Braille Monitor                                                                                April 1986


Kansas City in 1986 the Dynamics of the National Convention

by Kenneth Jernigan

I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1949, but I did not attend a national convention until 1952. The experience of that first national convention was so overwhelming and beyond anything I had expected that I still remember it today in every intimate detail. During the intervening years the Federation has grown larger, more complex, and (if possible) more dramatically exciting--and so has the convention. In 1952 in Nashville we had two or three hundred people. Last year in Louisville we registered more than 2,000.

The national convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. The Constitution says so--and anyone who cares to come and observe can see it in action and participate. As with any other large and active legislative body, the Federation must conduct its business through committees and various other smaller groups.

Since many of those reading this article may be planning to come to an NFB convention for the first time this year and since it might be helpful even to some of the veterans to review our committee system, I want to talk about the way it works. The national convention is the focal point of the year for the Federation. Important policy matters will ultimately come to the floor for discussion and debate, but preliminary decisions are made in the same way they are in Congress--by conversations in the corridors and dining rooms and especially by committee action. In fact, there are divisions, groups, and committees.

Let us first deal with "groups." They are relatively informal and quickly described. They are usually preliminary to the establishment of a committee or a division. Any individual or group of individuals interested in a given topic may ask others who have a similar interest to meet with them for discussion and planning. If the call for such a meeting is announced over the microphone on the convention floor and if there are recurring meetings (sometimes from year to year), we have what is called a "group"--for example, those interested in ham radio, insurance as an occupation for the blind, etc. Decisions made by such a "group" are not official actions of the Federation and are not understood to be such. "Groups" provide a vehicle for exchange of ideas and consideration of the establishment of a more formal structure.

The Federation has thirteen divisions, the names of which are largely self explanatory. Divisions have a formal structure. They draw up a written constitution and submit it to the national board for approval. They elect officers, usually for terms of one year. Divisions meet at the time of the national convention and conduct busines throughout the year. Members of divisions are members of the Federation and are not required (although they are certainly encouraged) to join state affiliates in order to hold Federation membership. Meetings of divisions are open to all who care to attend. The divisions are:

1) National Association of Blind Educators: President, Fred Schroeder of New Mexico;
2) National Association of Blind Lawyers: President, Marc Maurer of Maryland;
3) National Association of Blind Secretaries and Transcribers: President, Carol Clark of Missouri; 4) National Association to Promote the Use of Braille: President, Betty Niceley of Kentucky;
5) National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science: President, Curtis Chong of Minnesota;
6) Diabetic Division of the National Federation of the Blind: President, Karen Mayry of South Dakota;
7) National Federation of the Blind Human Services Division: President, Betsy Zaborowski of Colorado;
8) Blind Merchants Division of the National Federation of the Blind: President, Larry Posont of Michigan;
9) National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children Division: President, Barbara Cheadle of Maryland;
10) Public Employees Division of the National Federation of the Blind: President, John Halverson of Missouri;
11) Sheltered Shop Employees Division of the National Federation of the Blind: President, Roy Miller of Texas;
12) Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind: President, Jim Mitchell of North Carolina;
13) National Federation of the Blind Writers Division: President, Nancy Scott.

While divisions determine their own membership and elect their own officers, committees do not. They are appointed by the President. The one exception to this rule is the Nominating Committee, which is appointed by the state affiliates at the roll call during the first general session of the convention. The chairman of the Nominating Committee is appointed by the President. The President may appoint such committees as he or she deems necessary, but there are currently a large number of standing committees which traditionally continue from year to year. These committees are not named in the Constitution, and their number may be increased or decreased as needed. Here is a list of the standing committees for 1986, along with a brief description of each:

1) Committee on Affiliate Action: Chairman, Homer Page of Colorado. This committee handles many of the details of making the convention run smoothly. Perhaps the best way to describe its work is to quote from a letter which I sent to the member of the committee in 1983: "It is the task of this committee to circulate throughout the membership during the national convention and do the following things: find problems and solve them before they become problems; see that problems which need to be brought to my attention are brought to my attention. See that problems which should not be brought to my attention are solved before they come to my attention; synthesize and give tome information which I need to have; refrain from giving me information which I should not have; find new people at the convention and make them feel part of the movement; and see that the convention in general runs smoothly and without unhappiness or problems or snags."

