Braille Spectator, Fall 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:

  • National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2023 Annual Convention: Expect Much, Give Much, Get Much!
  • The BELLs Ring in Maryland
  • The Benefits of Attending an NFB National Convention
  • Coffee with an NFB Staff Member: Beth Braun
  • U.S. Attorney: Maryland Paratransit System Does Not Comply with ADA; Lawsuit Threatened
  • Other Bills of Interest in Annapolis
  • Linda Lamone, Maryland's Long-Serving Elections Director, Announces Retirement
  • Division Spotlight: The Senior Issues Division
  • 2023 Gamechangers: Advocates Emphasize the Importance of Including People with Disabilities in the Workplace
  • Michelle Lindsay Wins 2023 Pauline Johnson Award
  • Top Scientist Who is Disabled Accuses Research Funder of Discrimination: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, MD Has Denied the Allegations in the Scientist's Lawsuit
  • 2023 NFBMD Resolutions
  • Spectator Specs


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 2023 Annual Convention: Expect Much, Give Much, Get Much!

by Ronza Othman


The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFBMD) will hold our 58th Convention from February 16-18, 2024 in Towson at the Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel. Our theme this year is "Expect Much, Give Much, Get Much!" This is because, as we continue our efforts to ensure blind Marylanders can live the lives they want, we have high expectations for ourselves and for those who provide services to the blind; give much of our time, energy, and love to advance the rights of the blind; and receive so much love, support, and advancement through our relationships with one another and the work we do together. This year's theme celebrates our resilience, creativity, and unrelenting commitment to equal access to information, education, jobs, civil rights, and all the aspects of life in which we participate and envision a future where we navigate the world free from discrimination. At this year's convention, we will highlight our efforts, celebrate our successes, and map our way forward.


Please note the change of date for our convention. In late September 2023, we learned that our originally scheduled venue for the November 10-12, 2023 state convention was going out of business 10 days before we were scheduled to arrive. As a result, the NFB of Maryland Board of Directors voted to conduct a mini-convention virtually on November 11, 2023 to complete our constitutionally required work for the year. The Board also voted to combine the 2023 and 2024 full conventions along with their associated activities, into a single 2023 / 2024 convention from February 16 to 18, 2024. We were able to secure a location and excellent accommodations at our long-time partner hotel, the Sheraton Baltimore North, in Towson, Maryland. The Board also voted to move the convention to the first part of each year moving forward, and we anticipate our conventions will be in February for the foreseeable future.


We will meet in person with activities beginning Friday, February 16 in the morning and adjourning at noon on Sunday, February 18. All participants are required to abide by the NFB Code of Conduct, which is located at


Our national representative this year is Kevan Worley. Kevan is the president of the Board of Directors of the Colorado Center for the Blind, a past president of the NFB Blind Merchants Division, and the owner/principle of Worley Enterprises, a successful Randolph Shepperd company. Kevan brings a rich and often humorous perspective on equality, opportunity, and independence.


We will begin early on Friday, February 16, with the Board Meeting and Resolutions Committee. The host committee, consisting of the TLC Chapter, the Greater Baltimore Chapter, the Maryland Association of Blind Students, and the Maryland Parents of Blind Children, are hard at work finalizing arrangements for fun and exciting activities including Friday night hospitality in the form of Crab Idol, our talent competition.


The Employment Seminar is hosting a Career Fair on February 16 from 1 - 4 p.m. We will, once again, have an exhibit hall, where a number of organizations will demonstrate services and goods specific to the blind, also on February 16 from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. We are also planning some workshops, which can't be missed, including a technology seminar jointly hosted by the NFBMD Advocacy Seminar and the Maryland Seniors Issues Division. We will also hold a first aid training seminar.


The Parents Division is hosting a seminar on Friday for parents and teachers. Students will have a seminar on Friday afternoon. The Merchants Division will have a meeting and reception Friday evening. The Blind Parents Committee, those interested in deaf-blind issues, and those interested in guide dogs also will meet Friday. Our Narrowing the Gap program participants and our NFB BELL Academy participants will hold reunions. This is just a taste of what you can expect.


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


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


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


The convention will be a time to have fun and grow, a time to meet new friends and renew old friendships, and a time of inspiration and enthusiasm. Come to the convention to experience the love, hope and determination we need to make our dreams a reality. Come to experience how when we expect much and give much, we get much!


The BELLs Ring in Maryland

by Ronza Othman

[Editor's Note: Our NFB Braille Enrichment in Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy programs are arguably the most important initiatives we offer. In 2023, we once again held NFB BELL Academies in Baltimore and Salisbury as well as adding a new academy in Southern Maryland. Some of our students in Maryland also participated in the NFB BELL Academy In-Home Edition. Below is our 2022 NFB BELL Academy roundup.]


In 2023, our students in Maryland were able to choose from either attending the NFB BELL Academy in-home edition, which was a virtual experience, or attending one of our three NFB BELL Academies in person in Baltimore, Salisbury, or Southern Maryland. We had 33 students combined attend our programs. Approximately half of them were first-time attendees, and the kids' ages ranged from 4 - 14. Our NFB BELLX Academy in Salisbury focused on older kids, ages 11 - 14, while our Southern Maryland offering consisted of younger kids, all of whom were first-time attendees. Our Baltimore iteration was a mix of ages. The overall theme of the NFB BELL Academy in 2023 was :Travel and Transportation." Our participants received plenty of exposure to both, in addition to Braille instruction, cane travel and orientation and mobility instruction, independent living skills, and positive philosophy from blind role models.


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


Our NFB BELL Academy in-person program participants who attended the Baltimore-based BELL Academy participated in a two-week day program. Our national NFB headquarters provided the space, meals, and significant support. We were delighted our NFBMD lead teacher Jackie Anderson was able to join us again. Additionally, Brittany Bomboy served in dual roles as both the NFB BELL Coordinator for Baltimore and as the co-teacher for our in-person session. Melissa Riccobono also provided significant coordination support. We had 13 students attend this session, and several of them joined us from other states.



In Baltimore, the students explored various methods of transportation, including visiting the BWI airport to learn about flying and being able to touch and play around actual-sized plane parts. They visited a farm and learned how to operate tractors and other farm equipment. The Baltimore City Fire Department brought a fire truck and ambulance and the Baltimore City Police Department brought over a police car; the kids were able to climb on and explore each of these vehicles while learning about safety. President Riccobono gave the students an experience learning about the blind driver vehicle and the motorcycle Dan Parker drove as a blind person. The kids also made their own passports, and explored other methods of travel and transportation.


Our NFB BELL Academy in Southern Maryland was conducted in partnership with the Maryland School for the Blind Outreach Department. Our Southern Maryland BELL Academy coordinator and lead teacher was Conchita Hernandez. She was joined by Narrowing the Gap Teachers of Blind Students Erin Zobell and Jeannie Ellis. Additionally, we were delighted to have Jamie Austin as a co-teacher of Blind Students on the team. NFB BELL Southern Maryland hosted 10 children for the week-long academy.


The students at NFB BELL Southern Maryland explored a farm, including its equipment, built their own model airplanes and flew them, created travel-themed cane charms, and explored different travel methods.


Our NFB BELLX Academy in Salisbury was conducted in partnership with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Our Salisbury BELL Academy coordinator was Ronza Othman, with significant support from Heather Guy, Danielle Earl, and Amy Crouse. Our Teacher of Blind Students was once again Mindy Damaris. NFB BELL Salisbury hosted nine children for the week-long partly residential academy.


 The students at NFB BELL Salisbury focused on travel. They planned a trip to a nearby hotel and stayed there overnight as the culmination of the program. They learned to pack a suitcase, create and stick to a travel budget, prepare travel-appropriate food, and research and plan excursions.


The Maryland iterations of the NFB BELL Academy would not have been possible without the incredible efforts of Brittany Bomboy, Jackie Anderson, Melissa Riccobono, Amy Crouse, Heather Guy, Danielle Earl, Mindy Dumaris, Conchita Hernandez, Jamie Austin, and Erin Zobell. Our incredible volunteers handle the thousands of tasks needed to keep the program running. We could not have been able to operate this program without volunteers such as Bernice Lowder, Oriana Riccobono, Sumaya Breianis, Mujahid Breianis, Sarah McCubbin-Jones, Tim Meagher, Ellana Crew, and so many others. We are also grateful to Tammi Helm and the NFB Logistics staff for the delicious lunches and on-site support. The Independence Market staff kept us in supplies and canes for all of our programs. Karen Anderson, Jen White, and the education team ensured we had an outstanding curriculum, led our in-home programming, and provided whatever other support we needed.


The Board of Directors of the NFB of Maryland has determined the BELLs will toll in Maryland in 2024. We are working to prepare for in-person sessions in Baltimore, Salisbury, and Southern Maryland. We hope to expand our offerings to other places throughout the state and are eager to speak with those families interested in attending as well as those individuals who are interested in volunteering.


