet the Blind Month activity in the form of the wildly popular Magical Muggle Month on Main. 


I am inspired by Shawn Jacobson, our treasurer, who makes managing the affiliate’s finances seem effortless, even as he too had to implement virtual processes.  Shawn is retiring from his position as treasurer after this convention, and we owe him endless gratitude for his thousands of hours of hard work, diligence, and commitment. 


I am inspired by the more than 50 individuals who came together to implement the logistics of our first virtual state convention, led by John Berggren and Ross Kirschner.  I am inspired by our Crab Feast Committee, who pivoted again and again and ultimately created our first ever Virtual Night at the Theater, demonstrating flexibility and resilience.  I am inspired by our Scholarship Committee and our Scholarship recipients, who preserved the core tenants of mentoring and development through our scholarship program while implementing virtual methods for engagement. 


I am inspired by each and every one of you for living the lives you want, for championing inclusion and equality, and for rising up to every challenge and every opportunity.  I am inspired by our members who undertook efforts to be intentional about diversity and inclusion in our organization, and I am inspired by those who looked inside themselves to determine how they can grow in their own understanding of unconscious bias.  I am inspired by every member who has thought outside the box, who has supported another, who has remained steadfast to our movement and rose up to advance it in these unprecedented times.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again. 


President Riccobono said, in his 2020 banquet address entitled “Language, Action, and Destiny: The Lived Experience of the Organized Blind Movement,”


Let us recommit ourselves to the actions that are consistent with our beliefs and words.  It is not enough to say we want respect in society.  We must take the actions that demonstrate respect for others.  We must take up our responsibilities as well as expect our equal rights. 


In essence, President Riccobono shared it is not enough to just talk the talk, or to demand equal rights from others with no action on our part to ensure we get those rights.  In essence, we need to rise up to demand those rights and then work diligently, unwaveringly, relentlessly to procure those rights. 


Fellow Federationists, we rise up for ourselves, we rise up for each other, and we rise up for the future.  We rise up because we have this value ingrained in our philosophy, and that is how we ensure we can live the lives we want.


We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again.



Interacting with the Maryland General Assembly During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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 2021 legislative efforts.]


The NFB of Maryland has been interacting with the Maryland General Assembly for decades.  We have several traditions such as visiting the offices early in the session during our day in Annapolis to discuss our priorities for the year.  Because of COVID, we had to abandon the traditional ways of interacting with the legislature.  Members of the general public were not allowed on the campus, so we could not personally visit the delegates and senators, attend hearings, or listen to the floor sessions in the galleries.  Most of the General Assembly staff worked from home, so it was difficult to make appointments with delegates and senators.  In planning our activities for 2021, we had to consider such questions as how to conduct 188 meetings, how could we find enough Zoom resources, and could we find enough people to make the appointments, host Zoom meetings, and participate in the meetings.  In short, were we going to succumb to the COVID challenges or surmount them?


Instead of a day in Annapolis, this year we had a virtual week in Annapolis to visit the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.  We started on Thursday, January 21 by visiting with members from Anne Arundel, Carroll, and Howard counties.  On Tuesday, January 26, we visited with the western Maryland, eastern shore, Harford, and Cecil county delegations.  Wednesday was Baltimore City and Baltimore County day, and Thursday, January 28, was Montgomery and Prince Georges counties day. 


Many of the members of the Maryland Association of Blind Students served as Zoom hosts.  These students included Qualik Ford, Erin Daring, Shawn Abraham, and Naudia Graham.  Some people—such as Lloyd Rasmussen, Chris Danielsen, Ellen Ringlein, Bryan Kesseling, Garret Mooney, and Ronza Othman—were both team leaders and Zoom hosts.  Other team leaders included Debbie Brown, Pam Goodman, Jesse Hartle, Dezman Jackson, Nikki Jackson, Shawn Jacobson, Anil Lewis, Jim McCarthy, Lizzy Mohammad-Park, LaTonya Phipps, Judy Rasmussen, Millie Rivera, Hindley Williams, and Sharon Maneki.  Every team had three or four participants, which impressed the delegates and senators.  Each day at 7 p.m., we had a wrap-up meeting to measure our progress.  We definitely surmounted many challenges during our week in Annapolis.



During our week in Annapolis, we had to deal with an unexpected issue that was not part of our program.  The Maryland General Assembly website had many inaccessible features.  We could not sign up to testify at virtual hearings because of the requirement to create our own accounts and difficulties getting to the sign-up page, etc.  We brought this problem up during our meetings; President Ronza Othman and a coalition of disability partners also informed the Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones, and the President of the Senate Bill Ferguson, that this lack of access was illegal and unacceptable.  Here is the letter from President Othman and our disability partners. 


January 19, 2021


The Honorable William C.  Ferguson President of the Maryland Senate

State House, H-107 100 State Circle

Annapolis, MD 21401

Via e-mail:


The Honorable Adrienne A.  Jones Speaker of the House

State House, H-107 State Circle Annapolis, MD 21401

Via e-mail:


Re: Request for Immediate Action to Stop Discrimination  Dear President Ferguson and Speaker Jones:

We write to seek immediate affirmative actions, so Marylanders with disabilities may participate equally in activities and services of the Maryland General Assembly without discrimination that marginalizes them from the legislative process.  The right to equally participate in our government is fundamental, but it is compromised by practices of the General Assembly, including reliance on a website that has accessibility problems and policies identified below.  We are concerned that individuals with vision, hearing and physical disabilities are being denied access to the General Assembly process.


We understand that your offices have been made aware of the problems about which we write, yet to our knowledge no corrective actions have been taken.  We are therefore asking for a reply within 48 hours and are available for a discussion, should that be useful.


Changes for participating in this year’s legislative session in order to protect the health of our lawmakers and our community are understandable.  However, changes that leave out discrete members of our community are never acceptable.  Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides 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, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C.  Section 12132 (1990).  The ADA seeks to prevent not only intentional discrimination against people with disabilities, but also discrimination that results from “thoughtlessness and indifference,” or, in other words, from “benign neglect.” Alexander v.  Choate, 469 U.S.  287, 295 (1985); 42 U.S.C.  Section 12112(b)(5)(A) (defining discrimination to include failing to make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability”).  A public entity discriminates against a disabled individual when it fails to provide “meaningful access” to its benefits, programs, or services.  (See, Choate, 469 U.S.  at 301 holding that the ADA requires not only that people with disabilities be provided with access to public services, but that they “be provided with meaningful access”).  In the context of auxiliary aids, a public entity must take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with [people] with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.  28 C.F.R.  Section 35.160(a)(1), (b)(1).


A lack of access also violates the spirit and intent of MD State Fin & Pro Code, Section 3A-311 (2018), which requires that information technology and services provide equivalent access for effective use by both visual and nonvisual means and present information in formats, including prompts, intended for nonvisual use.  Procurement contracts must ensure technology information and services are offered to an individual with disabilities with nonvisual access in a way that is fully and equally accessible to and independently usable by the individual with disabilities so that the individual is able to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as users without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use.


Problems: Disability Rights Maryland, The Arc Maryland, National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, The American Council for the Blind of Maryland and others have learned of numerous problems from community members, including that:


  1. the General Assembly website is not fully accessible to individuals who are blind or have limited vision.  Examples include:
    1. Individuals who use screen readers experience difficulty filing written testimony or signing up to provide oral testimony for bill hearings.  There are several technical problems with the site that should be fixed.  For instance, the tutorials are difficult to access because they continuously scroll quickly across or down the page making it nearly impossible to determine what the instructions are, where they are located and how to activate the lesson.  This could be fixed by creating a static link in a prominent location for the tutorial so that it is not dynamic and by altering the coding for the presentations. 
    2. When users with certain screen readers try to sign up as a witness, they experience barriers such as lack of proper table headings, uncoded checkboxes, and other inaccessible elements.  This makes it difficult to use the system to sign up to provide oral and written testimony.  In addition, the screen selection for indicating one’s position on a bill is misspelled making it unreadable to screen reading programs.
    3. Some of the tagging needs to be corrected.  For instance, when the screen reader describes the site, it first identifies the icon and symbol for the site instead of describing that this is the “my mga” webpage.
  2. there is no mechanism to accommodate individuals who are unable, due to disability, to physically manipulate the website;
  3. the policy of the General Assembly is to request two weeks advance notice to schedule an interpreter for hearings or legislative sessions
    1. Although the Maryland General Assembly website states that “requests for interpreters should be made as far in advance as possible,” guidance provided through communications with the state was that a preference for requests to be made two weeks’ notice prior to the hearing date.  Bill hearings and committee or floor votes can be cancelled and re-scheduled with less than two weeks’ notice, making the policy unreasonable when changes or scheduling occurs on short notice.  Moreover, individuals may determine they wish to participate in hearings or sessions with less than two weeks advance notice.  Communications are not clear that requests made on short notice will be accommodated.
  4. policies prohibit an individual or organization to log in to the website and submit written testimony or a request to testify on behalf of an individual who cannot access the website.


