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Browse By Topic: Personal Reflections

In Light of World Braille Day 2019

As a means of consuming literature, learning, and communicating, braille has remained the biggest game changer in the history of inventions for people who are blind. It is only fitting then, that we celebrate the United Nations’ recent resolution designating January 4 of every year as World Braille Day. As a braille user myself, I can say firsthand that those tiny tactile dots represent so much more than the sum of their partsthey are a gateway to independence for people who are blind or visually impaired. Braille lets students who are blind or visually impaired learn at the same pace as their sighted peers, so there are no limits on their potential. I learned braille at a very young age, and to this day feel gratitude towards my early grade school teacher,

Here’s One Way the American Foundation for the Blind Is Giving Back This Holiday Season

AFB’s Huntington office has a holiday tradition dating back the last several years that allows us to better and more fully connect with our community. Every December, the staff throws a modest holiday partyeither a catered lunch or a visit to a local restaurant. The party includes a gift exchange, where we previously all put our names into a hat and drew a colleague’s name, then that colleague receives the gift at the party. When you draw a person’s name, you think about what that person’s job is, or what they enjoy doing. Then you buy a gift that fits this description as though the recipient were a child. For example, a couple years ago someone drew a colleague who was into horses and horseback riding, so the colleague bought a My Little Pony toy as the recipient’s

Remembering Stan Lee: A Superhero Who Helped Change the Way the World Sees Blindness

This week we lost a legendary figure in the field of comic books and entertainment, Stan Lee. Among the many characters he helped develop for Marvel Comics is the first blind superhero, Daredevil. About his visually impaired crime-fighter, Lee said: "The one thing that worried me about DaredevilI wondered if blind people would be offended, because we were exaggerating so much what a blind person can do, and they might have felt that we're making it ridiculous. But I was so pleased. After the books were published, we started getting letters from charities for blind people, like the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York. Letters saying, 'We've been reading these stories to the people here and they love them, and they're so

AFB Staff on What Their Dog Guides Mean to Them

April 25 is International Guide Dog Day, which recognizes and celebrates the crucial role that working dogs play in enabling and supporting people who are blind or visually impaired to get around safely and independently. To that end, here at AFB we asked some of our colleagues to share their thoughts about getting around as a blind individual, their own dog guides, and the special relationship they have with their canine counterparts. Neva Fairchild, National Independent Living and Employment Specialist, on Dog Guide Vinny: <img src=""

Giving Thanks

Kirk Adams is president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. Every Thanksgiving, I like to take inventory of everything I have to be grateful for. This year, my list is longer than ever. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with so many people around the country this year who are working hard to create a better world. People like Caitlin, a blind elementary school teacher in San Francisco. James, a software engineer in Phoenix, who recently became blind and is working hard to learn blindness skills in order to return to work. And Kristin, the mother of two blind teenage boys in Philadelphia, who is passionately

Celebrating Larry B. Kimbler for His Many Years of Service to AFB

It often takes a personal connection to fully appreciate how much someone who is blind or visually impaired can accomplish in their livesand the challenges they might face in the process. That was the case for Larry B. Kimbler, who just completed his second term on AFB’s national Board of Trustees, serving for the last four years as board chair. Years ago, one of Kimbler’s daughters went to school with a young woman who lost her vision when she was 12 years old. Fortunately, the girl’s father was serving on the AFB Board of Trustees at the time, and had the means to send his daughter to private school and

Deepening My Understanding of Social Security, Advocacy, and Disability Rights

I have always loved the idea of working in the policy and research field. As a former teacher of students with deafblindness, I figured out pretty quickly that while I could make a big difference for the students in my classroom, I had very little power to help the students in a school down the street, a school across the state, or a school across the country. I imagined working in the policy field was where I could make the most difference, where I could be a part of the systems change movement. But before I put all my eggs in the proverbial policy basket, I reasoned, I should probably do an internship and determine if this

Dispelling Misconceptions About Blindness at the 2017 San Diego Maker Faire

Kirk Adams and I were pleased to participate in a variety of activities during the 2017 San Diego Maker Faire in Balboa Park, October 7 and 8. In conjunction with Dr. Melissa Ganus of Quality of Life Experiments, I participated in the Human Library on October 7 at the San Diego Museum of Man. Several individuals representing a variety of communities were brought together to serve as living books to be checked out. The concept was to provide a

