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What Being a Scholarship Finalist Taught Me

From NFB.org - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 12:41
Blog Date: Thursday, December 13, 2018Author: Elizabeth RouseCategories: ConventionEducation

I applied for the National Federation of the Blind scholarship program in 2018 just to say I did and get some of my friends off my back. I never thought I would be selected as a scholarship finalist, but I can say, without hesitation, that the experience changed my life.

This blog is not going to be cheesy or cliché, if I can help it, but I am going to be completely honest.

As soon as I got the call alerting me to the fact that I was a finalist, I purchased my plane ticket for the national convention in Orlando, Florida and then called my mom. She was thrilled, but my level of excitement far surpassed hers. For the rest of the school year, I counted down the days until I would take off for Florida.

On the day I arrived in Florida, I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. I'd heard rumors about how big the hotel was and how busy my coming week would be. However, I quickly made friends with some blind people I met in the airport. We traveled in a cluster to the hotel, and after a hasty shower, I met with my first scholarship mentor.

My first meeting was welcomed because I needed food, and the hotel was brimming with restaurants. The interview was casual, but there were some intense questions. I found myself taking into consideration not only my opinions but also the fact that I was in a scholarship competition. This fact put a little pressure on my conversational skills. Luckily, at the required meeting later that evening, our scholarship committee chair reminded us to just be ourselves. I tried my best to follow her direction the rest of the week.

After a night full of informative meetings, I threw myself into networking. The National Association of Blind Students organized events to encourage communication among scholarship finalists and general attendees. While I didn't stay long for fear of collapsing with exhaustion, I had a great time putting names, faces, and voices together after working with the majority of the NABS board for some time.

Each day of the week was filled to the brim with meetings, mentor appointments, and delicious meals. I met so many people that I couldn't name them all if I tried. The friendships I made, and renewed, at the national convention will last for the rest of my life.

In addition to the networking, I learned a great deal about myself. Being surrounded by thousands of blind people renewed my faith in my own abilities. I met successful individuals and people who worked in my desired field, which is law. I witnessed firsthand the life that awaits me in a few years. I learned that hard work and determination are among the necessary skills to become a successful attorney. Eyesight is not part of the necessary skill set. Anything I hope to do is a possibility if I'm not afraid of a challenge.

One of the largest changes I can note in myself is my recently adopted willingness to use my cane. Before the national convention, I used sighted guides or my limited vision to get around. Many people who saw me couldn't even tell if I was blind. They mostly just thought I was clingy. Thankfully, seeing others use their canes without shame encouraged me to embrace my own independence. Ever since I returned from Florida, I have used my cane more than ever. I take pride in who I am and the community I belong to. Being blind does not make a person less. In fact, I think being blind makes a person so much more. Blind people accept the challenge of changing perceptions every day. I am thrilled to call myself a proud member of the National Federation of the Blind.

National Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights North Carolina Sue UNC Health Care and Nash UNC Health Care

From NFB.org - Mon, 12/03/2018 - 16:29

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Monday, December 3, 2018Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgVirginia Knowlton MarcusDisability Rights North CarolinaExecutive Director(919) 856-2195virginiaknowltonmarcus@disabilityrightsnc.orgNational Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights North Carolina Sue UNC Health Care and Nash UNC Health CareLawsuit Alleges Discrimination Against Blind Patients

Raleigh, North Carolina (December 3, 2018): The UNC Health Care System, Nash UNC Health Care, and contractors systematically discriminate against blind patients in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to a lawsuit filed today. The lawsuit, brought by the National Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights North Carolina along with individual blind plaintiffs, alleges that blind patients do not receive critical communications in alternate formats - such as Braille, large print, or electronic documents - only standard print. This causes financial and personal hardships for blind patients and does not allow them to keep their medical information private.

For instance, according to the lawsuit, Plaintiff John Bone is a blind patient who visited Nash General Hospital for emergency medical care services on two separate occasions. Each visit, he informed the hospital that he was blind and needed to receive all his medical bills in Braille. Mr. Bone instead received all the bills in print, and he did not know how much money he owed or even to whom he owed money until collection agencies pursued and threatened him. Mr. Bone seeks to receive medical bills in Braille, so he can pay his bills without accruing late fees, enduring harassment from creditors, and having his credit score needlessly damaged.

Another plaintiff named in the lawsuit visits a UNC Health Care provider at least once every six months and needs documents formatted in large print in order to read them. During his medical visits, he is forced to sign forms he cannot read and receives visit summaries, follow-up medical instructions, and bills all in standard print. This patient often must share personal medical information with third parties to understand and follow medical instructions. He seeks to keep his medical information private, which he can do if he receives documents in large print.

“Blind people need and deserve the same privacy and independence in managing our healthcare that sighted patients take for granted,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “In some cases, the ability to receive information in formats we can use can make a life-or-death difference. With today’s technology, providing bills, medical records, and treatment instructions in alternative formats is readily achievable, and all providers have a moral and legal obligation to do so.”

“We are representing blind individuals in North Carolina because the failure to effectively communicate with them violates their legal rights, increases their chances of incurring fines and damaging their credit scores, disregards their need for independence and privacy, and puts their very health at risk,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC, and “health care industries have the responsibility to know and do better.”

The plaintiffs are represented by the attorneys of Disability Rights NC and the Baltimore law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.

###

About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages, and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at nfb.org.

About Disability Rights North Carolina
Disability Rights North Carolina is part of the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities and it is responsible for redressing incidents of disability discrimination throughout the state of North Carolina. Learn more about Disability Rights North Carolina at disabilityrightsnc.org.

National Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights North Carolina Sue UNC Health Care and Nash UNC Health Care

Latest News - Mon, 12/03/2018 - 16:29
Release Date: Monday, December 3, 2018Category: National

Raleigh, North Carolina (December 3, 2018): The UNC Health Care System, Nash UNC Health Care, and contractors systematically discriminate against blind patients in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to a lawsuit filed today.

A Preliminary Victory for Blind Students

From NFB.org - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 14:44
Blog Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2018Author: Mark A. RiccobonoCategories: AdvocacyEducation

Last summer, I wrote about actions by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that substantively curtailed the rights of students and of organizations like the National Federation of the Blind to seek remedies for discrimination by colleges and universities.

Specifically, OCR had revised its case processing manual to provide that its personnel would dismiss complaints filed by an individual or organization who had filed a complaint before, as well as complaints against multiple colleges. Furthermore, OCR said that those whose complaints were dismissed would have no appeal process.

The National Federation of the Blind, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suit to stop this provision from going into effect. Despite our litigation, OCR dismissed nearly seven hundred complaints in furtherance of its new rule.

I am pleased to report that DOE has now partially rolled back its unlawful and unwise effort to reduce its caseload at the expense of blind students and others. The Department has removed section 108(t)—the main provision of its case processing manual that we challenged—and instated a new appeals process. This is a clear victory for blind students and others who rely upon OCR for the protection of their rights.

There can be little doubt that this move was made in response to our litigation. In fact, DOE probably hopes that the court will throw out our case on the ground of mootness. But we will not give up in court without a fight. DOE has now revised its case processing manual twice without proper notice and an opportunity for the public to comment, and there’s no guarantee that the Department won’t simply change the manual again whenever it pleases. Furthermore, while the Department has told the court that it will reopen the cases that were closed, we are not prepared to simply accept that assertion on faith. We still want a court order declaring that the Department’s actions were unlawful and cannot be repeated, or else a settlement agreement or consent decree in which DOE promises not to engage in this unlawful behavior again.

The right to an equal education is a fundamental component of America’s promise, and denying students the right to enforce their civil rights denies them the educational foundation they need to succeed, contribute to their communities, and live the lives they want. The National Federation of the Blind will remain steadfast and vigilant in protecting and advancing the ability of blind students to advocate for themselves, but also, when necessary, to take their cases to the agency that is charged by law with enforcing their rights.

Editor's Note: 

Mark A. Riccobono is the President of the National Federation of the Blind.

Inaccessible Medical Devices Have Life or Death Consequences

From NFB.org - Wed, 11/21/2018 - 08:32
Blog Date: Wednesday, November 21, 2018Author: Anil LewisCategories: Access Technology

The National Federation of the Blind is working to increase the accessibility of medical technologies so that blind people can live the lives we want.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the largest causes of blindness, yet the technology that allows individuals to monitor and cope with this disease remains fundamentally inaccessible to blind people.

Blind people, as a subset of society, are also affected by other diseases like cancer, but have no independent access to the technologies that help manage these diseases. Medical technology that allows individuals to independently administer dialysis and chemotherapy treatments in the home are inaccessible, and create an unnecessary dependence on others.

At our 2016 National Convention, our members passed Resolution 2016-16 which highlighted the “Technology Bill of Rights for Individuals with Diabetes and Vision Loss.” It asserts meaningful access to the same life-changing diabetes information, diagnostic tools, and treatments as are available to others. These rights should be universal to blind individuals regardless of their medical condition.

Blind people struggle to use the limited make-shift tools and strategies available to us to care for ourselves, while the rest of the world is on insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors that they can fully access safely and independently. Using workaround strategies in order to access medical equipment puts blind individuals unnecessarily at risk.

We seek to remove this risk by making the technology nonvisually accessible to the blind through tactile markers, speech, large print and/or Braille access. When done correctly, this is simpler than most people think, and enhances innovation with little to no additional cost.

In January of 2018, we launched the NFB Accessible Medical Technology Working Group, a forum through which we can identify priorities and share ideas for increasing the accessibility of medical devices and apps, because unlike other technologies, medical devices have life or death consequences.

Through our working group, we are seeking to establish relationships with manufactures that will allow us to leverage their desire to develop innovative life-sustaining medical technologies with our expertise in accessibility. We are working to get ahead of the curve by encouraging the developers of these technologies to take accessibility into consideration during the design and development phase.

Manufacturers of medical technology interested in partnering with the National Federation of the Blind should email accessiblemedical@nfb.org with the contact information for your representative, and information on your product. We will follow up to determine how we can work together to make your product accessible.

Medical technology that can be used in the home, accessed via a smartphone app, and sometimes worn on the body, empowers individuals with confidence, convenience, flexibility, and improved quality of life. These devices can collect and transmit information directly to medical professionals, eliminating the need for in-person doctor visits and reducing overall medical expenses. 

It is imperative that blind people be involved in the process of making these devices accessible. Blind people interested in working on this task force should join our NFB Accessible Medical Equipment Discussion Group. As a member of this discussion group, you will be informed about our current efforts, be able to provide input and suggestions, and be able to volunteer to assist with the evaluation and development of accessible medical technology. 

Editor's Note: 

Anil Lewis is the executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind.

