Friday, July 28, 2017

The Grey Panthers and Memphis History

Exploring Memphis with MCIL’s Grey Panthers

Bobbie Fields
By Bobbie Fields
The Grey Panthers spent a fun filled afternoon at the Benjamin Hooks library on Poplar getting to know all about how politics, race and the press played a major role in some of our cities major events.

The Grey Panthers are a group organized with the Memphis Center for Independent Living to facilitate peer relationships and social interaction for people 55 and older. The Grey Panthers confront issues of dealing with disability, health, finances and civic life.

The keynote speaker for the event was former newspaper man, channel 3 commentator and Author Otis Sanford (Boss Crump and King Willie). His book gives a detailed account of how these men influenced our communities, city and even our way of thinking today.

Racism was a major concern during the turn of the last century in Memphis and Mr. Sanford told the group about many issues 100 years ago. Some of the key players in our city political history were Mayor Henry Loeb, Mayor Wyatt Chandler, and Mayor Robert “Dick” Hackett, Mayor Willie “king” Harrington, The Crumps and The Fords.

Grey Panthers gather at the event

Events like this one is only a small sample of what The Grey Panthers are all about. We try to keep our seniors informed about health issues, our city and community while having fun. If you are age 55 and up we encourage you to come see and listen for yourself. We meet every 2nd Friday of the month from 10:30 am to 12:00 pm at The Memphis Center for Independent Living, 1633 Madison Ave. For more information please contact Jerry Gamble at (901) 726-6404 ext.122 or and Bobbie Fields (901) 726-6404 ext. 112 or

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Elder Abuse

People with disabilities need to know the signs of abuse

Timothy Redd
By Timothy Redd
Today I listened the Senior Zone podcast and learned quite a about elder abuse and justice. The guest on the show was Edwin Walker.  As the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging of the Administration on Aging (AoA) within the Administration for Community Living, Edwin L. Walker serves as the chief career official for the federal agency responsible for advocating on behalf of older Americans.

In this capacity, he guides and promotes the development of home and community-based long-term care programs, policies, and services designed to afford older people and their caregivers the ability to age with dignity and independence and to have a broad array of options available for an enhanced quality of life.

Elder abuse is occurs more frequently than you may think and many think it’s a personal problem and don’t want to give involved. This is a humanity issue and one the best thing you do is say something if you see something. Elder abuse is any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to an older person. It is generally divided into the following categories:

  • Physical abuse is physical force that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment. It includes assault, battery, and inappropriate restraint.
  • Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an older person.
  • Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of violence by an intimate partner where the violence is used to exercise power and control.
  • Psychological abuse is the willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, or other verbal or nonverbal conduct.
  • Financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an older person's funds, property, or resources.
  • Neglect is the failure of a caregiver to fulfill his or her care giving responsibilities. Self-neglect is failure to provide for one's own essential needs.
Sen. Tom Harkin and Bob Kafka

Did you know that Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse? Some estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities Recent studies show that almost half of those with dementia experienced abuse or neglect. Interpersonal violence additionally occurs at disproportionately higher rates among adults with disabilities.

When it comes victims of elderly abuse, their attacker is typically someone who has established a trust relationship with. It is common to find that abused elder feel shamed or may make excuses for their abusers. Here are a few key indicators of abuse and some common forms of abuse:

  • Physical: bruises, broken bones, abrasion, and burns
  • Emotional: Change in alertness, loss of interest in thing once enjoyed, and depression
  • Exploitation: Change in  financial abuse
  • Sexual: bruises in genital region
  • Neglect: Poor hygiene, bedsore, unusual weight loss, unattended medical needs

If you are elderly make sure you have a plan or develop a plan so that your support system will know how you wish to live so that they will recognize if anything is out of the ordinary.

If you observe or suspect elderly abuse call Adult Protective Services. TN Adult Protective service number is 1-888-APS-TENN (1-888-277-8366). If you suspect immediate danger call 911. To find resources and to learn more you may access
Mouth asks, What's happened to our rights?
Steve SAYS: “The federal government has totally abdicated its responsibility for enforcement.
an interview with Steve Gold by Josie Byzek
Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Mouth magazine in March 1998. It is amazing to hear the issues that faced the ADA seven years after it was signed. Now, twenty-seven years after the ADA, we are still concerned about the civil rights of people with disabilities.

Stephen F. Gold is the foremost attorney in the disability rights movement. He is co-author, with Diane Coleman, of the Not Dead Yet amicus brief quoted in 1997's Supreme Court decision. As attorney for Idell S. and Helen L., he sued and won against the state of Pennsylvania on grounds of the ADA for segregating people in nursing homes rather than providing them with attendant services in their own homes. He was the attorney in the ADAPT v. Skinner public transportation case as well. Gold is in private practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

What's the primary problem with the Americans with Disabilities Act?

