Braille Spectator, Fall 2022



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


Ronza Othman and Sharon Maneki, co-editors


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


Ronza Othman, President


Comments and questions should be sent to


In this issue:

  • The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2022 Annual Convention: Reconnect, Reimagine, Reignite!
  • The BELLs Ring in Maryland
  • Dr. Michael Gosse Assumes the Presidency of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland
  • Employed Individuals with Disabilities Program Expands
  • Chapter Spotlight: The TLC Chapter
  • Congress Ordered Agencies to Use Tech that Works for People with Disabilities 24 Years Ago – Many Still Haven’t
  • Annapolis Highlights: The Rest of the Story
  • Brookhaven Elementary Embraces MCPS’ Only Classroom for Blind, Visually Impaired Students
  • What I Learned from Attending My First National Convention
  • Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Dezman Jackson
  • FDR Memorial Steps Up Accessibility for Visually Impaired Visitors
  • The Spirit of the Federation in Maryland Before NFBMD
  • Blind Caregiver Doesn’t Let Disability Slow Her Down from Caring for Bethesda Seniors
  • Spectator Specs


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2022 Annual Convention: Reconnect, Reimagine, Reignite!

by Ronza Othman


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) will be holding our 56th Annual Convention from November 11-13, 2022 in Towson at the Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel.  Our theme this year will be “Reconnect, Reimagine, Reignite!”  This is because, as we scale up our efforts to ensure blind Marylanders can live the lives they want, we are reconnecting with one another in person and remotely; reimagining how we do the work of our movement in a post-pandemic era; and reigniting in ourselves the drive and commitment to fan the flame of independence, equal access, and inclusion for the blind.  This year’s theme celebrates our resilience, creativity, and unrelenting commitment to equal access to information, education, jobs, civil rights, and all the aspects of life in which we participate and envision a future where we navigate the world free from discrimination.  At this year’s convention, we will highlight our efforts, celebrate our successes, and map our way forward. 


We will meet in person with activities beginning Friday, November 11 morning and adjourning at noon on Sunday, November 13.  All participants are required to abide by the NFBMD In Person Events Policy, which may be accessed at


Our national representative this year is Donald Porterfield.  Donald is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, a member of the NFB Board of Directors, and a criminal prosecutor.  Donald brings a rich perspective on equality, opportunity, and independence.  His spouse, Amy Porterfield, will also join us at the convention.  Amy serves as the chief operating officer at Saavi Services for the Blind. 


We will begin early on Friday, November 11, with the Resolutions Committee followed by the meeting of the Board of Directors.  The host committee, consisting of the TLC Chapter, the Greater Baltimore Chapter, the Maryland Association of Blind Students, and the Maryland Parents of Blind Children, are hard at work finalizing arrangements for fun and exciting activities including Friday night hospitality in the form of Crab Idol, our talent competition. 


We will, once again, have an exhibit hall, where a number of organizations will demonstrate services and goods specific to the blind.  We are also planning some workshops, which can’t be missed.  One of these will be an interactive advocacy seminar hosted by our NFB of Maryland Advocacy Committee.  The Employment Seminar is planning a robust and interactive employment seminar for job seekers, employers, and those who want to advance.  We will also host a financial and tax literacy seminar focused on blind filers and those who earn money and those who want to earn money. 


The Parents Division is hosting a seminar on Friday morning for parents and teachers.  Students also will have a seminar on Friday afternoon.  The Merchants Division will have a meeting and reception Friday evening.  The Seniors Issues Division will hold its annual seminar Friday afternoon.  The Blind Parents Committee, those interested in deaf-blind issues, and those interested in guide dogs also will meet Friday.  The Western Maryland Chapter and the At-Large Chapter will meet in person.


Saturday and Sunday promise to be equally exciting.  We will have many dynamic and interesting presentations during general session.  As usual, we will work with our partners to ensure high quality services for the blind.  We also will hear from government officials with whom we’ve worked to help us live the lives we want.  We will hear from federationists with interesting careers and those with tips and tricks on adjusting to blindness.  And we will hear from a person who provides audio description.


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


We have a number of surprises in store this year.  Please take advantage of the discounted rates for registration by pre-registering prior to October 15.  On-site registration will be available, but we need to have a sense of how many will attend in person, so we ask all those who can pre-register to do so.  To register, visit  For more information about pre-registration and to download the convention agenda once it becomes available, visit


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


The BELLs Ring in Maryland

by Ronza Othman

[Editor’s Note: Our NFB Braille Enrichment in Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy programs are arguably the most important initiatives we offer.  In 2022, we were able to resume an in-person NFB BELL Academy in Maryland.  Though we were not able to hold in-person sessions in all our usual locations due to public health considerations, our children were nonetheless able to experience the BELL magic in Baltimore and through our in-home experience.  Below is our 2022 NFB BELL Academy roundup.]


In 2022, our students in Maryland were able to choose from either attending the NFB BELL Academy in-home edition, which was a virtual experience, or attending our NFB BELL Academy in person in Baltimore.  We had 20 students combined attend one of our programs.  At least half of them were first-time attendees, and most were younger than 8.  The overall theme of the NFB BELL Academy in 2022 was “Math, Music, and Movement.”  Our participants received plenty of all three, in addition to Braille instruction, cane travel and orientation and mobility instruction, independent living skills, and positive philosophy from blind role models.


Our in-home academy students attended the NFB BELL Academy remotely over a three-week period.  They were able to choose from different literacy comfort levels to receive tailored instruction based on their Braille skills.  They were matched with successful blind mentors who worked with them and their families.  They were sent all of the materials and equipment they needed for the session.  They engaged in activities such as writing and performing songs, conducting scavenger hunts, creating art, learning to dance, and learning to identify and use money.  Karen Anderson and Jen White did a fantastic job organizing, managing, and facilitating this program.


Our NFB BELL Academy in-person program participants attended the Baltimore-based BELL Academy for two weeks.  Our national NFB headquarters provided the space, meals, and significant support.  We were delighted that our NFBMD lead teacher, Jackie Anderson, was able to join us again.  Additionally, Brittany Bomboy served in dual roles as both the NFB BELL Coordinator for Maryland and as the co-teacher for our in-person session.  We had 15 students attend this session, and several of them joined us from states that did not host an in-person BELL Academy this year.


The students made their own wind chimes with clay, visited the Maryland Library for the Blind and Print Disabled to learn about math and movement with a sea theme, and set up and orchestrated their own water playland.  They also learned to make different food items, journaled daily in Braille, and created Braille twister boards.  Kristen Sims of the Louisiana Center for the Blind provided an intensive orientation and mobility training session, from which the students then implemented what they learned the remainder of the session. 


The Maryland iteration of the NFB BELL Academy would not have been possible without the incredible effort of Brittany Bomboy, our Maryland NFB BELL coordinator, and Jackie Anderson, our lead teacher, who raises the bar year in and year out.  Our incredible volunteers handle the thousands of tasks needed to keep the program running.  We could not have been able to operate this program without volunteers such as, Mary Ellen Thompson, Bernice Lowder, Mirranda Williams, Oriana Riccobono, Sharon Maneki, Sumaya Breianis, Mujahid Breianis, Sarah McCubbin-Jones, and so many others.  We are also grateful to Tammi Helm, Ray Brown, and the NFB Logistics staff for the delicious lunches and on-site support.  Shawn Seward, Ellana Crew, and the Independence Market staff kept us in supplies and canes.  Karen Anderson, Jen White, and the Education team ensured we had an outstanding curriculum, led our in-home programming, and provided whatever other support we needed.


The Board of Directors of the NFB of Maryland has determined the BELLs will toll in Maryland in 2023.  We will most definitely hold an in-person session, public health permitting, in Baltimore.  We hope to expand our offerings to other places throughout the state and are eager to speak with those families interested in attending as we those individuals who are interested in volunteering.



