2/11/18 Newspaper Article courtesy Jefferson City News Tribune (Link to Article)
by Bob Watson
Members of Missouri's chapter of the National Federation of the Blind will visit the Capitol this week in their annual lobbying effort to remind lawmakers of their special needs.
They include more access to Braille materials for students, improved salaries for vocational rehabilitation counselors, and accessible voting in all elections.
"Our 2018 legislative agenda makes evident the NFB of Missouri's commitment to increase employment among the blind and to remove barriers to full participation in society," said Shelia Wright, president of the NFB of Missouri, in a news release. "Blind people have to contend with an unemployment rate of 70 percent.
"Blind people who know Braille are more likely to be employed."
So, as they have pushed in previous years, the federation wants lawmakers to "provide schools with better tools to ensure blind students have more access to Braille instruction," Wright explained.
State law already recognizes Braille — a system of raised dots that can be formed to represent letters, numbers and punctuation marks — as the equivalent of print.
And the law said no blind person shall be denied instruction in Braille, but it allows school districts to conduct evaluations to determine whether print or Braille is the most appropriate method for reading and writing for a given student.
"Far too often, print is determined to be the most appropriate reading medium because the process used in making evaluations is flawed," the NFB said in its agenda documentation, "and because the strong preference of teachers and school administrators is to teach what they know and use the resources easily available to them."
The federation wants lawmakers to modify existing state law so it requires school districts to use a research-based assessment for determining what tools a blind student will need.
"Knowing the resistance we have seen from special education administrators, we firmly believe that adding 'standardized' to the definition of assessment to be of great importance," the federation told lawmakers. "We know hundreds of adults and many children who have been denied the opportunity to learn Braille.
"A research-based, assessment could have avoided their education being compromised."
The federation also wants lawmakers to remember there is education outside of the classroom, and "the Vocational Rehabilitation counselors with Rehabilitation Services for the Blind are valuable assets who contribute to the success of blind Missourians."
Unfortunately, the federation is telling lawmakers this week, "the salary afforded to these valuable professionals is markedly less than the Vocational Rehabilitation counselors for those with other disabilities through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation," even though the work is essentially the same.
"For years Rehabilitation Services for the Blind has had a problem attracting and keeping highly qualified counselors with a master's degree and a level of experience that translates into quality, competent, dedicated and effective counselors," the federation explains, urging lawmakers to raise RSB counselors's pay to match the their Division of Vocational Rehabilitation counterparts.
"This would result in retention of highly motivated and empathetic individuals."
During their lobbying work, the National Federation of the Blind members also want lawmakers to protect their right to vote privately and independently, using non-visual access voting machines.
They're required in federal elections by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
"We ask that they be used consistently in all elections," the federation said. "The cost of setting them up should be minimal since text-to-speech options are available.
"Concerted efforts are made to get voters to the polls — Missouri should assure that when they arrive, they have the means to cast their ballots privately and independently."
The federation said not requiring the machines to be used in all elections would violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
10/9/17 Newspaper Article courtesy Jefferson City News Tribune (Link to Article)
Walk-a-thon sheds light on blind issues
by Gerry Tritz
More than a dozen people walked around McKay Park on Sunday to raise money and draw attention to issues faced by the blind.
The 30th annual National Federation of the Blind Walk-a-thon featured blind people, along with family/friends, food and lots of walking. Some walked up to 30 laps around McKay Lake, about 18 miles.
Part of the goal of the event is to have the public "realize blindness doesn't define who we are. There are lots of obstacles and the federation works to remove obstacles so that blind people can reach their goals and live the lives they want," said Shelia Wright, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri.
Melissa Cain, the local NFB chapter president, said the walk-a-thon is in October, the same month as Meet the Blind Month, which encourages people to meet those who are blind to learn about blindness.
The walk is also near White Cane Safety Day, Oct. 15. That day is to remind drivers to pay attention to blind people, who often use white canes to navigate while walking.
One problem for blind people is with newer hybrid or electric cars that make less noise than traditional vehicles. For blind people,hearing is important when walking, especially at crosswalks or other areas where vehicles are near.
After considerable efforts, the NFB and others advocating for the blind convinced Congress to approve the Pedestrian Enhancement Safety Act.
Gary Wilbers of the Columbia NFB chapter said the law requires vehicles traveling less than 20 mph to make a certain whirling sound to alert blind people to their presence.
The law was opposed initially by automakers, who strive to make vehicles as quiet as possible, and by environmentalists who don't want noise pollution.
The law was approved in 2011 and signed by President Barack Obama. But drafting the regulations, which determines the details of the law, hasn't happened until recently.
