The Braille Spectator, Fall 2014

IN THIS ISSUE: You will read about honors received by two of our strong Federation leaders, Janice Toothman and Ruth Sager, learn about our victory with the State Board of Elections regarding an online ballot marking tool which can be used when marking absentee ballots, and read an informative article regarding which agencies serving people with disabilities in Maryland pay minimum wage and which do not.

Also featured is an article describing the resounding success of our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Program (BELL) and an article describing our two newly formed chapters.

Editor's Note: We are pleased to present our first all e-mail issue of the Spectator. By publishing the newsletter in an e-mail format only, we will be able to send out more frequent updates, and use the funds normally spent to print the newsletter for other purposes. If you are on a chapter or division listserv, you will receive the newsletter in your in-box. The Spectator will be put on our website, (, NFB Newsline®, and in a variety of other places. We are maintaining our existing database, so people not subscribed to NFBMD listservs will still receive the newsletter.

Newly Designed Website

Please take the time to check out our newly designed website,, which is packed full of resources and information for parents, students, and people losing vision. Also featured are local vendors who provide training , sell assistive technology, and offer adjustment to blindness programs. Success stories written by blind people will be featured on a monthly basis. Special thanks go to Steve Brand who put all the material submitted to him on the site. Sharon Maneki, Melissa Riccobono, Melissa Lomax, and Lloyd Rasmussen also deserve much credit for researching information to ensure its accuracy.

Message From the President

By Melissa Riccobono

Welcome to the first email version of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Braille Spectator. We are hopeful that by providing this news letter via email, NFB Newsline, and on our website, we will be able to bring content to you more often, and cut costs associated with printing and mailing the Spectator. A thank you to Judy Rasmussen for her work as the editor of this news letter. Judy is always in need of articles for The Spectator. Please send her articles, or ideas for articles, to Or, you can call Judy at 301-946-8345.

As many of you know, the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland will take place at the Sheraton Baltimore North in Towson, Maryland, November 14-16, 2014. Please consider joining us for this fantastic event, which will include special kick off celebrations for the 75th year of the National Federation of the Blind, which begins November 16. Our national representative, Ron Brown, will provide his experience and perspective. We will be offering opportunities to participate in Zumba Gold, salsa dancing, iDevice demonstrations, and a workshop about Unified English Braille on Friday. We will also have a large exhibit hall filled with technology demonstrations and local and national resource providers. Oh, and did I mention meetings for parents of blind children, blind seniors, individuals who are deaf blind, and blind students? Friday evening will bring a meeting of our Resolutions Committee, and our first Terific Trivia Challenge.

Saturday will bring a meeting for guide dog users, our general convention session, lunches for seniors and parents, and, of course, a wonderful banquet.

Sunday allows us the chance to come together for one more session, which will include celebrations of the 75th year of the National Federation of the Blind, and a presentation by a United States Senator representing Maryland in Washington, D.C. I hope to see many of you at our convention. If you cannot attend, please consider tuning in to our convention stream at


Honoring Ruth Sager: "Our Most Amazing Senior" on National Senior Citizens Day 2014

Editor's Note: Ruth Sager deserves recognition for her creativity in applying the Federation's philosophy to all levels of adjustment training for blind seniors. Congratulations, Ruth!

by Michele Moon

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. Congress declared that every August 21 in perpetuity should be recognized as "National Senior Citizens Day," in honor of older Americans who have contributed so much to our way of life.
As such, Lisa D'Aloise and I of Orlando Senior Housing have chosen to recognize and honor an exceptional woman we have grown to know and respect over the past several months.

Ruth Sager's "Most Amazing Senior" on National Senior Citizens Day 

(Ruth standing in the BISM Senior Services office)

Ruth is the President of the Seniors Division of the National Federation of the Blind. Lisa and I recently got to know Ruth when she invited us both to speak on senior housing issues at the NFB annual convention in Orlando.

A woman who is devoted to making life better for individuals who are sight-impaired, Ruth also serves as an instructor in Baltimore with Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.

I asked Ruth to share with us a bit of her life story and inspiration.

by Ruth Sager

As a young person finishing my academic studies, I moved from Wisconsin to the Washington DC metro area with the hope of finding a job. During my search, I met some blind people, most of whom were employed by the government and held professional jobs. They invited me to a meeting of the local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.  

At the meeting, I discovered that one of the young men there was running for local public office. This really made me think about greater possibilities. It had never occurred to me that anyone with a significant disability could attempt to do such a thing. I found this group energetic and invigorating and they were purposeful in their quest to find and fight for equal opportunity--for employment, housing, and lifestyle choices.

The group had a positive focus and a willingness to change the status quo, while working towards improving conditions and changing laws. I was challenged not only to think of my own needs and desires but to realize I was a part of a social minority in this country and should become actively involved in this organization.



(Ruth teaching travel to a senior student)


As time moved on, I eventually chose to become an instructor at one of the training centers established by the National Federation of the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana.  I became one of the few blind cane travel instructors in the nation at that time, and then moved on to teach independent living and home management to newly blind adults.  

I continued my work in this same capacity when I again moved back to the East Coast and began work at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland as an independent living instructor. In 1998 I began working exclusively with seniors who were losing vision. I visited them at home and then created and implemented a training program to enable seniors to learn non-visual techniques they can employ to remain active and self sufficient in their homes and communities.  

The idea that “Collectively working together, we can change what it means to be blind,” became my mission when I joined the National Federation of the Blind thirty-six years ago. I have been assigned a variety of tasks and challenged to take on several leadership positions within the federation as I moved through rearing my children and finding a career choice living in several different states. I have had the opportunity to work with and meet many hundreds of blind people over the years who have inspired me and taught me how to live the life I want. This is the  legacy I want to pass on to others.