People don't know their rights.

I am amazed at the number of people with disabilities who do not know what the ADA says, or what the regulations say. I frequently get phone calls from people with disabilities from all over the country who do not understand what the ADA says, or how to use it.

We're talking now about seven years plus since its enactment. That's frightening. The first thing that's got to be done is massive education and advocacy training.

Second, we have to help people enforce [disability rights law] in every conceivable way -- from pro se complaints to street demonstrations. You name it, we ought to be doing it.

People with disabilities have to be perceived as a powerful political entity. With very few exceptions, that is not the case.

I would change the mentality of the disability community to begin to say, 'We're going to get out there and enforce this law.'

Like any other law, if you don't enforce it, it's not worth the price of a pretzel in Philadelphia.

Why is the enforcement of the ADA different from the enforcement of any other civil rights law?

The ADA came about not after a vocal, visible, angry struggle for civil rights. It came about because an elite group thought it should be passed -- paternalistically, in other words. Consequently, there was not equal power in the passage.

The Chambers of Commerce were able to get what they wanted into it, and insurance companies got what they wanted. The movie industry got what it wanted into the ADA, so that you don't have open captioning in movies, or any alternate format. The local government entities got their three cents' worth in.

All the powers that be in our society which clearly have been discriminating in the past and are still discriminating, they all got their ten cents' worth in, or more, during the passage of the ADA, and people with disabilities just didn't have the power to counter that.

The ADA won't even pay for monetary damages for the injury done when civil rights are violated. That's a humongously big compromise on the ADA. I don't know another civil rights statute where a minority whose civil rights are violated cannot get damages for that injury. But the other thing which is really critical is that the only entity that can get damages awarded under the ADA is the U.S. Department of Justice. And Congress even set very specific amounts that they can get.

So two things -- first, it's very paternalistic to set things up that way. Second, and much more critical, is that the DOJ can bring only a very limited number of suits.

We know how backlogged they are, and they just cannot do what needs to be done. If people with disabilities could get compensatory damages when they sue under the ADA, even if those amounts were minimal, that would make it worthwhile to bring the suit.

Then too, if the defendants knew they would have to pay not just to make their store or restaurant accessible, but also to pay damages, they would, on their own, make their businesses accessible.

It's as if the ADA is saying, “If you break this law, the penalty is that you'll have to obey it.”

That's not a big penalty.

What's the best part of the ADA itself?

Just starting right at the top [in the findings of the ADA] Congress says, 'Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem.'

Those findings should be used by people as a trumpet, as a clarion.

Disability rights are trivialized by most people. They are not considered civil rights. The fact that a person using a wheelchair cannot get up two steps into a store is not looked at as a violation of that person's civil rights. Or the fact that people can't get on the bus. Or that movies aren't captioned or that elevators are not braille -- those are not looked on as violations of civil rights. Those are perceived by the public as inconveniences or technological difficulties.

But they are barriers to access and they are, by Congress's definition, civil rights violations. Depending on which label you put on them, a different consequence in our society will follow.

The congressional finding at the opening of the ADA, if used by advocates, by people with disabilities, applies to so many circumstances people face. What that congressional finding does is make access a civil rights issue.

Congress says, 'Individuals with disabilities are a discrete and insular minority faced with restrictions and limitations, subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment, relegated to the position of political powerlessness in our society.'

But violators always say it wasn't intentional...

What Congress found is discrimination in such critical areas as access to services and access to public accommodations. That made those two steps, that curb without a curb cut, violations of civil rights.

Pre-1990 it might have been unintentional. But when Congress passed the law, it became the law. Period.

Can you imagine what this country would have been like seven years after 1964 if we still had bathrooms marked whites only and colored only? I mean, that's segregation, and that's separation, the bathrooms and the water fountains. It's historic. Back in the Fifties, they'd say they weren't discriminating, that's just the way things were!

When Congress in 1964 passed a law saying access must be equal, if the restaurants and bus stations had continued to keep separate bathrooms and separate water fountains, there would have been a bloodbath in this country.

Same thing with women's rights. Can you imagine passing Title IX and seven years later a college says to you or to your daughter, "Well, we have the football team for the boys, and the basketball team for the boys and the baseball team for the boys. We'll get around to giving the girls a swim team sometime."

Women would have gone crazy.

It seems like the ADA works best in employment cases.

Employment? Employment is a losing battle.

Let me tell you an entity that has been cowardly and impotent. Under Section 503 of the Rehab Act, since 1973, every single business that gets a contract with the federal government was supposed to have an affirmative program for hiring persons with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor has never, ever, enforced that.

