Braille Forum
Volume XLII July-August 2003 No. 1
Published By
The American Council of the Blind
Christopher Gray, President
Charles H. Crawford, Executive Director
Penny Reeder, Editor
Sharon Lovering, Editorial Assistant
National Office:
1155 15th St. NW
Suite 1004
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 467-5081
Fax: (202) 467-5085
Web Site:

THE BRAILLE FORUM is available in braille, large print, half- speed four-track cassette tape, computer disk and via e-mail. Subscription requests, address changes, and items intended for publication should be sent to:
Penny Reeder,
1155 15th St. NW,
Suite 1004,
Washington, DC 20005,
or via e-mail.
E-mail the Editor of the Braille Forum
Submission deadlines are the first of the month.

The American Council of the Blind is a membership organization made up of more than 70 state and special-interest affiliates. To join, visit the ACB website and complete an application form, or contact the national office at the number listed above.

Those much-needed contributions, which are tax-deductible, can be sent to Ardis Bazyn at the above mailing address. If you wish to remember a relative or friend by sharing in the council's continuing work, the national office makes printed cards available to acknowledge contributions made by loved ones in memory of deceased friends or relatives.

Anyone wishing to remember the American Council of the Blind in his/her Last Will and Testament may do so by including a special paragraph for that purpose. If your wishes are complex, contact the ACB National Office.

To make a contribution to ACB via the Combined Federal Campaign, use this number: 2802.

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 visit the Washington Connection online.

Copyright 2003
American Council of the Blind


Summer Pleasures, by Penny Reeder
President's Message: A Glimpse of History, by Christopher Gray
A Great Story Is Told about Each One of Us, by Charles H. Crawford
Focus on Membership Recruitment and Retention, compiled by Ardis Bazyn
Letters to the Editor
Expectation and Empowerment: Part 1: In the Beginning, by Paul Edwards
The Panda Project, by Ann Edie
My Adventure in Mexico, by Larry P. Johnson
Affordable Housing, by Edward Zolotarevsky
Here and There, by Sharon Lovering
High Tech Swap Shop

by Penny Reeder

As we go to press with the summer issue of "The Braille Forum," our minds are on the rapidly approaching convention in Pittsburgh, with "press room" volunteers to recruit, our convention photographer to brief, reports to compile, and equipment to accumulate. Yet we know that once the convention is over, summer will be full upon us. We are hoping that, by then, the ceaseless rains of this year's mid-Atlantic spring will have been replaced by the sweet scents of blooming flowers, the delicious sweetness and tang of sun-ripened tomatoes, weekend or longer getaways on the shores of oceans, lakes, and ponds -- and the prospect of indulging again in the pleasures of summer reading.

No matter where your interests lie, we believe our collection of articles and stories offers a companionable respite from wintertime cares and workaday woes. Several articles are long enough to savor throughout an indulgent summer afternoon in a shady hammock or on a sun-warmed beach towel. With thanks to our authors and anticipation of summertime leisure, we wish you two glorious months of enjoyment and reading pleasure. We'll see you in September.


Our correction in the April issue regarding AudioVision Canada was incorrect. According to Rob Trimbee, manager of AudioVision Canada, the company ships to both U.S. and Canadian addresses; you can order from either Canada, (800) 567-6755 ext. 228, or California, (818) 757-2200.

by Christopher Gray

In last month's column, I wrote you about the forthcoming publication of "People of Vision: A History of the American Council of the Blind," and about a gala celebrating the completion of the manuscript. Pre-release books are planned for distribution to conventioneers. In the fall, we hope to be ready for the actual release of this title.

Many have inquired about ACB's plans to make this book accessible to the membership. As this article goes to press, final galleys are in transit to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Director Cylke graciously agreed several years ago to make the ACB history a part of the NLS collection and available on tape and in braille through the nationwide NLS regional library system. It is my hope that we can release the print book and at least one accessible version of the book simultaneously. There are doubtless other possibilities and avenues that the ACB history committee can now consider regarding making this book available to ACB members. Watch the pages of "The Braille Forum" for details in future issues.

For now, here is a brief look and the essence of what this book is, and how it is presented. From the excerpts below, you will see that our history is a book of fact, told with dignity and filled with thought and ideas which formed our movement and make our organization what it is today. Also, the book pays tribute and is dedicated to Durward McDaniel, almost certainly ACB's single most powerful founding member. Here, then, are the book dedication page and page of introduction by the authors, James and Marjorie Megivern. I hope this will provide you with a sense of this book and whet your appetite for the whole story in the fall.

To Durward K. McDaniel

For his indefatigable belief in people; For his boundless organizational energy and faith; For his championing of the disenfranchised; and For his unshakable belief in the redemption and reinclusion of any blind person into the ACB community, no matter what their offense or motive, no matter what the momentary effect of their action.

If it were not for him and these special qualities he brought to the organizational work of the blind, it is highly unlikely that there would be an ACB today. May we honor him by striving to live up to his high ideals, his integrity, his commitment, and values.

Chris Gray, President,
American Council of the Blind


The chief purpose of the present work is to tell the story of the origins and activities of the American Council of the Blind, surveying its first 40 years of existence (1961-2001). That story, however, is a segment of the broader history of the experience of blind people in modern Western society. Thus we begin with a brief sketch of some of the more important prior developments in Europe that opened a new era for blind people and before long greatly influenced developments in the United States. We cannot do full justice to all the remarkable individuals and groups that paved the way in working tirelessly for the improvement of the overall condition of blind people, but we can at least identify some of the more noteworthy leaders, some of their more important ideas, and some of the crucial events that were real highlights and milestones in Western social history. Our basic plan is to proceed chronologically, singling out developments of the last three centuries that led to the opening of an entirely new era, the era Berthold Lowenfeld aptly dubbed the "third age" in the history of blindness. 1 (Berthold Lowenfeld, The Changing Status of the Blind {Charles C. Thomas, 1977}. See also Lowenfeld, On Blindness and Blind People: Selected Papers {AFB, 1981}.)

Within that context we shall see the emergence of a pioneer organization, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in 1940, which for more than a dozen years struggled to blaze an unprecedented trail of "the blind leading the blind" to new independence, taking direct action to get the nation to adopt more responsible legislation that would bring a more mature public attitude toward the rights of blind people. An undeniably impressive series of advances were made in this regard by a remarkable handful of talented leaders who joined hands in moving this enterprise forward. In the mid-1950s, however, internal problems began to arise, and despite some noteworthy efforts to deal with them rationally, the situation continued to deteriorate until it ended in a division, resulting in the formation of a second national organization, the American Council of the Blind (ACB). The intensity of the emotions that marked this conflict, often referred to as a "civil war" in the blind community, underlined how important it had become to have an effective national organization in the years after World War II when American society was rapidly changing in fundamental ways. So much was at stake that arguments over policies, values, and leadership styles were inevitable. Whether the split into two rival organizations -- the NFB and the ACB -- could have been avoided, and whether it would have been better for blind people if the conflict and division had not occurred, is as debatable today as it was 40 years ago.

The story holds special fascination for anyone interested in the dynamics of human organizational theory, corporate growth, and harmonious development. The underlying principles and basic philosophical issues at stake guarantee that the conversation will continue and that there will inevitably be very different interpretations of what happened, depending on how much information is actually made available, and how interested the younger generation is in wanting to know what happened.

One fact that is beyond dispute is that much of what transpired has hitherto not been made part of the public record for reasons that will emerge as the story unfolds.

The NFB bears the indelible impress of Kenneth Jernigan, who died in 1998. The ACB carries the democratic legacy of Durward McDaniel, who died in 1994. The future of both organizations is to some degree open, as current leadership has to decide how to respond to the challenges of the new millennium. Both optimists and pessimists can find grounds for very different assessments of what the future of the organizations is likely to be, but all should certainly be able to agree that it is time for honest reassessment. The documents and details offered herein should help in opening the way to a more accurate understanding of how the organizations came to be, and what the original spirit, ideals, and principles were. Until fuller archives are open to future historians, this will have to serve as an initial account of the beginnings of the American Council of the Blind, brought into being by a handful of remarkable "People of Vision."

by Charles H. Crawford

Today I write with sweeping anticipation of something as plain as the sky above us and as mysterious as the universe that lies behind it. In many ways I feel as if I am entirely unworthy to compose a true testimony to this subject, yet it is my privilege and honor to do so; I write of the final publication of the history of the American Council of the Blind.

Soon the story of our movement and the people who shaped it will be available to blind and sighted people everywhere. Each page will rekindle the embers of hope and longing of our founders for a place where all blind people are valued for who we are and not for what others through social prejudice or philosophical arrogance would have us be.

Surely the book is a story of leaders and the values that kept them centered on the task of serving the people. Yet it is more the story of our people whose direction to our leaders came from their everyday experience of living as blind people across the land. A leadership and an organization fueled by the aspirations of blind people everywhere born from our hope and washed clean by our tears.