Dr. Michael Gosse Assumes the Presidency of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland

By: The Daily Record, published August 2, 2022

[Editor’s Note: We in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland share a special relationship with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).  Recently, that relationship was strengthened when Michael Gosse assumed the mantle of leadership by being appointed as president of BISM, effective August 1, 2022.  Michael is no stranger to federationists, as he served as the president of the NFBMD from 2006-2008, has been an active member of our Greater Baltimore Chapter for decades, and operates a business that has done significant work with our NFB National Center.  We are delighted that such a strong advocate for the blind, and a very successful blind person in his own right, is now at the helm at BISM, and we are looking forward to strengthening and enhancing our partnership.  Below is an article from The Daily Record giving readers more insight into Michael as a person.]


Dr. Michael Gosse was appointed president of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.  Gosse has dedicated many years to BISM, first as a member of BISM’s Board of Trustees and as Chairman of the Board.  In 2018, Gosse joined BISM as the Director of Accessibility.  More recently, Gosse was promoted to vice-president where he oversees all of BISM’s manufacturing operations and Independence Training and Rehabilitation Department.


Prior to his involvement with BISM, he was and continues to be a leader in many capacities within the blindness community.  He once served as the Affiliate President for the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland where he worked to advocate for the rights of Blind Marylanders.  Dr. Gosse will succeed long time President Frederick Puente and assume responsibilities on Aug. 1.  After more than 30 years, President Frederick Puente will be retiring.




Resides in:




Doctorate in electrical engineering from Lehigh University; Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Connecticut.


If you had not chosen your current profession, what profession would you choose and why?

I would teach STEM at the high school or college level.  I really enjoy finding ways to help people realize their fullest potential.  I never set out to have this position, but I do get to help blind people reach their fullest potential, so I feel fulfilled every day.


Recent vacation:

This past spring my wife and I went to New Orleans with a group of 10 other couples to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday.  While the food, music and events were extraordinary, the friends and shared experiences are what made the trip special.


When I want to relax, … 

I go for a run/workout, watch sci-fi, sip some whiskey or just take a quick nap.


Favorite books: 

I like many of the books by Orson Scott Card, particularly the “Ender’s Game” series.


Favorite quotations:

Almost anything by Mark Twain particularly “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer someone else up” and “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”  But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t include “No matter where you go, there you are” — Buckaroo Banzai and others.



Employed Individuals with Disabilities Program Expands

by Sharon Maneki and Michael Dalto

[Editor’s Note: Sharon Maneki is our director of legislation and advocacy, and Michael Dalto provides the NFBMD, our Merchants Division, and others with advice and guidance.  Below is an article that details a program available to many blind Marylanders; the article outlines how this program is expanding to include even more individuals.]


Sometimes people with disabilities are afraid to go to work because they will lose benefits such as health insurance.  Maryland has tried to solve this problem and encourage disabled people to work through its Employed Individuals with Disabilities (EID) program.  This program allows individuals with disabilities to work while qualifying or keeping their Medicaid benefits.  EID is a great option for people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and work, even if they earn enough to stop their SSDI.  It’s also a vital benefit for people who receive Medicaid in another way, but whose income or resources increase enough to stop their Medicaid; they can use EID to keep Medicaid, as EID has higher income and resource limits.


Medicaid provides comprehensive health insurance if you have no other insurance.  If you receive Medicare, EID covers almost all the out-of-pocket costs for Medicare, which can save you thousands of dollars a year.  Medicaid also supplements Medicare and private insurance, covering some services that Medicare and private insurance don’t cover.


To be eligible for this program, you must be between the ages of 18 and 64, have a disability that meets Social Security definitions, work for pay, and have resources of less than $10,000 (less than $15,000 for a married couple) when you apply.  EID began in April 2006.


The Maryland Department of Health has recently expanded the eligibility rules to enable more individuals with disabilities to qualify for this important program.  The new rules will eliminate the income limits and eliminate the resource limits after a person has enrolled in EID.  Once you enroll, you can save as much money as you want.  Individuals are required to pay a monthly insurance premium based on a sliding scale according to income.  This is definitely good news for individuals who want to work.


If you wish to apply for EID, visit  You can contact an agency on the list on this web page for assistance applying, or you can apply on your own by downloading  the application at  You will need to print and mail the application as instructed on the “How to Apply” page. Remember to save your application, as you will need to reapply every 12 months. For further information, call one of the agencies listed on the webpage, or call 410-767-7090.

Chapter Spotlight: The TLC Chapter

by Ellen Ringlein

[Editor’s Note: The Maryland affiliate has a rich and varied history that is not widely known.  As we move forward with our membership initiative, we will continue highlighting a particular chapter or division in each edition of this publication.  After all, members are the lifeblood of our organization, and chapters help build the foundation for membership.  Since the spring 2019 issue, we have been spotlighting a Maryland chapter in each issue to share how that chapter originated, what makes it unique, and other interesting information about it.  In this edition, we will highlight the TLC Chapter.]


The TLC chapter is the newest member of our Maryland affiliate family.  It was organized on June 19, 2014 at the home of Jesse and Mary Jo Hartle and received its charter at the state convention later that year.  The name comes from Towson, Timonium, Lutherville, and Cockeysville, the communities in Baltimore County the chapter wanted to reach.  There was also interest in creating a chapter in the Baltimore area that would meet on a week night.  Initially the chapter met on the third Thursday of the month, but now meets on the third Monday. For much of the chapter’s existence it met in a suite of the IMAGE Center located at 300 East Joppa Road.  It switched to meeting virtually during the pandemic.  The plan is to meet virtually most of the time and have in-person meetings three to four times a year.  So far this year, they held one in-person meeting in May.


Mary Joe Hartle was the founding president of the chapter.  She served from June 2014- July 2016. Latonya Phipps then served as president July 2016-2017.  Scott White followed in the presidency and served for two years until July 2019.  In July 2019, Meleah Jensen was elected as president and she continues to serve today.  To conform with the other chapters in the affiliate, the chapter changed its election schedule so the terms of office now follow the calendar year.


Despite the fact the TLC chapter is relatively small, it has engaged in a variety of activities over the years.  Early in its existence, it helped connect a homeless blind person with blindness training and gifted him with items so he could set up his new apartment.  The chapter also reached out to retina specialists in the Towson, Lutherville, and Timonium area and delivered informational packets to their offices to let them know about resources available through the National Federation of the Blind.  It made connections with the low-vision support group at Broadmead, a local retirement community.  Through numerous presentations at chapter meetings, members and visitors learned about a variety of resources, such as:

  • accessible voting machines used during state and local elections;
  • the Maryland ABLE Program, which enables people with disabilities to save tax free;
  • the Business Enterprise Program, which provides employment opportunities for the blind;
  • emergency preparedness for people with disabilities;
  • Maryland Arts Access, which describes many local live theater performances;
  • The Maryland State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled’s Technology User Group;
  • the Sprint Accessibility Program;
  • services for older adults with severe vision loss;
  • and much more.

Even before the pandemic the chapter invited NFB national leaders Pam Allen, Gary Wunder, Joe Ruffalo, and Ever Lee Hairston, to share their stories with chapter members via conference calls.


The chapter also knows how to have fun.  Some activities used to reach out to potential new members included a breakfast at a local restaurant and a meetup at a Starbucks.  Some of the Meet the Blind Month activities included attending a Towson University football game as a chapter and participating in a Trunk and Treat event at a local church where candy and Braille alphabet cards were distributed.  For several years Eileen and Tom Ley hosted memorable holiday parties with lots of good food and fellowship.  Such fundraisers as candy sales, various raffles, and state convention love note sales helped support the chapter’s activities over the years.  During the pandemic, the chapter remained active by continuing to provide information about various resources and sharing fun holiday activities over Zoom.


Notable founding members include the Hartle family, Terri Uttermohlen, John and Barbara Cheadle, Marsha Dyer, Eileen and Tom Ley, Scott and Sue Solden, and Scott and Jen White.  Notable current members include most of the founding members along with Joel Zimba, Hindley Williams, Ross Kirschner, and other recognizable names.