I'm not talking quotas -- who cares quotas! Go and find out when Boeing gets a federal contract for billions of dollars how many people with disabilities have they hired, how many will they hire, what are they doing. It's not quotas. They have to have an affirmative plan and they have to implement it.

If you go in and Boeing has 60,000 employees and 20 are disabled, that's not an affirmative plan. We're not dickering over the numbers. We're saying that the Department of Labor has not done its job.

The federal government has totally abdicated responsibility for the civil rights of people with disabilities. We see it with the Department of Labor under Sect. 503, we see it with the Department of Transportation in regulating Over-the-Road buses, and with paratransit. The DOT does nothing to enforce the ADA.

We see it with HUD. Each recipient of HUD funds is supposed to have 5% of its houses, the new dwellings, accessible for people with disabilities. We know that doesn't happen. The only agency with the money to go out and look at them and make sure they do it is HUD. HUD doesn't do it in housing, DOT doesn't do it in transportation, DOL doesn't do it in employment.

When historians look at the disability movement from 1973 to 2003, the most shocking thing will be how the federal government totally abdicated its responsibility. Under Title III, people weren't given any teeth to do it. Congress passed the law. The federal agencies are supposed to be enforcing it and they don't.

People can bring a lawsuit. We have that pro se complaint, so people can file their own lawsuit. That was done solely because there are no lawyers who want to do these cases.

But the ADA doesn't call for equal access in all cases. It's program access, right?

That's not what the ADA says. That's a misinterpretation. Let's look at the law.

First, when you use the word 'program' you're in Title II, which applies to government. That term is not involved at all in Title III.

Congress wrote, 'Subject to the division of this Title, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation or be denied the benefits of services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subject to discrimination by such an entity.' DOJ, in its regulations under program accessibility, said basically the same thing that Congress said.

In 1992, you were to look at a government program, service or activity and then, when viewed in its entirety, determine whether it was readily accessible to individuals with disabilities. With any program back then, that concept applies.

But eventually the entire program is supposed to be accessible. No one's ever defined 'eventually' except in the following way: If new construction is done, they have to make the entity accessible. If alterations are done, they have to make the entity accessible.

Let me put it in concrete terms: the lottery. Let's assume that in 1990 there were 1000 lottery outlets in Pennsylvania. When the regulations were promulgated, you had to look at the lottery and say, when viewed in its entirety, is it readily accessible? So you have to say, of that 1000, how many were accessible, and where were they located. You'd have to do a geographical distribution. Let's assume for the moment that 333 were accessible and they were distributed geographically equally, so people could agree that when viewed in its entirety, the lottery was accessible.

Let's assume that in 1993 there were another 100 lottery outlets, so it's up to 1,100. Well, those new 100 all have to be accessible. It's not a case of 'You would think.' They have to be, because you are no longer looking at an existing program; these are not existing outlets, these are new. The 1,000 on January 26, 1992, were existing. But the new ones in 1993, they weren't existing in 1992.

The government has to make sure that when they get new programs on board, those programs are accessible. Not just when they're newly constructed.

Very few people understand Title II program access. If you did a survey, most people would say that if the new 100 lottery outlets in my example were all inaccessible, that would be okay because the program may still be accessible when viewed in its entirety.

Well, if that's the case, then we're never going to get 100 percent accessibility. And Congress intended for us to get to 100 percent accessibility.

Take a homeless shelter that existed in 1992. How do they make the shelter program accessible? One way may be to build a ramp or a lift, another way may be to give vouchers to a hotel. Let's assume they start a shelter in 1995. Well, they just can't start an inaccessible shelter. That's a new program, it was not an existing program in 1992. 'When viewed in its entirety' is limited to existing programs as of January 26, 1992.

Even then, all services must be provided. That point is incredibly widely misunderstood.

You talk a lot about segregation.

The Helen L. lawsuit was intended -- besides getting some people out of nursing homes -- to get people to begin to talk about segregation. Even though Congress talked about segregation, it's rare to hear people with disabilities talk about it.

People who cannot get into that restaurant and eat with me, they're discriminated against, as am I when I can't have lunch with them. When people can't sit next to other people in the movies, or they get put in the back row, that's segregation.

People with disabilities are still segregated, in nursing homes. And I don't do much education law, but I am shocked that we still have schools in this country segregating kids based on disabilities.

People have a right to be segregated if they choose. If people want to go to a school where only deaf people are, or where people only use ASL, they have that right. They cannot be made to do that. Under Title II, the state cannot make them do that. In Title III, it's the private business; the restaurants and stores cannot make themselves inaccessible.

It has to be truly a choice. Sheltered workshops are a great example. If you don't have supported employment, and job coaches, then to say someone wants to choose sheltered workshops -- if that's the only thing that exists, it's not a choice.

