The Braille Forum, July-August 2012


Volume LI July-August 2012 No. 1
Published by
the American Council of the Blind
The American Council of the Blind strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and to improve quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people.
Mitch Pomerantz, President
Melanie Brunson, Executive Director
Sharon Lovering, Editor
National Office:
2200 Wilson Blvd.
Suite 650
Arlington, VA 22201
(202) 467-5081
fax: (703) 465-5085
Web site:
THE BRAILLE FORUM (TM) is available in braille, large print, half-speed four-track cassette tape, data CD, and via e-mail.  Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for publication should be sent to Sharon Lovering at the address above, or via e-mail to
The American Council of the Blind (TM) is a membership organization made up of more than 70 state and special-interest affiliates.  To join, contact the national office at the number listed above.
Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Attn: Treasurer, ACB, 6300 Shingle Creek Pkwy., Suite 195, Brooklyn Center, MN 55430.  If you wish to remember a relative or friend, the national office has printed cards available for this purpose.  Consider including a gift to ACB in your Last Will and Testament.  If your wishes are complex, call the national office.
To make a contribution to ACB via the Combined Federal Campaign, use this number: 11155.
For the latest in legislative and governmental news, call the "Washington Connection" toll-free at (800) 424-8666, 5 p.m. to midnight Eastern time, or read it online.

Copyright 2012 American Council of the Blind
All content made available in publications, in any media on any web site domains administered by ACB, or as a broadcast or podcast on ACB Radio, archived or not, is considered to be the property of the American Council of the Blind. Those responsible for creative content may allow their materials to appear elsewhere with prior notification to the ACB national office and with appropriate attribution.


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President's Message: Some Thoughts on Independence and Blindness, by Mitch Pomerantz

Knowing that this will be read sometime after July 4th and that everyone has an opinion about what it means to be an "independent blind person," I thought I'd share some of my own notions on the subject.  Before proceeding, let me offer a warning followed by a disclaimer.  The warning is for those of you who believe in absolutes, who feel that there is only one right way to do things as a blind or visually impaired person.  If that's you, then you probably should stop reading at this point to avoid unnecessarily elevating your blood pressure.  I will not take the responsibility.  The disclaimer is that I haven't bothered to seek out a dictionary definition for the word "independence."  When it comes to everyday life, I think I have a pretty intuitive idea of what it means.

Let me begin by quoting from ACB's mission statement: "The American Council of the Blind strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and to improve quality of life for all blind and visually impaired people."  By virtue of where the word independence appears in the mission statement, it is apparent that ACB's founders felt strongly that the most significant goal this fledgling organization could undertake was to work toward a time when we would be able to live our lives free from the need for the charity or interference of others.  In order to obtain that independence, the organization would have to address the pervasive stereotypes which existed (and still exist) toward blind and visually impaired people.  It would need to advocate for our right to an equal education, a fair chance to compete in the job market, and the idea that we could and should make decisions for ourselves about our own lives.  Precisely defining what independence meant likely never crossed the minds of anyone who approved that statement.

For me, as someone who has been virtually blind since the age of 11, I know that my definition of the word has evolved over the decades.  Having been raised as an only child by a mother who was widowed less than a year before my final unsuccessful eye surgery, it shouldn't be surprising that as a teenager, independence was getting out from under a pretty over-protective environment.  Independence meant being able to go somewhere separate and apart from my mother's supervision.  Doing something such as crossing a street, making a purchase at a store, or being with my friends away from home without Mom being around was my idea of being independent.  Ironically, much of what I now believe about living independently came from things she taught me, but that's a discussion for another time.

By the time I graduated from college, I began to realize that it was a challenge to be truly independent without sight.  I did learn some valuable lessons since I didn't have the benefit of disabled student services; I needed to hire my own readers and arrange to take exams with my professors without someone running interference for me.  College is where one is supposed to grow up and that experience, along with all the other good and bad experiences of living on campus, certainly helped teach me what it meant to be an independent blind adult.

These days, with 40 years of experience and hindsight under my belt since those relatively carefree years, I no longer feel as if I have to do everything sighted folks do in order to prove how independent I am.  Having once been in the situation of needing to remove the meat from a rather complicated whole lobster shell in front of a friend and a couple of her clients, and having done so without embarrassing either myself or my friend, I now ask that the kitchen staff shell my lobster before bringing it to the table.  Does that make me more dependent upon sighted help?  Not to me!  I know I could do it if I had to; after all, I did it once.

For as long as I've been paying bills, I've used a sighted reader to assist.  Now that online bill-paying is so prevalent, why don't I stop relying upon sighted help and pay bills electronically?  I could, but I find it more convenient to pay for a friend (who really needs the money) to take care of it with me.  I'm the one who signs each check and balances the checkbook to the penny when the monthly statement comes in.  As a personal aside, I'm a bit paranoid about Internet identity theft by hackers, so will pay bills the old-fashioned way for the foreseeable future.  To some reading this, that probably revokes my "independence card!"

What about independent travel?  As you might guess, I travel a fair amount these days; much of it for ACB, but some (almost always with Donna) for recreation, such as our recent trip to Spain.  As airports have gotten bigger and I've gotten a bit older, I will accept rides in those electric carts, but absolutely refuse wheelchairs.  To me, there is a difference.  Many sighted folks ride the former mode of transport from gate to gate and therefore, I'm willing to hop aboard myself.  A wheelchair is for those who have physical limitations: people who are either unable to walk any distance, or who cannot board a cart which usually requires a step up.