Congress Ordered Agencies to Use Tech that Works for People with Disabilities 24 Years Ago – Many Still Haven’t

by Ruth Reader, published by POLITICO on August 21, 2022

[Editor’s Note: Federal workers make up the largest segment of Maryland’s workforce.  We in the NFBMD also have a significant portion of our membership who work for the federal government.  More, a substantial portion of our members access federal websites and systems such as Social Security benefits, education services, discrimination complaint systems, and many others.  Below is an article detailing the frustrations of members with inaccessible federal technology and how the NFB is advocating to Congress for improvements.]


Ronza Othman, a lawyer with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore, hasn’t been able to order a sandwich without help in her office cafeteria for a decade.


Before the deli replaced workers with a touch screen in 2012, she would walk up to the counter and ask for a roast beef and cheddar sandwich with cucumbers, not pickles.  But Ronza, who is blind, can’t work the touch screen as it doesn’t take voice commands.


“I’m an attorney.  I have a master’s degree in government and nonprofit management.  I’ve raised children,” she said.  “But I can’t get a damn sandwich by myself in my agency.”


Congress made a portion of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act known as Section 508, which asks federal agencies to make technology accessible, mandatory in 1998.  But nearly a quarter century later, they are still failing to do so. And it’s not just about ordering lunch.  Roughly 30 percent of the most popular federal websites don’t meet accessibility standards, according to a 2021 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.  Enforcement is virtually nonexistent, and agencies are spending little effort or money to comply.


“Clients of my firm right now are dealing with trainings required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that don’t work with blind people screen readers and with intake kiosks at the Social Security Administration that are not accessible,” said Eve Hill, a lawyer with Brown, Goldstein & Levy, who testified about the problems before the Senate Aging Committee last month.


Hill, along with Anil Lewis, executive director for blindness initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind, and Jule Ann Lieberman, assistive technology program coordinator at Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, asked senators to ensure the federal government is complying with federal disability law.


Most frustrating, the advocates said, is that making technology accessible isn’t difficult.  It just requires forethought. And it’s important. More than a quarter of Americans have a disability.


For the past 10 years, the DOJ hasn’t made public any of the biennial reports that Congress mandated on compliance with Section 508.  As of the DOJ’s last report in September 2012, less than half of federal agencies had established a compliance plan.  Those that did had an average operating budget of $35,000 a year devoted to the task.


In June, Senate Aging Committee Chair Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and ranking member Tim Scott (R-S.C.), along with other lawmakers, wrote to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and Attorney General Merrick Garland.


They asked McDonough to provide detailed information about the accessibility of VA websites and plans to bring them into compliance, noting that only 8 percent of its public sites and even fewer of its intranet sites complied with the law.  “The lack of fully accessible websites at VA is a potential barrier for the one-quarter of all veterans with a service-connected disability, and may well be a harbinger of similar shortfalls at other federal agencies and departments,” the senators wrote.


In a letter responding to Casey, McDonough said that the VA’s most-used websites have accessibility ratings of 95 percent or higher.  The department is now conducting daily accessibility scans, he said, to bring other sites into compliance.


In their letter to Garland, the lawmakers asked why the DOJ has not made public more of its reporting on agency compliance.  The department said it is working with the White House Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration on relaying its data to Congress and the president.


Widespread problems

Carlos Montas, a former employee of the Veterans Benefits Administration in Nashville, Tenn., who is blind, can relate to Othman’s struggles.


When he took a job with the agency in March 2020 that involved calling veterans to explain their benefits, his manager gave him digital audio workstation software and a Braille display, which allowed him to read text on the screen with his fingertips.


But neither technology was compatible with much of the software he needed to do his job.  He found performing simple tasks, like attaching a document to an email, was impossible.


He said the VA instituted performance benchmarks and eventually fired him for not keeping up.  He filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and won his job back along with back pay.  He quit a few months later for a job at the EEOC.


People who are hard of hearing struggle with federal technology as well.  Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, advocates with the National Association of the Deaf said that HHS videos did not have proper captioning and were unavailable in American Sign Language.


In their letter to McDonough, Casey and Scott highlighted the VA’s own data showing that hearing loss is “by far the most prevalent service-connected disability.”  Hill said people who are deaf or hard of hearing struggle with training and educational videos that lack captions.


The VA, which serves about 9 million veterans a year, is at the center of the problem, according to Casey and Scott.  In March, the senators said the department had acknowledged “hundreds of thousands of Section 508 compliance issues remain to be resolved.”


But problems with accessibility extend across much of the federal government.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank that promotes the use of technology in policy solutions, audited federal websites in 2021.  They found that 30 percent of them, including popular sites like, and, did not pass an automated accessibility test and nearly half had webpages that failed the test.


The report recommended that the General Services Administration, which supports other federal agencies’ logistical needs, create an accessibility testing lab to ensure sites are compliant and expand its existing Digital Analytics Program to conduct real-time accessibility testing.  It also suggested that Congress require the DOJ to make its 508 accessibility reports public.


Eric Egan, a policy fellow with the foundation, said he was unaware of any steps the GSA had taken to implement the reports’ recommendations.  He said the foundation was encouraged by the Senate Aging Committee’s oversight.


A spokesperson for GSA said the agency is collecting self-reported data from agencies about their compliance with Section 508, analyzing it, and making recommendations.  GSA is also involved with an interagency effort to update guidance on Section 508 compliance.


‘A flawed process’

Advocates for people with disabilities say fixing accessibility problems shouldn’t be expensive.  In his testimony before the Senate Aging Committee, Lewis attempted to disabuse senators of the idea that accessible technology costs a lot. “Accessible coding is just good coding,” he said.


He offered an example.  If the federal government were to create all its documents on typewriters and then hand them over to a contractor to be digitized, that would be expensive and inefficient.  Instead of layering outdated technology onto a newer framework, the government should be using technology that designs around accessibility from the start, he said.


Some vendors offer such tools, said Sommer Panage, who manages a team of engineers focused on accessibility at Slack, the instant-messaging service.  She said Slack has long considered the needs of people with disabilities in its product design and recently changed its internal operations to make its software more consistently accessible.


Panage manages a team of engineers focused on accessibility and said her team is now making sure people with disabilities can use any new feature before release, while also seeking to ensure it will work with outside accessibility tools.


“There’s a really big matrix of the combinations of different operating systems, different screen readers, different screen readers within each operating system, and then Slack itself,” she told POLITICO.  “What we’ve been really working on now is thinking about that matrix holistically.”


But advocates for people with disabilities say the federal government is behind the curve.  Agencies don’t often test technology for accessibility before implementation, and consequences are rare when government contractors don’t ensure that people with disabilities can use their products, said Doug George Towne, chair and CEO of Access Ready, a disability rights advocacy organization.  “It’s a flawed process,” he said.


Othman said that a culture of penny-pinching makes life worse for people with disabilities in her workplace.  For example, when her office updated the photocopiers, the agency was given an option to pay a small additional fee for a speech package, which would have made the machines accessible to employees who are vision-impaired.  A lever attachment to help employees in wheelchairs raise the copier’s lid was also available.  But the agency opted for neither.


After employees, including Othman, complained, she said the office bought a few packages instead of deploying the technology officewide.


Information blackout

President Joe Biden won plaudits early in his administration for prioritizing accessibility.  An interpreter has regularly translated Biden’s speeches into sign language, and the White House has provided captions for those watching online.  The White House press secretary is always accompanied by a sign language interpreter, and the administration has provided live audio descriptions of White House events for people with vision impairments.


In June 2021, Biden issued an executive order asking agencies “to improve accessibility, ensure accommodations can be requested, increase opportunities for advancement and hiring, and reduce physical accessibility barriers.”


The Office of Management and Budget already requires 24 agencies to file reports twice a year about the accessibility of their technological infrastructure.


But those reports aren’t public.  It’s part of a broader information blackout that Casey and four other senators, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Richard Burr, (R-N.C.), called attention to in an Aug. 11 letter to Comptroller General Eugene Dodaro.