Same thing on nursing homes. There's so many people living in nursing homes right now solely because there are no accessible houses, no accessible services such as attendant services. To say that people have chosen segregation -- they may not have any choice. They want to live. They want to just stay alive.

Say you want to go to an art show with other people, who are blind, and the museum says, 'Look, we would be glad to have a special program oriented specifically towards blind folks.' They can do that, but a blind person cannot be made to only go to that. The blind person has a right to go to any other show. And the museum must have reasonable accommodation to that other show so there is equal access.

You say that assisted suicide is against the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Surveys show it. When people with disabilities go to their doctors, doctors cringe; they can't believe someone lives like that.

People with disabilities are not going to be given the same suicide prevention interventions as non-disabled people. That's the more critical point.

If a 30-year-old non-disabled person goes to their doctor and says, 'I just can't go on anymore. I've lost my loved one. My life isn't worth anything. I want assistance in committing suicide,' the doctor would do everything possible to talk him out of it. There would be therapy, counseling, medication. The unstated thing from the doctor's point of view is that the AB's life is valuable.

If a 30-year-old person with a disability comes in, says exactly the same thing, doctors don't provide the same suicide prevention. That's discrimination under the ADA because it's based solely on disability.

If physician-assisted suicide were permitted, the discrimination against people with disabilities would be much worse. Doctors are going to go, subtly or not so subtly, out of their way to urge people with disabilities to off themselves.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Renewal Season is Here

Please do not forget to renew

By Timothy Redd
If you are a recipient of Medicare Part B you may have received a renewal packet in the mail. Do not throw it away or ignore the renewal. You are eligible to time limited equitable relief if you are enrolled in a QHP and you are enrolled in premium Par A and you have an initial enrollment period that began April 1. 2013 or later or you were notified of retroactive premium free Part A on October 1, 2013 or later.

The Equitable Relief for Part B allows beneficiaries enroll in Medicare Part B with no penalty, eliminates part B late enrollment penalty in part B if the enrollment was delayed. 
In order to qualify for equitable relief for Part B:

  1. You must gather the appropriate documentation. Proof of your QHP enrollment is required which can be a letter showing that you are enrolled in both Medicare and a Marketplace plan. Proofs of premium payments and bills, IRS form 1095—A that shows months of coverage and subsidy amount.
  2. Call the SSA at 1800-772-1213 or to find a local Social Security office that you can visit in person.
  3. Once on the phone or in the office with a representative request to use limited equitable relief to enroll in part b and or eliminate Part B.
The deadline for the equitable relief for Part B is September 30, 2017. Because of the Affordable Care Act, the Bureau of TennCare handled the application  process for Medicare Savings Program effective January 1, 2014.  Enrollment was postponed because a computer system was not in place the verify eligibility. 

When the renewal packet comes in the mail you will have a letter informing you your due date in bold. It is recommended that you fax it back to prove Tennessee Health Connection received it. The fax number is 1-877-430-0843.
You can also call the TennCare Renewal Packet Number at 1-844-337-3348. You should wait at least 10 days before calling to verify the packet was received.

The Bureau of TennCare has 35 business days to process a pocket once it’s been received. If additional documentation is needed another 35 days can be added onto the processing time.

If you need further assistance contact State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for Medicare participants at 1-877-801-0044. SHIP staff can verify the packet was received.

If you miss the deadline your premium will be deducted from SSA check and may be multiple months.  You will have 90 days to submit you packet in order to make your benefits retroactive. Premiums will be deducted until determination.

Walk This Way

MCIL part of the Memphis Pedestrian Panel 

By Allison Donald
For the community of people with disabilities who walk or rely on public transit to get around Memphis it is important that we know and understand the rules that govern our travel.   As a community it is also imperative that we are a part of the process of creating safer a more inclusive communities.

Allison Donald

I was a part of a panel which included Scott Fleming, Memphis architect and Nick Oyler, Bikeway and Pedestrian Program Manager for the City of Memphis.  The panel focused on how Memphis can reduce traffic violence. The City also needs to catch up on $1.1 billion in sidewalk repairs, and help local businesses maintain walkable, safe streets.  Community engagement, education, engineering, and enforcement steered the conversation. 

Nick Oyler, concedes that there has been a lack of community engagement, education, and enforcement on behalf of the city.  Memphis is working to combat that by supporting strategies like the Vision Zero campaign to make the Memphis Medical district more livable and safe.  
The BE AWARE initiative which supports medical district pedestrians is a call for mutual respect and safer interactions between people walking and driving through the medical district.  

If you want to pledge your commitment to a safer district you can visit for more information.  Mr. Oyler also suggested posting signs that clearly displayed the penalty for not abiding by the rules of the road for pedestrians and motorists. 

