Presidential Report 2012

An Address Delivered by
MARC MAURER
National Federation of the Blind
Dallas, Texas
July 3, 2012

When the National Federation of the Blind came into being in 1940, blind people faced almost total exclusion from meaningful participation in society. We formed our Federation with the previously unknown proposition that we could change these conditions—that we, blind people, could become an integrated part of our culture through our own efforts, and we have been pursuing this objective ever since. This past year the speed of our progress has increased, the number of our activities has expanded, and the complexity of our programs has become greater than ever before in our history.

Blind people are thought to be musical, and a few of us are. Jessica Bachicha, now married to Jason Ewell, has been blind since birth. She met Fred Schroeder, our first vice president, who was then directing programs for blind students in the New Mexico public school system, when she was five. Dr. Schroeder taught her how to be an accomplished student, and he also helped her to know that she could follow her dreams. She has become an accomplished opera soprano. She has performed with a number of symphonies, and she was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall earlier this year. I was privileged to be in the audience, I heard her hit the high F from an aria in The Magic Flute five times, and I understand that she came to the stage proudly carrying her white cane. Dr. Jessica Bachicha will be offering us an aria at the banquet later this week.

In an effort to gain greater access to information, we established in 2003 a project with Ray Kurzweil to build a portable reading machine, the K-NFB Reader Mobile. Although this reading machine is currently available as a program that operates on a number of cell phones, and although it is the best portable reading machine that has been developed, the project has shifted its primary focus to an electronic book reader, the Blio, that can be used by blind or sighted people to read digital information. Blio is a program which runs on computers (desktops, laptops, and notebooks), on iOS devices (iPods, iPhones, and iPads) and potentially on other types of hardware used for reading books, magazines, or other digital content. K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., which owns Blio, has entered into a cooperative relationship with Baker & Taylor, a distributor of books from many thousands of publishers. One of the markets served by Baker & Taylor is libraries. Baker & Taylor’s digital library system, called Axis 360, uses the Blio reading program to give patrons access to digital books. Axis 360 is an accessible library system offering blind and other print disabled people the opportunity to read books as effectively as sighted people do. Using the Blio bookstore, blind and sighted people have access to three hundred thousand books. The Axis 360 library system has only half this number, but the program is growing, and it will soon offer as many as can now be purchased in the bookstore.

In 1990 we attempted to create a partnership with the Association of American Publishers to obtain equal access to the printed word. The person then serving as its president said to our convention, “We are not in the charity business,” and he walked out of the convention hall. We have been taking steps since that time in the legal arena, the political arena, and the corporate arena to try to change the perception that equal access to information is a matter of charity.

We have been urging companies to adopt systems to provide equal access to information. Sometimes our advocacy efforts are successful, but sometimes they are not. To promote equality of access to information, we have, through our involvement with K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc., assisted in the creation of the Blio reading system. If others will not promote equal access to information, we will do it ourselves.

In September 2011, we co-hosted our second Web Accessibility Training Day with the Maryland Technology Assistance Program. Those showing their work in accessibility included Oracle, Adobe, the United States Access Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, and AOL. I am not saying that all of these entities know how to provide accessible content, but we have insisted that they try to do so, and they were demonstrating what they know.

On December 6, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind hosted a symposium on accessibility in publishing, and we co-hosted an event on inclusive publishing and e-book distribution with the DAISY Consortium six months later. We became a part of the DAISY Consortium some time ago to establish a standard which can be used to ensure equal access for the blind and print-disabled. This standard, EPUB3, has been created, and the Internet tools to implement elements of the standard are currently under development. With the implementation of this standard, we will reach the objective of the same book, at the same price, and at the same time for print-disabled customers.

We have also conducted a two-and-a-half-day “Train the Trainers” event. The training provided hands-on involvement with screen access software, Braille, DAISY e-books, and other tools. Furthermore, we have conducted numerous other training programs in such widely separated venues as the University of Toledo, the California State University at Northridge (CSUN), and the Consumer Electronics Show.

At a hearing held by the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in February 2012, entitled “The Promise of Accessible Technology: Challenges and Opportunities,” Mark Riccobono presented the point of view of the National Federation of the Blind. An equal opportunity to education requires access to books, course materials, research articles, and other digital material. Access to information is nothing less than a fundamental civil right, and we insist that the blind have as much opportunity to get it as anybody else. This is what Mark Riccobono declared to the Senate of the United States.

