Braille Spectator, Spring 2023



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:


Reconnect, Reimagine, Reignite!

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 convention on November 12, 2023.]


I have a confession to make; I have a tremendous fear of fire.  It originated when I was very small, and it has never left me.  My recurring nightmare involves me being trapped in a building that is on fire as the flames come closer and closer to me.  I can feel the flames inching toward me, the heat intensifying with each passing second.  I can smell the flames as they consume the things around me, leaving behind an acrid smell that stays with me well after I awaken.  I can feel my labored efforts to breathe, as the fire and I compete for life-sustaining air.


Fire burns.  It consumes all the oxygen.  It melts.  It displaces.


But I am simultaneously fascinated with fire.  I love watching the flames dance and listening to them crackle.  I love the scent fire leaves behind, both clean and weighty.  I love the heat fire brings on a crisp autumn night.  I love how fire crisps a marshmallow and melts chocolate.  I love that fire lights my path.  I love that fire symbolizes celebration in the form of a birthday candle or relaxation in the form of scented candles.


I also love that fire has the power to change things into better things.  Fire transforms raw meat and gives us from it delicious steaks and hamburgers.  Fire transforms custards, ice cream, and boring cheese and from them gives us crème brûlée, Baked Alaska, and saganaki.  Fire shapes weapons, and everyone who has ever visited Westeros knows that fire forged Valyrian steel is unparalleled, especially when fighting zombies and the walking dead. 


Fire heals; we use it to cauterize wounds to stop and prevent infection.  Fire cleanses; we use it to clear land and reinvigorate plant-life in forests as well as to incinerate waste. Fire communicates; we use fire to signal for help and to indicate location.  Fire transports; we use fire in combustion engines to move us about our world.  Fire honors; we use fire to worship, and we use fire for cremation.


Fire is beautiful.  Fire is heat.  Fire is light.  Fire cleanses.  Fire reshapes.  Fire reforms.


So, I’ve come to understand that it isn’t fire itself that frightens me, but rather what fire has the power to do to the world.  Fire uncontrolled, destroys.  Fire harnessed though, beautifies, sustains, nourishes, and protects.


So, the trick becomes to harness the fire, to leverage it to achieve what we want and need.  The trick is to ignite the fire ourselves, to fan the fire ourselves, to embrace the fire ourselves.  The trick is to bring the fire.  The trick is to be the fire!  We, in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland are the fire!


Emmet Fox said, “A small spark can start a great fire.”


We, in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland know what it means to ignite the flame.  In fact, we are experts in igniting and reigniting the flame even when external forces try to put it out.  More, we are experts in connecting, imagining, and igniting the flames that move mountains.


The last few years have been remarkable in their uniqueness.  As we complete our 56th year as an organization, we can reflect with pride on all we’ve accomplished and look to the future with hope and determination at all we plan to accomplish. 


The theme of this year’s convention is “Reconnect, Reimagine, Reignite.”  The prefix “re” is used to signal “back,” “again,” or “once more.”  And thus, before we can appreciate our work in reconnecting, reimagining, and reigniting, we must pause to acknowledge and honor our rich history of connection, imagination, and ignition.


We have in our affiliate many incredible individuals who have done remarkable work to advance the civil rights of the blind.  But three towering figures, each of whom is a visionary and architect in the blindness movement and civil rights arena both inside and outside of  Maryland, are without a doubt Marc Maurer, Sharon Maneki, and Mark Riccobono.  We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.  They embody this notion of connection, imagination, and ignition.  They are fire!


How many of us have received a birthday call or card from Sharon Maneki that included a sentiment of love and support exactly when we were feeling particularly low?  How many of us were privileged to have her serve as our advocate in an IEP hearing, a Social Security benefits meeting, in a reasonable accommodation discussion with an employer, with a social service entity?  And of course, because she was our champion, we walked out of the meeting with exactly what we needed?  How many of us had the pleasure of watching her take the Maryland General Assembly to task and to bring them in line with our thinking about a particular piece of legislation, many of those legislative solutions having been out-of-the-box and even radical ideas, and many of those solutions becoming the model for the rest of the country?  Sharon knows that connection is at the heart of who we are and what we do.  Her imagination in terms of solution-finding is limitless.  Her passion for the work of our movement is endless, and she sparks that passion in all with whom she works. Among her particular superpowers is her ability to walk into a hostile room, secure exactly what she wants, and have the other person have no idea what hit them but be cheerful about the outcome anyway.


When it comes to harnessing fire, I think there are few people more skilled than Sharon at doing so.  When it comes to people who are experts in bringing the fire, there are few people more effective than Sharon.  When it comes to thinking about who people who are themselves the fire, who better knows how to reshape the world, to reform it, to mold it into what we need it to be than Sharon?  Sharon is the fire!


How many of us have witness Dr. Maurer make a legal argument about the civil rights of the blind that blew the other side out of the water?  How many of us got the pleasure of witnessing him preside over an international meeting of organizations or engage with other civil rights entities with ours being the model for how to do blindness fearlessly and then bring the rest of the group on board?  How many of us got to witness his imagination at work, including sending a Braille coin to outer space, or a blind person driving a car at a racetrack of all places, or the establishment of our NFB training centers, or making it a badge of honor to get arrested for the right to travel on a plane with our canes, and numerous other initiatives that created a world where the next generation is better equipped to compete on terms of equality? 


When it comes to harnessing fire, I think there are few people more skilled than Dr. Maurer at doing so.  When it comes to people who are experts in bringing the fire, there are few people more effective than Dr. Maurer.  When it comes to thinking about people who are themselves the fire, who better knows how to reshape the world, to reform it, to mold it into what we need it to be than Dr. Maurer?  Dr. Maurer also is the fire!


How many of us got to witness NFB President Riccobono engage with industry to make accessibility commonplace in commercially off the shelf products like the game Uno?  How many participated in an education program that demolished stereotypes that previously prevented blind kids from learning and getting jobs in science, technology, engineering, art, and math? How many of us had the opportunity to watch him prove to the world that blind people can literally do anything, including driving a car – not only once but twice – the first time as the blind driver himself and the second time as the visionary behind the Dan Parker Guinness world record event?  How many of us were able to find our space inside and outside of the NFB as a result of his efforts to embrace, highlight, and celebrate our intersectionalities? 


When it comes to harnessing fire, I also think there are few people more skilled than President Riccobono at doing so.  When it comes to people who are experts in bringing the fire, there are few people more effective than President Riccobono.  When it comes to thinking about people who are themselves the fire, who better knows how to reshape the world, to reform it, to mold it into what we need it to be than President Riccobono?  President Riccobono, too, is the fire!


Because of these three towering figures, our baseline as an organization, particularly as an affiliate, has been solid and well beyond that of other civil rights organizations.  They each value connection among the membership and with our partners and stakeholders.  They each imagined and stood up programs that moved us even further towards our goal of full and equitable participation in society.  They each inspired others through their work and passion to follow in their footsteps.  They modeled for us that harnessed properly, fire is effective, beautiful, and powerful.  They showed us through their leadership how to be the fire!


And so, when we add the prefix “re” to the solid foundation they, and their contemporaries have given us, we really mean to honor what they’ve given us and to build from there.


In the last few years, the Maryland affiliate has welcomed more than 100 new members to the federation.  I want those of you who are among that group to get to know President Riccobono, Dr. Maurer, and Sharon Maneki in the ways that I know them.  I promise you, it is among the best things you can do as a blind person for yourself.  Come close to the fire, embrace the fire, let them teach you to be the fire!


This morning, we held a meeting to reorganize the Baltimore County Chapter.  This past year, we lost the chapter’s long-time president and leader Ruth Sager who was another towering figure with an incredible legacy.  I have no doubt Ruth would be proud of the new chapter.  She believed in the strength of collective action and in the innate abilities of blind people.  She also believed that people had to choose to discard the fear and hopelessness that society would have us believe is our fate.  Those individuals who became members this weekend, and those who chose to join the chapter are choosing hope, optimism, and connection.  You have embraced the fire.  You have brought and will continue to bring the fire.  I can’t wait to see what you will do with it.  You are the fire!


The pandemic has invariably changed how we think about communication and connection; and yet, we have reimagined how to engage with each other, our stakeholders, and partners meaningfully.  We are resilient and flexible enough as an organization to be able to sustain many of our ways for connection while simultaneously deploying innovative methods that adapt to current times and challenges.  This, too, requires tremendous imagination.


The COVID-19 pandemic continued to decimate our routine programming and fundraising efforts.  Though we began reinstating programming to a certain degree, we continued to be challenged by the changing landscape in a world where the grip of the novel coronavirus on us has only recently began to loosen.  WE had to continuously reimagine how we operate as an organization to ensure we don’t leave behind those who are new to blindness and those without access to technology while simultaneously continuing to deploy technology resources as our primary means of communication.  We found there are true advantages to virtual engagement while working creatively to ensure that no member is left behind.  We also started implementing sustainable strategies for a post-pandemic world, and we reimagined how to integrate in-person activities with virtual experiences.  As we close 2022, several of our chapters have come back in person, others have adopted a hybrid model permanently, and others have determined that a primarily virtual presence makes the most sense for them. 


Though the world has changed in numerous ways in the last few years, one area that remains problematic for the blind is the misconceptions others have about our ability to safely and independently parent.  We have solid legislation in Maryland that prohibits courts from making decisions about custody based on blindness; and yet, in this past year, we’ve advocated for two different blind parents in child custody cases on this issue.  Guy Kelly, a member of our Central Maryland Chapter, shared he took his “dream team” of advocates, including Sharon Maneki, Sherria Young-Smith, and LaTonya Phipps, to his custody hearing wherein his child’s mother was seeking to limit his access to his child due to his blindness; Guy shared that because of his “dream team” of advocates, he won the case and his blindness was not a factor in the decision about custody of his child.


Here, connecting Guy with other successful blind parents and then presenting them as positive examples of how blind people can independently and safely parent resulted in protecting Guy’s right to parent.  Guy embraced the fire and leveraged it.  This is the fire that is born of the connections and imagination of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.


We know in the National Federation of the Blind that it is critical to teach blind children Braille and other skills as early as possible in order for them to compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.  However, we face a critical teacher shortage in Maryland; this teacher shortage has particularly impacted teachers of blind students, the consequences of which are terrifying.  One Maryland school district was recently unable to hire a teacher of blind students for four years.  Other districts are operating with significantly fewer teachers of the blind than they need to effectively serve our blind students.


The NFB and the NFB of Maryland decided to reimagine solutions to a problem none could solve previously.  We approached the Maryland State Department of Education with a novel idea.  We wanted to create a loan forgiveness program for teachers who got their TBS certification and taught blind students in Maryland schools for a substantial period of time.  As a result of this effort, in March 2022, the NFB, NFBMD, Maryland State Department of Education, and Louisiana Tech University welcomed our first cadre of 15 students into the NFB Narrowing the Gap Program.  Several of the students from this program are here with us today.  We hope to replicate this program in other states, but once again, Maryland has led the way.  This coming summer, we will gain on the rolls of certified teachers of blind students in Maryland, more than a dozen new teachers who are not only skilled in teaching blind students, but who have been exposed to and integrated our philosophy on blindness.  Through our efforts to solve seemingly unsolvable problems like the critical teacher shortage, we’ve harnessed the fire.  We brought the fire!  The National Federation of the Blind is the fire!


This year, we continued our innovative programming to ensure any blind Marylander who needs a COVID-19 vaccine could get one.  We worked with the Maryland Department of Health to connect individuals who could not get to a physical clinic with a mobile clinic that came to them.  In January, we hosted a vaccine booster clinic.  And as I speak, we are hosting a COVID-19 bivalent booster and flu vaccine clinic right next door to this room.  We have reimagined how we help our members access health care and preventive medicine in a changing world that shuts blind people out of such programs.


Here too, we harness the fire.  We brought the fire.  We are the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and we are the fire!


The pandemic also forced us to continue to reimagine how we conduct advocacy.  For decades, we have held an annual Day in Annapolis on the second Thursday of the Maryland legislative session.  And yet, in 2022, we had to rethink and reimagine how we engaged our elected officials.  How do we ensure that we communicate our message, that we include all of our membership in those efforts even though some of those members are on opposite sides of the digital divide?  We do so through reconnecting with one another and reimagining how to do the work.  We change the Day in Annapolis to the Virtual Week in Annapolis.  We have our technology savvy members host dozens and dozens of Zoom meetings.  We create teams of members who use traditional three-way calling trees to connect members without access to Zoom or the comfort level to use it.  We create digital media videos to demonstrate in a tangible way the issue we are trying to get the General Assembly to solve.  In essence, we shape the fire, we harness the fire, we are the fire.


As a result of our legislative advocacy efforts, led by the incomparable Sharon Maneki, this past spring, the Maryland General Assembly adopted, and the governor signed, Senate Bill 0617, the Accountability Act for Accessible K-12 Education for Students with Disabilities. This law strengthens accessibility for students with disabilities such that school districts must procure accessible learning platforms and use accessible materials.  The law also shifts the burden of accessibility so that vendors must cure inaccessibility within one year of notification and pay penalties if they fail to do so.  The law also establishes the accessibility standard school districts must use for all digital tools.  This bill will significantly bridge the gap students with disabilities and their nondisabled counterparts experience in accessing learning materials and platforms.


Over the Virtual Week in Annapolis, we met with all 188 legislators.  We showed them through our collective action that we harness the fire, we bring the fire, we in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland are the fire!


We had to reimagine how we funded our movement, as the pandemic changed how we could raise funds.  This year, we brought back our Crab Feast and we reimagined Basket and Bag Bingo so it too came back bigger and better than ever.  And yet, some of our fundraising staples, at the affiliate level and in our local chapters, were impracticable.  For example, we have not been able to hold the Scholarship Dinner and Auction or Spring Concert.  We have not been able to sell raffle tickets or nuts or candy bars or other tangibles that rely on face-to-face interaction.  And so, we reimagined different ways of fundraising – for example, we moved the Spring Raffle process to a digital one that primarily moved away from physical tickets.  We instituted a theater donation drive, in partnership with the Hippodrome Theater and  Maryland Arts Access, which incentivized giving financial donations by entering donors into drawings for four different musicals, including Hamilton.  Our chapters have started pop-up stores to sell popcorn and snacks; they’ve held virtual movie nights.  We have until 5 p.m., tonight the opportunity for folks anywhere in the world to contribute to our Fall Donation Drive, and tonight we’ll draw the name of one lucky donor, who in appreciation for their donation, will receive a cabin on our NFB of Maryland 2023 cruise to the Caribbean. 