The senators asked Dodaro, who runs Congress’s watchdog arm, the Government Accountability Office, to investigate, writing that “the lack of public reporting and accountability leaves Congress and taxpayers without adequate information about the rate of compliance with disability access requirements.”



Annapolis Highlights: The Rest of the Story

by Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s Note: In the Spring 2022 edition of this newsletter, we provided a round-up of the 2022 Maryland legislative session and the status of the bills for which NFB of Maryland advocated.  Sharon Maneki, our director of legislation and advocacy provides additional information about our legislative efforts in 2022.]


In the spring edition of the Braille Spectator, we discussed our role in the enactment of SB617, the Accountability Act for Accessible K-12 Education, into law.  In this article, we are highlighting other bills of interest to readers.  In addition to our own priorities, we look at all of the bills introduced by the House and Senate to see if they will have an impact on the blind.  During the 444th session, the Senate introduced 1,013 bills and the House introduced 1,847 bills.   Here is a brief summary of some of the bills that we supported as well as a summary of bills that will be of interest to you. 


NFBMD tries to make good bills better.  An example of this was HB1073/SB824 Accessibility of Electronic Advance Care Planning Documents.  This legislation requires the adoption of several measures to facilitate access and increase public awareness of the importance of advance care planning documents, such as advanced directives.  It encourages Marylanders to complete the advanced care forms and provides them electronically so that they are available when needed, making it more likely that end-of-life wishes will be honored.  It is important to have an advanced care directive, written while you are healthy, so that you are able to tell doctors what you want or don’t want at end of life.  This also helps prevent unnecessary pain, unhelpful procedures, and unwanted hospitalizations.  Directives will be stored in a statewide database that doctors can access if you are unable to communicate your wishes.


Many thanks to bill sponsors Delegate Bonnie Cullison and Senator Ben Kramer for agreeing to amend the bill to require all electronic forms and the database itself be nonvisually accessible.


Sometimes we help to kill bad bills. One example was HB1404 Election Law Curbside Voting.  We do not object to the concept of curbside voting.  We recognize that some people with disabilities need curbside voting.  Our objection was that the bill stated the voter had to use a paper ballot.  If there is to be curbside voting, individuals must be able to choose whether to use the ballot marking device or a paper ballot.  This bill would deprive voters who are blind of the right to a secret ballot and their right to privacy.


Other Bills of Interest

The Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) plays a vital role in helping blind consumers return to work or go to work for the first time.  During the 2022 session, HB660 was enacted into law.  This bill created a commission to study many aspects of DORS services.  There are several questions on how transition services should be improved.  The commission will also look at whether the eligibility criteria for the Division of Rehabilitation Services’ programs and services should be altered; whether the Division of Rehabilitation Services should continue to be a division of the State Department of Education or should be transferred to another state agency; if the commission determines the Division of Rehabilitation Services should continue to be a division of the State Department of Education, whether the Division of Rehabilitation Services should have a governing board separate from the State Board of Education; and whether there are specific budgetary requests that could support the job training programs provided by the Division of Rehabilitation Services.  The commission’s report is due to the governor and general assembly by December 15, 2022.


Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults.  The Insulin Cost Reduction Act, HB 1397, was enacted into law during the 2022 session.  This law caps the cost of insulin at no more than $1 per day for those covered by most health insurance plans.  With the cost of prescription medications constantly rising, this price cap will help ensure thousands of Marylanders with diabetes can afford this basic, life-saving drug.  Many thanks to Senator Lam and Delegate Pena-Melnyk for sponsoring this legislation.


The legislature also reduced the cost of medical devices by exempting them from the sales and use tax.  These devices include certain thermometers, pulse oximeters, blood pressure monitors, and respirators.  These bills (HB 364/SB 488) when into effect on July 1, 2022.


There is a new national hotline for suicide prevention and mental health crisis.  The number to reach this hotline is 9-8-8.  The 9-8-8 hotline was launched nationwide in July.  Governor Hogan signed HB293 into law.  The Maryland legislation will allocate state funds to support mental and behavioral health call centers to respond to people who reach out to the emergency line.  The bill created a special fund to support these crises call centers in Maryland.

Several bills to improve public transportation were enacted into law.  Of particular interest was funding to expand Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) Train Service as well as funding to enhance the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.


The 2022 session of the Maryland General Assembly was very productive.  We look forward to continued progress toward meeting the needs of blind citizens in the 2023 session. 


Brookhaven Elementary Embraces MCPS’ Only Classroom for Blind, Visually Impaired Students

by Caitlynn Peetz, published by Bethesda Magazine on August 30, 2022

[Editor’s Note: Federationists may recall that Diana Garcia-Mejia was honored with the NFB of Maryland Distinguished Educator of Blind Students award in 2018.  Below is an article highlighting her continued work and success.]


Days before students were set to return for the first day of school, the walls of Diana Garcia-Mejia’s pre-kindergarten classroom at Brookhaven Elementary School remained bare.

Missing were the posters with brightly colored reminders about the order of the alphabet and the bulletin boards with inspirational messages that adorned the walls of neighboring classrooms.

In Garcia-Mejia’s room, there are no toy bins and there is no clutter.

Colors are neutral, like the deep navy rug in the center of the room where story time is held, and there are few busy patterns.

It’s all intentional — Garcia-Mejia’s students won’t be able to see the wall decorations, or if they can, the room would feel “cluttered” and likely be more confusing than helpful.

That’s because Garcia-Mejia teaches a class dedicated to prekindergarten students who are blind or have visual impairments.  It’s the only class of its kind offered by Montgomery County Public Schools and the only one in Maryland public schools, aside from those offered at the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore.

Not every preschooler with limited vision is enrolled in Garcia-Mejia’s class.  MCPS staff members work with families of kids ages 3 to 5 to determine if it’s a good fit, based on the student’s individualized education plan and if the student has other specialized needs that might be best be met by other programs, Garcia-Mejia said.

Unlike many other preschool programs throughout the county that operate on a half-day schedule, her class runs for full days.

While most MCPS students returned for the first day of classes on Monday, pre-kindergarten starts a week later, on Sept. 6.

After preschool, most of Garcia-Mejia’s students are enrolled in general education classes and receive what are called “itinerant services,” meaning they have one-on-one assistance from staff members, as needed.

Garcia-Mejia’s students have varying degrees of blindness — some have partial vision and can see clearly through very narrow tunnels or have extremely blurred eyesight.  Others see nothing and cannot even sense when it is light or dark.  She’s starting this year with five students, but said she’s had as many as nine students at a time.

In her classroom, Garcia-Mejia creates a tiny community of children with similar needs.  They receive specialized instruction, including learning braille — the code used by visually impaired people to read and write — and learn how to adapt to the world around them.

Other teachers at Brookhaven have embraced Garcia-Mejia’s students, learning how to adapt their own lessons — from physical education to art — to make them accessible to the students, too.

“They’ve received us with wide open arms,” Garcia-Mejia said in a recent interview, pausing to compose herself as she started to cry.  “It’s incredible. What that means for these kids — it’s everything.”

The work isn’t intuitive — it takes time and effort, and some trial and error, she said.  But over the years, the teachers and staff throughout the school have bought into the program.  For example, Chris Ewing, the physical education teacher, says he knows that putting bells inside the balls he uses helps Garcia-Mejia’s students track them if they can’t see.

Music teacher Michalina Fulmore says she is more intentional about letting the students know where to find the equipment in her room, and letting them hold and handle instruments.

And art teacher Amanda Wilbur knows to put textures such as sand or shaving cream into paint so each color feels different to the students.

“Truthfully, they have redefined what art is about for me,” Wilburn said. “… Every week, they teach me something new that changes my practice and shapes the way I teach.”

‘Where I feel like I’m meant to be’  

A 2013 graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, less than 5 miles from Brookhaven, Garcia-Mejia in 2018 was named the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  It was during her first year of teaching.

She took over the class at Brookhaven in 2017, the year after the program relocated there from Rock View Elementary in Kensington.