Equal access to the same corpus of materials used by all other scholars is the goal for us. Imagine a day when any blind college student can have the same independent access to the entire library’s collection that a sighted student has. Imagine a day that a blind student can independently search the collection for the right materials. Imagine a day that a blind student can independently perform data mining of the library collection. That day has arrived at the University of Michigan. However, access to this extraordinary quantity of information for us is under attack.

A number of years ago the Google company decided to make digital copies of books in dozens of university libraries. A consortium of these universities established the Hathi Trust to hold and manage the digital copies of books that came from the Google Books Library Project. The Authors Guild has sued the Hathi Trust, and we intervened to assist in protecting this material. The Authors Guild wants the universities to give up the scanned material or to agree never to use it unless a court order permits this use. However, we believe that the universities have an obligation to provide it to students and professors who cannot read print, now that the material has been put into accessible form. The University of Michigan has declared that blind students and professors have access to this digital treasure trove, and we believe that other universities will soon follow suit. I remember standing in the library when I was in college wondering how I could learn all that the books had to tell me. Now, after decades of effort, the promise of equal access is becoming a reality. Our participation in the lawsuit will demand energy and financial commitment, but what an opportunity has come to be almost within our reach.

The Barnes & Noble Nook is a convenient, inexpensive e-book reader, but it is completely inaccessible to the blind. When we asked Barnes & Noble to change this, officials from the company responded with numerous excuses but no program to provide access to books. Now, libraries are buying them. Because they acquired inaccessible Nooks, we have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against the Sacramento Public Library and a suit in federal court against the Free Library of Philadelphia, the nation’s oldest public library. We hope that these two actions will be enough to change the behavior of libraries and the behavior of Barnes & Noble. However, if more complaints are needed, we know how to create them and where to have them filed. We must have books, and we will take every necessary step to get them. Our right to an equal education and equal access to information may not be compromised, and we are the people to ensure that it will not be—not today, not tomorrow, not anytime.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits the federal government from acquiring inaccessible technology, but the government routinely ignores this federal law. More than 90 percent of the federal agencies examined within the last few years have failed to demonstrate complete accessibility of their Web presences, and many federal agencies buy office machines, computer programs, and even telephones for disabled employees that are completely inaccessible.

A few days before this convention, we learned that the State Department is attempting to purchase thirty-five thousand Kindle book readers to be distributed in libraries throughout the world. According to the publicity, these inaccessible products will cost the government over $16 million. We have sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to protest this violation of the law, and a number of other actions are underway to ensure that the State Department does not use its power to promote the interests of those seeking to prevent disabled citizens from having equal access to information. The Amazon Kindle has been the subject of at least half a dozen legal actions in which we have taken part, and although we do not fight unless we must, if the State Department insists, we will meet them in the court. Officials at the State Department cannot tell us that vital American interests in international relations require this type of discriminatory behavior; precisely the opposite is true. Our vital American interests must be protected, and we will take every step to see that they are.

On December 6, 2011, Congress received the Report of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, which had been authorized by amendments that we had sponsored to the Higher Education Act. Mark Riccobono served as our representative on the Commission. It will not amaze you to learn that the Commission found that educational materials for blind students in college are inaccessible, and that it would be helpful if they included accessibility. If accessibility of such information for blind students and professors is not achieved in the near future, the Commission report recommends that Congressional action be taken. We concur with this idea, and we will write the legislation.

On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Senator Patty Murray from Washington and Senator John Boozman from Arkansas circulated a Dear Colleague letter in support of Braille instruction for blind students. This letter, addressed to the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said in part:

In reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, the intent of Congress was for Braille instruction to be presumed appropriate for all students with blindness or a visual impairment. However, current regulation [of the Department of Education] does not provide school districts adequate guidance in developing, reviewing and revising the IEP. It has come to our attention that in some circumstances, parents and advocates request Braille instruction for their child with blindness or low vision but meet resistance from a school-based IEP team member. We believe this is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of the needs of some students with low vision. Regardless of the reason, Braille instruction is a crucial literacy skill which should be provided to students with blindness or a visual impairment who would benefit from learning Braille.

We strongly urge the U.S. Department of Education to develop new regulations and provide additional guidance to school districts to ensure students with blindness or a visual impairment are provided Braille instruction when the student will benefit.

Twenty-six members of the Senate signed this letter. Although the amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act seemed clear to us, they have not always seemed as clear to the Department of Education or to the school districts where the education takes place. We considered yet additional legislation to let the educational community know how important Braille instruction is, but Senator Murray proposed an alternative, which may speed the process substantially. Her message is clear—Braille must be taught. She says so, the Congress said so, the members of the Senate say so, and we will get Braille for the students who need it.

