THE BRAILLE EXAMINER
Editor: Connie Davis
Co-editor: Debbie Stein
President: Patti Gregory-Chang
President: Patti Gregory-Chang, (773) 307-6440, email@example.com
Editor: Connie Davis, (773) 338-6922, firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Editor: Deborah Kent Stein, (773) 631-1093, dkent5817@.att.net
Limited Print Edition Duplication: Carolyn Nelson, Springfield
Proofreaders: Steve Hastalis, Glenn Moore
Website: Byron Lee, webmaster, www.nfbofillinois.org;
By Patti S. Gregory-Chang Esq.
Another year has begun. Already we are planning several exciting events.
Before we look ahead to 2011, let's review our most recent NFB of Illinois
convention, truly a major highlight of 2010.
The 2010 NFBI convention was a striking success. It was held from
October 8-10 at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center in
Springfield. We registered 102 people and were honored to host our NFB
president, Dr. Marc Maurer, as our national representative. For the first
time we had breakout sessions on Saturday afternoon, allocating time and
space for teens and significant others. Our parents hosted two events, a
parents' breakfast and a more formal meeting with a speaker from the
Illinois State Board of Education. The Illinois Association of Blind Students
(IABS) created fun and funding with the annual IABS Idol on Friday
evening. General sessions were well attended.
Naturally, the centerpiece of our state convention was the annual banquet.
Dr. Maurer delivered a stirring banquet speech, and awards and
scholarships were presented. Pam Gillmore led a moving memorial to
Carmen Dennis entitled "Carmen Is in the House."
During the first week of February our Illinois delegates attended the 2011
Washington Seminar. Delegates from around the state spoke with our
representatives in Congress about issues affecting the blind. Last year we
worked toward passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act,
sometimes known as the Quiet Cars Bill. Our efforts definitely paid off!
President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on January 4, 2011.
The NFBI board has decided to conduct two seminars this spring, both at
the Holiday Inn O'Hare in Chicago. The first is a membership-building
seminar, which is scheduled for March 12. Experts from the Affiliate Action
staff at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore will teach us
techniques for building the membership of our state organization. This
seminar will launch our work in this area for 2011. Denise Avant is
coordinating the preparations for and content of this seminar. Contact her
with ideas or questions at email@example.com.
We will host a seminar for parents and teachers of blind children on April 9.
This year's seminar will be entitled "Spring into Action: Home, School and
Beyond." The seminar will actually encompass three simultaneous
programs: 1. Kids Kamp, with fun and educational activities for children age
eleven and under; 2. The Teen Scene, which helps teens understand their
blindness and our philosophy; and 3. the main ’seminar for parents and
teachers, with a variety of presentations, discussions, and opportunities for
hands-on learning. If you would like to get involved, please contact Debbie
Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-631-1093.
We are also gearing up for our 2011 NFB National Convention. This year's
convention will be a big one! It will take place in Orlando, Florida, from July
3 through 8. Thousands of blind people from around the world will gather to
learn from one another and to enjoy our Federation fellowship. Please plan
to join us. If you need financial assistance, you may apply for help from the
NFBI Chappell Fund by May 1, 2011.
Illinois had a wonderful turnout for the 2010-2011 Braille Readers Are
Leaders contest. We had two adult teams: LIFE and ABLE. Our LIFE Team
well exceeded its goals. Congratulations to all of the LIFE Team members:
Kelly Doty, Syed Yousufuddin, Lois Montgomery, Bob Gardner, and Denise
Avant. Altogether Illinois had fifty-one contestants registered this year.
NFBI Scholarship and externship applications are now available. Any
Illinois student who applies for a national scholarship from the NFB will
automatically be considered for a state scholarship as well. All applications
are due by March 31, 2011. The application for the 2011 NFBI summer
externship program must be completed separately. Externship applications
are also due on March 31. For information about the program or for an
externship application, contact Debbie Stein.
Our NFBI committees work hard throughout the year. If you are not serving
on a committee yet, please call me and we can decide where you're best
suited to help. You can make a difference. Help us change what it means
to be blind.
NFBI SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS 2010
by Debbie Kent Stein
At our 2010 NFBI convention in Springfield, the NFBI honored six blind
college and graduate students as winners of National Federation of the
Blind of Illinois Scholarships. The winners received their awards before an
audience of well-wishers at the convention banquet on the evening of
Saturday, October 9.
