Reader’s Forum – Week of May 27, 2013

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.

In response to Bob’s article How Did We Survive Without the Cane? Denise wrote:

All the years I attended the New York Institute we never used canes getting around the campus, either. We just walked around without one and knew where we were going. It amazes me, too, when I think about it because sometimes we would run from place to place instead of walking and it’s a wonder we didn’t have accidents happen to ourselves or others. I think it’s because young people are less afraid of things like that happening and are just so carefree at that age. We had an outside school store where we’d have to leave the campus and walk up a long block to get there and we would go there by following the grass line instead of using any type of mobility aid. Now when we go back to the school for Alumni weekends, it is so strange using the cane or dog there, but it also feels different than when we attended school and didn’t need any type of help getting around. I think it’s because as we get older we are aware of getting more bumps and bruises. Now, though, the students have to use their canes at the school, but I feel in our day we were more independent without them.

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In response to Bob Branco’s May 13 Op Ed, Joe Fallin wrote:

It’s a little late to do this, but I think some important issues concerning the decline in membership of blindness organizations were not brought out.

First: The traditional recruiting base for these organizations, schools for the blind, have receded in importance. The alumni of these schools formed a network of people who had much in common. Since there are fewer totally blind people than there were in the 1960s and many are educated in public schools, there is no longer a natural place where blind people come to know one another.

Second: Blind people simply are not as hungry as they used to be. Unfortunately, we’re victims of our success. With the coming of SSI and Medicaid, many choose not to be employed anymore. I understand why someone would choose that life because the private sector is no more interested in employing people who are blind than they used to be.

Third: People simply do not join anything anymore. Social media encourages people to meet only people like themselves, so advocacy becomes more difficult with lower numbers and a narrower audience.

Expecting people who are blind to have one organization is like expecting the Republican and Democratic parties to merge because we’re all Americans.

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Also in response to Bob Branco’s May 13 Op Ed, Daniel wrote:

Bob Branco’s op-ed about the decline in consumer organizations has generated some controversy in the Reader’s Forum. Many people have offered their ideas as to why, in general, blind consumer organizations might be in decline. Others have taken this as an opportunity to bash the NFB. It is to those individuals that I write this letter in defense of the NFB.

First off, the characterization of NFB leaders as neurotic is childish. The word “neurotic” is a clinical word with a clinical definition attached to it. Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose an individual as being “neurotic.” And note that I used the word “individual.” It seems to me unfair to paint with such a broad brush and to diagnose the leadership of an organization as being “neurotic.” It may seem from the outside, and even from the inside, that many members of the NFB are way too overconfident about their blindness. Is that such a crime? I would rather spend time with successful blind people who are confident and can provide mentorship to other blind people than to spend time with people who are not confident and may feel sorry for themselves.

It seems to me that the NFB can’t win. Some people criticize the NFB for being too autocratic while others dislike what they call “infighting.” I think that healthy disagreement is a good thing. By debating ideas they can be weighed and proposals judged on their merits. Once these disagreements have been resolved away from the public eye, an organization can present a
united front and move forward in the arena of ideas.

As far as the article describing a Colorado Center for the Blind’s student difficulties in getting home, is there any reason to believe that this gentleman was not told about the holiday after Thanksgiving? Maybe he was told and he simply forgot. It is worth noting that no other student showed up for class that day. It is one thing to challenge NFB philosophy and policies with the facts, but it is something altogether different to bash the NFB with baseless accusations and speculations. This brings me to my final point.

I think that it is pointless to speculate about the number of members of the NFB. All I’ll say is that anecdotal evidence and mere conjecture are not proof. It is up to the person leveling these wild accusations to provide hard proof that will back up his claim.

I’ll let a member of the ACB defend that organization. All I’ll say about them is that even though the so-called “civil war” has been over for years, they never pass up an opportunity to take petty jabs at the NFB.

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In response to Bob Branco’s May 13 Op Ed, David McElroy wrote:

Regarding the two national advocacy organizations, I feel that neither one has the interests of the blind at heart. They are only interested in the benefits provided to their “leadership.”

So long as we, the blind, are truly less than equal, they can maintain these benefits for themselves and their chosen. I have to guess that this attitude goes back to the very beginning of both organizations. This is also the root cause of the infighting I think. Everybody wants a piece of that fundraising pie.

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In response to Terri Winaught’s article Affordable, Universal Accessibility, Edward wrote:

I once used Jaws, but it’s expensive! When Microsoft has a windows upgrade, Jaws has to make an upgrade too. Then, you pay for a revised version of your screen reader. This is the hair that broke the camel’s back. I needed to upgrade to a Windows 7 computer. Jaws would have to be upgraded for $500 to make Windows 7 accessible. So, I decided to download NVDA.

At first I was a little bit confused. Then, I went through the keyboard commands and user guide. NVDA is not perfect. For instance, I got gibberish while using AOL email subject lines and email addresses. I would highlight the line, copy with control+c, then read the clipboard with NVDA button+c. NVDA’s latest download version allows access to the AOL email editor without gibberish. NVDA may have problems, but the problems are being addressed. NVDA is a great alternative to Jaws or Window-Eyes.

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Cheryl Wade wrote:

I would like to respond to Julie in the May 20 issue. She said blind people don’t have a good lobby, so we don’t get things done.

I think this truly is a mixed bag.

First, Social Security Disability Insurance recipients are allowed to make much more money each month if they are blind than if they have some other disability. People who are blind are much more likely to receive SSDI benefits on the first try compared to people with other disabilities. Second, a person who is blind does not have to pay for a state ID, at least in Michigan. We can download books for free — books that people who are not blind would need to buy. We have been very successful in helping to set accessibility standards for many kinds of technology.

Of course, there are down sides. We still can’t make Microsoft create an operating system that truly works for us. And, because the federal government allows us to make more money and still receive disability payments, I fear we are seen as a group that has a really big, big disability.

A friend told me she went to a state hearing about budgetary expenses that effect blind people. A legislator said something like, “We already spend more money on you blind people than on any other group.” Yeah, maybe they do, but that money pays us to sit on our bottoms, rather than get real jobs.

So, yes, it’s a really mixed bag. But it’s not all bad.

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Beth wrote in response to Ann Chiapetta’s articles on service dogs:

With great interest, I am following the progress, both in the U.S. and Japan, of the robotic guide dog, which has many positive ramifications, for instance, for people who could not or don’t want to care for a living animal or deal with behavioral quirks, for those with bad allergies and for those who would benefit from different orientation and mobility methods. Outdoor and indoor navigation will be possible with this general concept, with indoor being done with RFID tags on objects and recognition of those by the dog. Training and acquisition costs would be much less than for a real dog and the sadness of illness and death of real dogs would be eliminated. Has anyone ever seen any of the robotic dogs being developed? Thanks for any input, now and in the future.

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