The ACB history probably won't become a national best seller, yet it is a book to be read and treasured by every blind person. It is as much a story of each of us as it is of our organization. While the book is, indeed, our story, it also summons the magnificent spirit of every person and points to a future where all blind people can build their lives on a solid foundation that underlies every word in the book; our belief in one another and the plentiful harvest for all people that comes from a pure seed planted in the firm ground of human affirmation and nourished in a democracy that understands the greatest symphony comes from the contribution of every instrument.

Thank you to those who researched and wrote the history. Thank you to the leaders who have given us the gifts of your talents and sacrifices in the service of our dreams. And thank you to every member who has allowed all of us to share in your hopes, struggles and successes as we continue to write the next chapter of our history with every new dawn.

Compiled by Ardis Bazyn

Several questions were posed to participants in the recent Membership Recruitment and Retention Seminar, sponsored by the ACB Membership Committee, at the mid-year Presidents' Meetings in February 2003. This article is an attempt to summarize all the information and good ideas which emerged from those discussions. Perhaps your affiliate is concerned about recruiting new members or retaining those members who sometimes fade away after the summer picnic or December holiday party. You will find that others share your concerns, and you will also find that many affiliates have developed some very transferable strategies for recruiting new members and hanging onto existing ones.

As the meeting room in Pittsburgh came alive with shared concerns and excitement about strategies that seem to have worked for many affiliates, I was gratified to hear more positives being expressed than negatives! I hope that this compilation of the many discussions which took place all over our meeting room will be helpful to all ACB affiliates as we endeavor to grow. After all, our members are our most valuable asset. What are your affiliate's greatest challenges in membership building and retention?

When this question was posed, answers like these were forthcoming from every corner of the room:

Many of our members are older and dying, leaving fewer members in the chapters. Retaining younger members is difficult when affiliates contain predominantly older members because of the intergenerational conflicts that can arise.

For many affiliates, competition with local NFB chapters is a struggle.

Many older adults who are blind don't want to admit they are blind, so it can be tricky to try to recruit them into an organization which identifies itself -- proudly -- as "blind."

The fact that only about 20 percent of our members are actually active -- while the other 80 percent reap the benefits of the work of few -- can lead to resentment. Dissension between chapters about who should do what and which projects have priority can discourage people from attending regularly.

Finding the right people to do all the necessary jobs can be difficult. Motivating members to participate and promoting cooperation between members on projects can make progress toward achieving goals seem slow.

Transportation and geography constitute big challenges. Special-interest affiliates can have a harder time recruiting members because of the long distances over which people may be spread out. A feeling of isolation in rural areas can create a lack of interest, and it can be difficult even for the most interested members to travel to state or national ACB conventions.

Sometimes new members don't understand the real purpose of the organization. More people need to be exposed to the national organization to truly understand our broad focus. Finding members, interesting them in the group, getting them to meetings, and then keeping them coming are all necessary aspects of membership recruitment and retention. What have your greatest successes as an affiliate been?

Providing various incentives seems to be an effective way to build membership. One chapter conducted a membership drive during which they collected free dinner coupons or certificates as rewards for members based on a point system. They kept a record of visitors and the member who invited them. Extra points were added if a visitor became a new member.

Several states dispense "opportunity grants" and scholarships. Instead of sending a check to the individuals who are awarded grants or win scholarships, one affiliate explained that they send out gift certificates so that a grant or scholarship recipient will know where the money actually came from.

Some affiliates provide grants for new chapters to spur more growth.

One affiliate allows members to take turns having first choice to ride free on an activity bus. Other affiliates give discounts to members for specific activities or products. Some affiliates offer discounts to members who join for multiple years; this strategy offers the bonus of encouraging members to remain actively involved.

A suggestion to encourage timely dues payments is to offer a discount for renewing early in a new year. What strategies work for recruiting students?

Offering a variety of recreational activities draws new and younger members. Relevant programs might be designed for each age group, particularly students. A mentoring program can keep students involved with the group as well. Grant funding might be sought for funding such a mentoring program.

Some affiliates encourage students to join by giving a free initial membership. Inviting students to participate at state conventions and giving discounts or free tickets to particularly appealing events works as well.

All of these suggestions were offered as tried and true techniques for raising an affiliates profile and visibility in the community: Improve your image by becoming more involved in community activities, political networks, advisory boards, and other membership or business organizations. Go to malls and fairs to distribute information about your organization. Supply press releases about successful vendors, special events, or other items of interest to your local news media. Highlighting affiliate successes by using local tag lines in press releases can focus more attention on your group. Send names of members to local speakers' bureaus. Conduct interesting seminars in your local area that can attract new people.

Send brochures to all rehab centers and independent living centers in the state. One chapter talked to a local paratransit company about how their group could help blind and visually impaired people to cope with blindness, and now the agency is actively sending possible members their way.

Invite parents of blind children to your monthly meetings. Families of blind members should be encouraged to participate in a chapter's activities.

Older adults may be recruited through senior centers, optometrist and ophthalmologist offices, and blind support groups which affiliates can sponsor and help to run.

Many chapters invite local Lions Clubs to send a representative to their meetings. Blind Lions can distribute a chapter's brochures or other materials at their Lions Club meetings, and sometimes, Lions Clubs help by funding or providing materials in alternate formats. Lions also drive for some groups in rural areas and are a good organization for members to join for possible networking with other members of their community. E-Squared: Educate and Entertain!

Eat and meet meetings allow more networking opportunities while allowing enough time for programs and necessary business to be accomplished. Programs, social events, and services should be arranged to keep the maximum amount of people involved. Chapter meetings present the perfect opportunity to educate members about community resources, as well as special-interest affiliates.

Some chapters invite vendors that sell aids, appliances, and the technologies that blind people use. One chapter has purchased a cabinet to sell blindness-related products and distributes brochures to those interested in learning more about them.

One state affiliate offered this advice: "Be frisky and energetic about your group. Offer more services: 800 numbers, DVS movie rentals, or a dial-in news service, and a directory of resources."

Starting state chapters of special-interest affiliates is a good way to attract and involve new members.

Help people feel welcome at your monthly meetings and social activities. It is important to break the closed circle. Help each person feel valuable. Letting people talk about their personal experiences with various health-related treatments or therapies can heighten their sense of self-worth. And those 50/50 drawings at monthly meetings are fun and an easy way to spark excitement, and accumulate funding for further outreach and growth.

Each past president should mentor a newly elected president through the initial process. This will improve the comfort level of the whole chapter.

More communication keeps chapters together. Newsletters, listservs, chat lines, and web sites are helpful for those who use computers. Phone calls to members who don't attend regularly might encourage more attendance. Members as well as non-members should be included on regular call or phone-tree lists until they ask to be taken off them. Send out reminder letters. Call friends of friends. Member get a member campaigns can be very successful because of the personalized contacts. Newsletters in alternate format and phone trees are positive ways to keep members, and friendly personal contact is even more effective. What Can ACB Do to Help You Become More Successful?

There was lots of advice for the national organization, including: State presidents find it helpful when they are sent names of people from their state who sign up for a membership on the ACB web site. Any membership application on-line needs to state what the affiliate membership dues are. Also, there should be a way to accumulate the names of people who call their state affiliate or the national office to ask for specific information. All presidents appreciate as much information about legislative issues as possible. The paper written about the 13 principles of good rehabilitation services should be more widely distributed. More communication about all the resources which are available from ACB, including what is available on-line for downloading, should be provided regularly for new officers and members.

Disseminating more local press releases throughout all the state affiliates would be beneficial. More distribution of these releases to local papers would be appreciated as well.

It was suggested that the national office should communicate yearly membership comparison data to affiliates -- after the membership lists have been processed. Then affiliate and chapter presidents or membership chairs can call people who have not rejoined. Some asked if lists of members might be sent earlier, or whether it might be possible for an affiliate representative to work, over the phone, with an ACB staff person in regard to the membership lists.

It was suggested that ACB keep in contact with both the president and the secretary (or other membership-related designee). A state president may not always have the time or technology to communicate necessary data to an affiliate in a timely manner.

State conventions offer wonderful opportunities for members who live in the same region of the country to get together and share information. It might help if all the affiliates could send notices about their conventions to the ACB leadership listserv far enough in advance to allow members from nearby states to attend.

It would be helpful for the national office to collect all the brochures from ACB affiliates; in addition, affiliates should share recorded public service announcements and local news coverage with one another. Perhaps the ACB web site could facilitate sharing of these kinds of communications media.

Leadership seminars should be encouraged. Joint seminars can attract members from an entire region, just as easily as from only one state.

The presidents' meeting should always provide how-to documents and checklists for all the affiliates, and the packets of information that are used during the meeting should be mailed to any affiliate presidents who cannot attend. Some training seminars could be extended or expanded for presentation at the summer convention.

The presidents' meeting membership recruitment and retention seminar lasted for about 90 minutes. Everyone who participated or attended left the meeting in an exhilarated frame of mind. I hope this re-cap of many of the ideas shared on that snowy Sunday morning will generate a similar let's-go-out-and-expand-our- family attitude among all our affiliate leaders.