Remedies.  There are several actions that can be taken to remedy the problems listed above including that:

  1. The General Assembly should immediately engage accessibility experts to fix the web site.  Maryland has several resources available.  The Department of Disabilities and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) national office both have programs to assist in website accessibility.  The NFB, the Maryland affiliate being a signatory to this letter, is willing to assist with identifying needed changes to make the website accessible and providing resources and information on how to make the application accessible.  NFB administers the Center for Nonvisual Access (CENA), to assist government and private entities with accessibility concerns.  The Center for Nonvisual Access is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Disabilities.
  2. Identify staff to provide assistance to individuals with disabilities in signing up to provide oral and written testimony.  These resources should be made available to those individuals who experience difficulty with the sign-up process.
  3. Modify policies and permit third parties to file written testimony or requests for oral testimony.  Please know that while we promote independent access, there are multiple reasons that we endorse permitting third party submissions.  Not the least of our reasons is recognition of the immense digital divide which casts a disparate impact on persons with disabilities, persons who live in poverty, and persons of color.  Several members or clients of our organizations lack internet access or needed technology and are prevented from obtaining access in public locations such as libraries due to pandemic restrictions.  For persons with disabilities who cannot physically access the website or who lack physical access to the site, the accommodations we request are clearly reasonable and required by law.
  4. Permit witness requests (oral or written) to be received through facsimile, e-mail and mail as accommodations for people who cannot access the General Assembly website.
  5. Provide guidance that while a week advance notice for an interpreter is preferred, requests for interpreters will be accommodated when made less than two weeks in advance.
  6. Provide the public with information on steps taken to make the people’s house accessible as discussed herein.
  7. Allow written and oral testimony to be presented to committees by individuals who were not able to access such opportunities due to the inaccessibility of the current policies and website between January 13th, 2021 and the date the access deficiencies are corrected.

We believe you take these concerns seriously and recognize that changes are critical to good government as well as to comply with the general non-discrimination and effective communication requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA affords victims of disability discrimination a wide range of remedies.  We prefer to engage in a collaborative approach to resolving this issue.  Resolution will require changes in policies and for making changes to the existing website.  We think it symbolic that we write for equal access to our government and to protect our civil rights at a time that we honor the work of Martin Luther King.  Let us respect his legacy and act with urgency.


Please advise if you are amenable to discussing a resolution of this matter.  We hope to hear a reply within two days due to the exigence of this matter.  Please contact Ronza Othman for further discussion, and send any reply to the signatories listed below.  We hope you stay well in these challenging times.


Respectfully submitted,

Lauren Young, Director of Litigation

Disability Rights Maryland

410-727-6352 ext 2498


Ronza Othman, President

National Federation of the Blind of Maryland



Ande Kolp

The Arc Maryland



Jo Ann Kucic

American Council of the Blind of Maryland




I am happy to report that many of the problems addressed in this letter were fixed.  We did indeed testify at 15 hearings on a variety of subjects.  Anil Lewis testified before the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the Health and Social Services Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee concerning the governor’s appropriation of $250,000 for the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) to Education, Public Information, and Commerce.  Many thanks to the General Assembly for leaving this budget item intact.  We look forward to the continued good work of CENA. 

We testified in support of two important bills that were not part of our legislative priorities, but were important to the welfare of the blind in Maryland.  Stephanie Flynt testified before the House Judiciary Committee on HB234 and before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on SB607.  Under these bills, a person may not willfully and maliciously kill, injure, or interfere with the use of a service animal, or allow an animal under their control to do the same.  These bills provide for imprisonment and/or penalties if a person is convicted of the above violations.  The court may also order payment of restitution to the owner of the service animal for such expenses as replacement of the service animal, training or retraining expenses, and veterinary and other medical expenses for the service animal.  The court may also order payment to the handler of the service animal for the handler’s medical expenses and/or the loss of wages during any period that the handler is without the services of the service animal.  Many thanks to Delegate Nicole Williams and Senator Michael Jackson for shepherding these bills through the General Assembly.  We look forward to Governor Hogan signing these bills into law.

Many thanks to Delegate Ben Barnes and Senator Craig Zucker for shepherding HB1054 and SB720 through the General Assembly.  We submitted written testimony in support of these bills because of their benefit to the Maryland School for the Blind.  These bills will create a pay plan for the salaries of teachers and other professionals at the Maryland School for the Blind.  As we stated in our testimony, “the state-funded payment plan will ensure the school can recruit, hire, and maintain the professional talent it needs to provide the specialized instruction and services required for these students.” These bills will also improve the operation of the school by providing more consistent funding for professionals such as vision teachers, psychologists, occupational and speech therapists, etc.  These bills will go into effect on July 1 if Governor Hogan signs them. 


In true Federation spirit, we surmounted the challenges in the Maryland General Assembly created by the COVID-19 pandemic.  See the articles “The Blind Speak Out for Accessible K-12 Education” and “Protecting the Rights of Blind and Disabled Voters: An Example of Failed Leadership in the General Assembly” for the rest of the story on our Annapolis efforts.



Student Spotlight: Mirranda Williams


[Editor’s note: Mirranda Williams is someone many of you likely know, as she has been an NFB BELL Academy volunteer and member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter for several years.  Mirranda is one of the 2021 National Federation of the Blind National Scholarship finalist.  Mirranda earned her Bachelor of Social Work from Morgan State University in May.  She will attend Morgan State’s Master of Social Work program in the fall.  Below is Mirranda’s scholarship application essay, which will introduce Mirranda in her own words.]

I am a woman, black, blind, deaf, and partially paralyzed, which is a statement I do not make to solicit pity; in fact, I mention it to highlight my diverse intersectionality, the root cause of my drive to persevere.  It is my story of resiliency that I claim as my greatest strength.  Although I learn nuggets from all of my experiences, one particular sentinel event changed my life for the better.


It was Christmas Eve, 1999.  I remember looking in the mirror while brushing my teeth.  After finishing, I said my prayers and climbed into bed, anticipating the next day.  I closed my eyes and fell asleep, not knowing that I would never be able to look at my reflection in a mirror again.  On Christmas Day, I was given the gift of blindness.  My blindness was a result of child abuse.  I was physically punished and pushed into a wall where the sharp end of a nail was at eye level, and it pierced my right eye.  My guardian did not take me to the hospital to treat my eye injury.  My vision started to deteriorate the very next day.  It was not until I had a significant accident at school that my guardian was forced to take me to the ophthalmologist for an eye examination, the exam confirmed my blindness.


My diagnosis is secondary glaucoma, which is caused by an injury to the eyes.  This traumatic experience closed my eyes to what was, while simultaneously opened my eyes to what could be.  All my life, I had been conditioned to be a product of my virulent environment.  Instead of my family passing on generational wealth and knowledge, intergenerational poverty was my familial gift in life.  However, my blindness, determination, mentors, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), and other resources helped change my life trajectory.


After being introduced to the NFB, I began to further embrace my potential.  I resigned from a factory job and invested in myself by attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB), the most life-changing experience regarding my blindness.  I cried and laughed, I was more self-cognizant, and I cultivated professional and personal relationships within the NFB.  Most importantly, I was a confident, independent woman who just happened to be blind.


Shortly after graduating from LCB, I was hit by a car.  The accident broke almost every bone from the waist down.  When I awoke from my coma, I had severe memory loss among a multitude of other complications.  It was during this time that I connected with my husband, Antonio Williams.  Along with my husband, I had so much support from my LCB family, that I was determined to attend the NFB convention in person to show my gratitude.  After months of arduous rehabilitation to relearn how to walk, I made my way to the 2012 NFB convention.


I truly flourished in 2013.  After recovering, I began living my life again.  Antonio and I were married, and I started my collegiate journey again.  In 2015, I received my associate's degree in special education, and soon after, I enrolled at Morgan State University and began working towards my Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).  Fast forward to the present day; I will receive my BSW in May 2021, continuing into the Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program in fall 2021.