This year three students received Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships in the
amount of $1250 apiece. The Jernigan Scholarship winners were Danielle
Keys, a psychology major at Northern Illinois University; Ryan Kwaak, who
majors in broadcast media at Trinity Christian College; and Michal Nowicki,
who studies foreign languages at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Mary McDill Knapheide Scholarships of $1500 were awarded to two of this
year's winners. One Knapheide Scholarship went to Vandana Chaudhry,
who is completing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois at
Chicago School of Social Work. Sheila Schneider, who is entering a
graduate program in design at the University of Illinois in Urbana, was the
other Knapheide Scholarship recipient.
The Peter Grunwald Memorial Scholarship for $2000 was awarded this
year to Rose Sloan. Rose is a sophomore at Northwestern University and
plans to study government policy.
Congratulations to all of these outstanding winners of the 2010 NFBI
CHICAGO CHAPTER NEWS
by David Meyer
The Chicago Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois
continues to be busy with internal matters and community outreach. On
November 6, 2010, twenty-one members and guests took part in Games
Night, a fundraiser held at Exchequer Pub and Restaurant in Chicago.
Those who attended enjoyed stimulating conversation along with a
delicious spread of pizza, salad, and soft drinks. They played a number of
card games and such board games as checkers, Scrabble, and Sorry. A
good time was had by all.
On November 15, three Chicago Chapters members took part as exhibitors
at the Harold Washington College Health Fair, passing out Kernel Books
and educating the public about Federationism. On November 16, five
members of the Chicago Chapter witnessed or gave testimony at Access
Board hearings conducted by the Department of Justice at Access Living.
During the December chapter meeting, we raised more than $1300 at our
annual holiday auction. A big thank you goes to all of the members who
donated or purchased auction items. A special thank you goes to Denise
Avant, who served as our auctioneer.
The Chicago Chapter was well represented at this year's Washington
Seminar. Six chapter members served on the Illinois delegation at this
In the coming months, the Chicago Chapter will be working on revisions to
its constitution. We will also feature a number of educational and
informative programs at future meetings.
The Chicago Chapter meets on the second Saturday of the month at the
Exchequer Pub and Restaurant, 226 S. Wabash, Chicago. For more
details, please contact chapter president David Meyer at (312) 675-2541.
BRAILLE READERS ARE LEADERS IN ILLINOIS
by Denise Avant
In November 2010, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) launched the
2010-2011 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest (BRAL). Braille readers
from all across the country participated as individuals, and some formed
teams with up to five contestants.
The newest team in Illinois was the LIFE group. LIFE stands for "Literacy Is
for Everyone." The members of the team are Robert Gardner and Lois
Montgomery of the Blackhawk Chapter and Chicago Chapter members
Kelly Doty, Syed Yousufuddin, and Denise Avant. Lois Montgomery came
up with the name for the team. "So often people think literacy only applies
to sighted people," she explains. "Blind people want to be literate, too."
None of the LIFE team members learned Braille in elementary school. I
learned Braille when I was in high school, and used it to take notes and
proofread my writing. If I had not learned Braille, I doubt that I ever could
have become an attorney. But until the BRAL contest I had never read a
Braille book, fiction or nonfiction, from cover to cover.
As a child Lois Montgomery did not have any access to large print or
Braille. She could read regular print, but because she had to hold the book
so close to her face, she often had headaches. "I didn't learn Braille until I
was in my forties," she says. "I went years without reading anything, and
now I am just hungry to read!"
Bob Gardner did not learn to read Braille until after he retired. Initially he
learned uncontracted Braille and used it to label things in his kitchen. When
he took rehabilitation training at BLIND, Inc., in Minnesota, he had to learn
contracted Braille. "I felt embarrassed because I was slow, and there were
people reading 100 to 200 words per minute," Gardner says. "But I just
kept doing it."
The purpose of the BRAL contest is "to promote the joy of reading for
pleasure, to promote a pride in Braille as a viable literacy medium equal to
print, and to demonstrate the importance of independent reading in the
development of Braille literacy skills." The contest was open to children
from kindergarten through twelfth grade and also to adult Braille readers.
The participants read as many Braille pages as possible during the contest
period, November 1, 2010 to January 4, 2011, Louis Braille's birthdate.