I also choose not to wait in my seat on an aircraft for the "meet-and-assist" I've requested.  I deplane with the other passengers and wait for my escort either in the jetway or in the gate area.  Does this mean that I think less of someone who accepts a wheelchair and/or waits on the aircraft for assistance?  Absolutely not!  Did I always feel this way? Absolutely not!  That's what I meant earlier by stating that my notions about independence have evolved over my adult life.

If we honestly espouse the idea within the American Council of the Blind that there is no one right way to be blind, then we need to be extremely careful about judging how our blind brothers and sisters practice their independence.  Let me make it clear: I do not support those activities which promote stereotypes about us, such as begging.  I would be happier if all of us would cut our own food in public, cross streets without sighted assistance, or clean up after our guide dogs.  However, following my recent illness which, for almost three months, made it nearly impossible for me to cut meat because of the loss of strength in my right arm, I'm a little more tolerant of the limitations of my fellow blind.  Despite our best efforts, most blind people -- particularly those who have become blind as seniors -- will never receive the kind of rehabilitation which they would require in order to do many of those things.  Just like ACB, independence isn't a one-size-fits-all concept, and likely will never be.


July of 2012 will mark a milestone for the blind community in this country.  It is not only conference and convention month, but this year, it will also bring an increase in the number of programs on prime-time television that include video description.  This is the first step in the implementation of the provisions of the Communications and Video Accessibility Act that ACB was instrumental in getting enacted into law.  The information that follows is taken from a public service announcement that was developed for ACB Radio.  It concisely outlines what we can expect as television broadcasters roll out their described programming.  Please read on for the details and as the text indicates, feel free to contact us if you have concerns or questions.

On July 1, 2012, full-power affiliates of the top 4 commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) located in the top 25 television markets must provide 4 hours per week of video-described prime-time and/or children's programming.  On July 1, 2015, such affiliates serving the top 60 markets will provide video description with the same stipulation. 

On July 1, 2012, cable and satellite providers with 50,000 or more subscribers must provide 4 hours per week of video-described prime time and/or children's programming on each of the top 5 national non-broadcast networks.

Currently, the top 5 non-broadcast networks are USA, Disney Channel, TNT, Nickelodeon, and TBS. 

By July 1, 2013, the Commission must initiate an inquiry on video description and report to Congress one year after initiating that inquiry.

Not before 2 years after completing this report, the Commission may increase the requirement by up to 75 percent from 4 to 7 hours per week for televised video programming.

The Commission does not require, but expects that programmers, stations, and systems will provide information to viewers about the availability of video description on certain programs in an accessible manner, including on their websites and with companies that publish television listings information.

Viewers may file complaints with the Commission about a failure to comply with the video description rules by any reasonable means, such as by letter, fax, phone, e-mail, or through the Commission's web portal (

ACB has been very involved in working to restore and increase described TV broadcasts.  For more information, contact the ACB national office at 1-800-424-8666.


As I departed for Madrid, Spain, I really did not quite know what to expect.  While I have traveled abroad extensively, I have never traveled with a group of people.  In addition to that were the usual worries one would experience on the inaugural trip: "How will this trip turn out?  Will people want to go on other ACB/RoadScholar trips?" As the chair of international relations committee, I suppose there was a great deal of anxiety on my part, as I wanted everything to turn out well.  So off I went to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I was quite surprised to learn that on my flight were three other participants of the trip, Oral Miller, Denise Decker, and Margarine Beaman.

The trip really began with our touchdown at Barajas Airport on Sunday morning, April 22, at 7:00.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the fact that the RoadScholar group leader was waiting for us at baggage claim. We were transported by bus to the hotel (Confortel, a hotel owned by ONCE), which was amazing.  There were braille labels everywhere, including on the shampoo and lotions. 

On Monday, April 23, we began with a walking tour from the Puerta Del Sol square to the heart of old Madrid and the Plaza Mayor, a legacy of the Hapsburgs and considered to be the capital's finest piece of architecture.  It was a wonderful way to get a flavor of Madrid.  We also passed the National Palace, which is also a major tourist attraction.  That afternoon, we were able to participate in a hands-on preparation of Spanish cuisine.  The empanadas and paella were truly flavorful.  The facilitator of the cooking demonstration (Gabriella) did an incredible job of describing what she was doing, including passing around some of the cooking utensils. 

Tuesday, April 24 was a highlight.  We visited the headquarters of ONCE, which is the national organization of the blind in Spain.  ONCE is an extremely comprehensive organization.  They provide such services as orientation and mobility, itinerant teachers for children who are blind, braille instruction, as well as the production of braille, employment readiness, cultural events and much, much more.  Speaking of braille production, ONCE has several high-speed braille embossers.  They produce everything from children's books, textbooks, and braille maps to leisure magazines.  With the production of texts and technical manuals, I would like to focus on two aspects.  First of all, they put a great deal of emphasis on children's books.  Not only are they in braille, but they also have wonderful tactile reproductions.  All types of materials are employed for the purpose.  In addition, they are very colorful.  They are really works of art and I for one wish that I had had such books as a child.  In addition to their wonderful children's books are the braille maps.  They produce extremely high quality with accurate representations of such things as rivers and mountains.  However, these maps produced with ease and speed and are very common.  Clearly, there is an emphasis on people who are blind or who have low vision learning such things as geography.  We received some of these maps as gifts.

After the overview was a trip to ONCE's museum.  In this museum, there were extremely accurate and detailed replicas of some of the world's most important monuments, including the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty.  In addition, there were instruments which have been used by musicians who are blind.  The replicas were done so well that I could actually picture these places in my mind.  You could spend a week in this museum and still never get bored. The National Building Museum pales in comparison to this wonderful place. 