The conditions of the sidewalks in the city was another issue discussed at length.  Sidewalk safety is crucial for people with disabilities, because that is how we walk and roll through this city.   However, navigating sidewalks safely has proven to be problematic for people with disabilities due to poor sidewalk maintenance which often times forces people with mobility devices into the street.  

Once the city installs a sidewalk it is up to the property owner to maintain the sidewalk. If you want to make a complaint about a broken sidewalk you can call the 311service or use the 311 app. 

Wheelchair with no curb ramp

Memphis officials have also made plans to assist homeowners with fixing cracked and broken sidewalks   Homeowners (not renters or owners of multiple properties) are offered financial assistance.  Residents who make less than $25,000 per year, are 65 or older, or are 100-percent disabled veterans. The assistance is also be offered to households that fall below the federal poverty line. The program would cost $200,000 this fiscal year to help address the sidewalks of the 400 properties that now have outstanding citations.  

If you would like more information on this program go to and click on the city engineering tab. 
Scott Fleming also added that sidewalk repair was not the only way Memphis could become a more pedestrian friendly city.  He suggested incorporating different architectural elements that would lend some spaces to being walkable to mixed use retail complexes to everything in between.  His point of view not only is it aesthetically pleasing it will create more employment opportunities.  

I wanted to let my fellow panelist know as well as the city planners who were also in attendance that accessibility is a must, but it does not mean that creativity and forethought must go out of the window to achieve that goal Memphis. 

For example, audible street crossings would do wonders for people with low to no vision.   It is not just about having a curb ramp, but whether or not the curb ramp is too steep for a person with a disability to roll up on.  It is not just about the access aisle being at the front of the store which does me no good if someone’s car is blocking it.  

Memphis can thrive if neighborhoods are safe, accessible to all, and walkable become the norm in our city, where it is easy to reach restaurants, stores, transit stops, schools, and parks on foot and by mobility device.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Clift Notes: Conventiontime

Fitness, Technology, and Renewing Your Federation Spirit

Unknown individual, Dr. Deborah Carter and Christina Clift

By Christina Clift
On July 10-16, 2017 more than 2500 people gathered in Orlando Florida for the 77th annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind.  Every year it’s an opportunity to meet up with old acquaintances and friends, learn about the latest innovations in technology, and renew the bonds of love, hope, and determination that fuel our movement. It’s simply six days of nonstop activity fueled by not enough rest, snatched meals, and organized chaos. 

The Tennessee affiliate was well represented with 20 individuals from across the state in attendance with the Memphis chapter represented by nine individuals, five of which were convention rookies.  While this would be a vacation at times, I was also there to work and represent the blind in Tennessee. 

My first stop in Orlando was at the hotel where upon checking in I discovered that the walk to the convention center which is connected by a restaurant filled causeway was about 1.75 miles round trip.  This would require waking up a bit earlier and quickly puzzling out the way to and from the elevator.  I’d already scoped out the ice machine which was luckily seven doors down from mine.  By this point I had already encountered the obstacles of potted plants, artfully arranged seating areas, a birdcage where the birds did not sing, and lots of people with long white canes or service animals.  The convention had arrived and I was ready to jump into the fray.

Event at the National Federation of the Blind

     The first place my rookie, Deborah, and I ventured to was Tobias Burgers and Brews to get dinner.  This meant traveling from our room to the end of the causeway that connects the hotel to the convention center.  We were fairly successful in navigating the way there using my memory from the year ago.  We weren’t too proud to ask a UPS volunteer for assistance along the way.  It is always interesting to observe how our rookies will react to convention; so far so good.

I found a great chicken pot pie with a flakey croissant crust, unctuous broth, chunks of chicken, vegetables and the side of mashed potatoes with bourbon bacon and cheddar cheese. The meal helped to fuel my explorations for the next few hours.

Deborah and I headed to the Rookie Round-up.  This is an event that orients any first-time attendees to what will happen during our convention.  Since I already knew all of this I left Deborah sitting in the audience and caught up with an old friend.  I wanted to see how Deborah would fend for herself when left without anyone to help her.  This is a trick pulled by all of the mentors at some point during the early days of convention, because we don’t want our mentees totally dependent on us. 

Deborah did well and finally found her way back to her room.  She asked for directions when needed and used her cane to navigate the hotel.     

“I was excited and looking forward to what the rest of the week would bring,” Deborah said after making it through her first day.

On Tuesday I sat in on a seminar presented by Amazon in which they discussed the accessibility of their current products including the Kindle, Echo, Amazon TV and Fire Stick.  Amazon’s products over the past few years have increased in accessibility for people who are blind with the addition of voice commands, voice view and of course the inclusion of Alexa.  Thousands of the Kindle e-books are accessible as well.  You can identify them if it says “screen reader supported.”  Meanwhile, Deborah was attending the NFB Job Fair and handing out resumes. 