The Benefits of Attending an NFB National Convention

By Judy Rasmussen

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


The national convention is the highlight of the Federation year. Veterans look forward with anticipation to catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, getting lost together, and planning for our future. First timers really have no idea what to expect, even though we do our best to prepare them. Looking through a jamb-packed agenda containing pages and pages of workshops, special division meetings, as well as the variety of speakers and other presentations to be given throughout the week is both exhilarating and a little overwhelming. Deciding which event to attend (because they are all excellent) is a hard choice. We are proud the National Federation of the Blind is known in every state and around the world as the leading consumer organization fighting for equality, opportunity and security for the blind.


This article will focus on two Marylanders who attended their first convention. One is a member of the NFBMD 2023 scholarship class. The other is a student in his freshman year of college.


Winning a scholarship certainly helps with school expenses, which is obviously why students apply for financial assistance. In addition to monetary assistance for college, each winner is invited at the expense of the NFB of Maryland, to attend both the national and state conventions. The money is always received gratefully, but the transformative change in people's lives after attending a convention and getting involved in other activities of the NFB is never really forgotten.


Shuketha Johnson is one person who is now feeling that change. Prior to 2019, her life was relatively normal. For the past 17 years, she had been employed as a supervisor with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services as part of the government of the District of Columbia. She worked at a facility in Laurel with youth who had been convicted of serious crimes. She was the commander - the one in charge. Her job was to ensure students were transported from the dorm, to school, and to recreational activities safely. She loved her job and wanted to continue helping youth turn their lives around.


One day in 2019 while driving to work, she suddenly could not see anything. She scraped someone's car, but was able to pull off to the side of the road. She was taken to Johns Hopkins where she learned that both of her retinas had detached. Reattachment of her retinas was unsuccessful, and suddenly she found herself nearly blind. Going from living a normal, productive life to learning how to do simple things in a different way was naturally a real shock to her self-confidence.


Since she had to support herself, she knew it was necessary to figure out what she was going to do next in terms of employment.


She received some training in how to use speech and magnification on her computer, and some independent travel. She feels she has a long way to go to be proficient in learning all these skills, but she is determined to keep working on them.


Shuketha said when she arrived at the convention, she observed many people moving around confidently with their canes and dogs. She began to feel she was not so alone in her struggle to move on with her life. She said she really enjoyed attending the 'Rookie Roundup' because everyone was so enthusiastic, and she learned more about what would be happening during the week. She also really enjoyed meeting other college students and attending the meeting of the National Association of Blind Students. She has now joined this group, is making new friends from around the country, and is benefitting from the resources others are giving to her.


One thing that impressed Shuketha was how many people read Braille and how fast they read it. She felt it was important that she begin learning to read and write Braille, but where to go to find an instructor"


Debbie Brown, one of the members of the NFBMD Scholarship Committee, who happens to be a Braille proofreader with the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, offered to help her. Since Shuketha and Debbie do not live close to one another, instruction is provided over the phone. While this isn't ideal, Shuketha says she appreciates Debbie spending time helping her and that she doesn't just give her the answer, she talks things through with her. Consequently, Braille is beginning to make a little more sense.


What is Shuketha doing now? She is in her first semester at Coppin State University where she plans to obtain her second masters degree. Her first masters degree was in public administration. This masters will be in addictions counseling. She feels that she can use her previous knowledge and work experience to continue offering hope and changing the lives of youth. Shuketha will continue to learn and grow in her independent living skills, her career and the knowledge that what she is doing will make a great difference to others and to herself.

The philosophy of the Federation is we want to help people of all ages benefit from our shared knowledge and experience, and realize blind people can live the lives they want, despite obstacles thrown in their path.


Oscar Mejia Garcia was born very prematurely. In effort to keep him alive, his retinas sustained too much oxygen, which caused vision loss. He learned some basic blindness skills in school, but did not always see the need to use them. Oscar said he had not really associated with other blind people while growing up. It is easy to feel that you are alone and different in this situation.


Oscar attended the convention as part of a program for students called STAR, run by Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. As part of this program, students participate in a variety of work situations and increase their knowledge of assistive technology, cane travel and Braille. One of the other benefits of this program is all participants have the opportunity to attend the NFB national convention.


Attending the convention was definitely new for Oscar. He was amazed at the number of division meetings and workshops he could attend. The Blind Educators Division was of special interest to him, since his major is special education. He would like to teach either in a middle or high school.


He was a little surprised, but very pleased to meet staff from government agencies like the FBI, CIA, and the Department of the Treasury who had all come in the hope of adding talented blind people to their staff. He also enjoyed meeting blind parents and their children as well as a blind professor. Meeting people who are working in government jobs, private industry, and of course in the education field, made him realize that he still had much to learn, but his dreams were achievable.


Oscar enjoyed meeting other blind students from Maryland and is now a member of the Maryland Association of Blind Students Board of Directors.


Whether we are new, seasoned, or somewhere in between, we all have much to learn from each other, and that is the beauty of the National Federation of the Blind. We look forward to getting to know Oscar, Shuketha and all the other people who attended the convention for the first time. See you in Florida!


Coffee with an NFB Staff Member: Beth Braun

[Editor's Note: NFBMD is a proud state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. In Maryland, we're particularly fortunate to be the home affiliate of our National Organization's headquarters as well as the affiliate where many members of staff of our headquarters hold membership. Our national staff work hard to offer national programming and implement operations for the NFB, and like all our sister affiliates, we benefit from that work. But in Maryland, we share a unique relationship with the NFB national center due to our proximity and also because the staff of the NFB are often among the affiliate's volunteers. We will spotlight a different member of the staff in each edition of this magazine, and so we bring you: Coffee with Beth Braun, NFB chief of staff.]


Q: What is your role on the NFB staff?

A: I work in the Office of the President, supporting President Riccobono. My relatively new title is chief of staff.


Q: How long have you worked for NFB?

A: Eleven years


Q: Tell us about your educational and/or work background.

A: I have a bachelor's in forestry and masters in hospitality management. I worked in hospitality for a long time, segueing into technology through point-of-sale work.


Q: Tell us about your family to the extent you are comfortable sharing.

A: I have a husband, Tom, and four cats.


Q: What is your favorite beverage?

A: Coffee before 5, and after 5 it's a tie between Dark Wave mead and Harborworks cyser (from Charm City Meadworks).


Q: What is your favorite food?

A: Anything that doesn't have raisins in it. Seriously, I could never pick one favorite food.


Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?

A: I spend a lot of my vacation time visiting family in Houston. Other than that, anyplace quiet, in the trees, by some water, with a stack of books.


Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." -Ralph Waldo Emerson


Q: What is your favorite way to spend free time?

A: Sitting on my stoop with time-of-day appropriate beverage doing the NYT crossword puzzle (and Wordle), reading, weaving, and spending time in Patterson Park.


Q: What motivates you?

A: The hope that I am making a positive difference in someone's day.


Q: If you could pick which actor played you in the movie about your life, who would it be?

A: Janeane Garofalo


Q: What is your favorite part about your job?

A: I love answering people's questions and being able to share what knowledge I have. The more shallow side of me would say that I love my office. I have more than a dozen plants and lots of little things that make it a happy place for me to be.


Q: What is your least favorite part about your job?

A: Talking to angry people on the phone who don't understand or believe in the National Federation of the Blind. Luckily, that doesn't happen very often.


Q: What is one really memorable experience you've had during your time with NFB?

A: I have been extraordinarily fortunate to travel to some very interesting places with President Riccobono. But the two memories that I will cherish forever were both at the White House at ADA events. First, I got to shake President Barak Obama's hand and then years later, at an event in the Rose Garden, sit inches away from the Bidens. 


Q: If you could give the membership one piece of advice, what would it be?

A: If you have a problem or a question, try to figure out the solution on your own. Use the resources and tools available to you; that's how we all learn and grow. And when you have exhausted all of the options at hand, ask for help.


U.S. Attorney: Maryland Paratransit System Does Not Comply with ADA; Lawsuit Threatened

by Bryan P. Sears

Published by Maryland Matters on July 19, 2023

[Editor's Note: Many blind individuals depend on public transportation, including paratransit to move about our communities. The below article outlines what the Department of Justice has done thus far to improve paratransit services in Maryland and how the Maryland Transit Authority has responded.]


Transit officials said they are working to resolve issues with the state's paratransit program in the wake of a federal investigation that found the MobilityLink service did not comply with federal law.


The investigation found concerns with the timely pick-up and drop-off of riders as well as long call center waits. Maryland Transit Administrator Holly Arnold acknowledged issues with the system but said the agency has been working to improve service.