Throughout these experiences, we met several representatives from ONCE.  All of them were extremely gracious and did an excellent job of describing ONCE and its various components.

Another memorable experience was visiting ONCE's guide dog foundation.  Here, as previously mentioned, ONCE does everything from breeding dogs to the actual training.  At one point, we were introduced to some puppies.  These puppies were lovable, well fed, and most of all very clean.  We even got to test a guide dog in training; his name was Neptune.  He was quite good.  We went through an obstacle course, and for the first time, I was able to experience using a guide dog.  I think that Neptune will make an incredible guide dog for some lucky handler.

I could really go on for several pages, but I think I'll stop here.  Suffice it to say that it was wonderful.  From the flamenco dancing to the Tunas (troubadours), we received a comprehensive overview of life in Madrid.  The food, while different, was very good (even the gazpacho, which is cold soup).  It was an experience of a lifetime.  I hope that all of you will join the international relations committee on one of our trips in the future.


In October of 2011, a long-held dream of mine came true. I was privileged to visit the birthplace and childhood home of Louis Braille in Coupvray, France. Coupvray is a small town (current population less than 3,000) 28 miles southeast of Paris. It is very near Euro Disney; in fact, the top of Sleeping Beauty's tower is visible from the town. Even though Coupvray is near Paris, it is a quiet town off the beaten path, so to speak, being bypassed by the nearby freeway, the A-4.

Our tour was scheduled for 3:00 p.m., but, due to the unexpectedly heavy traffic around Paris, we arrived 45 minutes late. Thankfully, the guide was gracious enough to allow us to join the tour that was in progress and then to let us participate in the first part of the next tour. The guide was a friendly, middle-aged gentleman who spoke English with a heavy French accent. He was very knowledgeable about Braille, the man and the code. It was apparent that this was not just a job to him, but he spoke of his topic with pride. All the other tourists were French, so the guide delivered his spiel in both languages, speaking a sentence or two in French first, and then repeating what he had just said in English for our benefit.

The Braille home, or La Maison Natale de Louis Braille, as it is known in French, consists of several stories that are staggered at half-floor intervals; in other words, one would enter on the ground floor, then ascend a half-flight of stairs and turn to enter a room, then go back out to the landing and continue up another half-flight of stairs and turn the opposite direction to enter another suite of rooms. It is built into a hillside, so that one can walk out from the second story onto the ground, then walk down the hillside and go around the corner of the house to re-enter on the ground floor. Someone had made a scale model of the home which enabled me to better understand its layout. This model was labeled in braille, French of course. Thankfully, I was able to remember enough of my college French to be able to read the labels!

The guide was very accommodating, allowing me to handle anything I wanted in the museum, except for the original tools that Louis' father had owned. These tools were displayed in a glass case, but replicas of the tools were available for me to touch. Thus I learned what a serpette is, the tool with which Louis Braille had accidentally blinded himself. A serpette is similar to a paring knife, with a wooden handle, but with a slightly curved blade.  The edge of the serpette and its tip are extremely sharp. It is used to trim leather, so you can imagine how sharp it would need to be. Gently touching the finely honed blade, I cringed as I imagined little Louis, at the age of three, accidentally stabbing himself in the eye as he attempted to imitate his father at work. I was also able to touch the elder Braille's workbench, covered with gouges. Monsieur Braille was a harness-maker by trade, and there were harnesses hanging on the walls of the workshop.

In the "common room," I saw some of the family's belongings, such as a cheese-making form, the bread oven, the stone sink that opened into the ground at the back, and the parents' bed, which is built into the wall like a cupboard. There was a bed-warmer that was used to heat the bed on cold winter nights. The floor was paved with terra cotta tiles. The guide showed me the letters made of rounded nail heads hammered into a strip of wood that Louis' father had made in order to teach Louis the print alphabet.

As we were listening to part of the explanation, we heard a crunching sound. My daughter leaned over to me and whispered that it was a cat calmly having his dinner!  Upstairs, there was a display of items that Louis Braille had owned, as well as some old braille artifacts. I was allowed to hold and page through a print book that Louis had owned. "A print book?" you ask. Yes. When Louis was a pupil at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, he was the top student in almost every subject. At the end of each school year the top student in each subject was given a prize, and the prize consisted of a print book! Why print, when the students were blind? Because before Braille had devised his code, the only way blind people could access print was with the use of embossed (or raised) print books. These embossed print books were extremely large and unwieldy and very expensive to produce. The Institute had only a small number of these books. I was able to handle one of them. I was surprised to note that the embossed print was not block letters as I had imagined, but more like italic print. It was very hard to read, and Louis Braille was one of the few students who were able to master the reading of embossed print. Since the books he was given as prizes were published in ink print rather than in embossed print, Braille would have had to have been dependent on someone else to read them to him.

A book embossed in braille dating from the late 19th century was on display, and I was allowed to examine it. The dots were in amazingly good condition and it was very readable, though it was in French. This book contained an early example of a tactile picture. The book was "The Imitation of Christ," and the picture was a monstrance made of raised dots.

I saw a slate and stylus that Louis Braille had devised for writing his code. The stylus was very similar to the styluses we still use today, but the slate was different. It was similar to a board slate. The "board" part was made of metal and had horizontal grooves across it from top to bottom. A metal cross piece containing two rows of cells was moved down the length of this "board" as one wrote. The writing was done from right to left as is done currently. I also saw an early model of a mechanical braille writer. It was very similar to a Perkins brailler, except that it had no backspace key and no new line key. Moving from line to line had to be done by turning the roller knobs. This old braille writer was still operational and I was able to insert paper into it and write with it. 