“This really is my dream job, and this is where I feel like I’m meant to be,” she said.

In high school at Einstein, Garcia-Mejia became friends with three other students — David Amaya, Bobby Holland and Erin Daring — who are all visually impaired (Garcia-Mejia is not).  Those friendships inspired her to get a degree in disabilities education, and then her master’s in curriculum and instruction in visual disabilities with a specialization in early childhood special education, she said.  Both degrees were from Florida State University.

She wanted to teach preschool specifically because she often heard her friends lament that there were so many skills they wished they would have learned earlier in their education, like how to read and write braille.

It’s also “the most powerful age group that I can empower and help parents through that grief process that happens when you have a child that has low vision,” Garcia-Mejia said.

Classroom adaptations

Garcia-Mejia’s classroom is designed for visually impaired children — down to the smallest details.

Each cubbie in a wooden shelf holds one toy, device or book.  That helps the students find what they’re looking for more easily, or even memorize where those items are located.

On one shelf, there are buckets of different toys and objects.  Each bucket has an example of the object mounted on the outside so the students can feel it and know if it’s what they’re looking for.

The few signs or posters on the walls are written in braille and are posted at heights the students can reach.

Often, Garcia-Mejia is the one who makes the braille materials she uses for lessons and activities and she says that doing so can take hours.  She also spends extra time to adapt picture books for her students to use.  Sometimes, the books will have elaborate illustrations with a lot of detail.  Garcia-Mejia often spends her planning time recreating the pictures, removing complicated backgrounds and leaving only the most basic details.  Doing so makes it easier for the students who have limited vision to understand what’s happening, Garcia-Mejia said.

She also frequently incorporates props and uses verbal descriptions that the students may be able to relate to.  Maybe she’ll explain that something is smaller than they are, or bigger than a refrigerator.

“I once had a student who asked how airplanes don’t fly into walls because he thought walls just went up forever.  He hadn’t seen it, so he didn’t know ceilings exist,” Garcia-Mejia said.  “That’s why using objects and explaining is so important.  There are so many things other children learn by seeing, or by seeing other people do and imitating.  My students don’t have that ability.”

Fnu Pradyumna said his son was in Garcia-Mejia’s class for about 18 months after he was diagnosed at age 2 with a condition that leads to progressive vision loss.

In class, Garcia-Mejia and her two paraprofessionals, Jackie Davis and Marcello Beatley, helped the boy learn to use his hands to identify objects, sizes and shapes, a critical skill for people with visual impairments.  They taught him braille, and when his mother showed an interest, Garcia-Mejia set aside time to also help her learn it as well.  Garcia-Mejia assigned the mother “homework,” which she spent hours doing.  Garcia-Mejia then graded it and provided feedback.  Now, the mom is proud of her ability to relate to her son and often uses braille in their home, Garcia-Mejia said.

“She did all of this with the mindset of helping her students and their families — far beyond her duty day at the school,” Pradyumna said of Garcia-Mejia.  “Visual impairment in children is emotionally very hard on children and their families.  It is people like Diana who are like the light at the end of the tunnel for such families.  It is after working with her that we realized that our son is in safe hands and that he, too, can lead an independent life and grow into a successful adult.”

Grief and hope  

Preschool is a pivotal time for both the children and their families, Garcia-Mejia said.  For the children, it’s important they learn early the skills they need to navigate a world that is often not designed for the visually impaired.  Many need to learn braille, and they’re learning basic skills that require adaptations, such as walking with a specialized cane.

Their parents, too, are adjusting to life with a child with disabilities.  There’s a grief process and they need support, Garcia-Mejia said.

Years ago, she purchased a set of goggles that simulate the various types of visual impairments that others, such as the students’ parents, could wear to get a sense of what the world looks like for their children.

It’s a useful tool, she said, but wearing the googles can be an extremely emotional experience, so she always offers to let the families take the goggles home and try them in private, or to try them on with her in her classroom.

While Garcia-Mejia helps parents experience the world as their children do, she also is focused on teaching the students that there’s so much they can accomplish, despite their disability

She talks to them about blind celebrities — like Erik Weinmeyer, who in 2001 was the first blind person to climb Mount Everest; Christine Ha, who won the third season of the Fox TV show MasterChef; and Molly Burke, an advocate and fashion icon.

She tells them about her friends from high school, who are now in college or have families and careers of their own.

“I want them to know from the start that there’s so much they can do,” she said, “and it’s so much more than what they can’t do.”


What I Learned from Attending My First National Convention

By Judy Rasmussen

[Editor’s Note: Judy Rasmussen, secretary of the NFBMD, also serves as the co-chair of the NFBMD Ambassadors Committee.  This committee is charged with providing first-time convention attendees with orientation to the numerous convention activities and mentorship.]


After two years of attending virtual national conventions, most of us were ready to meet again in person.  However, we had questions.  Would this convention be as inspiring and energetic as previous ones?  Would we contract COVID?  If we did, would we get really sick?


Despite these uncertainties, more than 200 Marylanders attended our national convention in New Orleans from July 4-11.  There were more than 40 first timers, which is really pretty amazing and exciting.


All first timers have worthwhile stories to tell.  This article features three first timers who come from varied and diverse backgrounds.  Each had different expectations and reasons for attending the convention.  All came away with the realization that they are not alone, whether they are pursuing career options, living in a new place independently, and that they are all capable of helping others experiencing vision loss.


I Can Run a Business?

Christina Campbell has been legally blind all her life.  She attended the Maryland School for the Blind, but because she had some vision, she didn’t think she needed to learn to read and write Braille.  In 2020, she lost a significant amount of vision, and regretted not taking advantage of learning some more intensive blindness skills while attending school.


Christina has always enjoyed sports and recreation—especially martial arts and self-defense.  After graduating from school, she took courses and became a certified martial arts instructor.  She founded her own school and ran a successful business for several years.  She is now embarking on marketing herself as a self-defense instructor and is willing to travel to different parts of the country to teach this essential skill, especially to people who have visual impairments.


Christina heard about the NFB in school but didn’t make any effort to join the organization.  She joined a Facebook group called Clubhouse, where she helps plan events focusing on sports.  She met some people in this group who were federation members, and they convinced her it was a good idea to join.  She joined the Greater Baltimore Chapter recently and is looking forward to getting to know more people.

One of her first federation activities was talking to some parent groups regarding the importance of encouraging their blind children to participate in sports activities.


What did Christina learn from the convention?  She learned that passing resolutions gives us power and influence on many issues that affect how we work, play and go to school.  She learned blind people can work in a huge exhibit hall and help sell items like talking clocks, Braille card games, etc.  She learned the importance of having a mentor, as well as serving as one.  She appreciated Ellen Ringlein’s help in getting her acclimated to what was happening and introducing her to people from many states.  She especially enjoyed the opening ceremonies because the energy was so high and she heard delegates from each state give brief highlights of what had happened in their affiliates during the past year.  She is looking forward to staying involved in federation activities and assuming some leadership roles.


Can I Do It?

Pat Peters recently moved to Maryland from Chicago to be near her children and grandchildren.  It was a big adjustment.  She had been gradually losing her vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease.  She was apprehensive about the move because she knew where things were in her neighborhood, she had friends, and felt comfortable.  She was no stranger to experiencing new things.  Throughout her career she had helped people who had been sexually abused, ran a construction company, and opened a coffee shop.  When the opportunity came to get an apartment near her family, she packed up and moved, not quite knowing what she would find or if she would like it here.


Pat heard about the federation and the national convention from one of our newer members, Judy Nelson.  When Pat heard about all the events that happened at convention, she decided to go, figuring she would meet new people and learn more about adjustment to vision loss.


The Ambassadors Committee is an important part of the work we do, especially at national and state conventions.  When Pat learned that a blind person would be her mentor, she was amazed and a little apprehensive.  “How could a blind person help me when she wouldn’t know where to go herself?”  After losing her mentor in the airport, (they found each other) she decided this was going to be a real adventure.