(Ruth shows a senior non-visual kitchen techniques)


At our 2014 convention in Orlando, the Seniors Division of the NFB focused on housing issues for blind seniors. I hope this focus and discussion will spur conversations within Federation chapters nationwide as to options in senior living and what responsibilities are entailed in maintaining the best quality of life possible for each senior. 

Whether they are a newly blind senior struggling to maintain independence or an individual who has been blind most of their life but who has now attained "seniorhood," knowledge about our options and how to access those options is so important. We can then be proactively accountable for planning our future as far as the physical space we live in and the financial management of our personal affairs. We can therefore control as much of our future destiny as our sighted colleagues using our abilities and talents to promote our personal desires and continue living the kind of life we want.



Michele and Ruth

(Ruth and the author Michele Moon, conversing)


(Ruth in front of a tactile sculpture showing a child reading a book)

Ruth, thank you for your exceptional work over the years and for your ongoing dedication!


Ruth Sager's "Most Amazing Senior" 

National Senior Citizens Day

August 21, 2014

Arc Baltimore Honors Intern For Service to Dundalk Center

From the Dundalk Eagle

Editor's Note: Janice Toothman has an indomitable spirit and drive. If you ask her to do something, she will get it done! Janice has been a Federation leader for a long time, and we will definitely rejoice with her when she finds employment in her chosen field.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

By Nicole Rodman

Janice Toothman perseveres in the face of a challenge.
She has lived with congenital defects and illnesses that have led her to go blind and mostly deaf, yet she does not let that slow her down.
Now, Toothman’s drive to succeed has earned her an award from The Arc Baltimore.

A psychology graduate student at Towson University, Toothman feels compelled to help others facing their own challenges. “I wanted to become a psychologist so that I could help others cope with psychological effects of living with their disabilities or chronic medical conditions,” she explained.

Toothman came to The Arc Baltimore’s Dundalk Center as an intern last September. Her internship ended in May. At the Dundalk Center, Toothman counseled clients, wrote case notes and participated in client meetings. Through it all, she never let her disabilities slow her down.

She used a braille note-taking device to write up case notes, do web searches and send e-mails. She also used a personal FM system, consisting of a microphone that clients would wear, in order to hear clients clearly during counseling sessions.

Toothman also overcame personal adversity during her internship, including repeated hospitalizations and the death of her sister. She returned to the Dundalk Center each time, eager to continue helping her clients.

“I empathized with the clients at the Arc Baltimore in Dundalk,” she explained. “I know what it is like to feel powerless and to feel you have no control over your own life.”

Toothman’s dedication did not go unnoticed. Sandy Shiflett, director of the Dundalk Center, nominated Toothman for The Arc Baltimore’s Intern Service Award. Toothman received the honor during a recent ceremony. “I thought she was outstanding,” Shiflett said of Toothman. “With all of her disabilities, she was able to communicate with our individuals here.”

Toothman is quick to note that she had much support along the way, including help from Shiflett, her supervisor Karyn Harvey, Arc receptionist Tony Ciampaglia, the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program and the National Federation of the Blind. She also credits her faith for keeping her strong.

Toothman is now looking for a paid position so that she can earn her counseling license. Though she is moving on, Toothman will always look back fondly on her time at The Arc Baltimore’s Dundalk Center.


Towson University Gets Patent For Technology to Help Blind Internet Users

Team creates audio CAPTCHA

Editor's Note: The following article from the Baltimore Sun shows that thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Lazar and his students at Towson University, we are making slow, but steady progress in eliminating the CAPTCHA barrier to navigating websites. Many Federationists participated in Dr. Lazar's CAPTCHA sound study. He has been a champion of an accessible Internet for the blind for many years. We look forward to seeing the SoundsRight CAPTCHA being widely adopted.


(caption for image) Anne Taylor, Director of Access Technology, Jernigan Institute, National Federation of the Blind, uses braille and QWERTY keyboards in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. Dr. Jonathan Lazar, professor of Computer and Information Sciences at Towson University, is working with her on a technology that makes CAPTCHA, a website security feature, accessible to blind people. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / April 14, 2014)

By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

April 27, 2014

While blind people can browse the Internet through a variety of means, there is often one thing that stops them cold—a security feature known as a CAPTCHA that's designed to distinguish human users from robots.

CAPTCHAs, in which a user must identify the letters in a distorted image, are commonly used to block automated bots from grabbing up all the tickets for an event, signing up for thousands of email addresses in a short period of time or unfairly swaying the results of an online poll. They have drawn criticism from advocacy organizations for the blind for being too difficult to use, but last month, Towson University secured a U.S. patent for a new kind of CAPTCHA that's intended to be easier for those with limited or no eyesight.

With Towson's SoundsRight CAPTCHA, users listen to a series of 10 random sounds and are asked to press the computer's space bar each time they hear a certain noise—a dog barking, a horse neighing—among the other sounds. The developers say it is superior to Google's current audio alternative CAPTCHA, citing studies showing that version's failure rate of 50 percent for blind users.

"Blind people are capable of doing everything that a visual person can on the Internet," said Jonathan Lazar, a Towson professor who has led a group of graduate and outside researchers on the project. "We just try to come up with some equivalent features that make it easier."

"Some people are unaware that blind people can use the Internet," Lazar added.

The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is still in a "beta" version, Lazar said, and the developers are hoping a real-world rollout will help identify any necessary tweaks.

The Towson researchers worked closely on testing with the National Federation of the Blind, which is headquartered in the Riverside neighborhood of Baltimore. Anne Taylor, the Federation's Director of access technology, said there are several types of software available for blind users to read the text on a web page aloud. Taylor, who is blind, said not being able to use visual CAPTCHAs could impede a blind person's ability to enjoy the benefits of the Internet and hurt their ability to hold a job.

A sighted person could help a blind user with the visual CAPTCHAs, she said, but the blind want to be independent on the Internet. Further, since many CAPTCHAs are on web pages that ask for personal financial information, she has concerns about privacy.