We cannot run programs without funds.  In this ever-changing period in history, we cannot obtain funds if we aren’t creative about how we solicit them.  We are leveraging our connection with one another to think up innovative and imaginative ways to raise the funds we need to do our work. Even in funding our movement, we are harnessing the fire, we bring the fire, we are the fire!


Adjustment to blindness training is one of the most effective ways for an individual to cultivate their own independence and lay a solid foundation for a future where blindness is reduced to a mere nuisance.  This is one way for individuals to themselves embrace the fire and use that fire to reshape their futures.  In the last year, Martha Hazen, Eddie Poindexter, Juhi Narula, Katelyn Siple, and Ayda Amoun all attended NFB training Centers at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and Colorado Center for the Blind; Juhi, Katelyn, and Ayda all graduated from those programs.  Noah White will enroll at the Colorado Center for the Blind in the next few months.  Congratulations to all of them for choosing to harness the fire, to bring the fire, to be the fire!


In Maryland, we also have adjustment to blindness training programs for adults, seniors, and young people through Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM).  BISM, though not an NFB-affiliated adjustment to blindness program, models itself after the NFB centers in many ways including the use of learning shades, use of the long white cane, and modeling a positive philosophy on blindness.  I’m delighted to share BISM has begun the initial steps of seeking certification by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board.  We know BISM does wonderful work with our blind Marylanders.  But getting certification will ensure continuity to continue doing this work and accountability in years and decades to come.


BISM is our training center in Maryland, and many here have harnessed the fire by attending the COR, SALE, or youth programs.  Our NFB members teach, coordinate, work in, and now even run those programs.  Dr. Michael Gosse, BISM’s president presided over this affiliate when I joined it in 2008, and he continues to be an active member and among its staunchest supporters.  Two of our chapter and one of our division presidents are currently on BISM’s staff, numerous chapter and division board members are BISM rehab employees and associates, and one of our division presidents serves on the BISM Board of Directors.  Our convention door prize team is the youth services team at BISM.  This morning, we reorganized a local chapter that will hold its meetings at BISM in Baltimore County. 


We are interconnected.  We will never apologize for celebrating and elevating our NFB affiliated training centers.  But please, let’s for once and for all put to bed this notion that NFB of Maryland and BISM are somehow in competition or that there is an “us” and a “them.”  We are all “us” in the important ways.


Will we continue to push BISM to reach higher, do more, be better?  Of course we will – and we do that for all of our partners including our NFB training centers.  We know though, that our NFB training centers are accountable to our membership and we know they have the guardrails in place for our philosophy to remain intact for decades to come.  We know this because of how our training centers are formally affiliated with the NFB, have agreements with the NFB to support the policies and programs of the federation, and have shared visions for our future.  BISM is putting in some of those structures in place through certification, and BISM has signaled, in who it chose to lead it, who it hired, it’s shared commitment with us to bring the fire, to be the fire!  I’m proud of our partnership with BISM, and I’m grateful that BISM creates the space for us to hold them accountable to Maryland’s blind.  Because of this partnership, we’ll both, separately and together, elevate what we do for and with blind people.  We will both, separately and together, harness the fire, bring the fire, be the fire!


This year saw the return of the NFB BELL Academy in person edition.  We were honored to hold a two-week program in Baltimore with 15 children between the ages 4 and 12 participating.  Many of those children are here this weekend, and you’ll hear from them tomorrow.  The NFB BELL Academy is arguably the most important program we operate, because it cultivates the skills and positive attitudes about blindness that our kids need at such an early age.  In a post-pandemic world, we reimagined how to cultivate the learning that our kids needed, and we continue to think up imaginative ways to bring Braille to the fingertips of every blind child, put a long white cane in the hand of every blind child, instill a positive attitude about blindness in the heart and mind of every blind child. 


The NFBMD Board already decided that we will hold an in-person NFB BELL Academy in Baltimore next year, and we are working to host additional locations throughout the state.  Our hope is that some of our Narrowing the Gap teachers will run those programs.  In this way, we are harnessing the fire for our kids.  We bring the fire.  We are the fire.


This year, we determined we should revamp and modernize our scholarship program.  We decided to make a greater financial investment in our students and raised the annual scholarship amount to $4,000 each.  We also decided to offer more individual scholarships, up to four each year.  Our scholarship program in Maryland has helped many students access learning that would have been otherwise unavailable to them.  Perhaps more importantly, through our scholarship program, we’ve connected blind students with mentors and role models who show them blindness does not have to be a barrier to their success.  As Warren Buffet once said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”


So much of our efforts revolve around students, whether they be little ones just entering the education system, teens busting stereotypes about blindness being a barrier to learning STEM, college students receiving scholarships to further their education, narrowing the gap between the number of teachers of blind students that are available and working and the number needed in Maryland to ensure quality education for our kids, or getting individuals of all ages to attend adjustment to blindness training.  Education, training, positive role modeling – these are the true equalizers.  We will fight like hell to make sure every blind child and adult has access to education and training programs that will lift them up.  We will leverage our partnerships and connections with anyone wanting to work with us in this area.  We will reimagine how to ensure blind kids and adults gain the skills of independence.  We’ll do so through advocacy, legislation, training, outreach, and whatever methods we need in order to succeed.


Here too we harness the fire.  We bring the fire. We are the fire.


President Riccobono, in his 2022 national convention banquet speech said:


The intangible bond we share in our movement is what lifts us up from the depths of loneliness to the joy of participation. Our bond of faith lifts us from the isolation of despair to the comprehension that we can build a brighter tomorrow. Our belief in one another lifts us to know that we can make our lives what we want them to be. Our shared commitment is the spirit of our movement that lifts all of us up. 


We are a one-of-a-kind movement: a movement where every-day blind people and our friends and family are blessed to make extraordinary contributions to our human experience; a movement fueled by the heart, strength, determination, and thoughtfulness shared between members; a movement built on our lived experience rather than the misconceptions about us. While our philosophy, our strategies, and our diversity give us strength, it is the intangible bond of faith we share that makes us unstoppable. Those who choose not to work together with us will use other terms to describe the shape of our movement, but we who make up the blind people's movement, with all our diverse characteristics, share the truth common in our individual stories. We celebrate the power of our march together, and we recommit ourselves to working together for an even better future. 


My colleagues, friends, and siblings in the movement, we stand here together with gratitude, at the edge of the future we will build together, on a solid foundation because of those who came before us and harnessed the fire, brought the fire, are the fire.  We have opportunities before us that were inconceivable a generation ago.  We live with hope in our hearts, faith in our bones, and determination in our blood that every blind person will have the opportunity to live the lives they want.  We will bring the fire so that what we build for those who come after us will persist after we are gone.  We will instill in them the gift of fire that is the National Federation of the Blind.


As I close, I urge each of you to look inside yourself and find the fire, harness the fire, bring the fire, be the fire!


New Beginnings in Annapolis

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 2023 legislative efforts.]


The new term of the Maryland General Assembly began on January 11, 2023.  Any new term is exciting and chaotic.  This term was especially so, because in addition to approximately one-third of members being newly elected (or re-elected) to the General Assembly, Maryland also had a new governor, Wes Moore. The Senate had two new chairpersons, Senator Melony Griffith, chair of the Finance Committee, and Senator Brian Feldman chair of the newly created Education, Environment, and Energy Committee. The House also had two new chairpersons, Joseline Peña-Melnyk who chairs the Health and Government Operations Committee, and Ben Barnes, chair of the Appropriations Committee. The Department of Legislative Services is getting a future new home because the previous building was torn down to make way for a new facility. Offices had to consolidate because the general assembly had to house the Department of Legislative Services. The construction led to lost senators and delegates, no phones in offices, and incorrect emails. Everyone finally got settled and the work of the general assembly moved forward.


NFBMD took a hybrid approach.  Our kickoff meetings were held in January over Zoom, in February and the beginning of March, we attended all our various hearings in-person.  We congratulated old friends who returned and became acquainted with the new delegates and senators while advocating for our four issues. Despite the initial confusion, we were able to be very productive in promoting the work of the federation to the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.


NFBMD worked to protect the $250,000 that had been appropriated in the governor’s budget; to determine whether Maryland should have an electronic ballot return system for print disabled people, the military, and other people who have to vote overseas; to provide accessible prescription labels to the blind and print disabled citizens of Maryland; and to end discrimination against retired service animals in housing. We were concerned about the $250,000 for The Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) to Commerce, Education, and Public Information because the General Assembly acquired new powers to change the governor’s budget this year. The members of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Budget and Taxation Committee assured us that this money was protected, and that CENA provides an excellent service to the citizens of Maryland. When the general assembly passed the budget in the waning days of the session, the $250,000 was still there.


Unfortunately, the general assembly did not pass our bills SB488 and HB645 to study whether Maryland should have a limited electronic voting return system. SB488 was sponsored by a brand-new senator and former delegate, Benjamin Brooks and co-sponsored by Senators Lam, King, Salling, and West. Bill HB645 was sponsored by an old friend Jessica Feldmark and was co-sponsored by Delegates


At the hearings, the security nervous nellies testified against the bill, so the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Education, Environment, and Energy Committee sent the bills to summer study. We hope that this summer study will consider the questions that were proposed in the bill. Many thanks for the support from our sponsors and co-sponsors and to the many allies in the disability community, in the military, and other constituents whose vote cannot be counted because they must mail it from overseas. Maryland must find the balance between security and protecting the civil rights of disabled and overseas voters.


One of the greatest barriers blind people face is access to information.  Information on a prescription label is particularly important.  The technology to provide accessible prescription labels has been available since 1996.  Some pharmacies provide it to their customers, but many do not.  A disability champion, Delegate Michele Guyton, introduced HB456. The co-sponsors were:


Senator Muse, a new senator who had been in the general assembly several years ago, introduced the companion bill SB940. The co-sponsors for this bill were McCray and Jackson.  These bills instructed the Maryland Board of Pharmacy to issue regulations governing the distribution of accessible labels to blind, visually impaired, and print disabled individuals on or before January 1, 2025.  After some negotiations with the pharmacy lobbyists and with the help of Delegate Guyton and the members of the Government Operations Committee, we agreed on the following language for the bills.  The accessible labels must contain the same information that is available to the sighted public, they must be free of charge and provided in a timely manner comparable to when the public receives their prescriptions.  The bill also states that the blind shall have input into the content of the regulations.


Bills ending discrimination against retired service animals in housing were sponsored by Delegate Mary Lehman from Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties and Senator Mary-Delaney James from Harford County.  The bills define service animals according to the Americans with Disabilities Act and provides that a dog who has to retire from work is still able to live with the owner.  The owner is not subject to pet fees or no-pet policies that a landlord may have.  The co-sponsors of SB535 were Brooks, Jackson, Salling, Smith, West, and Zucker. The co-sponsors for HB608 were:


There were 2,400 bills introduced to the Maryland General Assembly in 2023.  Most of them did not pass.  We are very proud that both the prescription label bills, and the guide dog bills are numbered in the bills that passed.  The guide dog bills, SB535, finally passed on April 7 and the prescription label bills, HB456, passed on April 6 with the Senate version passing on April 7.  Many thanks to our sponsors for guide dogs, Delegate Mary Lehman, and Senator Mary-Dulaney James, and for the prescription labels, Delegate Michele Guyton, and Senator Anthony Muse.  Thanks to each of you for working very hard and making the 2023 legislative session very successful.  We were on hand when Governor Moore signed these bills in May.  We have many friends in the Maryland General Assembly and we appreciate their help.


Good News about ABLE Accounts


[Editor’s note: One purpose of this magazine is to share information that will enable Maryland’s blind to live the lives they want.  Below is an important update about Maryland ABLE accounts.]

Do you have a Maryland ABLE account?  The purpose of this account is to help persons with disabilities achieve a better life experience (ABLE) without losing benefits such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.  Anyone who became disabled before a certain age is eligible for an ABLE account.  


There are two pieces of good news concerning ABLE.  The first is that more people will be eligible to have ABLE accounts.  The second is that you can save more money in your ABLE account for 2023.


In December 2022, Congress passed the ABLE Age Adjustment Act.  This act, which goes into effect in 2026, states that if you were disabled by age 46, you may create an ABLE account without losing other government benefits.  Thus, you could have an ABLE account with $50,000 or $100,000 in it and keep your SSI or Medicaid.


For 2023, people who have ABLE accounts may contribute up to $17,000. This amount has increased from the 2022 amount of $16,000 because the IRS increased the amount that you are allowed to contribute under the gift tax. You may not have more than $100,000 in your ABLE account. The purpose of an ABLE account is to allow you to save for expenses that will help achieve a better life experience (e.g., buy technology, take a vacation, etc).


I Read Books for a Living

Article featured in the Library of Congress’s The Gazette

May 12, 2023

[Editor’s note: Debbie Brown serves as first vice president of the NFB of Maryland and president to the Sligo Creek Chapter of NFBMD, among many other roles she holds in and outside the federation.  Debbie works for the Library of Congress, and her standard response when people ask her what she does for a living is to say, “I read books for a living.”  Debbie was featured in the May 12, 2023 edition of The Gazette a publication of the Library of Congress.  Read on to learn more about Debbie.]


Debbie Brown is a content quality assurance specialist in braille products at the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS). Tell us about your background.


Debbie: I grew up in Pennsylvania and spent my childhood at the School for the Blind in Philadelphia.  Afterward, I attended Kutztown State University and got a degree in communications and secondary education.  While I was in school, I earned a braille proofreading certificate, which is what got me a job.  I worked for two years for a braille publishing house in Florida after I finished college.  We produced books for the program I later ended up working for at NLS.