"Our current on-time performance is meeting or exceeding our goal every month," said Arnold. "So, we recognize that, and we want to continue to move forward and work on improvement but we were just surprised to receive the letter given where we are, in terms of our current performance."


The U.S. Attorney's Office, in a June 29 letter, notified the Maryland Transit Administration that its paratransit service known as MobilityLink was not in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.


"MTA's paratransit service fails to provide service that is comparable to the level of designated public transportation services provided to individuals without disabilities using such a system, wrote U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek L. Barron and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane E. Andersen in a June 29 letter obtained by Maryland Matters.


"MobilityLink has capacity constraints that significantly limit the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons" in violation of federal law, according to the 11-page letter.


Violations included "a significant number of untimely pickups and drop-offs and lengthy waits for telephone service."


Barron and Anderson, while noting the state's cooperation in the investigation, set a 14-day deadline for the state to respond. Should the state opt to not cooperate in resolving the issues found in the report, the Department of Justice could file a federal lawsuit against the system.


Arnold said the agency did provide a written response. She declined to release the letter citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.


"Essentially we just said that we would like to work with them on this," said Arnold.


Federal law requires that public transportation systems operate in a way that does not discriminate against people with disabilities.


In Maryland, the MobilityLink paratransit system operates in areas of Baltimore City and Baltimore County as well as parts of Anne Arundel County that are located inside I-695. It also includes areas in Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties that are within three-quarters of a mile from local bus, light rail or Metro services.


The shared ride service allows riders who are "unable to get to a bus stop, wait unassisted at a stop or station or board or ride a bus or train by themselves" to schedule door-to-door pick-up and drop off, according to the Maryland Transit Administration.


A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore did not provide comment for this story.


It is unclear what sparked the investigation that began in 2021. The letter sent to the Maryland Transit Administration notes that investigators received complaints about the paratransit system.


The findings are similar to those in a Department of Justice report on the New York City Transit Authority's paratransit services released earlier this year.


The federal agency is also investigating similar complaints in Detroit and St. Louis. Barron's office, in the letter to Maryland transit officials, called for the agency to increase the number of drivers and available vehicles to improve on-time performance.


The letter also calls for increased call center staffing; annual reviews of ridership demand; internal reviews of system performance to eliminate discriminatory constraints on use of the service; and better data reporting related to federal oversight.


Investigators determined that untimely pickups and drop-offs by MobilityLink system imposed capacity constraints on riders that could discourage use of the system.


"MTA's own reported on-time performance reveals an operational pattern or practice that significantly limits the availability of service to ADA paratransit eligible persons," according to the letter.


In some cases late pick-ups result in missed doctor's appointments, religious services or plans with friends. It also can mean additional costs incurred or riders left in unsafe conditions.


In one case, investigators reported that a rider who was scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. pick- up was notified at 8:55 p.m. that she would not be picked up until 2:37 a.m. more than five hours after an event she was attending was scheduled to end.


The woman was able to secure a ride with a friend but was forced to leave her wheelchair at the venue and pick it up the next day.


The investigation also determined that nearly 15% of MobilityLink drop offs occurred after a scheduled appointment time. The service only satisfied federal guidance of no more than 30 minutes early for an appointment 59.6% of the time.


The service's call center also failed, according to investigators.


The call center allows riders to schedule trips and check the status of a ride.


An examination of calls between Sept. 30, 2022 and Nov. 30, 2022 found 33% of callers experienced wait times in excess of three minutes. MTA's performance standard sets a goal of answering 90% of calls within 3 minutes.


Federal investigators called the MTA's standard "lax compared to" other similar operations. Paratransit services in New York City set goals of answering 95% of calls within 3 minutes.


Afternoon hours were the worst, according to the report. Investigators noted that "on a majority of days in November, callers experienced wait times over 10 minutes."


The longest wait time in November was nearly 34 minutes. The number of callers who simply gave up increased after 11:30 a.m., according to the report.


Investigators noted "poor on-time pickup performance since at least September 2018, when only 87.4% of pickups were on time." By April 2019, on-time pickups fell to 74%. That translated to 46,500 late pick-ups that month alone.


In that year, advocates complained to then-Gov. Larry Hogan (R) about changes made to the MobilityLink system including downsizing from three vendors to two. At the time it was touted as a way to improve service. Instead, advocates said the changes left riders stranded for hours.


Josh Wolf, director of mobility services for the Maryland Transit Administration, said the 2019 contract incentivized contractors to "work with the least amount of staff to make the most amount of money."


"We shifted and we have a first in the nation model, where we actually pay by the full time equivalent hour which basically incentivizes them to be fully staffed and then also ensures that they have the level of comfort to know that we're not going to dramatically reduce staff and cause them to be you know, held with extra staff that they don't have a way to pay for," said Wolf.


Two years earlier, the state settled a lawsuit over long telephone wait times and the process for qualifying riders for the service.


Last year, Disability Rights Maryland began posting videos featuring MobilityLink riders discussing challenges in using the system. Meghan Marsh, interim director of Disability Rights Maryland, did not respond to a request for comment.


Arnold said many of the issues raised by the letter were already being addressed when Barron's office sent its letter.


Last year, MTA implemented a new three-year contract, with two one-year renewals, for three companies to provide MobilityLink services. The new deal included both incumbent vendors from 2019. It also rehired a third vendor that had been cut that year. The contract, which also increased driver's wages, was approved by the Board of Public Works in February 2022.


The agency says it now has more than 500 vehicles on the road that recently handled more than 168,000 trips in one month. That figure is up from nearly 121,000 trips in June of 2022, according to Wolf.


The system reported a 94.4% on-time performance in January, according to data published on the Maryland Transit Administration's website.


Between February and June, the service reported 94% on-time performance or better, according to additional data provided in an email from a MTA spokesperson.


Ridership, which dropped off sharply at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has recovered but remains below historic high points.


Issues with timely pick-ups eased during the pandemic as ridership fell from more than 175,000 in February 2020 to a low of 43,477 in April 2020.


Between February 2021 and June 2022, investigators judged MobilityLink's performance to be "poor." In September 2021, on-time pick-ups fell to 59%, resulting in late service for 38,600 riders, according to Barron's letter.


"I think it's really important to note that, you know, MTA is not unique in having performance issues with paratransit," said Arnold. "We are actually, I think, one of the leaders now in terms of the way we've restructured our contracts to ensure on time performance and meeting our goals for on time performance."


Other Bills of Interest in Annapolis

by Sharon Maneki

[Editor's Note: In the Spring 2023 edition of this newsletter, we provided a round-up of the 2023 Maryland legislative session and the status of the bills for which NFB of Maryland advocated. Sharon Maneki, our director of legislation and advocacy provides additional information about our legislative efforts in 2023.]


In the last edition of the Spectator, we concentrated on our priorities. The General Assembly and Governor Moore enacted legislation of interest to disabled people that will have an effect for many years to come. Below is a summary of some of these important bills.


Attorney General Gets Additional Powers

Many of our laws deal with civil rights. We look forward to the new powers that the Attorney General will have to investigate civil rights complaints because of the passage of SB540/HB772. The Attorney General of Maryland gained additional powers to investigate civil rights complaints and enforce THE ATTORNEY GENERAL MAY INVESTIGATE, PROSECUTE, AND REMEDIATE, ON BEHALF OF THE RESIDENTS OF THE STATE, ANY CONDUCT THAT CONSTITUTES A CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATION.

This bill went into effect on October 1, 2023.


Simplified Pathway to ABLE Accounts for Individuals with Disabilities

This year, the Maryland General Assembly made it easier to establish an ABLE account for persons with disabilities through the passage of SB343/HB354.

This bill allows many individuals to establish an ABLE account for an individual with disabilities.


It is hoped that many more ABLE accounts will be established in Maryland because of this legislation. This law went into effect on October 1, 2023.


Funding Brings More Opportunities for the Maryland School for the Blind

SB0175/HB0366 will allow the Maryland School for the Blind to take advantage of public-school construction funds. This bill repeals a previous law that terminated when the school would be eligible for school construction funds. SB0175/HB0366 will make it easier for the Maryland School for the Blind to obtain funding for needed renovations and modernization of facilities. It went into effect on June 1, which means that the Maryland School for the Blind can benefit from school construction funding for both now and in the future.


Linda Lamone, Maryland's Long-Serving Elections Director, Announces Retirement

By William F. Zorzi

Published in Maryland Matters, March 29, 2023

[Editor's note: The following article shares the history of a long-time friend to the Federation, Linda Lamone, who since 1998 served as Maryland's Elections Administrator. Linda presented at our 2022 State Convention. Linda likes to say that "NFB sued me"a lot, but we are still good friends because sometimes the courts have to intervene to make it possible to do what needs to be done." I had the honor of attending Linda's retirement celebration on November 15, 2023, and Governor Moore summed up our feelings on Linda when he said, "The people is the heartbeat of democracy. Linda Lamone is democracy's champion."]


Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone recently discussed her career from a table at her Annapolis home.


Linda H. Lamone, the occasionally controversial, at times embattled, but seemingly unflappable Maryland elections administrator (currently the second-longest-serving chief elections official in the nation) is stepping down from the post after more than 25 years.


Lamone, who turns 81 in July, told the five-member State Board of Elections at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday that she would be retiring sometime this summer, with the date yet to be determined, possibly Sept. 1.


"I love this job - it was not always easy - but through Republican and Democratic administrations, and through COVID, cyberthreats, redistricting, changing election dates, and changes in voting behavior, we delivered for the voters of Maryland," she told the board, reading from a statement. "I am so very honored that I was entrusted to do something with my life that matters to American democracy."


In an earlier interview, she said, "It's time. It's time," repeating it as if to assure herself.


Credited with ushering Maryland's elections system into the 21st century, Lamone has overseen the uniform modernization of voting machines statewide, centralization of control of local board operations, computerization of campaign finance reports and revamping of the state election code.


She is quick to credit her staff, pointing out that she could not have done any of it alone.


"I thank my staff every day, and when we talk to the local election people, we thank them every time we can, because they never get it from anywhere else," she said.


Lamone has survived a partisan attempt to oust her in 2004 and since then proved many of her most vocal critics wrong, including the former state comptroller, who apologetically made good on a pledge to buy craft brew for her and her staff if he was wrong about his prediction of failures in the upcoming 2020 general election, held amid the pandemic.


"Look at the record," said Brian E. Frosh (D), a former legislator and former Maryland attorney general. "You know, it's not like she wasn't tested, it wasn't like they gave her a pass. People were firing shots at her every single election" and nothing, nothing stuck. I mean, she did a good job, she ran a good office. The elections were fair - they were accurate. Sometimes the Democrats won, sometimes the Republicans won."


Less than two months ago, her husband of 53 years, Rudolph P. "Rudy" Lamone, the beloved former dean of the Robert H. Smith Business School at the University of Maryland, College Park, died unexpectedly. She made a point of mentioning him in her statement Wednesday to the election board.


"Behind each election official are family and friends that support them and allow them to do their difficult and time-consuming work," she told the board, in a rare emotional moment. "For me, that person was my husband, Rudy. He was my faithful supporter and biggest cheerleader, and for that, I will always be grateful."


While his death has left her reeling, Lamone said in an earlier interview that she had contacted state retirement officials last fall to begin the long process of leaving.


Lamone is also chair of the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, the panel that makes recommendations to the state's highest court on sanctioning lawyers, based on its own investigations, but said she has no plans to retire from the unpaid board.


Earlier in her public service career, Lamone was an assistant attorney general assigned to a number of agencies, but perhaps best known in Annapolis as counsel to the General Assembly.


"She was sort of the go-to person. If you needed opinions, advice "Linda was the person who was asked to weigh in," said Timothy F. Maloney, a former Democratic delegate from Prince George's County now a private attorney. "Her judgment and legal skills were just superb."


After the election of William Donald Schaefer as governor and Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg as lieutenant governor, she was hired for the second floor of the State House. There, she worked for Steinberg as chief legal counsel in the governor's legislative office.


In those days, she was easily recognized in her hometown of Annapolis by her blonde bob haircut, driving in a yellow Jaguar sedan her husband had bought her.


Lamone left nearly two years later to be part of what was the first mega-lobbying firm in Annapolis with three other politically connected lawyers - Rifkin, Evans, Silver & Lamone. The firm, whose other principals were lobbyists Alan M. Rifkin, Gerard E. Evans and Edgar P. Silver, has since splintered.


She went into private practice on her own in 1990 and served on the trial team of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), when former Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey lost to him by 5,993 votes and challenged the results, claiming unproven allegations of widespread fraud. It was that role that many believe factored into the effort to fire her as elections administrator in 2004 by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) - then the first Republican governor in 36 years - a scheme that was successfully beaten back in the courts.


A long career

When Lamone started at the State Board of Elections on July 1, 1997, the agency was known as the State Administrative Board of Election Laws (SABEL), located in the musty, dusty and dilapidated old armory building on Bladen Street in Annapolis, the site of the new Miller Senate Office Building.


Campaign finance records then were all on paper, stuffed in more than 60 five-drawer file cabinets and random cardboard boxes lining the armory walls. Then there were roughly 1,200 campaign accounts, including 250 political action committees, which seemed an overwhelming number of accounts to keep track of, though just a fraction of what the agency monitors now by computer.


The state's campaign finance bible, the totality of everything known about Maryland's arcane law, was kept in two black binders on the desk of the then-director of SABEL's campaign finance division.


The state election board met in the armory, candidates registered for statewide office there, treasurers filed campaign finance reports there, votes were tallied and certified there, campaign literature, signs and stickers were inspected for authority lines there. The state's entire machinery to facilitate exercising the franchise was headquartered there, in the warren of makeshift offices, temporary folding tables and stacks of campaign finance reports.


SABEL was created in 1969 to assist the autonomous local boards with elections, voting and voter registration. It also took over the function of collecting, reviewing and auditing statements of campaign expenses, which had been under the purview of the Maryland Secretary of State.


Lamone was named to head the election agency by Governor Glendening in 1997, but then reappointed by the five-member election board two years later, after the state law changed to take the appointment out of the hands of Maryland's governors.


That, however, did not keep the governor's fingers out of the process. In 2004, Ehrlich had made clear that he wanted to replace her, and the state board voted behind closed doors to fire her. The Ehrlich effort was aided by Gene M. Raynor, a Democrat, former Baltimore election official and close associate of then-Comptroller Schaefer, who had been named to the panel.


She successfully challenged the push, which ended in a mediation to resolve the dispute.


Additionally, former Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and former House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), passed legislation, now known colloquially as the "Linda Lamone for Life Act," that limits the ability to remove the administrator.


Under the law, removal now requires approval of four of the five election board members, the governor's party controls three seats, and it would not become official until the Senate confirms a replacement. Legislation to undo the law is now pending in the General Assembly.


Managing crises

While a lightning rod of sorts over the years, Lamone is held in high regard by many, including the former chairman of the state Board of Elections, Michael R. Cogan, a Republican appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R).


At the February 11, 2021, board meeting, his final one, Cogan read a statement into the record after the 2020 general election, which had been anticipated to be problematic, given complaints about the June primary election, run at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Following the primary, there were calls for Lamone to quit or be fired, but the general election proved to be far more successful than expected.


"I was, at all times, utterly confident that these would not be perfect elections. I was also, at all times, utterly confident that our state and local boards could accomplish the mission," Cogan read.


"I will at some point, move on from the State Board of Elections, and if, at some future time, I end up as the chairman of the board of directors of an organization, and that organization finds itself in a crisis situation during which their normal procedures are scrambled, their workspaces are evacuated, [they have] little control over the crisis, no control over the timing of events, but subject to severe time constraints, and they must accomplish their mission, it is my hope that the organization would be led by someone like Linda Lamone and staffed by people like those at our local and State Board of Elections," he read.


After the successful 2020 general election, then-Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), performed a very public mea culpa at a virtual meeting of the Board of Public Works, the three-person panel he presided over with Governor Hogan and then-Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D).


Franchot earlier had called for Lamone's resignation, but after the 2020 general election went off with few glitches despite predictions of disaster, he was chastened. Making good on his offer to provide beer to Lamone and staff if the election was flawless, he lifted bottles and cans of craft beers from the Eastern Shore in front of his camera.


"I will deliver that to Linda Lamone with my apologies," he declared.


She is well known on the national elections stage, both at the National Association of State Election Directors and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent bipartisan panel charged with assisting states with establishing standards set in the Help America Vote Act.


"I think one of the things that I know and certainly always appreciated, and I think others did, was with Linda, you knew where you stood. She'd shoot you straight on it, and she'd tell you how she saw it," said Benjamin W. Hovland (D), an EAC commissioner. "I think that's a rare quality, and I think it's an important one."


Lamone does have a no-nonsense demeanor, yet an engaging sense of humor beneath it, punctuating a point at times with a deep throaty laugh from a lifetime of smoking.


She can be tough and has been called :aloof" - not exactly "warm and fuzzy," in her own words, but approachable. She sometimes acknowledges problems by quietly blinking at the complainant through her glasses before writing them down for possible action.


"I've just always felt like in my role I need to be as, what's the right word, neutral as possible and not show favoritism towards one group or another. Is that perhaps being aloof, I don't know," Lamone said.