"The Internet is such an important and integral part of our daily lives now," Taylor said. "Just think of how many hours you spend on the web as a sighted individual. Would you really want to have someone with you all that time?"

CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, was introduced as a concept by computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. The term was coined in 2000 by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University who developed an early Web page test program for Yahoo. The CAPTCHAs protect from automated hacking programs that can also leave spam comments on blogs, attack protected passwords and send junk email.

Tim Brooks, the chief software developer on the SoundsRight project since 2010, said the audio CAPTCHA can be embedded into any Web page and customized by the webmaster. Brooks said its script could be tweaked to be used in any number of different languages or have users identify any number of sounds. An organization for train enthusiasts, he said, could potentially have users identify the sounds of different types of trains.

The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is just as secure as the traditional visual CAPTCHAs, he said. Sighted users can use the audio CAPTCHA as well, or a web page could give the option of either a visual CAPTCHA or the SoundsRight CAPTCHA, he said. The only potential downside to the technology is that it takes about 30 to 40 seconds to complete, versus less than 10 seconds for a visual CAPTCHA, Brooks said.

"A lot of people don't have that kind of patience," he said.

The Towson CAPTCHA project was the brainchild of then-undergraduate student Jon Holman in 2007 as a class project, Lazar said. In a 2007 focus group, blind users identified visual CAPTCHAs as the biggest impediment to their using the Internet independently. Several other students, faculty members and outside researchers have assisted in developing the technology since the project began.

"We've always done the evaluation with blind users at every step," Lazar said. "This was research that was done because blind users were telling us this was important."

The project was partially supported with a $50,000 grant from the Maryland Technology Development Corp., Lazar said. The researchers went through several different prototypes, rejecting those that weren't found to be secure enough.

The SoundsRight CAPTCHA is in use on the National Federation of the Blind's website, and the organization is working to encourage various groups and businesses to adopt it.

"We are all one step away from a sudden disability, so why not make the Internet an inclusive place for everybody?" Taylor said.


NFBMD on the Move

Local chapters are obviously a vital part of any affiliate. Active chapters educate the public about blindness, strengthen its members, and give people opportunities to participate in activities, often outside their comfort zone. It is the goal of our affiliate to have as many thriving chapters as possible. However, there are many rural counties in Maryland where transportation and other factors make it difficult to get people together.

Since this year is the 75th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, every state is making a concerted effort to strengthen existing chapters and to form new ones. The Federation's goal is to form 75 new chapters in 75 days between September 2 and November 16.

Chapters at large are a vital part of every affiliate. For several months, Mike Bullis, a long-time Federationist, has been running our chapter at large. Thanks, Mike, for taking on this task. Mike asked that others help with this important mission. Sharon Maneki stepped up to the plate and began calling people in the Annapolis, Hagerstown and Frederick areas, as well as people who, for various reasons, cannot attend their local chapter meetings.

On September 16, our revitalized chapter at large was reborn. A total of 24 people participated in the call, which is encouraging and demonstrates the need for such a chapter. The chapter at large will meet every third Tuesday of the month. The meeting will begin with the playing of the Presidential Release—a monthly message from National Federation of the Blind president, Mark Riccobono, at 7:30 PM. The meeting will last no more than 90 minutes. Federation events, both local and national, will be discussed. The number to call if you wish to participate is: 1-605-475-3215; access code 720125. After dialing the access code, push the pound key, and you will be connected to the conference. Minutes of the meetings will be sent to anyone who supplies us with an e-mail address. Questions about the chapter at large should be directed to Sharon Maneki, 1-410-715-9596. E-mail: nfbmd@earthlink .net. We look forward to talking with many of you.

On June 19th, the Timonium-Lutherville-Cockeysville (TLC) chapter of the NFBMD came into existence. The new officers are as follows: President Mary Jo Hartle; Vice President Mellissa Treaster; Secretary Jesse Hartle; Treasurer Eileen Rivera Ley. The board members are Nicole Fincham, Latonya Phipps, and Scott White. We welcome the TLC chapter into our Federation family, and are sure that we will be hearing more from this new chapter.


Status Of Subminimum Wage For Disabled Workers in Maryland

Editor’s Note: For several years, we have been working to convince the U.S. Congress to pass HR 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act. We are pleased to report that the following Maryland Congressmen are cosponsors of this important legislation: Elijah Cummings, Donna Edwards, and Chris VanHollen. The following article from the Baltimore Sun gives a good presentation of this issue from the perspective of Maryland organizations.

'Subminimum Wage' for Disabled Workers Called Exploitative

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

June 14, 2014

At a noisy warehouse off Veterans Highway in Millersville, a young woman concentrates as she pokes black shoelaces into cardboard packaging. In another room, workers slowly count tiny bottles of hair products, placing them in plastic bags that will end up as samples in salons.

To some, these workers with developmental disabilities are getting valuable on-the-job training and the self-respect that comes with employment. Others say they're being exploited—because wages in the facility, run by a nonprofit, are as low as 25 cents an hour.

A nearly 80-year-old exemption in the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers across the country to pay so-called "subminimum" wages to hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities. In Maryland, some disabled workers have been paid as little as a penny an hour in recent years, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun through public-information laws.

One person was paid 68 cents an hour to assemble trophies, records from the U.S. Department of Labor show. Another received an hourly rate of $3.20 to do laundry for a uniform company. And one made $2.44 an hour to sweep, mop and straighten shelves at a thrift store.

A debate about the wages paid to these disabled workers has divided nonprofits in Maryland and nationally. Opponents say the system is holding back participants, feeding a cycle of low expectations and dependency. Under the exemption, there is no limit on how long workers can hold the low-paying jobs.

"You set people's expectations very low, you say this is all you could ever hope for—and then that's what you're stuck with," said Chris Danielsen of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, which has been trying for years to eliminate the subminimum wage. "What's really between people with disabilities and their dreams, and having a normal productive life, is the low expectations," he said.