The contents of this column are a reflection of the letters we have received at the time of publication, June 15, 2003. Opinions expressed are those of the authors, not those of the American Council of the Blind, its staff or elected officials. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit letters for clarity, style and space available. "The Braille Forum" is not responsible for the opinions expressed herein. We will not print letters unless you sign your name and give us your address.

Regarding transportation

I found the real-life situations you described in your article on transportation issues/problems to be most painful, as I have experienced nearly all of them in my almost 40 years of being visually impaired and legally blind. I am at this moment still greatly hindered by lack of transportation.

As I have grown older, I find it harder and harder to distinguish between the blind and visually impaired, the disabled and the elderly when it comes to issues of transportation: its importance, availability, reliability and safety. I believe your article has addressed the most important and missing link in our pursuit of independence: transportation. And it all rests in the hands of the people, mainly the sighted, the able-bodied and non- senior population.

All efforts made on our behalf -- changing laws, voting accessibility, streets, sidewalks, ramps, lights, restrooms, social opportunities, support groups, etc. -- are useless without the concern, understanding and empathy of those less challenged. We fight for our independence from the age of 2 until forever. That is what transportation is all about. It isn't saying, "Help me." It's saying, "Help me help myself."

Without the acknowledgement of the importance of transportation, without its availability, reliability and built- in safety factors (and there is a person behind each one of these concepts), we become GREATLY HANDICAPPED. We become unable to get to our jobs, schools, unable to attend to our own basic personal needs. There are too many who consider and determine that our only real transportation needs are for employment and medical appointments. They do not consider grocery stores, drug stores, laundromats, banks, the post office, support groups, social opportunities, etc., as legitimate needs for transportation. Our well-being, self-esteem, sense of purpose, our reason sometimes for getting up, getting dressed, going out and breathing fresh air -- exercise, not only our bodies, but our independence -- these things too often are overlooked, not considered necessities and put on the back burner. Aren't all these things relevant to good mental and physical health? Without these things seriously addressed, we have only two choices: either to become a further burden and responsibility to our close family and friends (already going out of their way for us), or we can turn inward, stay quiet, alone, reclusive. We can learn to go without, deny ourselves our basic needs and human rights and let our minds twiddle their thumbs and pray we do not get depressed. Either way, it shouldn't be too long before we DO require some kind of medical care.

I hope that you will continue to include articles about transportation issues, needs and problems in "The Braille Forum," and that you start sending your articles to every agency, association and organization for the blind and visually impaired, as well as every office for the aging and the disabled, and to every major newspaper in this country, so that the people can begin to become aware of and truly understand what it is like to live without transportation. I hope it reminds them that tomorrow, or next year, or ten years from now, they could be standing in our not-too-often-used shoes.

Thank you for caring about us all.

Dianne Baumgartner, Pawling, N.Y.

More on the Iowa guide dog case

I have been reading the articles that have been written lately regarding the Stephanie Dohmen case and after reading the last edition of the Forum, I felt that it was time that I wrote in. I have been upset about the things that are being said when readers are not aware of what is going on here in Iowa.

First, I would like to tell the membership that I was with you in Des Moines when you elected Donna Seliger to the position of national secretary. At that time you had confidence in regard to her performing her duties knowing that she was Iowa's state president. If you had enough faith in her and trusted in her integrity at that time, the membership should continue to have that faith. And I ask that you remember also what the Bible says: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

In regard to the case here in Iowa, Seliger's role in this has only been as that of state president. She has only presided over the proceedings, choosing not to have a vote or share her opinion on any decision that we have made regarding this. I would also tell you that the board's decision was not in defense of Allen Harris, but based on the fact that the Department is recognized nationwide as one of the premiere centers for training for the blind and that Iowa has received students from throughout the United States as well as the continent of Africa.

With regard to Dohmen, she did not come to members of ICUB asking for assistance from the membership before she initiated this action with the Department of Justice and the Human Rights Commission. The first that the members were aware of this issue was the fact that Seliger was called and told that this was going on and that ICUB should get on board and support Dohmen in her efforts to bring her dog with her into the Iowa Department for the Blind program.

At that time Seliger called a meeting of the board letting us know that this issue had come forth. It was decided at that time that a meeting with national president Gray and any other interested parties should be convened in Iowa so that we could try to resolve this without having it go into litigation with Human Rights and the DOJ. All who attended the meeting questioned Dohmen as to the circumstances of her blindness and any training that she has so far received; at that time she stated that she had previously attended the Iowa Department for the Blind and that she had successfully completed all aspects of training. I say that it should not take two attempts to accomplish what I myself and others have been able to successfully complete after our first attempt.

In closing, I ask you as you get ready to attend convention, to speak to one of the Iowa delegation if you still have any questions and I am sure that you will be happily received.

-- Gloria O'Neal, Waterloo, Iowa

I am downright weary and disgusted at the interorganizational name-calling, from both the NFB and the ACB. After over four decades of this, when will both organizations realize that the civil war in the American organized blind movement is over, that each has assets which the other doesn't possess, and that compromise and cooperation will only strengthen, not weaken, the organized blind movement? Many in both organizations believe that compromise would only weaken us. Neither realizes that each organization has developed programs and principles that work, nor do they realize that compromise and cooperation would make the American organized blind movement more powerful than it ever has been. The key to compromise is that both the NFB and the ACB accept and welcome each other. Each organization must accept the other, whether its constitution calls for term limits or not; whether degrees for rehab people are supported or not; whether blind people are rehab professionals or not; whether sleep shades are supported or not. In short, they must agree to disagree! The NFB must recognize that private rehabilitation agencies serving the blind have their prerogatives, but that they must not force- feed NFB philosophy to students; that people should be given the freedom to think for themselves; that ideally, agencies should allow students to bring and use guide dogs; that no I-am-better- than- you attitude should permeate the organized blind movement. The ACB needs to recognize that sleep shades, blind rehab professionals with no fancy degrees, and using the slate and stylus work; that the organized blind movement should emphasize blindness, rather than cross-disability issues, and that the long cane and excellent orientation and mobility training should be promoted by both organizations.

Rehabilitation agencies for people who are blind should not only allow handlers to bring their dog guides with them, but should permit them to use them during the program. As good as the Iowa Department's program is, I am dismayed that it does not do the latter. I do believe the Iowa Department for the Blind's Orientation Center should have allowed Stephanie Dohmen to use her guide dog during its program. However, I also believe Allen Harris was very kind in revealing to Stephanie alternatives which she could have chosen for learning Braille and computer and job development skills, where she could have still kept and used her dog guide.

So, why are so many of you making such a fuss in Letters to the Editor and elsewhere that the ACB board elected not to join GDUI in protesting about the Iowa Department? I saw at and since last year's national convention, that GDUI is unquestionably large and powerful. Why do you need the ACB to join you? Why don't you protest on your own? Why are you not aware that the rest of us also have rights to join you or not, if we wish?

-- Jeff Frye, Overland Park, Kan.

by Paul Edwards

This article is the first in what I hope will be a series that will consciously explore some elements of the society in which we live. These elements are not chosen randomly but, instead, represent areas where I think we, as people with disabilities, ought to be able to impact the way we are treated. This first article will try to set the stage for what follows and will set out some of the assumptions and circumstances that have led me to dare to propose to take up an inordinate amount of space in the Forum for the next several months.

I want to start by providing you with a peek into the series of events and experiences that have led me to set out on this journey of exploration. First and foremost, I have been reading a lot about disability lately. I suppose there is nothing particularly earthshaking about this, but I would urge all of you to conduct more literary exploration of the increasingly large and diverse literature concerning people with disabilities. It includes, all too often, the frankly "commercial" and sensational wonder stories of those amazingly courageous and inspiring people who have, through the exercise of bravery, fortitude, determination and faith, managed to "overcome" their overwhelming burden of "handicap" to become "real" people. But it also includes thoughtful exposition of the events that have shaped disability history and angry diatribes aimed at an unthinking, corrupt society which has, perhaps unwittingly, erected attitudinal barriers that effectively cancel all the gains that disability legislation has created. I have also been reading books about the civil rights movement and the emergence of feminism which have reinforced my belief that the disability rights movement has a lot in common with the struggles of other minorities for liberation and identity.

All of this reading has been done against a sociopolitical backdrop that is increasingly dark and sinister for all minorities and, most assuredly, for people with disabilities. Everywhere the rights of people with disabilities are being narrowed by court decisions, by legislatures and by the media.

What is happening today differs very little from what happened in the decade after the passage of Section 504 of the Rehab Act. I began to ask myself why history is repeating itself. Is there something inherently threatening about disability rights that causes society to appear to take one step forward and two steps back in a sinister dance toward and away from the brink of empowerment? Certainly there are lots of commonalities between the two historical periods. We moved from a Democratic to a Republican administration in both periods. Both Republican administrations spouted rhetoric about the need for less federal government and, indeed, less government period. Their actual performance, ironically, has ended up resulting in dramatic increases in the federal deficit during the Reagan and the second Bush administrations. While the reordering of society following the 11th of September 2001 has certainly continued the marginalization of disability issues, I think that the handwriting was on the wall long before the World Trade Center was attacked. So I don't believe that we can point to terrorism as a seminal cause of disability rights erosion.