My next stop that day was to visit the Exhibit Hall and Independence Market where I could play with all of the new technology.  My favorite item was the Aira glasses which provide instant access to information. Aira agents will provide real-time feedback to give customers information about the best route to travel to get where they need to go, assistance while shopping, during social events, out dining, and reading documents. 

I signed up on the basic plan and can’t wait to try them out.  The basic plan costs $89 a month and you will receive your Aira glasses, a hotspot, equipment insurance, and 200 minutes for the first three months and 100 minutes thereafter.  Anyone who refers someone who signs up will receive a free month of service and since I referred two people to sign up I will receive two months free.

But my greatest accomplishment that day was being able to travel to and from my room to the elevator with no wrong turns.

Wednesday was the only day during the week that I got to sleep until 9:00 and it felt wonderful.  I served in the hospitality suite for five hours since Tennessee was one of the state affiliates sponsoring this year’s convention.  While serving snacks and bottled drinks I got to meet members from across the country.  I met a member of the Springfield Massachusetts chapter and we talked about ways to keep blind youth engaged.  I met a transplanted Memphian living in Arizona.  We reminisced about his days at Booker T Washington and places he remembered growing up. 

Rookies from Colorado, Georgia, Alaska, and Hawaii asked questions too. Students came by who simply wanted to borrow our microwave to heat up their Raman noodles.  It was a time for answering questions, welcoming members who needed a snack, and making new friends like a lady for Georgia who sang solo for us while munching on a bag of Cheezits.

Meanwhile, Deborah was attending the Human Services Division meeting and learning about the fight to make electronic medical record software accessible for the blind. By the end of Wednesday everyone is giving thanks to the UPS volunteers who unfailingly helped us when we were lost, turned around, or in need of finding a place to sit while we eat lunch.

On Thursday we all gathered for General Session.  There’s nothing more exciting than when the gavel goes down and we are all seated by state.  The opening ceremony was kicked off by entertainment provided by a blind contestant from The Voice named Blessing Offor.  He was followed up with a celebration of freedom for our blind veterans.  Next up was Going through the Roll Call of States. 

It’s is always exciting because you get to hear what is happening in other states and who is serving as their delegates and alternate delegates. The list of 52 affiliates takes quite a while to get through.

After we came back from lunch we listened to the Presidential report from our current president Mark Riccobono. It highlighted our accomplishments over the past year and talked about our continued challenges.  Some of our remaining challenges are the right to parent as blind individuals, equal wages for people with disabilities, and access to affordable technology. The afternoon ended with a report from the World Blind Union, which reaffirmed their commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Marrakesh Treaty.

On Friday we elected individuals to serve on our national board of directors. Winners included: Cathy Jackson from Kentucky, Adelmo Vigil from Illinois, Joseph Ruffalo from New Jersey, Norma Crosby from Texas, John Fritz from Wisconsin, and Ever Lee Hairston from California.

We also heard inspirational stories from people like Top Chef Season 3 winner Christina Ha, Jordan who ran across the United States in 56 days, and Jessica Beecham who will be competing in the Pike’s Peak Challenge later this year. 

We also passed 22 resolutions dealing with issues regarding access to kiosks, funding for public transportation, the Pedestrian Enhancement Safety Act, federal funding for the Library of Congress’s Libraries for the Blind, equal access to computer-adaptive tests, accessibility of major home appliances, and the commercialization of interstate rest areas.

Deborah stated after hearing all of the resolutions, “I was amazed at the scope of work the NFB is involved in and I still have so much to learn.”

If you’d like to read the entire list of resolutions passed you can click here: National Federation of the Blind Resolutions for 2017.

After a long day in general session some of our folks decided to play tourists and visit local malls.

“I learned how Uber and Lyft work and look forward to using them more to increase my independence in travel,” stated Evonne Johnson a rookie from Memphis. 

Saturday was all about technology with reports from VFO, Amazon, Aira, Microsoft, and Expedia.  Each speaker provided an update on the accessibility of their software as well as what new features would be introduced in the future. 

The tenth annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award were also presented to five  innovators and advocates who are helping blind people live the  lives they want. This year’s winners included: the American Bar Association for its commitment to making its resources and conferences fully accessible to its blind members. Dr. Paul Barlett of Cleveland Chiropractic College for his innovations in making complex medical diagrams and other materials accessible, and The NFB of Illinois for its Freedom Link Program which pairs blind youth with blind adult mentors to  participate in independent travel excursions and recreation activities in the Chicago area.