"I can tell you from the day I took this oath of office for this job, I have not participated in any partisan politics. Period," she said. "I liken it to when I was in the office of counsel to the General Assembly: It didn't matter who asked the question. Whether it was a Democrat or Republican member of the General Assembly, it was our duty to provide them the best legal advice." I strongly believe that's what you do when you're running elections. It doesn't matter who's running; it matters that you do the right thing."


At the Wednesday election board meeting, Lamone thanked her, incredible staff, who are passionate about serving the voters of Maryland." She specifically cited Nikki Charlson, the state's deputy administrator, for being the linchpin of this office."


Board members, in turn, thanked Lamone for her service, among them Severn E. S. Miller (R), who ironically had worked on the Ehrlich re-election campaign in 2006.


"Since that time, you know, I've seen what you do, I've seen how you operate. The biggest testament to your capacity and excellence, basically, is your staff," Miller said. "You're leaving the SBE in terrific condition, with really super people to accomplish all the things the board needs to do."


Division Spotlight: The Senior Issues Division

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 and divisions help build the foundation for membership. Since the spring 2019 issue, we have been spotlighting a Maryland chapter or division in each issue to share how that chapter originated, what makes it unique, and other interesting information about it. In this edition, we will highlight the Senior Issues Division.]


We decided to start a senior's division because seniors losing vision is the largest segment of blind persons. The division was very popular since its inception. At the inaugural meeting of the Senior Issues Division at the state convention in 2002, so many people came that we had to get more chairs and more lunches to accommodate the crowd. The goals of the division have been to spread the liberating philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, to help seniors regain their independence and to help seniors rejoin community activities.


Over the years, the leadership of the Senior Issues Division was diverse and had lots of personality. The first two presidents of the Senior Issues Division were men while the next three presidents were women. Roger Walker, the first president, went back to work as a senior with a vending stand at the airport. People asked him why he went back to work, and his answer was "because I can!" Lee Griffith, his vice president, was a veteran of World War II. He had a knack for welcoming people and spending time engaging in conversation and encouragement. They were outstanding role models who regained their independence. They both won the Anna Cable Award. We have an award named after her because she didn't let the onset of blindness define her. She learned Braille, how to cook, and how to travel.


The second president, Fred Flowers, was also very welcoming and was interested in fundraising. They held their meetings before the Greater Baltimore chapter met in the afternoon. The meetings consisted of teaching and learning the skills of blindness. When the Greater Baltimore chapter meeting was changed to the morning, the seniors had to find other opportunities to get together. Three other men of note were Mike Bullis, who was Vice President for decades, Clarence Hennigan, who served for many years as Treasurer, and Barry Hond, who also served many years as Treasurer.


In 2002, the National Center for the Blind came up with the concept of the Possibilities Fair. Of course, the Senior Issues Division was very involved in this fair. We staffed exhibits and served as escorts to many of the newly blind seniors who came to find out what the possibilities were. Marie Cobb was especially involved in showing newly blind seniors things they could do in their kitchen. She was president of the Seniors Issues Division from 2006 - 2009. Of course, this day- long fair included lunch. Some of the luncheon guest speakers included Federationists Diane McGeorge, Judy Sanders, and Everleigh Hariston. Another guest speaker of note was radio personality from WBAL, Allen Waldon. The Possibilities Fair moved to Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM) when the new Jernigan institute became involved with other activities.


Ruth Sager, who was president of the Senior Issues Division from 2009 - 2021, was responsible for holding the Possibilities Fair at BISM. Ruth expanded the Possibilities Fair to senior retreats. Seniors went to a hotel in the area for two days and had a chance to concentrate on mobility, daily living skills such as cooking, and Braille. The NFBMD Senior Issues Division was involved in promoting the retreat, getting people to the hotel, and some teaching. Once again, Ruth was assisted by Marie Cobb, who was very active in encouraging seniors in the kitchen. When Ruth became president of the National Seniors Division, she established the practice of weeklong retreats for the whole country.


Marguerite Woods, the current president of the NFBMD Senior Issues Division, was elected in 2021. Marguerite has continued to foster the goals of the division. Marguerite is particularly gifted in connecting seniors with other community resources. For instance, she helped to publicize the Senior Call Check Program among our members where seniors living alone can receive an automated call every day to check on their welfare. Taking advantage of resources in Baltimore City is another goal that Marguerite has for her members. For example, Lori's Hands is a program to help older people and people with disabilities. Blind people who live in Baltimore may use this program to obtain reader services and assistance in doing other chores. For more information on this program, write to Marguerite at


The division is taking advantage of modern technology by using the One Call number and Zoom. The quarterly calls with the general theme, "my eyes don't work but my brain still does," are a hit with blind seniors. In addition, the programming is geared not only to seniors but to anyone experiencing vision loss. The Senior Issues Division has lots of work to do, it continues to find new opportunities to reach out and touch someone offering the liberating philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.


2023 Gamechangers: Advocates Emphasize the Importance of Including People with Disabilities in the Workplace

By Sally Holtgrieve, published by Baltimore Magazine, September 2023

[Editor's Note: Each year, Baltimore Magazine selects several leaders in the Baltimore area who work tirelessly to improve the world around them, and whose success is game-changing. In 2023, Baltimore Magazine selected current NFB of Maryland President Ronza Othman as well as NFB member and current Blind Industries and Services of Maryland President Michael Gosse.]


Local Organizations have led the way in disability work for many years. Meet a few of the people pushing for positive change:


Michael Gosse was told pursuing a career in electrical engineering was not for blind people. Luckily, he didn't listen.


Despite graduating from Lehigh University with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, finding his first job took a long time. Employers told Gosse they "didn't want to take the risk" of hiring a blind electrician. But disability doesn't define a person, Gosse says. It doesn't negate an individual's drive, interests, experience, and skills.


Now the president and CEO of Blind Industries & Services of Maryland (BISM), a nonprofit providing career and training resources, he focuses on sharing that message and ensuring Marylanders who are blind have fair employment opportunities.


BISM's task is a large one. The unemployment rate for blind people is about 70 percent, Gosse says. Much of that has to do with perception about the capabilities of blind people, but employable skills can also be a factor.


"Blindness comes about in various stages of life. Some people are born blind, some go blind later in life, gradually or suddenly," Gosse says. "A lot of people just don't get the training they need to live life as a blind person. So BISM attacks all aspects of employment for blind people."


The organization hires people in manufacturing, management, and executive leadership. It has its own manufacturing plant in Baltimore that produces paper pads, copy paper, sanitation supplies, trash bags, and the Army's physical fitness jackets. It also has a Baltimore-based training program to teach blind people the daily skills of life, from living independently to job readiness. Participants live in area apartments, use city transportation, and shop locally.


Area employers also can turn to BISM for skilled workers as well as resources about integrating a blind person into their workforce. Gosse is committed to uplifting any person seeking a path forward in their career within BISM; an internal training department ensures every job within the organization is accessible, which is challenging but vital.


Accessibility is not the only issue facing would-be workers with a disability. Another challenge is that some businesses think of hiring superficially to fulfill a corporate mission or "be a good soul", not because the person is capable and willing to work. So says Ami Taubenfeld, co-founder and executive director of Itineris, which provides job training and supports employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum.


According to Taubenfeld, employers need to expand their hiring to bring an array of people with a variety of gifts and talents into the workplace. Itineris not only helps with such matchmaking, as it were, it also is expanding into residential services under Taubenfeld's leadership.


The transition to adulthood can be particularly difficult. A young person with autism has a tremendous support system when they're in school, Taubenfeld explains. They have social workers, guidance counselors, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, social skills classes, one-to-one support, and more. When a person exits school, those services disappear and are much harder to access as they are not covered by insurance or general funding.


"They have to apply into the adult world to see if they qualify for Developmental Disabilities Administration services or vocational rehab services," Taubenfeld says. "Many people with autism do not qualify."


This is where Itineris comes in. The organization places workers at businesses across Baltimore, from small locally owned companies to larger operations like Texas Roadhouse and Johns Hopkins University. Yet community building remains one of the group's greatest challenges.


"We know what we have in front of us," Taubenfeld says. "We know we have individuals with tremendous talents, and then we have to match that person to an employer, and that takes training and education on the employer's part."


Many potential employers might think hiring an adult with autism will require more work for them, and that's not true, Taubenfeld says. Everyone has accommodations in the office; some people like whiteboards, or a standing desk, or an extra monitor, for example. For adults on the autism spectrum, changes may include bringing in a lamp or adjusting a desk so the person isn't sitting with their back to the door, or providing a visual schedule. The key to ?getting the elephant out of the room," as Taubenfeld puts it, is workplace education.


Taubenfeld's own education began in 1995 when her third child, Annie, was diagnosed with autism. "It was a day that changed my life forever," she says. "Annie's two older brothers are neurotypical, and I didn't know what autism was at the time."