What brought you to the Library, and what do you do?


Debbie: I visited NLS as a child and thought it would be neat to work here, but I figured only a handful of people could actually do that.  But while I was working for the NLS braille contractor in Florida, a job opened up here, and I applied for and got it.  I review braille books and magazines.  NLS works with six braille contractors to produce novels, cookbooks and even the occasional book that includes complicated mathematics or diagrams.  The program also produces books for children.  They can be the most difficult because they contain pictures, and you must either find a way to describe them at the vocabulary level of the book or leave them out entirely and risk omitting information that is valuable to the reader.  Our magazines include a knitting magazine and a crossword puzzle magazine.  That can be distracting because it is tempting to work out the puzzles!  Basically, the NLS program aims to offer what print readers can get from a local library.


What are some of your standout projects?


Debbie: In the 1980s, I proofread Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary — the last time such large publications were done in hard-copy braille.  I also worked with early files for Web Braille, which is the braille only predecessor to BARD, NLS’ Braille and Audio Reading Download site. 


What do you enjoy doing outside of work?


Debbie: I am an officer for the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.  Through that, I have worked in a blind children’s summer program and on legislative activities.  I have also taught braille to children and adults.  When I find time and a group who will have me, I also enjoy singing with small groups.


What is something your co-workers may not know about you? 


Debbie: In my work with the National Federation of the Blind, I got interested in protest songs written by blind people, mostly in the late 1960s and ’70s.  Often, they’re about oppressive workshops or agencies that were supposed to provide training for blind people but didn’t.  There is even a song about library service.  Our former director liked it — he said he appreciated a clientele who cared enough about library service to write a protest song about it.  In the late 1990s, I worked with a group to record these songs to distribute on cassette tapes as a fundraiser.  We sang 25 songs with keyboard accompaniment, recording some in a living room and some in the National Federation of the Blind studio.  They are not on a public website, and we don’t advertise them much to outside people because (a) we aren’t professionals, and (b) many of them require explanation to those not familiar with the issues.


Student Spotlight: Tyler Hoppe


[Editor’s note: Tyler Hoppe is someone many of you likely know, as he has been involved in our student division for several years.  Tyler was a John T. McCraw Scholarship winner in 2021 and 2022, and he serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Maryland Association of Blind Students.  Tyler is one of the 2023 National Federation of the Blind National Scholarship finalist.  Tyler will be a junior at Penn State University, working toward a bachelor’s in Political Science.  Below is Tyler’s 2023 scholarship application essay, which will introduce Tyler in his own words.]

My name is Tyler Hoppe and at the age of thirteen I lost my sight due to a rare medical complication associated with strep throat.  When this happened, I thought my vision of the future perished alongside my sight; however, I have found that my passion to excel would demolish any physical aberration that the universe instilled.  I promised myself that no matter what happened with my health, I would not allow anything to disrupt my dream of becoming a lawyer and politician to help others.  I conquered my blindness like grabbing a bull by the horns and dedicated myself to become the independent person I knew I could be.  While others may underestimate me by my appearance, I declare that my future is bright, and I will achieve my dreams in this world.


When I had lost my sight, I faced unending depression that enveloped my entire being.  I thought my dreams of helping others had died and I was forced to live a life as a burden.  However, there was a spark inside of me that would not allow this doomed prophecy to occur; I would fight tooth and nail to see myself become a lawyer and help those who could not help themselves.  I would eventually make my way to attending The Maryland School for the Blind, where I threw myself into learning every blind skill that made available.  My first year there, I would study braille, O&M skills, and any assistive technology for hours on end until I had deemed fully proficient in the skill.  After immense time and study, I found myself on par with individuals who had practiced these skills all their lives.  I consider this time my year of learning to be blind; I was building the perfect version of myself towards greatness in my future. 


I would find this dedication in high school to pay off when I was accepted to my dream college of Penn State University.  Here I could use the blind skills that I spent so much time developing and focus on my natural skills such as my desire for knowledge, leadership ability, interest in politics, and civil rights. While attending Penn State Altoona, I have done exactly that; I have joined the Student Government Association, been appointed head of the Governmental Affairs Committee, joined the Penn State Chancellor’s Student Advisory Board, and have been asked by multiple professors to give a lecture regarding blind accessibility.


Through these organizations, I have had immense success in passing legislation to make all Penn State commonwealth campuses more accessible for all disabled students, providing my knowledge of DEI and personal experience as a blind student.  In addition, I have been continually invited to speak to future educators about making an accessible and inclusive environment for disabled students.  My passion has not only been reflected in my education, but this past year also I have been continually active within the NFB; for example, joining the Maryland Association of Blind Students, determined to instill my passion in other blind students facing similar circumstances as myself.  These are just a few of the many accomplishments I have achieved in my lifelong pursuit to help others.  This is just one step in what I plan to do in my career in law and politics.


Given that you now know my past and present, it is only logical to describe my future.  I wholeheartedly plan on attending law school so that I can achieve my dreams of becoming an attorney.  I will transition into politics, with the goal of becoming a legislator that crafts laws that aid the blind and disabled communities.  I will give a voice of representation to those in communities who feel as if they have no voice.  I have a singular desire to help others as my life’s purpose.  So, I humbly ask the scholarship committee to consider me as a recipient of this award.  I see this scholarship as an investment in a student’s future; rest assured that if chosen, I will make this investment pay off.  I plan to do great things in this world, I ask that you please help me get there with this investment.


A Lesson Learned: Why I Support S531 and HR1263

By Tom Bickford

[Editor’s Note: Tom bickford is a household name among the blind, and he is a legend in Maryland in particular.  Tom has authored books on how to care for the long white cane, taught numerous people how to numerous things successfully non-visually, and makes rum balls that are so good they could spark a riot.  Below he shares his thoughts on subminimum wages.]


There must be thousands of people with disabilities and their own versions of this story, but this is how it happened to me.  I had just graduated from college in a small city.  I needed a “hold me over job” until I could find a job in my chosen profession.  The job that showed up was in a little start-up company.  The owner was in two other established businesses and this would be his third.  I spent most of my time gluing cardboard boxes together then putting bags of our product in the boxes.  Sometimes the stacks of boxes would get as tall as I was. 


One day the owner brought in his son, a college student, to have him get acquainted with the functions of the business including my job.  When the stack of boxes got up to his head, he said with a whine, that he couldn’t see where to put the glue.  That was when I shut my mouth and looked the other way.  Oh, these sight-dependent people!  Will they ever learn that to see is not the only way to know?


They paid me the standard minimum wage, $0.75 an hour, the year was 1962.  A few months later I was asked to go next door to one of the owner’s other businesses to sign some papers.  I made the classic mistake; I signed first, and then asked what they were for.  I had just signed away my right to be paid the minimum wage and had given the owner the right to pay me the legal, but in my opinion, the immoral subminimum wage.  When I asked the owner why, his answered, “I can’t afford to pay you more if I’m allowed to pay you less.”


If that isn’t a spit in the eye, I don’t know what is.


The owner had asked his accountant to find a way to reduce my pay.  The accountant knew his business numbers.  He found the numbers in the Fair Labor Standards Act, section 14C, passed in 1938.  I’m sure neither the owner nor his accountant considered the law was antiquated and discriminatory, but just an opportunity to reduce my employer’s cost by paying me the subminimum wage because I was blind.  My pay was reduced from $0.75 an hour to $0.60 an hour.  I had too much self-respect to work 20% slower, so I kept gluing the boxes at the same speed.  After about six months, a better opportunity showed up so we shook hands and said goodbye.


I encourage all federationists to write to their senators asking them to support S531 and to their congressperson asking them to support HR1263, the bills that would eliminate the unfair law that allows discrimination.


Chapter Spotlight: NFBMD At Large Chapter

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 chapter to be highlighted in this issue is the NFBMD At Large Chapter.]


The concept of at large chapters within the federation developed approximately in 2012. Joe Ruffalo, who was president of the NFB of New Jersey and a member of the national board, was the national representative at the West Virginia convention.  He took note that the West Virginia affiliate had quarterly telephone conference meetings.  He decided to use technology to develop a monthly At Large Chapter in the NFB of New Jersey.  Joe saw the At Large Chapter as a vehicle with two special purposes in addition to the role of local chapters.  An At Large Chapter gives the state affiliates a place to welcome members where there is not currently a local chapter and to use the At Large Chapter to eventually develop other local chapters.  As is typical in the federation, we borrow ideas from each other, and the At Large Chapter movement began throughout the nation.


Maryland began its At Large Chapter in September 2014.  The state board members carried the leadership of the chapter while we looked around for officers.  We conducted our first election in May 2015. The officers were Marguerite Woods, president; Sondra Burchette, vice president; Danielle Shives, secretary; Sharon Maneki, treasurer; and Dana Diaz and Henry Smith, board members.  As is typical with most local chapters, some of the leadership remains constant while the rest of it provides opportunities for other people.  For example, Marguerite, Sondra, and Sharon hold the same offices today that they were elected to in 2015.  The current board members are Brawyn Evans and Judy Nelson. Danielle Earl is the current secretary for the chapter.  This team tries to bring the NFB message of hope to blind people who are at various stages of their blindness journey.


Like most chapters, we conduct fundraisers.  This is tricky because the members are spread out throughout the state.  We show movies and ask for donations for the discussions we have after them.  The latest movie that we listened to with audio description was “A Patch of Blue” starring Sidney Poitier.  Since this movie was about Sidney Poitier’s relationship with a blind woman who he met in the park, we had much to discuss about love, relationships, and blindness.  We had two guest couples for the discussion: Pam and Roland Allen from Louisiana, and Tarik Williams and Joanne Gabias-Williams from Arizona.  They added much to the program.


The chapter also discusses NFB philosophy, technology, and other news during its meetings.  We discuss everything from how to help family members handle blindness to getting Congress to support the Nonvisual Access to Medical Devices Act.  Guest speakers often liven up the chapter meetings.  President Marguerite Woods believes that blindness is a journey. She enjoys the challenge of letting people know what the possibilities are.  Some people get very excited and take to the federation quickly, while others take a very long time.  The important thing is that each person feels welcomed and valued.


Alice Lanier, a member of the At Large Chapter, put it this way: “I continue to come to the At Large Chapter because I found a community that I can belong to.  I learn a lot and laugh a lot.  I have been coming to the chapter for about three years.  I am new to blindness and appreciate the consistency of the chapter.  In short, the chapter has become my extended family.”


We meet for breakfast on one day of each state convention.  It is nice to meet in person.  The At Large Chapter offers another way to reach blind people.  We look forward to helping blind people develop confidence so that with love, hope, and determination, we can make our dreams a reality.


Speaking Up for Civil Rights

By Sharon Maneki


[Editor’s Note: Sharon Maneki serves, among many other roles, the NFBMD Director of Legislation and Advocacy.  Sharon illustrates below, by sharing the reflections of members working at the grassroots level to engage our legislature, why collective action matters, and as you have read elsewhere in this issue, what happens when speaking up works.]


The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind – it is the blind speaking for ourselves.  This is a long-time mantra for our organization which we take seriously.  One of the ways we speak for ourselves is in our advocacy programs for the Maryland General Assembly. Gaining access to information on prescription labels and putting an end to discrimination against service animals who must retire are excellent examples of the blind speaking for ourselves.  Here is what the blind have to say:


On March 1, 2023, the House Health Government and Operations Committee heard House Bill 456. Shaun Johnson and Melissa Riccobono told their stories and Laura Shroyer offered written testimony to support the need for accessible prescription labels.


“My name is Shaun Johnson, and I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 17.  I had the complications of diabetes which led to lots of surgery to save my vision.  In October 2018, I was in the hospital for an ulcer on my foot.  When I was in the recovery room for the ulcer surgery, I had a heart attack.  I had a quadruple bypass for my heart, and when I woke up from that surgery, I was totally blind.  I went to a nursing home in November, but since I was 35 years old, I didn’t intend to stay there.  I got out of the nursing home on April 4, 2019.  I didn’t want to have people taking care of me; I knew I had to learn how to be blind.  I found the National Federation of the Blind, and they told me that I could be independent.  When I came out of the nursing home, I had to manage 13 medications.  I was totally dependent on my mother to sort them.  In July, I attended Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, an adjustment-to-blindness program.  One of the things I learned was that there were devices that could help me identify the pills.


I spent July 2019 to the present educating pharmacists on the existence and procurement of accessible labels.  Some of the pharmacies couldn’t understand what I was telling them and refused to work with me.  Today I took about 12 medications.  I receive most of them through mail order services because I was told that mail was the only way to get accessible labels.  I chose to use the Script Talk app on my phone to read the labels.  I can identify what medication I have, the dosage, how many refills I have left, and, when needed, side effects.  This system works well for me, but I wish I could get the labels from a local pharmacy.  It would be more convenient when I’m running out to get some things locally.  I hope to get a kidney transplant soon.  Transplant medications must be taken very precisely as directed by the doctor; failure to do so could result in loss of life.  Accessible information is vital for me.  Give me the chance to maintain a quality of life and the ability to pursue future aspirations.”


“My name is Melissa Riccobono.  My husband and I are blind parents.  We have two blind children and one sighted child.  My children are 16, 12, and 10.  We need accessible information for ourselves and our children, and as our blind children get older, they should also be entitled to prescription information so they can begin to handle their own health care.  I take two medications which feel almost exactly the same but are very different.  One is an antidepressant, and the other is an antibiotic.  I need to take antibiotics twice a day with food, and the antidepressant before bed.  Because I have access to the Script Talk system, I can easily tell these medications apart and make sure I take them both as prescribed.  Also, I found out by listening to the medication warnings on my antibiotic that I should not take it with Zinc.  This is something the doctor never told me, and since I do take Zinc as a supplement each day, I was able to change when I take the Zinc so as to avoid a possible bad side effect or reaction. 


Information is included on prescription labels for a reason.  The technology exists which makes it possible to give people with various print disabilities access to this vital information in an alternative way.”


”I am Mrs. Laura Shroyer, and I am a Baltimore, Maryland resident.  I also am a parent to three children of varying ages, who have taken multiple prescriptions over their lifetime.  As their primary care giver, I was the one to administer the medications safely to my children.  Which I should, as I am their guardian.