Our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program has expanded to eleven affiliates in twenty locations. Our Braille Reading Pals Club introduces Braille to families of very young blind children. Participants (356 of them) from forty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico receive information about early Braille literacy. Parents get a monthly newsletter and activity sheets about learning Braille. The kids get a Braille birthday card, a new Braille book periodically, and a Braille Pal—a stuffed animal who likes to listen while the children read. The Braille Reading Pals Club is part of our Braille Readers Are Leaders effort, which is now twenty-nine years old. We will be adding elements during our thirtieth anniversary year, such as encouraging blind children to write their own books.

In the winter, we launched a new program called Early Explorers. This early childhood program shows parents that their young blind children can learn to travel with a cane. Blind children become much more excited about movement and much more interested in exploration when they learn that it is preferable for the cane to run into the wall or the door rather than having their noses do it. The program serves children ages 0-7. We currently have over a hundred families enrolled from thirty-five of our affiliates.

Our science training initiatives continue. At Youth Slam 2011, we had 133 students from forty-one states and one U.S. territory. The education included chemistry, robotics, space science, biology, engineering, journalism, computer science, nanoscience, forensics, and geoscience. In addition, we conducted a teacher track for teachers of the blind to learn how to teach science to blind kids. Students made ethanol and built fuel cells, constructed robots, tested phosphorescent bacteria, conducted an experiment using a nanoscale mechanical beam with a nanophotonic cavity sensor, and assembled skeletons.

In January of this year we conducted the NFB Teacher Leaders Seminar. Infused with a positive philosophy of blindness, this seminar presented best practices in teaching Braille, technology, cane travel, art, tactile graphics, science, and methods for teaching blind students who also have other disabilities. Some educators tell us that teaching blind students is hard, and that teaching blind students who also have other disabilities is even harder. Such educators are correct in their assertions when they don’t know how to do it. When the educational methods are at hand, educational programs become much easier. This is what we demonstrated at our Teacher Leaders Seminar.

In 2011 we conducted the first public demonstration of the blind drivable automobile. On July 22, 2011, following the conclusion of last year’s convention, our blind drivers navigated the streets around our headquarters building in Baltimore, providing rides in our vehicles to blind students attending the NFB Youth Slam. We continue to seek university and industry partners who want to work on nonvisual interfaces for blind drivers, and we met with the product manager for Google’s driverless car last spring. In June, less than a month ago, the National Federation of the Blind participated in the 2012 Driverless Car Summit conducted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. By special invitation the event included a presentation by Mark Riccobono about the blind drivable car. In addition, Mark Riccobono and Anil Lewis were featured on February 28, 2012, as experts in blind driving technology on the Discovery Velocity Channel’s AutoWeek’s Vinsetta Garage program.

In April 2012, we welcomed 158 participants to the fifth annual Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. This gathering, named after our founding President, who was a Constitutional scholar and among the first to write on the subject of disability law, brings together the people with the best minds on the subject of disability rights. The theme this year was “Disability Identity in the Disability Rights Movement.” Over eighty academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations were represented at the symposium, and students from a number of universities attended. United States District Judge Donovan Frank, Wisconsin Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard Brown, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chief Administrative Judge Francis Polito provided their perspectives on how to educate judges and attorneys about disability rights.

We have also pursued a number of lawsuits. Henry (Hank) Miller is a blind student living in New Jersey, who has completed the fifth grade. When he was in second grade, his mother asked officials in their school district to give him Braille instruction. However, the school district denied this request. As an element of the process in appealing the denial, the New Jersey Commission for the Blind evaluated Henry Miller. The Commission for the Blind sided with the school district. After three years of argument, a hearing occurred before an administrative law judge that lasted nine days. The decision of the judge covered more than sixty pages. The judge agreed with the parents and their experts that the presumption in the law in favor of Braille instruction means what it says. Officials of a school district cannot refuse to provide Braille instruction to a blind child just because they do not think he needs it. We will hold the school districts accountable for their actions. We have a zero tolerance policy for people who try to deny us our education. Henry Miller gets his Braille.

The Miami Public School District summarily concluded that a blind child matriculating there would never be able to benefit from instruction in Braille or in cane travel. The parents of this blind child fought the Miami School District for two years without success. We are now providing legal assistance, and the school system has backed down. This blind girl is now getting the education to which she has always been entitled, and she is eagerly learning the skills that the school district thought she could never acquire.

