January, 2015

Letter from the president

Dear current and future high school and college aged students,

My name is Jim Debus, and I am currently the president of The American Council of Blind Students. I want to let everyone know about some of the cool and innovative things we are pursuing in 2015 and beyond. I would first like to reflect upon our past successes from our Las Vegas convention held in the summer of 2014, where many friendships were rekindled, memories were made and fun was brought to fruition. It was some of the most excitement I have ever been a part of, delivering our first breakfast to a deserving conventioner who probably got six hours more sleep than us, to dropping that last newspaper off at someone's door step, knowing that our night was only beginning. Many of us ventured outside of the hotel grounds, making a grocery run to the overpriced convenience store around the corner (only a $12 cab ride away,) exploring the fountains at the Ballegio, or going on a day trip to California to endore the sweltering heat and ride some roller coasters.

I had the privilege of speaking with some people who strongly influenced by direction as president of the American Council of Blind Students. I talked with David Lepofsky, who convinced me to advocate on behalf of all people with disabilities instead of focusing only on people who are blind. Stepping outside of this viewpoint allowed me to see the bigger picture of what I am taking on, a very small niche group of the population. David told me of his defense of a case in Ontario where he represented those in favor of keeping the automated voice over feature offered by the Greater Transit Authority in Toronto. He was able to broaden the appeal and speak to the importance of keeping this function by promoting the general public's need for such an adaptation. Mr. Lepofsky cited that many times on crowded buses people cannot always see where they are and so the talking mechanism helps by letting them know where they are along with the other visually impaired riders. He mentions also that sighted people, much like their sighted peers, do not always like shifting their attention from what they are reading, so again the operation serves multiple needs and not just those who cannot physically see their locations.

Michael Garrett and I talked shop when in came to our experiences with adaptive sports, he with beep baseball and myself with Goalball. Our shared admiration and enthusiasm for sports lead us to conversing about college football, high school wrestling and he eventually teaching me the difference between a two and three point stance. All of these encounters taught me that we have countless opportunities to grow as people outside of the classroom. We can all learn something from other people, since we all have different experiences and can benefit from listening to advice they have to give.

This leads me to goals we are pursuing in 2015 which are:

  • Growing the membership of ACB Students to 150 by convention.
  • Bring on an administrative assistant to coordinate the Goalball grassroots program and National Fitness Challenges for USABA. This partnership will attract a younger membership from individuals from across the country and encourage them to become physically active.
  • Solicit our local Lion's Clubs and similar organizations for potential scholarship contributions.

One of the partnerships we are already most proud of is our relationship with Patti Reck, an author and narrator of her very own audio book which tells the story of her journey to Japan where she witnessed how blind and visually impaired students were treated in their culture. Mrs. Reck was so gracious to offer us $6 from each of her books sold to go back to the ACB Scholarship fund. We plan to offer two scholarships in the upcoming year to deserving and qualified students, and have also voted to donate $900 to the EYE Retreat, a vocational based residential camp for school aged students who are blind and visually impaired in North Carolina. Our contribution is enough to send six less privileged individuals to the camp who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend.

We are very proud of our accomplishments thus far and look forward to what 2015 has to offer us. Please contact me if you have any ideas for a guest for our monthly conference calls, which take place on the third Sunday of each month at 8:00pm. Call into (712)432-1212, access code 780014213. More information regarding our calls can be found on our public Facebook group, ACB Students.

Thanks everyone for taking the time to read our annual update and I hope to see you at Midyear or hear your voice at an upcoming meeting!

Jim Debus, ACBS President


In the October conference call with ACBS Board and guests, President Jim Debus introduced to us author Patti Reck of Redmond, Oregon. She told us briefly of her soft-cover travel essay/memoir 212 page book, published in 2011 which also became an E-book for readers in 2012. It has just been produced as an audio book, as a set of five CD's, and she said she would love to contribute 30 percent of proceeds, which equates to six dollars per set to the ACBS Scholarship Fund in memory of her best friend, Betty K. who died two years ago of cancer but was blind from advanced macular degeneration. The order form is easy to download here.

Pat's passion is personally founded on the multitude of visual impairments visiting her family and life in 73 years. Her youngest daughter was born legally blind from acute strabismus, corrected in late infancy by two surgeries. Her only son, Bryan, 46, spent last year on a white cane, from the diabetes complication of detached retina, and it took four surgeries over a years' time to restore limited vision to him today.

