2017 Annual Report

2017 Annual Report cover featuring blind teenagers in a chemistry class.National Officers

  • Mark Riccobono, President
  • Pam Allen, First Vice President and Board Chair
  • Ron Brown, Second Vice President
  • James Gashel, Secretary
  • Jeannie Massay, Treasurer

Board Members

Denise Avant, Everette Bacon, Amy Buresh, Shawn Callaway, Norma Crosby, John Fritz, Ever Lee Hairston, Cathy Jackson, Carla McQuillan, Amy Ruell, Joseph Ruffalo, Jr., Adelmo Vigil

Contact Information

200 E Wells St
Baltimore, MD 21230
[email protected]

What We Believe

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.

Who We Are

The National Federation of the Blind, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans. Founded in 1940, the NFB consists of affiliates, chapters, and divisions in the fifty states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. The NFB defends the rights of blind people of all ages and provides information and support to families with blind children, older Americans who are losing vision, and more. We believe in the hopes and dreams of blind people and work together to transform them into reality. 

President's Message

Dear Friends:

There are a lot of ways to measure the accomplishments and success of an organization. The National Federation of the Blind was founded in 1940, so 2017 was our seventy-seventh year as the voice of the nation’s blind. As we look back over our history, we can speak of growing from an organization started by sixteen individuals from seven states to one that now has tens of thousands of members. We can speak of how the organization was originally run from the small apartment where our founding President, Jacobus tenBroek, lived with his wife Hazel, and today occupies a city block in a thriving Baltimore neighborhood. We can talk of legislation passed, technological innovations like NFB-NEWSLINE® and KNFB Reader, scholarships we’ve awarded, and more. But to me, the most effective way we measure our impact is through stories. If you ask any member of the National Federation of the Blind why he or she is a part of our movement, you are likely to hear a story. Often, the story compares being blind before finding the Federation with the changes in expectations and outlook that came about because of joining and becoming involved in the organization. The story may be funny, heart-wrenching, joyful, or some combination of these. You can find similar stories on our blog, in our Braille Monitor and Future Reflections magazines, and by listening to our podcast. These stories tell us why our members and supporters are part of the National Federation of the Blind, remind us all why we do the work we do, and motivate us to accomplish even more.

This report focuses on these powerful stories. Every day, thanks to your support, we change, in big and small ways, the lives of the blind and of people who are losing vision. Throughout this report, our members tell you how the National Federation of the Blind is helping them live the lives they want.

I hope you enjoy reading these stories, and that you’ll be inspired to tell your own—perhaps by writing a Braille Monitor article or blog post, or just by sharing at a chapter meeting or other Federation gathering. I always want to hear from our members and supporters too, so don’t hesitate to email me at [email protected].

I want to close by thanking you for the contribution, whether it’s large or small, that you have made to improving the lives of blind people in America by supporting the National Federation of the Blind. The lives of tens of thousands of blind people are better today because of what you have done and are doing. You have my, and their, deep and abiding gratitude.


President Mark A. Riccobono's signature.

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind 

National Federation of the Blind Free White Cane Program


The National Federation of the Blind believes that the long white cane is a means to independence for the blind. The white cane has proved a useful tool to millions of blind people in navigating their environments with confidence and safety. It is a tool that allows blind people to travel where and when they want, and, as such, promotes independence and self-sufficiency. Each year we celebrate White Cane Awareness Day to increase public awareness and understanding of the positive effect this simple tool has on the lives of blind people.

"This cane is so much better. I really didn’t like using my [old] cane, even though I know I need to use it to be safe and stuff like that. This one moves where I want it to go and doesn’t get stuck on things. I can feel more stuff too and tell what it is —easier than with the old cane. … This cane feels like just a body part or something, like an ear or a hand or a nose or something. The old cane felt like I was just swinging a stick around." — Jeremy, age 8 

"Your gift of a white cane could not have come at a better time for me! My wonderful wife of forty-three years, who has Alzheimer’s, has moved to an assisted living facility. The only place I could find to get a cane was a fourteen hour round trip for me and I can’t drive anymore. What you have done for me I will remember for the rest of my life."

We believe that independence and freedom to travel are so critical to the quality of life of blind people that every blind person should have a cane, regardless of ability to pay. That is why the National Federation of the Blind offers free fiberglass canes to blind users through its free white cane program.

Braille Programs

Braille literacy is an essential pillar of success for all blind Americans, yet only about 10 percent of students who need Braille are taught it in schools. To address this lack of appropriate education, the National Federation of the Blind offers numerous Braille outreach programs each year to promote and increase Braille literacy. 

BELL Academy


The NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy provides blind children with instruction in Braille, cane travel, and the other nonvisual skills they will need to achieve their dreams and live the lives they want. In 2017, students continued to grow their Braille skills in thirty-one states. By bringing students and successful blind mentors together, NFB BELL Academy fosters a positive attitude about Braille and about blindness itself, and the results speak volumes.