On Our 78th Birthday, Celebrating 78 Years of Stories

From NFB.org - Fri, 11/16/2018 - 12:19
Blog Date: Friday, November 16, 2018Author: Mark A. RiccobonoCategories: General

Today begins the seventy-ninth year for the National Federation of the Blind. During the past six weeks I have worked with blind people from at least a dozen states—having traveled to four of them—and have gained insight from visiting with blind people in two foreign countries. While this six weeks was more travel-intensive than most periods, the fact that I spent time with a diversity of blind people is not unusual. That is what I am expected to do as President of the National Federation of the Blind. I spend a lot of time listening to blind people, synthesizing their hopes and dreams, and helping to craft systemic strategies that we can use as a movement to make progress. If you are not familiar with the progress of the movement, I invite you to read Building the Lives We Want, published for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the organization.

This morning I was reflecting upon the thousands of stories that make up this great movement of individuals. So often individuals get focused on their personal story and their own perspective. Do not get me wrong, I think knowing, owning, and sharing your story is very valuable. However, I was wondering this morning about how often people miss the value in understanding the common bonds in other people’s stories. What I have found through my active participation in the National Federation of the Blind is that I can improve and understand myself by understanding the stories of others.

I never knew another blind person until I reached high school. By that time, I had formed an opinion about the prospects of living with vision loss, and it was not a positive outlook. There was so much I did not know, but, because I could see a little bit, I figured I did not have something to learn from the blind people I met. I learned later that was a real mistake. When I started to listen to the stories of blind people, I started to find myself in their experiences. It taught me I was not alone and that others had figured some things out already. Eventually I started to learn enough that I could share some of my own story and maybe teach something to others. What I had not expected was that the cycle would only accelerate. When I thought I was teaching, I learned even more about my strengths and my need to improve. I learned about my successes and about my mistakes and how they shaped who I am. I also learned how my reaction to situations impacted those who heard the stories of what I did when I faced discrimination or dealt with low expectations.

As I reflect upon the movement I am honored to be elected to lead, I recognize that the real joy is getting lost in the stories of the movement. The thousands of individuals—some visible leaders but many behind the scenes supporters—that make every moment count. There are never enough hours in a day, dollars in the treasury, or committed hands available to share the work. Yet there are always more stories to share. The beauty comes in weaving those stories into a fabric that changes lives every day.

I approach my work each day asking what can I do for the members of the Federation today. As I think about it, I learn a new story about the blind of this nation each and every day and that informs what I do. Please continue to share your voice and help to shape this tremendous movement. In order to celebrate the seventy-eight years of stories, take a moment to share a piece of yours. Together, with love, hope, and determination, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

With deepest gratitude for those who have come before me in the National Federation of the Blind and the generations that will depend on the actions we take today, thank you.

Editor's Note: 

Mark A. Riccobono is the President of the National Federation of the Blind.

SMA No More? JAWS and ZoomText Annual Home Licensing: A Win for Consumers

From NFB.org - Thu, 11/15/2018 - 16:00
Blog Date: Thursday, November 15, 2018Author: Rachel OliveroCategories: Access Technology

We’ve often heard users of access technology products express frustration over the cost to keep their technology up-to-date. With a software maintenance agreement (SMA), a user incurs a periodic fee to make sure they have the latest version of their screen access program. For users on a limited or fixed income, this frequently means running an outdated version of their software and higher pricing to catch up later. It also means losing accessibility as programs are updated, as new web technologies are developed, and as their software lags behind.

With the recent release of JAWS 2019, Freedom Scientific has taken a different approach. For users of JAWS® and ZoomText® home licenses, users can now pay annually for software upgrades and support. This pricing aligns with the models being adopted by other software manufacturers like Microsoft, who now offers an annual subscription to its Office suite instead of requiring users to pay a significant one-time flat fee. The same is true for the Freedom Scientific model. Instead of a $900 purchase price and a biannual SMA renewal, users pay a sub one-hundred dollar subscription fee annually, and receive the benefits of customer support as well as all product upgrades while their subscription is active. Users are able to install the software on up to three computers and have access to a web-based portal for managing their licenses. Should your subscription lapse, you would no longer receive support or upgrades.

Pricing

Pricing for this new Home Annual licensing is as follows:

  • JAWS® $90 per year
  • ZoomText Magnifier/Reader: $80 per year

Users can also choose to pay for a three- or five-year license when making the first purchase, or at time of renewal. Note that there is no discount, but it is convenient if you have the funds available.

What’s the Catch?

As far as we can tell, none. Home Annual pricing offers a lot of benefit to users compared to previous options. This plan should hopefully allow those taking advantage of it to stay up-to-date on JAWS® and ZoomText®, leading to increased accessibility experiences to applications and websites.

While they are not catches per se, there are a couple of things to be aware of if you would like to consider an annual home license:

  • Home Annual pricing is only available for home users. Those using professional versions of JAWS® and enterprise licenses, and those using JAWS® or ZoomText® in a commercial setting, will still need to purchase SMAs to keep those versions up-to-date.
  • Remote desktop and Citrix services are not included in Home Annual licensing. If you remotely connect from your home computer to a work computer, or other computers in your network, you will not be able to use this feature under this plan.
  • Home Annual licensing can only be purchased online. You cannot purchase or renew an annual license through a dealer or over the phone.
How Do I Get It?

To compare the different licenses available, consult the JAWS License Comparison or ZoomText License Comparison charts. If you would like to make a purchase, you can do so on the Home Annual Software page of the Freedom Scientific eStore.

We applaud the decision by Freedom Scientific to consider the needs of home users and offer a pricing model that makes it more affordable for those users to keep software up-to-date.