Unfortunately, this was extremely difficult for me because I am a person who is also blind.  So, in order for me to administer the medication safely I would have to take up a lot of the pharmacist’s time.  The pharmacist would have to spend the time going over the prescription label, and then I would have to record the information on a digital recorder so that I would have it.  Doing it this way made for some difficulties and there were many instances where the pharmacist did not have the time to spend assisting me.  I would have to hire a reader to read the medication to me.  That was very expensive for me to do, and I was forced to show another person my personal information, which at times was very uncomfortable.


After a while, a prescription revolution came on the market, called prescription readers.  These readers have been out for some time now.  However, I didn’t have knowledge of them until a few years ago.  I found out about them from another blind person and inquired about it at my local pharmacy.  The local pharmacist had never heard of such a label before and at the time was not willing to get the accessible prescription labels.


I had to change pharmacies to a pharmacy that was willing to change to the accessible labels.  This was a necessity for me and my family.  It would be wonderful to be able to receive your medication from anywhere in the state of Maryland and be able to safely take it.  Having the knowledge and information from the bottles is necessary for all people to properly take care of themselves and others who are in their care.  People should know that this technology exists, and thus people should have access to simple devices to better take care of their health and the health of the ones they love.”


The National Federation of the Blind is a grassroots organization.  The membership determines what actions we take.  The Guide Dog Committee of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was concerned about a loophole in Maryland law.  Service animals are able to live with their owner free of charge, but what happens to them when they have to retire?  Sherry Shirek and Matt Hackert sponsored a resolution that called for legislation to close the loophole.  The resolution was passed at our 2022 State Convention.  The result was HB608 and SB535.  Here is a sample of what the blind had to say during the hearings on these bills:


“My name is Sherry Shirek, in 2011, my guide dog (Tennessee) could no longer work.  I had worked with him for 9.5 years; he was my constant companion.  The apartment where we lived had a no pets policy. They informed me that I had to get rid of my dog or move.  I had a very hard time finding someone to adopt my dog.  I checked with friends, advertised in the community but could not find anyone who would be home to take care of Tennessee.  The veterinary doctor took him for a little while and found a retired person to take care of him.  The dog was not happy with the new owner, and Tennessee eventually died.  It still breaks my heart when I think about it.


I got a new dog Millie and she worked with me, but she died in April 2022.  I currently live in an apartment where there is a one-time pet fee of $300.  If I was to get another dog, and had to retire her, I would have to pay $25 per month along with the $300.  This fee on top of the $1,825 rent per month that I currently pay is beyond my means, so I have decided not to get another dog which is a hardship.  I have made this decision because I do not want to experience the trauma of having to look for a new home and losing the dog.  If this bill passes, I may get another guide dog.”


“My name is Terri Nettles; my guide dog is named Nevil and we have been successfully working together for 4.5 years.  When he reaches the point of retirement because he can no longer work, I would definitely have to move or find a new home for him.  Leisure World, where I live, does not allow dogs over 20 pounds so I could not keep him unless you pass this bill.  I deliberately chose Leisure World and moving from there would be a hardship.


This bill will not only help those who have to face retirement of their dog today but will also benefit people in the future.  This bill will also reduce anxiety for the blind person.”


“My name is Matt Hackert, I am advocating for HB608, which would extend existing protection given to service dogs through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) beyond their working life, through their retirement.


Guide dogs are highly trained animals which are well-socialized to the public.  With a competent handler, this training is constantly reinforced throughout the life of the partnership and continues into the dog’s retirement.  As a result, a strong bond develops between dog and handler, and separation upon retirement because the handler cannot afford pet fees or would be barred from keeping the dog with them would constitute a difficult trauma, on top of an already difficult process of simply retiring a dog and considering acquiring a new dog to replace the retired one.


I am currently working with my fifth guide dog, who I brought home from a training program on August 5, 2022.  All of my past guides have had very successful partnerships, and because I happened to be a homeowner when it was time for them to retire, I could keep them with me while returning to the guide dog school to train with a new guide.  However, family circumstances are different this time.  My wife and I are in the process of going through a divorce and thus transitioning to separate housing.  While we own our home today, this is not a permanent circumstance.  We live with my current guide Artemis, as well as my retired dog, Igloo.  However, as an example, one affordable rental option charges an additional $300 monthly.  Other housing options have large breed restrictions, or do not allow pets at all.

While things currently remain amicable between my wife and I, this is not guaranteed.  But even assuming they stay amicable, it is not certain that she won’t also need to find an interim housing solution which could run into the same issue of my retired guide being subject to pet fees or restrictions.  Blind guide dog users like me face great uncertainty in these kinds of situations and may not have local friends or family who would be willing and able to adopt their retired guides.  More importantly, many dog handlers may not wish to be forced to give up their retired dog because they are suddenly no longer protected by the ADA.  For me, this certainly presents some significant challenges and uncertainty.”


Speaking up for civil rights for the blind is certainly an effective tool in obtaining them.


My Vote Counts Too: The Hypocrisy of the Misinformation Campaign Surrounding Voting Security

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s note: In the federation, we have a history of using every tool we have to ensure equal access to fundamental civil rights, including voting.  Ronza Othman shares some reflections on these efforts in Maryland and the work ahead.]


“Why on earth are you voting for that person,” my friend asked.  “Don’t you know you’re wasting your vote?  Here, let me change it for you to the person I’m sure you meant to vote for.”


During a recent national election, I came to understand first-hand that despite having earned a doctorate degree, despite serving my country every day as a faithful civil servant, and despite my love and devotion to democracy, I do not have a private and independent right to vote in the United States.  The sole reason: I am a person with a disability.


I am blind, and this has been a fact for my entire life; it was certainly the case when I turned 18 and joyously registered to vote, received my voter registration card, and exercised my right to vote for the first time.  Because I am a first-generation American, and because my family fled violence and the exact opposite of democracy in our native land, aging into the right to vote was incredibly meaningful and healing in the aftermath of the trauma we experienced.  I feared that I’d experience discrimination in voting due to my national origin or religion, even my color.  I feared people would question whether or not I was a United States citizen – I am.  But I never imagined, as I tucked my voter registration card right next to my state ID and college ID, that I’d experience discrimination in my right to vote because of my disability instead.


As a blind person, it feels to me like every time we make progress in advancing voter access for the blind in one area, another area crops up that further excludes us. 


I remember, shortly after turning 18, bringing someone with me to help me vote in person and arguing with poll workers about whether I could use the reader of my choice. Then, in 2002, the Help America Vote Act made it standard for all in-person voting locations to have a minimum of one accessible voting machine, meaning I could use the same accessible machine as any other voter without a disability.  I could also bring my reader of choice if I wanted, but I had, for the first time, choices and the freedom to vote in the same way as anyone else. 


This worked great for in-person voting, until fifteen years later when the state of Maryland rolled back its use of electronic voting machines in favor of using paper ballots.  The reason: people were freaking out about security, with no evidence to support their fears.  This was my first experience with the vibrant and wildly successful misinformation campaign about voter security that now plagues our nation.  Sadly, it was not my last.


Maryland, and the federal government, addressed those concerns, unfounded as they were, by requiring that there be a voter-verifiable ballot in election equipment and voting processes.  This means that in order for a voting system to be allowed to be deployed during an election, it has to have a mechanism for the voter to verify that the choices they made are in fact the choices selected on the ballot.  Problem solved, right?  Nope!


In Maryland, a number of candidates then decided to freak out because the new, voter verifiable electronic voting system put candidates on multiple screen pages; those politicians thought voters weren’t smart enough to select the “next” button to go to subsequent pages of candidates for a particular contest.  Those politicians directed the misinformation campaign in a different way – that the electronic voting machines for in-person voting were complicated and confusing; they were not.  And thus the campaign to discourage voting using electronic systems was perpetuated. 


Voters were given paper ballots and not told about the option for electronic voting machines.  Poll workers, who themselves were bamboozled by the misinformation campaign, told voters who asked about those machines, that they were only for people with disabilities.  The number of voters who used those machines steadily declined.  For Maryland and several other states, the electronic ballot that prints looks very different from the paper ballot.  The result: a separate but unequal system of voting in Maryland and other states that was not private. 


I remember a friend, Joel Zimba, telling me about walking into his polling location, where the poll workers were his neighbors and people he saw in the community on a regular basis.  One of the poll workers greeted him by name, handed him the ballot for the electronic voting machine, and said to a colleague something to the effect of, “he always votes [party X], so when you see him coming, pull out the [party X] ballot.  He needs the machine – he’ll be one of the few people who will need the skinny ballot today.”  When we later looked at the voting statistics for that polling location, my friend was the only person who voted using the electronic voting machine.  He lived in a very populated area – that should not have been the case.


We, the blind, do not have a choice in the type of ballot we can use.  If we want to vote privately and independently, as we are entitled to do under the law, we who are blind (at least most of us) need to use an accessible voting method.  Non-disabled voters have the choice of which ballot to use, but the misinformation campaign pushed them away from the electronic voting option back to the paper option.


“Why does this matter?  If we can still vote using the machine, then who cares what anyone else does?”  Well, for those states that use a certain electronic ballot, called the ExpressVote system, the paper ballot and the electronic machine ballot look different.  The paper ballot is a wider, shorter ballot that resembles a scantron sheet with lots of bubbles.  The ExpressVote ballot is longer and skinnier, and it only lists the name of the person for whom the voter voted rather than all of the candidates.


For Joel, because he was literally the only one in his polling location to vote using the machine, his ballot was the only one that looked the way it did.  His choices were therefore identifiable and not secret.  To add insult to injury, Maryland posted copies of the voted ballots online by voting location, so people could actually see, from the comfort of their own homes, who Joel, and others with disabilities who were among the few to use the accessible voting machine, voted for.


We engaged collective action to try to resolve this issue.  The politicians at the Maryland State Board of Elections didn’t do anything about this issue despite our pleas for help.  I, alongside my blind friends and our allies, then marched off to the Maryland General Assembly, for a number of years, with the skinny ballots in one hand and the wide ballots in the other to show the glaring difference.  The general assembly too didn’t have the appetite or will to help restore our civil rights.


We took our fight to the courts, because if the executive branch would do nothing, and the legislative branch would do nothing, then our last hope was that the judicial branch might do something.  The NFB, the Maryland affiliate, and three blind voters, including Joel Zimba, sued the Maryland State Board of Elections to restore our right to a private and independent right to vote.  In 2021, we settled our lawsuit and Maryland changed some of the way it handles use of the electronic voting machines.  As a result of that settlement, Maryland elections will have more electronic voting machines, poll workers will receive regular training of which NFB and the Maryland affiliate helped create, each voting location must have a minimum number of individuals using the electronic machines to help mask the identities of voters with disabilities who have to use this form of ballot, accountability measures if any voting location fails to meet that minimum number, and arguably most importantly, every voter will be offered both options – electronic and paper ballots – neutrally.  Early data from the 2022 General Election suggests that we’ve made substantial progress in restoring secrecy and independence at in-person voting locations, and I remain cautiously optimistic.


However, this was not the first time we had to invoke the democratic process of all three branches of government to fix a civil rights problem for blind voters.  Spoiler alert: It’s likely not the last.


Marylanders have, for some time, had the right to vote from their homes and other locations.  We used to call this absentee voting, but in 2021, the Maryland General Assembly rebranded it to Vote by Mail.  Some states still call it absentee voting, but the two terms mean the same thing.  The problem for the blind: absentee voting was paper-based, and thus inherently inaccessible to us.


We went to the politicos at the Maryland State Board of Elections to ask them to create an accessible absentee voting process, but they did nothing.  To their credit, Linda Lamone, the Maryland Elections Administrator, and Nikki Charlson, the Deputy Elections Administrator, not politicos themselves but rather career employees, did try to help solve the problem – and all the other civil rights problems we’ve experienced as a class – but they did not have the authority to make the changes that were necessary to protect our civil rights.  So, we went to the Maryland General Assembly, but they too did nothing substantive or meaningful.  So, in 2014, the NFB, the Maryland affiliate, and a handful of brave voters, went to the judicial system to get court intervention.  We sued the Maryland State Board of Elections, we went all the way up to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and we won.  Maryland then established an accessible, electronic absentee voting system wherein voters with disabilities could receive their ballots securely in an electronic format, make their selections, and print and mail in the ballot.


And yet, we still don’t have the ability to vote privately and independently using the vote by mail process. 


Here’s the pathway my ballot takes during its journey to being counted.  I request a vote by mail ballot from the Maryland State Board of Elections, and I tell them at that time I want it sent to me electronically.  My request for an electronic ballot includes the information the Board of Elections needs to confirm my voter eligibility and identity, just like every other voter wishing to vote absentee.  At the same time hard copy ballots are mailed out to voters, the Board of Elections sends an email to the email address I provided in my original request that has a link to a secure portal.  I access the portal, confirm my identity using the information only the Board of Elections and I know and can access about me, and use my assistive technology to read and vote my ballot.  In my case, I use Jaws, which verbally reads to me what is visually on the screen, and then I use keyboard commands instead of a mouse to make my selections.  I also read all of the fine print about voter fraud, confirming my voting eligibility, and all the standard legalese. 


But this is where my independence ends.  I need help printing the ballot, because as a blind person, I don’t own a printer.  Why would I?  So, my options are either to go to a library or business center of some kind or to send my ballot to someone who can print it for me.  If I go to a library or business center, odds are they won’t have assistive technology for me to use, so someone from their staff, or someone I bring along as a reader will have to help me access and then print my ballot, all the while being able to see for whom I voted.  If I send my ballot to a friend for printing, then they will have access to my choices as well.  So, for me to be able to vote by mail, like anyone else in Maryland, I have to give up my right to independence and privacy, both of which are not only hallmarks of the Voting Rights Act, but also precisely what the Help America Vote Act was supposed to ensure for voters with disabilities.