Some nonprofits that serve people with disabilities defend the program—known as 14(c) for the exemption in federal labor law—as a tool to help workers find employment. The jobs provide a paycheck while the workers gain training. Without it, they might not get any work at all, supporters say.

"This gives them the ability to work and still earn money and gain self-esteem with medical and behavioral supports still in place," said Vicki Callahan, executive director of the nonprofit Opportunity Builders Inc., which employs the people working in the Millersville warehouse. "A lot of people who walk through this building would say, 'I never thought they could do work.' The fact is, they can—with support."

All sides agree that the unemployment rate among people with disabilities is troubling. Just over 19 percent of disabled people work—compared with 68 percent of all Americans 16 and older, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Those who favor the 14(c) program say that without it, the numbers would be even bleaker. "Many employers are not willing to give these folks a chance," said Martin Lampner, CEO of Chimes, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that offers services for people with developmental disabilities.

Debate about the subminimum wage drew attention in 2012, when the National Federation of the Blind urged a boycott of Goodwill Industries because of its CEO's half-million-dollar salary, but efforts to abolish the 14(c) program began decades ago.

Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican, has been an ally of the Federation of the Blind in the campaign. He has sponsored the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, which would phase out the 14(c) program over three years.

To Harper, the low wages are a form of discrimination, one that is stopping people from reaching their full potential. "We believe that what we're seeing is just extremely unfair," said Harper, whose son, Livingston, has the intellectual disability Fragile X syndrome.

The issue again gained a national spotlight in February, when President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay all workers—including the disabled—$10.10 per hour.

In Maryland, advocates had hoped that this year's political focus on raising the state's minimum wage would bring attention to disabled people earning subminimum pay, but no one introduced legislation to address the issue. "If you're speaking about wages and improving living conditions, then you have to have that discussion with the entire workforce," said Dan Schmitt, a board member of the Arc of Maryland, which has joined the campaign to end the subminimum wage.

Pay based on productivity

Through the U.S. Department of Labor, employers can apply for a Special Minimum Wage Certificate, which gives them permission to pay less than the federal minimum wage—currently $7.25 an hour—to workers who have disabilities. Maryland has about 45 such employers, according to the department.

Most are nonprofits that serve people with disabilities. Some employ a handful of workers, while others employ hundreds, paying wages that can vary widely. The nonprofits often contract with businesses that need the services disabled workers can provide. These job sites, where people with disabilities work apart from others, are sometimes called sheltered workshops.

Employers calculate the pay of a 14(c) employee based on how much the worker can produce compared to a person who doesn't have disabilities. For instance, if an able-bodied person can clean a bathroom in 20 minutes and it takes a disabled worker 40 minutes to do it, the worker would be paid half the prevailing wage in the area for a janitor.

The pay can be different for workers doing the same job, depending on their ability. In the kitchen of a cafe in Northwest Baltimore run by Chimes, for instance, Cindy Iames, 58, earns $4.44 an hour helping to prepare food. John Britt, 28, who also works in the kitchen, makes $7.55 an hour—more than the minimum wage.

At the Opportunity Builders warehouse, payment is based on a wage of $10 per hour, Callahan said. A worker who can do half as much as an able-bodied person would make $5 per hour. But some workers earn more than $9 an hour, she said.

The nonprofit fills 15 to 20 contracts a month, with an emphasis on packaging, assembly and distribution.

Callahan and others say people with complex disabilities often need support that they can't get from other employers. On a recent morning at Opportunity Builders, one worker needed a staff member to help him count bottles of hair products and another laid his head down as his peers filled the packages.

Severna Park resident David Lawrence, 44, earned an average of 99 cents an hour last year at Opportunity Builders. The intellectually disabled man has been with the organization for about 20 years. Earning a paycheck is an important part of his life, said his father, a member of the nonprofit's board. "He doesn't realize what he can or can't buy with it," Chet Lawrence said. "But the fact that he gets it is a very uplifting experience." The most important thing, he said, "is for David to be doing something that he likes, that is productive. ... If we insist upon him getting the minimum wage, I believe all the work would basically dry up."

Supporters of the special wage certificates point out that most agencies that use them provide a spectrum of job-training services and that working under the 14(c) program can help some people develop enough skill to get jobs in the community at a conventional rate of pay. "We intend to move them into the community because that's ultimately our objective," said Dan Kurtenbach, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Monocacy Valley, which holds a 14(c) certificate.

Opponents point to a 2001 investigation by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which found that only 5 percent of those in sheltered workplaces end up finding jobs in the community. And they say that the premise of the subminimum wage—basing a wage for the disabled on a lesser productivity—is inherently discriminatory.

"No matter what your level of productivity, the minimum wage is set nationwide for all workers," said Cari DeSantis, the CEO of Melwood, a nonprofit in Prince George's County that serves and employs people with disabilities. Among other services, its employees do janitorial work for government agencies and groundskeeping for businesses and other organizations.

Melwood for many years used the 14(c) program to pay a subminimum wage to its workers. But DeSantis said it bothered her. She thought of the workers in Melwood's greenhouses, which provide plants to clients, including the Kennedy Center. "The thought of having paid him or her less than minimum wage just strikes me as wrong," DeSantis said.

Last summer, DeSantis led a policy change, and all of Melwood's workers now make at least minimum wage. The shift cost Melwood about $50,000; the organization says it has covered the added expense through administrative efficiencies.

At The Arc Baltimore, which serves people with developmental disabilities, administrators have been "on a steady path to eliminate the payment of subminimum wage," Executive Director Steve Morgan said. But because the workers might not be as productive as those that private employers can find elsewhere, the Arc continues to pay some employees a lower wage.

"It can be challenging for us to find private contracts where a company is paying us enough to pay everyone minimum wage," Morgan said.

Relic of old attitudes?