Alameda County Will Make Voting More Accessible to the Blind

From NFB.org - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 15:40

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Friday, November 2, 2018Category: Affiliate and ChapterChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgAlameda County Will Make Voting More Accessible to the BlindCounty Reaches Agreement with Blind Voters, National Federation of the Blind

Oakland, California (November 2, 2018): Alameda County has agreed to take necessary and timely steps to provide equal opportunity for participation by blind voters in the county’s voting program. The agreement resolves complaints by three blind voters who live in the county. The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s leading advocate for the voting rights of blind people, is also a party to the agreement, and will work with the county to help it implement accessible voting technology and other components of the agreement.

The steps that Alameda County has agreed to take include:

  • Acquiring a remote accessible vote-by-mail system in time for use in the November 2018 election;
  • Acquiring new accessible voting machines for all polling places in time for use in the March 2020 primary election;
  • Instituting improved poll worker training and response processes for issues that affect a voter’s ability to privately and independently operate a voting machine; and
  • Ensuring that the county’s election website, including content such as sample ballots and voter information pamphlets, is accessible per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version 2.1 AA, with pre-2018 archived PDFs to be made accessible upon request.

Accessible voting machines use touch screens with features such as color and font size adjustment and/or speech output through headphones and a tactile keypad to guide blind voters through marking a paper or electronic ballot. A remote accessible vote-by-mail system can be used alongside Braille or screen-reader technology, which reads the text on a computer’s screen as spoken words, to allow blind voters to mark their absentee or vote-by-mail ballots without assistance on their own computers. The ballot can then be printed and mailed to the local board of elections. The system will also benefit voters who are deaf-blind or who have other disabilities that prevent them from visiting a polling place or marking a traditional ballot. Individuals wishing to use the remote accessible vote-by-mail system for the November 6, 2018 election can access it from the Voter Profile section of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters website.

“We are pleased to have reached this comprehensive agreement with Alameda County,” said Tim Elder, president of the National Federation of the Blind of California and one of the voters who filed a complaint with the county. “This agreement will not only benefit blind and deaf-blind voters in Alameda County, but will hopefully serve as a model for other voting jurisdictions as they work to meet their legal obligations to these voters.”

The complainants were represented by Jessica P. Weber of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

###

About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages, and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at nfb.org.

Alameda County Will Make Voting More Accessible to the Blind

Latest News - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 15:40
Release Date: Friday, November 2, 2018Category: Affiliate and Chapter

Oakland, California (November 2, 2018): Alameda County has agreed to take necessary and timely steps to provide equal opportunity for participation by blind voters in the county’s voting program. The agreement resolves complaints by three blind voters who live in the county.

A Lyft to the Polls

From NFB.org - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 11:13
Blog Date: Thursday, November 1, 2018Author: Chris DanielsenCategories: AdvocacyGeneral

We've certainly come a long way, but voting still isn’t completely free of barriers for blind people. One such barrier can be transportation to the polling place. This can be a particularly troublesome issue for people who live in cities or rural areas that don’t have adequate public transportation. That’s why this year the National Federation of the Blind is pleased to partner with Lyft, the makers of the popular ride-hailing app, to help blind voters get to the polls.

Lyft has generously provided our national headquarters with a number of promotion codes, worth $15 each, which are being distributed through eleven of our affiliates: Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin. If you feel that you could benefit from one of these codes, and you live in one of these states, contact your affiliate president. If you’re not sure who to contact or how to reach them, here’s a complete list of our affiliates and their leaders. If your state isn’t listed, you can ask your president about participating in the program, as affiliate presidents will still be able to request codes until we run out.

You can share your experience getting to the polls with Lyft on social media by using the hashtag #TheRideToVote, and tagging @NFB_Voice and @Lyft.

In addition to transportation, other barriers to the blind being able to vote privately and independently can include machines that aren’t working properly, or poll workers who have not been properly trained to activate the nonvisual access features.

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute wants to know if you experience any barriers to voting, so we developed a blind voter survey so that you can tell us about your voting experience. This will help us to identify problem jurisdictions and advocate for continued accessibility improvements.

The National Federation of the Blind has fought for the rights of blind voters for many years now. In the early 1980s, we advocated for a change to federal law allowing blind voters to have a person of our choice accompany us into the voting booth. This was necessary at a time when voting machines could not easily be made accessible to the blind and was a welcome change from having strangers (usually poll workers and/or partisan election monitors) assist us in operating the machine or marking our ballot. After the 2000 presidential election revealed serious problems with existing voting technology, Congress became interested in election reform. By that time, technology had advanced to the point where designing voting equipment with nonvisual access features was possible, and so we advocated for such technology to be required in federal elections. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into law on October 29, 2002, and it requires that every polling place have at least one voting machine that is accessible to the blind and voters with other disabilities.

Voting is a constitutional right, and it is the primary way that all of us can influence how we are governed. Be sure to exercise your right to vote on or before Election Day. If you encounter barriers, persist until you can vote privately and independently, just like any other voter, and use the blind voter survey to tell us about your experience.

Happy voting!

Canes and Costumes

From NFB.org - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:30
Blog Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2018Author: Kelly ColemanCategories: GeneralStories

There are those that have a hard time accepting a cane, and for a long time I was one of them. I was told it made me “look blind,” which was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. No kid likes feeling different, and I was no exception.

But while I didn’t grow up loving my cane, I did, and still do, love Halloween. I enjoy the opportunity to dress up, to be someone else for a day, and to put my own spin on a costume.

Through the years, along with self-confidence and training, I have found ways to make my cane, which is practical in terms of navigation, something fun. For example, I like to incorporate it into my Halloween costumes. This gives my costumes a fun extra prop, but also can help educate others at a party, or when I take my nieces and nephews trick-or-treating.