The final two awards were presented to documentary filmmakers. Ten thousand dollars was awarded to Rooted in Rights, a project of Disability Rights Washington, for its film Bottom Dollars, which exposes the pitfalls of sheltered subminimum-wage employment for people with disabilities, and profiles disabled workers who have obtained integrated and meaningful employment. A $15,000 award was presented to co-directors Sarah Ivy and Abigail Fuller for their documentary Do You Dream in Color?, which follows four blind teenagers as they seek to achieve their dreams in the face of low expectations and barriers in the education system.

When the gavel sounded at 5:00 PM Saturday evening all 2,500 well-trained Federationists did what we do every year, we stood up, turned around, and moved in order to clear the ballroom floor in three minutes so that the room could be readied for our banquet.  I had already left the ballroom since I was a marshal and would be responsible for loading people into their assigned elevators.  Controlled chaos at its best.  We had everyone up to their rooms by 5:35 and so I jumped onto the last elevator to get all dressed up for banquet.

The Banquet is always a time full of anticipation.  What will the president’s speech be about? Who will win the big raffles and door prizes? In my case my first thought is what will dinner be like?  Well, it was typical banquet food consisting of a spring salad, fillet mignon, mashed potatoes, broccoli and carrots.  Dessert was a trio of chocolate crème brûlée, lemon sponge cake, and pudding.  Dessert was the best part of my meal. 

Once we were fed, it was time for our annual banquet address.  President Riccobono presented a speech titled "Innovation, Blindness, and the Emerging Pattern of Thought.”  An inspiring speech which lasted more than 75 minutes, my rookies and I all managed to stay awake.  President Riccobono explored the place of technology in the lives of blind people and how it has changed over the generations.  You can read the speech on the web.  

President Riccobono speaking at the Convention

We were all a little disappointed when the gavel came down for the final time at 11:15 PM that evening, because it meant that convention had come to an end.  None of us won any of the raffles or $2,017 cash door prize either.  Some people ask me why I go to convention every year.  Well it’s for this reason: Often times a blind person can be the only one at a school, job, apartment complex, or church.  They often encounter barriers that they must overcome by themselves. But the convention reminds us in the words of former President Kenneth Jernigan:

“As blind individuals we often walk alone but in the NFB we march together.”

That is the power of the Federation, an organization of the blind speaking for ourselves. 

If you’d like to join us next year or want to learn more about who we are and what we do, call us at (901) 213-6270 or shoot us an e-mail at

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Arc Warns that the Senate Republican Health Care Legislation Continues to Pose a Severe Threat to People with Disabilities

From the Arc:

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement following the release of the updated Senate Republicans’ health care legislation discussion draft: 

“A new draft, new talking points, same devastating impact on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is disheartening to know that Senators were in their districts for the last week, yet the pleas of their constituents with disabilities have been ignored with the latest draft of this legislation. This response to the extensive and impressive outreach from the disability community is an insult to people with disabilities and their families. 

“The Better Care Reconciliation Act is an assault on people with disabilities and we implore Senators to do the right thing and oppose this bill. A vote in favor of this bill is a vote against the progress of the disability rights movement and constituents who rely on Medicaid for their independence,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

On June 22, 2017, the Senate Budget Committee released a discussion draft of health care reform legislation, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” (“Senate bill”). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an analysis of the cost of the bill and the impact on health care coverage. CBO found that at least 22 million fewer individuals would have health care coverage by 2026. CBO also found that the Senate bill cuts Medicaid by $772 billion over 10 years, but the most severe cuts do not begin to take effect until 2025. Starting in 2025, the cuts are billions more than the cuts in the House bill and would increase significantly over time. CBO found that, compared to current law, Medicaid would decrease by 35% in 2036. 

The current discussion draft from the Senate did include a woefully inadequate home and community based four-year demonstration program for rural states.  A total of $8 billion is available over four years.  In contrast, the discussion draft retains the $19 billion dollar cut made to the Community First Choice Option which is a program available to any state that chooses the option with no end date.    

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Editor’s Note: The Arc is not an acronym; always refer to us as The Arc, not The ARC and never ARC. The Arc should be considered as a title or a phrase.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Where in the World is Senator Lamar Alexander?

ADAPT Demands Sen. Alexander protect the health care of Tennesseans

By Allison Donald

The Senate has delayed the vote on a replacement to the Affordable Care Act. However, this week remains critical as Senate leadership will continue trying to cut deals with senators to get to 50 votes. People with disabilities need to make it clear that Medicaid is essential to us remaining in ours homes and in the community and should not be part of any reform or replacement. The bill at its core is a tax cut for wealthy at the expense of healthcare for the rest of us.