Pat sent complimentary sets of the audio book, A Japanese Journey; Alone in the Land of the Rising Sun, six and a half listening hours on five discs, in a hard jewel case, to a dozen Board members for their review. She has a 5-page website with a scroll-down for the order form; $20 plus postage and handling, free as a USPO courtesy to the blind when stamped { Matter for the Blind.} With our Fund receiving six dollars donation for every sale, it seems we should all jump on this opportunity and gracious gift. Members are encouraged to share this amazing opportunity and book with friends and family. Visit: http://www.hitoridepress.com, send "a like or share" on her facebook page of the same name, showing photos of the packages and discs, and celebrate as this charitable project gets out there to shine a light on our cause. Think big, because as social media explodes, 3,000 sets would fund over five full scholarships this Spring. Also, you may contact Pat @ pbmsreck@bendnet.com.

how a pool noodle exposes the work we still need to do

By: Sarah Wiles

On December 17, Fox4 published an article online with the headline "School punishes blind child by taking away cane, replacing it with a pool noodle," sparking outrage amidst the blind community. The article outlined a story coming from Gracemor Elementary School in North Kansas, Missouri, in which school administrators took away the cane of an eight year old boy, Dakota Nafzinger, because he reportedly hit another student while on the bus. Spokeswoman Michelle Cronk told reporters they replaced Dakota's cane with a pool noodle because he fidgets and needed something else to hold without his cane.

Many people's first response to this article mirrored that of Dakota's mother, who said to reporters, "Why would you do that? Why would you take the one thing that he's supposed to use all the time? That's his eyes."

Other people support the school's decision to take away Dakota's cane, agreeing that he was behaving inappropriately or dangerously toward the other students and needed punishment. While some say Dakota's cane was not the school's property to take away, regardless of whether or not it was provided by the school, those who support the school's decision say the school was within its right to take back their "property" because accommodations are only provided to students who obey their rules.

This incident, a seemingly isolated misunderstanding in one elementary school, reflects larger societal issues - that authority figures can be permitted to remove basic necessities from those they deem unworthy to possess them, that anyone in society has the right to decide who is worthy or unworthy of receiving basic needs. It exposed a disturbing attitude held by many that disabled people, like Dakota Nafzinger or any other blind person, is somehow lesser than an able-bodied person, and, therefore, able-bodied people are entitled to make decisions about disabled people's basic needs.

As blind individuals, We use canes to navigate the physical world. As our orientation and mobility skills advance and e further explore our world, many of us choose to get a guide dog. Whether we choose a dog or a cane, both operate as tools to give us the freedom to independently navigate our surroundings, just like sighted people do. Dakota's distraught mother used the term "eyes" to describe his cane, and this is not altogether abstract: We use our canes to feel the area immediately in front of our feet in order to avoid obstacles, follow paths, and find tactile landmarks, similar to how sighted people use their eyes when traveling. They are therefore designed very specifically according to durability and length. A cane must be sterdy enough to encounter obstacles and provide feedback to the user, and be long enough to give the user enough warning to avoid the obstacle. It is impossible to use a pool noodle as a replacement; they are extremely flimsy, designed with a bend in their structure, and shorter than a standard cane, so they provide very little feedback and advance notice of obstacles.

The school reasoned that Dakota was given a pool noodle replacement for his cane so that he would no longer fidget, clearly demonstrating a lack of awareness for the purpose of his cane - another startling fact come to light from this piece. If the educator's of our children do not understand the basic need for a cane, how can our blind children possibly receive the same educational opportunities as their peers?

From this experience, at a very early age, Dakota has been taught a very negative lesson that able-bodied people have authority over his body. Just because his eyes do not work, he is labeled as subordinate to his sighted peers, and people with working eyes are granted the power to make decisions for him. This is not a lesson any eight year old should be learning. If Dakota were sighted, he would have been punished much differently - given time out or not allowed to go to recess - but instead, his basic right to independent travel was removed, made worse by the humiliation of carrying around a pool noodle. While Dakota's self confidence and sense of self worth was being diminished, his able-bodied peers were looking on to discover that society holds them in higher regard compared to him.