I also saw an example of the raphigraphe. The raphigraphe is a lesser-known invention of Louis Braille. It is a machine that he invented to enable blind people to communicate with print users.  It used pin pricks on paper to form touchable print letters. Using the raphigraphe was a very slow, cumbersome process, however, which is probably why it did not become popular.

The guide taught us some interesting facts about the original braille code, which was meant for use with the French language, and later adapted for use with almost every language in the world. Louis used dots 4 and 6 as the capital letter sign, rather than the dot 6 that we use today in English Braille American Edition. He did not create contractions as such, but used the signs that are used in English Braille American Edition (EBAE) for the single-cell contractions to indicate the various accented vowels used in the French language. A dot 6 placed before some of these signs were used for the numerals rather than re-using the letters a-j as we do in English braille.

At the conclusion of our tour, we drove down the street to the small church, St. Pierre's, where Louis Braille had been baptized in 1809. We were hoping to locate his grave.  We found a cemetery but there was no sign of his grave there. Regrettably, we had to leave at that point and were not able to look further. I had read that Braille had originally been laid to rest in Coupvray, but that in 1952, on the centennial of his death, the French government had wanted to disinter his body and move it to the Pantheon in Paris. The citizens of Coupvray objected, and a compromise was reached: his hands would be left in Coupvray. It sounds rather grisly, but this solution seemed to satisfy everybody.

If you ever have the opportunity to travel to France, I would encourage you to visit La Maison Natale de Louis Braille. It is well worth the time and effort. I actually would go back there again if I ever had the chance. Visiting his home gave me greater insight into the life of this remarkable man, one of my heroes.  My daughter, son and I rented a car and drove to Coupvray, but it can be accessed by train as well, with an additional taxi ride. I would check first to find out the hours that the museum is open, since they vary according to the seasons.


ACB president Mitch Pomerantz and I, and others too, have written about the value of seizing any opportunity to educate the general public about blindness.  And what better time to start that education than with kids?

I was rushing along a Manhattan sidewalk to a subway station on my way to the monthly meeting of the Transit Riders Council.  I was overtaking what sounded like a bunch of frolicking kindergarteners being herded by one stern adult following behind them.  Obviously noticing me as I passed her, she shouted ahead to her charges commands like, "Watch out!", "Get out of the way!", "Move out of the way.  He's blind", "The man is blind!", and even, "Don't laugh!" and, "It's not nice to laugh at him!"  I immediately wished I had the time and the opportunity to pause and engage those kids positively.  I did try to smile broadly as I forged ahead through the little tykes.

Several hours later I had an opportunity to act on that urge to educate the younger generation.  I was traveling out from my meeting when, as is almost a constant experience in Manhattan, a stranger offered me assistance finding my way.  We were both heading for the shuttle subway under Grand Central Terminal.  I accepted her offer.  As I walked on her side holding her elbow, she mentioned that she had her daughter with her, evidently on her other side.  We boarded the train together.  I submitted to my escort's exhortation to sit while she and her daughter stood alongside in the crowded car.  During the short ride to Times Square I had a golden opportunity to engage the 8-year-old.  I explained how I use my long white cane to detect obstacles in my path and to feel the walking surface.  She accepted my offer to hold the cane, and commented on its light weight.  Then, to her fascination, I demonstrated how it folds up and is held together in that condition by its strap.  Again, she eagerly took hold of it.  Then I explained to mother and daughter, and probably others nearby tuned in by then, about telescoping models and those very large and rigid white canes that stay whole.  The youngster seemed to be enjoying our exchange so much.  I said that I probably should give my cane a name.  She agreed.  When she proposed no name, I asked what she thought of a name like, "Whitey," or maybe, "Straighty."  She vetoed Straighty because, "He doesn't stay straight!"

After we all exited the train, we went our separate ways within the mammoth Times Square Station complex.  As they stepped away, they both called out good-byes, and I waved my cane at them, exclaiming, "Whitey says good-bye too!"


I recently participated in an on-line discussion with several blind people about the way that reality TV shows portray so-called "real people" in general and blind people in particular. This was a heated discussion where people referred to reality show producers as "vultures" and to the content as "sensationalized crap."

Although I'm not a big reality TV fan — I was lost on "Lost," and I would have voted Survivor off the island if I had been given the chance -- I think there is some room for hope about how this medium can be used and even about some of the people who are working to produce its content, and I have some pretty good evidence to back my optimism.

About a year ago, my wife Lisa and I were contacted by a producer of reality TV shows because he was looking for blind parents of sighted children, who use dog guides, and he was referred to us by someone else in the community. He wanted to know if we would like to be featured on a show they were developing to pitch to "a major network."

At the time, Lisa and I were a little tight on money. In addition, we have both been active in the community, have strong feelings about our capabilities as parents and about our love for each other and our kids, and we thought this might be a good opportunity to say something positive to a larger and largely uninformed audience. We also thought it would be fun for us and the kids — something none of us would ever do again, so we decided to see where things might go.

A few days later, I got a fancy digital camera in the mail, and we shot a home video of me talking in front of my office at work, Lisa and me interacting with the kids, and the kids giving a tour of our townhouse. This was incredibly cute, especially when my 5-year-old daughter said, "We love you America!" We ended the home video with Lisa and me sitting on our sofa at the end of the day, drinking a bottle of wine and talking about ourselves, about our relationship with each other, our kids and our philosophies about blindness. We figured it would either seal or kill the deal. From our perspective, we had fun, and we really didn't care what happened from that point on.