I have accomplished a great deal in my life, and my blindness empowered me to do so.  In the beginning, I viewed my blindness as a curse.  However, I realized my blessing for what it was, the most unconventional Christmas gift.  My blindness changed my life for the better.  I am a first-generation high school and college graduate; my blindness catapulted me into breaking generational chains.  It also empowered me to explore the unfamiliar.  I was able to realize blindness does not place me in the position as ‘less than,’ nor does it allow me to think that I am better than anyone.  I have just as much to offer my community, as much as a person who believes they have no physical challenges.  I stand proud today of who I am, and I am grateful for my gift.


Jean Faulkner: A Person Who Lived Life to the Fullest

By Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s Note: Naomi “Jean” Faulkner was a vital member of the NFBMD in numerous ways.  Jean was the long-time president of our Greater Cumberland Chapter and a former member of the NFBMD Board of Directors.  Jean passed away unexpectedly on December 16, 2020.]


Jean Faulkner did not simply exist—she lived.  Jean worked for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland sewing jackets and other items for the military for 43 years.  She raised three boys.  In retirement, Jean pursued her hobbies with passion.  She loved to shop; she went on many cruises and bus trips; and enjoyed traveling and seeing other parts of the world.  She was active in the senior center and the Red Hat Club.  Jean was proud of the nickname she received from her friends in the Red Hatters: Run-about Jean.


Jean was a very active member in the NFB.  She joined this organization in 1983.  Jean held every office in the Greater Cumberland Chapter of the NFBMD and was the glue that kept the chapter together.  As its president for many years, she was instrumental in spreading the federation message that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future—you can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.  Jean made sure the senior center in Cumberland knew she was a resource for seniors losing their vision.  She always encouraged blind people to turn their dreams into realities.


During the 1990s, Jean served on the board of directors of the NFBMD.  In this position, she helped blind people throughout the state.  She was a superb fundraiser and always helped with the organization’s advocacy efforts in Annapolis.  Jean attended her first national convention in 1985 and was delighted her youngest son could accompany her and celebrate his birthday in Louisville, Kentucky.  Jean attended many state and national conventions and was always an active participant.


In 2019, at the annual state convention of the NFBMD, Jean received the Kenneth Jernigan Award.  This is the highest award an individual can receive in this organization.  The award was presented to Jean because of her leadership and persistence in promoting the goal of the organization, which is the full integration of the blind into all aspects of society.


Jean lived the life she wanted and definitely did not let blindness hold her back.



Tribute to a Colleague and Friend: Naomi Jean Faulkner, 1942 to 2020

By Patrick Gormley

[Editor’s Note: Patrick Gormley is a long-time member of the Greater Cumberland Chapter and knew Jean Faulkner quite well.  Below are some of his thoughts upon the loss of his friend and colleague.]


Naomi Jean Faulkner was born in Cumberland on November 16, 1942, two years after the founding of the NFB in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, making her birthday easy to remember.  She became legally blind as a result of glaucoma.  Jean attended the Maryland School for the Blind and graduated in 1960.  She took secretarial training in Baltimore and worked for a hospital for a few years.  After a while, Jean moved back to Cumberland and began her career at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.  She retired in 2013. 


I first met Jean at the 1985 national convention in Louisville, Kentucky.  Two years later, we met again during our day in Annapolis.  In 2005, my family and I moved to the Frostburg area.  Over the years, Jean held many offices in the chapter.  She was treasurer and for much of the time served as chapter president. 


I remember with fondness the many chapter Christmas parties Jean held at her house.  Her Watergate salad was so good it was difficult to get a second helping.  Jean was a great friend; our members in the Cumberland area and throughout the state will miss her very much. 



Protecting the Rights of Blind and Disabled Voters: An Example of Failed Leadership in the Maryland General Assembly

By Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s Note: Perhaps the most sacred and fundamental right of any American is the right to vote.  For years, NFBMD has been fighting to desegregate voting based on disability in Maryland.  Below is a summary of our efforts in 2021.]


As Spectator readers know, since the 2016 primary election, the ballots cast by blind and disabled voters have been segregated because of the policies of the State Board of Elections, which restrict the use of the ballot marking device.  We have been trying to get the Maryland General Assembly to solve this segregation problem for many years.  Many thanks to Delegate Jessica Feldmark, who introduced HB423, and Senator Clarence Lam, who introduced SB271, bills to keep this issue on the minds of the Maryland General Assembly. 


The following article by Bennett Leckrone, entitled “Disability Rights Groups Seek Equal Access to Ballot through Voting Machine Bill, Lawsuit,” which appeared in Maryland Matters, describes the hearing on HB423 that took place in the House Ways and Means Committee on February 2, 2021.


A Maryland lawmaker wants all of the state’s voters to mark their ballots with devices rather than by hand, arguing that the move would make voting more equitable for people with disabilities.


Maryland voters currently have the option of using a ballot marking device at in-person polling locations.  According to the Maryland State Board of Elections website, those devices produce “a voter verifiable paper record and [allow] voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.”


But the ballots used by Maryland’s current devices look different than those marked by hand: Jonathan Lazar, professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, described them as “skinny” ballots.  He said that means ballots filled out by voters via ballot marking devices are easily distinguishable compared with ballots filled out by hand.


House Bill 423, introduced by Del.  Jessica M.  Feldmark (D-Baltimore and Howard counties) would introduce universal ballot marking devices, and require that ballots cast by voters with disabilities “may not be set apart or distinguishable, in size and form, from a ballot cast by a voter without a disability.”


“Maryland needs to provide equal access to the ballot, so that voters with disabilities enjoy the same access to a secret ballot,” Feldmark said at a Tuesday House Ways and Means Committee meeting.


Current law already requires the state’s voting system to “provide access to voters with disabilities that is equivalent to access afforded voters without disabilities without creating a segregated ballot for voters with disabilities,” according to a Department of Legislative Services analysis of the bill, but advocates charge that the state’s current system amounts to segregation.


The National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit in Maryland in 2019, seeking to require the state to offer ballot marking devices to every in-person voter as the default method of voting, with paper ballots offered only to those voters who opt out of using the device or in cases where there are long lines.  In January, the state and federation agreed to pause the case to allow for continued negotiations.


Ronza Othman, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, emphasized that Feldmark’s bill would not get rid of paper ballots in Maryland.  Rather, the legislation would require everyone to mark a physical ballot using the same method.

“We have segregated voting in Maryland for us,” Othman said.  “We have to get in a line that is different from the line everybody else gets in to vote.”


Cheryl Gottlieb, a Towson resident and disability rights activist who has cerebral palsy, uses a ballot marking device when she votes.  She told lawmakers Tuesday that she’s had “significant difficulty” every time she’s gone to vote because the few ballot marking devices currently available at the state’s polling locations aren’t easily accessible.

Gottlieb uses a powered wheelchair, and said she’s even encountered ballot marking devices that aren’t located in wheelchair-accessible areas.


“If every single person voted the same way, we wouldn’t be having these kinds of issues,” she said.


But some oppose the bill due to the anticipated cost of purchasing or leasing universal ballot marking devices: According to a Department of Legislative Services analysis of the bill, the state’s general fund expenditures would increase by at least $5.4 million in the 2022 fiscal year, at least $5.2 million in fiscal 2023 and 2024, and by at least $4.8 million in the years after that.


The fiscal analysis notes that local governments would have to spend roughly the same amount.


Kevin Kinnally, the Maryland Association of Counties’ legislative director, said his organization agrees that something must be done to ensure equal ballot access—but opposes the legislation due to what he described as an “unfunded mandate” on local government.


Sharon Maneki, a previous president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, raised questions about the analysis’ projected costs.  She said some of the bill’s estimated costs seem “trumped up,” like buying entirely new tables for ballot marking devices instead of using the ones already owned by the state.


Since Senator Lam recognized the committee would probably take no action on SB921, he offered an amendment to another voting bill that would have been a step in the right direction to solve the segregation issue.  This amendment stated,


The following percentages of voters, at a minimum, on each day of early voting and on election day shall use a ballot marking device that is accessible to voters with disabilities to vote at each early voting center and each election day polling place:

  1. 10% of voters during the 2022 statewide primary and general elections;
  2. 20% of voters during the 2024 statewide primary and general elections; and
  3. 30% of voters during each subsequent statewide primary and general election.

The State Board may not deny a request by a local board for a ballot marking device.

Subject to paragraph (V) of this paragraph, the State Board shall provide training to each chief election judge on:


  1. the requirements of this subsection; and
  2. how to set up and operate a ballot marking device.


