An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2010
The programs of the National Federation of the Blind during the past year have been expanding in scope and accelerating in pace. We have undertaken more projects than ever before in history, and the record of our accomplishments is unprecedented. Nevertheless, the fundamental character of the National Federation of the Blind as the most broadly based representative organization of blind people in the United States is unchanged. We are the blind. Our research reflects the individual experiences of blind people, our programs are built to meet the needs of individual blind people, and our aspirations arise from the hopes and dreams of individual blind people. We are the blind speaking through our organization, taking action in concert with our blind brothers and sisters throughout the nation, establishing standards of excellence that must be met—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
Education for blind children and adults has sometimes been adequate, occasionally been good, but often been dismal. Many components come together in the educational arena: books for blind grade school, high school, and college students; technology used in reading these books and in searching for information in digital formats; programs to manage course material; the educational curricula to offer training to the blind in the tools most likely to give practical meaning to the educational experience; and an attitude on the part of educational professionals incorporating high expectations for blind students and recognizing that the people being taught have talent. One of the most significant elements of our work to promote education for the blind is our support of literacy in Braille.
On June 23, 2010, House Resolution 1034 was adopted by the United States House of Representatives. It begins by saying that the House is “expressing support for the importance of Braille in the lives of blind people.” With eight introductory statements the House of Representatives recognizes the importance of blind people to the society of the United States and the importance of Braille to blind people. Part of the text of this resolution says:
Whereas the United States Congress officially recognized the importance of Braille by passing the Louis Braille Bicentennial Braille Literacy Commemorative Coin Act authorizing the striking of a United States silver dollar marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille and emphasizing the connection between learning Braille and true independence and opportunity for the blind; and
Whereas the National Federation of the Blind, the Nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people and a leading advocate for Braille literacy in the United States, has launched a national Braille Readers are Leaders campaign to promote awareness of the importance of Braille and to increase the availability of competent Braille instruction and of Braille reading materials in this country: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) supports the importance of Braille and the role that Braille plays in the lives of blind people;
(2) recognizes the 70th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind; and
(3) supports the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind and other organizations to promote Braille literacy.
This resolution was adopted by the House of Representatives by unanimous consent.
Last year I reported to you that we created the Reading Rights Coalition, an entity consisting of more than thirty organizations interested in access to digital information. We created this organization to fight an attempt by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to turn off the text-to-speech function of digital book readers. We who are blind want access to electronic books in nonvisual form, and so also do several million other print-disabled Americans. On March 9, 2010, we released an agreement which declares that books published in electronic form are to be as accessible to the blind and other print-disabled as they are to everyone else. Most of the big publishers are acting in accordance with this statement, but some are not. They will find that we expect them to do the right thing, and we intend to continue to confront this problem until our expectations are fulfilled.
Last fall I was invited to participate in a meeting with the United States attorney general, Eric Holder, dealing with the rights of disabled Americans. The meeting was cordial, and the attorney general had invited department heads from the Department of Justice to participate. It appeared from all that was said that equal opportunity for disabled Americans is a priority for the attorney general.
Last year I reported to you that some colleges and universities had started pilot programs using the inaccessible Kindle DX. We sued Arizona State University and filed complaints with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice against Princeton University, Reed College, Pace University, and Case Western Reserve University. We also filed a complaint against the University of Virginia with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education. In January of this year Arizona State University agreed that it will not use any eBook reader that is not fully accessible to the blind. Princeton, Reed, Pace, and Case Western Reserve all entered into agreements with the Department of Justice, saying that they will not purchase or require the students to purchase or use inaccessible eBook technology, whether made by Amazon or anybody else, and they will not require the use of inaccessible eBook reading systems in any part of their curricula.
So that the message would not be lost on other colleges and universities, we sent letters to the attorneys general of every state and the presidents of over 1,800 major colleges to remind them that, as colleges and universities move to electronic books, they must be fully accessible to the blind.
Some of the most popular eBooks being distributed today are created under the name of Adobe Digital Editions. When Adobe stopped producing these books in a form that the blind can use, we reported this to the American Library Association, which adopted a resolution declaring that libraries should not acquire inaccessible eBooks. The Los Angeles Public Library announced that it would abide by the resolution—no more Adobe eBooks unless they are accessible to the blind. So that this message would not be lost, we wrote to 11,961 libraries, reminding them of their obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Adobe has responded, promising that by the end of this year it will introduce a new, accessible version of Adobe Digital Editions.