But I’m not done having my privacy violated and my independence usurped.  I have to sign the certification area of my ballot – all that legalese I mentioned before.  But I have to sign exactly in the right spot or the Board of Elections will consider my ballot “spoiled.”  A spoiled ballot is one with stray marks or writing on it that isn’t where it belongs.  And thus, I’ll need a human reader to show me the correct place for me to sign my absentee ballot.  This is the second time someone else’s hands and eyes are on my ballot, and it’s the second time my right to privately and independently vote is violated.


But still, there’s more!  I still have to get the ballot submitted.  I can mail it to the Board of Elections, or I can take it to a physical drop box, a location the Maryland State Board of Elections and local boards determine at which ballots can be dropped off.  But the information on where to mail my ballot or how to find my local drop box is, you guessed it, printed on the ballot.  So, this is now the third time someone else’s hands and eyes touch my ballot, to help me actually turn it in. 


On three different occasions, someone other than me saw and physically touched my ballot and had access to my voter choices.  At three separate times, in order for me to be able to vote using a method available to anyone in Maryland, I had to give up my right to privacy and independence simply because I have a disability and the electronic ballot return process is not accessible to people with certain disabilities including blindness. 


And so, when my friend, in helping me print, sign, and return my ballot, looked at my choices and offered to change them for me because she didn’t agree with them, I realized we have to mobilize our collective action efforts on voting once more.  Of course I know she shouldn’t have commented on my choices, and frankly I don’t know if she did or did not change my selections because – once the ballot moved from my screen to the printer, it was no longer independently verifiable by me anymore.  I don’t know if anyone else I’ve had help me in the past “fixed” my ballot either – they could have done so without me knowing.  And isn’t that precisely what the security fear-mongers are screaming about – that voters’ ballots can be altered without their knowledge and consent?  Why is it ok for my ballot to be at risk of being altered because I have a disability then?


Some politicians have responded when I share this problem with them that it is illegal for someone who is assisting with a ballot to alter it without the voter’s consent, like I didn’t already know this.  Of course it’s illegal.  But those of us with disabilities often have to deal with an imbalance of power – those who help us with visual tasks have tremendous power over us, particularly when we can’t or don’t pay them for the help, because we depend on them to help us with tasks sighted people find commonplace.  I can’t risk offending or alienating my reader because I need her to come back tomorrow to help me with the next thing.  So, reporting her isn’t going to happen, and for some of us, even challenging her isn’t going to happen. 


So, off we went back to the Maryland General Assembly to try to get the legislative branch to fix this problem.  We started there first because in Maryland, there is a specific law that appears to outright prohibit electronic ballot return.  But we also figured out that others have similar problems with returning their voted ballots by mail using the exclusively paper process and built a coalition with them.  Military and overseas voters have been disenfranchised as well because the postal delivery process takes so long their ballots often arrive after the ballots were certified, or they don’t arrive at all.  In addition, the cost of mailing the ballots back internationally is quite expensive, in some cases over $200, which is tantamount to a poll tax. 


In January 2023, the Maryland affiliate led a coalition of over 40 disability advocacy organizations and several dozen military and overseas voter organizations, to advocate for legislation that would study the issue of electronic ballot return for disabled, overseas, and military voters, including feasibility, accessibility, cost, security, and civil rights implications.  This bill was simply to study the issue and canvas for potential solutions.  We believed establishing an electronic vote-by-mail electronic ballot return system was the best option, but we also understood that there could be other options of which we weren’t aware, that more than 30 states had an electronic ballot return process for the military and 12 had one for disabled voters, and that implementing such a system would need to be evaluated from a multitude of aspects.  Our bill was literally to have the state study the issue and potential solutions.


Even the study bill struck fear in the hearts of those leading the misinformation campaign about voter security.  Our lead sponsors received calls from individuals asking if they were working for China or Russia.  I received calls from individuals doing everything from cursing me out to asking if I was in league with China myself.  One particular politician, who self-styles herself as the expert on elections in Maryland, went so far as to claim in a floor speech that both electronic ballot return and delivery were dangerous and susceptible to hacking, and that the state should reconsider its stance on electronic ballot delivery.  To her, I say, “Madam, with regard to electronic ballot delivery, the Fourth Circuit has spoken”


There has been no evidence that electronic ballot delivery or return creates risk of voter fraud or would compromise election integrity.  There is a portion of a report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that indicates there is minimal risk with electronic ballot delivery and perhaps some risk with electronic ballot return related to malware and auditability.  Auditability is easily resolved if the ballots that are returned electronically are done so securely (using blockchain or some similar method) and printed for counting.  Malware is a problem for literally everything.  If I can send my taxes into the IRS, if I can apply for Medicare online, if I can apply for and interact with the Social Security Administration online, if I can apply for a passport, apply for citizenship, or do the thousands of things that involve my private information and data with the government electronically, if I can do telehealth, teletherapy, teleschooling, and teletesting, I can submit my ballot online.  For all of these things, my identity, my privacy, and my finances are in play – so why is it my right to vote using this method sends security folks into orbit?


As a result of the renewed effort by the misinformation brigade on voting in Maryland, our bill was scuttled.  Instead, the Maryland General Assembly claimed it would study the issue of whether or not to study the issue.  Yes, they decided to study the study, a political move if I’ve ever seen one.  Purportedly they will in fact do much of the work the actual study would have done, but while I am hopeful, I’ve got some healthy skepticism too.  For a previous study on voting – the separate but unequal issue related to in person voting I discussed earlier, the general assembly delivered a report that I myself could have produced via a 30-minute internet search, using Wikipedia before Wikipedia had any credibility, when I was in sixth grade.  The data was outright wrong, the citations were outdated, and they consulted no one with any expertise in the area or with true knowledge of the problem.


And so we fight on.  We’ll offer to help with the study of the study in the hopes that the lived experiences of voters with disabilities counts for something more than a token head pat.  We’ll work with those with sense and the will to protect our right to private and independent voting to introduce legislation again and again.  We’ll work with the executive branch to make this a priority for the state of Maryland and beyond.  And, as a last resort, we’ll turn to the third branch of government to uphold our fundamental right to vote, that which the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Help America Vote Act, the Voting Rights Act, and countless other laws have determined include the right to vote privately and independently throughout the entire voting life cycle.  Collective action always gets it done in the end!


Baltimore-Based National Federation of the Blind Works to Ensure that Every Vote Counts

By Billy Jean Lewis

Published in the Baltimore Sun, October 25, 2022

[Editor’s note: The following article features Lou Ann Blake, treasurer of our Greater Baltimore Chapter and subject matter expert on voting.  The article, published in the Baltimore Sun, highlights some of the settlement terms in our lawsuit.  The November 2022 election was the first general election that had to implement some of the settlement requirements.  It is a good beginning on the road to equality.  There will never be true equality until Maryland decides to use one voting system in person for all.  Here is the article]


Lou Ann Blake was shocked when she learned she was blind.


“My biggest fear was that people would tell me that I couldn’t do stuff,” she said.


She loved horseback riding and was afraid people would say it was unsafe. She feared being unable to drive.


Now the director of programs at the National Federation of the Blind, headquartered in Baltimore, Blake, 63, has retinitis pigmentosa, which led to the loss of most of her vision in her early 30s.


In the beginning, she lived her life as though she were not blind.  That changed after hearing a law professor blame a crime committed by a young man on his parents’ blindness.


“The fact that his parents were blind had nothing to do with the fact that he committed a crime,” she said.  “I realized at that moment that I needed to be with people like me.”


Blake has carried that identification into her role at NFB, the advocacy group for the blind started in 1940.


One of her most influential projects has been protecting voting rights for the blind.


Blake said blind voters are not treated equally when they cast their ballots in person.


Blind voters can cast their ballots in person during early voting and on Nov. 8 using paper ballots or ballot-marking devices, Blake said.


Ballot-marking devices use a control pad and headphones to narrate the ballot. Blake said the current system violates blind voters’ privacy and anonymity.  While the ballot-marking device allows blind voters to vote independently, it prints a long, skinny ballot, which differs from the traditional one and could allow blind voters’ ballots to be identified, she said.


Blake played a key role in a 2021 lawsuit that pushed Maryland to change these practices.  The state agreed to pay $230,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by NFB and blind voters alleging that the state’s electronic voting devices were undermining voter confidentiality and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Blake said she helped negotiate parts of the settlement, including that the state must pay NFB $2,000 to produce an instructional video for poll workers.  The video, titled “Empowering the Blind Voter,” can be seen on YouTube.


The state also agreed to install two ballot-marking devices in at least half of all polling sites, invite all voters to use them and ensure that at least 10 do so.


All Maryland polling places during early voting and Election Day will have at least two ballot-marking devices, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections.


Data from the 2022 primary election shows that 33.6% of voters who voted in person used a ballot-marking device to make their selections, she added.


Even so, Ronza Othman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, said the total number of blind voters in Maryland is unknown because disclosure of a disability is not a requirement to vote.


Joel Zimba, of Oakenshawe, said he is certain his votes have been identified by poll judges when he used the ballot-marking device because he is the only blind voter in his neighborhood.  He said the election board releases data on the number of people who use the ballot-marking device at each polling place.


Zimba wants the state to require everyone to use the ballot-marking devices. About two years ago when he voted at Margaret Brent Elementary in Charles Village, the ballot-marking device was down, he said.  Instead of five minutes, it took him about 45 minutes to vote because the poll worker struggled to set up the machine.


Blake said NFB will lobby the Maryland General Assembly next year to permit those overseas, those in the military and the disabled to return their ballots electronically.


The Americans with Disability Act requires those with disabilities to be given equal opportunities to vote, said Jessica Weber, a lawyer at the Baltimore-based law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy who represented NFB in the 2021 lawsuit.


States that allow voters with a disability to return their ballots electronically include Colorado, Massachusetts, Utah, Washington and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Blake is originally from Wilmington, Delaware.  Now she lives in Federal Hill.  She graduated with an engineering degree from Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology in 1982.  She studied law at Widener University Delaware Law School in Wilmington.


Before her current role at NFB, her other positions included research specialist and project manager. She joined NFB in 2005.


She spent a month receiving training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where she learned skills, such as cooking and traveling.  Preparing a meal for 30 people was a requirement for graduation.


“I benefited a lot from that,” she said.  “[Being blind] is something that people have to come to terms with in their own time.”


This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at


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Narrowing the Gap: Doing Our Part to Train Teachers of Blind Students

By Ronza Othman, Karen Anderson, Sadiqa Al-Salam, Will Klotz, and Erin Zobell

[Editor’s Note: In 2022, NFB, NFB of Maryland, and the Maryland State Department of Education established the Narrowing the Gap for Blind Students Teacher Preparation Program to narrow the gap between the demand for teachers of blind students and the inadequate supply.  At the 2022 State Convention, program participants Sadiqa Al-Salam, Will Klotz, and Erin Zobell shared parts of their journey and experiences with the convention.  Ronza Othman introduced the panel, and Karen Anderson served as the moderator.  Below is a transcribed version of the panel.]


Ronza Othman:

“A few years back, President Riccobono and I were lamenting the teacher shortage in Maryland, specifically teachers of blind students.  He had the idea to create a program that would help fund the certification of Teachers of Blind Students.  I use “Teachers of Blind Students” instead of Teachers of Visually Impaired because I do not believe blind people are impaired – I believe drunk people are impaired, just so you know.  He got the idea to fund a program that would help fund certification of teachers of blind students in exchange for a commitment from them to work in Maryland for some period of time.  We then worked to establish a partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education and Louisiana Tech University, and last winter, the program launched. 


“Conchita Hernandez from the Maryland State Department of Education was very instrumental in that program, as was President Riccobono, who took on a very hands-on interest.  Now, Karen Anderson runs that program for us.  We have 15 people now enrolled in the program, and next summer, we will have 15 new teachers of blind students on the rolls in Maryland. 


“Because in the National Federation of the Blind, when there’s a problem we try to get the people who own the problem to fix it, and when they don’t, we fix it ourselves, this is our Narrowing the Gap Program. 


“We want you to hear directly from the program participants, and as I said, Karen Anderson coordinates educational programs at the NFB and oversees this program.  Will Klotz, who many of you know, is a member of  the Greater Baltimore Chapter and often does our Spanish oral interpreting.  Sadiqa Al-Salam, who is a newer member and very active in the Sligo Creek Chapter, and Erin Zobell, who to the students in the Narrowing the Gap Program is affectionately known as ‘Mom’ are the program participants you will be hearing from today.  Please join me in welcoming our Narrowing the Gap Program.”


Karen Anderson:

“I grew up as a blind student.  I don’t know if that’s an experience any of you can identify with.  I didn’t grow up here in Maryland, but I did grow up as a blind student.  I think I’ve been hearing the same thing since I was a kid, and I think it’s been the same across the country: there’s a shortage of teachers of blind students.


“Has anybody heard this?


“This has been the reason to not provide our students with a free appropriate public education since I was in preschool.  I’m a working age adult at this point – I’m not going to tell you how old I am, but that’s an embarrassingly long time. 


“We’re the National Federation of the Blind.  Are we going to put up with this?  [Audience: “no!”]  I didn’t think so.  President Riccobono didn’t think we should.  President Othman didn’t think we should.  Conchita Hernandez didn’t think we should.  The Maryland State Department of Education didn’t think we should. 


“If they’re not going to teach our students right, we’re going to do it ourselves!


“The National Federation of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and the Maryland State Department of Education got together to form a partnership, and we put together the Narrowing the Gap for Blind Students in Maryland Teacher Preparation Program.  Then I had to write that out about 17,000 times over the last year and a half, so I’ve gotten very good at it. 


“We now have 14 teachers from across our state enrolled at Louisiana Tech University.  This is a university program that is informed by the lived experiences of blind people as well as grounded in research-based pedagogy, with the highest expectations for Teachers of Blind Students of any university program for teachers of blind students. 


“This program ensures that graduates, the teachers who are going to be going into the schools and teaching our blind kids, are prepared to help their future students live the lives that they want.  These 14 teachers have also been participating in monthly enrichment sessions, many of them have been virtual, not all of them have been, and not all of them will be; and this gives them an opportunity to dive a little bit deeper into some of the topics that maybe their courses don’t have the opportunity to cover.  I don’t  think any teacher ever feels like they go in totally prepared to start teaching, but we want to give our teachers the best opportunity that they can.  We also want them to have an opportunity to hear more from blind people. 