Taubenfeld worked hard to make sure Annie was always in the right school, with the right environment and support. There's not a ?perfect?anything, she says, but they went through several schools to locate the best possible match.


When Annie turned 18, Taubenfeld joined a group of parents and professionals who were part of an Autism Society chapter researching best practices for adults on the spectrum. They spent three years researching disability agencies across the country, asking questions such as: What is your client to staff ratio? What are your activities like? What percentage of your people are employed? What does the day look like? How experienced are your staff with autism and what training do you provide? They found that the programs with the most success were those that were dedicated strictly to supporting the entire spectrum of people with autism, as opposed to a multidisability agency.


In 2010, Taubenfeld co-launched Itineris, her own dedicated organization, under the mentorship and support of the successful ones identified. She's been empowering adults with autism to achieve their career and independent living goals ever since. New organizations like Itineris join a rich history of local organizations that have led the way in disability work for many years.


The Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore, or HASA, has existed since 1926. It was founded to support the deaf and hard of hearing, but has expanded to include many other types of communication differences used by people with autism and other neurodiversity.


It's an expansion CEO Erin Lamb is proud of. "I have a curiosity about people, and connections, and what makes them tick," Lamb says. "My personal mission is to develop the listening skills of different communities so we can create a world where everybody can understand and be understood."


Lamb prefers the word ally over advocate. To her, advocate implies helping elevate someone else's voice, but many of the communities HASA works with don't need their voices amplified. They just need the world to listen and react, she says.


In the world of invisible disabilities, the burden is placed on the individual to advocate and ask for what they need, she explains. For example, a deaf consumer must connect with a venue to request an interpreter at a show.


"Imagine if every time someone in a wheelchair wanted to go someplace, they had to ask for a ramp to be put out," she says.


Lamb's daughter is autistic, and her education plan dictates she must tell her educators when she would benefit from a break. But sometimes she communicates her needs nonverbally through behaviors or facial expressions and Lamb wants teachers to recognize that fact. Indeed, she urges all people to pay attention and think differently about access, not just in the classroom, but in the workplace, the community, and in their homes to create a truly inclusive environment for individuals with hearing loss, who are autistic, who use sign language, and more.


"Let's dismantle some of the burden we place on the individual to advocate for themselves," she says. Breaking stigma is important, but HASA also faces operational obstacles. Obtaining public and private funding and removing barriers to care are constant challenges, Lamb says. Take hearing aids, for example. They are expensive but, "They're not a sexy thing to donate money to," she notes, adding that despite humans having two ears, Medicaid will only cover one device for an adult in Maryland.


The social and emotional benefits of having access to your hearing are astounding, Lamb continues, explaining that hearing loss is the number one modifiable risk factor for dementia. HASA partnered with the Alzheimer's Association to ensure both community groups know the importance of audiological exams and treatment. But initiatives like this and others cost money. Lamb says there is an extreme demand for the organization's programs focused on prevention, treatment, and advocacy.


"We're busting at the seams," she says. "We have limited staff. There are pipeline issues related to all of the disciplines that we employ at HASA. We're balancing those issues with the increasing demand for our services. We need to figure out creative ways to serve, grow, and have another 97 years in front of us."


Ronza Othman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, can empathize with organizational challenges.


While navigating systems during the pandemic was a strain for everyone, there were challenges unique to the blind community and, as the leader of the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans, Othman and the Federation needed to find ways to step up.


When vaccines for the coronavirus first came out, for example, appointment websites were not compatible with the computer technology blind people use. A phone call rarely made it to a person. Even if one could secure an appointment, many clinics were not reachable by public transportation. So the federation opened their own vaccine clinic in partnership with the Maryland Department of Disabilities.


A lot of federation members were let go or furloughed from their jobs during the pandemic, too. Applying for unemployment was a mess for everybody, but even more difficult for people using assistive technology, as the government's system was not compatible with it.


"Not only did you have to apply for unemployment, you had to re-certify every week, but our folks couldn't get in once," Othman remembers. "So we did a lot of case work directly with the Department of Labor to find alternative ways for people to submit applications and recertifications."


During the pandemic, doctors offices and hospitals forbade patients from bringing another person, which meant blind people couldn't bring someone to assist them in filling out medical forms. The federation had to do a lot of advocacy to get facilities to understand that an interpreter is a reasonable accommodation to which an individual is entitled when they are disabled.


The federation works with local organizations and businesses as well as government entities to ensure accessibility and opportunity. The goal is that the blind are speaking for themselves, Othman says, adding the majority of staff and volunteers within the organization are blind.


"Our lived experience informs what we do," she says. "It's very difficult as a person who is blind or low-vision to be interacting with the world, because the sighted world creates, establishes, and perpetuates stereotypes and barriers to our full participation in society."


"Let's dismantle some of the burden we place on the individual to advocate for themselves."


And it's not just a matter of educating corporations, government entities, and the public about including and engaging the blind community, the federation also aims to educate the blind community about what's possible and available, and to encourage them to speak up when there are barriers in their way.


These Baltimore-area advocates push for positive change every day. Have they seen any progress?


Gosse says progress is slow because the blind population is not large, so the number of people interacting with a blind person is small. Thus, perspective change is happening slowly. Still, getting the word out about BISM will result in progress, Gosse says. The group aims to partner with area organizations and companies to create new job opportunities for people who are blind.


Taubenfeld also is optimistic about future inclusion and equity in the workplace. She says Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen X expect to be in a workplace that provides opportunities for diversity, and neurodiversity is part of that advocacy.


Othman is a civil rights lawyer, and her skills and approach are useful in her work with the Federation for the Blind. She says her job has challenges, but the victories be they helping a blind person become a more productive member of the workforce, helping to resolve a public misunderstanding about the blind, or educating people about discriminatory and harmful behavior make it all worthwhile.


"It's about restorative justice," she says. "And seeing the world improve one case at a time."


Michelle Lindsay Wins 2023 Pauline Johnson Award

By Debbie Brown

[Editor's Note: Michelle Lindsay is an active federationist who came from Jamaica to see if she could get help for getting her sight back. Instead, she found the federation and learned that it was okay to be blind. Subsequently, she became a licensed nurse assistant. The Sligo Creek Chapter awarded Michelle the 2023 Pauline Johnson Award.]


The Sligo Creek Chapter gives out an award every year in memory of Pauline Johnson, who almost until her death was vice president of the chapter and was a former NFB of Maryland board member. Pauline worked quietly to promote the NFB, selling nuts and baking for bake sales and scholarship auctions. The award is to honor a chapter member who works quietly for the Federation and is not generally known outside the chapter.


Michelle Lindsay heard about the NFB from her pastor, who found out about the NFB at one of the events we participated in handing out literature and talking to the public, wondering if this was worth our effort. In this case, it was certainly worth it. Soon after I talked to Michelle, she was dealing with her rehab counselor to set the process rolling for getting her GED to become a certified nursing assistant. She has since been working in that profession and was doing so throughout the pandemic. One of Michelle's first actions when she got her job was to pay lifetime membership dues to the chapter. She is always willing to give assistance whenever she can, helping others to get the information they need to work in her profession.


Michelle has recently become a U.S. citizen, a process to which she has given her usual devotion.


Congratulations to Michelle on her award!


Top Scientist Who Is Disabled Accuses Research Funder of Discrimination: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, MD Has Denied the Allegations in the Scientist's Lawsuit

By Sydney Trent, published by The Washington Post August 30, 2023


In 2015, Vivian Cheung, a highly regarded medical researcher, began studying a sprawling Maryland family in which some members come down with a rare childhood form of Lou Gehrig disease.


Cheung, who lives in Bethesda, Md., worked with the family at the National Institutes of Health, traveling back and forth to her lab at the University of Michigan, where she is a tenured professor, to supervise her genetic research there.


In many ways, she said, it was a scientist's dream "one funded with millions from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an elite biomedical research and philanthropic organization in Chevy Chase, Md."


Then that same year, Cheung was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease herself , so rare, in fact, that it has yet to be named.


She suffered from extreme hypertension and began to lose her peripheral vision and balance.  Eventually, she would also lose the funding for her project when, in 2018, HHMI decided not to renew her contract.


Cheung filed a lawsuit in 2020 asserting that, in terminating her funding, the institution had discriminated against her because she is disabled. According to Cheung's complaint, HHMI at first refused to provide accommodations and then pressured her to leave.


"I think it was hard for them to imagine that someone with a disability could do outstanding work in science," said Cheung, 56.


In a statement, the institute denied Cheung's allegations of discrimination.


"HHMI believes strongly that science needs to be inclusive of scientists from all backgrounds and perspectives, including scientists with disabilities," the statement reads. "The record clearly supports our position that Dr. Cheung's allegations have no merit. We are confident in the integrity of the process we use to review Investigators whose appointments are up for renewal."


