The COVID-19 has changed our lives dramatically.  For The Blind History Lady, all personal appearances have been cancelled until further notice.  However, I am still participating in phone presentations.


If you would like to have a presentation from The Blind History Lady, please send an email to theblindhistorylady@gmail.com







Joyce Scanlan

Joyce Eileen Scanlan could not get a teaching job in Minnesota when she moved to the state in the 1970s. She had been teaching English and Latin for years in North Dakota and Montana, but schools in Minnesota would not hire her because she was blind, said her husband, Tom Scanlan.

“They’d ask, ‘How would you find your way around the school and how would you find the bathroom?’” he said.

So she took up a job proofreading Braille and spent much of the rest of her life as an advocate and champion for the blind, leading the charge to add disability protections to the Minnesota Human Rights Act and to require the teaching of Braille in public schools.

Scanlan died in her sleep Dec. 29 at age 85.

Scanlan is remembered, first, for her laugh. She laughed so easily and often, Tom Scanlan said: “She was a happy person.”

She loved to cook and bake her way through the nearly 5,000 recipes she kept in Braille, including a stew for St. Patrick’s Day and a chili for her students. She loved to play Scrabble, read histories and biographies, entertain her friends and host New Year’s Eve parties. She traveled abroad and around the country, making it to every state except Alaska.

She especially like historical tours, traveling to Williamsburg, Va., and Washington, D.C. During their honeymoon, she and her husband took a tour of the White House, and the guide lifted the rope to one of the bedrooms so the two could walk in and examine it.

“She said, ‘There’s a lot of dust on these things,’” Tom Scanlan said.

Born in Fargo, Scanlan graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1957. She made it her mission to ensure that blind people be in charge of their own lives and be treated with respect, speaking as an expert to Congress and to state lawmakers on ways to improve laws and services for the blind.

She and her husband met at a convention in Minneapolis, where they would live the rest of their life together. In 1973, she was elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. She served in the role for the next 34 years.

For decades, blind people had little, if any, control or leadership within many of the organizations and centers that were supposed to represent and speak for blind people, said Tom Scanlan, who is also blind. “Instead of treating blind people as capable and able to make our own decisions or speak about what we really needed, they just treated us as patients,” he said.

But that changed, largely because of the work of people like his wife.

In the early 1970s, Scanlan successfully pushed state lawmakers to add disabilities to the Minnesota Human Rights Act and enact the state’s Braille bill.

In 1986, she founded BLIND Inc., a Minneapolis training center that teaches blind people how to read Braille, use white canes, cook, work with computers and reading software, and other skills needed to be independent. She led the organization as its executive director until her retirement in 2003. Even after her retirement she continued to take calls from people who needed help, especially from people who didn’t know where to begin when their elderly spouses or parents were losing their vision.

For nearly the entire time Scanlan served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, her husband was also elected the organization’s treasurer.

“We were a team,” he said.

She is survived by her husband of 46 years, her sister, Marilyn Calvert, and her brother, Ken Hoffa. Because of the pandemic, services will be held at a later date.



Steve Benson

Stephen O. Benson, age 78, of Chicago, died on March 22, 2020; beloved husband of Margaret M. nee Gull; loving father of Patrick Owen (Dulcinea Basile) Benson; cherished grandpa of Theodore Joseph and Winston James; loving brother of the late Theodate Audry Benson; dear brother-in-law of Mary Therese (Charles) McGaughan, Eileen Anne (Robert) Kleps, Kathleen (Mark) Vuolo, Thomas Francis (Timothy Flesch) Gull and the late Edmund A. Gull and Dolores (Paul) Nelson; fond uncle of Sean (Claudia Rosales) McGaughan, Stephen (Rebecca Oppenheim) Kleps, Christopher (Sarah Welsh) Kleps and Andrew (Kimberly Wild) Kleps, and Anthony and David Vuolo; great uncle of Mariana Therese McGaughan, and Lily, Daniel, John, and Eddie Kleps, and Kiernan and June Rock, and Rowan Perkins. Steve was a graduate of DePaul U. He taught Braille at Hines VA hospital. He worked in public relations for the Chicago Public Library at the Harold Washington branch. Steve was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind. Private interment was held in Queen of Heaven Cemetery on March 24, 2020. Memorial donations to VanderCook College of Music 