The biggest player in the college eBook market is a distributor called CourseSmart. Both the electronic books distributed through CourseSmart and the technology to read them have been unusable by the blind. After long negotiation CourseSmart is retooling its software and working with us to offer accessible e-textbooks within the next few months.
Blackboard is a company that distributes software which permits students to get course material, learn about grades, interact with teachers, receive and post comments on subjects involved with coursework, and perform other educational tasks. It is hard to attend college these days without being able to use this type of technology, and some high schools have indicated that they will be using similar programming. Blackboard’s interface was entirely visual, but we urged officials at the company to come to understand that education for blind students is of vital importance. Within the last year Blackboard has asked the National Federation of the Blind to help identify inaccessible portions of its programming. Blackboard has performed modifications so that accessibility is now a centerpiece of the technology. Blackboard has received nonvisual access certification from the National Federation of the Blind, and blind students are now able to get their grades.
Last summer we held the second NFB Youth Slam at the University of Maryland. One hundred seventy-four students representing forty states participated. Seventy adult volunteers from twenty-eight Federation affiliates served as teachers, mentors, and marshals. Students participated in subjects including architecture, engineering, space science, journalism, chemistry, biology, and forensics. One group worked on the first generation of the blind-drivable vehicle—a small red dune buggy equipped with a tactile interface.
The final activity of NFB Youth Slam 2009 began with a gathering on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Despite a sudden torrential downpour, Federation leaders did what others have done who stood in the shadow of the great emancipator—expressed the dream that we will find freedom and dedicated their lives to assuring that it can be achieved. In high spirits the assembled aspirants for a brighter tomorrow marched down the National Mall toward the Capitol. The NFB Youth Slam ended with a ceremony at the United States Capitol Visitor Center, in the Congressional Auditorium, where the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, acknowledged the spirit and the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind.
One of our partners in building educational programs for the blind is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When we announced the release of the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar, we asked NASA to recognize the importance of literacy for the blind by placing two of these coins on the space shuttle heading for Earth orbit. In the Congressional Auditorium the assistant administrator of NASA, the director of education for NASA, and an astronaut brought a plaque incorporating these two silver dollars that had flown in space over five million miles. They spoke to the blind students about what their lives might be, expressing the view that they should dream of far horizons, of distances previously inconceivable for the blind, of possibilities beyond our Earth, and they presented the plaque to the National Federation of the Blind. It is housed in our Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library.
In April, twenty-five junior high students, ages 12-16, attended the first NFB Leadership and Advocacy in Washington, D.C., (LAW) program at the NFB Jernigan Institute. These students and their parents participated in sessions designed to teach skills of leadership and advocacy within the context of government and the organized blind movement. Participants visited members of Congress to urge adoption of important legislation for the blind. Decision-making in Washington often occurs because constituents ask that decisions be made. These blind students learned that they can make a significant difference in determining the future for all blind people.
The Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Program (BELL) of the National Federation of the Blind is a two-week educational experience designed to teach the basics of Braille to young children—especially those with some residual vision, who are generally overlooked in the educational system. Last month, our Utah affiliate carried out this program for the first time, and later this summer blind children in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland will experience the excitement of learning Braille through the NFB BELL program. The curriculum has been packaged, and it is available free of charge to any affiliate that would like to provide Braille instruction to blind children. If the educational system will not teach our children, we will do it ourselves.
Last year was the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the inventor of the reading and writing system for the blind. As Federationists know, we asked the United States Congress to direct the Mint to strike the Louis Braille Bicentennial Commemorative Silver Dollar, and we promoted the sale of it. More than 200,000 of them were sold. We also created a book about the importance of Braille, entitled Let Freedom Ring, which is a compilation of one hundred letters about the meaning of Braille in the lives of blind people. This book was prepared for presentation to the president of the United States. We met with the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, to advise him of the state of Braille education in the United States and to give him copies of our book—one for himself and one for the president. At the meeting, blind teenage students read to the secretary of education from Braille texts. This was one of the most moving demonstrations of the value of Braille that could have been presented to the person responsible for the educational system in the United States.
One of the most exciting endeavors of the last year has been our work with the knfb Reading Technology Company. We started with the proposition that a hand-held reading machine for the blind could be created. Working with the futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, who will be appearing later during this convention, we assisted with the development of the knfb Reader Mobile. However, our work has not stopped there. The knfb Reading Technology company has announced that the Blio, the reading system for the sighted and the blind, will be released without cost in the near future. The company is also taking steps to assure that millions of books will be available to read using this product. The Blio is a piece of software that will operate on numerous platforms—computers, cell phones, and perhaps other devices. This product will bring many millions of books to all of us. No special access technology is needed, just the same product that will be used by the sighted.