The actual decorating was tricky at first. I always want to make sure it’s decorated well, but that it’s light enough to use. This requires some trial and error. However, that doesn’t mean decorating my cane is expensive.

One year, I dressed up as a witch and made my cane into a broom. I wrapped brown duct tape around it to create the handle, and taped straw near the bottom so it looked like a broom (but I could still tap it). Another year, I dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and my cane became a sign that read, “WANTED! Hunters to find a granny-eating wolf. Reward in basket.” I wrote the sign on a little piece of cardboard and stuck it on top of my cane.

I think the year I gained the most attention was when I was Darth Vader and made my cane a light saber simply by wrapping it in red glow-in-the-dark tape. It was longer, brighter, and more powerful than any toy.

I like to think those who asked about it were shown that a cane isn’t just used as a tool for navigation, but can also be a fun way to enhance a costume. I hope it made them less nervous around blind people and people with disabilities in general.

Happy Halloween!

Walmart Sued by Blind Maryland Residents over Self-Service Checkout Kiosks

From NFB.org - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 10:53

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Friday, October 26, 2018Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgWalmart Sued by Blind Maryland Residents over Self-Service Checkout KiosksNational Federation of the Blind and Its Maryland Affiliate Also Plaintiffs

Baltimore, Maryland (October 26, 2018): When Cynthia Morales and her boyfriend Linwood Boyd, who are both blind, made a routine trip to a Walmart in Owings Mills in late July of 2017, they didn’t expect to have to get the police involved.

But that was the result of a chain of events that began with Ms. Morales trying to use one of the self-service checkout kiosks that Walmart makes available to shoppers as an alternative to waiting in line for a cashier. Although the kiosks do issue some spoken prompts, those prompts don’t provide enough information for a blind person to use the machines independently. Ultimately, Ms. Morales asked for help from a Walmart employee, who completed the checkout transaction but also, unbeknownst to Ms. Morales and Mr. Boyd, requested forty dollars in cash back, which the employee pocketed. Because no audio prompt gave Ms. Morales the total of her transaction, she didn’t realize anything was wrong until the machine audibly prompted the user to take the money. Ms. Morales and Mr. Boyd then had a bystander outside the store read them the receipt; at that point, they realized they had been charged an additional forty dollars. The money was ultimately returned, but Ms. Morales and Mr. Boyd decided to do their regular shopping at a Walmart Supercenter in Randallstown from then on.

Now they, together with Melissa Sheeder—another blind Marylander; the National Federation of the Blind (NFB); and the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland (NFB-MD) are suing Walmart under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The suit asks the Maryland federal district court to order the giant retailer to make its self-service checkout kiosks fully accessible to blind shoppers.

Similar devices, such as ATMs, Amtrak ticket kiosks, and airline check-in kiosks, as well as some point-of-sale terminals like those in the back of many taxicabs, can be used independently by blind people. Usually voice prompts are spoken through headphones, and blind users respond with tactile keypads or accessible touch screens. The NFB has offered to work with Walmart to make its kiosks accessible, but Walmart has declined the offer.

“What happened to Cindy Morales is an extreme example of what can occur when companies like Walmart deploy inaccessible self-checkout or point-of-sale technology,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The real problem is that Walmart has decided to treat blind customers differently from sighted customers. Walmart’s refusal to deploy readily available technology to give blind shoppers the same choice sighted shoppers have—whether to check ourselves out or visit a cashier—makes us second-class customers. That is unlawful and unacceptable.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Eve L. Hill, Jessica P. Weber, and Chelsea J. Crawford of the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP.

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About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages, and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at nfb.org.

Walmart Sued by Blind Maryland Residents over Self-Service Checkout Kiosks

Latest News - Fri, 10/26/2018 - 10:53
Release Date: Friday, October 26, 2018Category: National

Baltimore, Maryland (October 26, 2018): When Cynthia Morales and her boyfriend Linwood Boyd, who are both blind, made a routine trip to a Walmart in Owings Mills in late July of 2017, they didn’t expect to have to get the police involved.

A Photographer's Insights on Vision Loss

From NFB.org - Tue, 10/23/2018 - 16:48
Blog Date: Tuesday, October 23, 2018Author: Ian MurrayCategories: EmploymentGeneralStories

"We’ll find out..."

It was a phrase said to me repeatedly by two of my greatest mentors, Fred Sanders and Jim Platt. Almost fifty years later, that phrase seems to pop out of my own mouth with increasing regularity.

I was a rebel, a loner, very independent, and full of myself as a teenager. Silly enough to cause lots of trouble, but just clever enough to avoid getting caught. Those who know me will probably say that in many respects I still exhibit those traits.

Fred and Jim where photographers in competing businesses close to my hometown, but despite being competitive they were not afraid to collaborate when it came to giving me a decade’s worth of mentoring and instruction in my passion: photography. They were tough and intimidating at times, and gave me some gnarly challenges to help develop and hone my skills. Tasks where commonly thrown in my direction which seemed impossible and would require Herculean effort. Tasks such as, “Go away and come back with ten photographs that scream the color red at the viewer.”

“Not too difficult,” I would think.

Then, just as I was about to go and get cracking, they would add, “But shoot only in black and white.”

“How can that work? It’s impossible!" And all they ever said to questions like that was, "We don’t know, but you go and give it a try and we’ll find out!”

“We’ll find out!”

That phrase irritated me a lot. They were supposed to be teaching me, giving me the answers, not giving me impossible tasks. But I was arrogant and had something to prove, so I went off and struggled with it for weeks. I wasn’t going to be defeated. I would show them. Three months later, I had ten photographs. Looking back, they were pretty abysmal, but although they didn’t scream "red," they could, at a stretch, be said to hint at a faint whimper of pink.