North Texas Community Comes Together to Benefit the AFB Center on Vision Loss

We did it! Thanks to all of you the AFB Center on Vision Loss (CVL) reached the $5,000 challenge goal during North Texas Giving Day on September 14 . In addition, our generous challenge grant donors contributed another $5,000 when we hit the goal! In total, you helped us raise $13,025 benefitting the Center on Vision Loss. The AFB Center on Vision Loss focuses on increasing the numbers of persons with visual impairment served in the North Texas region. Funding from the giving day will

Analyzing Labor Markets and Employment Outcomes for the American Foundation for the Blind

Introduction Hello, AFB community, I'm Lorenzo Amani, currently a second-year doctoral student at Virginia Tech in the College of Public Administration and Public Affairs. I'm also a graduate assistant for Virginia Tech's Office of Budgeting and Financial Planning. My research interests are in labor market policy analysis, human capital management, and workforce development. I'm assisting the AFB staff this summer to develop various research designs that could inform employment and workforce development practitioners who serve people who are blind or visually impaired. Thus far,

A Conversation with Architect Chris Downey

On June 15, the American Foundation for the Blind will be honoring architect Chris Downey with a Helen Keller Achievement Award for his exemplary leadership in accessible design, and dedication to creating enriching and helpful environments for people who are blind or visually impaired. Downey lost his sight in 2008, and has since gone on to found his own consulting firm, Architecture for the Blind. He specializes in designing workplaces, museum environments, and vision

The Gift that Keeps Giving: Reviving an Historic Home in Monroe, N.Y. with Strong Ties to Helen Keller

Helen Selsdon here, the archivist at the American Foundation for the Blind. Back in March 2016 I received an email from a gentleman asking me about a house called Rest Haven in upstate New York. I knew about this house and its connection to AFB and I wondered what he wanted to know. Little did I anticipate the wonderful story that was about to unfold. It is my great pleasure to introduce Timothy Mitts, the man behind an incredible campaign to save an historic building that was once owned by AFB’s President M. C. Migel and enjoyed by Helen Keller. Here is Tim’s story: On March 23,

My Perspective on the 2017 Cogswell-Macy Act Capitol Hill Day

For the second time, the American Foundation for the Blind, joined by other groups representing students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deafblind, held an advocacy day on Capitol Hill for the Cogswell-Macy Act. A vast and diverse group of advocates came from 29 states with the intent of convincing members of Congress to support a bill that would immensely help to give children with sensory disabilities an equal chance to excel in the classroom and beyond. We kicked off our Hill Day with a briefing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington,

Happy Thanksgiving From the American Foundation for the Blind

Transcript: Thanksgiving dinner at Palawoo, 1918. (Left to right) Elsa Kingsley, Mrs. Mary Kingsley, Polly Thompson, Helen Keller, Myra Kingsley, Maybon Kingsley, Mrs. Macy "Teacher" -- We are doing our best with a 14 lb turkey that Mrs. Kingsley brought in with all the "fixins." How much have we all both as individuals and collectively the [sic] be thankful for this wonderful day with the World War over. The American Foundation for the Blind is grateful for all of you, who share our vision of a world where the millions of people who are blind or visually impaired have equal

Hiring People With Disabilities Helps Everyone

Kirk Adams is president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. For most of us, work is a big part of how we define ourselves and measure our value. For many people with disabilities, it’s also the key to independence. That’s a point worth remembering in October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Finding employment remains a monumental challenge for people with disabilities. And no wonder: A May 2016 study (PDF) by the Perkins School for the Blind found that

A Director’s Experience: Creating Employment Opportunities for Individuals Who Are Blind

This blog post is by guest blogger Ben Caro, a film editor, screenwriter, and director on a mission to change the perception of blindness in our society. Ben is directing Cathedrals, a short film starring an actor who is visually impaired. Read about his passion project and mission to advocate for employment opportunities for individuals with vision loss. Cathedrals by Ben Caro I had to look in strange places for the right actor to play the lead role in my passion film, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short

