A publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio
Barbara Pierce, Editor
237 Oak Street
Oberlin, OH 44074
Sylvia Cooley, Production Editor
Dr. J. Webster Smith, President
(800) 396-6326; (NFBO Office)
P.O. Box 458, Athens, OH 45701-0458
Voice of the Nation’s Blind
The National Federation of the Blind of Ohio is a 501 (c) 3 consumer organization comprised of blind and sighted people committed to changing what it means to be blind. Though blindness is still all too often a tragedy to those who face it, we know from our personal experience that with training and opportunity it can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. We work to see that blind people receive the services and training to which they are entitled and that parents of blind children receive the advice and support they need to help their youngsters grow up to be happy, productive adults. We believe that first-class citizenship means that people have both rights and responsibilities, and we are determined to see that blind people become first-class citizens of these United States, enjoying their rights and fulfilling their responsibilities. The most serious problems we face have less to do with our lack of vision than with discrimination based on the public’s ignorance and misinformation about blindness. Join us in educating Ohioans about the abilities and aspirations of Ohio’s blind citizens. We are changing what it means to be
The NFB of Ohio has thirteen local chapters, one for at-large members, and special divisions for diabetics, merchants, students, seniors, parents of blind children, and those interested in Braille. This quarterly newsletter is produced in large print and on CDs. For information about the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio or to make address changes or be added to the mailing list, call (440) 775-2216 or email email@example.com. NFB-NEWSLINE local phone numbers: 330-247-1241 (Akron), 330-409-1900 (Canton), 513-297-1521 (Cincinnati), 216-453-2090 (Cleveland), and 614-448-1673 (Columbus)
From the President’s Desk
by J. Webster Smith
Crisis in Ohio Rehabilitation Again
by Barbara Pierce
Making Change with a Dollar
Literacy Empowerment: Answering Reading Needs (LEARN) by Debbie Baker
My Trip to Washington
by Lauren Adams
Saying Hello to the Real World, a Reflection on Future Quest 2009 by Annie Donnellon
Ohio Mentoring Goes to Baltimore
by Deborah Kendrick
Making the Affiliate Work
Toledo Back in the Fold
The Motor City March: Have You Gotten Your Tune-Up Yet? by Sheri Albers
AFB Senior Site? Turns Two
From the President’s Desk
by J. Webster Smith
I attended my first NFB convention in 1992, and it was a life-changing event. It
was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and it was unique because the meeting was held in
a convention center with the housing spread among four hotels. It was memorable for me
for a number of reasons, and in this column I want to try to convey some of those reasons
to you in an attempt to persuade you to consider attending this year’s NFB convention in
Detroit, Michigan, from July 3 through 8.
Even though I had been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1990, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Charlotte. The first thing that struck me was the way conventioneers were responding to the fact that we had to take shuttles to and from the convention center and the hosting hotels. For the vast majority it was no big deal and in fact often seemed quite enjoyable. The next thing that amazed me was the number of choices the convention offered. I remember feeling, “There is no way I could
ever attend everything I want to unless I could divide myself into three or four people.” It
seemed to me that from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. something was always going on. Now to most people that could be overwhelming, but for me it was exhilarating.
I was a young professor at Indiana University South Bend, and I had an active lifestyle that included travel, recreation, and many academic pursuits. So for me this convention suited my personality and life.
I dropped in and out of many gatherings that first year, from the blind educators meeting to parts of the parents’ meeting. I even wandered into a very interesting
reception of businesspeople that I later found out were merchants. I remember returning to my room one day and looking at the agenda and saying to myself, “I can’t imagine that they have left anything out!”
There were social choices as well, featuring great music, dancing, fellowship and food, and even a Monte Carlo night. I must admit that, when I had to call time out from exhaustion, it nearly killed me because I did not want to miss anything. I was like a starving man that year, and this convention was the ultimate smorgasbord of all things related to blindness and visual impairment. If you are busy and active and like to have options and choices, this is the event for you. I can guarantee that you will find something that interests you.
I never will forget the phone call that led to my attending that first convention. It came about two in the afternoon, and I remember a female voice saying, “Please hold for Dr. Jernigan.” My mouth fell open because I had heard his voice on many recordings, but I had never dreamed that I would hear it on my phone. When he came on the line, it was instantaneous recognition. He extended the invitation that changed my life forever. As I walked into the convention center in Charlotte, I heard all those voices that I had only read about and heard others talk about. It was fascinating to me finally to put voices with some of those names. I remember riding on one of the shuttle buses and overhearing a conversation between Allen Harris, then Peggy Pender, and Fred Schroeder. I thought to myself, “I’m on the bus with these guys, and the front of the bus at that.” What a thrill.” It really didn’t matter to me what they were talking about; just hearing them was a
powerful experience for me.