In the 1970s and 1980s, Baltimore resident Charles Biebl worked in a sheltered workshop. He screwed parts onto the backs of telephones, and was paid per phone. He remembers a week in 1975 when he worked overtime and still earned just "$15 and some change." "The philosophy was, 'They ought to be happy, be thankful for what they have,'" said Biebl, 61, who is blind and lives in East Baltimore with his 92-year-old mother.

Biebl calls the end of subminimum wage "way overdue." "We do want to be productive, just like anybody else," he said.

Last year, the federal government began investigating Rhode Island's system of employment for intellectually and developmentally disabled workers. It concluded that the state relied too much on programs that kept such workers separated from others. In a settlement this year, Rhode Island agreed to provide more opportunities for work in mainstream jobs.

Vermont phased out its sheltered workshops over 20 years, with the last one closing in the early 2000s, said Bryan Dague, a research associate at the University of Vermont's Center on Disability and Community Inclusion. Vermont was a pioneer in developing the concept of community-based employment and set up pilot projects that were replicated across the state. While some agencies resisted, "the sheltered workshops just eventually closed down," Dague said.

The state took a gradual approach, limiting and then prohibiting funding for sheltered workshops and "enclaves," where a group of people with disabilities worked separately from others at a business, said Jennie Masterson, supported employment services coordinator at the Vermont Division of Disability and Aging Services. When the last sheltered workshop closed, about 50 people worked there, she said. Roughly 90 percent found employment in the community.

She did not have an estimate of the overall costs involved in the switchover. But as an example, she said the state provided $50,000 for the agency running the last sheltered workshop to hire a full-time job developer to help individuals find employment. Vermont also increased each individual's Medicaid allotment to cover the cost of employment and support services.

Dague says the debate over 14(c) is not simply about wages. "There's very low expectations in sheltered workshops," Dague said. "You can just sort of sit around not doing anything. ... It's not an environment where they're really going to learn either the work skills or the social skills that they're going to need to function in the community."

Over time, a shift in attitudes has led to "greater and greater integration," of people with disabilities, said Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. "We've certainly seen that in housing," Ne'eman said. "Now it's time to do the same within the context of employment."


BELL Program A Huge Success

Since 2008, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has hosted the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program. Being the first state to begin this program, we feel especially proud that from the vision of Maryland parents, the program has now spread to 23 states. We look forward to the day when the National Fedeeration of the Blind BELL program is a reality in every state.

This is the third year we have held two BELL programs, one at our National Center in Baltimore, and the other at the Reid Temple in Glen Dale. A total of 17 children, ranging in age from 4 to 13, participated in the two programs. Seven students participated for the first time—two of whom had been in this country for less than a year. Imagine learning English and braille at the same time! Both students thrived and greatly benefitted.

Going on field trips to the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, to the Jewish Museum, to the Children's Museum, to the Aquatic Center (the adults were worn out after being chased around the pool at least 20 times) and of course, to the playground every day, gave students a chance to practice using their canes in a variety of situations. Often, kids with visual impairments are left out of activities on the playground. Walking across the monkey bars by yourself, learning to push yourself in the swing, and going down the big slide are all a part of growing up that every child needs to experience. It is gratifying to see how students who were afraid to walk up and down stairs last year have progressed, and are now doing it with ease.

Vision teachers who visit the program are excited about what we are doing, and see the progress students are making in both braille and other non-visual techniques.

Carlton Walker, a teacher of the visually impaired in Pennsylvania, and president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, served as the lead teacher in Glen Dale. Mary Jo Hartle, an educator and mom, was the lead teacher in Baltimore. Karen Anderson, an education major from Nebraska who plans to become a teacher of blind students, also helped greatly with preparation and worked hard to make the Baltimore program a success. The program wouldn't have run so smoothly without our dedicated and fun-loving volunteers, who ranged in age from 18 to 82.

On the last day of the program, everyone gathered at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute for a day of fun for the kids and learning for the parents. A carnival, featuring approximately 20 different booths, allowed kids to throw darts, find small objects in a tub of bubble wrap, play listening games, jump through hula hoops to the braille cell, and much more. Thanks to the four NFB summer interns who planned this event. Parents participated in a seminar run by Melissa Riccobono and Sharon Maneki. The finale was a delicious lunch and giving of goody bags filled with "cool stuff" to each participant.

Plans are under way to continue braille classes for our BELL students during the school year. Building relationships with blind adult role models, and encouraging students to continue developing good reading and writing habits will require ongoing dedication and determination. However, we are up to the challenge!


Do Maryland Congressmen Support the TEACH Act?

Three of Maryland’s eight Congressional representatives support the TEACH Act (the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act, H.R. 3505). Representatives Chris Van Hollen, Elijah Cummings, and Donna Edwards, are co-sponsors of this legislation. We appreciate their support and urge voters to remember who our friends are in the November 4 election. The TEACH Act would require that the United States Access Board create guidelines which industry could use in preparing accessible college course materials.

On June 10, 2014, John Cheadle, a long-time Federationist, wrote to Jane Williams from Congressman Andy Harris’ staff. Here is how Mr. Cheadle explained the importance of this act and why every Congressman should support this legislation:


Dear Jane:
Our blind son is now 36 years old.  His story of success is a long and arduous one.  Briefly, after struggling through the public school system and enduring poor attitudes on the part of many teachers and administrators, appealing (and prevailing on) IWRP issues, he spent six years achieving his B.A. Degree. All of this in Maryland!   A large issue in the extension of his college experience was his and the University's inability to obtain material in a format he could access.  H.R. 3505 will go a long way in resolving the problems he encountered and prevent similar experiences for blind students in Maryland.  Please encourage Representative Harris to co-sponsor this bill.

I should tell you that we are quite proud of his accomplishments.  After several years of hunting for employment he did enter the high-tech field and has progressed rapidly up the career ladder.  He is now married and has a one year old son.  He works in web-content administration for NBC Digital at Rockefeller Center in New York City.  I believe that if the elements of H.R. 3505 had been in place when he was working his way through the education maelstrom, he would have entered his career field much earlier and therefore would have been a contributing member of society much longer.  Passage of H.R. 3505 will benefit all citizens.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


John A. Cheadle


Will Government by the People Become a Reality in Maryland?