The State Board shall provide the training required under subparagraph (IV) of this paragraph not more than 30 days before:


  1. for chief judges serving during early voting, the start of early voting; and
  2. for chief judges serving on Election Day, Election Day.


On or before January 31 of each year immediately following a general election, the state board shall report to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Appropriations Committee, in accordance with 2-1257 of the State Government Article, on:


  1. the following information for the immediately preceding statewide primary and general elections:
    1. the number of total votes cast at each early voting center and Election Day polling place and in each precinct;
    2. the number of votes cast using a ballot marking device at each early voting center and Election Day polling place and in each precinct;
    3. the number of ballot marking devices assigned to each early voting center and Election Day polling place; and
    4. the percentage of votes cast at each early voting center and Election Day polling place using a ballot marking device; and
  2. a plan to ensure compliance with the requirement of subparagraph (I) of this paragraph at each early voting center and Election Day polling place at which the requirement was not met for the immediately preceding primary or general election. 


Many thanks to the members of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee who voted in favor of Senator Lam’s amendment: Senators Lam, Washington, Patterson, Carozza, Gallion, Reilly, and Simonaire.  Although the amended bill came out of committee, Senate leadership never allowed it to come to the floor of the Senate, so once again, the General Assembly took no action to solve this problem.  We deeply appreciate Senator Lam’s courage and leadership to try to get some serious negotiation on this complex voting problem. 


The Maryland General Assembly considered many other bills regarding voting.  NFBMD testified on at least five of them.  We are relieved the House Ways and Means Committee took no action on two bills that would require signature verification by the local boards of election during the absentee ballot process.  We explained most blind people can sign documents, but it is almost impossible to verify their signatures because they can’t duplicate their signatures in the same way every time.  These bills would increase discrimination against voters with disabilities and create additional access barriers to the voting process had they been enacted.


We applaud the General Assembly’s action to make the voting process more convenient.  HB 1048/ SB 683 creates a permanent absentee ballot list.  Voters may request to be placed on this list either by filling out the application online or by mail.  Voters may receive absentee ballots by mail, facsimile, or the internet.  Voters will be contacted by the State Board before each election in the manner they selected, either by non-forwardable mail, email, or text message.  The purpose of this communication is to verify these voters still want to be on the permanent absentee ballot list and their information is correct.


These bills also improved the location of ballot drop boxes.  “A local board shall consider the following factors when determining the location of a ballot drop box:


  1. the accessibility of the ballot drop box to historically disenfranchised communities, including voters with disabilities, cultural groups, ethnic groups, and minority groups;
  2. proximity of the ballot drop box to dense concentrations of voters;
  3. accessibility of the ballot drop box by public transportation;
  4. equitable distribution of ballot drop boxes throughout the county; and
  5. maximizing voter participation, including through placement of ballot drop boxes at community centers and public gathering places.” 


This bill was signed by the governor and is effective as of June 1, 2021. 

HB745 establishes the number of early voting centers based on the population of the county.  The bill also mentions factors the local boards of election should consider when establishing the location of an early voting center, similar to those mentioned above in the selection of ballot drop box locations.  As a result, the number of early voting centers will be increased throughout the state.  This bill was signed by the governor and is effective as of October 1, 2021. 

It is most likely blind and disabled voters will face another segregation experience when we cast our ballots in the 2022 elections.  However, the NFBMD will continue to stand up for our rights to vote secretly and privately, without segregation. 



Student Spotlight: Lizzy Muhammad Park


[Editor’s note: Lizzy Muhammad Park is a prominent member of the federation.  She is the NFBMD Youth Programs coordinator, our NFB BELL Academy coordinator for all three Maryland BELL programs, an active member of the TLC Chapter, vice president of the NFB Performing Arts Division, and a great deal more.  Lizzy is one of the 2021 National Federation of the Blind National Scholarship finalist.  Lizzy earned her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in International Relations.  She will attend Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies program in the fall.  Below is Lizzy’s scholarship application essay, which will introduce Lizzy in her own words.]

I am a multilingual Federationist experienced in cross-cultural communications, media, and education.  Since winning a national scholarship in 2014, I have been highly active in the Pennsylvania and Maryland affiliates, as well as in the performing arts division.  The skills learned during these experiences will assist me in becoming a public diplomacy officer in the Foreign Service.  There, I will shape the world views on the U.S. through cultural programs in the arts, foreign media, and study abroad experiences.  I'm currently interning with an international nonprofit to advance inclusive practices and accessibility in human rights.  In the fall, I will begin a master's program in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.  I am applying to be a tenBroek fellow because representing America and the nation's blind to the world requires the wisdom of experienced federation leaders and the optimism of young intellectuals.


The federation’s first investment in my future gave me the chance to “live the life I want” at home and abroad.  Blind mentors provided leadership opportunities, taught me how to advocate on Capitol Hill, and advised me on independent international travel.  My federation family is always there when I call: they are people who encourage me out of my comfort zone, advise me when I become confused, and support me in times of disappointment and celebration.  The human connections I've gained from the NFB have added value to my life in ways that only a Federationist can understand.  I've grown as a leader, advocate, and traveler, but more importantly I've gained a support system that pushes me just as hard as I push myself. 


In the organization, I have worked to educate the public (both blind and sighted) on the abilities of blind people.  As student division president in Pennsylvania, Youth Services coordinator in Maryland, and a Braille teacher at CCB, I encourage students to set and achieve lofty goals.  I took initiative in the Performing Arts Division and started a podcast to show blind performers are not limited to the piano.  I've interviewed blind marching band participants, ballet dancers, and an acrobat, amongst others.  As part of our Let Us Play Us campaign, I rallied Federationists at a protest in New York to push for authentic representation in the media.  Later, I co-authored a whitepaper for casting agencies, acting schools, and other media personnel so they can no longer use ignorance as an excuse for exclusion.  My work in the movement has urged the public to set high expectations for the blind, and the same can be said for my work outside the organization. 


Community leadership has always been important to me.  In college I was a dorm president, peer mentor supervisor, and first-year orientation leader, while simultaneously participating in a cappella, dance classes, equestrian club, and judo.  In China, I taught English to sighted students, and in Thailand I taught the subject to blind and multiply-disabled students.  I have most recently been active in political campaigns, internships, and community building initiatives.  I am an accessibility consultant for a summer youth program at my place of worship, and ensure inclusion for all possible participants.  These activities offer the opportunity for me to change inaccurate beliefs about the blind and other marginalized groups. 


I hope to join the 2021 class of scholarship finalists so I may engage in knowledge sharing with the committee and future leaders of the federation.  Given my experiences traveling, teaching, podcasting, participating, and advocating, I believe I would add a global perspective to this summer’s group of student scholars.  Thank you for considering my application.



Chapter Spotlight: Central Maryland

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.  The next chapter to be highlighted in this series is the Central Maryland Chapter.]


We decided to start an NFB local chapter in the Columbia area in November 1983.  We decided to call the chapter Central Maryland so that we could attract members from Laurel, Fort Meade, and surrounding areas in addition to Howard County.  Starting a chapter is very exciting because new people are always happy to meet other blind people and they find the federation philosophy liberating. 


Like all new chapters, we faced the challenge of finding a meeting place.  We started out at Hammond Elementary School, but we did not stay there long.  We were assigned to the kindergarten classroom and sitting in those baby desks and getting out of them was a struggle.  From there, we moved to the other end of the spectrum, a community room in an apartment for seniors called Owen Brown Place.  Today when we can meet in person, we meet at a community center called The Other Barn which actually is a restored barn. 


Three of the founding members—Al Maneki, Sharon Maneki, and Brenda Mueller—still belong to the chapter.  Over the years, the three of us served in most of the offices of the chapter.  Currently, Al Maneki is the treasurer, a position he has held for about 25 years, and I am the vice president.  I was the first president of the chapter and have been followed by many strong leaders.  Some of the former presidents of the chapter include Althea Pitman, who now lives in Virginia; the late Leon Rose; the late Bill Cater, who encouraged us to get seniors involved in the chapter; Darlene Price, who was the longest serving president of the chapter; and our current president Graham Mehl.  In the 1990s, another former president of the chapter, the late Kay Monville, was one of the first two people from Maryland to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind.  This is worthy of note because we had to ensure that consumer choice of rehabilitation provider became a reality in Maryland. 


Advocacy has always been a strong interest of the chapter.  For instance, shortly after the chapter was established, we learned the workshop in Howard County was not paying social security taxes for the disabled employees.  The workshop claimed it was merely an “oversight.”  We were able to convince the workshop to correct this “oversight.” 