We learned that the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, has been digitizing segments of its collection. We have been told that the Library is committed to conducting the digitizing of its collections in a way that will make the books as accessible to the blind as they are to anybody else. As part of our ongoing effort with the Library, I was invited to present an address entitled Opening Minds with Knowledge: Intellectual Property in a Digital World to the staff of the Library.
The Blind Driver Challenge is our initiative to cause the creation of a nonvisual driving interface for the blind. We can build a car that the blind can drive independently and safely. Some people ask us, “Do you really mean it?” To which we respond, “Every single word.” Image recognition technology is among the systems used in military applications. Object avoidance technology is available in robot systems. Global positioning systems have become increasingly accurate. What we need is an interface that can capture information and provide it to the blind in nonvisual ways. We expect to have it within a year. We have been working with Virginia Tech, some other universities, and some private entrepreneurs on the development of the interface. The innovations produced in the process of creating this blind drivable vehicle will help us gain access to extraordinary amounts of information. They will also help the sighted find ways to learn more than they now know and operate machines with increased efficiency and safety. We expect the blind drivable automobile to be at our convention next summer.
Since our last convention the National Federation of the Blind and the programs we promote have been featured in the press in such places as the Washington Post, the CBS Early Show, ABCNews.com, Albany Times Union, the Associated Press, USA Today, and the New York Times. We were on the front page of the Washington Post twice. One article represented our work to ensure that pedestrian travel is safe by creating an understanding that automobiles will be hearable. The other article featured our work to create the blind drivable car. The public relations work of the National Federation of the Blind has brought the name of our organization and the importance of our efforts into the homes of more than 100 million people during the last year.
Getting a decent education for blind children is very difficult. Three years ago we put together a task force with the purpose of attempting to improve educational opportunities. We thought that, if we threatened educational programs with legal action, we could get positive change. However, the law is so terribly complex that system-wide change is excruciatingly slow. To attempt to find a solution to the persistent reality of inadequate education for blind students, we have created a more extensive leadership group. The people involved are creating a comprehensive educational plan for the twenty-first century. Should model schools for the blind be created? Should regional programs be established? Should the law be altered to incorporate standards of excellence for education of the blind? Should specialized college preparatory programs be established for blind students? Should specialized college curricula be adopted for teachers of blind students? Should alternative certification systems be adopted for teachers of the blind? Should the law be changed? Should specialized technologies for educational programs be built? Should other modifications be made for the blind? These are the questions being studied by this group of experts in the field of education for the blind. In many school districts 90 percent of blind students are never encouraged to use Braille. In many school districts more than 90 percent of the blind students matriculating are expected by administrators to be passive and idle. We cannot permit these conditions to remain. Some people tell us that a comprehensive quality education for our children cannot be achieved, but we don’t believe it. We have had it with those who tell blind students, “Sit still until you are old, when you will become somebody else’s problem.” To think of our children as nothing more than a problem is wrong. Our children are human beings waiting for the stimulating inspiration that comes with quality education, and we intend to ensure that they get it.
Three years ago the National Federation of the Blind initiated a series of gatherings of the brightest legal minds addressing the subject of disability. We named these after our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who was a blind lawyer and professor and one of the greatest legal minds in the history of American jurisprudence. The 2010 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, Equality, Difference, and the Right to Live in the World, took place in April. Over 120 people from throughout the United States and Canada attended, representing sixty-three organizations. United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez headed the list of leading advocates. Also addressing the Symposium was the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Tony Coelho, chairman of the board of the American Association of People with Disabilities and a former member of Congress.
We have been very active this year in Congress. The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act is a piece of legislation proposed by the National Federation of the Blind, which would require automobiles to make enough sound to permit blind people and other pedestrians to hear them. More than 230 members of the House of Representatives have cosponsored this piece of legislation. In May a Motor Vehicle Safety Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. Before the end of the month the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act was offered as an amendment, which was adopted by the committee considering the Motor Vehicle Safety Act by unanimous consent. Similar action has taken place in the Senate. We have been working on this matter for seven years. We expect our bill to be on the desk of the president of the United States before the end of 2010.