"My daughter does not receive Braille instruction at school, and she learned so many things. First, she now looks at Braille positively because of the encouragement of her teachers at NFB BELL Academy. Also, it was so great for her to meet and interact with other blind children learning Braille. Even if she did receive Braille in school she wouldn’t get this. She learned so much in those two weeks, and I feel better about her learning Braille in the future. NFB BELL Academy is probably the biggest reason we’ve stuck with Braille so far this school year. NFB BELL Academy is a fantastic program!"

The Braille Reading Pals Club

The Braille Reading Pals Club, one of our early childhood Braille programs, provides a free plush reading pal, quarterly and annual Braille materials, and a Braille birthday card every year. In the case of one young child, this personal touch made a huge impact.

"[My daughter] loved the Braille print birthday card you guys sent her this past January for her second birthday. I have the cutest video of her exploring the Braille on the birthday card. She touches it with her fingers, then her feet, then her tongue. It’s silly, but also kinda great because she was just loving the whole experience of exploring the Braille letters on her own card that came in the mail just for her."

Braille Letters from Santa

Parents can request a letter from Santa in Braille that comes along with ideas for crafts and other activities. In 2017, approximately 350 Santa letters were sent. The idea that Braille is important to Santa sends a powerful message to children learning Braille. As the mother below explains, this simple gesture can touch a child’s heart in unimaginable ways.

"My daughter Jenna is 9 years old and has LCA. She has received letters from Santa for the last three or four years and she absolutely loves receiving her letter every year. It makes her so happy to be able to read a letter that is strictly for her and from ‘Santa’! We appreciate all those who take the time to Braille out these letters. It makes it even more special that the child’s name is actually used. Thank you again for all your hard work and dedication to this program."

The National Federation of the Blind Supports Blind Veterans

The following is a letter from a blind veteran who shares how membership in the National Federation of the Blind has changed his life.

"My name is Nathan Ostergaard. I am a United States military veteran and I am blind. The National Federation of the Blind has given me the empowerment to live life with vision loss. My first major experience with the NFB was being awarded a scholarship, which I used to start my pursuit of higher education. I completed undergraduate studies with two degrees; both with Summa Cum Laude honors.

The NFB has also taught me the functional skills to participate in society, as well as leadership skills to become successful as a working professional. Having held leadership positions within the NFB to serve other blind individuals has been especially rewarding for me. I have also worked with the NFB on national legislative projects important to the rights of the blind, including advocating for the right of blind veterans who served in Vietnam to take advantage of space-available flight accommodations provided by the military. I’m an elected state president of a veteran services non-profit organization and am employed full-time as a Human Resources Specialist overseeing HR processes for ten call center locations.

I play as hard as I work. I enjoy fitness and I’m currently a nationally ranked judo athlete, winning several national championship medals and have started competing internationally. Last year I successfully completed a two-day, including through the night, cross-country 225 mile relay race and look forward to doing it again this year. All these achievements are due to the inspiration the NFB has given me to accomplish them."

National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam


Far too often blind youth are denied the opportunity to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects because it is assumed that sight is required to succeed in these disciplines. Unfortunately, many teachers, parents, and students are unaware of the nonvisual solutions, many of which have been created by blind scientists and engineers, that enable blind people to engage in STEM education and careers. Due to this lack of knowledge and the resulting low expectations, blind students are discouraged from pursuing an exciting area of potential interest, exploring employment in lucrative STEM careers, and participating in the development of ideas and innovations that will change the world.

"I loved that I was able to meet other blind teens who are interested in robotics. I made two life-long friends at Youth Slam, friends I will never forget."

The National Federation of the Blind created the NFB Youth Slam to confront the inequity in STEM education and raise the low expectations that create barriers for blind students. NFB Youth Slam is a week-long STEM program for blind high school students from across the country. During our 2017 program at Towson University in Maryland, students explored the process of invention, conducted scientific experiments, built technology, tested hypotheses, helped design technologies, and challenged themselves with physical and academic activities.

"My favorite thing about Youth Slam was the people. It was extremely enjoyable to interact with both students and staff members. Youth Slam 2017 fostered a positive uplifting atmosphere in which both students and staff members interacted in positive uplifting ways. All the students I interacted with were positive, supportive, understanding, and friendly. Interacting and getting to know the staff at Youth Slam was a key factor in reshaping my ideas about blindness. All the staff members were happy to share their thoughts and experiences regarding blindness."

"I discovered that I have more of an interest in the field of science than I originally knew before attending Youth Slam, and learning about adaptive
techniques and tools helped me discover that."