Adult participants could enter the contest at one of four levels: beginner,
meaning a reading speed of less than 80 words per minute (wpm) in
uncontracted or contracted Braille; intermediate, meaning a reading speed
of 80-160 wpm in contracted Braille; advanced, meaning a reading speed
of 160-220 wpm; and expert, meaning a reading speed of 220 wpm and
As Blackhawk Chapter president, Bob Gardner established the ABLE team
last year in an effort to promote Braille within his chapter. Bob Gardner and
Lois Montgomery were members of the group. The group met once a week
at a community college to read face-to-face. Some younger members of
the group had acquired Braille skills but had let them lapse. Their
participation in the ABLE group helped them rebuild their skills. "I just like
the idea of promoting Braille," Gardner says. "It needs to be done."
The ABLE group formed a team and entered the 2009-2010 BRAL contest.
ABLE placed first among the adult teams and received special recognition
from the NFB for its unique approach.
Excited by the team's success, Gardner wanted to promote Braille
statewide. He came up with the idea of forming a group that would meet by
telephone conference call. The LIFE team voted to call the conference line
at eight o'clock on Sunday nights and read for about an hour and a half.
The team actually started reading together before the BRAL contest began.
Thus far the group has read two Kernel Books, "Like Cats And Dogs" and
"Wall-To-Wall Thanksgiving." Currently it is in the midst of reading Ford
County Stories by John Grisham.
We have found that there are several benefits to reading out loud to one
another. We can catch mistakes and help each other figure out the letters
and contractions. As part of a group members are motivated to do the
reading Gardner assigns. As he points out, "You don't want to let down
your other team members."
Syed Yousufuddin says he would like to continue reading with the group
beyond the contest period. "It's good for practicing and building up your
speed," he says. "It helps you build your confidence."
To be a member of a team, one had to participate individually. Kelly Doty
says she was not sure she was going to participate in the contest, but did
so after becoming part of the LIFE group. "I always thought the contest was
for kids," Doty says. Two of the group members, Lois Montgomery and
Denise Avant, entered at the intermediate level. Lois read 4,249 pages and
Denise read 2,839 pages. Kelly Doty (1704 pages), Bob Gardner (311
pages), and Syed Yousufuddin (280 pages) competed in the beginner
Participants had no lack of reading material. In addition to the group
selections, all of the team members read from the Kernel Book series
published by the NFB. The individuals read anything from chapter
newsletters to novels and biographies.
Now that we have participated as members of a team and as individuals, all
of the LIFE team members have vowed to continue reading Braille on their
own. Kelly, who is also able to read print books, says that she has not
taken out another print book since the contest started. She will read more
books in Braille in addition to the audio books she reads.
As members of the LIFE team, we recognize that we are not the fastest
Braille readers around. But Lois sums it up this way, "I don't think it's
important how fast you read or how many pages you read. The important
thing is that we can read, and we are literate. That's what we focus on."
She adds, "I love reading. It has changed my life." The goals of the BRAL
contest have been achieved with the LIFE team.
YOUTH LEADERSHIP PROGRAM 2010
by Katie Leinum and Brianna Lillyman
Presented at the NFB of Illinois Convention, October 9, 2010
Introduction by Patti Gregory-Chang: The Federation has made
tremendous progress, but we know that to continue our momentum we
have to bring young people into the movement. The Youth Leadership
Program is one of the ways we are working to get young people involved.
This morning we'll hear from two young women who attended this year's
Youth Leadership conference in Baltimore.
Katie Leinum: I'm a junior at Robbins High School. Last February I went to
the Youth Leadership Conference. Brianna and I went together, and it
was really fun. We were supposed to fly to Baltimore but it was really windy
there, so we had a long detour and a two-hour layover. Finally we landed
in Virginia. Then we had to get to Baltimore, which cost a hundred and fifty
dollars! But it was a great experience getting through the airports by
Both of us had gone to Youth Slam in the summer. There were a lot fewer
kids at the Leadership Program, so we had the chance to meet everyone at
the National Center. We also saw a lot of counselors and kids we knew
from Youth Slam. We had some really good sessions on what we thought
and felt about being blind or not being able to see very well.
For me the most exciting activity was learning to use a chainsaw
blindfolded! A lot of us were really freaking out. I didn't want to be
blindfolded! I can see some, and I was really scared that I was going to
chop off my hand! I did really well, though. I chopped part of a tree, and I
didn't cut off any pieces of me.
I had a really good time, and I would love to go back. I think everyone
Brianna Lillyman: I'm sixteen and a junior in high school. When people hear
that I'm sixteen, they typically ask, "Do you have your driver's license yet?"