Avraham Rabby, blind activist who fought to enter Foreign Service, dies at 77

By  Bart Barnes

April 25, 2020 at 12:48 p.m. MDT

Avraham Rabby, a blind activist and management consultant who passed five State Department entrance examinations and in 1989 prevailed in a protracted dispute with the department over his qualifications to be a Foreign Service officer, died April 17 in a hospital near Tel Aviv. He was 77.


The cause was cancer, said a niece, Ofra Hod.


In 1990, Mr. Rabby began a 17-year Foreign Service career that would include posts in Europe, Africa, South America and South Asia. He was a “champion for the employment of the disabled at the State Department,” said Judith E. Heumann, special adviser for disability rights at the State Department during the administration of President Barack Obama.


Mr. Rabby, known to friends as Rami, was a native of Tel Aviv with honors degrees in French and Spanish from the University of Oxford in England and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago. He became a U.S. citizen in 1980, worked as a management consultant for Citibank on issues of equal rights and opportunities for the blind, and tried unsuccessfully for almost a decade to join the Foreign Service.


“It is absolutely unconscionable that the rest of the government has shown itself to be able to employ blind people constructively,” he told the Associated Press in 1988. “The State Department is still in the 19th century.”


He passed written and oral examinations. The National Federation of the Blind, where he served as an officer, filed a lawsuit on his behalf. But the State Department rebuffed his entreaties, citing long-standing personnel policies.


“You don’t ask a blind person to drive a bus or be a bank teller,” George S. Vest, the State Department personnel director, said in 1988, according to the New York Times. “There are jobs which are dangerous or unsuitable for them. And in the Foreign Service, we’re full of jobs like that.”


There was a widely held conviction that to be effective, Foreign Service officers needed to be able to spot the subtleties of nonverbal body language: winks, nods, raised eyebrows, rolling of the eyes, smiles, frowns, shoulder shrugs.


“No international treaty has ever been decided on the basis of a wink or a nod,” Mr. Rabby told the Times.


“I necessarily listen more than a sighted person would,” he said. “If I’m walking along a street, I can tell there is a building next to me because of the echoes of my feet or my cane. A blind person sees the world differently from a sighted person. Our impressions are no less valid.”


In 1989, Edward J. Perkins, the new director general of the Foreign Service and a former ambassador to South Africa, broke with tradition and directed the hiring of Mr. Rabby. He told a congressional committee that the Foreign Service had decided it could make accommodations for the blind, “just as we do for sighted people, based on what they can accomplish.”


This action came weeks after the Senate had passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, which broadened civil rights already protected in earlier legislation.


Mr. Rabby attended his Foreign Service orientation with one other blind person, Maryanne Masterson, a 13-year State Department employee who had been working inthe visa services office and eventually held Foreign Service assignments in Asia, Europe and North America before retiring in 2012.


Masterson said she and Mr. Rabby remained friends throughout their careers. But they both encountered hostility from colleagues who “felt the Foreign Service should never have been opened to handicapped employees,” she said.


Mr. Rabby was posted to South Africa just after Nelson Mandela, the future president of the country, was being freed from prison. He served in Washington at the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights. At the U.S. mission to the United Nations, he helped draft resolutions dealing with literacy, global health and disabled people.


His last Foreign Service posting was as political chief at the U.S. Embassy in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation.

“I was his eyes,” Rhonda Singh, his reader and personal assistant in Port-of-Spain, wrote in an email. “He never allowed his disability to see the world deter him. ... He was proud to have served as an FSO diplomat for the USA ... to make persons who are challenged and visually impaired to improve their standard of life.”