Civil rights for other minorities are clearly a work in progress and there are clear signs of erosion there, too. Challenges that have virtually destroyed affirmative action as a viable policy, pending court decisions that may undermine affirmative selection of racial minorities into post-secondary institutions, and many other trends all point to a rethinking by society at large about its obligation to alter the playing field for those recognized as victims of discrimination based on societal imbalance. That conclusion led me to thinking about various institutions within our society and how each of them has responded to the broader issue of civil rights and to the narrower question of disability rights. It is clear that a society as a whole will not alter its attitudes if a majority of its institutions remain intransigently opposed to the changes being espoused. The more I thought about those institutions, the more it seemed clear to me that they remained barriers to change. Why was this true?, I wondered. Surely at least some institutions ought to be open by their very nature to making things better for all their members! Wouldn't this be true of religions? Wouldn't it be true for trade unions? And what about the family? Surely parents would want equality for their disabled children.

When I began to look at each of these institutions and the role each plays, I became convinced that each one may have made some halting and token steps toward inclusion, but, as a whole, none of them has embraced disability rights as a part of their ongoing agenda of social change. Nor have advocacy organizations who speak for other minority communities such as the NAACP, NOW, or virtually any organization in the gay community been very open to welcoming people with disabilities and their specific issues onto their action agendas.

In the next several articles, then, I want to put these institutions and people with disabilities under a microscope to see in more detail what they have actually done, what they have failed to do and why, and what individuals with disabilities or organizations of those folks might be able to do to change that. So there is no misunderstanding right up front, it is certainly my thesis that the fault for the failure of institutions to embrace disability rights is partly to be laid at the door of disabled people themselves who have focused on pushing for tangible alterations to physical or programmatic access rather than on impacting the core values of these institutions.

In religion, for instance, there is a long history of involvement with making things better for people with disabilities: a history that goes back as far as the New Testament at least. But what does "help" mean? Is there a theology of disability that could be proposed that might better inculcate into religious community a philosophy of inclusion that goes beyond ramps and braille? Obviously I think that such an animal exists. You will all be glad to know that it is not my intention to outline the whole theology but rather to suggest a few of its more basic tenets. I am more interested in exploring how each of us can and must work to impact those institutions with which we are involved. Future articles will try to provide practical suggestions about what each of us can do.

There are a few other assumptions that I have made which I want to share before ending this first article. I have assumed and firmly believe that we can make a difference to each of the institutions that I will discuss. I truly consider that all of the institutions I want to talk about are, to some degree, open to influence by us. I also believe that it has become clear that we can only accomplish relatively limited objectives by trying to impact government or the media because they are, after all, where societal consensus becomes opinions and laws. That consensus is also built, however, from the other institutions in our country and I have not seen very much in what I have read that focuses on the desirability of our beginning to alter society's values by actively intervening with various institutions. I also believe that the specific institutions I will look at can be changed. Indeed, I believe that some of them, if not all of them, are imbued with value systems that favor our issues. We have not consciously sought very hard to create institutional change and we should.

My last assumption and perhaps the most significant of all is that institutions will only change if we change and embrace an identity that will allow us to honestly and enthusiastically advocate for institutional change. I have said before and will repeat again that people with disabilities are their own worst enemies because they are not prepared to ask for very much and are too often content to accept even less. If full inclusion is our objective, it isn't enough to ask to get in the door! If we want our society to truly value all its citizens, we must work with all the institutions with which we come in contact to build a different way of seeing disability. It is all about expectations. Institutions must expect and receive more from us and we must expect to receive and to give more to them. Ultimately, the objective of this series is realistically not to change our institutions either immediately or fundamentally. While that would be nice, it is probably not going to happen. Instead what I expect to accomplish is to provide some of the approaches that can be used to raise the bar with each institution I discuss. The process I propose starts with us thinking about each of these institutions in different ways and ends with these institutions seeing us and themselves differently. It's a large task but I think we can do it. At the very least, let's explore together what I think the values of these institutions are and how they can be altered! Stay tuned, it should be fun!

by Ann Edie

I wake to a beautiful, warm spring morning, all the more welcome as it follows a particularly frigid and snowy winter. I go about my morning routine -- shower, dress, wake my daughter, have breakfast, feed and groom my guide, grab my bag, harness my guide and emerge into the green scented air and the sounds of twittering birds. I pick up the harness handle for the short walk to work, and give the "forward" command. My guide takes up a cheery pace and I breathe deeply as we walk along the quiet residential streets, turning right and left, crossing the small streets, then pressing the accessible traffic signal button and crossing the noisy main street which is busy with school buses and cars bringing students and teachers to school. We walk along a sidewalk, down a driveway and through the front door of the public high school where I work. The trip flows fluidly and seems as natural as the flight of birds. Yet if I stand back and imagine the effect we might have on an out-of-town visitor observing from his car, I realize that this routine daily occurrence of a blind woman walking to work with her guide is still a unique and remarkable event. For the guide by my side is not a Labrador retriever or a German shepherd dog, nor indeed, a dog of any breed at all, but an elegant little black and white pinto miniature horse named Panda.

How has this happened? How have Panda and I come to be partners in this unique experiment? In some ways it seems incredible and amazing! But in other ways it seems as natural and inevitable as the blossoming of the apple trees or the emergence of the spring peepers from their winter silence.

Looking back, I can see that three major threads of my life story have been woven together to form the fabric of my involvement in the Panda Project. These three threads are my experience of blindness, my love of animals, especially dogs and horses, and my lifelong professional and avocational interest in the education of both humans and animals.

I have been legally blind since birth, but I grew up in an era when blindness was considered barely respectable, at a time when a person was accepted only to the extent that he or she conformed to the generally held standard of "normal," which did not include being blind. So I grew up trying to be a sighted person, but living in a blind body. I was taught to read large print with thick heavy reading glasses that forced me to read with my nose pressed to the page and my forehead plastered against a high-intensity reading lamp. And what I learned was to hate reading. I was not taught cane travel, because that would make me "look blind," which was the worst of all possible fates. So I learned never to travel to unfamiliar places alone, and never to travel anywhere at night. And I learned to dread tripping or bumping into something or failing to recognize someone who waved a hand or honked a car horn at me, because of the inevitable snickers and taunts of my peers and the awful feelings of failure and inadequacy that would invariably follow. And the main lesson I learned was that, no matter how hard I might try, I was a pretty incompetent sighted person. Although the doctors had told my parents that my vision would remain stable, it gradually deteriorated to the point where I am now almost totally blind.

I didn't become aware of the organized blind movement or the disability rights movement, and realize that the problem was not my blindness, but rather the attitudes of the society toward blindness and blind people, until the 1980s. With this new insight I sought and received cane travel instruction, and reveled in the additional information the cane provided me about the traveling environment. I taught myself Braille, and gloried in the new freedom of being able to read comfortably anywhere -- in the car or in bed, in a meeting or in the bus terminal, in front of a class or in an easy chair in my own living room. I delighted in being truly literate for the first time in my life!

After a first career in college level teaching of the Chinese language and the teaching of English as a second language, I went back to graduate school to complete a master's of education in teaching students who are blind and visually impaired. Since 1995 I have worked as a teacher of the visually impaired in a public school system and have done my best to educate both my students and the general community about the respectability and normalcy of blindness and about the alternative techniques and skills which offer a person who is blind freedom, confidence, competence, and respectability.

My love of animals, too, seems to be a characteristic that I was born with. My family had pet dogs and cats, but they were kept outside, and no one in the family was particularly pet- obsessed. Yet as a child I played with stuffed animals instead of dolls, and trained the family pets to do tricks and simple obedience exercises such as sit and come. As a teenager I trained my miniature poodle to serve as an unofficial guide for me, taking me around obstacles on leash when I took him out for walks at night when I couldn't see anything. As an adult I trained and competed my schipperke, collie, and my Japanese mixed breed dog in obedience trials and fun matches.

I grew up in New Jersey, near the campus of the Seeing Eye, and I always admired the Seeing Eye dogs and wished for one of my own someday. But it was not until 1991 that I was matched with Bailey, a chocolate Labrador retriever from the Seeing Eye. I chose a guide dog as my preferred mobility aid because I enjoy walking at a brisk pace, but hated the jarring of the cane catching in cracks in the road, and because I lived in a rural area at the time and found it difficult to find landmarks with the cane on long stretches of country roads and gravel shoulders. I liked the feeling of added confidence and security that comes from being accompanied down isolated country roads or through crowded city streets by a large canine, no matter what a marshmallow he is in reality. And I simply enjoyed working and living in partnership with dogs.