When You Can't "Catch 'em All": Overcoming Social Isolation As an Individual Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Image: Left to right, William Reuschel stands with Aaron Preece, looking at an iPhone, while Aaron's guide dog, Joel, appears to look for a Pidgey. It's time to dust off the old Gameboy, find the faded trading cards, and watch cartoons starring Ash Ketchum because Pokémon is making a HUGE comeback. The makers of Pokémon, Nintendo America, in cooperation with Niantic Labs, have introduced a new mobile app game, Pokémon Go. This international craze has taken over the world. It is in the news, on social media, and all over town. But what

Helen Keller in Hiroshima, Japan

Friday May 27th 2016, President Barack Obama will be the first sitting President of the United States to set foot in Hiroshima since the atomic bomb devastated that city 71 years ago Wednesday October 13th 1948, Helen Keller was America’s First Goodwill Ambassador to Japan after the Second World War Helen wrote the following letter to her good friend Nella Braddy Henney on a train from Hiroshima to Fukuoka on October 14th, 1948, the day after her visit to the devastated city. The letter powerfully reminds us of the horrors of war and the suffering that war creates. "…Now I simply

Meet Kirk Adams, the New President and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

AFBs Communications team sat down with Kirk to ask him a few questions about his new role, his vision for the future, and his hobbies. Heres what he had to say. Tell us about your new role at AFB. What are you looking forward to? I am honored to be the American Foundation for the Blinds (AFB) new president and CEO. Ive long admired AFBs commitment to making the world a more equitable, inclusive place for people with vision loss. So Im excited to build upon AFBs impressive history and to work with the staff, board, and leadership in the field and individuals in the community to find ways to achieve our

Happy 150th Anniversary Anne Sullivan Macy!

Dear Annie, Happy birthday! Today, we celebrate your legacy and excellence as an educator. You insisted that your student, Helen Keller, could learn and accomplish just as much as any seeing and hearing child could and you were right. You were a tough teacher when Helen misspelled a word in an essay or letter, you made her rewrite the entire text but you also had a finely tuned insight into a child’s psychology. You instantly recognized that Helen was a very bright child who just needed the tools to communicate with the world around her. You were critical of the conventional teaching methods of your day.

Join Parents and Teachers in Supporting the Cogswell-Macy Act on April 14th!

The American Foundation for the Blind needs your help! This week, we are asking all of you to support the Cogswell-Macy Act, the most comprehensive special education legislation for students with sensory disabilities to date. Call in on April 14th to ensure key resources are available to these students and their parents and educators through and expansion of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents and teachers around the country are rallying around this bill. We asked for stories about the importance of

An Interview with a First-time Attendee at the AFB Leadership Conference

Year after year, the AFB Leadership Conference covers the most pressing and relevant topics in the field of blindness and offers many opportunities to learn from the best and brightest minds in our field, make new connections, and reunite with old friends. To find more information and register for the upcoming AFB Leadership Conference, visit In 2016, we spoke with Megan Doddformerly with the East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, now Director of the AFB Center on Vision Lossat her first ever AFB Leadership Conference. Hear what she had to say about her experience. (See full transcript below.)

In Memory of Phil Hatlen, A Preeminent Leader in the Field of Blindness and Dear Friend

It is with a heavy heart that I share that Phil Hatlen, AFB trustee emeritus and a preeminent leader in the blindness field, passed away earlier this week after an extended illness. Phil was an incredible mentor and dear friend to many, including myself. He was loved and admired by this field. A true visionary, Phil is widely recognized as the person who coined the phrase, expanded core curriculum and detailed its importance to the education of the blind and visually impaired. Because of Phils work, children across the United States who are blind or visually impaired are receiving a more comprehensive education that will help them to succeed in

"An incalculable debt we owe you": Helen Keller on Veterans Day

Helen Keller and Polly Thomson with amputees in wheelchairs at McCloskey General Hospital, Temple, Texas, 1944 On Veterans Day, the American Foundation for the Blind honors all those who have fought in America's wars. Helen Keller was, and remains, a source of inspiration and solace for so many. During her lifetime thousands of veterans were inspired by her courage. We are particularly proud of the role Helen Keller played as a leading advocate for the men injured and maimed during World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Between 1944 and 1946 alone, Keller visited over 90 military

Christine Ha Interview: Visually Impaired Chef, Author, and TV Personality

Christine Ha, Chef and Author Interview 3 with Christine Ha, winner of MasterChef U.S. season 3 on FOX, New York Times best-selling author of Recipes from My Home Kitchen (2013), co-host of "Four Senses, Canada" on AMI, and AFB Helen Keller Achievement Award winner Interview Date: September 11, 2015 AFB CareerConnect: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. AFB and AFB CareerConnect truly value you, your representation as a role model, and the passion and talent that you bring to the world.