Avraham Rabby was born in Tel Aviv on June 29, 1942, in what then was the British Mandate for Palestine. His father was a businessman, his mother a housewife. He suffered detached retinas in his eyes, causing him to lose his eyesight at the age of 8.


As a teenager, he went to a British boarding school for the blind, and then to Oxford. In 1969, received an MBA from the University of Chicago.

While living in Manhattan, he often liked to take visiting relatives from Israel on tandem bike tours — with Mr. Rabby pedaling in the rear seat, his visitors steering up front. He also was an enthusiastic coin collector who regularly attended numismatic conventions.


On his retirement, he moved from Washington back to Israel to be near his only survivor, a brother.




Brian Miller, whose blindness inspired a career helping disabled students, dies of covid-19


Brian R. Miller, who was blind and worked to help students with disabilities, died at age 52 on April 13, 2020, of complications of covid-19. He is shown on a visit to Oman. 


B Hannah Natanson

April 14, 2020 at 5:39 p.m. MDT


With high school graduation just weeks away, Brian R. Miller’s science teacher delivered a stark message to Miller’s mother: Her son had failed to finish his microscope work. He was going to flunk science.


His microscope work? Millers mother, Jane McGinnis, repeated, disbelieving. What do you mean his microscope work? Hes blind!


Miller was born with defective retinas, McGinnis said, and could barely see large text inches from his face, let alone cellular details. But as a public-school student in California in the 1970s and 1980s — among the first wave of blind students to sit in classrooms alongside the sighted — Miller had vowed that his disability would not hold him back.


Unable to see what teachers were writing on the board, Miller memorized the content of every lesson beforehand, his mother said. That way, when called on, her son could give answers just like his peers.


“I am sure there were times when he was frustrated,” McGinnis said, “but there was nothing that would stop him from doing anything he wanted to. He just did it.”


That determination led to a career with the U.S. Education Department’s Rehabilitation Services Administration — where he helped students with disabilities like his — and toa rich and busy life filled with friends and travel. Both were cut short Monday when Miller, who lived in Alexandria, died of complications of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He was 52 and otherwise healthy, his mother said.


Miller started having symptoms, including a fever and cough, in mid-March, shortly after returning from a trip to Jordan that was curtailed by the virus. Miller’s doctor at first told him to hunker down and wait out the illness at home, but his condition kept deteriorating, his mother said. He entered the hospital March 28, was put on a ventilator the next day and died Monday after he began bleeding internally and suffered organ failure.


In the hours since, tributes from Miller’s friends and colleagues have flooded Facebook and McGinnis’s phone, she said. Everyone is eager to tell her how many lives Miller shaped, how many blind students her son uplifted.


On Tuesday morning, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos phoned McGinnis to offer her condolences and to thank her for Miller’s service.

In a message to department staff, Miller’s direct supervisor, Carol Dobak, praised his lifetime spent in service of those with disabilities.


“Brian believed strongly in the capacity of individuals with disabilities to engage in all aspects of life,” Dobak wrote, “and his own life was a reflection of this philosophy.”


That started in grade school, McGinnis said, when she and her son confronted a system ill-equipped to serve the blind. She remembers endless battles to secure accommodations her son needed: extra-large computer screens, special TVs, books in Braille. She remembers, too, his listening to audiobooks late into the night, and his unwavering love of learning — especially history.

“All during school, they seemed to feel, ‘Why would a blind person need a degree?’ ”McGinnis said. “His thought, of course, was that he needs it even more.”


Miller in high school. His work with the U.S. Education Department helping students with disabilities was inspired by his own experience as a blind student. (Family photo)

Despite the science teacher’s worry, Miller graduated from high school, earned a degree in political science from San Diego State University and got a master’s and a PhD in history from the University of Iowa.


McGinnis keeps a blue, bound copy of her son’s 471-page dissertation, “Speaking for Themselves: The Blind Civil Rights Movement and the Battle for the Iowa Braille School,” on a living room coffee table in her Michigan home. As she used to tell her son: It’s too heavy to hang on the refrigerator.

Despite Miller’s eventual academic success, he never forgot his earlier struggles. 