A Montgomery County Circuit Court earlier this month denied HHMI's motion for a judge to rule on the case before the Dec. 4 trial, an action known as summary judgment. Mediation to attempt a resolution without a trial is scheduled to begin Thursday.


Cheung's complaint highlights an issue in the sciences that has received far less public attention than the underrepresentation of female and minority members in the STEM fields. Many scientists with disabilities complain of inequitable treatment and high barriers to success.


Such discrimination "is extremely, extremely pervasive," said Bonnielin Swenor, founder and director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, which promotes the inclusion of researchers with disabilities.


In 2020, Swenor published data she obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showing that the percentage of NIH-funded researchers with disabilities decreased from 1.9 percent in 2008 to 1.2 percent in 2018.


"That should tell you something," said Swenor, who in 2021 served as co-chair on an NIH committee investigating how to foster inclusion for people with disabilities.


The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, estimated that in 2020 about 1 percent of its grant-funded researchers had disabilities. About 27 percent of U.S. adults have a disability.


The NSF data also showed that people with disabilities were the only group of underrepresented employees in the STEM workforce who did not increase on a percentage basis between 2011 and 2020. Their share remained at 3 percent.


While other sectors struggle in similar ways with discrimination against disabled people, STEM, with its reputation as a field for the best and brightest, has some unique obstacles, said Swenor, an epidemiologist who has a visual disability.


Most research labs are not designed to accommodate people with disabilities. Scientists are also evaluated "by a group of your peers determining if you are fit," usually according to "ableist views," Swenor said.


Particularly in biomedical research, where the prevention, treatment or eradication of disease is a priority, disabilities are often viewed as "a less-than-an-ideal state. They are not something to aspire to but something to avoid," Swenor said.


There are signs of progress, however. The NIH committee Swenor co-chaired made recommendations to improve inclusion that have been endorsed by NIH leadership.


Last week, the agency followed through on one recommendation and announced a proposal to change its mission statement to remove "disability?in the phrase ?to reduce illness and disability." Swenor said the current language is considered ableist because it assumes that all disabilities must be treated or eradicated.


"They are taking it very seriously," Swenor said.


The NSF also recently announced the allocation of $5 million in grants to fund projects aimed at reducing barriers to full inclusion of people with disabilities in STEM.


Swenor said she hopes that others involved in STEM funding and education will follow the government's lead.


As one of the largest funders of biomedical research in the world, Howard Hughes Medical Institute is "integral to the STEM ecosystem," she said. "They have a very big footprint."


In 2008, Cheung was one of just 15 scientists selected nationally by HHMI for a highly competitive multimillion-dollar, multiyear research contract that was renewable. On its website, the institute describes these scientists, called investigators, as "'trail blazers' who tackle difficult research questions that may take years to answer."


Cheung, a pediatric neurologist, had played a key role in groundbreaking research at the University of Pennsylvania in discovering differences between sequences of DNA and RNA, nucleic acids in cells that were once considered almost identical. The funding from HHMI allowed her to continue her RNA research, including her investigation of a family with a genetic mutation on a protein that affects the structure of RNA. Cheung soon discovered that family members suffered from a rare, slowly progressing childhood form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known as ALS Type 4.


"As a pediatric neurologist, I quickly realized that this wasn't just about a protein but about a disease," and the possibility of discovering a treatment, Cheung said.


Around 2012, Cheung herself began exhibiting her first symptoms of a rare genetic disease. Her blood pressure climbed to dangerously high levels. Damage to her vessels decreased her peripheral vision and, after a related fall, she was unable to walk or stand without difficulty. She was hospitalized and used a wheelchair.


In her lawsuit, she said HHMI initially denied her request for accommodations, an extra assistant and the ability to work remotely in Bethesda, to limit her travel between NIH and her lab in Michigan. HHMI wrote her a letter afterward threatening to terminate her contract if she did not return to work primarily in her lab at the University of Michigan, the suit states. After she engaged a lawyer, the institute allowed her to telecommute, according to the lawsuit.


The institute has denied these allegations in court filings.


Before Cheung's scheduled review for her contract renewal, the science officer in charge of the review ?spontaneously raised the issue of Dr. Cheung's health," according to the lawsuit, asking her ?point blank about what her medical prognosis was and specifically asked about her vision." He emphasized that she had ?more health issues?than most investigators, the lawsuit states, and "strongly encouraged her to take the five-year phaseout available to her because of her medical condition," which did not allow for renewal. Another HHMI official also raised the option of the five-year phaseout period "and suggested that doing it would be better given her health," the lawsuit states. HHMI has denied these allegations.


In late 2018, Cheung delivered a presentation about her work before an advisory panel of 20 scientists that would provide a recommendation to HHMI about whether to renew her contract for seven years.


A few days later, HHMI notified Cheung that her contract would not be renewed.


In her lawsuit, Cheung asserts that the review panel of her scientific peers was "negatively influenced by negative assumptions and stereotypes about Dr. Cheung's research." Comments were made during its deliberations "indicating that doubts about Dr. Cheung?s continued ability to conduct research was discussed," the lawsuit states. She said that HHMI up until that point had never indicted that her work was subpar. HHMI denied her allegations in court filings and in its statement.


"Each Investigator is assessed against a high standard that reflects our commitment to bold thinking and continued scientific breakthroughs over time," the statement reads. "Twenty independent peer reviewers gave Dr. Cheung fourteen grades in the C range and six B- grades on HHMI's A through C grading scale, reflecting a strong independent recommendation not to renew her appointment."


Cheung's lawsuit demands "full compensation"for "emotional distress and professional harm," including the loss of funding for her lab and salary.


It also seeks "anti-discrimination measures," to identify and eliminate HHMI's "unlawful employment practices "as well as anti-discrimination training for Defendants and all of Defendants' employees and agents."


After her diagnosis in 2015, Cheung was able to tap her medical network to find a geneticist who recommended a specific biologic to treat her illness. Her symptoms have gradually improved, she said.


In 2022, she was a co-author on five papers. Earlier this year, she received a $2.3 million grant from the Warren Alpert Foundation to lay the groundwork for an international project to sequence all the RNA in human cells. She also noted in her lawsuit that she was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and to serve as president of the American Society of Clinical Investigation.


Since her disability, she has become more determined to help the Maryland family find treatment.


"For me, it's taken on much more urgency, especially now that I have a treatment myself and understand how much that has changed my life," Cheung said. "To see a patient and know that they don't have a treatment is truly painful."


2023 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. Our 2023 Business Meeting served as a mini-convention, and as usual, the membership reviewed and adopted resolutions. Below are the five resolutions that the Membership of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland adopted on November 11, 2023. NFBMD is actively working on these matters.]



Resolution 2023-01

Regarding Autonomous Vehicle Operation in Baltimore, Maryland


WHEREAS, fully autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to dramatically increase affordable and equitable transportation options for blind people; and


WHEREAS, safe, fully autonomous vehicle technology is licensed to be tested by the public in Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and Austin, or these cities currently offer publicly available, commercial autonomous vehicle rideshare service, or these cities soon plan to offer commercial, autonomous vehicle rideshare service; and


WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland is the home state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans; and


WHEREAS, Baltimore, the home of our national headquarters, the NFB Jernigan Institute, regularly attracts more residents and visitors who, being blind, are the leading experts in blindness, than any other city in the United States; and


WHEREAS, most of our national staff, Maryland affiliate members, national board members, leaders, and emerging leaders do not currently have the opportunity to regularly test fully autonomous vehicles in Baltimore, which puts the blind community at a severe disadvantage in assuring that autonomous vehicle manufacturers are producing fully nonvisually accessible transportation for the blind population: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland assembled this eleventh day of November, 2023, that we urge the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation making it possible for autonomous vehicle manufacturers to deploy and test autonomous vehicle rideshare service in Maryland; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and other jurisdictions to create policies that would incentivize autonomous vehicle rideshare companies to operate in their jurisdictions; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the leading autonomous vehicle manufacturers to start investigating opportunities for deploying and testing commercial autonomous vehicle rideshare service in Maryland.


Resolution 2023-02

Regarding Disability Determination for Transit Services


WHEREAS, many people who use ADA paratransit services have permanent disabilities; and


WHEREAS, only certain professionals, often medical professionals, can determine certain disabilities, such as blindness; and


WHEREAS, many people with permanent disabilities do not regularly see medical professionals about their disability, because these professionals have nothing to offer them; and


WHEREAS, these professionals often charge an exorbitant fee simply to sign the eligibility certification, causing financial hardship for some people with disabilities; and


WHEREAS, many public transportation providers, such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), require that eligibility for disability services be determined again and again, regardless of whether the disability has been determined to be permanent; and


WHEREAS, other services that require evidence of disability determination, such as library services for the blind and print-disabled, do not require that disability be determined or certified more than once: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland assembled this eleventh day of November, 2023, that we demand that transit service providers, including MTA and WMATA, consider people with medically certified permanent disabilities eligible for service as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements and eliminate any policy requiring such customers of their services to repeatedly seek disability determination and certification.