Living (and Succeeding) with Vision Loss

If you havent read this USA Today piece on what its like to be visually impaired, you should. Every year or almost every year, my friend Mickey Damelio includes me in his Florida State University class called the Blindness Experience, which he has designed over the years. I feel lucky to have gone to graduate school with Mickey at Florida State University. He became one of my first friends from the program when he asked me to attend the free MTV on Campus concert with his wife and him. He is also the guy who introduced me to Paralympic sports and goalball. We were in a class on the psychosocial aspects of blindness taught by Lynda

25 Years After the ADA: Blind Still Missing from the Workforce

Struggles to achieve equality are never completely won. Allegations of bias and the tragic stain of racist violence dominate headlines decades after the Civil Rights Act was signed. American women strivestillfor equal pay in the workplace. And even as LGBT Americans celebrate the U.S. Supreme Courts affirmation of same-sex marriage, the response in some sectors of the country signals that their fight for acceptance is far from over. The lesson, always, is that no law or court decision promising equality can deliver as intended without a sustained, collective effort to follow through on its protections. At a moment when equality is very much on the minds of Americans, its fitting that weve arrived at the

The Top Twelve from the 2015 AFB Leadership Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

Russell Shaffer, Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs, Walmart, Joe Strechay, AFB CareerConnect Program Manager, and Chris Downey, Architect, talking about success and vision loss We just closed up our 2015 AFB Leadership Conference, and I would love to share some highlights. It was a fast-and-furious conference with no reference to the current Furious 7 film. The conference was jam-packed with unique and informative content from experts from around the United States and abroad. Our final head count was somewhere around 420 attendees from 38 states

A Blind Professional's Take on the Batman Episode, "This American Life"

A friend of mine sent me a link to an episode of NPR's "This American Life" on Dan Kish. I had not heard it yet, though I do listen to that show often. I listened to the piece right away, and I thought I would share my take on the piece. First of all, Dan Kish is an extremely successful and brilliant individual who is blind. He has trained youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired on how to travel independently for a long time. He founded World Access for the Blind, and trains individuals in the skill of echolocation, orientation and mobility, and independence. I should preface this by

ESPN's Stuart Scott Brought the Cool to Sports Coverage and Dealt with Vision Loss

As an avid sports fan, and someone who was a bit more than obsessed with sports growing up, the passing of Stuart Scott after a long battle with cancer was extremely sad news. I will admit that I spent more than my share of time in front of the television with ESPN on. I watched college basketball games late into the night and started my day with "Sports Center" and a few sports pages. For me, Stuart Scott was my idea of the coolest sportscaster on television. I can remember

Blind Boy Has White Cane Taken From Him, Replaced With A Pool Toy

Recently, you may have read a story or seen it on the news about the little boy whose white cane was taken away from him because of behavior reasons. I wanted to take a minute to discuss this situation and why this is so wrong. The purpose of the white cane is to be a tool to allow a person or child who is blind or visually impaired independence. As a person who is blind or visually impaired who depends on the use of my white cane for travel and independence, I am truly upset by this. We teach youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired to keep their cane with them. We encourage them to use it. The white cane is a tool and a pool toy is not a

The Joy of Voting Independently as a Blind or Visually Impaired Citizen

Man voting with an accessible voting machine Yesterday was Election Day, the day that we all head to the polls to cast our ballot for our chosen candidates for the many races impacting our lives. By all, I mean a decent amount of the population, especially during a non-presidential voting year. I can't tell you the pride and joy that I get out of being able to vote. It is not even just voting; it is that I was able to go to my polling location and ask to use the accessible polling option. Then, crazy thing, I was able to access the ballot and vote without the assistance of another individual. What a conceptto want to

It's National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Expect. Employ. Empower.