“I am absolutely thrilled to have three of these teachers up here on the stage with me, and I’m also completely thrilled that we have so many of our teachers from this program here in this room at convention.  Can we give them a round of applause everybody?  [Audience applauds.] 


“I really wish we had a chance to hear from all 14 of them.  I will say that one of them, Andrew, is not able to be here with us weekend – he has a really good reason though – his wife just had a baby yesterday.  So, I hope that we will be looking forward to welcoming her as a new member of our federation family. 


“I want to make sure that we introduce these teachers; so let’s go down in order, and tell us who you are, where you’re from, how did you learn about the program, and why did you decide to apply.”


Will Klotz:

“Hello, my name is Will Klotz, and I am a member of the Baltimore Chapter.  I’ve been a member of the federation for a few years now, and I help with translation for Spanish-speaking members with Teresa Graham over there.  I am a Foreign Language teacher in Ann Arundel County.  I teach at the school that I went to, so I’m very much a full-circle type person, and I teach in the classroom that I was once was a student in, which is really funny.  I tell my student that sits in that same desk that I used to sit there, and it’s usually a very awkward eye contact after that.


“I came across the program because last year, Conchita was lightly pushing me to apply, and I eventually decided that this is just another circle that I want to complete because I feel like I had really good teachers of blind students when I was a student growing up in Anne Arundel County, and so that’s just something I want to pass on; now that I’ve taught Foreign Language at my school, now let’s be a TBS in my county.”


Sadiqa Al-Salam:

“Good morning.  I’m Sadiqa Al-Salam, and I also learned about the program through Conchita.  I worked on a teacher toolkit for the state of Maryland, and it was during that time that she said, ‘Wow, I wish my students had a teacher like you.’  And I thought, what do you mean your students?  When I started to look at the gap that exists between what you can earn with or without education when you have a disability, and thought about the fact that I think I’m a universal design teacher who thinks I can teach anyone anything, but my classroom is not accessible if someone were to walk into my classroom who is blind.  I felt ineffective.  And so I saw that as a challenge to become more educated; so I applied for the program, and to my surprise, I was accepted.” 


Erin Zobell:

“I am Erin Zobell, and I am from St. Mary’s County down in Southern Maryland.  I learned about the program when they posted it on our school district communication for teachers.  When the opportunity presented itself, I thought back to my experience – I taught in self-contained classes with students with severe needs; whenever the vision teacher would come in – or whenever the teacher of blind students would come in – I would want to not teach the rest of the students; I instead wanted to follow the teacher of blind students and see what he was doing.  One of my beloved things was a little half-sheet of Braille that he had given me, that when I moved from the state of California to here, was destroyed and it broke my heart.  So the opportunity presented itself, and I said, ‘You know, I was more interested in his job than I was mine, so maybe this is where I should be going.’  And now I have plenty of Braille.  We’re OK there.”


Karen Anderson:

“What has been your favorite class or activity, or so far what has been your favorite part of the program?”


Will Klotz:

“My favorite part so far has definitely been having Casey as a professor.  She is hilarious.  But I also loved the Braille class because I was not taught Unified English Braille – I was taught the Braille that was before that, so I was like, ‘This is different from what I remember.’  I don’t use Braille as my medium for reading as an adult.  Then I would look at something and think, ‘I don’t think that’s what I remember, but that’s what Unified English Braille is now.’” 


Sadiqa Al-Salam:

“I’m going to say it’s very hard to identify a favorite part.  I wholeheartedly agree with Will with regards to the quality of the education and what Casey brings to our program.  But what’s made this program probably unique and rich for me is how all the individual pieces come together to make me feel whole and competent; you should know that we represent 15 people that are all Braille readers now, reading above what we are required to read by the end of our first class, reading over 30 words a minute.  And our first class has not concluded.


“But I want to take this time and say that I had an opportunity through my chapter to spend some time at the adult camp for the blind; I had an opportunity to work with and be mentored by my chapter.  We had an opportunity for O&M training at NFB, and it was everybody from the staff at the Independence Market, to the HVAC man who saw me lost in the hallway, to the dining services, to the people in the offices who didn’t know that they were going to help me when I was lost, to the education, to the chapter, I mean, to all of you that persevere and share your stories, challenges, and solutions when we’re in sessions.  All of those things come together and make this one of my most favorite life experiences.  So it’s very hard to speak to one particular part.  So I’m going to say that and I’m going to say ‘Thank you times 120.’”


Erin Zobell:

“I don’t think it’s fair to have to follow that.  But there have been a lot of things, I think; if you were to ask me what has been my favorite part, I think meeting the cohort in person.  There is a difference when we meet online and when we see each other in classes versus when we are together.  And after that first week — our first week together for half of us was under learning shades with a cane, and that bonded us in a very unique way.


“Getting to know the cohort, even though I’m the mom – Casey if you’re watching, thanks.  Watching everybody and seeing their strengths that they are bringing to the program, and future students that are going to have them as teachers, and seeing what a good thing this is for the state of Maryland, knowing that this is what their future is going to be — I just hope that we are able to expand the program beyond this one cohort because I would love to see teachers of this level all over the country available for students.”



Karen Anderson:

“I just want to draw attention to something that was mentioned.  These teachers are in Braille 1 right now.  To pass Braille 1, they have to read at least 30 words a minute.  It’s been 10 weeks.  How many teachers of blind students do we have who can’t read Braille at all?  How much are we raising the caliber of teachers of blind students in Maryland?  This is going to be amazing.


“I’m going to flip this a little bit.  What has been the most challenging, either class or experience – something that made you really nervous or really struggle?  What’s been the hardest thing so far?”



Erin Zobell:

“It would have been the hardest challenge had I not being doing this program.  This comes from my 13-year-old daughter who has a lot of medical problems.  I took her for a well check, and her pediatrician goes, ‘You need to get her to an ophthalmologist like yesterday.’


“At that time, we were studying eye disorders.  I come to find out the doctor was worried about her medical issues eventually causing blindness.  As a parent, to be able to say, ‘I know where to go if I need help.’  To not have that fear, Casey taught us from day one that people’s No. 1 fear is cancer and No. 2 fear is blindness.  So to know that OK, my daughter’s 13, if she’s going blind I need to know now so I can get her in Braille now so that she does not lose her love of reading.  It was not a challenge because I knew where to go and I knew what to do, but that, I think was very empowering and one of the reasons I’m very grateful for this program.


“We still don’t know what’s going on with her – that’s kind of the story of her.”


Karen Anderson:

“Yeah, I’m not crying you guys, you’re crying.”


Will Klotz:

“For me I’d say the most challenging part was our orientation and mobility class because when I was a student, I didn’t receive orientation and mobility services.  I think just letting go of that fear when I am under learning shades so that I can be successful was very challenging at first.  When we had to walk around the mall – I’m not really much of a mall person to begin with – and having to do that with learning shades was a little challenging.  I was like, ‘What am I going to do at the mall.’  I went to the nail salon to sit in the chair and relax for a while, and that was great.  Learning about my own blindness through this class has been fascinating and thinking like, when dealing with blind children, ‘Oh, I did these things and some of these things I still do as a blind adult.’  I think that introspective is very fascinating and can also challenge you to think about yourself and how you interact with society how I’ll interact with future students now that I know more about this. 


“Casey also mentioned that in our Braille class, students are learning Braille; we don’t learn the formula in which it was made – like how the dots were situated; we’re learning that in our Braille books, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this is so fascinating.’  When I was taught Braille, we were just taught ABCDE and all the contractions and word signs.  Then we look and we are like, ‘Oh, it’s arranged in a certain pattern that I never even thought about.’  The challenge is learning about blindness and how I fit into our bigger NFB family, I guess.”


Sadiqa Al-Salam:

“I was stuck, once again; if we didn’t have the literature in the books, I would swear that some of this Braille was being made up as the class went along.  Some of the contractions, I would think that. 


“I would say that for me, Braille aside, Orientation and Mobility has been the hardest challenge. Maybe about day two, I was in tears.  I felt like I had all of this sensory information and all of these pieces, but I didn’t know how to store it to use it, and I didn’t know where I fit in the midst of all of these places I had been to.  It was kind of like being lost in space.  I knew that there was this map, but I didn’t know where it was on the map, and every now and again something new showed up on the map.  Or, I would discover something, and everybody celebrated.  They would say, ‘Hey, you found a stairwell.  Do you want to go through?’  I would say, ‘No, because that’s one more thing that I have to remember on this map.’  Let me just live with the map that I know, and that’s this map and then the map can grow. 


“And so that, I think, was hard for me; I didn’t see my breaking point coming.  It just sort of snuck on me; I thought it was all OK, until the HVAC man asked me what was going on.  Then I was like, ‘I’m crying to a stranger.’


“You know what?  I trust the quality of the program, and I trust the process.  That’s what I keep telling myself.  In less than 15 minutes, I found this one place that I didn’t find before.  That’s the screen saver on my phone.  When things get tough, I always look at that picture of me standing in the room celebrating finding it, because that might have been more fulfilling than walking the stage getting my master’s degree, trying to find it.  It was like learning to walk, again.”


Karen Anderson:

“So one of these teachers is already teaching.  We have a couple of our teachers in the Narrowing the Gap Program that are already teaching blind kids, and they are very lucky blind kids.  The rest of these teachers will begin to teach in the fall of 2023.  So I want to ask you guys, if you are already teaching, what are you enjoying most about what you’re doing now?  If you’re not teaching, what are you looking forward to most?  Is there any last little thing you want to add for our members?”


Sadiqa Al-Salam:

“OK, I’ll go first.  So, I’m one of the teachers that is currently teaching and working as a teacher for the blind in Prince Georges County Public Schools.  One of the things I enjoy most, is that from the moment I joined my department, I was recognized and validated as a person of value and quality, because of the preparation that I’ve had, not even have gone halfway through the program.  But that is one of my favorite parts, not just for me to be valued, but to know people in the field feel like I have something of quality to bring to the students and to the classroom.  The teachers and families that have to support those students – because it’s a lot that we have to learn and do and juggle.  But to know it’s applicable, an it’s of value, and you’re getting at least some of it right, that feels good.”


Erin Zobell:

“I’m currently not in a position as a teacher of blind students.  I am a special education and have been for years.  But I happen to have a blind child on my caseload this year.  So, I get a lot of questions sent my way from the general education teachers – ‘How do we…?’  So, I’ve been able to answer them because of my training.  I look forward to opening up a world for these kids.  Just recently getting some tech to a student and watching her… I came in, I said, ‘Hey, we got this book pushed out to you and you can go ahead and read it,’ and she ran to her tech to start listening to her book that she was so excited about.  Just opening up this world to this child that hadn’t been there before – that’s what I’m looking forward to – opening up the world in ways these kids didn’t have the opportunity to explore before.”


Will Klotz:

“I’m in the general education classroom – I’m a Spanish and German teacher.  This will be my last year in the classroom – I’m kind of sad, kind of excited.  I’m most looking forward to travelling around the county and learning who our students are and serving students that generally need us, that can make learning accessible and make them not hate school.  There have been plenty of times when I’ve been in a program and some things were not accessible, and it meant I didn’t like it.  We want them to think education is a catalyst for them to be successful and do something great.  When we provide that accessibility, that they can achieve that and not just cut out education because not accessible or hard or they thought something negative about.  This is what I’m most looking forward to.”


Karen Anderson:

“Federation family, these teachers give me hope.  They give me hope that families of blind students will no longer hear that Braille is hard for their kids to learn.  These teachers give me hope that that the next generation of blind kids is going to grow up with teachers who truly, actually believe in the capabilities of their blind students, and hope that the blind students in Maryland are going to grow up knowing that it’s respectable to be blind because they will have grown up surrounded by blind role models.  These teachers are going to be absolute power houses in their own right.  I think we’ve seen that today – this is just the tip of the iceberg.


“But we don’t expect them to do this all by themselves, do we federation family? [Audience: No!]


“Can we count on all of us in this room – all of the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland – to support these teachers, to encourage these teachers, and their students, and their families?  To answer the questions that these teachers are going to have because they can’t know everything?  And most importantly to welcome them into our federation family? [Audience: Yes!] 


“I absolutely believe that we can.  We like to have things be started here in Maryland.  BELL Academy anyone?  [Audience member ‘BELL Academy!’] I didn’t even plant her in the front row of the audience, it’s perfect.  We would love to have this program end up being a pilot program.  We’d love to have teachers of blind students across the country who are this well-trained.  If you happen to be here from another affiliate and are interested in this, you can tell how well it’s going here. 


“Congratulations!  Thank you to all of our teachers.  Congratulations to all of you who are here, and those of you who couldn’t be – we cannot wait to see you at next year’s convention, and the convention after that, and the convention after that.  Thank you all so much.”


2022 Distinguished Service Award: Carol Beatty

By Ronza Othman

[Editor’s Note: On extremely rare occasion, the NFB of Maryland deems it appropriate to recognize an individual whose contributions as a leader and ally in the disability rights movement has been a game-changer.  2022 was one such year.  The NFB of Maryland awarded the Distinguished Service Award to Carol Beatty, secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities at the NFBMD 2022 banquet.  Secretary Beatty’s work and contribution have been so valuable that incoming Governor Wes Moore reappointed her to remain in her position, a very rare occurrence since his predecessor Governor Larry Hogan, who originally appointed Secretary Beatty, was from the opposite political party.  Read on for Ronza Othman’s remarks in presenting this award.]


In the National Federation of the Blind, we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us and our future.  Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.  We fight day in and day out to dispel negative and harmful stereotypes about the blind, and we are the blind speaking for ourselves.


However, we do not and cannot do it alone.  Allies and friends are critical to our raising expectations in society, and the first and most important piece of that is to find individuals who believe in the innate abilities of blind people to compete on equal terms and contribute meaningfully to society.  It is those sorts of people who both give us the space and opportunities to do so and also who lead the way to others should do the same.