Hearing those voices compelled me to add my own enthusiastically, so I
remember voting with the resolutions committee at the meeting, as if I were a member. A longtime member tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You don’t have to do that.” I
attended the public board meeting and sat with amazement as those voices kept talking about issues that really mattered. I left that meeting with the realization that I had finally met a group of competent and confident blind people who were about the business of living their lives and making life better for other blind people. As I think back on it now, I was in search of blind people who just got it and had it. To that point I considered that I
had a very productive life, complete with a great job and family and many friends and colleagues. But I wasn’t really sure that there were other blind people with similar experience. Maybe I had been reading my press clippings too much and sort of thought I was one of those super-blind people--few and far between. At this meeting I met people who were doing things I considered extraordinary, whether they were blind or not. I also found blind people I could learn from and who could contribute to my growth in every respect. I must admit that some of the people I met did not sound anything like I thought they would when reading their articles and other writings.
I was like a newborn child at that first meeting, naive, innocent, and very vulnerable, but right at home. If you are a blind person who gets it, wants to meet others who get it as well, and, more important, want to help others get it, you should consider attending this year’s national convention.
This year’s convention is in Michigan. I know as Buckeyes we have had a
longtime competition with those guys from the state up north, but let’s look at it this way-
-it’s so close! Having such a wonderful event in our backyard should compel us to attend it. For some of you reading this, the convention will be practically a hop, skip, and a jump away, and who knows when it will ever be this close again? Just think about it. No long airplane flight or bus trip or trip by automobile. At the most, the meeting will be no more than six hours from the farthest point in our state. With this in mind we should try to have a large delegation of Buckeyes to show those from that state up north that we can compete with them even off the football field.
This is my first year as NFB-O president, and this is a golden opportunity for us to get as many people to the convention as we can, short of hosting the event ourselves. If you’ve always wanted to attend this meeting but thought that it was too far, this is your opportunity.
In these tight economic times our hotel rates are still fantastic, and I am committed to helping as many blind Ohioans attend this meeting as possible. I know what that first convention did for me, and I want to do whatever I can to give other people that kind of opportunity. You see, I have not missed a convention since 1992, and I have no plans to do so in the future. I know many of you reading this will follow the convention on the Internet, still others of you will wait for the audio version of the convention to be released, but wouldn’t it be exciting to be there and actually meet those voices you hear?
This could be the experience that changes your life so significantly that like me you will never ever forget it. As blind people we are often told that our lives have no imagination or creativity and that we must feel bad when we consider all that we are missing. To this I say, just come to Detroit and see if that is true of the majority of people you will meet there. The energy and excitement are electrifying, and I can only hope that, if you choose to join us, your experience will be half as positive and exhilarating as mine was in 1992. By the way, I’d like to meet you as well and put a voice with your name.
by Barbara Pierce
Thirty-five years ago this spring I wrote a letter to then NFB president Kenneth Jernigan. I had read my first Federation literature only the preceding January. The man who gave me the recordings of Dr. Jernigan’s speeches had by then left the area,
instructing a handful of us to do what we could to keep the newly reorganized At-Large Chapter of the NFB of Ohio afloat. I wanted to be a good soldier, but it seemed to me that we in Lorain County needed to band together in a chapter in order to encourage each other and to be able to work more effectively to improve life for the county’s blind
citizens. So I wrote with my problem to that far-away, inspiring person, the president of the National Federation of the Blind. I explained my conflicting desires to follow the instructions I had been given and to organize a chapter and asked his advice.
Having now been a state president for almost a quarter century, I can imagine the joyful impact of such a letter on Dr. Jernigan and, when he received a copy of my letter, on my own state president, Bob Eschbach. Very rarely indeed do people contact an NFB president eager to establish a local chapter. I cannot now reconstruct what I expected the response to my letter to be. Now it seems only reasonable to me that the national president would have responded to my letter. After all, I was asking for advice; what should I have expected? I only know that I was thrilled beyond words to get the letter that I received. I am sorry that in the intervening years I have lost it. He gave me wise and practical counsel and alerted me that I would be hearing from Bob Eschbach. Bob’s call
was almost immediate, and out of that conversation and his subsequent visit arose the Lorain County chapter.