Each October, we mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme for 2014 is “Expect. Employ. Empower.” AFB’s CareerConnect team is dedicated to building tools, content, resources, and awareness around employment for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We believe it is an exciting time in the United States with so many big changes and legislation working toward equality for persons with disabilities. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are making progress. I often hear stories around the United States from professionals working in the blindness field and for

Celebrating White Cane Safety Day with People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

If you know me, you know that I am a big proponent of using the white cane or the long white cane. I speak around the United States to youth and adults who are blind or visually impaired about employment, postsecondary education, and various other topics. I couldn't do it without the training I received in the area of orientation and mobility (O&M). I received my first white cane from an O&M instructor from the State of New Jersey's Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I can't say it was love at first sight, but I definitely gained confidence in myself, the use of the white cane, and my skills over the years. The NJ Commission for the Blind and

John DeWitt Leaves a Legacy of Access and Mentorship for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

I recently learned that John DeWitt passed away. He was the founder of DeWitt & Associates, an organization that provided technology assessment and training in New Jersey for persons who are blind or visually impaired. He also worked for the American Foundation for the Blind from 1978 to 1989 as a resource specialist. John's passing was a great loss to New Jersey, the blindness community, his family, and all of the people he touched through his work and volunteering. I grew up in New Jersey and I also worked for the state for a period. I knew of John prior to my work, but I first had the opportunity to speak to him when he spoke at a "Circle of Bell Ringers" at the Joseph Kohn Training Center in New Brunswick,

Dressed Up, Inspired, Impressed: My Thoughts on AFB’s Helen Keller Achievement Awards

Last night, I had the great opportunity to attend the American Foundation for the Blinds Helen Keller Achievement Awards fundraising gala at the Marriott Downtown in New York City. This was my first opportunity to attend the event, as I was in the area for work. I thought I would share with you my impression of this outstanding occasion. The Achievement Awards were initiated in 1994 to honor our long-time employee and internationally recognized icon, Helen Keller. I cannot begin to explain how

AFB CareerConnect Thoughts on the WSJ Article, "Are You Disabled? Your Boss Needs to Know"

You may have recently read the Wall Street Journal article by Lauren Weber about bosses asking employees to disclose whether they have a disability. Ms. Weber frames the issue pretty accurately, and I loved the comments included overall. Starting next week, all federal contractors (i.e., companies that do contract work for or with the U.S. federal government) will have to 1) ask whether their employees are disabled and 2) employ a minimum of 7% disabled workers or demonstrate that they are taking steps to hire disabled workers. This new language specific to federal contractors is a great follow up to President Obama's initiative for the U.S. federal government to become a model employer

In Defense of Taking Photos (Even Though I Can't See Them)

Michelle Hackman As I write this, I am watching my two-year-old nephew Ethan while my sister-in-law takes my niece to an ice skating class. Mostly, my nephew spends his time emptying his Lego basket or smashing cars together, but every so often, he does something truly worth documenting. Just this afternoon, one of those notable moments came when, upon discovering my mother's walking cane, he seized it and began parading around the house, banging it on the ground like a royal scepter. I immediately knew what I had to do. Grabbing my phone, I started chasing after him, snapping photos that I could only pray weren't coming out blurry. Pretty normal reaction for a

Why Do People Fear the Blind?

On Saturday, the New York Times published a stunning essay by Rosemary Mahoney, a teacher at a school for the blind, entitled "Why Do We Fear the Blind?" She opens with a quandary seemingly absurd on its face, but one that we unsighted people know all too well: A few years ago, when I mentioned to a woman I met at a party that I was teaching in a school for the blind, she seemed confused. "Can I just ask you one question?" she said. "How do you talk to your students?" I explained that the students were blind, not deaf. Raising the palms of her hands at me, as if to stem further misunderstanding, she said: "Yes, I know they're not

The Importance of Specialized Education Services

Editor's note: We recently asked Emily to write this post for us, discussing the importance of specialized services. You can also read Joe Strechay's thoughts on specialized employment services here. Simply walk into your average classroom, pre-school through high school, and you will immediately be aware of how much learning is processed visually. The obvious examples are posters on the wall. They're often not

This White Cane Day, Slim and I Are Ready to Strut Our Stuff

On October 15, we celebrate National White Cane Safety Day, or as I call it more plainly, White Cane Day. So, you might remember that the nickname for my long white cane is "Slim," as I have written about him on the AFB Blog and FamilyConnect Blog in past years. That's right: I am 35 years old, and have a nickname for my long white cane. You know, my white cane and I travel the country, and I depend on this tool to protect me in many environments. No, I am not a member of Seal Team

More on the Government Shutdown: Do We Fully Understand What’s at Stake?