Of course, Fred and Jim barely looked at them before giving me the next challenging task, and that was how it went for almost fourteen years.

An impossible task, me asking how can that be done, and Fred and Jim saying, “Give it a go and we’ll find out.”

"We’ll find out..."

Fifty years later, after working full time as a photographer, a photography teacher, and mentor, I suddenly lost my vision. I was devastated. What could I do? How could I earn a living? What about my students and my mentees? The questions were unanswerable.

I withdrew for almost a whole year. I stopped teaching. I closed down my suite of studios, ended my business, and spent my time listening to music and audio books, and generally getting under the feet of my dear wife. I did, however, get the free long cane from the NFB and gave myself fits of anxiety by venturing out with it on my own, and thereby traumatizing many motorists whose hoods came frighteningly close to being festooned with my lifeless body. (The squeal of those brakes is indelibly fixed in my mind.)

This was weeks before I met my first mobility instructor, who taught me erroneously to rely first and foremost on what minuscule bit of vision I still retained.

Armed with my new mobility skills, I became much more confident. So much more confident using my limited vision, that I confidently rushed to get on the train I could clearly see was about to leave the platform. I didn’t hear the shouts of "STOP" echoing down the platform until I teetered on the edge and was about to fall onto the empty tracks. The train was still there, but what I had seen had fooled me. The train was on the opposite platform and there was nothing but completely empty track between me and the train.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. What little vision I have is deceitful. It lies and puts me in potential danger.

Where is all this going, you may ask, and what does it have to do with photography? Well, as a photographer, I always tried to emphasize that we see with our brains, not with our eyes. That the camera has a completely different way of seeing. The camera produces flat two-dimensional images with no actual depth. Every item in a photograph is equidistant from the person viewing it. The mountain in the distance is not actually in the distance. It’s just as close as everything else in the picture. Depth in flat two-dimensional images is illusory — it’s a construct created by the brain.

My experience with the train and the illusion of closeness confirmed to me that actual vision can also be misleading. It took a while for my brain to slowly marinate in this revelatory moment, but I began to think that if vision was illusory to the extent of putting me in danger, perhaps it was not as essential as I previously thought. So, I played around with this idea for a while. Walking around Boston with my eyes closed, to see what would happen. It was clearly a case of “go try it and we’ll find out.”

I call it a “Fred and Jim moment.”

Since that time, I have tried many “Fred and Jim” moments. The car brakes still occasionally squeal, but not as often. I rely more on my cane to tell me when I need to stop, and I trust my limited vision much less than I used to.

I have traveled alone to many places, including flying to the UK. When anyone asks me, “Are you sure you will be ok, doing that on your own?” I just smile and say, “We’ll find out!”

Since discovering the local Cambridge, Massachusetts chapter of the NFB and being inspired by the many blind members who really “live the life they want,” I have begun to teach photography workshops once again. Will it work? I don’t know. But I do know “we will find out.”

The Confidence To Be a Blind Parent

From NFB.org - Tue, 10/16/2018 - 09:53
Blog Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2018Author: Shawn CallawayCategories: Parenting

In 2005, I was blessed and fortunate to marry my lovely wife, Latonya. After the marriage ceremonies, the most frequently asked question of me was, “When are you going to have children?”

When this question was asked of me, I would present a big smile and remark, “Soon.”

However, when answering the question of having children, I had a hollow feeling inside of my body. The feeling was caused by my belief that I did not have the ability to be a good parent because of my blindness.

Four years after my marriage, I continued to have feelings of inadequacy in regard to being an effective blind parent. But in the fall of 2009, I attended my first meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Greater Washington, DC chapter. During this meeting, I witnessed blind people being totally independent without the assistance from sighted people. In fact, the most intriguing moment for me was watching a blind woman interact and care for her two children.

At this point, I decided to join the NFB and, more importantly, I felt that I had the ability to be an effective blind parent. In 2014, my wife and I were truly blessed to give birth to our daughter, Camille Callaway.

When Camille was given to me by a nurse, I held her with confidence and I assured my daughter that she would be well taken care of. I relish the fact that my daughter relies on me for her basic needs. I conduct independent parental activities such as preparing her food and taking her to preschool.

I love the NFB because it is not only an advocacy organization, but it is a support network for blind people. If I have any questions about being a blind parent, I have access to several blind parents who can give me guidance and provide answers to my questions. I thank God for having the Federation in my life. Just as important, I thank the Federation for instilling in me the confidence to be a blind parent.

Editor's Note: 

Shawn Callaway is a board member of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of the District of Columbia affiliate.

A Federationist and an Ironman

From NFB.org - Fri, 10/05/2018 - 11:45
Blog Date: Saturday, October 6, 2018Author: Randi StrunkCategories: Sports and Fitness

As a kid, I always loved sports. My younger brother and I were always hitting the game-winning shots in our backyard.

But the older I got, particularly in the later elementary and junior high years, I began to tell myself that I would never be an athlete. In junior high volleyball and basketball, I went to every practice, but when it came to games I was on the last string. After years of practices with nothing to show for it, I had no confidence, and I decided to just stop working out until well after college.

I have been legally blind since birth, but I didn’t think to blame my failures on my blindness because nobody ever told me I couldn’t play. This was a blessing in its own right, but I also didn’t have any activities that were adapted such that I would have as great a chance to succeed as my peers.

As a result, I internalized my lack of athletic ability to be a “me” problem, not a blindness problem.