I have to answer no. But now, thanks to the NFB, I have the confidence to
say, "Not yet." [Laughter and applause]
Because of the NFB I have had opportunities to travel and have met some
incredible people. The most important thing that the NFB has done for me
is to instill the belief that I am capable of doing anything I want, despite my
blindness. I had my first experience with the NFB when I was eleven years
old and attended a summer camp. Since that time I have attended several
other NFB camps and programs, the most recent being the Youth
Leadership Program at NFB headquarters in Baltimore last February. This
is my second state convention.
The summer camp I attended when I was eleven was the first time I ever
met other blind people. It had been a hard year for me because I had just
lost a significant amount of my vision. I didn't expect the camp leaders,
speakers, and mentors to be blind. I was inspired by their confidence and
competence, and by the competence of the other campers my age. I was
extremely jealous of their ability to read Braille. I realized right away that
Braille would be an asset for me. I would be able to read without getting
headaches or having to rely on other people to read to me.
I requested Braille instruction at my first IEP meeting when I was a
freshman in high school. It was a battle, but after two years I finally began
Braille lessons early this year. [Applause] I've put a lot of effort into learning
it. I'm still not very fluent, but I like to show off my skills.
My trip to Baltimore this past February was the first time I ever traveled by
myself without a parent. I hate flying, and I was really nervous! It was worse
still when we were told that our flight had been canceled, and the only way
for us to get to Baltimore would be to take a flight to Florida and catch
another flight from there to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. From Dulles,
Katie and I would have to be responsible for getting a cab to Baltimore.
It was a very stressful experience, and there were moments when I thought
we would never get there. The worst point came when the cab driver asked
me to program his GPS. I told him I couldn't because I couldn't see it! You'd
have thought my cane would tip him off, but I guess he just didn't expect
two blind people to be traveling by themselves. He spent an extra thirty
minutes driving in circles trying to find the Center. Overall, I'm proud of the
way I handled that trip. I knew it would have been easier to stay home, but
we finally got where we wanted to go.
Through the NFB I have done a lot of things that have been both
challenging and exciting, things I never thought I could do. I have
witnessed other blind people doing things I always assumed couldn't be
done without vision. Involvement in the NFB has helped me overcome
stigma about blindness. So this past spring, when I went on a trip for blind
youth sponsored by a non-NFB group, I was shocked. The sighted
chaperones guided my peers around, not requiring them to use their canes.
They did not treat them with the respect I believe a blind person, or any
person, deserves. All of the kids on the trip were great people, but because
of the way they have been educated, they are not independent or confident
in themselves. During that trip I kept hearing, "I can't, because I'm blind."
The other kids were shocked when I talked about the things I had done.
They were surprised that I have been involved in theater and school plays,
but to me it's not a big deal. They couldn't believe that I figure skate. I
wonder what their reaction will be when they hear that I'm learning to
The attitudes of those kids make me sad. I know they just haven't heard
about all the opportunities that are out there. After being involved in the
NFB over the years I have come to take that message for granted. I
expected all blind people to strive for independence and to demand
respect. But the fact is, many blind people view themselves as incapable,
and lots of sighted people, a huge number, are ignorant of blind people's
On that trip I realized how important it is to get other blind people involved
with the NFB. I know that the NFB can be the greatest ally for someone
who is struggling with the loss of vision as I was. I am so grateful for the
opportunities I have had and the things I have learned. Some day I hope I
can pay it forward.
BLIND DRIVER CHALLENGE: SEEING IT FIRSTHAND
By George Villa
Linda and I spent two exciting days with the NFB in Daytona. The meeting
on Friday night was filled with anticipation. It felt like a pep rally and really
fired up the NFB members in attendance. The speakers left us with a
feeling of confidence and expectation for the coming day's history-making
event. For the first time a blind person would enter a car as a driver and not
a passenger. Mark Riccobono, the driver, would control the speed of the
vehicle, make turns and avoid obstacles. Just think how that would feel. At
the end of the evening we were all given purple and white shirts to wear on
On Saturday morning buses lined up to take us to the racetrack. Though
Linda and I have been coming to Daytona for many years, we had never
been to the track, so this was a first for us.