Tonight we honor one such individual who believes in the ability of blind people.  More, this person has dedicated her career to empowering people with disabilities in Maryland, and now she holds the top position of influence in the state of Maryland concerning disability.


Tonight we will award the Distinguished Service Award to a remarkable woman who has significantly advanced accessibility, equity, and inclusion for not only the blind of Maryland but people with all kinds of disabilities across the state.  The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland only rarely gives this award, and we only do so when the recipient is extraordinary.  In fact, in my memory, I only recall us giving this award one other time.


Tonight’s award recipient earned a BA in mass communications and history from Towson University and an MS in special education from Johns Hopkins University.  This award recipient has spent more than 20 years working as an executive in the disability field, including at Alternative Living, Inc. and Dello Machre, Inc.  She then served as the executive director of the Arc of Howard County, and in that capacity provided public policy advocacy at the federal, state, and local level; this recipient, in this role, also provided quality services and supports for more than 750 individuals and their families including employment and day services, community living, and family support. 


In March 2015, this recipient was appointed by Governor Hogan to serve as the secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities, a cabinet-level position; Maryland, I believe, remains the only state in the nation to have such a department or such a position, one that elevates disability policy and programming to the cabinet level.


I met tonight’s award recipient through advocacy efforts when Arc Howard County and NFB of Maryland worked on overlapping issues, but I’ll admit I did not get to know her then.  I was appointed by Governor O’Malley in 2012 to serve on the Maryland Commission on Disabilities, so I met this recipient again when she assumed the position of secretary in 2015.  I was reappointed to the commission by Governor Hogan a couple of times, and so I’ve gotten the privilege to continue to work with this person for the last seven years.


I recall a specific situation when NFB of Maryland was upset about something that had happened in government – I can’t recall what now.  But tonight’s award recipient heard we were upset and called me to discuss the issue.  I remember being stunned that a cabinet-level secretary would just pick up the phone to talk about an issue.  I was just some random NFB member at that point and had almost no visibility in the Maryland affiliate.  More, I was blown away by her response, which was, “This shouldn’t have happened, it won’t happen again, we’ll fix it.”  And then, within 24 hours, she did.


During that conversation, she shocked me once again when she told me to call her any time to discuss concerns or ideas, and then she gave me her personal phone number.  I’ve used it plenty in the last seven years.  And every single time, tonight’s award recipient takes ownership of the solution, even when the problem isn’t anything in her control or the responsibility of her staff.


Tonight’s award recipient has grown to be a dear friend.  I’ve learned tremendously from her, and she’s been open and willing to learn from me.  She believes in the innate abilities of blind people and the disabled generally.  She herself has a physical disability, having had polio as a child.  Her lived experience, coupled with her willingness to grow and learn from those with whom she engages contribute to making her a fierce and effective ally.


It is my privilege tonight to present the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland’s Distinguished Service Award to Secretary Carol A. Beatty. 


I’ll read the inscription on the plaque.


National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

Distinguished Service Award

Presented to

Secretary Carol A. Beatty

For enthusiastic support of and advocacy on behalf of Maryland’s blind citizens,

for championing equal access and inclusion for all, and

for implementing innovative policies and programs that foster dignity, equity, and productivity for Marylanders with disabilities.

You champion our movement; you strengthen our hopes; you share our dreams.

November 12, 2022


Marguerite Woods: An Ambassador of Hope

By Mary Ellen Jernigan

[Editor’s Note: Marguerite Woods is a vital member of the NFBMD in numerous ways.  Marguerite serves as the president of our Seniors Division, president of our At Large Chapter, member of the affiliate Board of Directors, and mentor and friend to so many.  The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland honored Marguerite with our highest award, the Kenneth Jernigan Award, at the NFBMD state convention on November 12, 2022.  Below is what Ellen Jernigan, chair of the NFBMD Kenneth Jernigan Award Committee, shared with the convention in presenting the award to Marguerite.]


This evening’s recipient of our Kenneth Jernigan award is being recognized for her dedication to the needs of individuals, for her willingness and ability to spread the message of hope that the federation offers.  She always takes the time to check with individuals to see how they are doing and to encourage them.  She spreads federation philosophy wherever she goes, whether it is to a rehabilitation facility in this country or to India where she received a fellowship to attend a workshop in communications and community development. 


When she was one of the subjects in the documentary film, “I’m More than My Hair,” she took the time to educate the film’s director about blindness.  She was so convincing, I’ve been told, that the director made sure that this documentary had audio description.  Likewise, it is because of her dedication to the Wednesday call with Baltimore City agency leaders, that these city officials have learned that they need to make their materials accessible to the blind. 


I suspect that by now it is not much of a secret to many of you in this room that I am talking about Marguerite Woods. 


And of course, we all learned more about Marguerite’s personal journey this afternoon.  Marguerite come on up here now to join me on the podium as I finish this presentation.  We learned a lot about her journey this afternoon, but let me add a few things while she makes her way up here.


In addition to serving on our Board of Directors, Marguerite has been president of our At Large Chapter for seven years, and now is President of our Seniors Division, whose theme this year has been “My Eyes Don’t Work, but My Brain Still Does!”  These two important entities within the affiliate are flourishing under her leadership.


As Marguerite likes to say, “We meet people on their journey, and by offering hope and encouragement, they each will reach their own definition of independence.”


For all these reasons and more, it is my honor to present the 2022 Kenneth Jernigan Award to our friend and our colleague, Marguerite Woods.


I have this beautiful plaque with our logo, and it says:


National Federation of the Blind

Live the Life You Want

Kenneth Jernigan Award

Presented to Marguerite Woods

In appreciation for your many years of outstanding service.

Whenever we have asked, you have answered.

We call you our colleague with respect.

We call you our friend with love.

November 12, 2022


2022 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 2022 NFBMD annual convention in November.] 


Several awards were presented at the 2022 Convention of the NFBMD. 


Gina Fugate received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award at our convention banquet.  Gina teaches technology at the Maryland School for the Blind and runs the robotics program.  Gina has been described as fun and challenging, and she has high expectations for each of her students.  Gina is herself blind and joined the Greater Baltimore Chapter during the convention.


We presented the Jennifer Baker Award during the NFBMD banquet.  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.  Paul Wales, a student at the Maryland School for the Blind, received this prestigious award.  Paul, in addition to blindness, has numerous other disabilities.


Eunice Hurley, a member of the National Harbor 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.  Eunice Hurley received this award because of her zest for life and persistence in gaining the blindness skills to live the life she wants.  Eunice loves Braille, following recipes, and learning the basics of computers.  Eunice is a great example of Anna’s spirit because of her determination to live independently and participate in all aspects of community life.


President Ronza Othman presented the Distinguished Service Award to secretary Carol Beatty.  Read more about this award on page 44 in this issue.


NFBMD awarded the Kenneth Jernigan Award, our highest honor, to Marguerite Woods.  Read more about this award on page 46 in this issue.


Start thinking about who should receive these various awards at the 2023 state convention, to be held November 10 to 12, 2023!


Profile of an NFBMD Leader: Sharon Maneki – Part One

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.  This leader profile features Sharon Maneki, member of the NFBMD board of directors, vice president of the Central Maryland chapter, treasurer of the At Large Chapter, past president of the NFB of Maryland Board of Directors (twice), and current Director of Legislation and Advocacy, among many other roles.  Sharon’s story is so rich and varied that her profile will be split among two issues of this magazine.  Here is part one.]


There are so many in Maryland, both blind and sighted, who know Sharon Maneki.  Since arriving in Maryland in 1984, Sharon has worked tirelessly for the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  She has organized and sold tickets and products for fund raisers, recruited speakers for chapter meetings, and participated in NFBMD outreach in a variety of unique places.  She has planned and run state conventions, advocated at hundreds of IEP meetings, and is a force to be reckoned with when trying to pass legislation we believe in, (or help legislation we are opposed to fail) in Annapolis.  And, while doing all of these things with energy and joy in her heart, Sharon always manages to reach out to others.  Sharon invites others into our movement.  Once she brings you in, she helps you have a job or two to do, if you want a job… Or even if you don’t think you do… The phone is Sharon’s best tool, and she uses it better than anyone I know.  She does call just to chat, or just to check in with you if she hasn’t seen you in a while, but those conversations also often lead to so much more.  We all joke that when Sharon calls, we answer, and when Sharon asks, we say yes.  It’s true Sharon is incredibly persuasive, but more than that, she truly cares about people.  So many of us are willing and happy to say yes to Sharon because she has helped us, and we want to pay that help forward to others. There is no doubt that Sharon has created, and continues to create, a true legacy of service, hope, determination, and love for the NFBMD and the NFB on a state and national level.


Though she shares so much of what she has freely with others, Sharon can also be an incredibly private person.  She would much rather talk about you, your life, your goals and dreams, than talk about herself, her future plans, or even her past accomplishments.  Sharon has done so much, yet is so humble that I believe most of us do not know about her, particularly her younger years.  I recently had the opportunity to conduct an oral history with Sharon, and here are some things about her younger years I discovered.


Sharon was born and lived in Jersey City, New Jersey. She was born blind.  During her younger years, Sharon enjoyed playing with her cousins.  She attended the school for the blind in New Jersey through the eighth grade.  At that point, she says, she was more than ready for public high school.


Sharon said she enjoyed high school, but she had the most fun in college, where she majored in history and also took education classes “just in case.”  She made a lot of friends, and many of them commuted to and from college together.  Sharon and her friends had many fun “road trip” commuting adventures, including running out of gas in the middle of a bridge!  Sharon says she found her niche in college, and she is still in touch with many of her college friends today.


After graduating from college, Sharon taught history in a public high school for 15 years.  She mostly taught 11th graders, but also taught some 12th graders in various electives. Sharon began teaching in 1968, and she hired her own readers to help her grade papers and complete other school tasks.  Although Sharon knew other blind people, most of them were not teaching, or holding other professional type jobs.  She says she eventually found other blind teachers to talk to, and she knew blind people could teach, but she had to figure a lot of things out on her own.


Sharon joined the National Federation of the Blind in New Jersey in 1976.  At that time, the New Jersey affiliate was being reorganized, and Sharon was excited to meet younger blind people who shared such a positive philosophy, and were willing to work together in order to make a difference.  She said before the reorganization, she felt as though the federation was filled with “old people” and she didn’t feel welcome, or know where she could fit in.  At the reorganization of her local chapter, Sharon was elected to the board.  She says, “I figured, it was only a year term, and I could do that. And I learned so much!”  This was, of course, the first of so many offices Sharon would hold in the future.


There is so much else to share about Sharon’s story such as her introduction to getting legislation passed in New jersey, her meeting with her husband, Al, her move to Maryland, and her many Maryland accomplishments.  These things will be explored in part two of this article which will be published in a future issue of The Spectator.


Bottom of Form

2022 NFBMD Resolutions

[Editor’s note: The convention is the supreme authority of this organization, and perhaps its most important function is to set the policy of the federation.  Below are the five resolutions that the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland adopted on November 13, 2022.  NFBMD is actively working on these matters, and Resolution 2022-01 is now the law in the state of Maryland.]



Resolution 2022-01

Regarding Housing Accommodations for Service Animals or Guide Dogs


WHEREAS, blind people, from all walks of life, are able to participate in work, school, and social activities because of the training they receive with their service animals or guide dogs; and


WHEREAS, working together creates a strong emotional bond between blind people and their service animals or guide dogs, leading to a strong desire by the handler to care for the service animal or guide dog in retirement; and


WHEREAS, Maryland law, especially the Maryland White Cane Law, requires landlords and other housing providers to accommodate service animals or guide dogs without assessing additional charges to the dog handler or person with the disability; and


WHEREAS, the law is silent on the status of the service animal or guide dog who is retired, leaving the dog handler or person with a disability with the possibility of having to either give the dog to a third party or to pay extra to house the service animal; and


WHEREAS, the law should be amended to allow an individual with a disability to keep their service animal or guide dog, whether working or retired: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the City of Towson, Maryland, that this organization strongly urge the Maryland General Assembly and the Governor to enact legislation allowing a person with a disability to keep their service animal or guide dog who is retired and to prohibit landlords, homeowner associations, and other housing providers from requiring additional fees or charges for users of retired service animals to keep them in their homes.





Resolution 2022-02

Regarding the myMDTHINK Portal Regarding MTA MobilityLink

WHEREAS, the State of Maryland has established a new internet portal called Maryland's Total Human-Services Integrated Network (myMDTHINK) Consumer Portal, which its home page describes as the “gateway to Health and Human Services;” and


WHEREAS, myMDTHINK is supposed to allow Marylanders to access and apply for various benefits, including benefits used by Marylanders with disabilities; and


WHEREAS, in order to complete any application process using the myMDTHINK Consumer Portal, a user must first create a myMDTHINK account by providing detailed personal information, as well as creating a username and password; and


WHEREAS, a screen-reader user tabbing through the form to create an account encounters several accessibility barriers, including: 1) drop-down menus that do not identify their function but where instead the user only hears a prompt saying “please select one;” 2) a field for the user’s date of birth which does not specify what format to use to enter the information; 3) fields for phone numbers that do not identify which type of number (e.g., home, mobile, work) is being requested; and 4) additional coding and usability issues not consistent with screen-reader access; and


WHEREAS, an accessibility link (which incidentally is not properly identified as a link by screen readers) on the portal's home page only takes users to the general accessibility statement that is supposed to apply to all websites in the domain; and


WHEREAS, blind users who have completed the registration process report further accessibility issues when applying for specific benefits; and


WHEREAS, many of these users also report difficulty getting help using the system when they call the designated phone number, if they can find it, such as long wait times and the failure of representatives to call back even when an appointment has been scheduled; and


WHEREAS, many users who need the benefits that can supposedly be accessed through the myMDTHINK Consumer Portal do not even have internet access, making the process of applying for benefits over the phone even more important and consequently more frustrating when it fails; and


WHEREAS, some blind Marylanders have lost needed benefits because they could not apply or recertify their eligibility for those benefits and had to reapply because they could not use the myMDTHINK system; and


WHEREAS, the Maryland Department of Human Services, Department of Disabilities, and Department of Information Technology are charged with resolving problems with the myMDTHINK Consumer Portal, but they have clearly failed to do so: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the city of Towson, Maryland, that this organization urge the Maryland Department of Human Services, the Maryland Department of Disabilities, and the Maryland Department of Information Technology to work collaboratively with us to identify and resolve all accessibility barriers on the myMDTHINK Consumer Portal; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we demand a responsive telephone service for Marylanders with and without disabilities to use if they find it difficult or impossible to use the myMDTHINK Consumer Portal.