As the federal government shutdown continues, I am troubled by some of what I've been hearingand some of what I've not been hearing. On October 1, as the shutdown began, I heard some comments on news programs that they didn't really notice any change. And as Day 1 of the shutdown came to a close, the House of Representatives took up bills to fund certain parts of the government, the ones that people may already be noticing, such as closed national parks. This is sad and irresponsible. Of course, the most noticeable activities of our federal government do, in fact, continueair traffic controllers, military and Social

Remembering Dr. Abraham Nemeth

Everyone in the blindness field, and every braille reader, knows the name of Abraham Nemeth. He's probably the biggest name in blindness, if there is such a thing. This morning, I was saddened and shocked to hear of his passing. I had the lucky, really just lucky, opportunity to meet Dr. Nemeth several times. The first was at an NFB convention in Chicago. It was my first convention, and I had just started a new job at... you probably won't remember... Computer Aids Corporation... and they had sent me to the conference to bone up on blindness technology. Standing at one of the tables in the exhibit hall, I struck up a conversation with the random convention-goer next to me who was waiting to talk to the table's rep. He told me his name was Abraham

My Favorite Time of Year: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

As my favorite month of the year kicks off, I think of all of the exciting updates I will be providing about AFB CareerConnectnew content and stories. I don't just love October because of Halloween, and getting to dress up (though I have been known to enjoy the whole costume tradition and Halloween partiesI make a mean pirate). No, the real reason I love October is because it's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It focuses on my favorite topics: employment and persons with disabilities. I speak year-round on this topic, but during this month you all get it from many different sources.

On Martin Luther King, Jr, "I Have a Dream," Inspiration, and Mentors

As you likely already know, today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington, DC. I think about how appreciative I am to live in a country where people such as King have stood up for the rights of all individuals, including persons who are blind or visually impaired. Helen Keller is also one of those people who stood up for the rights of all. She educated populations about how persons with disabilities can be an integral part of society. I am psyched to work at an organization where Helen Keller also manned a desk. I grew up with Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of my major idols

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Phony Service Dogs?

Imagine my surprise when I read the following in Monday’s edition of the New York Post: Liars use phony vests and ID tags to get fake service dogs into posh New York restaurants. Huh? No surprise here, but was just blown away by this. As you may know, AFB headquarters are located in New York City (although I mainly work out of the Huntington, WV, office), as are over three dozen other blindness agencies. Over the last few years, service dogs have been introduced for a variety of different jobs, in addition to

Introducing Myself: Michelle Hackman, AFB Intern

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michelle Hackman, and for better or for worse, I will be a recurring presence on this blog for a year or so. Some of you might remember me (and kudos if you do!) as the 15-year-old button of an AFB intern five years ago who blogged about her existential struggles with Facebook accessibility or finding the Starbucks two blocks down the street. Though my love for Starbucks has in no way abated, I've otherwise matured a bit since then, and hope to use this forum to start a conversation about the everyday concerns that blind folks face things that most people don't think to discuss in conversations about blindness. I am about

Be Like Helen on Her Birthday; Be an Advocate!

[Editor's note: The following post is authored by Keller Johnson-Thompson, Helen Keller's great-grandniece.] My Great Grand Aunt, Helen Keller, was a unique woman. Not only did she overcome the double dungeon of darkness and silence in her own life, but she fought to help others overcome the obstacles that stood in the paths of their lives as well. From women's suffrage, to civil rights, to labor laws, my aunt wanted a world in which every individual would have equal rights under the law. I know without a

In Memory of Stephen Marriott

It was with great sadness that I learned Stephen Marriott, former member of the American Foundation for the Blind Board of Trustees, passed away over the weekend after a long battle with a degenerative mitochondrial disease. Stephen was a gifted trainerwhen he was on our board, he frequently gave great advice on marketing and communications issues. He became a staunch advocate for people who are blind, and people who are totally blind in particular. Stephen was a role model for anyone facing major challenges in their livesdespite his condition, he never stopped, he never gave up, he kept right on working at full speed. And, as a result, he helped the lives of many, especially those with vision loss. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife and