A lot of behind-the-scenes work was done between the NFB and the track
management, and it showed. A seating area was reserved for us as a
NFB members sang and danced as we waited for the Blind Driver
Challenge to begin. In the moments leading up to the drive, Kevin Worley
made an announcement from the audio booth and cheers went up. Kevin
did a great job of keeping us informed of each step of the race. He told us
when Mark was handed the keys, when he started the vehicle, and, finally,
when the drive began. It seemed like a lifetime, but then there he was,
turning the corner right in front of us. The excitement as he passed the NFB
grandstand was electrifying.
After the drive we went to the media center. There was standing room only.
We heard from Dr. Marc Maurer, Kevin Worley, one of the technicians from
Virginia Tech, and of course our driver Mark Riccobono himself. Many
other people spoke and worked hard to make this event possible. (I'm
sure I left out some important names.)
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the track. We met NFB members
from around the country, sampled some great chili from the chili cook-off,
and enjoyed the great weather.
On Saturday evening we shared more NFB fellowship at a pizza party with
all in attendance. We sat at tables for ten, and who happened to sit next to
us but Chicago Chapter member Ronza Othman, who now lives in
Baltimore. We had a nice visit with her. Everyone was a-buzz from the
day's history-making event.
Saturday's events proved that with technology, appropriate training, and
education the blind are capable of many things. We can expand our
productivity and participation in society. It was a great day for the NFB and
for blind people as a whole.
A SATURDAY IN DAYTONA
by Ronza Othman
The Blind Driver Challenge was a lot of fun. It was such a pleasant surprise
to look up and see Linda Villa waving at me and shouting my name as I
walked past the NFB Grandstand. It was awesome hanging out with
everyone at the pizza party as well.
I got some fun pictures of the car, including one of those supermodel poses
where I'm leaning over the hood. The NFB had a booth where people
wearing sleepshades could change a tire. Some people did it in less than
thirty seconds. I overheard someone say that anyone working in the pit at a
race should be required to get training from us on how to change tires
blind, as it would reduce the time cars have to spend off the track.
An unintended aspect of the Blind Driver Challenge, I believe, was that
people got to brush up on their mobility skills. The Daytona Racetrack is
3.5 miles long, and the fairgrounds are in the center. There seems to be
no rhyme or reason to where anything is. Our booth and grandstand were
at opposite ends in the Sprint Fan Zone. The problem was that there was a
Sprint Fan Deck, Sprint Fan Fair, a Sprint Fan Patio, and on and on. Nearly
everyone who worked the event was driving an official car or golf cart
inside the fairgrounds, sharing space with the 35,000 race attendees who
were on foot. Many of the vehicles were actual racecars, which made
using audio cues for mobility quite a challenge. None of the park staff
seemed to know where anything was, including our grandstand, our booth,
and the parking lot where our buses and cars were. They knew where our
car was, though!
We all wandered around a lot. Everyone had a story about getting lost or
misdirected, or just outright being confused. I'm convinced that when we
go to Orlando in July, we'll be able to go to Daytona and pick up
Federationists who are still wandering around the racetrack.
At any rate, the event was a lot of fun, and it was incredible to witness such
an important moment in our organization's history.
By Patrick Olson
Though I may be blind,
I have a great mind,
Though I am disabled,
I am still quite able,
Though I cannot see,
Things are very clear to me,
I am just as able,
As the nondisabled,
Though I do not drive,
I am just hitting my strive,
A person with a disability,
Is judged to have an incapability,
Though only my sight has an effect,
People think it includes my intellect,
No matter what one may say,
Nothing is getting in my pathway,
Able are we,
The disabled as you see,
Working within our limitations,
Breaking through the [public’'s] expectations,
So open the gates to all that are able,
This is not a fable,
Trust in the words of one blind man,
That the enabled are taking a stand,
We have the right,
So treat us for our might,
No disability will stand in our way,
For we live in the U.S.A.
1--Chappell Applications due for Parents' Seminar
12--Blackhawk Chapter Meeting, the South Moline Township Center at 637
17th Avenue in East Moline, 1:30 PM
19--Chicago Chapter meeting, Exchequer Pub, 226 S. Wabash, 1 PM
6--Fundraising Day, Chicago Chapter, Beggar's Pizza, 310 S. Clinton,
Chicago, IL, 11 AM--11 PM
9--Parents' Seminar, Holiday Inn O'Hare, 5516 W. Cumberland, Chicago,
IL 8 AM--5 PM
16--Chicago Chapter Meeting, Exchequer Pub, 226 S. Wabash, Chicago,
IL 1 PM