We sent the home video in, and a week or two later, I got a call from someone higher up at the same production company. They wanted to send a crew out to shoot the demo that they would actually pitch to the networks. We discussed contracts, and they sent me some non-negotiable appearance releases for signature. At this point, they didn't know I negotiate contracts for a living, and they were probably surprised when I proposed edits, but again, we honestly didn't care what happened, and I figured that a little assertiveness might go a long way toward future negotiations — like on money, should things go that far. In addition to haggling over contract clauses, we again talked a lot about philosophy.  In fact, one of the reasons I pushed them on the contract terms was so that I would have some leverage over content and portrayal. Neither Lisa nor I figured we would be accurately portrayed, and we expected some pity and inspirational BS in the demo, so we wanted to have some leverage to push them to minimize it. I also figured that by negotiating their non-negotiable contracts, I would be sending a message—either one of the capabilities of blind people or one regarding me being a you-know-what. But we got it all done, and a shooting schedule was set for early January.

The weekend of January 9 was one of the most interesting ones in my life. The production crew (which included a producer, a photographer and one production assistant) showed up at 9:30, and we got right to work. We spent the next two very long days shooting and reshooting the same shots — Lisa cooking food and showing off marked cans, me getting dressed for work and talking about the labeling of clothes and ties, me going to work on the bus, me and the kids giving one of the dogs a bath, Lisa shopping with the kids, all of us at a park where we met another blind couple for a picnic, and me getting ready for a work trip. Later, when I was in D.C. for work, we did some follow-up shots of me on a business trip — complete with me falling on my butt on very icy streets after a rare D.C. snowstorm.

From this experience, we learned a couple of key facts about reality TV. First, reality TV is anything but real and simultaneous. We practiced the so-called money shots and lines over and over. We redid spontaneous scene after spontaneous scene — I think I got my son out of bed four times because he kept blowing the scene by staring at the photographer or laughing or both. Second, we learned that these people work very hard. Before they got to us, they were laying out their day, and after they left 12 hours later, they were going through their footage and figuring out what they had and what they still needed to get.

I also must say that the producer was anything but a vulture. Alfonso (that's his name) was very curious and asked tons of questions. He marveled not at the fact that we could do stuff but at how we were able to do stuff, and that's a critical distinction because "Can you?" is very different from "How can you?" He also sent me a note after we were done saying how he appreciated the opportunity to do something positive and encouraging rather than extreme, pitiful or outrageous.

Ultimately, the network did not buy our show, so as per the terms of my negotiated agreement, I got a copy of the demo they gave to the networks. It was about 15 minutes long and extremely well-done. There are not three seconds where there is not some combination of images, text and spoken dialogue going on, and I can honestly say that none of it was exploitive or pathetic. They started with Lisa and me talking about how we met and fell in love. They covered our typical day pretty well. They covered me traveling (including my slip and fall in D.C., which was actually funny in context), and they really made us look capable and interesting, if only for a few minutes. At the end, we appeared like a normal family with very busy lives, who have kids we love, a busy work life and lots going on, but who have to deal with a set of challenges that very few people understand. I'm actually sorry that the network didn't want this show because I think it would have been positive in a non-inspirational sort of way, but Lisa and I both believe that the lack of drama or difficulty in our lives was probably a turn-off to the networks.

And this fact brings me to the real issue. It's not the producers who are vultures. It's our depraved society who would rather hear about a murder, a brutal rape or watch people eat live bugs on an island in order not to be voted off who generate advertising revenues which fund commercial entertainment. In other words, the producers are just producing what the consumers are willing to consume.

Ultimately, we're all responsible for what's on TV, and that includes us blind people. I also think that we blind people need to be open to roles in the entertainment industry because this is the best way for us to get our message and a more accurate portrayal of ourselves out to the larger world.

One more thing: Being the star of your own show (even if no one else watches it) is a lot of work and even more fun, so if you ever get the chance, put your worries aside and go for it. I promise you won't regret it.


The membership committee thanks Kenneth Semien Sr. for hosting this quarter's "membership focus" call and taking notes for this article. Our focus for this call was on special-interest affiliates and how they can help build membership in ACB and ACB state affiliates. Our special-interest affiliates encompass a wide range of professions, hobbies, and aspects of the lives of visually impaired individuals: computer users, social service providers, Randolph-Sheppard vendors, government employees, teachers, attorneys, entrepreneurs, Friends-in-Art, Lions, students, guide dog users, ham radio operators, diabetics, LGBT pride, library users, braille users, veterans, families, seniors, and people with low vision. A list of all affiliates is contained on the affiliate page of the ACB web site: State affiliates are listed first, followed by the special-interest affiliate list. If you click on the link of the affiliate you want to contact, you will find the name of the affiliate's president or membership chair, phone number and/or e-mail address, and web site link if available.

Special-interest affiliates are often the gateway to membership in ACB. One participant said she wanted to meet people with an interest in braille; she was introduced to a member of the Braille Revival League. Another said a number of students joined ACB Students and their state affiliates because of receiving an ACB scholarship. Another participant told about getting involved in the Library Users group when she attended the ACB national convention. She had always loved reading, so she attended some of their functions, which led her to working to make local libraries meet the needs of visually impaired people. Special-interest affiliates are also a great way to make friends with others with similar interests. The professional interest affiliates provide a great opportunity for networking on work-related issues and technology.

One caller explained how she met a woman who wanted a guide dog, which led her to introduce the woman to Guide Dog Users, ACB, and ultimately a local chapter. This new member then got her husband involved. Another member informed people in Arkansas about Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America because they were seeking self-employment. ACB Lions are welcomed at local Lions Clubs, which appreciate keeping informed about ACB and often offering support for members to attend ACB conferences.