But the beginning of my chapter is not what I have been thinking about this spring. By far, as I remember it, the larger part of Dr. Jernigan’s letter was spent urging me to attend the national convention in Chicago that summer. This was probably no more than an automatic invitation at the close of the letter, but to me it was the most important part of it.
I don’t suppose I seriously considered attending the convention that year. Our children were almost six, three, and eleven months. The baby was still nursing, and I certainly would not have considered that I could travel independently with her to a convention and attend sessions while caring for her. I told myself that I was needed at home and that we certainly did not have the disposable income to allow me to go off on such a jaunt, even if my long-suffering husband were willing to take on the preschoolers by himself. I know now that I should have dared to go to that convention. It was one of the great ones. But I sat down to write Dr. Jernigan to explain why I could not attend the convention and to assure him that I would be among the first to reserve a room for the 1975 convention. Making that promise to attend the convention the following year was an important step for me.
By then I had attended my first state convention and was president of my local chapter. I understood how important to my own development as an independent blind woman NFB conventions could be. Besides, Bob had promised to go with me to the convention, and we spent the intervening year scrimping to save the funds for the convention and the sitter for the kids. This was long before NFB Camp for Federation children. I was still very far from having the courage to set out for a national convention alone. I hope I would have had the nerve to do it if Bob had insisted on staying home to save money by minding the children while I went alone, but I am not certain how it would have come out. I will always be grateful to him for being willing to go. His willingness has made all the difference.
I don’t have the words to describe the impact of that 1975 convention on me. I arrived carrying a fifty-four-inch folding cane, using it only when I had no reliable arm to
cling to. As soon as the exhibit hall opened, I bought a fifty-seven-inch straight fiberglass cane. The minute I tried it, I told Bob that it was as if I had been playing a piano with mittens on and now I had taken them off. When we went to dinner with two other couples in which one spouse was sighted and one was blind, I noticed that the other blind people were walking with their spouses but using their canes. I was the only one without a cane. That was just about the last time I ever walked anywhere outside my home, except to the altar in church, without using a cane.
I was not a rapid Braille reader, but I was given a Braille convention agenda that allowed me to decode my choices for meetings to attend. Bob was not much of a meeting attender, so he would go off to the art museum or other place of interest, leaving me to dip into convention activities on my own. I had never been in the Palmer House before, and I had no idea where anything was, but the place was filled with blind people figuring out where they wanted to go, and I decided that I would not look or feel out of place asking my way around the hotel. I discovered that I was pretty good at getting where I wanted to go, and the liberation I experienced was intoxicating.
I have never missed another convention, though for many years I went on my own because Bob had to stay home with the brood. I can only imagine the impact that this year’s convention will have on first-time attendees. The program is vastly more complex
and compelling than it was back then. For families with blind children, nothing can compare with the impact of a week of intensive parent programming and contact with competent, well-adjusted blind adults to shape parents’ and blind kids’ conceptions of what blind people can become. We now have many vocational and avocational divisions bringing people together with similar interests and needs. Access technology vendors and organizations assisting blind people in various ways are represented in the exhibit hall. NFB committees and departments at our headquarters at the National Center for the Blind schedule workshops and seminars to jump-start affiliate and local chapter activities. Above all, because thousands of blind people now attend our conventions, the opportunities to network with others who face the same challenges we do in our daily lives are much greater than they used to me. And I have to say that the networking I did at my first convention led me to deep friendships that continue to nurture and encourage me all these years later.
If you are considering attending this year’s convention July 3 through 8 in Detroit, I urge you to make up your mind in favor of doing so. Ohio has a bus traveling from Cincinnati, through Dayton and Toledo to Detroit. It costs $20 to reserve a seat, but that money is returned when you actually climb on the bus. So the price is right for getting to and from the convention. To reserve your seat on the bus, contact Crystal McClain, (937) 935-6188; email
The Ohio affiliate is warm and friendly, and its members are happy to show new-comers the ropes. If you are a parent of a blind child, contact Cindy Conley, president of
the parents division. Her email address is
I could list lots of other people whom you could contact, and I will be happy to mention names and contact information if you get in touch with me. But I suggest that you make plans to come to the convention this summer, where you can meet people yourself. The experience will change your life.
Crisis in Ohio Rehabilitation Again
by Barbara Pierce
As long as I have been active in the Federation, the Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC) and its constituent bureaus, including the Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired (BSVI), have periodically found themselves in one sort of political hot water or another. Sometimes it was with consumers such as the battles when the agency ditched the word “blind” in the bureau’s name, or when it embraced the not-very-bright
idea of adding the National Accreditation Council (NAC) to the list of acceptable accrediting bodies for agencies doing business with RSC, despite NAC’s abysmal record
of approving bad agencies and making enemies of blind consumers. Other times the problems have been with the governor, the legislature, or the Rehabilitation Services Administration in Washington.