This is not a unique issue, specific to one town in Missouri. Based on the reactions given across the globe when this story hit, it is overwhelmingly apparent that most - if not, all - blind people relate to it as a much bigger problem. Worldwide, we are seen as inferior to sighted people, and those sighted people are put in charge of making life decisions for us, often times without fully understanding the meaning and impact behind those decisions. Now in 2015, it is essential to recognize that stories like this symbolize a huge disparity in our world; there is still a lot of progress to be made in order to educate our communities about what we are able to accomplish with the right tools. This is why the American Council of Blind Students is so instrumental in spreading awareness about how productive and successful we can be, when supported with the proper tools and regarded as equals. ACBS engages in dialog with policy makers, holders of political office, and people across the country about how systems can be altered in order to give us equal access to various aspects of the professional world, from education to employment.

Helping to grow younger membership through a Grassroots Goalball initiative

By: Jim Debus, President of ACB Students

The American Council of the Blind Students Division will be participating in the 2nd annual United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) Grassroots Goalball program that will run from February 15th through May 15th, 2015. This opportunity will be based out of Massachusetts as this is where the majority of our constituents reside. The program will be facilitated by our project coordinator who will conduct weekly practices, track athlete development, and coordinate at least one scrimmage against another one of the yet to be determined other participating programs.

Goalball is the only team sport played primarily by people who are blind and visually impaired at the Paralympic Games. Goalball is played indoors, on a gym floor, on a court that is made up of string laid beneath floor tape. Since the visual capabilities of each athlete varies, everyone is blindfolded to create an equal playing field. The ball, called a goalball, weighs about 2.5 pounds and is the size of a basketball. The ball has three bells imbedded inside of it so that it can be listened to when rolled. The game is played three-on-three at a time, for two, twelve-minute halves. The object of the game is to roll the ball past the opposing team's Goalball as many times as possible within the duration of the game.

The Grassroots Goalball program will provide the project coordinator and the Boston area team with equipment to prepare players for competition. This includes brand new Goalballs, Under Armor knee and elbow bands, USABA branded blindfolds, and rolls of tape and a premeasured court. We are now looking to grow a boy's and girl's, men's or women's team in Massachusetts and encourage you to contact our project coordinator with any questions regarding practice location, dates and times. We hope that this partnership with The United States Association of Blind Athletes allows us to attract a younger membership to The American Council of the Blind.

What Six Months of Unemployment Taught Me

By: Caitlin Mongillo

I graduated in May of 2013 with my Master's degree in social work. I attended a graduate program in New York State, a short car ride away from my parent's home. I had gotten my B.A. three years earlier, and I took a year off to intern and figure out the rest of my life. Though my undergraduate degree is in English and Education, the year off helped me to realize that I was woefully underprepared to teach, and that it was really not what I wanted to do anyway. My final semester of college, I did student teaching. I loved my kids: their energy, their curiosity, and their kindness. I did not love grading their essays or teaching them about homophones. I loved learning about their lives, their struggles, and their dreams. This led me to pursue a social work degree.

During my two years at grad school, I took advantage of as many opportunities as I could. I volunteered once a week at a county crisis hotline; I worked summers with emotionally disturbed children; and I headed up a committee on my guide dog school's alumni board. Though graduate school was extremely stressful, I strove to occupy every second of my personal life with meaningful opportunities. Because I knew that, upon graduation, my resume would be scrutinized. I wanted to use my time wisely and illustrate to future employers that I was neither afraid to be busy nor enable to multitask.

Directly after graduating with my MSW, I got married to my college sweet heart. I moved away from New York to settle with him In Connecticut, where he already had a full time job. After our honeymoon ended and we'd stored our beach towels and sun tan lotion, it was time for me to get to work - finding work.

I had never had a full time job before, so I was uncertain where to start. I had a resume which looked decent, good grades, and a host of volunteer activities a mile long. But what did that really mean? What did an employer really want? I had no idea. So, if you'll pardon the pun, I went in blindly. And, I certainly learned a lot about job searching. Here's what I discovered.