That’s why he wanted to work for the Education Department, his mother said.

“Some of the programs we were petitioning,” she said, “are now the very programs he was overseeing in his position with the department.”


An avid singer since high school, he joined the a cappella group the Alexandria Harmonizers, performing in places including Scotland, China and Normandy. And he traveled as often as he could. He was fluent in four languages, including Spanish, Russian and German, and tried to visit five new countries each year. He made lists of every place he traveled, every airline he flew and every famous site he saw. He hoped eventually to set foot in more than 100 countries; by the time he died, he had visited at least 65 countries on six continents, he wrote online.


Miller, who loved traveling, wrote that it was impossible to visit every place worth visiting in just one lifetime. (Family photo)

“Nothing would stop him,” McGinnis said, “except this stupid covid-19.”


Miller had recently launched a blog providing tips to other blind travelers. One article detailed must-have items: a spare white cane, Braille playing cards, a travel pack of wet wipes. In another, published April 13, he wrote of his desire to live “a good long life.”


“There are more places to visit than one can ever hope to get to in one lifetime,” he wrote. “Beyond the mountains are more mountains.”




Donald C. Capps
1928 – 2019

Donald C. Capps,
 91, passed away from a short illness on November 6, 2019. Born on August 30, 1928, he was the 11th and last surviving child of the late Julius Walter Capps and Minnie Viola Snipes Capps. Due to vision problems, he attended the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind. He later transferred to Mullins High School and graduated in 1946. Capps enrolled in Draughon’s Business College in Columbia and, after graduation, joined Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company. He remained with Colonial Life for almost 40 years until his retirement.

Capps married the late Betty Capps in 1949 and they remained happily married until her death in 2018. Don and Betty had two children, the late Helen Elizabeth Capps Holdcraft and Donald Craig Capps. In addition to his son, Craig, Capps is survived by three grandchildren, Aaron Holdcraft, Michael Holdcraft, Laura Holdcraft Setters and four great grandchildren, Brooke Holdcraft, Mason Setters, Elizabeth Setters and Juliet Setters. He is also survived by Laura’s husband, David Setters, and Aaron’s wife, Jaimie Unitus Holdcraft, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.

Capps was a member of Kilbourne Park Baptist Church for 65 years. At various times over the years, Don served as a Deacon at the Church and Chairman of the Finance Committee. Don and Betty attended church faithfully until failing health prevented their attendance.

Along with his wife, Betty, Don was a dedicated member of the National Federation of the Blind and worked tirelessly for 65 years to improve the quality of life for blind persons in South Carolina and throughout the United States and world. As part of his advocacy work, Don and Betty traveled to all 50 states and several foreign countries. He served as President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina for over 30 years and as an officer of the National Federation of the Blind for over 50 years. In addition, he was a United States delegate to the International Federation of the Blind and attended conventions in Egypt, Spain and Australia. Don served on the Board of Directors for the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind from 1981 to 2005. One of his proudest achievements was his role in the creation of the Rocky Bottom Retreat and Conference Center of the Blind in the mountains of Pickens County.

Don and Betty’s volunteer work for the blind was the result of their compassion, desire to improve the quality of life for blind persons and their deep Christian faith. Although he did not do this advocacy work for recognition or awards, Don received many awards over the years, including the following: Honorary Doctorate in Public Service from the University of South Carolina in 2001, Handicapped Person of the Year by both the City of Columbia and the State of

South Carolina in 1965 and Ou
tstanding Leader in Education Award given by the National

School Public Relations Association in 1994. Along with his beloved Betty, they received the Order of the Palmetto in 2000, the highest honor bestowed by the State of South Carolina. In addition, Don and Betty were honored in 2001 by the South Carolina General Assembly with the adoption of a concurrent resolution by the House of Representatives and the Senate for their service to the blind of South Carolina.