As often happens when we get older, and get those first jobs out of college, which was a desk job for me, I began to put on weight. But somewhere inside I still really loved sports just like I did when I was a kid. I knew there had to be something I could do to get into shape, however I wasn’t sure what that might be. But I had to start somewhere.

I began to do weight training with a personal trainer so I could properly learn lifting form. Then I took a class on running form, which was also my first time ever running with a guide. I also joined a gym with a small group and individual session model. This was great for building my confidence as all I had to do was worry about performing lifts correctly, and I always had someone there to correct my form if needed. I liked lifting and getting stronger - it helped to give me a new confidence in myself.

However, my pivotal moment came between sets of back squats one day when my friend and trainer said to me, “Hey, since you’re competitive, I think you might like triathlons.”

I didn’t even know what a triathlon was, let alone how I was supposed to do one as a blind person. So as any good 30-something does, I turned to Google and read every article I could find on blind people doing triathlons.

Instantly, I loved the idea and enlisted my friend as my guide. It was her idea after all!

We trained for six months, which included literally learning to swim, bike training, and run training. And in September of 2015, I did my first race, an Olympic distance triathlon consisting of a one-mile swim, a twenty-five-mile bike ride, and a 6.1 mile run. Though it was the hardest physical thing I had ever done, I was hooked!

Since that time, I’ve gone on to do a marathon and eight additional triathlons ranging from sprint triathlons of about fifteen to eighteen miles total, to a full Ironman triathlon which is 140.6 total miles of swimming, biking, and running. It was an accomplishment that even a few months before the race I wasn’t totally sure I could complete successfully, but I had my paratriathlon community to give me confidence and support along the way.

In paratriathlon training, I found a community of like-minded athletes who care about advancing the sport and each other. I found something that challenges me physically and mentally to reach places I thought impossible, and I found a sport that has given so much to me that I don’t know if I can ever give enough back, but I’m willing to try.

That’s also how I feel about the National Federation of the Blind.

I found the NFB before I found triathlon. I had blind role models in the Federation before I had my personal trainer talking me into racing. I had fellow Federationists who believed in me until I could believe in myself and see my own potential as a blind person. Without my Federation family, I don’t think I would have had the confidence in myself to find my triathlon family.

The National Federation of the Blind is a group of like-minded individuals who want to advance their cause and the lives of blind people everywhere, an organization that challenges us and our expectations of ourselves and each other, and an organization that has often given us so much, that it’s impossible to give as much back, but we want to try. My Federation family wants me to live the life I want, and I’m doing that through being in the National Federation of the Blind and by participating in triathlon. I’m doing that by being a Federationist and an Ironman.

Marrakesh Express Rolling Home

From NFB.org - Tue, 10/02/2018 - 16:04
Blog Date: Tuesday, October 2, 2018Author: Scott C. LaBarreCategories: Advocacy

Last week, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed S.2559, the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act of 2018, which amends our domestic copyright law to comply with the Marrakesh Treaty that our Senate ratified at the end of June.

The measure is now on its way to the President’s desk, and when he signs it into law, the United States will be free to deliver our ratification to the World Intellectual Property Organization, and thus fully climb aboard the Marrakesh Express.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey on the Marrakesh Express began at age ten when a virus took my vision. As a young boy, I loved to read, and I thought normal vision was an absolute requirement for pursuing the joy of reading. A little later, I learned that all hope was not lost. I could learn Braille and use audio recordings. But this never seemed to be a full solution because it took so long to get my hands on the same books my sighted friends and colleagues had read several months, even years before. 

Little did I know at the time that copyright law was one of the major barriers preventing timely access to books for the blind.

As a young kid growing up in Woodbury, Minnesota, I had no idea that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and other similar organizations, needed to ask for permission from the rights holder to create an accessible copy of a work – permission that was either never granted or took a terribly long time to acquire.

In 1996, the National Federation of the Blind, along with the Association of American Publishers, took a decisive step in starting to eliminate the information barrier by urging the US Congress to pass what became known as the Chafee Amendment. Domestically, passage of Chafee solved significant problems and gave us greater, and more timely, access to published works, but it did not allow us access to the great wealth of material available throughout the world.

That is why the World Blind Union began advocating for an international treaty, which would create Chafee-like amendments all over the globe, and would expressly permit cross-border sharing of accessible works. The Federation, a member of WBU, officially joined this effort in 2008 to draft the first version of what later would become the Marrakesh Treaty.

In 2009, I personally became involved in these efforts when Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President of the Federation, assigned me to represent the NFB at a hearing before the US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. It was there where the Registrar of Copyright was seeking input on whether the United States should participate in the effort to adopt the treaty proposal, which had been brought before WIPO.

In a relatively short post like this, I cannot possibly recount all the barriers we have had to face and knock down on our way. Believe me, there were many times when we thought that the Marrakesh Express was almost surely derailed.

Although I have been seen as the lead on-the-ground actor in our efforts, it has taken a huge team, internal and external, to bring Marrakesh home.

For me, the emotions tied to this journey relate back to that day when I realized that I was blind and I would be so the rest of my life. Then, I felt trapped, imprisoned by the inability to see, and the inability to read and access knowledge. Fortunately, I have since realized liberation and freedom, and know that I can live the life I want. It is precisely those feelings of liberation and freedom that I have felt along the Marrakesh road.

Through adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty and its ratification here in the United States, the world has definitively and undeniably declared that access to information for the blind and print disabled is an international human right and a global priority.