You want to apply for everything. As an individual seeking a career in the human service field, I was at first deterred by the small caveat of "driver's license required". At first, I did not submit my resume to any job which included this phrase. However, as someone fresh out of school, this drastically limited the opportunities for which I could apply. One of the largest fields for human services professionals just out of college or graduate school is to be a case manager. These jobs require people to assist clients with mental health problems or developmental disabilities. Occasionally, this means a worker will need to transport a customer in their vehicle. Surely, I thought, I would never get a job like this. I soon realized that if I didn't apply to these jobs I would be missing out, potentially, on a great opportunity. I was bright enough and knew how to advocate for myself. If I got the interview, I felt like there would be ways for me to negotiate driving clients places. So I started applying for these jobs.

I also applied for jobs which required more experience than I had. I was in a bit of a difficult situation. I had a Bachelor's degree, and I had a Master's degree, but I did not have much work experience. I had worked summers during college and interned in a few locations, but I did not have a long work history. For this reason, I originally shied away from positions which required a lot of work experience. However, as time progressed, I began applying to these, anyway. My hope was that my combination of education, volunteerism and the various internships I had pursued might meet the work experience requirement.

My other piece of advice is that you make as many connections as you can from the time you start post-secondary education. When you're a freshman in college, odds are that you're only viscerally thinking about your career. After all, you have a party to go to on Saturday night and Intro to Anthropology to pass. And that's fine; college is all about experiencing new things. However, think about the professors, administrators, and people from the community you meet. Try to make a good impression whenever possible. You never know who will become your reference letter or who will start up their own business and want you to design its web site. Treat every introduction as though it's an opportunity.

I currently have both a full time job and a contract position for a nonprofit organization. The CEO of this nonprofit hired me because he had seen some of the work I had done during my tenure as ACB Students Second Vice President. He gave me a chance because he saw how hard I worked and the dedication I brought to a volunteer position. He transformed from a kind connection in the blindness world to an incredible employer and a trusted advisor. I never would have known this when I met him, but people can make amazing, and surprising, impacts on your life.

When you're applying for jobs, try to keep a schedule. The six months where I exclusively applied for jobs online were both stressful and tedious. There were often times that I would sleep until ten, take a leisurely shower, and then eat some lunch. On those days, I only got in a good three hours of searching before my husband came home and my family obligations started. Those were not successful days. Days when I was at my computer between nine and nine thirty were much more successful. I had between seven and eight hours to revise my resume, write cover letters and fill in applications. Even if I didn't find anything promising, I always felt better and more accomplished at the end of those days.

When your job is locating a career, you want to surround yourself with people who love you. It can be pretty depressing to submit countless applications and not hear anything from anyone. It can make you doubt your worth, your education, and your skills. You want to lean on the people you love for support when it seems like all of your searching is fruitless. When you're down, ask for support; allow others to build you up and remind you how brightly you shine.

My husband, parents, and friends had to encourage me consistently throughout the months I spent trying to find a job. With each day that passed, I would grow more doubtful that I would ever find a company who would want to hire me. Often, the only things that kept me going were the reminders of my worth from others and the realization that I wanted this job to make the lives of those others better. Don't give up on yourself; someone will be intrigued by your resume or the way you answered the questions on an application, and they'll give you a call. It happened for me, it will happen for you, too.

Switching from a PC to Mac

By: Nathan Kottler

For years the thought of switching to a Mac computer was enticing to me, but I had heard that their accessibility features were not as developed as comparable Windows screen readers. So, out of my own curiosity and desire to learn new things, I purchased a MacBook Pro in January 2011.
I bought this computer in order to play around with Mac OS X as well as use it as a fully functioning Windows machine. Macs have a feature called Boot Camp that allows you to divide your hard drive into two parts and install windows on the second part. At this point, in my opinion the screen reader for Mac, VoiceOver, wasn't nearly as developed as windows-based screen readers like JAWS. I would encounter many issues that ranged from the most minuscule things to fairly large issues. For example, when opening a word processing application, I couldn't scroll through the document line-by-line like I could in Windows.

As the years went on and new versions of OS X were released, I would update my MacBook and re-evaluate the accessibility features just waiting for the day that they caught up. So, this summer I was involved in the beta test of OS X Yosemite, and when it was released in the fall, it was a fairly competent operating system on an accessibility front. It may sound kind of strange hearing the operating system evaluated for accessibility and not the software that you install on the computer, but this is because the screen reader for Mac OS X is built-in to the operating system; no specialized software is required.