When she got to the hotel and heard hundreds of canes tapping, she felt excited and nervous.  Pat’s first day was exhausting.  After standing in line for two hours to show her COVID test, picking up her registration packet, and trying to figure out what to do next, she told her mentor she was ready to go to her room to make some coffee.  Making coffee is no big deal, right?  Well, after she got everything ready, she pushed the only button she could find on the pot, and nothing happened.  Not to be deterred, her mentor called Be My Eyes, to see if they could figure out why the pot was not running.  After more exploration and much laughter, it was discovered that the pot was not plugged in.  Hearing that coffee gurgle in the pot made Pat realize that blind people could solve problems, and that she had a group of friends in the NFB who would stand beside her as she adjusted to life here in Maryland.  Maybe she could leave her room by herself and go to meetings like everyone else was.


On the second day, Pat was leaving her room on her own, attending seminars, finding food, and doing what she wanted to do.  She realized people were helping each other find their way, and she continued to gain confidence in her new-found freedom as the week wore on.  She met federationists who lived near her in Prince George’s County and since the convention she has participated in many activities with them.  She has already registered for the state convention.


What would Pat’s advice be to newly blind people and to those considering attending a convention for the first time?  “There are no limits.”


My Life Has Come Full Circle

Guy Kelly, a veteran, federal contractor for the government, hardware designer, and an entrepreneur, has led a full life.  In 2018, he was hit in the eye with a basketball.  His vision was affected somewhat, but he continued to function normally.


In 2020, he lost a significant amount of vision, which was very devastating.  He retired from Verizon after 30 years of installing cable networks for telephone systems.  He is currently still working on some contracts designing telephone system hardware.  His future goal is to be approved as a minority business owner and be awarded contracts from the government to continue installation and other types of work.


Guy did not want the fact that he was nearly blind to run his life.  He began doing some research and decided he needed some independent living skills training.  He is currently enrolled in the core program at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).


Guy heard about the convention from BISM and decided to go.  He had joined the Central Maryland Chapter and already knew a few people.


One of the first things that amazed him was that while waiting to check into the hotel, he saw a blind person on a hover board.  He said he was privileged to have Sharon Maneki as his mentor and couldn’t believe how many people she introduced him to on his first day.


Guy said he enjoyed learning about all the civil rights issues in which the federation is involved.  This was very personal to him since the federation had just gone to court with him to help secure visitation rights to see his 6-year-old daughter.  He had been denied visitation rights on the basis of his blindness.  He is happy he now has visitation rights, and he credits the federation totally for making that happen.

Guy relayed that the highlight of the convention for him was the opening day ceremonies.  Thirty years ago, while in the army, he carried the Missouri state flag at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.  At the 2022 convention, he was able to be part of the color guard and carry the federation flag.  He is proud to have served his country, and proud to be a federationist.


Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Dezman Jackson

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 Dezman Jackson, second vice president of the NFBMD and Membership Committee chairperson.]


Dezman Jackson grew up as a blind child in Alabama.  He says, although he was blind, he did not know how to incorporate his blindness into his identity as a whole person.  In high school, Dezman began hearing about the National Federation of the Blind.  He found and read issues of The Braille Monitor in order to explore what this organization was all about.  In the spring of 2001, as a college student, Dezman joined a chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama.  He says that, after joining the chapter, and getting involved in the Alabama Association of Blind Students, he truly began to understand his blindness and gained the confidence to embrace it as a part of his entire identity.


I would describe Dezman as a quiet, steady leader.  He is rarely the loudest in the room. Yet, when work needs to be done, Dezman is there, giving to the job at hand cheerfully, and with energy.  This work can be anything from serving as a mentor at NFB Youth Slam, to supporting students at the recent Atlantic Seminar.  Along with serving as second vice president of the NFBMD, Dezman also serves as our membership chair.  He truly enjoys his work with all members of the NFBMD.  He loves to make sure people have the resources and skills they need to live the lives they want.


Many may know Dezman as a cane travel instructor, a job he held both at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland and at the Freedom Center in Alabama.  Recently, Dezman has switched career paths, he now works to improve the accessibility of educational products for students in grades K-12.  We need many more like Dezman to serve in this type of role!


When Dezman is not working, or volunteering with the NFBMD, he enjoys going to coffee shops, walking, listening to podcasts and music, and spending time with friends.  Dezman is a fantastic saxophone player; if you ever have the chance to listen to him play, don’t pass it up!  He is also learning to like cooking, although he still has somewhat of a love/hate relationship with it.  I can tell you Dezman makes amazing cheesy grits, so make sure to taste those if you have the opportunity.


When asked what he would like those thinking about becoming members of the NFBMD, or current members of the NFBMD to know, Dezman said the following: “The federation has a place for everyone.  Think about the things you are most passionate about.  Are those passions Sports and Rec?  Music and performing?  Whatever your passion, find and get involved with that area of the NFBMD.”  



FDR Memorial Steps Up Accessibility for Visually Impaired Visitors

By Dana Sukontarak, published by WTOP on July 22, 2021

[Editor’s Note: Cheryl Fogle-Hatch is a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.  She is also the CEO of MuseumSenses, a company that consults with museums to improve their accessibility.  We highlighted her efforts regarding accessible museums in the fall 2021 edition of this newsletter.  Radio station WTOP recently interviewed Cheryl concerning her work.  Here is the interview.]


The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in D.C., has implemented significant changes to increase accessibility and inclusion for its blind and low-vision visitors.  But a blind accessibility consultant says more needs to be done.


Coinciding with the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the FDR Memorial Legacy Committee released an update on Monday to a report from last May on accessibility challenges at the memorial.


Some of the issues highlighted in the 2021 report were inadequate safety conditions and Braille exhibit descriptions that were difficult to read due to size, or placement.


Cheryl Fogle-Hatch, founder of MuseumSenses, was tapped by the committee to author the report.  Fogle-Hatch, who is blind, walked the memorial first in 2021, and then again in 2022, recording observations from a blind person’s perspective.


“People always think access is an afterthought,” she told WTOP.  “And it’s thought [that] you should put in your design.”


Fogle-Hatch’s observations led to the implementations of several “waysides,” which are large signs or panels for the visually impaired, audio buttons, as well as several tactile models of exhibits and maps to help orient blind visitors.


Some Braille that was originally too large or placed too high to be touched by blind visitors has now been notated in the wayside signs.


“Bringing [the Braille quotes] … down at a lower level, onto the wayside exhibits, where if you read Braille by touch, you can read them,” Fogle-Hatch said.


Tactile models of statues allow blind visitors to touch the full model of exhibits they cannot see.


These changes to the memorial mark the latest improvements in disability access and inclusion, following the 2001 installment of a statue depicting Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchair.


Fogle-Hatch said she is pleased with the improvements, but more should be done.


In the future, Fogle-Hatch said she would love for Bluetooth functionality to be incorporated into audio elements at the exhibit, as well as written indications on which Braille elements are decorative instead of functional, to bring visibility to the need for increased disability access.


“These things are slow,” Fogle-Hatch said, noting that most museum exhibits need to be retrofitted for disability access, as the FDR Memorial was 25 years after its initial installation.


WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.



The Spirit of the Federation in Maryland Before NFBMD

By Anna Kresmer

[Editor’s note:  The material in this article came from a talk Anna Kresmer gave at our 2016 state convention and was published in the Spring 2017 edition of this newsletter.  As we work to ensure that our organization’s history is recorded and preserved, this presentation is vital in that it sheds light on the positive and darker parts of our history.] 


Good morning Maryland!  I am thrilled to be here with you today to speak about one of my favorite topics: the history of the National Federation of the Blind!  The story of the NFB in the state of Maryland is long and eventful, but something that all of us can be proud of.  Fifty years is an immense achievement and I would like to congratulate all of you, both those in the room and those who could not be here today.  But I also want to thank those who came before us. Without the foundation they laid down, this affiliate might have turned out very differently.  I speak both of the leaders who formed this organization in 1966, like Ned Graham and John T. McCraw, and those who came after them, like Sharon Maneki, Marc Maurer, and Melissa Riccobono.  But the history of the organized blind movement in Maryland, and its involvement with the NFB, goes back much further than just fifty years.  It is this history that I want to talk to you about today.