Bailey was a calm, reliable, steadfast guide and companion. He was very adaptable, which was a requirement for any partner who was going to fit into my busy lifestyle as a mother of three and a special education teacher. For nine years Bailey accompanied me to family gatherings and on school field trips, to every level of educational institution from preschools through graduate school, to entertainments from the ballet to the Fourth of July fireworks, to soccer games and whale watches, to mountain resorts and amusement park rides, to hospital rooms and job interviews, to cocktail parties and horse barns. Bailey's death in the fall of 2000 left a huge hole in my life, and began a two- year period of emotional and physical upheaval and adjustment, which is only now beginning to resolve into a new path forward. During these past two years, I have tried unsuccessfully to build partnerships with two successor guide dogs, but both relationships ended in the early retirement of the dog, one after three months and the other after just under a year.

My early experience with horses consisted entirely of a rare pony ride in the city park. Yet, despite the fact that no one else in my family had any interest in horses, I begged to take riding lessons, and was granted this wish when I was 10 years old. I continued to ride throughout high school and then sporadically during college and during the years when I was raising my family. In 1995 I returned to serious involvement with horses when I met both Alexandra Kurland, who would become my riding instructor, horse trainer, and mentor, and Magnet, the athletic and gentlemanly gray Arabian who would become my first riding horse and equine teacher. Magnet has since been joined by my two Icelandic horses, Fengur, a sporty yellow dun gelding, and Sindri, a stately chestnut stallion with a truly impressive flaxen mane and tale.

I met Alexandra Kurland at a time when she was exploring the use of clicker training in her work with horses. Clicker training, or applied operant conditioning, is a method of training based on the science of learning theory. It provides the learner with a "bridging signal" which lets him or her know exactly when he/she has produced the desired action or behavior, and is followed by a reward or positive reinforcer. Over the past half century, this training method had proven extremely effective first with sea mammals, such as the killer whales and dolphins that perform at Sea World, and later with zoo animals, dogs that work in obedience, search and rescue, agility, and therapy animals that perform in commercials, movies, TV, and live shows, pet dogs, birds, llamas, and many other species and performance areas.

Alexandra had seen some of the results achieved with this method with dogs and zoo animals. She was looking for a better way to communicate to our horses what we want them to do, without incurring some of the undesirable effects associated with traditional horse training methods, such as fear, avoidance, and aggression. Her experimentation led her to write a pioneering book, "Clicker Training for Your Horse," in 1998, and to a series of teaching videos, teaching clinics, and presentations on clicker training across this country, in Canada, and in Europe.

I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity over the past eight years to work with Alex and to learn to communicate with my horses and dogs through the use of the clicker and operant conditioning techniques. I credit clicker training with the fact that our horses are happy and eager to come out and work with us. They pay close attention to our cues about what we would like them to do. They try hard to produce the behavior we request. They learn quickly and enjoy our company, praise, and attention, as well as the food treats that we give them as rewards. Our horses and other clicker-trained animals become creative problem solvers and imaginative playmates as well as safe, physically and emotionally sound working partners.

I first heard of the phenomenon of miniature guide horses in the spring of 2000, through reprints of several articles from the popular media in "Pawtracks," the magazine of Guide Dog Users, Inc. The articles described the work of Don and Janet Burleson of North Carolina to train miniature horses to act as guides for blind people. I was immediately intrigued by the idea, for I knew from my relationships with my riding horses that horses are certainly intelligent enough to do this kind of work, and that they possess many characteristics which lend themselves to guide work. I had often thought that my Magnet would make a wonderful guide, if only he were small enough to fit into human living spaces. He already performed several of the functions of a good guide dog, such as taking me to the paddock gate, stopping before going through gates and doorways, and making footing decisions and avoiding obstacles when I was either riding him or walking beside him. But up until this time, I had not been aware that there actually were horses that were about the same size as our guide dogs. I called the Burlesons, and had a pleasant talk with them about training methods and their results so far, about which they were very enthusiastic.

At that time, the Burlesons had trained one of their personal pet miniature horses to guide, but they hadn't yet trained any for placement with a blind person. And my guide dog, Bailey, although ten and a half years old, was still healthy and working well. So I filed the information about guide horses away for future reference.

In the fall of 2000 Bailey became suddenly ill, and just four days after his 11th birthday, he died. I picked up my cane and went on with my life, while working through the process of mourning Bailey's loss and planning for my future mobility needs. Since I am a school teacher and have little time during the school year, I knew that it would not be until the summer of 2001 that I could get a successor guide dog. Then in early 2001 I began to hear again about the Burlesons and the Guide Horse Foundation they had established. I read that they were training a miniature horse named Cuddles for Dan Shaw, a man from Maine. Although I was concerned about the frivolous tone of some of the articles I was reading, and about the attitude toward blind people exhibited in these articles, I still felt that the idea of using miniature horses as guides had great merit. In this time of mourning the death of my first guide dog and adjusting to life without him, I was keenly aware of the benefit of the 30-year lifespan of horses. It would be wonderful to have a guide who would remain with me for a whole working lifetime, rather than having to suffer such a deep loss and go through the six month to a year period of adjustment to a new guide dog every few years. I spoke again with the Burlesons by phone, and decided to make a trip down to North Carolina to see their program. At the same time I applied for a successor guide dog, and arranged to train with the new dog in July of 2001.

The weekend that Alex and I spent in Kittrell, N.C. marked the conclusion of Dan Shaw's training period before going home with his new guide horse, Cuddles. We toured the Burleson's farm, followed Dan and Cuddles on several training walks, test-walked a couple of horses in training, had extensive conversations with Dan, Don and Janet Burleson, and several other guests who were also present. We were favorably impressed with the work that we saw Cuddles doing. She was well-mannered, businesslike and focused on her work, calm and steady in her temperament, and accepted in stores, restaurants, and other public places. Dan Shaw was enthusiastic about his new guide and about the freedom and exhilaration of being able to travel independently and at a fast pace. He and Cuddles seemed to have already formed a close bond, and were working smoothly as a team.

Yet the trip raised as many questions in our minds as it answered. We wondered whether horses could really adjust to living all or most of the time in the human environment, whether their digestive and respiratory systems could comfortably conform to human schedules and conditions, whether they could perform all the functions of a guide dog, and whether the theoretical longevity offered by the horse could, in fact, be realized. Most of all, we wondered whether the new horse training methods which had proven so successful with our full-sized horses could produce fine, happy, enthusiastic working guide horses, without the stress on the animal caused by traditional, correction-based training methods.

Out of curiosity, we began investigating the availability of very small miniature horses. We spoke to breeders and miniature horse fanciers, visited many web sites, watched sales videos, and eventually focused in on a couple of promising young horses from Grosshill Farm in Florida. In August 2001, we traveled to Florida to visit Grosshill Farm and met some of their fine miniature horses. We were particularly impressed by a lively and confident 7-month-old pinto filly named Panda, who had already demonstrated her adaptability and physical and temperamental soundness through a couple of very successful months on the horse show circuit.

At that point, Alex and I made the decision to go ahead and undertake the research project which has come to be called the "Panda Project," to try and answer some of the questions that I and other blind people had about whether miniature horses could really do the job of providing safe and effective guide service to blind people and could comfortably live in close relationship with humans and in the human-built environment. Soon Panda was mine. She arrived in New York in September 2001, and has been living with her trainer, Alexandra Kurland and been in "puppy raising" and guide training for about 18 months.

Because the outcome of our work with Panda was by no means certain, and because I still loved working with dogs and wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream of partnering with a German shepherd guide dog, I had decided to go ahead and train with a successor guide dog in the summer of 2001. I knew that I would need to devote my time and energy to adjusting with my new guide dog, and that, therefore, I would be involved in Panda's early training more as a consultant than as a direct handler. We expected this period of my adjustment to a successor guide dog to last from six months to a year, and we thought that that period would coincide nicely with Panda's initial socialization and basic pre-guide training.

Although my efforts to work with two German shepherd guides ended in career changes for each of the dogs, and, therefore, the guide dog piece of my life's dream has not fallen into place, this leaves me free, at just the right time, to participate more actively in Panda's formal guide training and transition to working guide. Panda has certainly more than fulfilled her part of the plan. With the advice and consultation of guide dog trainers, horse trainers, animal behaviorists, and veterinarians, we have planned and implemented a training program designed to expose Panda to all the environments and situations that she might encounter as a guide, to teach her the responses and behaviors required for guide work, to develop her confidence and initiative for decision making, and to be sensitive to her physical, emotional, and social needs as a horse.

Panda has been trained through the use of clicker training techniques which rely mainly on positive reinforcement rather than on correction. We believe that these techniques produce an effective, relaxed, and willing working guide. Panda has already begun to provide us with data upon which to answer many of the questions which prompted us to undertake this project.

As prey animals, aren't horses too flighty and spooky to deal with all the surprises and alarming stimuli of modern life that they would encounter as guides for people who are blind? Panda has a calm, steady, confident manner. She has accepted and works well around city traffic, noise, and bustle, loose dogs, construction work, blowing objects, and the blaring sirens and flashing lights of emergency vehicles. She responds to these stimuli with appropriate levels of caution and matter-of-fact interest, but without panic or flight reactions.