It was at this point that I felt that in my opinion and for my general uses a mac could be my primary computer. I purchased a new MacBook Air for school and began learning all I could about the OS X, VoiceOver, and all things Mac. This process was very similar to learning how to use a computer from scratch. I had to relearn all of the operating system specific commands like beginning of line as well as all of the screen reader commands. At this point, I would like to offer my opinion as to the benefits and disadvantages of using a Mac.

One thing that may be heavily debated about the Mac is the ease of operation. If you are using JAWS and Windows it will be confusing to use a Mac, but if you give it a chance it can provide many advantages in navigation. The general principal of the screen reader in OS X is it presents the items on screen in a multi-level grouping of elements. For example, to get to the editable area of the document you first will have to tell the Mac to interact with the document layout area then the body text. This provides more information to a blind user and allows them to skip over information they are not interested in.

This style of navigation tells the user that they are entering the document layout area which houses all things that are currently in the document like Headers and footers. Then from there the user can choose to interact with the body edit field which contains the main text of the document.
In my opinion, this form of navigation helps remove the redundant tab key that is used way too often in windows screen readers. It also has a fantastic web browsing experience. Once you go to the VoiceOver Utility and configure VoiceOver to work with first letter navigation on the web, it works in a similar fashion to the navigation quick keys in JAWS. For example, pressing the H key in a google search results page will cycle through all of the search results in the same manner as JAWS and Windows, but it changes the rotor setting to whatever navigation type you specify. The rotor is described as a virtual dial that determines how the up and down arrow keys navigate. This is the same principal as the rotor on the iPhone. The options that the rotor has are context sensitive, meaning they change depending upon where you are on the computer. If you are in a document, it will present options like lines, sentences, and paragraphs, but if you are on a web page, it may provide options like headings, form controls, and links. The rotor is adjusted by turning your fingers in a circle on the trackpad as if you were turning a dial.

Another benefit to Mac OS X is that the operating system is designed from the ground up with accessibility in mind. No matter where you are on your computer, you can press command and F5 together to enable VoiceOver. This even applies to places like the login screen. In addition, when a new version of OS X comes out, it can be installed without sighted assistance because even the installation has speech feedback.

Although the Mac has come a long way in the last few years, it still has a few shortcomings that may cause some users to shy away from switching. First, the Mac's screen reader commands can be very complex and confusing at times. they usually are the first letter of what you want to do. For example, if you want to go to the menu bar the command is the VoiceOver modifier keys (control and option) and M. Some of the commands involve pressing three or four keys at a time.
The other main disadvantage I have encountered is the Mac's inability to read PDF files. Although many people would argue that Windows users encounter the same issue, I have to say in my personal opinion the last few releases of JAWS have made PDF files read fairly well. On the other hand, Macs have Quick Look. Quick Look can sometimes read the document in its entirety, but you can't open a large document and expect to read it line by line.
Another disadvantage is the extra steps you have to go through to produce Microsoft's .doc files. Since Office for mac isn't accessible with VoiceOver, natively creating word documents isn't quite possible yet. That isn't to say that it can't easily be done; it's just not automatic. Pages, the included word processing application, is very well designed and fully accessible with VoiceOver. The only problem is that when you click save, it saves all of its files in the .pages format. So, in order to convert it into a word document you have to open the file, then click on file, then export, and then specify where you would like to save it and the file name. It's just a minor inconvenience that might matter to some individuals.

So, a Mac has a few flaws that can create some productivity issues, but if they don't bother you, then switching to a Mac might be something to look in to. Personally, I got used to the quirky commands and don't read many PDF files so they are simply minor inconveniences to me. I still keep a Windows computer near-by for some tasks. I still do C++ programming in Microsoft Visual Studio and read my textbooks on my PC, but otherwise I am using a Mac for my work.

Envisioning Youth Empowerment Retreat

By: Alan Chase, M.Ed., Director and President

Our motto is simple: "I retreat from no challenge," but our work is not as easy. The EYE Retreat has grown with only fifteen participants in 2009 to thirty-eight in 2014. We've had participants and group leaders come from as far as California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and all over North Carolina. The EYE Retreat aims to squeeze five years of one's life into five days of intense programming to build academic, social, and transitional skills. Not only do the participants benefit from the programming, but our group leaders benefit by gaining valuable work experience and refining their skills.