Some states have special-interest affiliate chapters. California has eight, Florida has four, Kentucky has two, Missouri has three, Pennsylvania has one, Texas has three, Washington state has one, and several states are considering a student group. It is challenging to keep a student chapter going because they need to find someone to lead it. Once leaders graduate, the process has to begin again. It is helpful if you keep past students as mentors.

Council of Citizens with Low Vision International has found that some people were surprised those with some usable vision were welcomed in ACB. Large-print readers are the largest subscriber group for "The Braille Forum." Others are encouraged to join ACB when they find members who have some functional vision.

ACB Families supports both families with blind children and blind adults with sighted or blind children. Both groups were encouraged to join. Special-interest groups are a testimony showing blindness alone is not the only issue of interest to members. When ACB affiliates advocate for Randolph-Sheppard issues, it will help Randolph-Sheppard Vendors of America grow.

Special-interest affiliates have a variety of communication methods to keep members involved throughout the year. Some have monthly or quarterly conference calls. E-mail discussion lists are a more informal way of sharing ideas and issues. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are communication methods used more recently. An active moderator is important for maintaining discussion. Kentucky has a monthly conference call for guide dog users and tries to have an in-person activity every month. States with special-interest chapters meet during state conventions. Most special-interest affiliates publish newsletters during the year. Library Users distributes a newsletter twice a year. Online discussion groups and Facebook discussion groups sharing topics of interest are good methods of sharing information. Washington is starting discussion groups on topics such as "All things i" focusing on the iPhone and iPad, a student group, and a young adult group (because all students are not young adults and all young adults are not students). These ideas will be used to recruit and retain members as well as meet the needs of any blind person needing support. Membership is not required to be a part of these activities. Members at large can become involved in discussion groups.

A chapter in Texas has implemented a new dues option to reduce the work involved in retaining members for the upcoming year and reduce time collecting as many dues every year. If they pay three years worth of dues, they get a reduced rate for the second and third years, because they only pay for their state and national dues. In California, the special-interest groups pay a flat rate of $50 into the state as long as they have a minimum of 10 members.

It is important to keep members involved so they have a personal reason to belong. One of the benefits of having diverse age and interest groups as part of your affiliate is to prevent cliques. Leaders should work to create an environment of fairness and inclusion throughout the group. It is imperative to identify the skills and abilities of each member when they first join in order to get them involved.

Please join our next ACB "Membership Focus" call on Aug. 27 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern/5:30 p.m. Pacific. The topic will be "Identifying and mentoring committee members for your affiliate." The call-in number is (712) 775-7000 and the passcode is 640009.


One of the most significant challenges currently facing most, if not all, of ACB's state and special-interest affiliates is the need for effective succession planning.  Unfortunately, this challenge is too often ignored or deferred due to the press of more immediate business, but failure to successfully meet this challenge can threaten an affiliate's very existence.  For this reason, I firmly believe that every affiliate needs to develop a succession plan and to then see that it receives the resources necessary to assure that it can achieve its goal of delivering the next group of affiliate leaders.

In broad terms, the two core components of any effective succession planning strategy are "stewardship" and "mentoring."  The current leaders of your affiliate, whether serving in elected or appointed positions, are its stewards.  They carry out their duties and responsibilities for the benefit of the organization.  Now, my point here is not to merely state that which should be patently obvious, but, in the specific context of this discussion, to stress that the members of your current leadership cadre need to keep this perspective ever-present in their minds, particularly with respect to the management of critical organizational functions.  Simply put, those responsible for handling these functions can sometimes adopt an attitude of "ownership" rather than "stewardship," especially in cases where they have been doing so for many years.  This is a natural enough tendency, and, insofar as it tends to assure that such responsibilities are carried out conscientiously, this is a positive thing, but this "territorial" perspective can create problems when it comes time to relinquish the duties to someone new.  In order to promote a sense of "stewardship" in these instances, I believe that an affiliate board should take an active role in establishing some uniform practices and procedures for the administration of critical organizational functions.  This also creates continuity and regularity, particularly with respect to record-keeping.  For example, it avoids the scenario whereby financial statements from different time periods are in such different formats that meaningful comparisons between fiscal years becomes difficult or impossible.

Having thus established a healthy degree of procedural continuity, the next step in your succession plan is to effectively mentor the upcoming generation of affiliate leaders.  Presumably, the membership can readily achieve a consensus in spotting those with clear leadership potential; i.e., those who have a true dedication to the mission of your affiliate and who likewise have the talents and skills to make meaningful contributions to the organization.  Once these individuals have been identified, the next step is to cultivate their particular talents and to assist them in developing their skills.  In the business world context, we've all heard the expression: "grooming one's successor."  Well, the same dynamic obtains in the case of much smaller organizations, and perhaps especially so where critical responsibilities are handled by volunteers as opposed to paid staff.  Do you have a member who's adept at writing and who has a particular affinity for recording events?  Why not have your current secretary let him or her prepare the next set of draft board minutes? Do you have a member who's a whiz at number-crunching?  Why not have that person sit down with your current treasurer when the next quarterly financial statement is prepared?

Future competent leadership in any organization doesn't happen by magic, and it doesn't happen by accident.  It happens when regular organizational practices and procedures are established, and when those with acknowledged leadership potential are effectively groomed to assume the roles uniquely suited to their temperaments, talents, and abilities.


Tennessee Convention in Nashville

The Tennessee Council of the Blind will hold its 76th annual state convention in Nashville Aug. 24-26.  We will have interesting speakers, great food and plenty of southern hospitality.  There will also be a panel of employed blind people talking about how they do their jobs, and a presentation on independence and how to plan for the future.  And don't forget about Friday night's fun and games, Saturday night's awards banquet, and the auction both nights.