In Memory of Arthur Weisberg

It is with a heavy heart that I announce Arthur Weisberg, member of the American Foundation for the Blind Board of Trustees, passed away on November 24, 2012. Art was a dear friend and supporter of AFB and a huge champion of our work in Huntington, West Virginia. Personally, Art was a mentor to me. Every time we spoke, I picked up on some new, unexpected life lesson. I often say that Art's book, the wonderfully unpretentious "Call Me Art," should be required reading. From his humble beginnings in Brooklyn to his creation of a full-grown enterprise boasting over a thousand employees in multiple states, Art was the epitome of a self-made man. Art founded State Electric Supply Company in 1952 and Service Wire Company in 1968, which he owned and grew over the years. He

Said the Protégé to the Mentor: Happy National Disability Mentoring Day!

As you might have read, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but in conjunction with this month-long observance is also National Disability Mentoring Daywhich is October 17. I believe far too many people don't realize the impact mentoring can have, both on others as well as themselves. We all have been impacted by mentoring, whether we know it or not. We have family members, friends, coworkers, and other persons who are or have been mentors to us. I can personally tell you

Watching TV Blind: A Love-Hate Relationship

I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with television. And, for 20 years now, video description has hung like a shadow over this relationship. I grew up on the great classic comedies of the 1970s: "All in the Family," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and "M.A.S.H." I spent far too many summer vacation hours lazily watching programs from "Love Boat" to gameshows. I later adopted sitcoms like "Cheers" and "The Cosby Show," along with a sprinkling of a few medical and legal dramas. In other words, I was a pretty typical American TV watcher. Yet, there was always a disappointing aspect to TV programs (okay, there are

Coming Home with the New Dog Guide

We're home! Ralph drove Paige and me home this week and worked with us in my home neighborhood for several hours. I guess most people fly home, so the trainers take them to the airport and go through security with them to the gate. This is great, since the dogs have not flown before and often the people don't have much experience with it, either. And, getting a dog through an airport is different from getting a cane through. I'll have that experience sometime in the near future. Being so close to the school meant I could show Ralph the problem spots in my neighborhood and he could work through them with me. The worst was a subway stop that I use as a backup or when I want to go to the Bronx. It's on an island with busy streets all around. We crossed and

Getting a Dog Guide -- Free Time?

Before I came to the Seeing Eye to get my dog, all my friends and coworkers wanted to know what I would do when I wasn't in class. I wondered the same thing. Would I be able to work? Could I train for a marathon? How about a triathlon? Could I catch up on my reading? I imagine other people planning to get a dog might be wondering the same thing. To what extent is my life on hold? The first-timer's program is 26 days long. People getting a second dog are here for a shorter time. Training time involves a lot of walking with the dog and trainer, lectures and discussions, and hands-on practice with grooming, care, harness assembly, and so on. I would divide non-class time into two categories: waiting time and free time. Friends had told me

Putting it All Together-- Getting a Dog Guide

Tomorrow Paige and I will have been working together for three weeks (I'm at the Seeing Eye getting my first guide dog, if you're just tuning in). We're really starting to work together as a team. We're a little rough around the edges in a few places, but we do mostly look like we know what we're doing. On Friday we did a solo, where we walked in partly unfamiliar territory without a trainer on hand. I had a walkie-talkie and Pete, the trainer, walked far enough away that Paige couldn't really see him, but if I got stuck I could ask him questions. I didn't get stuck, though, and we made the trip easily. We had one spot where a truck partially blocked the sidewalk and I was worried it would start up as we passed in front, so we went around behind it. Pete told me

Matching a Dog Guide and a Person

A lot of people have asked me how dogs and people are matched up. I'll try to describe what I've observed about the process at one school, the Seeing Eye, and maybe other people will fill in or contradict me. I'm sure every school has its own way of doing it. Before I arrived on July 22, many of my friends asked me what kind of dog I would get. Lots of people assumed I would pick out my own breed or even my own specific dog. Apparently if you feel you must have particular traits in a dog you can request those traits, such as breed, size, or gender. I didn't do this for one major reason, but there are a couple of good reasons not to do it. First, the experts at the school are very thorough and careful in their matching. if they think a particular dog is right for