The week typically begins on a Sunday with move-in and icebreakers. In 2015, we plan to host a family lunch before parents depart and participants begin their week. Monday starts our mock class and includes workshops on the difference between high school and college accommodations. Our mock course focuses on self-advocacy and requires assignments, just as a college course would. Tuesday includes college success workshops taught by our group leaders, who are college students with visual impairments themselves. Wednesday's focus shifts slightly to discussions of career opportunities and internships. . Thursday generally includes assistive technology demonstrations that can be used in both college and employment settings as well as field trips to various cultural sites. Friday's focus is on sports and recreation and the final project for the mock course is also due. Finally, Saturday morning comes and it's time to return home. Participants have now experienced a glimpse of everything college has to offer from freshmen year jitters to finding internships their senior year.

The 2015 EYE Retreat will be unique in that we will now begin to offer an employment specific track. Our traditional college track will remain as outlined above, but we will now offer participants a chance to learn more about careers. Planning for this new addition is ongoing, but we anticipate offering workshops Monday and Tuesday focusing on workplace accommodations, assistive technology, resumes, interview techniques, and more. Wednesday and Thursday will include job shadowing opportunities are various worksites who volunteer to host our participants. Finally, both tracks will be combined Friday for the sports and recreation activities. Also, both tracks will be combined each evening for social activities and for all meals.

All EYE Retreat programming is based on validated research on what skills and experiences make for a successful transition. We believe that families are an important part in this process so we have a twitter and Facebook account so that families can follow along and experience the program too. Visit www.eyeretreat.org, www.facebook.com/eyeretreat, or www.twitter.com/eyeretreat for more information. Go to http://goo.gl/forms/CyxMJi7XH4 to complete an online application. The last few years there has been a waitlist, so get those applications in early! Please note the 2015 EYE Retreat will be July 26 to August 1 in Raleigh, NC. The cost to attend is $30 and this includes seventeen meals, six nights of housing, daily bus passes, and a t-shirt. We look forward to you attending! Whether you are interested in serving as staff or as a participant, spots are filling quickly. This program could not continue without the encouragement and sponsorship of the American Council of Blind Students. With their six participant sponsorship, that many more participants can envelope themselves in the life-changing week provided by the EYE Retreat!

Blurred Vision, Clear Blindness

By: Kathryn Webster

Blindness is not a characteristic that defines you. Though vision loss affects many people in our world, the sighted community seems to believe that they hold a certain superiority over the blind "inferiors." Think about it: are blind people unhappy, less happy than the majority, happy in their own way? You don't know. The struggle lies within the external perceptions of those with sight, as they frown upon the visually impaired population. Whether it be ignorance, lack of knowledge, or inability to empathize, the "20-20" pity those with 20-200, or worse. The uneducated person sees blindness as a misfortune because of the apparent disability intertwined with this single characteristic. Nonetheless, should they have any say in this matter at all? Kraut asserts, "A blind person is cut off from a significant part of the real world, and so is worse off even if his practical aims do not require vision." Interestingly enough, there is no such thing as total blindness. A blind person, though, experiences reality in an alternative fashion as they critique unique strengths and talents that those with sight could never imagine acquiring. Sighted people do not always have a vision. A blind man may even see transparently as he embarks on the journey of life.

Happiness is a combination of flourishing and pure satisfaction, with the former presented first in order to demonstrate its dominance over the latter. The strength gained from those without sight exceeds the amount of both mental and emotional strength from sighted individuals. An objectivist, if blind, would value blindness above vision because of the additional characteristic necessary to overcome the evident inability. In the classroom, a visually impaired high school student must equate, or rise above, those with sight in order to present their abilities in a way that the majority will understand. This, in turn, tackles the flourishing piece of happiness. A blind employer must excel in their career field in order to set the standards for younger generations of blind people. This, again, exemplifies the confidence and perseverance within a blind human being. Although legally blind people are constantly asserting a point of equality and independence, the sole fact that they are blind brings their mental capacity down to a level that is less than the sighted ones. Blindness encourages an individual to out shine others merely because of the negative and misguided perceptions. To flourish as a visually impaired person is to flourish as a sighted person. The former, though, brings with it a sense of accomplishment and societal approval that the latter may not fully create.