Last year I reported to you that we had filed a complaint against Penn State University for its widespread use of inaccessible educational technology. In October we reached an agreement of historic scope. Not only is Penn State required to make its course management software, library search software, and millions of pages on its eight thousand Web sites accessible but it must do an audit of all of its educational technology and develop a remediation plan. In addition, it must institute a “buy accessible” procurement policy. Penn State has been working hard to meet its commitments, and we hope it can become a model for the country in providing equal opportunity to blind students.

Last year we filed suit on behalf of two Florida State University students, Chris Toth and Jamie Principato, against the university because these students were required to take and pass digital math courses that were inaccessible. We reached an agreement that requires the university to make the math curriculum accessible, to adopt a “buy accessible” educational materials program for mathematics, and to create and implement accessibility standards for classes in chemistry and physics. In addition, Florida State University paid each of these students $75,000 and reimbursed the National Federation of the Blind for costs of $209,519.

This spring we learned that Sebastian Ibanez, a student at Mesa Community College in Arizona, was kicked out of a counseling class because he is blind. Registration forms at Mesa Community College are inaccessible, financial aid forms are inaccessible, the login process for the computer registration form for student aid is inaccessible, materials for many of the classes are inaccessible, and other elements of the educational experience are inaccessible to the blind. Personnel in the financial aid office at Mesa will not even speak to a student who has not logged onto its system, and they will not help a blind student log on even though the system itself is inaccessible. We have filed suit on behalf of Sebastian Ibanez. Mesa Community College is reported to be the largest community college system in the United States, and it systematically excludes blind students from the education it offers.

Just how systematic is this exclusion? Wink Harner is not blind. Until recently she was the Manager of the Disability Resources and Services office at Mesa Community College. When she helped Sebastian Ibanez file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Education, Mesa removed her from her job. Wink Harner cannot use her hands. Many people with this disability use a computer system that responds to voice commands. However, Mesa has assigned her to be a secretary, giving her a computer that does not respond to voice. Even though she cannot use her hands, and even though Mesa Community College knows she cannot use her hands, Wink Harner is expected to perform her work using a keyboard. Mesa wanted to make her pay for helping the blind seek justice. Officials at Mesa Community College may think that it pays to bully the blind, they may think that it pays to bully those who seek to help the blind, and they may think that the laws requiring equality of opportunity may be ignored with impunity, but we think that the payment should go another way, and we are demanding that they pay for what they have done.

The battle against the National Conference of Bar Examiners to require it to allow blind applicants to take the multistate bar examination with screen reader software continues. Last year, when I reported that Stephanie Enyart had won her case against the bar examiners in the Ninth Circuit, I indicated that the matter had been appealed to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court declined to take the case. These cases are very expensive to bring, but we have been awarded fees and costs. In Tim Elder’s case, the Bar Examiners beat us in Maryland, but we were victorious in California, and we were awarded fees there. In the Cathryn Bonnette case we won in the District of Columbia, and we received a fee award. In the Deanna Jones case, we were successful in federal court and in the Court of Appeals. Deanna Jones is a member of ours from Vermont, and she is both blind and disabled from a learning disability. Once again, we received a fee award. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has now lost in four cases, and it has had to pay us nearly $1.5 million. However, the Bar Examiners appear to be willing to continue the fight. Let me say it this way: do we ever have plans for them.

The Law School Admission Council controls both applications to get into law school and the Law School Admission Test. We have demanded that accessibility elements be added to the LSAC Web site, that applicants for the Law School Admission Test be permitted to take it using screen access software, and that the application process to seek admission to law school be made accessible. Although officials of the LSAC have been willing to make changes only after bitter confrontation, many of the alterations we have demanded have taken place.

In the meantime, we have asked the American Bar Association to help. In February 2012, Scott LaBarre, our president in Colorado, traveled to the convention of the American Bar Association to propose a resolution in support of disabled Americans having equal access to the Law School Admission Test. Although spirited testimony was offered to the effect that equality of opportunity in taking the LSAT did not serve the interests of American justice, our lawyers Scott LaBarre, Charlie Brown, and Dan Goldstein were eloquent in the defense of equality for the blind. The House of Delegates of the American Bar Association adopted the proposed resolution unanimously.