Before the chapter came into existence, the president of the Maryland affiliate, John Mc Craw, helped Beth Schuster convince the Howard County Public School System blind people are capable of being teachers.  Beth taught kindergarten in the county for 31 years.  From time to time, her blindness would become an issue and the chapter always came to her defense.  Beth recognizes the importance of giving back.  She has been a contributor to the PAC plan for more than 30 years. 


Suzanne Young was a successful health assistant for the Howard County Public School System.  After she had been on the job for 10 years, school officials realized she was legally blind.  During the 1998-99 school year, there were more parents and school personnel in the building because they were pushing for building renovations and as a result, Suzanne came under the microscope of the school personnel.  Officials suddenly became concerned about the ability of a legally blind person to perform the duties of a health assistant.  In an attempt to confirm their suspicions, they assigned other assistants to monitor Suzanne and they insisted she no longer dispense medications to students.  Suzanne asked the NFB for assistance and president Maurer assigned Dan Goldstein to this case. 


During several lengthy meetings, we warned Howard County Education Officials of the pitfalls they could encounter when judging employee performance based on an all too familiar misconception about blindness.  These officials were also reminded of their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations.  Suzanne had developed her own accommodation system over the years and insisted she be able to use her system since it was effective.  The officials finally saw the light and corrected the error of their ways.  When Suzanne returned to school in the fall of 1999, the ‘babysitters’ the school system hired were gone.  Suzanne was able to work independently, performing her duties as a health assistant in the Howard County Public School System until she decided to retire.  Suzanne has been an active member of the chapter for more than 20 years. 


In 2013, much later in the chapter’s history, the Howard County Animal Shelter told Darlene Price blind people were not capable of taking care of dogs, so she could not adopt a dog.  We educated Howard County, and Darlene has been enjoying her dog for the past seven years. 


The best part about belonging to a local chapter is watching people grow and gain independence due to their interactions with other blind people and their introductions to the positive philosophy of the NFB.  We are especially proud of three of our current members who regained their independence.  Smita Jhaveri, Francois Maceus, and Joe Schissler graduated from the Seniors Achieving Independent Living (SAIL) program operated by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.  They are living the lives they want as seniors who lost their vision later in life.


Chapters must always search for creative ways to raise money.  Central Maryland has been very successful in this endeavor.  In the early days of the chapter, we sold macadamia nuts that Al was able to obtain directly from Hawaii.  The nuts were easy to sell because nobody else had them.  Later we moved on to selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  However, our most successful fundraiser is basket bingo.  We started this fundraiser around 2002 and today it has expanded to basket and bag bingo.  Due to COVID, we missed holding this event in 2020 but are looking forward to holding another successful event in 2021. 


The members of the Central Maryland chapter enjoy participating in state and national activities.  We also make sure that the local public knows of our existence.  For years, we have been obtaining White Cane Safety Day proclamations from the Howard County Council.  In 2020, a new member of the council, Dr. Opal Jones, presented the proclamation at the end of our White Cane Awareness Walk at Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia.  We also enjoyed helping one of our members Teresa Graham, one of the owners of The Flower Barn, with Meet the Blind month activities.  Teresa convinces other stores in Ellicott City to join her in providing activities around the theme of Harry Potter.  Our first event was in 2019.  The public participated in a scavenger hunt and obtained print and Braille postcards from each location.  Participants also made potions, necklaces, bought raffle tickets, etc.  In 2020, we had to scale down this event due to COVID, but had activities for every weekend in October, instead of just one.  Through these events, we have obtained great publicity for the NFB, demonstrated the capabilities of blind people, and raised funds for both the Parent’s Division and the Central Maryland Chapter.  These events are a great Meet the Blind month activity.


We look forward to many more years of spreading the word about the federation to blind people, fundraising, advocacy, and participating in state and national activities.  Let’s go build the NFB.



Students Speak: Building and Using Your Blindness Network

By Trisha Kulkarni, Precious Perez, and Qualik Ford

[Editor’s note: The following article was taken from Future Reflections, Winter 2020 Volume 39 Number 24.  Future Reflections is a magazine for parents and teachers of blind children published by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).  This article shares information three students, Trisha Kulkarni, Precious Perez, and Qualik Ford, provided on a panel discussion at the July 2020 NOPBC Annual Conference.  Carlton Anne Cook-Walker served as the moderator.  Qualik Ford is the president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students.  The article contains great advice for both parents and students.]


Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Precious, please share with us what the NFB has meant to you and how you are continuing to shine in the interesting times in which we live. 


Precious Perez: I got involved with the federation when I was 15 years old.  It was at the Massachusetts state convention.  The president of the student division said, “I'm stepping down.  Who wants to be president?”  There was silence in the room, so I said, “Okay, I'll do it!”  I've been president of the Massachusetts Association of Blind Students ever since then. 


I attended the BLIND, Inc., summer program in 2017.  NFB has shown me that I am capable of doing what I want to do.  I grew up with all of the services I needed.  I was surrounded by wonderful people who encouraged me to advocate and showed me what it meant to do that.  NFB strengthened that philosophy and showed me how to apply it to my own life and the things that I’m doing.  I’m currently pursuing a degree in music education, and I’m also a performer.  My goal is to teach blind students and sighted students in the public schools.  I hope to use my experience from the different communities I represent—I’m Puerto Rican, and I come from a low-income background.  My goal is to use the avenues I have to inspire the next generation and teach kids of that generation that they can do whatever they want to do in life.  It’s something that I have a passion for.  I think there are still a lot of stereotypes prevalent in our society.  I want to use the gifts I've been given to abolish those stereotypes. 


Qualik Ford: That was great! My name is Qualik Ford, and I'm president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students.  I’m also on the Youth Leadership Committee of the World Blind Union North American Division.  Technically I’ve been a Federationist my whole life.  When I was born my dad brought me down to the Jernigan Institute to show me off! 


When I was in high school, I got active in the federation, and I started looking for leadership positions.  I was looking to grow as a student and as a person.  I saw how some of the blind students around me viewed themselves, and I didn’t like it.  They seemed to think they were less than their sighted peers.  Once a friend told me, “I don't think I better have kids.” I asked her why not, and she said, “I was trying to feed my baby cousin, and I accidentally put the bottle up to her forehead instead of her mouth.”  I said, “That was a mistake.  If someone taught you how to do it, you’d get it.”  When you’ve got pressure from the people around you, telling you that you can’t do things, it gets you into very wrong thinking.  There are so many blind people who are out there doing things, making waves!  On my own board, my secretary runs her own nonprofit.  I think that is totally awesome!  My vice president has been teaching in the BELL Academy for years.  So many blind students are doing things when they have the tools to help them grow!


In school I had a lot of people looking out for me and helping me mature.  I finished high school, and I’m going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind on August 4.  I’m really excited about that! It’s a chance for me to refine my blindness skills before I go off to college.  Eventually I want to become a teacher of the visually impaired.  I want to go to Louisiana Tech and learn the structured discovery method that we all prize.  I want to make sure that my students know they can do a lot with their lives—go skiing, go to Space Camp and learn about astronauts.  There are so many opportunities!  My goal is to push for change for everyone.


Trisha Kulkarni: I’m originally from Dayton, Ohio.  I lost my vision unexpectedly when I was in seventh grade.  During high school I learned Braille and technology.  I was an NFB scholarship winner when I was 18, the summer after I graduated from high school.  That’s when I first met the National Federation of the Blind, and my life has transformed since then!  It's crazy that it's only been a couple of years, because I feel like this is my family. 


I serve as a board member of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), and it’s been an honor to serve as chair of the Legislative and Advocacy Committee.  For the past six months I’ve had the chance to work with Carlton, encouraging students to advocate for themselves and to advocate for other students who might not have the resources that we have. 


I am a rising junior at Stanford University, majoring in computer science.  I honestly don't know how I’m a junior already!  It feels like I just started!  I want to use my technical knowledge and the resources I’ve gained through NABS to have an impact wherever possible.  I’m waiting to know what that will look like.


CW: I’m going to throw out a couple of questions for you guys to answer.  What would you tell your younger self, five, 10, 15 years ago—okay, you’re pretty young to talk about 15 years ago! What would you tell your parents?  Not that the’'ve done horrible things, but what do you wish they had known?