Can horses go everywhere we need them to go as our guides? Panda has easily learned to negotiate steps, go through doorways, ride on elevators, ride in cars, stand quietly in restaurants and offices, work through narrow store aisles, and work in crowded pedestrian areas such as malls and conference centers. In the coming months we will be working with her on public transportation, escalators, and other specific situations which we may encounter during travel. So far she has proven that with proper introduction and practice, as is true for guide dogs, she adjusts easily to these environmental elements. Panda is larger, and therefore takes up a little more room than most guide dogs, and horses cannot as easily curl up and fit under a chair. This is one of the considerations a blind person will need to take into account when weighing the relative merits of available mobility solutions.

Can horses be house trained? Yes, Panda is reliably house trained, and like guide dogs, she has learned to relieve on leash and on cue in a variety of locations and on a schedule which fits our requirements. I pick up after her just as I would for a guide dog. She regularly waits several hours between relief breaks when indoors or working, and has gone up to 10 hours between relief breaks when necessary. She will also indicate her need to relieve by ringing a bell hung on the door when at home or by becoming fidgety when in other locations. We have not yet asked her to go overnight without access to a relief area, so this is a question yet to be investigated.

Do horses need to graze and have access to grass for much of the time? No, many horses do not get the major part of their nutrition from free grazing. Although Panda certainly enjoys a half-hour of grazing on summer grass in the backyard or public park, it would not be healthy for her to spend long periods of time feeding on grass, as she would put on too much weight. When at home in her stall or pen, she eats mainly grass hay, with a tiny bit of grain, carrots, and other fruit and vegetables as training treats. When at work in public places or indoors, she can be fed hay pellets which are as neat and convenient to carry as kibble for dogs. Panda will eat from a bowl just as a dog does. Although many horses are fed only twice a day, it is best for the equine digestive system if they are fed more frequently.

Can horses learn all the tasks of a guide for people who are blind? Panda has shown remarkable intelligence, focus, eagerness to learn, willingness to please, ability to solve problems and plan ahead, and confidence in taking the initiative in decision making in her guide work. She has learned to mark a straight line down a sidewalk or corridor, to walk along the left edge of a road without sidewalks, to stop at curbs, even blended curbs, to stop at steps and other changes of elevation or footing, to work around stationary and moving obstacles, to avoid overhead obstacles, to follow directional commands, to work at varying paces, to find landmarks such as doors and signal buttons, to judge the safety of street crossings, and to use intelligent disobedience when the safety of the team is at stake. She has demonstrated an excellent memory for routes and landmarks, but she does not object to taking a different course from the familiar one when I ask her to.

She is particularly good at judging footing, and is cautious on snow and ice, which we have had lots of this winter in the Northeast. Judging and avoiding waist-high and overhead obstacles, such as construction tape, railings, protruding truck mirrors, and signs, is another of Panda's strengths. She is not distracted by other animals or by the attention of curious people, but she will wait patiently in heel position when I stop to chat. Panda's training is not yet complete, but she has performed successfully all the tasks and in all the situations we have asked of her so far, and we are very pleased with her progress and confident about her future as a guide.

What kind of equipment do you use on a guide horse? Panda wears a standard miniature horse halter on her head, to which I attach a guide-dog-type leather leash. We have had a guiding harness made for her by Dave Shabbot of American Leather Specialties in Massachusetts, who makes harnesses and leashes for many of the guide dog programs. Panda's harness is much the same shape as that of a guide dog, except that it has a U shape in the middle of the back strap to fit comfortably around her withers. We chose an ergonomically designed harness handle, which allows my wrist and elbow to rest in a more natural position and reduces strain on the arm and shoulder.

Does Panda wear sneakers? We have not found that there is a need for Panda to wear non-skid footwear for working on indoor or outdoor surfaces. If the need does arise in the future, we will probably choose shoes specifically designed for miniature horses, rather than sneakers designed for human children.

Can horses adjust to the central heating of the human indoor environment? Panda seems very happy and comfortable in indoor environments. She actively seeks out heaters and enjoys napping close to heat sources, much as a dog or a cat might do. She also enjoys air conditioning in the summer. She can, however, comfortably spend the night in unheated quarters except in the coldest of winter conditions, when a blanket or heated shelter is required.

Does Panda live in the house or in a barn? Panda has spent large blocks of time in the house or in other buildings with her trainer and handler during the day, and she seems to enjoy the mental stimulation and social companionship this affords. At night she stays in a small pen or stall, equivalent to a crate or kennel for a dog, either in the garage or in a small shed or barn in the backyard.

How does the care of a miniature horse differ from that of a dog? The daily care of a miniature guide horse is very similar to the care of a guide dog. Besides food, water, and shelter, the horse needs daily grooming to look her best. It takes about the same amount of time to groom a miniature horse as it does a retriever or German shepherd dog. Horses require hoof trimming by a farrier, equivalent to clipping the nails of a dog, once every six to eight weeks. Veterinary check-ups and immunizations should occur on a regular schedule, about every six months. Horses do not require regular medication for heartworm or external parasites, but they do need internal worming medication about every six weeks. Miniature horses benefit from daily work and from the social contact and companionship of spending time with their human partners, but they do not require as much physical exercise or play time as many dogs do. Just as our guide dogs adopt us as their pack members, miniature horses view us as their herd mates, and do not seem to miss the company of other horses.

My purpose in undertaking the Panda Project has been to satisfy my own curiosity about whether using a miniature horse as a guide is a workable proposition, and to provide information to others in the blindness community, as well as in the community at large, on the subject, so that the topic can be debated on the basis of knowledge rather than on the basis of preconceptions and suppositions. We have only begun to gather the necessary information from our experience with Panda. It will take more years and more horses than just Panda and Cuddles to accumulate the data upon which blind people can make truly informed decisions about their mobility options.

The choice of a mobility method will remain one of personal preference based on lifestyle, temperament, living situation, and economics, among other factors. What we wish to contribute is data on one new and intriguing option which may offer blind people a safe and efficient mobility technique and a companion who can remain active and working for 25 years or more. Panda has so far shown that she can do the job, that she enjoys doing it, and that she is ready to take on the challenges of the future.

I would like to close by offering a description of one of Panda's recent training sessions, to give you an idea of how it feels to work with a miniature guide horse.

"On Saturday, February 22nd, since the weather was sunny and relatively mild compared to what we have become accustomed to this winter, I decided to go out for a little walk with Panda as my guide. We were still doing 'country work' in my residential neighborhood, which has no sidewalks, when we encountered our first naturally occurring traffic check. (Up to this point, our traffic work has been carefully monitored and traffic checks have been as controlled or 'set up' as possible.) We were walking along the left edge of the road toward the main street, when a car turned from the main street onto the road we were walking along, and stopped with its motor running at the mouth of a driveway in front of us. The people in the car were apparently talking to someone standing on the driveway. Before the situation had even registered on my consciousness, Panda stopped abruptly and took a couple of steps backward, very deliberately stopping my forward motion along with her own. I asked Panda to find the way forward, and she looked toward the left, but the lawns were still covered by banks of plowed snow, so we couldn't get around the car by that route. Since the street is very narrow, and going around the car to the right would have put us right in the middle of the street and in the path of cars approaching from either direction, Panda rightly judged that that was not a very safe choice either. She turned to the right in front of me, then stopped and pressed against my legs as if to bar my way. I agreed with her that it would not be safe to go around the stopped car as we would have gone around a trash bin or a leaf pile at the curb. Instead I decided to cross the street and walk along the right edge of the road until we got past the car, then cross back to the left edge and proceed to the corner. Panda followed my directions willingly and flawlessly. I was glad that I had chosen to cross the street rather than walk out and around the car, because as we walked along the right shoulder, cars passed us in both directions, and I would have felt distinctly uncomfortable being out in the middle of the street at that point. Panda's response to this incident gives strong evidence, in my opinion, of the ability of miniature guide horses to exercise the same level of intelligent disobedience that we expect of our guide dogs.

"We crossed the main street at the traffic signal, and then walked on the asphalt sidewalk/bike path down a long block, about half a mile, broken only by driveways and very wide parking lot entrances. There are no curbs or ramps marking the transition from bike path to parking lot entrance, only the slightest change in the asphalt surface. My guide dogs frequently failed to stop at these non-existent curbs. Yet Panda stopped at every one, 10 for 10! Is that due to the naturally high trainability of miniature horses, or to the power of clicker training and positive reinforcement? Only once did she stray off course, and that was when I directed her to 'find the curb,' and she took me to a real curb at the end of a real sidewalk which leads to the high school. I love the way she tapped the curb with her little hoof to let me know exactly what she had found. I easily redirected her to the left and back to the bike path.