Broadening Our Experiences-- Getting a Dog Guide

I'm at the Seeing Eye, getting my first dog guide. I arrived July 22 and it's been the experience of a lifetime. This is the seventh post on the subject, so if you'd like to start at the beginning, go to the July 23rd post, Getting a Dog, Day 1. The past few days have been spent working on specific things we're likely to encounter while going from place to place. One of my favorites was the escalators. New York is loaded with them, and often it's hard or impossible to get where you're going without one. I've heard many things about escalators from other dog guide users, including that they should always be avoided, that certain ones should be avoided, and that there was a right way to do them.

A Lifestyle Change-- Getting a Dog

It was a week ago yesterday afternoon that Paige's leash was handed to me. I can't believe how much I've learned. I can't believe how much I have yet to learn. A friend of mine who is a cane user came to visit last Sunday. He asked me the same question I've been asked a hundred times: "Does it make much difference walking with a dog instead of a cane?" In the past, all I could say was, "I hope so. That's the plan." This time, I gave my friend the one-week dog-guide-user answer. I hope some of you experienced dog users will chime in and help me answer the question. After a week, do I think it's different? For me, vastly different. I'm walking faster, I'm hunting around to find my way less, actually not at all, I'm gliding past

Beginning to Work Together: the Dog Guide Team

(This post is part of a series that begins with "Getting a Dog, Day 1." I'm at the Seeing Eye, getting my first dog guide.) Paige knows everything about guiding. She's had four months of training, during which she's had obstacles block her path, had cars pull in front of her, had people's pet dogs try to distract her, had people walk in all crazy directions in front of her and around her... and she's been taught how to handle those things. What Paige doesn't know is how to work with an inexperienced handler. She shifts easily from working with Barbara, her trainer, to Ralph, mine. She isn't so sure what to do with me. I, on the other hand, know nothing. The walks

Learning the Basics with a Dog Guide

A few weeks before my class began, a friend who is a dog guide user was telling me some of her experiences. She described some of the early frustrations of taking over the ownership of a well-trained dog. I said it must be like trying to do things with someone else's dog. I remembered a Will Rogers quote I had heard sometime in the distant past, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. "If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else's dog around." Well, Monday and most of Tuesday I really felt like I was ordering somebody else's dog around. Paige is willing and eager, but simply doesn't know what I want half the time. Sometimes, she just doesn't want to do it. The hardest thing I've had to do, and I've had to do it many

We Meet the Dog!

Crista and Paige Her name is Paige! She's a black Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever cross. She looks exactly like a lab to me. Her coat is short like a lab's and she's as black as black can be. She's a very high-energy dog. Ralph called me to the lounge just down from the women's dorm, and I went down to meet her. She pushed close, then laid down on the floor and asked me to scratch her tummy. She got up and scooted under my chair for a moment, then wanted to sniff all around the room. We walked down the hall to my room. The instructions were to keep her on the leash and not to groom her yet,

Getting a Dog, Day 2

Yesterday was full of exciting new experiences! Everything is leading up to preparations to match us with our dogs this afternoon. (In case you're just tuning in, I'm at the Seeing Eye, getting my first dog guide.) We had breakfast at 8:00, then went into a Morristown neighborhood for Juno walks. According to Ralph, one major purpose of these walks is to help the trainers determine which dog is best for each student. All the trainers took their small groups to the same area, so we saw our classmates and their trainers. Our group practiced crossing streets, turning, giving commands, and holding the leash and harness. I was curious to know how a dog whose head is two feet off the ground could tell if my head was going to brush a tree branch.

Getting a Dog, Day 1

The author at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, NJ What's it like to get a dog guide? I arrived yesterday at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey and will leave here, if all goes well, with my first dog guide. I'm beside myself with excitement I took a long time deciding that a dog was right for me and then choosing the school. Then, there was the application and admissions process. Now I'm finally here. I'll share at least the big events with you, since you may have the same questions I've had. What's the training like? What's the school like? How is traveling with a dog different