The founder of the Federation, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, in a 1966 law review article, boldly declared that the blind and others with disabilities have a right to live in the world. Last week’s passage of the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act of 2018 signifies that we have gone a long way toward securing that right, yet we realize we have not completed the entire journey. Let’s rededicate ourselves to bringing Marrakesh, and the promise of freedom and equality it represents, all the way home!

National Federation of the Blind Sues US AbilityOne Commission

From NFB.org - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:32

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2018Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgNational Federation of the Blind Sues US AbilityOne CommissionAlleges Violation of Federal Transparency Laws and Regulations

Baltimore, Maryland (September 26, 2018): The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind Americans, filed suit today against the US AbilityOne Commission, which oversees a federal program that is supposed to advance work opportunities for the blind and other Americans with disabilities.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Maryland, alleges that AbilityOne violated the Administrative Procedure Act and federal grantmaking and contracting laws when it designated the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) as a "central nonprofit agency" (CNA) in the AbilityOne program and signed a long-term agreement with AFB. The Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies to give public notice and an opportunity for public comment before making changes to their programs and the requirements for federal grants and contracts require competitive procedures to ensure the most qualified bidders are able to apply.

The AbilityOne program was created in 1938 specifically to increase employment opportunities for the blind. It requires federal contracts to be preferentially awarded to contractors that primarily employ workers with disabilities. Currently, over $3 billion in goods and services are purchased from over five hundred AbilityOne contractors each year, with more than half from the Department of Defense. The AbilityOne Commission oversees the awards of these contracts and compliance by the contractors. It does so through two CNAs: National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and SourceAmerica.

Without notice and comment or any opportunity for other bidders to apply, AbilityOne made AFB a third CNA as of July 26, 2018. The National Federation of the Blind is challenging this action and asking the federal court to reverse it. If it had been apprised of the opportunity, the NFB would have bid on the contract to become a CNA with the goal of leveraging the power of its fifty thousand members, its nearly eight decades of experience representing the interests of blind workers, and its three affiliated rehabilitation training centers, to move the AbilityOne program toward the full participation of blind people in competitive integrated employment, including new and emerging industries that pay prevailing wages, offer opportunities for advancement, and provide required accommodations and new technologies.  

The National Federation of the Blind and other disability groups have criticized the AbilityOne program and repeatedly called for its reform because it is based on outdated beliefs about the capabilities of people with disabilities. Many of the contractors given preferential treatment under the program segregate workers with disabilities from workers who do not have disabilities and require the disabled workers to perform menial jobs that do not prepare them for mainstream work. In addition, fifty of the AbilityOne contractors pay workers with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage – pennies per hour, in the worst cases. Furthermore, both the Government Accountability Office and Department of Defense have issued reports highlighting a lack of transparency and oversight of the activities of the CNAs and calling for significant changes to the AbilityOne program to increase integration and reduce the risk of fraud. 

The AbilityOne Commission’s selection of a new CNA seeks to "provide a framework for a new CNA model in the AbilityOne program that places the focus on increasing job placement and career advancement opportunities in knowledge-based positions" and identify "innovative employment opportunities, careers and lines of business for people who are blind" over five years.

"We appreciate that AbilityOne is pursuing a new CNA to support innovative jobs and careers for people who are blind. The move toward integrated real-world employment for people with disabilities is long overdue. Thanks to federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, blind people have proven we can do real jobs and do not need to be segregated or relegated to menial work," said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "However, AbilityOne’s decision to authorize a new CNA with no input from the public or from blind individuals, is an example of the inside dealing and lack of transparency that have long pervaded the program. As the nation’s leading membership organization of blind Americans, the National Federation of the Blind is taking this action in solidarity with the blind employees who work on AbilityOne contracts. Blind workers deserve to have input into the future of the AbilityOne program. In addition, as an organization with 78 years of experience helping blind workers find and succeed in competitive, integrated employment, the NFB has expertise and insight about innovations to support blind individuals to pursue the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow. We stand ready, willing, and able to help AbilityOne build the future. But we will not tolerate the AbilityOne Commission flouting the law and ignoring the voices of the blind Americans who will be affected by its decisions."

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About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages, and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at nfb.org.

National Federation of the Blind Sues US AbilityOne Commission

Latest News - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:32
Release Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2018Category: National

Baltimore, Maryland (September 26, 2018): The National Federation of the Blind, the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind Americans, filed suit today against the US AbilityOne Commission, which oversees a federal program that is supposed to advance work opportunities for the blind and other Americans with disabilities.

US House of Representatives Passes Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act

From NFB.org - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 16:47

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Release Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2018Category: NationalChris DanielsenDirector of Public RelationsNational Federation of the Blind(410) 659-9314, extension 2330(410) 262-1281 (Cell)cdanielsen@nfb.orgUS House of Representatives Passes Marrakesh Treaty Implementation ActTreaty Now Awaits Presidential Action

Washington, DC (September 25, 2018): The United States House of Representatives has passed the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (S. 2559), which makes modest changes to copyright law that will bring the United States into compliance with the terms of the Marrakesh Treaty. The Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification of the treaty and passed the implementing legislation on June 28.

"For almost a decade now, the National Federation of the Blind, our partners, and other advocates have worked to bring the Marrakesh Treaty into being and into force," said Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "Today we applaud the United States House of Representatives for its passage of the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act. We now urge President Trump to sign this implementing legislation, and to order the State Department to deposit the instrument of ratification with the World Intellectual Property Organization as soon as practicable. We are closer than ever to the day when blind Americans will have greater access to the world’s knowledge, in many of its original languages, than we have ever had in human history."

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About the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), headquartered in Baltimore, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages, and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. Learn more about our many programs and initiatives at nfb.org.

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