We have often pointed out that, if RSC and BSVI know what is good for them, they will maintain good relations with the consumer organizations, particularly the NFB. After all, we are the blind consumers who have the energy and know-how to advocate for the rehab services we need when those services are effective and responsive. After all, we have intervened successfully in budget fights for RSC more than once.
The current mess the RSC finds itself in is a doozy, and it is impossible to predict where it will end and how badly blind Ohioans and others with disabilities will be hurt. As these situations almost always are, the current mess is complicated. The budget cuts and the worsening economic picture for state government generally have ratcheted up the pressure on the agency. But the original disagreement between the legislature and governor on the one hand and the RSC administrator, John Connelly, on the other goes back to the previous budget. Some federal funds intended for rehabilitation and therefore, in Connelly’s view, appropriately allocated by RSC were instead earmarked by the
legislature for the use of private rehab agencies. The Cleveland Sight Center, for example, got a million dollars to establish and run a call center training program. Perhaps this was a good use of federal funds, but the RSC administrator believed that the state agency should make that decision, not the legislature, which admittedly knows very little about rehabilitation.
Even more disturbing from our point of view, the Ohio Association of
Rehabilitation Facilities (OARF) received funds to establish a body to accredit and perhaps to certify individual service providers. Theirs is the usual argument that
responsible professionals must officially demonstrate the quality of the services being provided, and an accrediting or certifying body is the best, maybe the only, way of guaranteeing quality. This argument sounds sensible on its face, but consider these things. Where a community is large enough to have agencies, certification of individual employees may be possible. The agency can absorb the cost of doing the certifying. But what happens to professionals out in the sticks, trying to make a precarious living serving consumers over a large geographic area in which they are the only purveyor of those services? They usually make very little money and do not have the discretionary funds to cover the cost of certification. What happens to consumers who no longer have access to services they need when the professional has to stop coming to their homes? The agencies are in favor of mandatory certification or accreditation of individual service providers because they can safely assume that they will get increased business, at least from consumers with the option of traveling to a large city for services. But the consumers who can’t or won’t leave home will just have to do without services.
John Connelly tried standing up to the legislature, arguing that rehab decisions should be made by the RSC and that the state agency should be allocating funds for rehab services, not the legislature. This position did not make him popular in the legislature or the governor’s office. In our view his position was correct, but morale at RSC was at
perhaps an all-time low, and distrust among consumers was high. After all, signs were popping up everywhere that RSC might be subsumed under a cabinet-level agency, smothering BSVI even further under a load of bureaucracy, and no one could be sure how serious Mr. Connelly was in resisting this movement.
The result was what in hindsight one might have expected. No consumer cavalry rode in to help by speaking up in favor of the agency. The legislature and governor saw an opportunity to get rid of a roadblock to their plans. An unpopular and somewhat inept bureaucrat lost his job. And, worst of all from our standpoint, blind consumers and those with all sorts of other disabilities are likely to suffer even scantier and more wrong-headed services. The tale of how this story has unfolded is told by the Columbus
Dispatch, which carried it in three articles in March and April. Here are the stories:
Amendment May Put State Rehab Director's Job in Jeopardy
by James Nash
March 31, 2009
As key state officials grow more frustrated with his performance, John M. Connelly’s days as executive director of the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission could be numbered. A joint conference committee last night inserted an out-of-nowhere amendment into the state transportation budget that would essentially make Connelly an appointee of Gov. Ted Strickland, instead of an appointee of the commission’s board.
The amendment was drafted by Sen. John A. Carey Jr., R-Wellston, to give Strickland more control over the position. Rep. Michael J. Skindell, D-Lakewood, said he was working on a similar amendment.
Skindell said concern about management of the Rehabilitation Services
Commission has stretched back into the Taft administration. The “straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, was when the commission refused to release a $250,000 earmark that he, with support from Carey, inserted into the last two-year budget. “The frustration
has existed with the legislature dealing with RSC during the budget times, and the executive branch dealing with RSC,” Skindell said. He cited examples of using uncertified providers and the commission “hoarding” federally purchased computers, rather than putting them to good use.
The $250,000 earmark was designated for the Ohio Association of Rehabilitation Facilities to create an accreditation program. Skindell said he was concerned that the commission was using uncertified service providers. So far $50,000 of that money has been spent.