2) Committee on Associates: Chairman, Allen Sanderson of Alaska. It is the function of this committee to coordinate and guide our effort to recruit Associates. All Associates are members-at-large of the Federation. The Constitutional amendments passed at the national convention in 1978 give members-at-large all rights and privileges in the national organization possessed by other members. This committee is of key importance in the growth and development of our organization.

3) Committee on the Deaf-Blind: Chairman, Boyd Wolfe of Arizona. The purpose of this committee is to deal with problems concerning the deaf-blind. This means such things as how to make their participation in the movement more meaningful; how to help improve their general situation in society; finding new and innovative technological advances to help improve communication, etc.

4) Committee on Deferred Giving: Chairman, Charles Brown of Virginia. If the effort to fund our movement is to be successful, we must find new methods and innovative techniques of financing. The establishment of this committee is meant to help accomplish this objective. More and more organizations are successfully emphasizing deferred giving. We must do the same.

5) Committee on Library Services: Chairman, Sharon Gold of California. The purpose of this committee is to present the view of the organized blind to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress and to regional libraries and other governmental agencies. The committee also attempts to focus the attitudes and opinions of blind readers throughout the country and to arrive at meaningful policies. After all, we as blind people should have a say (a constructive say) in our own destiny. Among other things, this means taking a hand in the library services we receive.

6) Committee on Parental Concerns: Chairman, Mary Wurtzel of Michigan. In general this committee concerns itself with the problems of blind parents. As I have already mentioned, we have a division for parents of bilnd children, but its focus is somewhat different from that of the committee. Of course, some parents of blind children are blind, and some blind parents (in fact, many) have sighted children. Therefore, many people attend meetings of both the committee and the division.

7) Committee on Proclamations: Chairman, Gary Mackenstadt of Washington. In recent years a great many mayors and governors have proclaimed National Federation of the Blind Month, National Federation of the Blind Week, or National Federation of the Blind Day in states and localities. Some of these proclamations have been extremely helpful and well written. Others have left something to be desired. The purpose of this committee is to focus and coordinate the issuing of proclamations by public officials concerning blindness and our movement.

8) Committee on Standards and Accreditation: Chairman, Diane McGeorge of Colorado. The purpose of this committee is to coordinate and direct our activities concerning the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) and to promote acceptable standards for and quality services by agencies working with the blind. The committee plans and directs our annual interaction with NAC.

9) Committee on the Senior Blind: Chairman, Bean Hudson of Arkansas. The purpose of this committee is to focus attention on activities and problems of older blind persons. The committee is meant to give emphasis to our interest in matters concerning the senior blind.

10) Correspondence Committee: Chairman, Fred Schroeder of New Mexico. The purpose of this committee is to consider questions dealing with the Braille Monitor, state newsletters, and the total range of communications and information throughout our movement.

11) Cultural Exchange and International Program Committee: Chairman, Joyce Scanlan of Minnesota. The purpose of this committee is to handle matters relating to our international effort.

12) Distribution of Publicatoins Commmittee: Chairman, Ronald Byrd of Texas. The purpose of this committee is to oversee the distribution of NFB publications--seeing to it that they are abroad in the land. These publications are of the kind which schools, libraries, governmental agencies, etc. should be interested in purchasing.

13) Dog Guide Committee: Chairman, Robert Eschbach of Ohio. The purpose of this committee is to deal with matters affecting those who use dog guides-- matters involving the national convention, legislation, discrimination, public information, and any other items of importance to dog guide users. This committee takes the lead in helping formulate NFB policy concerning all matters dealing with dog guides and their use.

14) Hike-A-Thon /Bike-A-ThonCommittee: Chairman, Patricia Maurer of Maryland. It is the duty of this committee to develop hike-a-thons and/or bike-a-thons in as many states as possible. This can be one of our most effective ways of raising funds and can also be an excellent vehicle for public education about blindness and our philosophy.

15) Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee: Chairman, James Omvig of Alaska. The Jacobus tenBroek Award was established to be given from time to time to people in the movement who have made outstanding contributions to our cause. Therefore, the purpose of this committee is to select a person from within our movement who most deserves our recognition and commendation.

16) Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Committee: Chairman, Ramona Walhof of Idaho. The purpose of this committee is to deal with matters concerning the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund. How can we find ways of bringing more money into the Fund? How can we increase the feeling of involvement on the part of the rank and file blind people in the nation? For the most part, this committee's activities reach their peak during the time of the annual convention. In the past such activities have included an Elegant Elephant sale, a roll call of states for collection of pledges and donations to the Fund, a personal collection from members, and such other things as will increase the awareness of the Fund and the part it plays in the lives of the blind.

17) Membership Committee: Chairman, Jackie Billey of Connecticut. The purpose of this committee is to spearhead the Federation's effort to bring new members into the movement and to strengthen the commitment of those who are already members.

18) Music Committee: Chairman, Mary Brunoli of Connecticut. At the 1986 convention this committee will probably be the nucleus for the formation of a division. Its purpose is to assist blind persons who want to go into music as a profession. It also provides a setting for blind persons who are interested in music for culture and/or recreation to get together at national conventions.

19) Newel Perry Award Committee: Chairman, Donald Capps of South Carolina. The Newel Perry Award was established to be given from time to time to people outside of our movement tho have made outstanding contributions to the cause. Accordingly, the purpose of this committee is to select a person from outside of our movement who seems to deserve our recognition for his or her contributions to the advancement of the blind.

20) PAC Plan Committee: Chairman, Allen Harris of Michigan. Many years ago one of our members came up with the idea of what we first called the Bank Draft Pledge System to help finance the Federation. This developed into the Pre-Authorized Check (PAC) Plan. This has come to be an evermore important part of our financing of the movement. The duties of this committee include getting more of our members to sign up, publicizing the Plan, and informing people of its advantages and how to become members.

21) Public Relations Committee: Chairman, Barbara Pierce of Ohio. The purpose of this committee is to spread the word about our movement to the public at large throughout the land. How can we get our radio and television spots most widely used, and how can we keep them on the air week after week? How can we promote more favorable newspaper and magazine publicity? Should we try to make additional Federation movies? Should we try to make different kinds of radio or television spots? Are there additional brochures or pamphlets which we should be publishing? Underlying all of these questions, of course, is the need to change public attitudes about the blind and to let people know what the National Federation of the Blind is and how it differs from the agencies.

22) Committee for the Evaluation of Technology: Chairman, Jim Willows of California. The purpose of this committee is to become aware of and evaluate research and technology in the field of work with the blind. This means new aids and devices for the blind, as well as other types of research which continue to proliferate in the field.

23) Committee on Research and Development: Chairman, Tim Cranmer of Kentucky. This is a companion committee to the Committee for the Evaluation of Technology, with the responsibilities of research and development. The purpose of this committee is to examine emerging technologies anywhere in society to determine their applications to the unique requirements of blind people. The committee selects projects worthy of development and recommends strategies and design concepts to achieve the goals of the projects.

24) Resolutions Committee: Chairman, Rami Rabby of New York. This is one of the most important committees of the Federation. It considers and proposes the resolutions which set the policy of our organization.

25) Scholarship Committee: Chairman, Peggy Pinder of Iowa. This committee supervises the Federation's scholarship program. At the 1986 national convention we will award twenty-four scholarships, aggregating almost $100,000. The largest of these scholarships will be $10,000 in cash plus expenses to attend the national convention. The committee takes applications and meets prior to the convention to select winners.

26) White Cane Committee: Chairman, Norman Gardner of Idaho. Probably the first organized effort our movement made to fund itself was National White Cane Week. In recent years Congress (largely through our efforts) has set aside October 15 as National White Cane Day. In some of our state and local affiliates we have tied in various fund raising projects with White Cane Day or with White Cane Week (May 15-22). State and local affiliates customarily divide proceeds with the National Office of the Federation, but this is left entirely to the discretion of the affiliate. Some affiliates simply make annual contributions in the name of "White Cane." In general this committee concerns itself with developing ideas for state and local fund raising and public education projects.

Through its divisions, committees, and groups the Federation brings to the floor of the convention each year an extremely diversified and relevant assortment of issues affecting the blind. The resulting policies and activities are causing a whole new way of thought concerning blindness and the blind. Kansas City during the first week of July is where the decisions will be made and the actions taken. Those who come will participate in history in the making. Don't miss it.