Wilbers expects automakers to start incorporating the changes into their 2019 vehicles.
Cain said that's just one area in which the NFB hopes to create more understanding on the issue of blindness.
"We encourage people to ask questions," she said. "It's not going to offend me.
"So next time they can be more comfortable. That's part of our awareness and increasing understanding."
8/12/17 Website Article courtesy USABA.org website (Link to Article)
Fitbits Help National Fitness Challenge Participants Set and Meet Realistic Goals
By: USABA Contributor
For Jenny Carmack, walking had always been a way to ease her worries -- that is, until two years ago, when she lost all of her vision.
“I’ve always enjoyed walking,” the 43-year-old said. “It’s been a stress reliever for me over the years. But it was causing more stress than it was relieving stress when I lost all my vision. It became intimidating just to walk a few blocks.”
Luckily, walking is back to being an enjoyable activity these days -- which is important, considering Carmack has been wearing a Fitbit and tracking her steps as part of the National Fitness Challenge. Slowly but surely, Carmack has gotten back out there, and it’s safe to say she’s no longer intimidated. If anything, others should be intimidated by all the walking she’s been doing.
The National Fitness Challenge has impacted the lives of more than 3,000 people who are blind and visually impaired. The goal of the Challenge remains the same every year: to raise the physical activity level of each participant, with the goal of engaging in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity and 10,000 steps a day.
Here’s how it works: Anthem Foundation awarded the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes grant funding, as it has for the fifth year in a row -- and USABA partnered with 13 agencies across the nation -- including the Missouri affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, which Carmack is a part of -- to recruit participants and provide resources, along with physical activity opportunities, so that participants could reach their daily goals.
The technology plays a key role in motivating and tracking success. The funding from Anthem Foundation provided a Fitbit Flex 2 wearable device to each participant. The Fitbit acts as a way for people to monitor their progress. It also introduces a level of interaction with other participants, as the 13 groups are competing with their fellow team members on active minutes and number of steps each month.
Back to Carmack: Growing up legally blind, she was involved with marching band, and she tried her hand at softball. But really, she just liked to walk. So perhaps that’s why she was a perfect fit for the Challenge.
Ever since it started this year, Carmack has been an “extremely dependable and reliable” participant, said Robin House, the chairperson for the Missouri group’s sports and recreation committee, who has been with the organization for 20 years.
So would it surprise you to learn that initially, Carmack wasn’t so sure about the Challenge? In addition to the recent loss of her vision, which happened due to complications involving her glaucoma, Carmack also lives with a heart condition, and she wasn’t sure how well she’d do.
But Carmack was smart. When she set her step goal at 10,000 a day and failed to reach her mark, she didn’t lose hope. Instead, she tweaked the system to her advantage.
“It felt discouraging to never reach the 10,000-a-day (step goal),” Carmack said. “But then I learned you can move your goal around. So I started aiming for 4,000 steps a day. Now I’m up to 9,000 a day. And when I hit 9,000, that vibration from the Fitbit gives me that, ‘Yay, I did it!’ feeling.”
Carmack said she likes getting the feedback from the wearable device, and her goal is to hit 10,000 a day soon. And she doesn’t dismiss her heart condition. Carmack is well aware of how it affects her body.
“I have a hard time pushing myself some days,” she said. “And then some days I’m more tired than others. ... I just have to listen to my body.”
Throughout the week, Carmack walks with her husband or on the treadmill. She also tries to attend the group walks with NFB Missouri’s Lewis and Clark chapter.
Stephanie McDowell, 38, has been embarking on the group walks, as well. Although she too is visually impaired, tracking her steps and living in St. Louis -- just like Carmack -- the two are very different.
When presented with the opportunity to take part in the Challenge, McDowell didn’t hesitate.
“She has such a positive attitude -- it’s inspiring,” House said. “(McDowell has) faced adversity. But she’s always very positive and forward-thinking.” Both women “display such commitment to the Challenge,” House said.
It was easy for McDowell to commit to the Challenge because a lot of her steps come from a normal day’s activities. This is her first time wearing a Fitbit. She said she plans to continue all the walking after the Challenge is over. It helps that she’s not in pain anymore.
Three years ago, McDowell was hit by a car. A driver went up on the curb and smashed right into her. The crash broke McDowell’s collar bone and pelvic bone. It really hurt to walk afterward, and recovery was painful, she said.
On top of that, McDowell recently had two stents put in her heart.
“It’s been six months,” she said. “I get tired easily. But the Challenge has helped me get moving again. Being around others helps. And you’re supposed to exercise as you recover from a heart attack -- eat better and move around. So it all fell in line.”