Qualik Ford: I grew up with two blind parents, so in theory I had a very ideal situation.  But I think my mom had a hard time adjusting.  A lot of things were going on.  From 2010 until now there have been revolutionary changes in technology, for instance, and it’s hard for her to understand that things for me are very different from what she experienced growing up.  It’s important for us to have active conversations so she understands.  I have to grow with the opportunities I have.  I definitely have it easier than she did.  I appreciate that she had knowledge of blindness, but I wish I could have given her that boost to expand her understanding and help her be more open-minded.


The second thing is that I would tell myself to be more physically active, to get myself out there.  On the local and national levels, the NFB has so much going on.  When I went to my very first NABS seminar—that was huge!  There were all these young leaders who had so much going for them.  It blew my mind!  It sent me onto a path where I knew I wanted to be like them.  I needed to grow.  I wanted to get everything I needed.  I was learning things I never learned at a younger age, and it changed my life. 


Precious Perez: I'm going to go with five years ago, because I don’t remember much about my life when I was 11.  When I was 16 I was terrified of college because I didn’t know what to expect.  I was terrified about what came next.  I knew I had goals, but I didn’t have any idea how to reach them.  I had been underestimated all the time.  I was blind, and I had a high-pitched voice, and people treated me like a cute little girl.  Looking back, I wish I could tell myself, “You’re going to do more than you think you’re going to do.  Give it time.  Pursue the things you’re passionate about.  Lean on the people who support you, inside and outside the federation.  Believe in yourself.  When you believe in yourself, even if other people don’t, you have the power to succeed.”


Trisha Kulkarni: When I lost my vision my parents and I had to fight furiously to get my accommodations.  Under the circumstances I think my parents did everything they could.  They got me started in learning Braille and assistive technology and cane travel.  I think we all needed to understand that even though independence is the goal, that doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone.  If my parents had known about the NOPBC, they could have spent their energy much more efficiently.  They could have worked to change the system rather than just fighting for me day to day.  That’s something I also had to learn the hard way.  Now that I’ve connected with other blind people, I realize that even though you can be independent and do everything you need to do, you start at a higher point if you learn through the collective knowledge of our organization. 


Carlton Walker: Thank you so much.  Enjoy the convention!



The Blind Speak Out for Accessible K-12 Education

By Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s note: One of our legislative priorities for the 2021 Maryland General Assembly was to establish stronger legal protections for students in K through 12 education so the materials they receive and educational platforms they use are accessible.  Below is a summary of our efforts.]


Although there are many state and federal laws that require accessibility to K-12 education, they are rarely enforced.  Therefore, one of our Annapolis issues for the 2021 session of the Maryland General Assembly was to introduce accountability measures that would lead to better enforcement.  Delegate Michele Guyton introduced HB1181, and Senator Clarence Lam introduced SB921.  These bills introduced common sense requirements into the procurement process that local school systems use to purchase information and communication technology (ICT) and digital content.  For instance, procurement personnel in the local school system will be required to consult with a member of their own vision department, so accessibility is not overlooked.  If a member of the vision department is not able to take on this task, the local school system procurement personnel must consult the Blindness Specialist in the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Services in the Maryland State Department of Education. 


When vendors submit proposals for ICT, they must include an accessibility conformance report.  Each local school system must annually submit a report on its accessibility progress to the Maryland State Department of Education.  The Maryland State Department of Education must annually publish state-wide information about the progress of accessibility on its website.  The bills also contain a reasonable penalty process for vendors who do not comply with accessibility requirements after they have been notified of the problems. 


The hearing on HB1181 was held by the House Ways and Means Committee on March 3.  The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on SB921 on March 9.  Parents and students shared personal experiences as to why these bills are absolutely necessary.  Here are some examples of testimony by Derrick Day, Rania Dima, Stephanie Cascone, and Garret Mooney.  Derrick Day is a member of the Greater Carroll County Chapter and the Maryland Association of Blind Students.  Rania is a member of the At-Large Chapter.  Stephanie Cascone serves as Secretary and Garret Mooney serves as President of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children Division. 


Subject: Favorable HB 1181

To: House Ways & Means Committee

From: Derrick Day


My name is Derrick Day.  I am in the ninth grade at Westminster High School.  My sister Meredith is also blind.  She is in the seventh grade at West Middle School.  Please vote in favor of HB 1181 so that my sister and I, as well as other blind students, will not have so many accessibility issues.


Blind students have the same accessibility issues year after year.  I was unable to practice math skills because the school system used an inaccessible program called Khan Academy.  My sister currently has the same problem because the school system is still using the inaccessible Khan Academy.  We need this bill so that blind students can be successful. 


As a ninth-grade student, I am taking geometry, physics, and chemistry.  I am expected to use Kami and Equatio, two programs that are not accessible to me as a blind student.  I am still expected to do the work and I want to do it.  However, I have to overcome additional barriers that my sighted peers do not have because of the lack of accessibility.  I have a vision teacher who helps me get access to the curriculum.  When programs such as Kami and Equatio are inaccessible, the vision teacher cannot get my work to me at the same time as my peers receive their work because she has to scan the text out of the document and use a computer program to transcribe it into Braille.  I am always playing catchup.  If these programs were accessible, I could read them at the same time as my sighted peers. 


I want to get a job in the computer science field.  I was very excited that my school allows freshmen to take introductory computer courses.  Unfortunately, I was denied the opportunity to study computer science this semester.  I could not write programs because the class was required to use an inaccessible code on the website,  I should have been able to participate in this course.  Vendors should not sell local school systems inaccessible programs and local school systems should not purchase them. 


Please vote in favor of HB 1181.  I need a good education so that I can get a job and become a taxpayer. 



Subject: Favorable SB 921

To: Senate Education, Health, & Environmental Affairs Committee

From: Rania Dima

Parental involvement makes for better students, but what happens when parents are excluded from participating? As a blind parent of two children in Frederick County Public Schools, the screens from which my children learn are blank to me.  I am blind and the platform our county uses does not work with my screen reader.  So, when my third grader asks me to help her understand fractions, or my eighth grader claims that she’s completed all of her work, I am left without the tools that I need to help them.  As students with 504 plans and potential learning disabilities, they need my support, and I cannot provide it.


The virtual learning platforms that the schools use are not compatible with accessibility technology.  I have been cut out of their learning journey and my children are paying the price.  Currently, they are both falling behind and my youngest is not meeting grade-level expectations.


Please support SB 921 and give blind parents the ability to take an active role in their children’s education.


Subject: Favorable HB 1181

To: House Ways and Means Committee

From: Stephanie Cascone

Please vote in favor of HB 1181/SB 921 because accessibility is crucial to the education of so many children—particularly blind children and my son.  My son, Taylor, is 16 years old and every year there are issues with the technology used in the classroom.  In the virtual classroom, my son has done well with being part of class discussions and doing work that is assigned when it is accessible.  However, programs like GeoGebra, a geometry system, made it impossible to participate in some of the work.  We spent hours trying to access it.  It was not properly developed for his assistive technology to access, but it could have and should have been.  He missed out on the class discussion and learning from this program.  This is just one example, but so many programs in every class have access issues. 


When technology is accessible, my son has the confidence and excitement in his education.  He has the tools, but the tools are not helpful if the programs don’t work with his tools.  Blind children like my son need their education to be accessible and the school system needs to be accountable when it is not. 


Please vote yes on HB 1181/SB 921.  Thank you.



Subject: Favorable HB1181

To: House Ways and Means Committee

From: Members of the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Contact: James Garret Mooney, President

Public education has promised to provide a free and appropriate education and access to all materials for all children.  We need accountability so the promises and commitments made to our children are kept.  


In August 2020, the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children (MDOPBC), which is part of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, wanted to make sure schools across the state would fulfill the promises and commitments made to our blind children as schools moved to virtual instruction necessitated by COVID-19.  We sent a letter to all local school districts and State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon, asking how schools would offer services unique to blind students, such as Braille instruction, orientation, and mobility; how they would ensure all instructional materials would be accessible to blind and low vision students; and how evaluations and assessments of blind students would be carried out.


Out of the 24 districts in the state, only 10 responded.  Some of the responses attempted to answer our questions, but most either referred us back to the letter sent by State Superintendent Salmon or did not answer our questions directly.  The districts who answered our question in regards to accessible instructional materials informed us that adaptive technology used by the blind, such as screen readers and Braille displays, had been deployed and were available to students.  Screen readers and Braille displays help the students read the computer screens, but they do not work when the computer programs being read are not accessible.  The creators of technology-based instructional programs—such as Google Classroom, Seesaw, Schoolology, and many others—must incorporate accessibility in the program’s design.  It is the responsibility of local school systems to not purchase or use these programs if they are inaccessible.