Don’s funeral will be held at 2 o’clock, Monday, November 11, 2019 at Kilbourne Park Baptist Church, 4205 Kilbourne Park Road, Columbia with the Reverend Terry Smoak officiating. The family will receive friends at the church prior to the service, beginning at 12:30 in the Annie Green Building. Burial will be held at 2 o’clock, Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at Red Hill Memorial Gardens, 1932 Old Stage Road, Mullins, SC. Shives Funeral Home, Trenholm Road Chapel, is assisting the family.

In lieu of flowers, living memorials may be made to the Federation Center of the Blind, 119 South Kilbourne Road, Columbia, SC 29205.

Memories and condolences may be shared at ShivesFuneralHome.com.

Published in Anderson Independent-Mail from Nov. 7 to Nov. 8, 2019


James Nyman

Former Director of the Nebraska Commission of the Blind passed away in March 2019.  He was a strong leader and role model for the blind of Nebraska.




Thanks to the Jacob Bolotin Award, The Blind History Lady is busy with information gathering.  Blind ancestors are popping up right and left and with the most interesting jobs.  One man was a commercial diver.  His story and others will be highlighted in upcoming The Blind History Monthly Emails.  If you would like to get on the list, send an email totheblindhistorylady@gmail.com


At the 2018 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, in Orlando Florida the Blind History Lady was awarded the Jacob Bolotin Award for 2018.


Below is the Press Release from the National Federation of the Blind.



Eleventh Annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Presented at 2018 Convention




National Federation of the Blind Awards $50,000 Eleventh Annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Presented at 2018 Convention


Orlando, Florida (July 23, 2018): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has presented

$50,000 in cash awards to individuals and organizations that are a positive force in the lives of blind people and whose work advances the ultimate goal of helping transform their dreams into reality. At the National Federation of the Blind annual convention in Orlando, the eleventh annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards honored six innovators and advocates who are helping blind people live the lives they want.


Awards of $5,000 were presented to each of the following individuals and organizations:


  * Carol Begay Green of Farmington, New Mexico, who developed a Braille code for the Navajo language and will use the funds to teach the code to blind students and others in the Navajo Nation. 

   * Peggy Chong, also known as the blind history lady, who shares stories of notable blind individuals throughout history through her website, books, and articles, and who will use the funds to take research trips to complete more of these profiles.

   * IBUG (iOS Blind User group) of Houston, Texas, a network of volunteers using both in-person and virtual training methods to help blind people learn to use the iPhone and other technologies.

   * Ski for Light, an organization that connects the blind, sighted, and others with disabilities through annual cross-country skiing events.

   * The Tactile Map Automation Project (TMAP) of the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco, developers of an automated process that can produce a tactile map of any neighborhood in the United states from an address provided by a user.


The top award of $25,000 was presented to Be My Eyes Inc., the Denmark-based developer of the Be My Eyes app, which connects blind people with sighted volunteers around the world via video conference to provide real-time visual assistance, such as reading labels or identifying colors.


Dr. Jacob W. Bolotin (1888-1924) was the world’s first physician who was blind from birth. He achieved that goal despite the tremendous challenges faced by blind people in his time. Not onlydid he realize his own dream, but he also went on to support and inspire many others.


“Dr. Jacob Bolotin was a pioneer who overcame low expectations and discrimination to become a renowned member of the medical profession without the benefit of the support services and civil rights protections available to blind people today,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind is proud to honor the memory and spirit of Dr. Bolotin by recognizing and financially supporting those individuals and organizations who are doing exceptional work to help achieve the shared dream of Dr. Bolotin and the National Federation of the Blind¬a society in which the blind, like all other Americans, can pursue their goals and live the lives they want.”


The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Program is funded through the generosity of Dr. Bolotin’s nephew and niece-in-law, Alfred and Rosalind Perlman. 

The late Mrs. Perlman established the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust to endow the awards. 

Income from the trust is distributed to the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation for the purpose of administering the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Program. For more information about the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards Program¬including more about this year’s winners, as well as eligibility criteria and application procedures¬please visit <http://www.nfb.org/bolotin>www.nfb.org/bolotin.