Pure satisfaction is a lifestyle simpler to experience by those without vision. Typically, blind humans take less for granted because they are apparently gifted with a "flaw" to begin with. Sighted people, gifted in other ways, find qualities of themselves that need to be improved or altered constantly. Indeed, the blind man has insecurities, as does every human being, yet they value life in a rather special and genuine manner. Astonishingly enough, Kraut argues, "If a blind and a sighted person have the same positive attitude towards their existence, the latter's life is nonetheless happier, since it is not marred by serious misfortune." How can this be asserted when a blind man does not consider his blindness to be a "serious misfortune?" Instead, other senses and skills are refined in order to make up for one's inability to see. As long as blind individuals acquire the necessary tools to be independent, happiness is found and cherished. Pure satisfaction arises from optimism, contentment, and approval. Why, then, is a sighted person deemed happier if said man expresses a positive attitude that mirrors that of a blind man? He is not happier; so therein lies the controversy. Kraut also considers the hypothetical. "Suppose sight could be restored to a certain blind person, who nonetheless willingly chooses to remain blind." This refusal signifies the pure satisfaction endured by the blind man. Actually, given the mere choice and declining such offer presents the idea that the blind man would rather have other aspects of his life improved rather than his vision. Since the blind man can sing, communicate, exercise, eat, and succeed as is, there is no reason to throw the benefit of visible light at an already happy man.

Total blindness does not exist. This term implies an overwhelming sense of unawareness, uncertainty, and confusion. Total vision, however, can exist within anyone regardless of their visual acuity. Understanding the multifaceted world we reside in while comprehending the diversity, opportunity, and failures can be seen by any human being. A clear vision simply refers to the ability to see a future for oneself. Therefore, blindness is two sided. Either an individual lacks the physical ability to see light, or an individual lacks the mental ability to see tomorrow. When Kraut says, "A philosopher who denies the reality of the physical world has less reason to consider blindness a misfortune," he is wrong. The philosopher is unable to see clearly. An objectivist would agree when I say that a blind man with a transparent vision of himself will flourish if he applies himself. Therefore, this "sighted" blind man is happy, if not happier, than his neighbor who dropped out of high school and watches television all day. If blindness is an objective misfortune, then lack of perfect pitch will also be characterized as so. It is not the blindness itself that shields one from succeeding; it is the lack of motivation that comes with inhibiting any flaw. A blind man can meet the standard of happiness and thus convince subjectivists to see the pure satisfaction within. To flourish is to achieve, while loving is living. Financial security tied in with a career one is passionate about characterizes a happy person. Whether sighted or blind, this happiness can be overbearingly obvious.

Blindingly Fast

By: Staci Mannella

"Oh, say, can you see..." Well, not really, but I will get to that later. The "Star-Spangled Banner" represents our country's patriotism, love of sports, and will to win. Repeatedly, it has banded individuals together as one unified force with which to be reckoned. Even when our nation struggles, sports and the anthem help pick up the pieces. The anthem's words explain that America is willing to fight both on and off the field. But in my sport, athletes need to earn the honor to hear their anthem play.

When my parents discovered that I was visually impaired, they immediately found a sport that we could do as a family, and ever since I have spent winter weekends skiing at Windham Mountain. I cannot even remember a time when I could not ski. By seventh grade, I was skiing so well that I took an interest in racing, never imagining how far it would eventually take me. At twelve years old, I skied in my first national championship and immediately set a personal goal: to earn a spot on the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Team.

In the past five years, skiing has consumed my life. When I am not traveling for races, I stay focused by going to the gym four days a week, horseback riding, and training on snow every weekend in the winter. My schedule has forced me to grow up a little more quickly than the average teenager, but these experiences have pushed me to become the motivated, and determined person I am today.

Despite missing class time, I have kept up with my challenging honors-level schoolwork, and picked up some valuable life lessons that have molded my identity. I have learned to live with different types of people, to manage my time well, to be self-motivated, and to accept others for who they are. My teammates have shown me that my best friends will always be there for me, even if they live across the country, and Easter dinner with my ski family is almost as good as being at home.

Experiences have made me conclude that if you drive too fast in Australia you could hit a kangaroo, it is possible to fall asleep basically anywhere, and it is hard to teach a group of people the "Cups" hand motions, especially when two of them are blind and one has just one hand. But above all, I have learned to always pursue what I love, no matter the odds. When I started my journey, the likelihood of making it to the top was slim, but I have done it and I know I can do it again. Despite the odds of someone with a visual impairment making it to vet school, I know I can beat them.