By Sharon Maneki

In President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which he delivered on November 19th 1863, he stated that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Government by the people must include all of the people. Full participation in the voting process has been a challenge for blind persons. Although the general public has been able to vote in secret and independently for centuries, the blind did not gain this opportunity until technology changed in the 21st century. Before technology improvements, blind people had to vote using the assistance of a sighted person, so our ballot was never private. Despite advances in technology, the right of blind persons to have full participation in the voting process is under attack in Maryland.

For more than a decade, the NFBMD has been working with the Maryland Board of Elections to enhance the ability of blind persons to cast a secret ballot independently. We first gained this right in the 2002 election. We have spent the remaining period protecting our voting rights as Maryland officials have tried to make up their mind about the type of voting machines to use in its elections. Throughout discussions in the legislature and at state board of elections meetings, Federationists have been present so that the blind would not be forgotten in the decision making process. Maryland is scheduled to use new voting machines for the 2016 elections, but they are still determining the specific type. We are hopeful that the new voting machines will be accessible so that we may continue to vote independently and in secret.

Maryland recently developed an online ballot marking system to satisfy its obligation to provide timely absentee ballots to individuals serving in the military. The National Federation of the Blind worked with officials to make sure that this system would be accessible. Many members of our affiliate tested and commented on the system. It is a good system and is very accessible.

The new online absentee ballot marking system allows an individual to mark his ballot independently. The voter must print the ballot and mail it to the appropriate board of elections. While we encourage blind persons to go to the polls, there are times when using an absentee ballot is necessary. Many Deaf-Blind individuals are unable to independently use voting machines at the polls because of the lack of Braille displays. Using an absentee online ballot marking tool will enable Deaf-Blind individuals to cast a ballot independently and in secret because they can use their own technology to accomplish the task.

The State Board of Elections refused to allow persons with disabilities to use the online absentee ballot marking system in the June 2014 primary. The National Federation of the Blind sued the Board of Elections for restricting the rights of disabled persons to cast a secret ballot independently. Here is how the Baltimore Sun described the problem:

Advocates for Blind Sue Maryland Election Officials

Group seeks secret absentee voting for disabled in June primary

May 20, 2014|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The National Federation of the Blind has sued Maryland election officials, charging that their April decision not to approve a system that would make it easier for disabled people to cast absentee ballots privately violates federal law.

The Baltimore-based federation filed suit this week asking the U.S. District Court to order the State Board of Elections to provide that technology in time for the June 24 primary election.

"The right to a secret ballot that can be filled out privately and independently is just as important to people with disabilities as it is for other voters," said federation spokesman Chris Danielson.

The board decided April 24 to overrule its professional staff's recommendation that it allow the use of ballot-marking technology, an electronic tool that allows a blind person or someone who doesn't have use of their arms to mark their absentee ballots on their computers before printing them out and sending them in. Special audio systems can help disabled voters who go to the polls, but some blind and other disabled voters say they have had to ask for help in casting an absentee ballot.

Board members were swayed by arguments by some computer scientists and ballot security advocates that the system has shortcomings that would open the door to widespread voter fraud.

The decision outraged advocates for the disabled because they had worked with the elections board staff for months to help develop the technology.

The system the state rejected was not true Internet voting because a paper ballot would still have had to be sent to the board. However, the system would have allowed voters to download blank ballots to their computers and fill them out using programs designed to help them vote. Three Maryland voters with different disabilities joined the federation in bringing the suit and seeking an injunction so they can vote absentee in the primary. They are Melissa Riccobono, who is blind and heads the group's Maryland chapter; Kenneth Capone of Elkridge, who has cerebral palsy and can't use his arms or legs; and Janice Toothman of Bowie, who is blind and has impaired hearing.

The lawsuit charges that the board's decision deprives each of the opportunity to vote "privately and independently." That, the suit says, is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and another federal law.

Linda H. Lamone, the election board administrator and the lead defendant in the case, said she could not comment on the suit.

When the board fell two votes short of the four needed to certify the system, advocates for ballot security were delighted. Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor and founder of its Center for Health and Homeland Security, said at the time that "sanity prevailed." He had warned that if adopted, Maryland's voting system would have been the most subject to fraud in the country."

Cathy Kelleher, president of Election Integrity Maryland, said she hadn't seen the suit but backed the board's refusal to certify the system. "Until it's made safe for everyone's use, there is no reason to rush into this," she said.

Riccobono said she's not willing to wait. "I understand the concerns, but I also understand that everything has some type of risk," she said. "I'm concerned that if we wait until something's completely safe, we're never going to get there."

Riccobono said she had to have friends mark her ballot in the past and hasn't been comfortable with it. "That's my business who I vote for," she said.


Readers should know that the U.S. District Court did not order State officials to allow the ballot marking system to be used in the primary election because the judge needed more information and more time to make his decision.

With the assistance of the NFB, long time Federationist Janice Toothman filed an additional complaint against the Maryland State Board of Elections because of her experience trying to vote in the June primary. Here is how described this complaint:

Blind Voters Suing Elections Board in Hope of Online Ballot

By Glynis Kazanjian July 8, 2014

A blind voter who had a “horrific” experience voting during the primary election has filed a new complaint against the state election board, adding to the list of grievances in a lawsuit initiated by the National Federation of the Blind in May.

One of the original plaintiffs, Janice Toothman, is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for what she says was a bungled voting experience that left her without the ability to vote privately or independently. Toothman, 52, is deaf and blind with a limited ability to hear.

Toothman said in her efforts to vote, she was unable to hear sound in the headset provided by a precinct in Bowie. Election officials offered to read ballot selections to Toothman, but Toothman rejected the offer saying it took away her right to vote in the same way as individuals without disabilities—a right guaranteed through the American for Disabilities Act.