For the fourth year in a row the National Federation of the Blind was the only organization to testify before the House Committee on Appropriations, subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, concerning the full funding of the Digital Talking Book program of the Library of Congress. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the subcommittee, has pledged to fund the NLS program fully throughout the conversion process. She appeared before our Washington Seminar this winter to receive the Distinguished Legislative Service Award. She said that we, the National Federation of the Blind, are the toughest advocates for books that she has ever met.
The Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind establishes the principle that home and office technology and equipment must incorporate nonvisual access standards. At one time such products as copy machines and ovens were easy for the blind to operate. With the proliferation of inaccessible touchscreen technology, this is no longer the case. Congresswoman Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois, who spoke passionately at the Washington Seminar about her support for the blind, introduced this bill, H.R. 4533, on January 27, 2010. Because this kind of civil rights protection for the blind is a fairly new concept for the Congress, much uncertainty has been expressed about this bill and the influence it will have on manufacturers of technology for the sighted. Some members of Congress do not yet comprehend that we are seeking equal access to information. Some people are asserting that we are seeking to limit imaginative development of technology. Of course this is not the case. We have observed that requiring equality of access to information (and the devices used to get this information) stimulates rather than limits development of innovative technology.
A free service of the National Federation of the Blind, NFB-NEWSLINE®, permits blind people to read by telephone or by other means TV listings, over 300 newspapers, and many magazines each day. More than 85,000 subscribers to NFB-NEWSLINE have received in excess of 35 million minutes of newspaper reading in the past year. Nineteen additional newspapers have been added to the service as well as twelve magazines, including Smithsonian, Time, Popular Science, Rolling Stone, and Texas Monthly. Part of this service, NEWSLINE In Your Pocket, offers the capacity to transmit newspapers from a subscriber’s computer to a digital Talking Book player. New players, such as the BookSense, have been added this year, and we expect the NLS digital Talking Book machine to play NEWSLINE content before the end of the year.
Research related to the blind has frequently been done without the blind, and questions have been investigated that are not of concern to the blind. Our experience is a rich source of understanding about blindness. It is worth wondering how anybody could do research without including this rich source of understanding, but a good many have tried. At this convention we are announcing the creation of an open access, peer-reviewed, online publication dedicated to research on blindness—the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. This new journal, established by the blind of America, will be managed through our NFB Jernigan Institute. Its first chief editor is an accomplished research professor from San Diego State University, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder.
NFB ShareBraille.org is an online system for trading hard-copy Braille books. In the past year 1,171 books have been shared through the system. We believe in the power of books and want to help families build Braille book libraries.
This was a record-breaking year for the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Over six hundred students from forty-seven states registered. Some of the teams competing for top honors were the “Braille Powerpuffs” and “Believe to Achieve.” We also had an adult contest this year. Well over one hundred adults registered. Participants competed in one of five categories: beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert, and sighted teacher/parent. The twelve most voracious Braille readers have been invited to participate in this convention.
For a number of years we have been encouraging early introduction to Braille through our Braille Pals program, which has now been expanded into the NFB Braille Reading Pals Club. The club continues to strive to promote early literacy skills to young blind children ages birth to seven. The new features of the club include Braille birthday cards for the children, a monthly parent e-newsletter, and quarterly Braille activity sheets, along with print-Braille books and plush stuffed animals that are the Braille pals.
We continue our contract work with the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. Since taking on the project, we have forwarded the names of approximately eight hundred individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
Our efforts to promote the development and use of access technology for the blind have been more extensive than ever this year. We have made presentations about the use of technology by the blind at the annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, known as CSUN, in California; Accessing Higher Ground in Colorado; the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference in Chicago; and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Topics covered included accessibility of the blind to eBooks, accessible cell phones and mobile devices, optical character recognition systems, handheld reading machines, nonvisual accessibility to Blackboard Learn, DAISY book production systems, methods of achieving accessibility for the blind on the Internet, and understanding methods of achieving accessibility in flat-screen technology.
We have continued our work this year with a number of companies that are developing access systems usable by the blind. Apple released its iPad in the spring, which has voiceover technology usable on the flat screen of the device. We are told that the new version of the iPhone continues the commitment of Apple to accessibility for the blind.
We continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, The National Center for Nonvisual Election Technology, and an expanding low-vision technology center. To maintain these learning centers, we have purchased or upgraded during the year forty-five different kinds of technology, from the Apple iPad to the Sendero Group global positioning system for the HumanWare Apex.