The organized blind movement in Maryland actually dates back to 1927 and its roots are deeply entwined with the city of Baltimore.  In 1927, five blind men came together in Baltimore and created the Maryland Camp for the Blind.  At first merely a social group for blind men, within a year these men had grown their membership; expanded their scope to include legislative, commercial, educational, and philanthropic work; changed their name to the Blind Brotherhood of Maryland; and received incorporation status from the state.  Their motto up until the 1960s was “Light Kindly Lead” and they occupied offices on Eutaw Street near North Avenue for many years.  The Brotherhood continued to grow throughout the 1930s and although they remained mainly a social club limited to Baltimore area, they maintained an active legislative committee.  One of their early significant achievements was helping to pass the state’s first White Cane Act in 1939, which would make Maryland the sixth state to pass such a law.


In 1935 the Social Security Act, which provided the first federal pension for the blind, was passed without any input from blind people; the final straw which set in motion the founding of the NFB in 1940.  Eager to become a national movement able to deal directly with the federal government, the fledgling federation immediately began to seek out existing like-minded organizations of the blind across the country.  President Jacobus tenBroek reached out to the Blind Brotherhood of Maryland with an offer of affiliation in early 1941.  However, by this time the Brotherhood appears to have slowed down and become a more sedentary organization.  Aside from a few interested members, the group seemed unexcited by the prospect of banding together with other blind people and plans to affiliate went nowhere.


It was not until 1945 that the Blind Brotherhood of Maryland finally became an affiliate of the NFB, due mainly to the efforts of their legislative chairman, Rosario Epsora.  Epsora, known as Rosy to his friends, was a New Yorker rumored to have a bit of a temper, but he was also a passionate supporter of equality for the blind who understood the need for a coordinated national movement.  According to correspondence, Epsora was the chief supporter of affiliation and quickly became a marcher in the NFB.  Not only did he embrace the NFB’s legislative program with gusto, he became a national leader by serving as NFB secretary from 1948 to 1954.  He is also credited with lobbying for and then orchestrating the 1948 national convention in Baltimore.  This was the first national convention held outside of the mid-west and the first to encourage attendees to sit in state delegations to aid the voting process.  Epsora also arranged for the convention to be opened with a prayer given by a clergyman, (possibly the first-known instance of a now long-standing tradition), for local boy scouts to serve as sighted guides, and for a crab feast hosted by the local affiliate.  Epsora would continue to be a major figure in the Brotherhood for years to come, but we will come back to him in a minute.


Despite these early achievements in the NFB, the bulk of the Blind Brotherhood of Maryland remained largely uninterested in the affairs of the national movement.  Its membership was male, white, and located almost exclusively in Baltimore.  Female members were not allowed until 1948 and none held office until 1957.  Despite the seemingly tireless efforts of Epsora, the Brotherhood never really shook off the lethargy that initially kept them from joining the NFB.  They remained primarily a social club, funded by ticket sales to a few yearly events: a picnic in July, a bingo party in December, and a dance on St. Patrick’s Day.  They were set in their ways and didn’t really wish to change.  It was several years before the national office caught on to the fact that their seemingly active Maryland affiliate was in fact a one-man show.  For a time, the national office was content with this situation, the process of federation building being something like herding cats and working with existing organizations was less time consuming than building a new organization from scratch.  But the status quo could only last so long.


In the early to mid-1950s, the NFB began paying closer attention to the structure and habits of their state affiliates, due in part to a wildly successful national fundraising campaign selling greeting cards which was now sending thousands of dollars to each participating affiliate every year.  In 1954, the national office began a quiet investigation of the Brotherhood.  It had come to light that the Brotherhood had a long tradition of taking a quarter of their treasury and dividing it among their members as a gift every Christmas.  They also quietly paid monthly stipends to a few select members who did not report this extra income to the state welfare agency.  These practices were not in line with the NFB’s affiliate standards and they also threatened the Brotherhood’s status as a nonprofit organization.  The results of the NFB’s investigation yielded promises from Brotherhood leaders that these questionable practices would end, that all greeting card money would be kept separate from locally-raised money, and that they would share financial information more readily with NFB leadership.  Unfortunately, these remained nothing more than promises and money management would continue to be a problem for the Brotherhood. 


In the mid to late 1950s, the federation entered a period later known as the NFB Civil War.  The reasons for this conflict are too complicated to deal with in this presentation.  The short version is that a minority faction of the membership came to disagree with the leadership on how the federation should be run and things became messy.  This faction believed that power should be held by the affiliates, rather than by the president and the executive committee, and did not take it kindly when the NFB’s leadership began to scrutinize the way some states ran their organizations.  In the case of the Blind Brotherhood of Maryland, closer national attention once again raised questions about money management.  The NFB Executive Committee now required each affiliate to submit a detailed accounting of their books each year, which the Brotherhood at first failed to produce and then later flatly refused to provide.  This eventually led to Maryland’s share of the greeting card money for 1959 to be withheld.


In a seeming about-face, Epsora, always a passionate man and now president of the Brotherhood, transformed from a dedicated federationist to a vocal member of the minority faction. He responded to the administration’s requests with accusations of executive overreach, calling the NFB a dictatorship and comparing Dr. tenBroek to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Epsora proceeded to convince his membership to pass a series of resolutions denouncing and deploring the tenBroek administration and even hired a lawyer to demand that the national office release their greeting card money.  All of this predictably did not go over well and at the 1960 national convention, the Maryland affiliate was suspended along with five other states.  Facing possible expulsion within a year if they did not comply with the federation’s requirements, the until now sleepy Blind Brotherhood of Maryland, which previously had been content to let Epsora have free rein, jumped to attention.  Within months of the suspension, Epsora was replaced by a new president, the accounting documents were produced, and the Brotherhood was formally welcomed back into the fold at the 1961 national convention.  Sadly, this action was short lived and all too soon the Brotherhood settled back into its sleepy state: a small organization of 60 or so white people who seldom, if ever, ventured outside of Baltimore. They had never been a true statewide organization, although there had been a few isolated efforts to address this over the years.  Amendments to their constitution and a name change in 1964 to the Maryland Council of the Blind reflected this desire for expansion, but they seemed to lack the will to achieve it and it was not until 1965 that things really began to change for the better.  On October 6, 1965, Ned Graham wrote to the current president of the Maryland Council applying for membership on behalf of himself and nine other blind African Americans.  Sadly, his request was met with discouragement and delay tactics by members of the Maryland Council who were not willing to integrate their organization.  Thankfully, this did not deter Ned Graham.  He next wrote to NFB President Russell Kletzing asking for advice on how he and his colleagues could become part of the federation.  Kletzing responded to his letter, stating that the NFB’s goal had always been to be a national organization that represented all blind people, regardless of race, but that there was no national rule actually requiring affiliates to follow this policy.  However, he recommended Graham and his colleagues create their own organization which could then negotiate with the Maryland Council on equal footing.  Graham took his advice and founded the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the Blind.  By the way, this means that the Greater Baltimore Chapter is actually older than 50 years. 


While this new organization of the blind was busy being formed, a few changes took place within the Maryland Council—with a bit of encouragement from the national office, I might add.  By January 1966, the Maryland Council had a new president named Albert Balducci and those members who supported integration quietly staged a campaign for change.  And just like that the issue of race, which had previously looked like a recipe for disaster, was nullified.  On March 5, 1966, under the guidance of NFB Washington Bureau chief John Nagle, both organizations — the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the Blind and the Maryland Council of the Blind — came together to form the first true, statewide organization of the blind in the state of Maryland.  They adopted a new name and constitution, elected their first state-level officers, chartered both of the existing organizations as local chapters, and became the Free State Federation of the Blind.  Balducci was elected the new organization’s first president, an office he held until 1969, and Ned Graham, president of the Greater Baltimore Chapter, became his vice president. Both men represented the new affiliate at the 1966 national convention and received their new state charter together during the banquet.