We'd love to have you come and join us.  If you're interested, contact Brenda or Dan Dillon at (615) 874-1223 or e-mail, and we'll e-mail you a convention letter with all the details.

HERE AND THERE edited by Sue Lichtenfels

The announcement of products and services in this column does not represent an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its officers, or staff. Listings are free of charge for the benefit of our readers.  "The Braille Forum" cannot be held responsible for the reliability of the products and services mentioned.  To submit items for this column, send a message to, or phone the national office at 1-800-424-8666, and leave a message in Sharon Lovering's mailbox.  Information must be received at least two months ahead of publication date.


Organizers with the Georgia Guide Dog Users group are planning the 2013 Top Dog conference for Jan. 11-13, 2013. The Holiday Inn Express Gateway Conference Center, located in Savannah, Ga., will host the weekend's events, which will include workshops, exhibits, and an optional city tour. Got suggestions for the program?  Send an e-mail to Room rates are $89 plus tax, and include a hot breakfast each day. In addition to the conference weekend, the hotel will offer this special rate three nights prior to and three nights following the conference. To make your reservations, call (912) 925-2700 and use group code GGD or Georgia Guide Dog Users. Conference registration materials are expected to be online in August 2012.


Serotek now offers six natural-sounding Ivona text-to-speech voices which can be used for reading books, email, and browsing the Internet.  To hear a sample of the six voices, visit  Serotek users can try each of the voices by visiting the "my account" section in the Serotek software and then pressing Modifier+F, followed by the letter A. The Ivona voices are compatible with System Access, the SAMobile Network, and DocuScan Plus. For more information, contact Serotek by e-mail,, or by phone, (612) 246-4818.


Pebble-Mini is the newest handheld portable electronic magnifier from Enhanced Vision. Features of this device include: magnification from 2x to 10x; weighs less than 4 ounces; 3-inch high resolution LCD display; 28 viewing modes; freeze image with capability to magnify; image capture with save and recall; upload stored images to PC; and more. For more information, call 1-888-811-3161 or visit


Creative Mobile Technologies has created new adaptive software which makes the electronic payment systems in all of New York City’s yellow medallion taxicabs accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired. With the swipe of a special card, the disabled passenger can hear audible indicators as the fare tallies during the trip and verbal instructions and announcements when processing payment, whether with a credit card or cash, including the option for tipping the driver. The system can also be activated by the driver upon request without the special card. CMT anticipates the software will soon be installed in more than 4,500 taxis around the country including in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Anaheim, Detroit, Kansas City, Columbus and Charlotte.  CMT and Lighthouse International will issue blind and visually impaired individuals the special card, compatible with any CMT taxi nationwide.


The Whitney Museum of American Art, located in New York City, showcases 20th century and contemporary art, with a focus on living artists. The Whitney now offers Verbal Description and Touch Tours for visitors who are visually impaired. The 90-minute tours are held monthly or upon request with three weeks notice. Tours are led by a museum educator trained to provide vivid, detailed description of the works on display. Several works are also available to be experienced through touch. Tours are free, but reservations are required. Contact the Whitney for future tour dates or to be added to its mailing list by e-mailing or by calling (212) 570-7789.


Connie Hoffman Ellis has written a book about her brother, Rory Hoffman, who is a successful and talented multi-instrumentalist living in Nashville. "Rory's Story" tells about this blind musician's childhood and how he developed his interest in the many musical styles and instruments that he plays. More information about Rory's award-winning career, this book and his music CDs can be found at


This past April, Regal Entertainment Group began a nationwide effort to equip all of its digitized movie theatres with Sony Entertainment Access Glasses to enhance the movie experience for people who are hearing impaired or visually impaired. Patrons who are hearing impaired will wear these lightweight glasses, which can be programmed to display the closed captioning through the lenses. This will allow these individuals to view both the movie and the closed captioning at the same time. For patrons who are visually impaired, the glasses will be paired with a headset that will provide the descriptive audio track. The technology installation should be complete by early 2013. For more information about the Sony Entertainment Access Glasses, visit


Deon Bradley offers free one-on-one life coaching sessions by phone to members of ACB. Deon is legally blind and feels his personal experiences and professional skills may be able to assist others with limited vision. Examples of what he might discuss with you include: the loss of independence, the difficulty of communicating with others about your situation and needs, or trying to figure out how you can achieve your career and life goals despite this challenge. Additional information about Deon is available at He can be reached directly at (704) 604-8244 or


Christine Chaikin's company has changed its name to Insightful Publications. The new web site is and the new e-mail address is


In the fall of 2010, the Nigerian Association of the Blind, Kano State Chapter, established the first independently run training center for adults who have lost their sight. The school provides free instruction in braille reading and writing, math, orientation and mobility, techniques of daily living, and information and communication technology. A staff of 10 visually impaired instructors and five sighted assistants serve 100 students. Due to the limited budget, the school seeks the donation of blindness aids, including: braille slates and styluses, 44- to 54-inch long collapsible white canes, abacuses, talking calculators, 2-track cassette recorders, 2-track cassette tapes, braille watches, and computers with speech software. Items can be sent to: Nigerian Association of the Blind, Kano State Chapter, PO Box 5426, Kano, Kano State 700001, Nigeria. For questions, contact Ibrahim Umar Abdulkarim by calling 234-802-842-0865 or 234-803-657-1820, or via e-mail,


Christina Hanley seeks donations of braille textbooks for students ages 3-10. In particular, she would like books geared for math and English as a second language (ESL). The books will be given to the 150 students at the Mekele Blind School located in northern Ethiopia. Because the school only goes to grade 8, and 99 percent of the students do not have accommodations necessary for high school, Christina hopes to provide as much knowledge to them while at the school. Contact Christina at (860) 542-5851. Additional information about the school and its needs are posted at


Climb aboard the Dreamweaver chat line train and make friends from everywhere.  Enjoy great conferences, contests, conversations, technology, dogs, schools, recipes, Bible studies, informational discussions for the blind, games and more.  Leave your cares and worries at the door.  Call Dreamweaver at (712) 432-4807.