We have also been active in assisting individual blind people to protect their civil rights in the courts. Stephanie Enyart is a blind graduate of the UCLA law school. When she prepared to take the California Bar Exam, she wanted to use JAWS and ZoomText to read the material, and the California Board of Bar Examiners had no objection. However, the National Conference of Bar Examiners owns the Multistate Bar Exam and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, both parts of the California Bar Exam. The National Conference of Bar Examiners refused to allow these accommodations. We sued them, and we secured a preliminary injunction requiring the Bar Examiners to permit Stephanie Enyart to use her assistive technology. When the Bar Examiners lost their case, they appealed. However, this is not all. They have also refused to allow three more blind law school graduates–Tim Elder, Anne Blackfield, and Michael Witwer–to take the bar examination using their assistive technology. Once again we sued them. A hearing is scheduled on the second National Conference of Bar Examiners discrimination case for July 13.
We thought that the people who test others to determine whether they know the law could read it themselves. Nondiscrimination legislation requires reasonable accommodation—not the accommodations that the Bar Examiners might pick, but accommodations that we need to permit equal participation in the activity under consideration. A reasonable accommodation must be reasonable. The ancient Latin saying is, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which translates, “Who will guard the guardians?” If the lawyers cannot be trusted to know the law, who can be trusted? The Bar Examiners want us to give up. They want us to admit that our system for getting information is inferior to theirs. They want us to agree that they have the authority to tell us that we are not welcome in the legal arena, which they want to reserve for themselves. But we have a right to full participation. The law declares it, and we demand it. Even the lawyers must come to recognize the power of the law and the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
A college graduate who wants to apply to law school must use the Website of the Law School Admission Council to submit an application, to sign up for the law school admission test, and to get practice materials. Unfortunately, the Law School Admission Council Website is inaccessible to the blind. Last year we filed suit on behalf of Deepa Goraya, a blind person then living in California. Earlier this year we wrote to every law school in the country, pointing out that each one was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by using an inaccessible Website for the application process. Many of the law schools were startled to learn of the discrimination being practiced by the Law School Admission Council. They asked the Council to change, but officials at the Admission Council were adamant—no accessibility for the blind. We added four law schools to our lawsuit, and we asked the Department of Justice to investigate nine others. Maybe we should add all 300 of them. There is now reason to think that the Law School Admission Council may make its Website fully accessible by the fall of 2011. If it does not, we will do what must be done to ensure that the gateway to law schools is as available to the blind as it is to the sighted.
Aaron Cannon is blind and a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. Because he wanted to become a chiropractor, he applied to Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and he was accepted into the program. Many blind people have successfully practiced chiropractic medicine, and several have graduated from Palmer. However, in 2001 Palmer decided to change its graduation requirements. It stated that, "Candidates must have sufficient use of sense of vision.” Aaron Cannon must be able to view everything independently. He was prohibited from using accommodations to obtain information nonvisually. We filed a complaint of discrimination with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, and the Commission agreed with us. Because Palmer still refuses to change its policy, we took the matter to a full evidentiary hearing before a judge, and the judge ruled that Palmer has discriminated on the basis of blindness. Aaron Cannon has been awarded damages, and we have been awarded our attorney’s fees and costs. Officials at Palmer still refuse to change their minds. Consequently, further proceedings may be necessary, but the National Federation of the Blind is equal to the challenge.
David Bouchard is a young blind high school graduate from Mississippi. Before entering college, he wanted to receive high quality blindness training from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, but the Mississippi vocational rehabilitation agency said no. Get your training from the programs that we offer in Mississippi, or do without, they said. Despite the demonstrated record of excellence from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, despite the obvious difference in the scope of rehabilitation training that exists in the programs in Mississippi and those at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, despite the legal requirement that freedom of choice be offered to clients in determining the programs they will use in gaining rehabilitation training, the Mississippi vocational rehabilitation agency said no. We took this case to a full evidentiary hearing, and we won. David Bouchard is now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and he is attending this convention.
Outlook Nebraska, Inc., of Omaha, is an employer organized under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act—in other words, a sheltered workshop. At Outlook Nebraska blind workers are laid off before sighted workers; machinery is not adapted so that the blind can run it nonvisually; sighted workers receive promotions, but the blind workers do not; and workers are victims of retaliation if they report safety violations—we are told. We have filed a complaint of employment discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Does National Industries for the Blind know about the discrimination in this sheltered workshop? Is it planning to take action to correct the outrageous working conditions? We have not heard from National Industries for the Blind, but we have made it clear to Outlook Nebraska that we expect it to change its employment practices and we expect it to operate its business in full compliance with the law. Scott LaBarre is managing the case, and we are confident that success will come to the blind of Omaha with all deliberate speed.