I wish I could say the transition to a united affiliate was seamless, but the clash of big personalities over time eventually led to the withdrawal of the Maryland Council from the Free State Federation in 1970.  However, it must be stressed that the infusion of positive energy and the addition of a new and diverse membership that was eager to grown the affiliate did the trick.  The lethargy of the previous organization was gone and the federation in Maryland has been on the move ever since. 


Fifty years later, many things have changed in this affiliate and there are many things for which we can be proud.  We changed our name to the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in 1970.  The number of chapters we have boasted over the years has swelled and contracted and swelled again, but with the love and support of our state leadership, many have stood the test of time.  Among them are the Greater Baltimore Chapter, which remains at the nucleus of the affiliate; the Greater Cumberland Chapter, which was originally founded in 1969; and the Sligo Creek Chapter, which dates all the way back to 1967 when they were known as the Twin Counties Federation of the Blind.  Our first Maryland student division was formed in 1977 and our Parents of Blind Children Division has stood strong since 1984.


Traditions run deep in this affiliate.  There have been 20 years of crab feasts, 38 years of Annapolis Day, and the first Maryland state convention at the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City was held in 1985.  Our newsletter, the Braille Spectator, has been in publication since 1969.  We have hosted two national conventions in our state, the first in 1978 and the second in 1981.


Three Marylanders have served as members of the NFB national board, and four adopted Marylanders have now served as national president.  Our affiliate was instrumental in moving the NFB national headquarters to Baltimore in 1978 and just about every year we boast the highest state attendance at national convention.  As I said at the beginning of my presentation, our state’s history has been long and eventful, but our present is strong, and our future is bright.  I’m confident the next 50 years will be more interesting than all of the years that came before. And I look forward to documenting it in the NFB archives.  Thank you.




Blind Caregiver Doesn’t Let Disability Slow Her Down from Caring for Bethesda Seniors

By Caroline Patrickis, published by WJLA-TV ABC7 on August 26, 2022

[Editor’s Note: Michelle Lindsay is an active federationist who came from Jamaica to see if she could get help for getting her sight back.  Instead, she found the federation and learned that it was okay to be blind.  Subsequently, she became a licensed nurse assistant.  The following news story was featured on the WJLA ABC 7 News website.  Similar articles were featured on other websites, such as Fox 11 News and Newsy.  It is a great example of the blind at work. Congratulations to Michelle on her accomplishments.]


Michelle Lindsay is a legally blind immigrant from Jamaica who came to the Maryland area in 2015.


“I came to the United States with an issue going on with my eyes and it was too late for them to correct it,” Lindsay said.


Shortly before migrating to the U.S., she realized an issue with her eyesight would soon change her life.


“Doctors discovered a lot of fluid in the back of my eyes," Lindsay explained.  “When I checked, they found out both eyes were bleeding in the back of my head, it turned out worse.”


The Bethesda caregiver quit her aviation career to serve another passion — caring for senior citizens at Griswold Home Care.


“I came here and realized that you could be certified as a nurse assistant so I went to school and took up the role,” Lindsay said.


Despite that, Lindsay does not keep her disability from caring for the elderly.


“Never stopped me and never will," Lindsay said.  “They are happy and rely on you as a companion, they rely on you for basic daily activities that they are no longer able to do.  That makes me feel very accomplished.”



Spectator Specs


Miranda Williams received a master’s degree in social work from Morgan State University.  She is the CEO of Inspeyere Consulting, a business that helps adults obtain services.


Juhi Narula graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a Bachelor of Science in marketing and a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.  She is currently working at BISM as its coordinator of youth services.


Jessica Wilson graduated from Maurice J. McDonough High School in Waldorf and now is attending Frostburg State University.


David Handberry graduated from Green Street Academy in Baltimore.  He will attend Coppin State University.


Lashai Richardson graduated from the Maryland School for the Blind.  She is attending Community College of Baltimore County.


David Jacobs graduated from the Maryland School for the Blind.  He is attending a work readiness and life skills program.


Tiffany Smith graduated from Homewood High School in Columbia and now is attending the Online Open College of Arts UK.


Faven Geleta graduated from Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring and is attending Boston University and is majoring in neuroscience.


On September 20, the Braille classes taught by Ava Ferebee and Rosalind Mackall held a graduation ceremony.  Carol Clark and Eunice Hurley were the most outstanding graduates.  Peter Hinton and Marita Buck have been promoted from the beginning Braille class taught by Ava to the advanced class taught by Rosalind.


Congratulations to all graduates!



We are sorry to report the death of longtime federationist Ruth Stewart.  While participating at the National Convention in New Orleans, she suffered a heart attack.  She died on July 8, 2022.  Ruth was a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.  She loved attending national and state conventions and rarely missed one during the last 30 years.  May she rest in peace.



Marguerite Woods is recovering and is doing well after having been diagnosed with a blood clot in her leg which had to be surgically removed.  Marguerite is a member of the NFBMD Board of Directors and serves as president of both the NFBMD At-Large Chapter and NFBMD Seniors Division. 


Sharon Maneki suffered a stroke in September and is now recovering at home after brain surgery and in-patient rehabilitation.  Sharon serves as a member of the NFBMD Board of Directors, secretary of the Central Maryland Chapter, treasurer of the NFBMD At-Large Chapter, and our volunteer director of legislation and advocacy in Maryland.  She is doing amazingly well and is the Sharon we know and love.


Ray Branch suffered a stroke earlier this summer and after spending considerable time in the hospital, is now resting and recovering at home.  Ray is one of the affiliate’s drivers, and many may remember him from his many years serving as the NFB’s receptionist.  Ray is in good spirits and doing well.


We wish Marguerite, Sharon, Ray, and all our members the best of health and happiness.


Milestone Birthdays

Tom Bickford and Al Maneki, two long-time federationists, recently celebrated milestone birthdays.


On July 19, Tom Bickford celebrated his 90th birthday.  He joined the NFB in October 1956 when he was a student at the Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, California.  Since that time, Tom has always been an active federationist.  Some of the leadership positions that Tom has held are president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer of various chapters.  Tom was both president and vice president of the Washington, D.C., affiliate in the late 60s.  Currently, Tom is a member of the Sligo Creek chapter.  Over the years, he has been its vice president and treasurer.  Tom is the author of the “Care and Feeding of the Long White Cane,” a book that describes travel techniques and the importance of using a white cane.  Tom worked for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, Library of Congress for 40 years. He recently attended our national convention in New Orleans and remains an active, vibrant member of the community.


On July 27th, Dr. Al Maneki celebrated his 80th birthday. Al joined the NFB in the 1970s when he was a college professor teaching mathematics in Fargo, North Dakota.  He moved to Maryland to work for the National Security Agency and held various positions there for 37 years.  As a leader in the NFB of Maryland, Al served as treasurer from 1980 through 1986.  He has always been an avid fundraiser, especially in the Baltimore walk-a-thons and in basket bingo.  He also has held many leadership positions in the central MD chapter.  Since his retirement from the government in 2007, Al has been working with various college professors to make graphics more accessible to the blind and to automate the production of Braille math and science textbooks so that students can receive there materials at the beginning of the semester.


Congratulations, Tom and Al, federationists who are definitely living the lives they want.


Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

Internet access is now necessary for work, school, health care, and more.  However, for many households, it remains unaffordable.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants everyone to access reasonably priced internet services.  The FCC recently launched a new program to reduce the cost of getting online.


The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides a discount of up to:

  • $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households.

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 toward purchasing a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers.

Any household with an individual who receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is eligible to receive discounted internet service through the ACP. Social Security doesn’t count ACP assistance as income or a resource for SSI purposes.  Receipt of this assistance will not affect a person’s SSI payment.


To apply, visit, email or call 877-384-2575.