REGARDING State Legislation to Permit Electronic Return of By-Mail Ballots

WHEREAS, the ability to cast a secret ballot independently is a cornerstone of our democracy that enables citizens to vote their conscience without fear; and


WHEREAS, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that voters with print disabilities must be provided an opportunity to mark and return their by-mail ballot privately and independently that is equal to the opportunity provided voters without disabilities; and


WHEREAS, Section 9-308.1 of the Code of Maryland permits an accessible online ballot-marking tool that allows blind users to mark a by-mail ballot privately and independently, but Maryland law does not permit ballots marked with this tool to be returned electronically; and


WHEREAS, the requirement to print out a by-mail ballot after marking it privately and independently with Maryland's accessible online ballot-marking tool is a barrier that prevents some blind voters from using the online ballot-marking tool because they need the assistance of a sighted person to 1) confirm that the ballot printed correctly, 2) show them where to sign the ballot oath, and 3) address an envelope to their local board of elections; and


WHEREAS, the lack of electronic ballot return is also a barrier to many blind voters because they do not own a printer and therefore need to have someone else print their ballot or use a public printer, compromising their right to privacy and independence; and


WHEREAS, long mailing times experienced by military and overseas voters sometimes result in their ballots not being received at their elections office in time to be counted, thus resulting in their disenfranchisement, and the same fate can befall blind Marylanders who use the accessible online ballot-marking tool even if all the other barriers to returning their by-mail ballots are surmounted; and


WHEREAS, the ability to return a by-mail ballot electronically would ensure that the entire process of voting by mail would be accessible to voters with print disabilities, and would further ensure that their ballots and the by-mail ballots of military and overseas voters would be received at the elections office in time to be counted; and


WHEREAS, the electronic return of by-mail ballots is currently available to both military and overseas voters and voters with disabilities in Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the City of Towson, Maryland, that this organization demand that the Maryland General Assembly pass legislation during the 2023 legislative session to permit the electronic return of by-mail ballots for both military and overseas voters and voters with disabilities.




REGARDING Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act

WHEREAS, some forty-one million Americans report having a disability; and


WHEREAS, based on these numbers and on the fact that the internet has become an essential part of daily living, it is more than reasonable to assume that the vast majority of Americans with disabilities, including blind and deaf-blind Americans, are using or need to use websites and mobile applications for education, employment, and many tasks of daily life; and


WHEREAS, many entities are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws to make their websites accessible but claim to have no clear-cut definition of what “accessible” means, and so far the United States Department of Justice has not issued regulations to provide guidance to such entities, despite announcing its intent to do so in 2010; and


WHEREAS, the lack of clarity around website and software accessibility has contributed to the filing of thousands of lawsuits against covered entities, some brought by unscrupulous lawyers seeking quick monetary settlements, which have in turn produced inconsistent court rulings fostering even more uncertainty; and


WHEREAS, to finally resolve this uncertainty and provide clear guidance for businesses and other entities who wish to make their websites and applications accessible and access the pool of American consumers who have disabilities, Congressman John Sarbanes, who represents the third Congressional district of Maryland, introduced the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act (H.R. 9021) on September 29, 2022, and companion legislation was introduced the same day in the Senate by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois; and


WHEREAS, this historic legislation, which the Honorable Tony Coelho, author of the ADA, said is as significant as the introduction of the ADA itself, will direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to promulgate accessibility regulations and will also establish a technical assistance center to aid covered entities, developers, and individuals with disabilities, as well as ensuring that accessibility regulations keep pace with new and emerging technologies, Now, therefore:


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the City of Towson, Maryland, that this organization express its profound gratitude and commendation to Congressman John Sarbanes for working with the National Federation of the Blind and others to craft this landmark legislation and for introducing it in the House of Representatives.




REGARDING Training on and Enforcement of the Maryland White Cane Law

WHEREAS, the Maryland White Cane Law prohibits discrimination against blind and deaf-blind individuals and provides penalties for such discrimination; and


WHEREAS, specifically, this law provides that “blind, visually impaired, deaf, and hard of hearing individuals have the same right as individuals without those disabilities to the full and free use of the roads, sidewalks, public buildings, public facilities, and other public places” and that such individuals are also “entitled to full and equal rights and privileges with respect to common carriers and other public conveyances or modes of transportation, places of public accommodations, and other places to which the general public is invited;” and


WHEREAS, the law further protects users of guide dogs and other service animals, as well as trainers of such animals, from discrimination; and


WHEREAS, the Maryland White Cane Law further provides that a person who denies or interferes with admittance to or enjoyment of a public place, accommodation, or conveyance covered by the law is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, is subject to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars for each offense; and


WHEREAS, blind people in Maryland who experience denials of or interference with admittance to or enjoyment of public accommodations and who contact local law enforcement routinely find that responding officers are either not familiar with the Maryland White Cane Law at all or, if they have heard of it, wrongly believe that it is only a civil statute and therefore refuse to issue citations for its violation; and


WHEREAS, such refusals to enforce the Maryland White Cane Law leave many blind and deafblind people who experience discrimination without any remedy, since many lack the means to bring a civil suit to enjoin the unlawful discrimination; and


WHEREAS, while those accused of violating the Maryland White Cane Law are, of course, entitled to due process, their ultimate guilt or innocence should be determined in a court of law rather than by the sole discretion of responding law enforcement officers: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in Convention assembled this thirteenth day of November, 2022, in the City of Towson, Maryland, that this organization demand that law enforcement agencies throughout the state commit to the rigorous enforcement of the Maryland White Cane Law when violations are credibly reported or observed; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon these agencies to collaborate with the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland to ensure that their personnel are properly trained on the rights of blind Marylanders and on what constitutes a violation of the Maryland White Cane Law; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the chief law enforcement officials of every jurisdiction in the state.


You Can Now Hail an Uber by Calling a Number

By Kyle Wiggers

Published in TechCrunch, May 17, 2023

[Editor’s note: The following article shares information about a new way of requesting rideshare services from Uber, and those without smart phones can use the service too.  The article, published in TechCrunch, shares information about how to access this service.  Here is the article]


Uber’s making it easier to hail a ride — no app required.


The company announced Wednesday at its annual Go-GET event in New York City that it’s launching a new ride-hailing option for people who aren’t as familiar navigating a smartphone. By dialing the toll-free number 1-833-USE-UBER (1-833-873-8237) in the U.S., customers can speak with an agent in English or Spanish to request a ride on-demand or reserve one for a future trip.


Uber has piloted ride-hailing via phone before. It launched the program in select regions around December 2020, specifically Arizona and Florida. But the company temporarily paused the service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the feature is back and more widely available. 


When calling, people who have an existing Uber account can tell the agent and use an existing payment method on file. If they don’t have an account, they can pay with a credit card by phone and the agent can create an account for them.


Here’s how it works:

  • Customers call Uber from a phone to talk to a team member.
  • Once the ride has been confirmed, Uber sends information via text message about the ride, including the driver’s name and picture, license plate number and their estimated time of arrival.
  • Finally, the customer receives another text message when the driver arrives at their pickup location.
  • What about tips? Booking an Uber via phone doesn’t provide a way to do that — surely to the chagrin of drivers. But Uber points out that riders can give cash tips if they choose to do so.


“Providing customers with more ways to use Uber remains top priority and we’re excited to nationally expand this updated offering,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch via email.


Maryland Man’s Invention, Born Out of Frustration, to Help Blind People Everywhere

By Barry Simms

Published by WBAL-TV, October 28, 2022

[Editor’s note: The following article shares information about an invention by Greater Baltimore Chapter and Baltimore County Chapter Kevin Cross, the Cane Essential Keeper.  WBAL-TV highlighted Kevin’s entrepreneurship and invention, and here’s that article.]


A serious change in a Baltimore man’s life, coupled with a disturbing situation, led to the creation of a new product.


Former investment manager Kevin Cross said he had to find a new path when he lost his sight seven years ago because of diabetes.


While on a walk learning how to use his cane, he came across something extremely unpleasant on the ground that ended up on his cane.


“(It was) some dog stuff. It was pretty nasty,” Cross said. “Not being able to see has been a little frustrating at first and a challenge.  So, having something like that happen was very annoying.”


When he folded his cane, everything ended up in his backpack.


Anger, frustration and determination led Cross to create a simple solution: A bag that he calls the Essential Cane Keeper.  It's something that has opened new opportunities for him.


Baltimore-based Blind Industries and Services of Maryland makes a variety of products.  With machines whirring daily, workers sew military jackets, and they now assemble Cross' bags, which help keep dirt and germs that get on the tip of a cane from transferring to other surfaces.


“It's about the white cane, which is the tool of independence in blind people.  It wasn't a hard sell.  An entrepreneur comes to you, who is blind, and has the perfect product for blind people.  It just made sense,” said Michael Gosse, president of Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.


Cross received a $15,000 grant from the Maryland state Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services and help from Baltimore-based Psychometric Solutions to develop a business plan.


“I was blown away, ‘Wait, so, nothing like this really exists already?’” said Tameka Payton, CEO of Psychometric Solutions.


Cross said he didn’t think of himself as an inventor until after he developed the bag for his cane.  He said he’s proud of himself and is now working on other products.


Happy Birthday, Louis Braille

By Sharon Maneki

[Editor’s note: For many years, the Sligo Creek Chapter has been celebrating Louis Braille’s birthday with the community of Montgomery County.  As part of the 2023 celebration, William Opeyemi Jawando, an At-Large member of the Montgomery County Council, presented the following resolution to Chapter President Debbie Brown, at the Rockville Library on January 22, 2023.]


WHEREAS, Today we recognize Louis Braille and his impact on the visually impaired community. His invention revolutionized the way blind people read, write, and learn. Braille Literacy Month is a time to remember the great contributions of Louis Braille and celebrate the community organizations that continue his legacy of inclusivity; and


WHEREAS, Learning Braille is a meaningful way to support all Braille readers, sighted and visually impaired alike. It is an invaluable skill for our community, improving communication and educating Montgomery County citizens; and


WHEREAS, We may all draw inspiration from Louis Braille’s resilience and innovation. His response to his accident created a pathway for countless visually impaired individuals around the world to access written materials. Reading is one of life’s great joys, and must be accessible to all individuals regardless of their visual acuity; and


WHEREAS, Braille Literacy Month will rightfully be remembered and recognized by the Montgomery County Council. The Council and all members of our community are grateful to organizations like the Montgomery County Library Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Sligo Creek Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland for their work.


NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the County Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, hereby celebrates Braille Literacy Month and the contributions of Louis Braille, the Montgomery County Library Accessibility Advisory Committee, and the Sligo Creek Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. AND


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County Council encourages all County residents to do the same.


Presented on this 22nd day of January in the year 2023.


William Opeyemi Jawando, councilmember



Spectator Specs



On November 26, Raymond Sewell passed away at the age of 87.  Ray was a long-time member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and a very active blind vendor.  He will be remembered for helping to slow down Newsline for the voting information.  He also arranged for us to have items to sell at National Convention.


Brenda Deloach passed away on October 6, 2022.  Brenda was a long-time member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter, and in recent years has been very ill.  Brenda was a teacher.  She passed away at age 74.



On October 22, Garret Mooney and Brittany Bomboy were married.  Garret serves as the president of the Maryland Organization of Parents of Blind Children (MDPOBC) and is a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.  Brittany serves as the Maryland NFB BELL coordinator as well as holds a board position on MDPOBC.  They are expecting a baby in September 2023.  Congratulations to the lovely couple!


New Baby

Dylan Hedtler Gaudette and Addie McEntire welcomed their first child on December 17.  Desmond Earl Hedtler weighed in at 7 pounds and 2 ounces and 17.5 inches (his dad says 44 centimeters) and Alexa did the conversion).  Baby Dez, mom, and dad are all doing well, Dylan says that baby Dez will soon be a dues-paying federationist, and his parents look forward to introducing him to the federation family soon.


U.S. Citizens!

Congratulations to Michelle Lindsay and Maria Minyem, members of the Sligo Creek Chapter who met all the requirements and recently became citizens of the United States.  Michelle, who came here from Jamaica, had her swearing-in ceremony on December 29.  Maria, who came from Cameroon, became a citizen of   the United States in February. Best of luck to the new citizens.



Shawn Jacobson’s story, “The Odyssey of Homor One” earned an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.  This is a very prestigious award in an extremely competitive contest.  This particular contest has launched the writing careers of many famous authors.  Congratulations, Shawn!



On May 1, Conchita Hernandez earned a doctorate in special education from the George Washington University when she successfully defended her dissertation, “The Experiences of Blind Multilingual Students in High School in the COVID Era.”  This study looked at blind high school students from Spanish speaking families and their experiences in high school. 


On May 5, Katelyn Siple graduated from Lancaster Bible College with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and biblical studies.  For the summer, she will be working at a ministry called Urban Impact Foundation teaching elementary and middle school children.  She plans to move back to Ruston Louisiana in the future.

On May 24, Lizzie Muhammed-Park graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies with a master’s in international relations.  She hopes to be employed by the foreign service. 


On May 30, Talyn Robinson graduated from Howard High School in Ellicott City.  She plans to attend Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she will major in biomedical sciences.


On June 1, Taylor Runion graduated from Hammond High School in Columbia.  He hopes to become an accessibility tester of websites. 



On June 30, Scott Dennis will retire as the assistant superintendent for the Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS).  Scott has had a prestigious 33-year-long career with the state of Maryland.  A nationwide search for his successor is underway. 


On December 31, Marcella Franczkowski retired. She was the Maryland State Department of Education’s assistant superintendent for early intervention and special education.  Marcella was a friend to the blind, and she will be missed.  A nationwide search for her successor is underway.