Gary Owens lives in Missouri. Although he became blind in 1991 and although he has worked at a number of jobs, his income has remained below the Substantial Gainful Activity amount designated by Social Security law. Therefore he is entitled to receive benefits from the Social Security Administration. However, in 2009 Gary Owens received a letter from Social Security saying that he had made too much money during one month in 1998; that from that point forward, he was no longer disabled; and that the government had overpaid him $137,000. The letter further stated that his benefits would cease immediately and that he should make repayment forthwith.
After more than a year of negotiation, the Social Security Administration now concedes that Gary Owens is blind, that he did not exceed the earnings limit, that he will be receiving a monthly disability insurance payment, that he is owed back-payments of well over $10,000, and that he does not have to pay Social Security $137,000. That is what the government says, but what about Gary Owens? He says, "Thank goodness for the National Federation of the Blind."
Through our Affiliate Action department, we have continued to build strong state affiliates throughout the United States. We have initiated our Teacher Recruitment Network. This fall we are launching the Teacher of Tomorrow Program, which will provide a year-round mentoring experience for teachers preparing to work with blind students. Next summer these teachers will join us at our convention.
This spring dozens of talented and motivated high school students from throughout the country attended the NFB Youth Leadership Academies. These sessions were designed to acquaint 2009 Youth Slam students and others with the work, excitement, and future possibilities in the Federation.
We continue to maintain and upgrade our national headquarters, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The air conditioning and heating systems in our original building are being replaced with more efficient ones that will provide individual thermostatic control to each of the sleeping rooms and many other spaces. Other efforts have been undertaken to increase efficiency and save energy.
One of the enormous advantages that we have in the National Federation of the Blind is that our headquarters is ours. We can build it to suit ourselves, and we do. Since our last convention we have conducted a very substantial number of programs for blind youth. Some of these people have wanted to play Goalball, a sport invented after I graduated from high school. We are in the process of making the plans to install a Goalball court so that active blind youth, and some who are not so youthful, can test their strength against one another.
Since our last convention we have served a total of more than 7,500 meals to almost 4,000 visitors to our headquarters. Our grocery bill for the year is $74,093.26.
We have continued to participate in international events this year. The National Federation of the Blind is part of the World Blind Union. Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I are the delegates to the world organization from the National Federation of the Blind. I was invited to give an address at Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia, last fall. This coincided with a meeting of the Blind Citizens Australia, the organized blind movement for the land down under. I participated in that national meeting along with Patricia Maurer.
I have been invited to the White House from time to time in my capacity as president of the National Federation of the Blind. Two years ago the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities became effective. The United States initially indicated that it would not be a signer to this international convention. Our own Fred Schroeder negotiated many of the provisions of the treaty, and he urged that we take steps to encourage the United States government to join with other nations in support of the rights of disabled human beings. I was invited to the East Room of the White House last fall for the announcement by the secretary of state and President Obama that the United States would sign the agreement.
We in the National Federation of the Blind continue to conduct the programs that we have established to support the blind. We distribute the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections along with hundreds of other publications. We operate the Independence Market, making hundreds of specialized products for the blind available. We give free white canes to blind people in the United States who want them. We gather with each other in local, state, and national meetings to share our hopes and dreams for the future and to make plans to make our hopes real.We work together in the National Federation of the Blind. No single individual can accomplish what needs to be done. We are all a part of the organized blind movement. Some of us are leaders, and some of us are not. Some of us have long experience, and some of us are new recruits. Some of us have received extensive rehabilitation training, and some of us have learned to manage without it. None of this matters. Regardless of the positions we have, our work demands the effort of us all. No matter the path that brought us to the Federation, we are one—we are united—we are the blind who have come together to carry out our destiny. Our work challenges all of us, inspires all of us, changes lives for all of us. I have traveled America this year, and I have observed the Federation in action. I have talked and worked with thousands of our members. I know the spirit of the Federation, and knowing this, I am absolutely certain that our goals will be achieved. We may face hardship or discrimination, but this is only an interval in the period of our journey to freedom. We will gain our objectives; we will establish equality for ourselves and those who come after us; we will be free! This is what my experience in the Federation has demonstrated, and this is my report for 2010.