“For some reason the director and the commission has resisted releasing those funds,” Carey said. “We’ve been pretty frustrated with the lack of responsiveness to our
legislative directives. And there’s been some management issues and concerns about the efficiency of the commission, and it doesn’t seem the administration or the legislature have been able to put their hands around it.” Carey added: “It’s too bad, because at one
time RSC had a really good relationship with the legislature and the administration. Unfortunately that has not continued under the current leadership.”
Connelly, fifty-four, joined the commission in 1980 and has served as executive director for nearly eight years. He said he was blindsided by the amendment. “I have no
idea what you’re talking about,” he said when called at his home last night. Connelly
defended his record, noting that a recent programmatic audit by the state auditor’s office
“found no management problems,” and the agency each year has helped an increasing
number of disabled Ohioans find work or obtain disability benefits.
Connelly said there were a series of problems with the earmark. “Our general
counsel indicated it was illegal because it was earmarking federal money,” he said. “Then there have been some issues with the recipients in terms of what their status is. The staff and I have been following direction we’ve received from the commissioners.”
Skindell said Connelly did raise some issues. “That’s fine. But they felt they could undo what 132 members of the General Assembly instructed them to do,” he said. “I’m concerned there has been a long history of issues with RSC, and I’ve been battling
on this one earmark.”
The 1,300-employee commission helps people with various disabilities find work, live independently, and qualify for Social Security disability payments. Though some say Connelly is a national leader in helping people with disabilities find jobs, he also has faced heavy fire for his management style, which some say has crushed morale at the agency and led to lawsuits.
Two licensed vendors and the two advocacy groups for blind Ohioans sued the commission, contending that it suppressed public records about its vendor-selection process. Meanwhile, a recent office survey showed that employee morale is in tatters, and both unions representing employees said a few months ago that things were not getting better. "Morale at the agency is at an all-time low," Jennifer Farmer, then spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents more than 300 vocational-rehabilitation counselors, said in November. "Staff members are encouraged to snitch on each other."
The House and Senate are expected to give final approval to the transportation budget today (Tuesday), and Strickland is expected to sign it by midnight. “This was a
legislative proposal that the governor did not object to,” said Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said of the amendment. She repeatedly declined to elaborate.
Skindell said the idea of changing Connelly’s status was first raised more than two years ago by Strickland’s transition team, which helped him review state government operations and recommend changes. Former Rep. Barbara Sykes, wife of current House Finance Chairman Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, headed up the health and human services portion of that team. Vernon Sykes was one of six members of the conference committee that approved the amendment.
“I don’t know what’s in store for him,” Skindell said of Connelly. “I have the utmost confidence that the governor has already done some outstanding appointments within RSC, and I think he’ll do really well with this particular appointment.”
Transportation Bill Waved on
House, Senate OK Wide-Ranging Plans
by James Nash
April 2, 2009
After weeks of debating trains, speed cameras, and vehicle fees, lawmakers approved Ohio's biggest-ever transportation budget yesterday by overwhelming margins. The two-year, $9.6 billion budget advances the idea of passenger trains across Ohio, builds and improves hundreds of miles of roads, and channels nearly $800 million in federal stimulus money to roadways, bridges, and ports. It will not put cameras in construction zones to catch speeders, nor will it allow police to cite drivers only for not wearing their seat belts.
Although some lawmakers called the budget a sweeping piece of legislation that will affect how Ohioans get around the state, a few of its provisions have nothing to do with transportation. The bill extends the period in which unemployed Ohioans are eligible for public assistance. It provides three additional months of subsidized health insurance to small-business workers who lost their jobs. It also changes the relationship between Gov. Ted Strickland and the state agency that provides job placement and other services to disabled Ohioans.
That agency, the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, has come under fire from lawmakers, its employee unions, and groups representing disabled Ohioans for dragging its feet on spending a $250,000 earmark, for poor employee relations, and for allegedly mismanaging a program in which blind people provide vending services on state property. Lawmakers slipped a provision into the transportation budget that would make the commission's executive director, currently John M. Connelly, answerable to Strickland instead of the seven-member commission.
Although Connelly has been blamed for many of the complaints around the 1,300-employee agency, the commission itself supports him. In its most recent review of his performance, dated February 23, the panel praised his "steadfast public service."
Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said the governor did not ask to have Connelly report to him. Under the new arrangement, however, Strickland will carefully review Connelly's job performance, Wurst said. "The governor is generally aware of the concerns that some have raised," she said.
Joyce C. Young, chairwoman of the commission, expressed dismay that the change was tucked into the transportation budget without warning. "We would have