Casey Harper has started a home-based business called MultiTopic Resourcing, which provides teleconferences on subjects including products and services for individuals with vision loss and their families, career development, basic computer typing, and other skills.  She currently has a book in the copyright stages that addresses these topics. Contact Casey via e-mail to learn more,


Amin Akbari Azirani is a 17-year-old who has started his own social networking site. is similar to Facebook or Twitter with two major differences. First, whatever you write and share, regardless of the language, will be translated to the language chosen by the individuals on your friends list. Second, every translated text is read out loud so people who are blind can enjoy the site. currently has over 5,000 users.


Blindspace is a free social network web site for those who are blind or visually impaired. The site includes private messaging, forums, and more. It also offers a telephone-based conference system for those who don't have a computer or Internet access, or who want an alternate way to communicate with others. The network provides 24-hour phone and e-mail support. Register for this service by visiting


Jordan Gallacher has created a Google group discussion list for blind and visually impaired individuals interested in flight simulators. To join this group, send a blank e-mail to


  • FOR SALE: Braille Plus Mobile Manager in good working condition, with owner's manual, extra cables and Executive Products case.  Asking $750 or best offer, including shipping. Contact Steve Bauer at (316) 882-7561 or via e-mail,
  • FOR SALE: Brand-new Toshiba with Windows XP Professional, 250-gig hard drive, 3 gigs RAM, JAWS and ZoomText.  Asking $550.  Desktop computer with Windows 7 Home Premium, 2-terrabyte hard drive, 3 gigs RAM, and JAWS.  Asking $650.  Sony four-track tape recorder.  Asking $75.  Contact Jose at (818) 220-6256.
  • FOR SALE: VersaPoint braille printer.  Asking $500 or best offer.  Optacon 2.  Asking $500 or best offer.  Call Jane at (816) 505-1227 or e-mail
  • FOR SALE: PenFriend Audio Labeler, never used, still in its box.  Asking $100.  Contact Audrey at (212) 614-8764, or by e-mail,
  • FOR SALE: Optelec Clearview 500 color CCTV.  In perfect condition.  Comes with the cables.  Hooks up to any size TV.  Asking $600 or best offer.  Contact Jimmy Giles at (703) 229-3441.
  • FOR SALE: Portable Flipper CCTV with 12" monitor.  Five years old, barely used.  Comes with battery pack, backpack, all cords, instruction manual, and 12" monitor.  Asking $600.  Contact David at (318) 560-8233.
  • FOR SALE: Two Perkins braillers.  Asking $200 each.  Victor Reader.  Asking $224.  Freedom Scientific Braille Lite M20.  Asking $450.  Nokia cordless pocket keyboard.  Asking $34.  HP 5400 scanner.  Asking $43. Aladdin Telesensory Xerox Strategic Partner. $425 or best offer. Brand new games/toys with brailled pieces.  Dominoes and board, $23.  Chess pieces and board, $34. Checkers, $15.  Braille playing cards, two packs, asking $5 each pack.  3* sounded table tennis balls and paddles, $15.  Monopoly board, $10. Contact June Galloway,, or by phone, (202) 882-3816.
  • WANTED: External keyboard for the Romeo B-40 braille printer.  Contact Mohammed Aziz at (858) 578-5458 or e-mail
  • WANTED: Someone who writes JAWS scripts for a program called Serato.  If interested, call Victor at (917) 559-3800 or e-mail



Mitch Pomerantz (final term, 2013)
1115 Cordova St. #402
Pasadena, CA 91106


Kim Charlson (final term, 2013)
57 Grandview Ave.
Watertown, MA 02472


Brenda Dillon (final term, 2013)
313 Overridge Cove
Hermitage, TN 37076


Marlaina Lieberg (final term, 2013)
15100 6th Ave. SW, Unit 728
Burien, WA 98166


Carla Ruschival (1st term, 2013)
148 Vernon Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206


Christopher Gray (final term, 2013)
5568 Waterman Blvd., Unit 2W
St. Louis, MO 63112


Ray Campbell, Glen Ellyn, IL (final term, 2014)
Berl Colley, Lacey, WA (1st term, 2012)
Janet Dickelman, St. Paul, MN (1st term, 2014)
Marsha Farrow, Summerville, GA (1st term, 2012)
Michael Garrett, Missouri City, TX (1st term, 2012)
George Holliday, Philadelphia, PA (1st term, 2014)
Billie Jean Keith, Arlington, VA (final term, 2012)
Allan Peterson, Horace, ND (1st term, 2014)
Jeff Thom, Sacramento, CA (final term, 2014)
David Trott, Talladega, AL (final term, 2012)
Ex Officio: Judy Jackson, Austin, TX


Paul Edwards, Chairman, Miami, FL (final term, 2013)
Nolan Crabb, Hilliard, OH (1st term, 2013)
Marcia Dresser, Reading, MA (2nd term, 2012)
Judy Jackson, Austin, TX (2nd term, 2012)
Ken Stewart, Warwick, NY (final term, 2012)
Ex Officios: Ron Milliman, Bowling Green, KY
Bob Hachey, Waltham, MA