"On the long straightaways I asked Panda to 'hop up,' and she picked up a delightful, perky trot that allowed us both to stretch our legs and get a little much-needed exercise. I felt the thrill of fluid forward-moving energy without feeling as if I were being pulled off my feet. The reactions of the fellow walkers and joggers we met along the way ranged from delighted surprise at seeing such a small horse to a matter-of-fact comment about the 'seeing eye pony.' But everyone commented on how lovely she is and how well she is doing her guide work. And she never became the slightest bit distracted or alarmed by the people. If I stopped to answer curious questions, Panda waited patiently. If I kept on walking, she did not object or seek attention from the people.

"On our return home, I could tell that Panda was very pleased with our walk, as was I. We are learning to trust one another, and growing in confidence as a working team. And that is a very satisfying and happy outcome for both Panda and myself."

For more information about the Panda Project and Panda's training, visit Alexandra Kurland's web site, Alexandra Kurland's book, "Clicker Training for Your Horse," is available from the NLS in Braille or on cassette. Questions for Ann Edie can be sent by e-mail to [email protected].


Panda and Ann, surrounded by computers, printers and other technology, take a break from work in Ann's office at the high school. (Photos courtesy of Alexandra Kurland.)

Panda guides Ann Edie past a tricky obstacle -- men taking a freight shipment down a set of open basement steps.

by Larry P. Johnson
(Reprinted from "Catholic Digest," March 2003.)

(Editor's Note: This story, originally called "Train Ride," is a chapter from Larry Johnson's book "Train Ride," which has an expected publication date of June 1. The book will be made available electronically and in paperback, and can be purchased from, as well as from, Barnes & Noble and Borders.)

Each time I tell the story of my first visit to Mexico -- at age 18, blind, and alone except for my dog guide Tasha -- someone invariably asks me why I decided to go in the first place.

"Maybe," I reply, "I was just looking for adventure."

In my heart, I knew my motive went beyond that. It arose from my yearnings for a sense of self-worth, a feeling of personal accomplishment. I certainly had reason to be satisfied with my achievements thus far. I'd done well in my two years at junior college. I had a B-plus average, had acted in two school plays, and joined a campus fraternity. Yet I wanted to prove, perhaps to myself more than anyone, that I was capable, competent, and courageous. I wanted to show my family that even though I was blind and the youngest of four siblings I could do amazing and admirable things.

My mother taught me the importance of independence at a very early age. She didn't believe in coddling or shielding me from the bumps and bruises of life. When I came in from play with a bump or a cut, Mom would wash the injury, apply medication, and send me right back out. It taught me resilience.

That summer of 1952, I made up my mind to go to Mexico. The family, especially my two older sisters, was concerned about my going to a foreign country; my sisters tried to persuade my mother against it. But Mom had faith in me, perhaps even more than I had in myself. Instead of trying to dissuade me, she asked me a barrage of questions: Where would I stay? What did I plan to do there? Did I have enough money? She also offered a few suggestions on what to take along -- canned dog food for Tasha and my portable typewriter so I could write letters back home.

I had it all worked out. I had arranged with the YMCA in Chicago to reserve accommodations for me at the YMCA in Mexico City. I had written a budget for the three weeks I would be there. I had my round-trip train ticket and tourist card. And, thanks to a friend, I had a letter of introduction to a family in Mexico City. I would have a five-hour trip from Chicago to St. Louis, a change of trains, and then a single train from St. Louis to Mexico City with only a coach change.

Although the trip would be a long one -- three days and two nights -- I anticipated no problems. But for Tasha, my 3-year-old Doberman Pinscher, it was a different story. I had to take along her eating and drinking bowls, cans of dog food, and plan when we could leave the train so she could answer nature's call. When we crossed into Mexico, I tried in my limited Spanish to discuss with the conductor Tasha's needs to periodically leave the train. He assured me it would be no problem.

The next morning around 6 a.m., Tasha and I prepared to get off the train as it pulled to a stop in the small town of Banderas. I asked the conductor if we would have enough time for Tasha to roam a bit. He replied, "No problema, se�or."

We stepped on to the cindery ground. The air was refreshingly crisp for mid-July. I removed Tasha's harness, collar, and leash, and she scampered off a few yards. Seconds later, I heard two short whistle blasts.

That couldn't possibly be our train. I hesitated.

Just then, a heavily accented voice spoke to me in English: "Se�or, did you want the train?"

"Yes, yes," I said, realizing what was happening. "Stop the train!"

His reply stunned me: The train had left.

I stood motionless in disbelief. I was alone in a foreign country, and my baggage was on a train to Mexico City. I felt scared and overwhelmed. Had I made the wrong decision in traveling to Mexico by myself? I had told myself I was looking for adventure. Well, here it was.

The voice spoke again: "Can I help you, se�or?"

"Yes, por favor," I replied, quickly calling Tasha to my side. As I leaned to fasten the harness under her chest, she licked me on the cheek. Don't worry, she seemed to say, I'll get you out of this.

The man led me to the telegraph office next to the depot. There, I managed to send a message requesting that my baggage be unloaded and held for me in San Luis Potos�, a major city about halfway between the U.S. border and Mexico City. But the next train would not come through for 12 hours. What was I to do?

My nameless companion guided me to a small posada, a family- owned inn a short distance from the depot. His brief exchange with the owner was spoken so fast that I guessed rather than understood what they said: The innkeeper would take care of the norteamericano and his perrita (little dog) until the train arrived.

The family consisted of a woman, her two teenage daughters, and a couple of younger children who squealed nervously at the sight of Tasha. Tasha exhibited the grace of a queen, walking with quiet dignity, her head held high. I was so proud of her, and I began to feel my own confidence return.

That wonderful family showed me true hospitality. They took me into their inn, fed me, brought water to Tasha, gave us a place to rest, and made sure we were at the depot in plenty of time for our train. When I offered payment, they refused to accept it.

Back on the train and headed again for Mexico City, I felt both relief and satisfaction. I had survived my first south-of- the-border adventure. I was excitedly -- albeit naively -- optimistic about being able to handle any new situation which might come along.

We pulled into the station at San Luis Potos� about 11 p.m. Tasha and I headed into the depot to claim my luggage and have it placed back on board the train. We were met by two young men who eagerly escorted us to a baggage room where my two suitcases and portable typewriter were waiting. Anxious to get back on the train, I checked my luggage quickly.

"Oh, no, se�or," one of the young men insisted in Spanish. "You must check everything carefully." I dutifully opened each suitcase and probed the contents with my hands. "It's all here."

"Now, you must write a receipt saying that everything has been returned to you in good order."

"But the train is getting ready to leave," I protested.

"The train will wait," they assured me, "and we must have a receipt."

"OK, OK," I replied with annoyance, snapping open my typewriter. I typed a short statement in Spanish and handed it over. Satisfied, they handed it back, saying, "Very good, now sign it please."

"Gladly." Quickly scribbling my name at the bottom, I returned it to them and got to my feet. "Can we go now?"

"Of course," they echoed each other. Picking up my suitcases and typewriter, we headed out of the depot and toward the train. The train was already moving from the platform and gathering speed.

"Not again," I groaned. "Yell for them to stop!"

"It's too late, se�or. They won't hear us," said the man nearest to me. "Not to worry," he reassured me. "We'll take you to a hotel and you can catch the next train in the morning."

His solution was simple and logical. I now had all my belongings with me. Did it really matter that I would get to Mexico City another half-day later than planned? Wasn't this just another part of my adventure?

Tasha and I followed our guides as they led us away from the depot, down a deserted street, and into a place I assumed to be the lobby of a local hotel. One of my escorts approached the desk clerk and spoke with him in low tones. I was told the cost of the room was $3.50.

I didn't know what kind of place this was or what was a reasonable rate for a hotel room in this city. I was tired and eager to get some sleep. "OK, fine," I agreed. I was led down a long hallway to a small room that contained a bed, bureau, and bathroom. What more did I need?

Though my companions had given me no cause for mistrusting them, I felt apprehensive. Had this pair deliberately delayed me so I would miss the train and then be obliged to follow them to this obscure hotel for some sinister purpose? I was determined to put on a brave face. I thought about all my favorite heroes -- Jack Armstrong, Sky King, the Lone Ranger, Captain Midnight. I thought about how they would handle my situation. Stay calm and remain alert. That's what they would do.

It was a rough night. I drifted in and out of a restless slumber. At one point I came awake, paralyzed by fear. Something cold and menacing had touched my face. I lay perfectly still, waiting, listening. There it was again, something against my cheek. My heart pounded with terror. With great effort, I slid my left hand out from under the covers and seized the thing. It was a hand! It did not move. Slowly, I followed the dead hand up to its shoulder. It was mine. I laughed out loud. Apparently, I had slept on top of my arm and lack of blood flow had left the arm without feeling. My mind had magnified and used my own fears -- I was my own intruder.

The next morning, a bellhop from the hotel accompanied me back to the depot, where I boarded the Aztec Eagle for the third time. Twelve hours later I arrived in Mexico City.