Voting card not properly programmed

Election officials eventually determined Toothman’s voting card was not properly programmed as a “non-visual ballot,” an observation Toothman originally offered. Toothman’s voting card was updated which allowed for sound in the headset, but Toothman said she had difficulty hearing due to background noise in the voting station and the low volume of the head set.

“Ms. Toothman voted based on her occasional ability to hear and recognize candidates’ name,” said Jessica Weber, an attorney with Brown Goldstein and Levy, the law firm representing the plaintiffs. “This is not how Ms. Toothman wishes to vote; she wants to vote privately and independently and with the confidence that she is casting her vote correctly.”

Damages sought to encourage equal opportunity

Weber said one of the purposes of seeking compensatory damages was to prevent situations like this from happening again.

In the court filing, Toothman, and other disabled voters, are suing the State Board of Elections for denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to cast absentee ballots through the use of an online ballot marking tool, a device that is currently available only to overseas and military voters.

Online ballot marking to be discussed at Thursday meeting

The next state board meeting is set for 2 p.m. Thursday  in Annapolis, and blind and disabled voters opposed to the online ballot marking tool are scheduled to address the board.

The state election board failed to certify the device last April so that all voters, including the disabled, could mark their ballots online. An informal voice vote showed the board lacked the four votes out of five needed to certify.

Board members dissented after considering a security assessment conducted on the online ballot marking tool, combined with testimony from some Internet security experts who say the electronic delivery system is still highly vulnerable to fraud. “I think we should do this incrementally,” State Election Board Vice Chairman David McManus, a Republican, said at the April meeting. “I am not convinced the delivery system is safe. If the delivery works in the primary and the general, I could change my mind. The Internet is a very vast complicated system.”

Since the April meeting, the make-up of the board has changed. Democrat Rachel McGuckian, one of the dissenting votes, has since resigned and now serves on the State Ethics Commission. McGuckian was replaced by Janet Owens, the former county executive of Anne Arundel County.

Online ballot marking could be considered for general election

Some voting advocates believe there is a movement to certify the online tool for use in the general election, despite the security concerns of some board members and IT security experts. A supermajority of four votes would still be required.

One of the attorneys representing the National Federation of the Blind is a partner at the law firm Brown Goldstein and Levy, the same law firm that represented State Election Administrator Linda Lamone earlier this year in a lawsuit related to controversial campaign finance guidelines issued by Lamone for the 2014 primary election.

Weber said her firm looked into the potential conflict of interest in suing a former client and determined there was none.

The precedent of using online ballot marking systems in the US already exists. 17 states currently have

absentee online ballot marking systems and there have been no problems concerning security. Four of the 17 allow persons with disabilities to use the absentee online ballot marking system. Maryland will not be breaking new ground or doing anything revolutionary by allowing persons with disabilities to use their online absentee ballot marking system.

Thanks to the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett issued on Sep. 4, 2014, disabled voters will be able to use the online ballot marking system in the November election. It is interesting to note that the ACB of Maryland joined with other parties to oppose use of this system by the disabled. Here is how the Washington Post covered this victory.

U.S. Judge: Md. Must Let Disabled Mark Absentee Ballots Online in Nov. Elections

taken from the September 5th 2014

by Spencer S. Hsu and Jenna R. Johnson September 4

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Maryland to allow disabled voters in November to fill out absentee ballots online before printing and mailing them to election officials.

The National Federation of the Blind and three individuals who are deaf, blind or palsied sued the Maryland State Board of Elections to activate the computer ballot-marking tool, which the board developed with help from the federation.

The tool was available to absentee voters in the state’s 2012 primary elections and to overseas voters that November. However, an improved version that makes it easier for people with disabilities to use the tool was not certified by the election board for use this fall.

The lawsuit was opposed by the American Council of the Blind of Maryland; two organizations that work to promote election security, and; and three individuals, with different disabilities, who say the new software is still not accessible to them and is vulnerable to being hacked.

In a 33-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, sitting in Baltimore, said the board’s decision denied disabled plaintiffs “meaningful access to the State’s absentee ballot voting program as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.”

Bennett wrote that “earlier uses of the tool appear to have been uneventful, and there has been no evidence of security breaches connected to that use.”

In Maryland, anyone can vote by absentee ballot. People who need assistance can submit a form to have someone help them fill out their ballots before they are signed and returned.

The online ballot-marking tool allows disabled voters to use computer technology — such as a mouse or voice-recognition software—to mark ballots privately and independently, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said. About 5 percent of Maryland voters cast absentee ballots, and a fraction of them are disabled.

“This ruling is a victory for Maryland voters with disabilities and puts election officials across the nation on notice that full and equal access to voting includes access to absentee ballots, as well as to the voting equipment used at polling places,” Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind and the husband of one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

But opponents said computer “spyware” could be used to reveal an absentee voter’s choices to a third party. They also said the state election board’s computer server could be hacked while a completed ballot was being prepared for printing, giving the hacker information on a voter’s choices.

Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting, said the tool “recklessly ignores important privacy and security risks. ... Forcing this tool to be available in its current state severely compromises voter privacy and may call the results of Maryland elections into question.”

Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator of the state election board, said the board is reviewing the opinion but will be ready to activate the tool once absentee ballots are sent to voters Sept. 19. “It’s not online voting,” Charlson said. “It’s a way to mark your ballot. It’s a sophisticated pencil.”

David R. Paulson, a spokesman for state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, said the office is reviewing the opinion, and he declined to comment.

The ruling comes as a partisan battle over ballot access rages in many states, with Democrats generally seeking expanded access to protect voters’ rights and Republicans generally seeking limits to protect against voter fraud.

Bennett’s ruling noted that spyware and hacking pose some security risk, but he also said a computer security firm—approved by an outside auditor who was retained by the election board—found the tool to be secure. He wrote that an expert called by plaintiffs testified that the tool posed “no additional risks that did not exist in other methods already available to voters.”