Just as importantly, these blind youth, who have often not had the opportunity to interact with other blind people in their own schools and communities, were immersed in a supportive environment that allowed them to develop relationships that will benefit them throughout their entire lives. In addition to their peers, many of the scientists, engineers, and volunteer counselors who participated in the program were blind. Furthermore, The NFB Youth Slam exposed the students to blindness skills like using a cane to safely and independently travel in an unfamiliar environment. This training served to increase their self-confidence and problem-solving ability, which will positively affect their lives regardless of their academic or career pursuit.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

Dr. Jacob Bolotin (1888-1924) was the first physician in history who was born blind. His passion and tireless advocacy for the rights and independence of blind people helped to change entrenched, yet incorrect, attitudes toward blindness. Each year the National Federation of the Blind awards initiatives, innovations, and individuals that are a positive force in the lives of blind people with a monetary award in his name. Winners of the prestigious award continue Dr. Bolotin’s legacy by breaking down barriers, changing negative perceptions of blindness, and inspiring blind people to achieve new heights. 



Adults who are losing vision often tell us that the first thing they miss when reading becomes difficult is perusing the newspaper each day. To support them, and to allow all blind and low-vision people to be well-informed citizens, we created NFB-NEWSLINE. This unique, free-to-users service provides access to nearly five hundred daily newspapers, magazines, and online news sources. To learn more about the service, visit nfbnewsline.org.

NFB Jernigan Institute

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first institute of its kind developed and operated by an organization of blind people, leads the quest to understand the real problems of blindness and to develop innovative education, technology, products, and services that help blind people to live the lives they want. Its programs and initiatives cover many of the activities described elsewhere in this report, and its work also encompasses other initiatives. 

How You Can Help

The National Federation of the Blind is a dynamic organization with a bevy of programs that dramatically improve the lives of blind people in the United States. We could not do this critical work without our many generous supporters. We are grateful for the contributions of our 2017 donors. Here are some ways that you can help us continue to help blind people live the lives they want.

Donate Online

Contributions by credit card may be given at one time or pledged over a period of time. A one-time credit card donation can be made online at nfb.org/donate. To make a recurring donation, please call our accounting department at 410-659-9314, extension 2213.

Donate by Mail

Checks should be made out to the “National Federation of the Blind” and mailed to the National Federation of the Blind, attention Outreach, at 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.

Honorary or Memorial Gifts

You can give a contribution to honor a special person, to commemorate a special occasion, or to pay tribute to an individual. These gifts may be made online or by mail.

Donate a Vehicle

You can donate a vehicle to the National Federation of the Blind by calling 855-659-9314 or visiting us online.

Donate Clothing

If you live in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, or Virginia, you can donate clothing and other household items to the National Federation of the Blind. You may take your items to a GreenDrop collection site or call 888-610-4632 for home pickup. Learn more by visiting nfbpickup.org.

Planned Giving

Including the National Federation of the Blind in your estate plans is a thoughtful way to transform dreams into reality for the next generation. Learn more about giving a legacy gift.

The Dream Makers Circle honors friends of the National Federation of the Blind who are helping build a successful future through their commitment of a legacy gift to the organization.

Financial Statement

Year Ended December 31, 2017

Revenue and Gains and Other Support

Public Support

  • Contributions $16,305,802
  • Donated Services $4,545,544
  • Government Grants and Contracted Services $1,600,528
  • Total Public Support $22,451,874


  • Sales - Independence Products and Publications $727,547
  • NET Investment Income (loss) $2,788,769
  • Total Revenue $3,516,316

Total Revenue and Gains and Other Support $25,968,190


Program Services

  • Blindness Integration $9,842,067
  • Civil Rights, Advocacy and Self-Organization $7,409,229
  • Nonvisual Access Technology, Methods and Systems $5,311,361
  • Total Program Services $22,562,657

Supporting Services

  • Management & General $636,067
  • Fundraising $1,657,780
  • Total Supporting Services $2,293,847

Total Expenses $24,856,504

Net Assets

Changes in Net Assets $1,111,686

Net Assets - Beginning of Year $24,356,788

Net Assets - End of Year $25,468,474

The National Federation of the Blind meets the rigorous Standards for Charity Accountability set forth by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. The NFB maintains a GuideStar Exchange Gold Participant status and is an approved charity participant in the Combined Federal Campaign.

Pie chart with the title, "Fundraising and Management & General Expenses as a Percent of Total Public Support." Management & General is shown as 2%, and Fundraising as 7% of the pie.

Pie chart with the title, "Program Services as a Percent of Total Expenses." Program Services is shown as 91% of the pie.


Financial statements presented have been audited by Rosen, Sapperstein and Friedlander, LLC. Complete audited statements with accompanying notes for the National Federation of the Blind can be obtained by contacting the offices of the National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, 410-659-9314.

The National Federation of the Blind, a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, is eligible to receive contributions that are deductible for computing income and estate taxes. Donors should consult their attorney or financial advisor to discuss the tax implications of any donation they make or contemplate making to the National Federation of the Blind.