Families should not have to make personal sacrifices when school systems do not provide what we need, but many times, we are forced to do so.  For instance, Tyler, a seventh grader, used his own birthday and Christmas money to purchase a Windows computer because the school system failed to provide this device for several years.  My daughter is in kindergarten; since my fiancé and I are both blind, we could not help her with assessments because the programs were inaccessible.  We had to pay for the services of a reader so that we could help our daughter. 


Delegates, I ask that you please pass HB1181.  We have to ensure that our promises and commitments to our children are fulfilled.  Incorporating accessibility into technology is not difficult and is more cost effective to incorporate at the initial planning stages than to do so retroactively.  In 2021, we have access to more technology than ever before and we possess the ability to give access to every single person.  Now all we need to do is fulfill our promises and commitments, and hold vendors and school systems accountable. 


Not surprisingly, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland opposed this legislation.  Unfortunately, neither committee took any action on these bills.  You can be sure we will continue to work on this issue next year.  The blind will speak out again until we can get the General Assembly to listen. 




2020 Convention Awards

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s note: Each year, NFBMD grants a number of awards to various individuals who promote and advance the civil rights of blind people.  Some of those awards recognize Federationists who have worked diligently to gain independence, and other awards recognize our partners and supporters.  Below is a summary of the awards that were given at the 2020 NFB of Maryland annual convention in November 2020.] 


Several awards were presented at the 2020 Virtual Convention of the NFBMD.  During the general sessions, President Ronza Othman presented two distinguished legislative service awards to Delegate Catherine M.  Forbes and Delegate Dalya Attar.  Delegate Forbes was recognized for her leadership and her enthusiastic interest in helping the blind citizens improve access for the Library for the Blind by changing its name to Library for the Blind and Print Disabled.  Delegate Attar was recognized for her leadership in promoting non-visual access to information on electric scooters for the citizens of Maryland.  Both delegates are in their first term as members of the Maryland General Assembly.  We are excited to have them as partners in improving the lives of the blind citizens of Maryland.


Renee Donalvo-Carlsen received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award at our convention banquet.  Renee was a teacher of blind students in the Washington DC Public School System for many years.  She also served as a contractor with the Columbia Light House for the Blind where she taught the alternative techniques of blindness.  Renee also volunteered at the Glendale Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program and served as the lead teacher for many years.  Jane Osburn and Scott Wales, two of the many parents who supported Renee’s nomination, offered the following comments:


“On the last day of BELL Camp, in August 2017, we all gathered at the NFB building in Baltimore.  I walked across the room to where Renee Donalvo Carlson was working at a small table.  I’d known Renee since earlier in the summer when her husband Don volunteered to drive the group of students from our area to and from the BELL Academy Program at the Glendale campus.  I mentioned that we were trying to help our son Paul find new friends, and Renee quickly suggested that she would like to start up monthly tutoring sessions with Paul and Luis, who Paul had befriended at BELL.  From that day on, until the pandemic hit, the group met almost every month to practice Braille, share some treats, and have a fun time together.


Since March of this year, Paul has been reading Braille with Renee three times a week, for 30 minutes, over the phone.  Thank you, Renee, for this enormous gift of your time, knowledge, patience, and good cheer!”


Two highlights at our convention banquet are always the presentations of the Jennifer Baker Award and the Anna Cable Award.  Jennifer Baker learned to read and write Braille despite her multiple disabilities.  With this award, we recognize other students who have overcome their struggles to learn to read and write Braille and gain confidence in the skills of blindness.  Oriana Riccobono, a fifth-grade student at the Patterson Park Public Charter School, received this prestigious award.  Oriana had to overcome many health problems after an accident on the school playground.  When receiving this award, Oriana reported, “I like to read Harry Potter, the Magic Treehouse books, and any books I can find about cats.”


Beatrice Parker, a member of the Eastern Shore Chapter, received the Anna Cable Award.  The Anna Cable Award is given in honor of Anna Cable, who lost her vision later in life.  Anna lived to be 108 years old, learned to travel independently, and learned to read and write Braille.  Beatrice Parker received this award because of her zest for life.  Despite numerous health problems, Beatrice has volunteered with the Eastern Shore BELL Academy from its inception in 2015.  Beatrice is a great example of Anna’s spirit because of her determination to live independently and participate in all aspects of community life.


At the 2020 Convention, we had a new award, specifically for people who lost their vision between ages 18 and 60.  The family of Bernard Turner created this award in his memory and to honor his accomplishments as a blind person.  Bernard lost his sight at age 40.  He learned the skills of blindness and went on to live the life he wanted.  He went back to work and retired as an Instructional Technology Supervisor with the Arnold & Porter Law Firm.  The NFBMD partnered with the Turner family to advertise the award and solicit applications.  The family offered two $200 stipends that blind people could use to achieve their goals and live the life they want.  The recipients were Michelle Lindsay and Liz Moyer.  Michelle plans to use her stipend toward her purchase of a Victor Reader Stream.  Liz will use her award money toward finishing her education.  She plans to get a bachelor’s degree at Montclair State University in New Jersey in Theatre Studies.


Start thinking about who should receive these various awards at the 2021 state convention, to be held November 12 to 14, 2021!



Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Jen White

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 Jen White, newly elected Treasurer of the NFBMD Board Member of the TLC Chapter.]


Our new NFBMD Treasurer Jen White, had never met a blind person before her now husband, Scott.  But Jen has always believed that everyone can live a full life, no matter what, as long as they are given opportunities, and as long as the people around them have open minds.  Jen admits she has always had the NFB philosophy, even before she knew anything about the NFB.

Jen is originally from Virginia.  She has four grown children and three grandchildren.  Before moving to Maryland in 2006, Jen was the director of transportation for a county in Virginia.  She supervised 200 drivers, created transportation routes, and generally made sure the system operated as smoothly as possible.  Jen loved her job, but she decided to move to Maryland because her then boyfriend, Scott, was leaving Virginia in order to begin working for the NFB.

Jen and Scott met on a telephone chat line.  Jen says, “We talked for hours when we first met, and actually got together in person the next day.  Yes, I know this is a little unusual, but I had been in relationships before—I had to go through a lot of frogs before I found my prince.”

Scott and Jen married in 2010, and Jen says she resisted for a long time, but she is so happy she finally married Scott.


Scott took Jen to her first NFB chapter meeting, and she was pleased to be able to work alongside him, to complete projects for the NFB of VA.  She says her favorite NFB memory is her first convention in Louisville. “It was such an energizing experience being at convention,” Jen says.  “Also, Scott and I were so much in love.  We ate at the restaurant on the top of the hotel.  The hotel was so lovely, and the city was so lovely.  It was just such a special time for both of us.”


Jen has done a few jobs at the NFB headquarters.  She first worked in the Independence Market, then was Mrs. Maurer’s assistant, and now works with the education staff to help with our various programs.  She also greatly enjoys working on projects for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.


When Jen is not working, she adores spending time with Scott.  The two of them love to travel.  They enjoy cruises, but they also love just getting in their car, driving, and seeing where they end up.  Jen is especially happy when their trips take them to see her children and grandchildren.


Scott and Jen also enjoy playing board games together, Jen loves trivia of all kinds, and she and Scott have thought of perhaps creating their own podcast someday.


If you have not met Jen White yet, please say hello to her the next time you have the chance.  She is truly one of the kindest people you will ever meet, and she will help you in any way she can, if you ask her, because helping people makes her truly happy.


Western Maryland: The Greater Cumberland Chapter Reimagined

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s note: Below is an update on the Greater Cumberland Chapter, as it writes the next chapter in its story.  The Fall 2020 Braille Spectator outlined the chapter’s history, and below is a significant next step.]


One of our most important priorities as an organization is chapter and membership building.  Each chapter has its own personality, largely driven by its geographic location, composition of its members, and external factors like the industry/agriculture in the area, access to transportation, and focus.  The Greater Cumberland Chapter has historically been a smaller chapter comprised of dedicated Federationists who work quietly to help blind people live the lives they want.  It is one of the farthest chapters in terms of physical distance from the others—seven of the 10 Maryland chapters are within a one-hour drive from the others, but the Cumberland chapter is about three hours away.