Mid-South ADAPT along with allies from the Tennessee Justice Center, Indivisible Memphis, Black Lives Matter, and the Memphis Coalition for Concerned Citizens visited the office of Senator Lamar Alexander.  We were there representing the 1.6 million Tennesseans who get comprehensive affordable health coverage through Medicaid.  Our demand is simple.  We want Senator Alexander to vote no to the Better Care Reconciliation Act and protect the liberties of Tennesseans especially Medicaid. 

“The proposed cuts to Medicaid,” said Mid-South ADAPT activist Michael Heinrich, who was arrested and dragged out of Speaker Mitch McConnell’s office last month, “will result in people paying more for healthcare coverage, but receiving less services.”

Fourteen activists filed into the office of Senator Lamar Alexander and took seats on the floor. We began to demand to speak with someone in the Washington DC office that had a direct line to Senator Alexander.  Mary Wooldridge the constituent representative took notes as each individual explained how the proposed cuts to Medicaid would affect their life.  Ms. Wooldridge, who is retired, said the healthcare issue doesn’t affect her because her coverage is from the phone company. The issue did not concern her.

After all of the personal testimonials were done Allison Donald repeated the demand for Ms. Wooldridge to get someone from the Washington DC office on the phone.  She then stated that she could not do so. 
“I will make 201 Poplar my home,” said Allison Donald the organizer for Mid-South ADAPT, “before I go into a nursing home.”

At that point the exchange ended. The sit-in began and ADAPT was not going anywhere.  We were in the office for about 30 minutes a security officer and an officer from the Department of Homeland Security entered and informed us that there were too many people in the office and that only four of us could be in the office at a time. Four people choose to stay: Tim Wheat (ADAPT), Michael Heinrich (ADAPT), Allison Donald (ADAPT), and Karen Spencer McGee (BLM). 

Ms. Wooldridge, who claimed that she was not able to get in contact with the Washington DC office, had her phone ring and Senator Alexander’s Washington DC office was on the other end. Allison Donald made arrangements to speak with Brandon Morton the scheduler for Lamar Alexander.

Officer James of Homeland Security informed us that we could not wait for the final arrangements in Senator Alexander’s office while Ms. Wooldridge conducted business.  He also stated that we could not protest inside of a federal building.  About fifteen minutes passed and Officer James issued his first warning for us to leave the office or be arrested. 

With the contact information in hand, the ADAPT activists met our colleagues downstairs to discuss the next steps. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tennessee Property Tax Relief

Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury -- Property Tax Relief Program-

•    Elderly Homeowner
•    Disabled Homeowner
•    Disabled Veteran
•    Homeowner
•    Widow(er) of Disabled
•    Veteran Homeowner

What Are The Eligibility Requirements?

MUST BE 65 by 12/31/2016 and must provide evidence of age if you do not draw social security or if disability is not through social security. Must own home and use as primary residence. Maximum income for applicant, spouse and all owners of property $29,180. Maximum market value on which tax relief is calculated $23,500.

Must own home and use as primary residence. Maximum income for applicant, spouse and all owners of property $29,180. Maximum market value on which tax relief is calculated $23,500. Must be totally and permanently disabled -- Must have been rated totally and permanently disabled by Social Security Administration or other qualified agency on or before December 31, 2016.

Must own home and use as primary residence. Maximum market value on which tax relief is calculated $100,000. Must be totally and permanently disabled—Your disability must meet one of the following categories:

A service-connected disability that resulted in:
•    Paraplegia OR
•    Permanent paralysis of both legs and lower part of the body resulting from traumatic injury or disease to the spinal cord or brain; OR
•    Loss, or loss of use of, two (2) or more limbs; OR
•    Legal blindness
•    A total and permanent disability rating from a service-connected disability.
•    A 100% total and permanent disability rating from being a prisoner of war.

Must own home and use as primary residence. Maximum market value on which tax relief $100,000. Property tax relief shall also be extended to the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran who at the time of the disabled veteran’s death was eligible for disabled veterans’ property tax relief. If a subsequent amendment to the law would have made the deceased veteran eligible, then property tax relief shall also be extended to the surviving spouse. One of the above categories must be met; OR

•    Death resulting from (1) a service-connected, combat-related cause or (2) KIA (combat-related).
•    Death resulting from being (1) deployed, (2) away from any home base of training, and (3) in support of combat or peace operations.
•    *Must provide a copy of spouse’s death certificate.
•    *Must provide a form of personal ID such as your social security card, or driver’s license.
•    *Surviving spouse MUST have been married to the veteran at the time of death and NOT have remarried to be eligible.

For more information contact:
Kim Darden, Property Tax Relief Program Supervisor
Division of Property Assessments
505 Deaderick Street
Suite 1700, James K. Polk State Office Building
Nashville, TN 37243-1402
Phone (615) 747-8858