October Perspective from the President

President Riccobono smiles with Denise Avant and Debbie Kent Stein at the Presidential Release Live in Chicago, Illinois.

October Perspective from the President

By Mark Riccobono

Greetings Fellow Federationists,

We in the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) have long valued building leadership, and we continue looking for new ways to build leaders. This month we are coming upon the twenty-fifth anniversary of the passing of Kenneth Jernigan, our second great President, who started the Presidential Leadership Seminar and did so much to ensure that our organization stays focused on investing in new leaders. We thought that it would be a good thing to reinvest in leadership by sponsoring a new program this year, called the Kenneth Jernigan Leadership in Service program. We have our inaugural class of fifteen individuals. We are really honored to have the opportunity to work with them all year on leadership. The class includes Susan Bellimer of Vermont, Heather Bird of New York, Christopher Bove of Rhode Island, Felecia Bradford of Michigan, Janice Bright of South Carolina, Jenny Carmack of Missouri, Gene Kim of California, Hunter Kuester from Wisconsin, Stacie Leap from Pennsylvania, Carley Mullin from Maryland, Juhi Narula from Maryland, Aleyda Santos from Puerto Rico, Camille Tate from Florida, Liz Wisecarver from Texas, and Becky Young from Iowa.

You certainly will be hearing more from these individuals as you come across them in various Federation events, and we will definitely be celebrating them at the national convention when we come to the end of their program. One of the things that these fifteen individuals are doing is helping shape what the future program implementation looks like. I am pleased to report that leadership development continues to be alive and well, and I cannot think of anything better to celebrate the legacy of Kenneth Jernigan than continuing to invest in new leaders in the organization.

Leadership happens in many ways. In September, we had fourteen of our NFB Teachers of Tomorrow participants for the 2023-2024 school year. We have educators from Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington state participating. These are all teachers working with blind students who are early in their career. We are giving them a positive understanding of blindness through real engagement with blind people through this intensive program. If that is one of your affiliates, please make sure you meet these teachers, get to know them and bring them into the organized blind movement. Learn more about our 2023-2024 cohort here.

Now, we are in the last quarter of the year, it is a very significant time for the Federation in terms of fundraising, and we have launched a matching gift opportunity. Thanks to a generous gift from HumanWare, every dollar contributed between October 1 and December 31, 2023 will be matched up to $50,000! Learn more and donate here.

The giving is important because it enables us to do a lot of powerful things, and we've been working on those powerful things in the month of September. I am really happy to announce that on Thursday, September 28, the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act was introduced in both the House and Senate! In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by our long-time supporters Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and original sponsors Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Congratulations to Massachusetts. The Senate Bill number is S. 2984.

In the House, the bill was sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, with Representative Pete Sessions of Texas as an original cosponsor. I know Federationists appreciate anytime that we can, like in this case, have a bipartisan introduction to the bill, it makes a great difference. In the House, the House bill number is H.R. 5813. This is a good, good excuse for you to email your members of Congress, get on the phone with them, try to get a meeting, get their attention and let them know we have talked to them about the bill before, and that the bills are now introduced. We have bills that they can now cosponsor. So now is the time to prove it, sign up, and get on board. Please, push this bill. It is an important time to do it, and we need the momentum. One reason we need the momentum is because we are not confident that other means of getting access through the government is going to happen.

In August, the Department of Justice published a notice of proposed rulemaking related to regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to Title II of the ADA, specifically around website and mobile applications.

We put a team together of staff, [NFB] members and partners of ours and spent literally weeks poring through the 200 pages of the NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] and literally dozens of questions that needed answers in the NPRM. We submitted our comprehensive remarks on the NPRM, and they are published on our website now. We submitted our comments on September 19 with the hope that members and others would know what we had said and help to amplify the message. I know many have already. However, that window is closed now. We appreciate all those that were able to submit comments.

The shorthand version of the comments was, it is extremely disappointing. We have waited over a decade for the Department of Justice to propose regulations. Instead of strengthening, the idea that was advanced in the NPRM was to add seven new exceptions to the Americans with Disabilities Act. It may come as no surprise that the position of the National Federation of the Blind is to absolutely 100 percent reject all seven proposed new exceptions. They are not needed. We have a good law in place that already allows two very notable exceptions. Keep in mind, these seven exceptions were offered to government websites! Imagine what might be offered to corporate America in the future. We cannot have this stand.

I am going to let you know that although that message is a little bit disappointing, stay tuned. We are going to keep the pressure on, and we are thinking about doing some other things because in the next 90 days plus, the Department of Justice will be sorting through all this with the hope of putting out a final rule sometime late next year before the end of the administration, which is kind of their timeline.

We are going to let them know in every way that we can find beyond our comments that blind Americans are concerned about this, so we will need to call on you to come out to do various activities and send letters. We are working on our strategy. But, just be ready because we cannot settle for more exceptions to our civil rights, especially when it comes to access to the digital age.

It is October now, and it is going to be an exciting month of activities for Blind Equality Achievement Month—and many affiliate conventions. I wish I could be there to participate in your fun and interesting events. I appreciate what you are doing to spread the awareness of the capacity of blind people every day.

Access the full October Presidential Release here.