In 2004 Aaron Cannon, a blind person living in Iowa, applied to the Palmer College of Chiropractic to become a chiropractic doctor. After accepting him for study, school officials refused to let him graduate because they said he did not have a “sufficient sense of vision” to be a chiropractor. In 2005 he appealed to the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, and the Commission ruled in his favor. Palmer asked for an administrative hearing, and the judge ruled in favor of Aaron Cannon. Palmer appealed to the full commission, and in December 2010, the Commission issued a thorough decision upholding all the previous rulings. Palmer appealed once again to Iowa state court, and the judge reversed all the previous rulings, saying that a chiropractor must be able to see. I have met a medical doctor who is blind and who practices in Iowa. I have met more than one blind chiropractic doctor practicing in Iowa. Did the court consider this evidence? Of course, it did not. We have appealed the Aaron Cannon case to the Iowa Supreme Court. We know the evidence is clear, we know the law is sound, and we believe that the Supreme Court will vindicate the right of Aaron Cannon to practice—he will become a chiropractor.

Lonnie Swafford, Charla Shown, Heather Abercrombie, and Byron Sykes are members of the National Federation of the Blind living in Louisville, Kentucky, who work for the Veterans Administration. In the fall of 2005, the V.A. decided that three of these people would be fired and one would be limited in work assignments because the V.A. wanted to use technology inaccessible to the blind. We filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, and after years of negotiations, I am happy to report a settlement has been reached. The V.A. will make all of its equipment accessible, and the government will pay monetary damages and attorney fees.

Vicki Hodges is a blind leader of our Arizona affiliate who has been working as a librarian assistant. When the City of Phoenix Library Department decided to close the assistive technology center where she had been working, it offered all other assistant librarians transfers. Vicki Hodges got a cut in her hours and pay because the library said she could not perform any other job because of blindness. When she filed a complaint with the Arizona Civil Rights Division, she received a decision indicating that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred based on blindness. The Arizona Attorney General has filed a lawsuit on her behalf, and we have joined in the action. Vicki Hodges is a tough-minded, capable human being. Blindness cannot stop her, but unless we are willing to help, misunderstanding in the form of discrimination might. We expect to secure a position for Vicki Hodges in the Phoenix library.

When we built our new building, we established our Jacobus tenBroek Library to house Dr. tenBroek’s papers, given to us by his widow, Hazel tenBroek. During the past year we have initiated the Hazel tenBroek research grant program. One winner of a grant is Sushil Oswal of the Seattle chapter of the NFB of Washington. He has already begun research work on Jacobus tenBroek and the origins of disability rights law. Another is Selina Mills, a blind British journalist writing a book on the history of blindness around the world.

One of the most important assets we have is our membership. This year we established the National Federation of the Blind Fellows Program, an engagement that lasts a year for young Federation leaders who want to deepen their commitment to the organization and their capacity for leadership. Eleven Federationists are participating as Fellows for 2012. They are learning about membership building, fundraising, planning conventions, passing legislation at the state and national levels, and the kinds of activities that can inspire Federationists to build programs for the future. Joanne Wilson, who established the Louisiana Center for the Blind and who is serving as our Executive Director for Affiliate Action, is managing these events.

We have been as active in the Congress this year as ever before. H.R. 3086, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, was introduced by Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida and Congressman Tim Bishop of New York on October 4, 2011. This legislation, once enacted, would phase out, over a three-year period, payment of subminimum wages and would repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which authorizes subminimum wage payments. Although the position of the National Federation of the Blind has opposed payment of subminimum wages from the time that our organization came into being, the current argument began last spring when we learned that a proposed section of the Workforce Investment Act would contain language recognizing within the rehabilitation system the practice of paying subminimum wages. At our convention last year, we demanded that this proposed provision, Section 511 of the Workforce Investment Act, be dropped. Because the members of the Senate committee responsible for considering this legislation seemed unwilling to discuss the subminimum wage provisions of the proposed law, we took to the streets. On July 26, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind, along with other supporting disability-led organizations, conducted protests at the offices of members of the Senate Committee to express our vehement opposition to the proposed language. Our efforts received substantial media coverage and contributed to bringing the consideration of this legislation to a halt.

However, we recognized that stopping recognition of subminimum wage payments in the Rehabilitation Act was not enough, and we sought support for the elimination of this discriminatory law in Congress. We now have over seventy-five cosponsors of H.R. 3086. We believe that there will be a hearing on this bill soon. Currently we have forty-seven supporting organizations, and we are seeking more.

