This was no mere groundbreaking being celebrated at the National Federation of the Blind's annual gala. This was also the celebration of a new facility that was groundbreaking itself. The NFB's new National Research and Training Institute for the Blind, to be built adjacent to the NFB's headquarters in Baltimore, will be the first education and research center developed and operated by an organization of the blind.
About 600 guests gathered at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel to herald this new beginning and reflect on advances already made for the blind. The guest list was evidence enough. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies CEO, invented the first reading machine for the blind. CEO Wally O'Dell's company, Diebold Inc., manufactured the first ATM machines for the blind.
"I make [hand-held] computers -- like Palm Pilots -- for blind people," explained Deane Blazie, founder of Blazie Engineering. Add another to that list: Mike Hingson. The Quantum ATL district channel sales manager made national news with the story of how his seeing-eye dog led him down 78 floors to safety during the World Trade Center attacks.
Others in the gathering included: Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, event coordinator and NFB director of special programs; Rosemary Dietz, Herb Magin, Connie Matsumoto, Frederick Muhl and Eileen White, event committee members; Dr. Marc Maurer, NFB president; James Dashel, NFB director of governmental affairs; Mary Ellen Jernigan, NFB director of operations; Steve Benson, NFB board member; Curtis Chong, NFB technology director; Nestor Arabejo, John A. Ammon + Associates project designer; Ron Brown, R.B. Vending owner / manager; Linda Snider, Access for the Handicapped Inc. vice president; Diane McGeorge, Colorado Center for the Blind founder; Michael Diamond, Georgetown Law School professor; Rick China, IES Communications CEO; Shirley Riffle, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland special programs director; Steve Marriott, Marriott International senior vice president of culture; and Donna Cohen, Rosen Sapperstein & Friedlander office administrator.
The gala raised more than $300,000 for the NFB.