A 2013 state law required the five-member election board to certify the ballot-marking tool by a supermajority, or four-fifths, vote. The board’s three Democrats voted for certification at a July 10 meeting. One Republican, Charles Thomann was absent, and the other, David J. McManus Jr., voted no.

On Thursday, Thomann said he remained uncertain as to how he would have voted, and he deferred to McManus, saying, “I’ll agree with whatever he says.” McManus declined to comment.

A partial survey of states by the election board’s staff found that only Alaska and Delaware were making an online ballot-marking tool available to voters with disabilities this year, the judge wrote, although several states do so for some overseas voters.


On September 22, 2014, the Maryland Attorney General decided to appeal Judge Bennett’s decision. He is asking the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA, to throw out the Judge’s decision for future elections. Disabled voters will be able to use the online ballot marking tool in the November 2014 election. However, the future use of this tool will be determined by the appeals court.

Judge Bennett’s Sep. 4 decision is an important victory for both the blind of Maryland and for the blind of the nation. The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, along with our parent organization the National Federation of the Blind, will continue to press for the removal of barriers to our right to vote independently and in secret. Technology permits full participation in our Democratic government. We will not allow the State to deprive us of full participation. It is time for government by the people to include the blind and become a reality in Maryland.




We are sorry to report the death of Patricia Winebrenner on January 7, 2014. Pat died at the Frostburg Rehabilitation Center after a very long illness. She served as a member of the NFBMD Board of Directors during the 1980s and was the President of the Mountain City chapter. She never let her numerous health problems get in the way of accomplishing her goals.

On March 14, 2014, Allen McGinley died as a result of complications from diabetes. Allen was president of the Appalachian Trail Chapter. He loved to play the guitar and was always willing to offer a helping hand to anyone who needed his assistance. Allen had a great sense of humor and we will miss his friendly spirit.

On April 4, Jearl Conrad lost his long battle with cancer. Jearl was a long-time Federationist who served as President of the Greater Cumberland Chapter for many years. Jearl was employed at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland in Cumberland for more than 20 years. For a time, he also operated a facility in the Business Enterprise Program at the Allegany County government office. Jearl was dedicated and diligent in every task that he performed.

We are sorry to report the sudden death of Sammie Gaillot. Sammie was a member of the Tri-County Chapter. He and longtime Federationist Angela Cummings were married on Valentine’s Day 2014. We will miss his kindness and caring ways.

In early August, we learned of the death of Jerry Brooks after a long illness. Jerry was a pioneer and one of the first blind social workers to be hired by the state of Maryland. Jerry had been a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter and most recently belonged to the Baltimore County chapter. Jerry was a staunch Federationist and we will miss his persistence and perseverance.

May they rest in peace.


Melissa Lomax, President of the MD Association of Blind Students, earned her BA in English from UMBC in December 2013. She plans to attend graduate school. In the meantime, Melissa is one of the coordinators of the youth services programs at BISM.

In December 2013, Courtney Curran obtained a BA in Electronic Media and Film, with an emphasis in radio, from Towson University. Courtney obtained employment at the Social Security Administration, where she works as an insurance specialist.

Janice Toothman, a longtime leader in the Sligo Creek chapter and secretary of the Deaf-Blind division of the National Federation of the Blind, earned an MA in Counseling Psychology in May 2014 from Towson University. She plans to pursue a career in counseling. Read about Her achievements earlier in this issue.

In May 2014, Nathan Clark received his Associates degree from Carroll Community College. Nathan currently attends the Adjustment to Blindness program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. When he completes this program, Nathan will continue to pursue his college studies.

On May 29, 2014, Jason Polansky graduated from Catoctin High School in Thurmont. Jason plans to attend college after he completes the Adjustment to Blindness Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

Wedding Bells

On October 26, 2013, Cheryl Fogel and Beth Hatch were married in Baltimore. They moved from New Mexico in 2012 and joined the Greater Baltimore Chapter. Beth works for the US Department of Defense, and Cheryl is obtaining a Ph.D. in Anthropology from New Mexico State University. Congratulations to these newlyweds!

New Babies

In September 2013, Mary Jo and Jesse Hartle welcomed their second child, Jesse Jr., into the world. Jesse, the dad, is part of our national advocacy and policy team and a strong voice for the blind on Capitol Hill. In addition to raising two active children, Mary Jo and Jesse are active leaders in the affiliate. Mary Jo is the president of our new TLC chapter and Jesse is its secretary.

Jason and Sue Adkins had their second son Noah, in November, 2013. Big brother Jacob and the rest of the family are doing well. Jason is president of the Greater Cumberland chapter.

In March 2014, Melissa and James Treaster started their new family with the birth of their first child Connor. Melissa Burch Treaster was the first president of our Tri-county chapter. Melissa and her family now reside in the Baltimore area and are members of the TLC chapter. Melissa serves as vice President of this chapter.

On July 27, 2014, Nikki and Frankie Tippett became the proud parents of Gavin Tippett. They are rejoicing at the birth of their son. Nikki is the president of the Tri-County chapter.

On August 15th 2014, Meghan Sidhu and Brien West became proud parents of their first Child, Catherine Dhillon. Meghan Sidhu is the General Counsel for the National Federation of The Blind.

Congratulations to the new parents.

First Grandchild

Tracy Hall Hennigan and Clarence Hennigan are proud to announce the birth of their first grandchild. Their granddaughter Ja-Nyahh came in May, and Tracy and Clarence are enjoying their new role. They are both members of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and Tracy serves on the chapter board.


Joe Schissler, a member of the Central Maryland chapter, won first place at the Howard County Fair for his hand-carved wooden table. Joe is also a recent graduate of the BISM SAIL Program. At BISM, one of the things Joe learned was that he could continue his woodworking hobby, even though he no longer has vision. Joe now has a long list of wood-working projects to do.