Resolution 2023-03

Regarding Equal Access to Medical Information and Services

WHEREAS, medical facilities and doctors are increasingly, and sometimes exclusively, using electronic methods of communicating with their members and patients; and

WHEREAS, providers of such services may communicate directly with their patients rarely, if at all, outside of office visits; and

WHEREAS, patients who are blind or have other disabilities may not have the means of reviewing their electronic health records (EHR) and other information provided to them, including critical information about treatments, procedures, and post-visit instructions; and

WHEREAS, facilities performing medical services should be available to people regardless of their disability or technical capabilities; and

WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that medical providers maintain effective communication with their patients, and Maryland law requires that patients be able to receive information in a manner that is understandable to the patient; and

WHEREAS, people seeking medical tests or visits are often ill and have less energy and patience than normal, making easy appointment scheduling even more critical; and

WHEREAS, many medical portals for scheduling appointments or receiving medical information are inaccessible to blind people: now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland assembled this eleventh day of November, 2023, that we call upon the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland Department of Disabilities, and other relevant state agencies to take steps to enforce the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other applicable state and federal laws, to provide guidance to medical facilities on their obligations under these laws, and to propose or promulgate additional regulations as needed to protect the right of blind patients to effective communication, privacy, accessibility, and health equity.


Resolution 2023-04

Regarding Updating the Partial Property Tax Exemption for Blind Home Owners

WHEREAS, home ownership can help blind individuals achieve independence by allowing them to raise families, build wealth, and develop community connections; and

WHEREAS, high home costs in Maryland, along with special housing considerations (such as neighborhood walkability, access to public transit, and proximity to basic services), often hinder blind individuals from becoming or remaining homeowners; and

WHEREAS, to make home ownership more feasible for blind individuals, the State of Maryland offers blind homeowners a partial property tax exemption by reducing the assessed value of their principal residence by $15,000; and

WHEREAS, the relative value of this partial property tax exemption has declined significantly over time because the assessment reduction of $15,000 has not been adjusted since at least 2000, while the median home value in Maryland has risen by 264% (from $146,000 to $385,549) over the 2000-2023 period: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland assembled this eleventh day of November, 2023, that this organization urge the Maryland General Assembly and the Governor to enact legislation updating the value of the partial property tax exemption for blind individuals to reflect the significant increase in Maryland"s home values over the past few decades and thus restore the provision"s efficacy in promoting home ownership among blind Marylanders.


Resolution 2023-05

Regarding MTA's Inaccessible Fare Machines Located at Light Rail and Subway Stations

WHEREAS, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), a division of the Maryland State Department of Transportation, operates bus, light rail, and subway services in the greater Baltimore Region; and

WHEREAS, riders have various options for purchasing different ticket types, including through fare machines located at light rail and subway stations; and

WHEREAS, the various ticket types that may be purchased include single fare tickets, round trip tickets, and day passes, as well as weekly and monthly passes, depending on the location of the fare machine; and

WHEREAS, full fare tickets, as well as reduced-fare tickets for seniors or persons with disabilities, may be purchased for all fare types; and

WHEREAS, these fare machines were made accessible to blind and low-vision riders almost two decades ago by means of installing an audio guidance system which can be activated by the user and gives spoken instructions during the entire ticket purchase process; and

WHEREAS, the accessibility of this ticket purchase process has degraded over time and now is no longer accessible to a blind user who is not intimately familiar with the various steps; and

WHEREAS, the ticket types (such as single fare tickets, round trip tickets, and day passes) are no longer announced at the fare machines located at light rail stations; and

WHEREAS, the ticket types (such as single fare tickets and day passes) are no longer announced at the fare machines located at subway stations; and

WHEREAS, if individuals are not able to identify the ticket type they wish to purchase, they cannot proceed with the ticket purchase; and

WHEREAS, individuals wishing to purchase a reduced fare ticket for seniors or persons with disabilities at a fare machine located at a subway station are directed by signage which is not spoken to see a gate agent to purchase such tickets; and

WHEREAS, even if this particular instruction were accessible, having to locate a gate agent to make a ticket purchase constitutes an accessibility barrier for blind and low-vision riders who make use of the reduced fare option; and

WHEREAS, the incomplete spoken instructions most likely result from programming errors: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland assembled this eleventh day of November, 2023, that this organization demand that MTA make all needed corrections so that the entire process for all transactions available through fare machines located at light rail and subway stations are made completely accessible to blind and low-vision users using the audio guidance system; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that MTA maintain full accessibility of fare machines in the future, even when features are added, deleted, or changed; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that MTA eliminate the requirement for those wishing to purchase reduced fare tickets at fare machines located at subway stations to seek out a gate agent to do so and instead add this purchasing option to these machines to conform with the procedures in effect at fare machines located at light rail stations.


Spectator Specs



We are sorry to share the passing of the following individuals:

On June 30, 2023, Tiffany Miles, a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter, passed away suddenly at the age of 36. She was heading to Houston later that day for our national convention. Tiffany will be remembered for her smile and her enthusiasm.


Nancina Thomas passed away on June 14, 2023. Nancina was a charter member of the Greater Baltimore chapter, and she attended faithfully every month for decades. We will miss her pioneering spirit.


Jim Roth, a member of the Central Maryland Chapter, passed away on August 5, 2023, after a long illness related to his service to our country in Vietnam. Jim will be remembered for always being by his wife, Lydia's side, his tireless efforts selling doughnuts and his commitment to the deaf-blind.


Martha Seabrooks passed away on October 18, 2023. Martha had been a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter for many years. She joined the At Large chapter when it became difficult for her to travel. Martha served several years on the BISM Board of Trustees as well.


In October 2023, Sue Soldan passed away after a long illness at the age of 62. Sue was a founding and lifetime member of the NFB of Maryland's TLC chapter. Sue, and her husband Scott, are long-time members of the Federation, and she will be deeply missed.



Martha Hazen and Rachel Willingham were married in Glendale, Maryland on Saturday October 14, 2023. Congratulations to the happy couple. may you have a lifetime of love and happiness!


New Baby

Garret Mooney and Brittany Bomboy welcomed a new baby on August 22, 2023. Matthew Grayson Mooney was born at 21 and a half inches and 9 pounds 6 ounces. Big sister Braylee, mom and dad are all delighted Matthew is here, and we look forward to Matthew joining the Federation. Garret is the President of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children and a member of the affiliate Board of Directors, Brittany is the Maryland BELL Academy and Youth Programs Coordinator and a member of the Maryland Parents Division Board of Directors, and Big Sister Braylee is an NFB BELL kid.



Martha Hazen obtained a master's degree in teaching of the visually impaired in August 2023 from the University of Massachusetts. She is currently teaching in the Fairfax County school system. Congratulations!



On August 31, 2023, Linda Lamone retired as the Maryland State Administrator for Elections after serving during five different Guvernatorial administrations. Linda began in her role in 1998. Though we've sued the Board of Elections several time over the years, we've always been privileged to call Linda a dear friend and ally to the blind of Maryland. Please see an article about Linda's service to our state on page 25.


On August 31, 2023, Michael Bullis retired as the founder and Executive Director of the Image Center for People with Disabilities, an Center for Independent Living he founded that serves Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Harford County. Mike is a founding and lifetime member of the TLC Chapter, where Mike has served in various capacities on the Board. Mike also served for many years on the NFB Senior Issues Division Board of Directors. He and his wife moved to Ohio, but we will doubtlessly still see Mike frequently in Federation spaces.



Michael Bullis was named as the recipient of the 2023 Disability Achievement Award, the highest honor celebrating disability activism and advocacy in Maryland. The award is given by Maryland's governor, and the program is administered by the Maryland Department of Disabilities. Mike was honored at the State Capitol on November 15, 2023. The Governor recognized Mike for his more than 40 years of disability advocacy in the public and private sectors, for previously serving as the Director of the Maryland Technology Assistance Program (TAP), taught independence skills at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, served as an advocate in the blind and disability communities with government and businesses, and founded and managed the Image Center of Maryland.



Kenny Smith is a sixth grader in St. Mary's County. Kenny launched a YouTube channel focusing on helping kids who are blind gain access to their world. His first videos is about the problems with technology for people with disabilities. Check out his YouTube channel by clicking this link


ABLE Contributions Raised in Maryland

The Maryland Able Newsletter States that the amount of the contributions to ABLE is raised from 17,000 to 18,000 in 2024. The Maryland ABLE program is celebrating its sixth year of operations. Persons with disabilities have been achieving financial independence and stability and hope to do more in the future.