The passing of Jean Faulkner resulted in the remaining chapter leaders deciding to reimagine what they wanted the chapter to look like, who it should serve, and how it should be led.  As a result, on May 21, 2021, the members of the Greater Cumberland Chapter met to reorganize the chapter.  They voted to expand the location the chapter covers to focus on the entirety of Western Maryland from beyond the area of the Greater Carroll County Chapter to the western border.  They also voted to rebrand the chapter so it better aligns with the membership they plan to attract.  The new chapter’s name is the Western Maryland Chapter of the NFBMD.  They also decided to reimagine how and where the chapter meets to ensure that individuals with transportation access barriers aren’t shut out of participation in the chapter.


Finally, they elected a new Board of Directors.  Chris Myers serves as president, Jason Adkins serves as vice president, Patrick Gormley serves as secretary, and Carol Davis serves as treasurer.  They will communicate more information about their upcoming plans and accomplishments on the listserves and in future Minute Message from the Movement newsletters.  Doubtless the next chapter in the Western Maryland Chapter’s story will be bright.



Spectator Specs


On December 16, 2020, Jean Faulkner, president of the Greater Cumberland chapter, died suddenly.  Read the articles about Jean elsewhere in this issue. 


In mid-January 2021, Dana Diaz, a member of the Greater Baltimore and At-Large Chapters, died after a long illness.  Despite her many health problems, Dana lived life to the fullest.  Dana had a great spirit.  She surprised us on numerous occasions by showing up to NFB activities when she was quite ill.  She was always thinking about how she could help others.  Her courage, faith, and strength were an inspiration to all of us. 


On February 17, 2021, Hank Heller died after a brief illness.  Former Delegate Hank Heller championed many of our issues during his time in the Maryland General Assembly.  He was a delegate for 24 years, from 1986 to 2011.  He was especially helpful in promoting accessibility to education.  In retirement, Hank continued to advocate for us when he could.  He was very helpful in assisting us in getting a separate budget for the Library for the Blind in 2014. 


We recently learned of the death of Roselyn Havas.  Roz was a member of the Central Maryland Chapter for about five years.  As a senior citizen, Roz was very grateful to learn from the NFB that despite her vision loss, she could still maintain her independence.  Roz definitely demonstrated the truthfulness of our credo, “You can live the life you want.  Blindness is not what holds you back.”


Harold Fairchild, who worked diligently for many years at the National Center mailing white canes and other products from the independence market to members throughout the country, died on April 8, 2021.  Harold was a loyal, steadfast member who worked quietly behind the scenes but was always available to further the goals of the Federation. 


May they rest in peace. 


Information for People Receiving Unemployment

As part of the 2021 session, the Maryland General Assembly passed SB819.  This bill would raise the disregarded amount of wages from $50 to $200, allowing for claimants to earn higher wages without their benefits being cut.  This provision of law, allowing a higher amount of wages to be disregarded when computing the weekly benefit, will end when the governor ends the COVID State of Emergency.  This bill went into effect on April 9, 2021. 




Congratulations to all of the students who participated in the Regional Braille Challenge and in the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. 


The Braille Challenge was held virtually on February 6, 2021.  In this one-day competition, students demonstrate their Braille literacy skills by completing exercises in reading comprehension, spelling, reading speed and accuracy, proofreading Braille passages, and interpreting charts and graphs. 


In the Apprentice category grades 1-2, first place went to Maya Penna, and second place went to Jermiah Mude.  In the Freshman category grades 3-4, Enny Osunkoya won first place, Riley Sanders won second place, and Elizabeth Riccobono won third place.  In the Sophomore category grades 5-6, Paul Bloxom won first place, Aaron Shrieves won second place, Adam Shrieves won third, and Oriana Riccobono earned an honorable mention.  In the JV category grades 7-9, first place went to Naomi Jean Mills, second place went to Naudia Graham, and third place went to Meredith Day.  Honorable mentions from JV were Maria Zoerlein, Tyler Huber, Derrick Day, Alexis McPhail, and Hanna Wages.  In the Varsity category grades 10-12, Julia Stockburger won first place, Sujan Dhakal won second place, Amadi Sullivan won third place, and Tiffany Smith earned an honorable mention. 


The Braille Readers are Leaders Contest is administered by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.  In this competition, children and adults across the United States compete to read the most Braille pages.  The contest was held from December 1, 2020 through January 18, 2021.  Here are the Maryland participants.  In the fourth and fifth grade category, Nadiya Albrecht won first place.  In the sixth and seventh grade category, Jonah Rao won first place and Isaiah Rao won second place.  Three Maryland students won Breaking Reading Limits awards.  This award is given to students who face barriers to learning to read and demonstrate great determination in their journey to literacy.  The Maryland winners were Nadiya Albrecht, Luis Villanueva, and Paul Wales.  We are very proud of all the students who participated in the Braille Challenge and the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. 



Erin Daring graduated from the Louisiana Center for the Blind on May 7, 2021.  She has accepted a position in a child care in Ruston, Louisiana, but she promises she will move back to Maryland.


Garret Mooney graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law with a Juris Doctor.  He will sit for the Maryland Bar Exam this summer.


Mirranda Williams graduated from Morgan State University with a Bachelor of Social Work.  Mirranda will be enrolling in the Morgan State Master of Social Work program this fall.  She is also a 2021 NFB national scholarship finalist.


Liz Moyer graduated from Montclair State University in New Jersey with a B.A. in theatre Studies.


Christopher Nussbaum graduated from the University of Lynchburg in Virginia with a degree in communications. 


Carlie Carullo graduated from Calvary Baptist Church Academy high school.  She plans to attend Frostburg State University. 

Noah White graduated from Owings Mills High School.  He plans to attend George Mason University.


Austin Riccobono graduated from eighth grade at Patterson Park Public Charter School.  He will enroll in high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute this Fall.


Congratulations to all the graduates!



Independence Now, which runs a center for independent living, honored Michelle Lindsay in 2020 by giving her the Rising Star Award, which is named after Deborah T.  Jackson, one of their founding members.  She was recognized for completing the Certified Nursing Assistant program and for getting a job in this field.  Michelle said, “I could not have accomplished these goals without the assistance of Independence Now; the organization paid for my tuition and bought my scrubs, shoes, and books.  I am very grateful for their assistance.” Michelle works for Griswold Home Care and is a member of the Sligo Creek Chapter.



The Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFBMD presented Shawn Jacobson with the Pauline Johnson Award at their meeting on March 13.  Shawn was recognized for his 20 years of service as treasurer of the chapter.  Pauline Johnson served as an active member and leader in the chapter for many years; she also served on the Board of Directors of the NFBMD.  This award, which was established in her memory, recognizes individual members who exemplify Pauline’s spirit of service.



On Saturday, April 10, the Eastern Shore chapter recognized Frances Walls, who is the longest serving member of the chapter.  Here is what Secretary Patty Behr said when presenting Frances with her certificate.


“It is my privilege to give special recognition to Ms.  Frances Walls for her longevity as a senior member of the Eastern Shore Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. 


Frances was born on September 4, 1934 in Rosedale, which is in Dorchester County, Maryland.  She began losing her sight in 1973.  Frances joined the Eastern Shore Chapter in 1979 and has been an active member for over 40 years.


Frances sought employment in 1973 at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).  Her first job was filling freezer bags with frozen foods.  Later, she moved into the sewing department.  She retired from BISM in 1999.


Frances maintained her independence by learning the skills of blindness.  She appreciated the training she received from BISM and the encouragement she received from the Federation to live the life she wants.  Frances continues to be an active senior.  She also belongs to the Visions of Independent Positive Seniors, a BISM support group. 


At the young age of 86, Frances is quite the conversationalist and fun to be around.  She now lives in a lovely apartment in Cambridge, Maryland, where she is close to her family.   We are delighted to have her as a cherished senior member of the Eastern Shore Chapter and of the NFB of Maryland.”



Tiffany Smith, a member of the Maryland Association of Blind Students, recently received word that she will be recognized in the fall of 2021 as a Ben Carson Scholar.  According to the Carson Fund website, “The Carson Scholars Fund awards $1,000 college scholarships to students in grades 4 to 11 who excel academically and are dedicated to serving their communities.  Scholarship winners receive the honor of being named “Carson Scholars” and are awarded an Olympic-sized medal and a trophy for their school to celebrate their accomplishments.”  Dr.  Ben Carson is a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon.  His goal is to name a Carson Scholar at every school in the United States.  Congratulations to Tiffany on winning this prestigious award.



On May 13, 2021, Lou Ann Blake, treasurer of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and the director of Research Programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, was honored by the Maryland Daily Record as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women.  Lou Ann was recognized for her community activism and for her leadership in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.  Lou Ann is an ardent champion of promoting voting rights for the blind.