I am now eighteen and excited to surge forward on my journey. With one Paralympic Games under my belt, I am excited to face new challenges the future may hold. I know that balancing an academic career at Dartmouth and a hectic race schedule will be a difficult task, but I am confident that I am ready for the challenge. Just like when I push out of a start I intend to test the limits, set new boundaries, and push myself to be the best I can be at Dartmouth and beyond. I am proud to have had the opportunity to represent my country, and I strive to uphold myself with honor and integrity as I move into a new chapter of my life.

ACB Encouraged the Advocate in Me

By: Sara Conrad

I joined the American Council for the Blind in July 2009 when I attended my first national convention in Orlando, Florida as a college scholarship winner. It was the summer before my first year of undergraduate studies. I immediately found a place not only within ACB Students (at the time called NABS) as their elected secretary but also established networking relationships with mentors across the country. Before this experience, I did not have any connection with disability groups and had limited opportunities to engage with other blind and visually impaired people.

ACB not only encouraged me on my journey as a young woman with a disability, but the organization has also exposed the advocate in me. When I started college, I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to study. Throughout my schooling and experiences with ACB, I realized that I have talents and passion in encouraging other people with disabilities. I grew in my leadership skills as the president of ACBS for three years and became the youngest member of ACB's national board of directors in 2012. Advisors to ACBS like Brenda Dillon and Ardis Bazyn encouraged me to grow in my advocate abilities and understanding of various social groups.

I am writing all of this not with the intention of listing my experiences in ACB, but rather to encourage future leaders in the organization to embrace every aspect of involvement in ACB and its affiliates. For me, the connections made in the past five plus years have changed my life in meaningful ways. The most notable of these changes is that I majored in special education and am continuing on to law school in the fall of 2015 to pursue a career in special education advocacy.

ACB has not only helped me to see my place as an advocate for people with disabilities, but perhaps more importantly, ACB has helped me to realize my own vision and voice. Without experience with other blind people growing up, I was unable to solidify my identity as a blind woman. As someone with some usable vision, I found it increasingly difficult to live in both the sighted world with little connection to others with similar challenges. ACB taught me how to view and present myself as a strong, passionate, and confident leader with a disability that gives me ability to empathize with and support others.

I want to encourage other young people to find a place in ACB. Young adult life can be stressful, and it can be difficult to find time for organizations like ACB and ACBS. Still, I am confident that the impact an organization like ACB can have on one's life makes the choice to get involved a simple one. Make the most of your young adult life as a person with a disability. Network with others, and find a place to grow, refresh, and belong in ACB.

So, Now What?

By: Tiffany Jolliff, ACBNG President

Congratulations! You're about to graduate with your college degree. Or, you've decided that you're not into the student thing, and you are entering the professional world. You know that ACB has a great student devision, but you don't feel like the student group fits with your lifestyle anymore. Where do you go now?
Three former students found themselves in this exact situation and decided to create an affiliate for members of ACB who are young and who are wanting a place to belong while they transition from students to professionals. This new affiliate is called ACB Next Generation (ACBNG). ACBNG formed in the summer of 2014 and held its first membership call in September.
Currently, ACBNG is primarily a social group where ACB's youth can gather and discuss anything from technology, to work life, to fashion, and beyond. As the group grows, ACBNG may take on advocacy issues, but at this time, the group is serving an equally important purpose: working to improve the retension of the vibrant young members of ACB.
ACBNG's board includes:

  • President: Tiffany Jolliff – Virginia
  • First Vice President: Sara Conrad – Michigan
  • Secretary: Katie Frederick – Ohio
  • Director: Rebecca Bridges – Virginia
  • Director: Caitlin Mongillo – Connecticut

ACBNG hopes to work closely with all of ACB's affiliates, but especially with ACBS in order to help the youth of ACB make a seamless transition into their next roles within the organization.
If you are interested in ACBNG, there are several ways to follow our progress and join in:

  • Like us on Facebook
  • Follow us on Twitter: @acb_next_gen
  • Join our mailing list
  • Participate in our monthly conference calls:
    • First Thursday of every month
    • Call in number: (857) 232-0159
    • Access code: 361875

If you want to know more about ACBNG, contact Tiffany Jolliff at TJolliff@gmail.com.