Larry Johnson and his guide dog, Tasha, pause for a photo. Tasha, a Doberman pinscher, yawns to show what she thinks of having this picture taken. (Photo courtesy of Larry Johnson.)

by Edward Zolotarevsky

When it came time for me to get a condo, I went to Somerset County Coalition on Affordable Housing (SCCOAH) in New Jersey. The coalition enrolled me in Step by Step (a first-time home buyer preparation class) conducted by SCCOAH. The class turned out to be free, with a special surprise. After speakers gave their talks, each student received a manual which guided a first- time home buyer through the whole home-buying process. Additionally, each student received a class certificate which entitled us to discounts on the mortgage and lawyer's services. I have figured out that three hours of class time saved me around at least $100,000.

First I contacted all the mortgage lenders (banks) listed in the manual. In addition, I contacted Fannie Mae and requested material on mortgage lenders. Eventually, I narrowed the selection to only two banks: Fleet and Commerce. Fleet offered the lowest interest rate of 5.125 percent with 5 percent down required. Commerce, on the other hand, offered 3 percent down at 5.375 percent interest. Finally, I chose Commerce, because they required less money up front than Fleet. I worked with Rosa Hernandez of Commerce Bank in Mount Laurel, N.J. The class certificate gave me a break on the mortgage as well.

Next, I found an affordable housing lawyer with experience in Bedminster, N.J. After going through the list, I selected Albert Trabilsy of Somerset. He suggested buying a condo to me. With the class certificate, I got a $250 discount on his services.

Finally, Sharon DeCicco of Bedminster Hills Housing helped me to find a wonderful two-bedroom condo in Bedminster. Sharon had two condos on the waiting list. I selected the more expensive condo, because it looked very well maintained. After selecting the condo, Sharon prepared the sales contract for both the buyer and seller. Since the condo cost only $116,000, my down payment came to only $3,480. The market price of comparable condos in the neighborhood was $200,000.

For the closing, we had to get friends to drive us. The title company agent reviewed the documents which we had to sign. We had to sign 25 documents altogether. After signing them, I teased them by saying that I really shouldn't be signing anything which I cannot read. This made everybody in the room laugh.

Originally, the closing date was supposed to fall on February 28. But the bank postponed the mortgage commitment, and our closing date became March 7 instead. Therefore, we had to pay for two months in advance. This surprised both me and my wife, and we asked for help from family to cover the additional unanticipated expenses. Our family loaned us the money for the additional cost, and when my paychecks arrived later during the month, I was able to pay them back.

The condo purchase of $116,000 set the property tax at $96.10 per month, since it is based on the property's purchase price. The private mortgage insurance comes to $85.31 per month. Principle and interest for the mortgage equals $629.97 per month. The total equals $811.38 per month. The mortgage is a 30-year fixed mortgage. The monthly mortgage payments will change slightly as we approach the end of the term. After the first 10 years, our monthly mortgage payments will fall by nearly $100, and our payment will decrease by nearly another $100 for the last 10 years.

During the weekend, Angelo Movers of Somerset moved our belongings to our new condo. It took around six hours to move everything. My wife's friend Lenny Begata moved boxes in the morning before the movers got to the condo. Don Wilson of Angelo Movers asked me about using the bathroom in the new condo. I told him, "Go ahead. But I don't know where it is!"

We reside in a two-bedroom condo unit behind King's Plaza in Bedminster. Two supermarkets provide groceries for the neighborhood. The plaza contains a few restaurants: pizza joint, sandwich shop, and Chinese restaurant. You can find other shops there like a video store and drug store. In addition, a recreation center is located right next to our condo building. For a reasonable fee of nearly $160 per month, the condo association takes care of the exterior. They shovel the snow and provide lawn care services. In addition, we have access to the recreation center for free.

On the weekend our upstairs neighbor Lucille told us that she would move her car for the moving van. Lucille also gave us a spare key for our condo. Our three-year-old son facilitated my wife's first meeting with our downstairs neighbor. She was trying to catch a few winks of extra sleep before work, but my son just kept bouncing on the floor above her bedroom. Our neighbor suggested that we encourage our son to bounce in our living room instead!

When I lived at 32 Kensington Road in Bedminster, the Verizon Wireless company shuttle bus came to get me for work. Now, I moved even closer to work. So the shuttle bus has no problem at all with driving me to and from work. This door-to-door service makes getting to work very convenient.

We are enjoying owning our very first home and recommend the process and the experience to everyone!

by Sharon Lovering

The announcement of products and services in this column is not an endorsement by the American Council of the Blind, its staff, or elected officials. Products and services are listed free of charge for the benefit of our readers. "The Braille Forum" cannot be responsible for the reliability of products and services mentioned.

To submit an item for "Here and There," send an e-mail message to [email protected]. You may call the ACB toll-free number, (800) 424-8666, and leave a message in mailbox 22. Please bear in mind that we need information two months ahead of actual publication dates.


If you are an attorney (practicing or not) with vision difficulties (low vision, legal blindness, blind, or other visual impairments) that functionally impact your reading (whether reading speed, endurance, tracking, etc.) and you have worked or are working in a law firm that uses billable hours, your participation in this research study is welcome.

This study will investigate and document what impact, if any, the billable hours system has on attorneys with visual difficulties that affect reading. This study will explore whether and how visual difficulties affect attorneys at firms, how attorneys handle and adjust to any challenges they face on the job due to visual difficulties, as well as how firms respond to attorneys whom they believe or know have visual difficulties.

Participation in this study involves a confidential interview with a researcher. The interview will take place on the phone or at a location convenient to you. Everything you tell us will be kept strictly confidential.

To participate in this Columbia University Institutional Review Board approved study or if you have questions regarding participation, please contact either Amy Lowenstein, [email protected], phone (917) 975-1186, or Rachael Yocum, [email protected], phone (917) 493-7741.


The Missouri Council of the Blind is seeking a full-time executive director. The state office is located in St. Louis, Mo. Responsibilities would include overall management and operation of the office, including planning, personnel, budget and program development, and community outreach. Candidates must be strong in business management; have good writing and verbal skills; be proficient in use of computers with adaptive technology. Proficiency in use of braille is desired, as is at least two years personal experience working with the visually impaired. A master's in rehabilitation, social work, human services, education or business administration or a bachelor's degree with four years experience is required.

Resumes may be faxed to (314) 832-7796; e-mailed to [email protected], or sent to P.O. Box 430066, St. Louis, MO 63143.


The Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Program honors 10 outstanding individuals each year for their work in creating or enhancing health care programs serving communities whose needs have been ignored or unmet. Each leader receives $120,000 to be used to enhance the program he/she is working with, as well as for personal growth. Anyone can submit a nomination. Those interested need to complete a letter of intent, which can be downloaded from the CHLP web site, Letters must be received no later than September 22, 2003. After an initial review, nomination packets will be sent to those whose candidates meet all of the program's criteria. Those packets must be returned by November 10, 2003. For more information, call (617) 426-9772.


Audio Darts of Delaware will host its 8th annual tournament October 10-12, 2003 at the Windham Garden Hotel, 700 King St., Wilmington. To reserve your room, call (302) 655-0400. Make your reservations no later than Sept. 5. Event registration is $65, and includes all events. For more information, or to register for the tournament, contact Audio Darts of Delaware, 1305 N. Broom St. #7, Wilmington, DE 19806, or phone Pat Smith at (302) 658- 7231.


FOR SALE: One Perkins brailler with carrying case, $300. Electric Perkins brailler, hardly used, $400. Contact Mari Bull at (909) 392-7975.

FOR SALE: Optelec Spectrum color video magnification system. Does negative and positive color imaging. Has a 20-inch color monitor; 4x-100x magnification. Comes with all manuals and cables. Asking $1,300 plus shipping. Contact Laird Banks at (917) 743-5000, or e-mail him, [email protected].

FOR SALE: Reading machine. Excellent condition. Contact DeLoris Robinson at (303) 936-6699.

FOR SALE: Compaq 1275 laptop computer. Serious inquiries only. Call Paul S. Anderson at (918) 273-9173 after 6 p.m.

FOR SALE: Type 'n Speak with external 3.5 disk drive. Cases for both, all cables and chargers. Large print manual. Asking $750. Call (845) 895-3020.


Jerry Annunzio
Kansas City, MO
Alan Beatty
Fort Collins, CO
Ed Bradley
Houston, TX
Brian Charlson
Watertown, MA
Dawn Christensen
Toledo, OH
Billie Jean Keith
Arlington, VA
Oral Miller
Washington, DC
Mitch Pomerantz
Los Angeles, CA
Carla Ruschival
Louisville, KY
Patrick Sheehan
Silver Spring, MD


Charles Hodge, Chairperson
Arlington, VA
Adrian De Blaey
Milwaukee, WI
Winifred Downing
San Francisco, CA
Mike Duke
Jackson, MS
Ken Stewart
Warwick, NY
Ex Officios: Earlene Hughes,
Lafayette, IN
Ralph Sanders,
Baltimore, MD
Jonathan Mosen,
Putiki, Wanganui, New Zealand



825 M ST., SUITE 216


3912 SE 5TH ST

500 S. 3RD ST. #H

Paul Edwards
20330 NE 20th Ct.
Miami, FL 33179

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