McDowell said she was en route to a cleaner lifestyle, but wearing the Fitbit motivated her even more to keep up with the healthy habits. She either hits 10,000 steps a day or comes very close, she said.
Between the heart complications and the car accident, “I think I’ve hit my quota,” for unfortunate health events, McDowell joked.
“This has been really fun to see what I’m capable of and how well everyone else is doing,” she said.
McDowell has been involved with NFB Missouri for 10 years and lived with visual impairment since she was 14.
The NFB is headquartered in Baltimore. Missouri, an NFB affiliate, is then broken into chapters -- for example, the Lewis and Clark chapter in St. Louis.
This Missouri team is the only group of the 13 organizations competing in the Challenge with statewide competitors, House said. This marks the NFB Missouri’s first year with the Challenge, as well.
“It’s really going well,” House said. “We love it. For a long time, we wanted to do some work in terms of promoting fitness for blind people and our members. But we didn’t have the right framework to build any momentum. Missouri had its own (sports and recreation-type) committee that we’d just started in the fall when we learned about the National Fitness Challenge from USABA. We thought it’d be perfect. The Challenge gave us that direction and framework that we needed.
“We were kind of asking ourselves, ‘What should our purpose be?’ We didn’t get too far when the opportunity became available.”
House said the group just finished in third place for the third consecutive month.
“We’re proud of that, although we’d love to see the top two spots.”
2/16/17 Newspaper Article courtesy of the News Tribune, Jefferson City Mo (Link to Article)
Blind Federation members lobby lawmakers
Members of Missouri's National Federation of the Blind (NFB) chapter visited the Capitol this week, delivering their message that "low expectations create obstacles between blind people and their dreams. Blindness is not what holds us back."
Their annual lobbying effort involves informing lawmakers of some of the key, special issues facing blind Missourians that those with sight may not have considered.
Requiring a research-based, standardized reading media assessment.
Missouri law says "no blind person shall be denied instruction in Braille," but it does allow school districts to determine whether print or Braille is "the most appropriate method for reading and writing for a given student," the NFB reminded lawmakers. "Far too often print is determined to be the most appropriate reading medium because the process used in making evaluations is flawed and because the strong preference of teachers and school administrators is to teach what they know and use the resources easily available to them."
However, if blind students aren't provided materials in Braille when they need them, the group said, there can be physical and health consequences.
"It is common practice for students with visual impairments to hold reading materials very close to their faces, and/or to hunch their bodies over the materials when reading," the NFB explained.
"In addition to the posture and other health concerns these reading positions raise, years of field practice and experience have demonstrated that youth who read print materials at very close distances suffer eye strain, headache, neck and back pain, fatigue, and diminished concentration, reading speed, and comprehension."
So any test the state uses should "ensure that children are evaluated when sitting up straight and with materials held or placed at standardized distances," the group said. "We urge the Missouri General Assembly to embrace literacy for the blind with the same vigor that our society embraces literacy for the sighted."
Mandating accessible voting in all elections.
The federal "Help America Vote Act" requires each polling place to have at least one voting machine, during each federal election, that can be used by a blind person without requiring the assistance of a sighted person.
The federation wants to see those voting machines used "consistently" in state and local elections as well as federal contests — and doing so would bring the state into compliance with two other federal laws, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
Changing state law involving the identification required to buy alcohol.
Recently, the NFB told lawmakers, a blind chemist, 35, visiting from another state was not allowed to buy alcohol because Missouri law didn't recognize his state's non-driver license as being valid.
They said current law, which lists Missouri's non-driver license and a valid out-of-state driver's license as acceptable identification, should be updated to include valid non-driver's licenses from other states.s
The National Federation of the Blind distributes many different magazines, newspapers, newsletters, speeches, reports, books, and other pieces of literature to inform the public (blind and sighted) about the true nature of blindness and about issues of interest to the blind.
The leading publication of the NFB, this magazine is published eleven times a year and covers blindness-related events, activities, and issues.
This quarterly magazine (published by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children)offers parents and teachers a multitude of resources and information based on the positive NFB philosophy.
This influential series of booklets is made up of inspirational stories written by blind people about themselves.
Discover key NFB speeches delivered by our esteemed leaders Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, and Marc Maurer. Included in this section are national convention banquet speeches, presidential reports, resolutions, and President Maurer’s presidential releases.
Topics covered by NFB literature include Braille, discrimination, education, seniors, low vision, parents, students, technology, and more! In addition, you'll find Information Packets full of valuable articles, books, resource lists, brochures, and forms. All of these items are available to order, and many are immediately available online!
For more information about blindness, please contact the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at 410-659-9314 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org