We have received documentation from the Department of Labor of wage payments as low as seven cents per hour. Representatives of many of the organizations that pay workers less than the minimum wage have told us that they support the principles in our bill, and some of them have indicated that the work we are doing has helped them to reexamine the positions they have taken and to seek ways to implement a change that guarantees every worker at least the federal minimum wage. Sometimes we are told that very few blind people are now receiving subminimum wages, and we are asked a question that goes something like this: “Why are you so adamant about this, when only a hundred and fifty blind people [or three hundred, or a hundred and twenty-five, or some other number intended to sound small] are receiving subminimum wage payments?” Such a question is not simply irritating; it is insufferable. Those who ask it might just as well say, “The few people who receive the subminimum wage are not very important; why don’t you write them off?” When I hear this question, two thoughts come to mind. First, if there are so few, why don’t you pay them? If you did, the argument would be gone. Second, before we started discussing the unjustified, immoral, outrageous practice of dividing the workforce into the class protected by law and the class faced with exploitation, there were a lot more blind people being paid less than the minimum wage. Our work has changed this, and it is going to change it further. We expect to have no subminimum wages at all, and we expect it soon.

Public education continues to be a priority for us. During the past year stories about us have appeared in such widely varying outlets as the Billings (Montana) Gazette, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, ABC News.com, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Denver Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Millions of automobiles pass our building each year. Last September, we installed a new, high-tech, high-definition LED sign measuring twelve feet by thirty-nine feet. This sign depicts our message to drivers along Interstate 95. Fully programmable, the sign presents our message in color with the light from four hundred forty-nine thousand two hundred eighty light-emitting diodes. When we asked the public to join us in stopping the exploitation of disabled workers at Goodwill Industries who are being paid less than the federal minimum wage, the request was transmitted in vibrant red letters on a white background.

We have collaborated at the state and national levels this year to promote programs that create opportunity. In Mississippi a piece of legislation drafted at our National Office was presented to the legislature. This proposal became law because of the extraordinary efforts of our members in Mississippi. This new law will increase education in Braille for blind students in the state.

In Michigan, the governor issued an executive order declaring that the Commission for the Blind would be dismantled as a state agency. The combined efforts of Federationists at our central office and in Michigan caused the executive order to be rescinded one day before it was to take effect. A restructuring of Michigan services for the blind is still likely to occur, but vital services to blind people will remain in operation because of our combined efforts.

Our NFB-NEWSLINE® program continues to expand with close to one hundred thousand participants. Since our last convention we have developed an iPhone application for NFB-NEWSLINE®, and already more than a thousand people are using it. We have added many new publications including the Jerusalem Post, the Moscow Times, and the Reader’s Digest. Through this service we provide the greatest volume of news to blind people that has ever been available.

We continue to conduct the ongoing work of the Federation. We have held dozens of meetings, welcoming more than four thousand six hundred people to our headquarters building, serving them almost ten thousand meals and twelve thousand cookies.

Our Federation came into being more than seven decades ago with a fundamentally new idea—that blind people themselves could make a difference in programs dealing with blindness or perhaps even in the broader community. We started with nothing except a grand idea, an enormous measure of hope, and a spirit of adventure. Today we have influence in Congress, we have created precedents in the judicial arena, we have altered expectations for our participation in the executive branch of government, we have begun the process of ensuring that the recognition of our equal participation in business will occur, and we have changed our comprehension of the capacity we possess.

As I contemplate the accomplishments of the last year, I am proud of what we are and of what we are becoming; and I am proud of what we have done and what the future undoubtedly holds for us. Guts and judgment, imagination and inspiration, these are what we need along with an unshakable determination. Some may doubt that the blind of America can summon these characteristics, but I have met my colleagues in the Federation, and I know both the mental agility and the inner strength of the people of the movement. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our first great President, spoke during the course of his lifetime of the right of blind Americans to be covered by the same laws that give protection to everybody else. I have been inspired by his words, but I never met him in person. I did know Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our second great President, very well, and I was supported by his strength. He would be challenged, gratified, and uplifted by what we have done during the past year.

That we gain inspiration from those who have preceded us is true. That we have an obligation to those who come after us is equally true. Our history is a record that often contains restriction and denial, but the landscape before us is quickly becoming one of our own making. The challenges have been many, and they will not cease with the accomplishments of today. But no matter how great they may be, we will meet them. The misunderstanding of our being has been enormous, but this also can be changed, and we have the tools to do it. At one time our future was determined by somebody else, but now it belongs to us. We will shape tomorrow with the texture that gives us freedom. This is what I have come to know in the depth of my heart and the core of my being, this is what I have learned from you, and this is my report for 2012.