2021 Presidential Report

2021 Presidential Report
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
At the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
Online (Baltimore, Maryland)
July 9, 2021

During the past year, the depth of our determination and the power of our bond in the organized blind movement has been tested. Going back to our founding in 1940, you will find no year like the one through which we’ve persisted. Social distancing protocols and considerable uncertainty forced us to suspend the hundreds of in-person meetings, conventions, and community outreach events that typically represent our annual effort to organize and strengthen our movement. But the blind of America have not retreated from our mission, nor have we slowed the pace of our progress. Instead, we have transformed our movement—creating new ways to organize and discovering strength in the new dimensions of our march together. While the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant social and economic dynamics have tested our movement, the record will show we remain stronger together as blind people. We have encountered many unexpected challenges, but we have responded with love, hope, and determination. We have fulfilled our pledge to stay together to transform dreams into reality. We are the National Federation of the Blind. 

Throughout the pandemic, the advocacy work of the Federation has been essential for connecting blind people to resources and protecting them against unequal treatment. At the beginning, the availability of public health information, accessibility of testing sites, and adequacy of economic relief were our focus. Our efforts later expanded into equal access to vaccinations. Many Federation members reported that the websites used to register and schedule appointments for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations were inaccessible. While access barriers on websites are something that blind people must overcome daily, issues on these sites put blind people at greater risk for transmitting and suffering the effects of this deadly virus. We have raised this concern with the relevant federal officials and have kept it front and center even through the transition of presidential administrations. Additionally, we raised our concerns with three of the leading entities that partnered with states and local jurisdictions to offer COVID vaccinations. Albertsons, Zocdoc, and Curative have all responded positively, and we are now in negotiations to get their vaccination and testing websites made fully accessible on rapid timelines. We expect these relationships to cause positive transformations in future healthcare sites established by these companies.  

This year, the popular media has covered the importance of vaccine trials in proving the efficacy of proposed cures. The media has not covered the fact that individuals are often left out of these trials simply because they are blind. One example is Chris Sabine, who is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. Mr. Sabine sought to participate in a COVID vaccination trial at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but he was initially denied simply because of his blindness. The Federation and Mr. Sabine jointly filed a complaint with the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. As a part of the complaint’s resolution, Mr. Sabine negotiated a training on blindness and best practices for preventing discrimination, which took place at the hospital on Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Together, we transformed denial into education to inoculate against discrimination, and we hope that only one shot is required. 

Many schools and testing entities have responded to COVID-19 by permitting participation using remote technology. The inaccessibility of these technologies has been a significant problem for blind students and blind parents. Consider a blind second-grader in Berkeley, California, who we will call KW. He loves to dance, learn about astronomy, build with Lego bricks, and read Braille. KW independently participates in classroom activities using access technology and refreshable Braille. However, his equal participation was significantly diminished by the accessibility barriers in the technologies of his virtual classroom, including Seesaw (a learning management system), Epic Books (an online library), Zearn and Prodigy (systems for math instruction), and Loom (a video player). We will not tolerate second-class education for our blind youth. On behalf of KW and his parents, the National Federation of the Blind has begun negotiations with the technology providers to ensure that digital K-12 learning technology is an enhancement to educational opportunity rather than a barrier. Further, we are working closely with the school district to achieve a model technology procurement policy that prioritizes accessibility. As with all our efforts, the goal is for this policy to serve as a model for school districts across the nation. We are transforming America’s educational system to empower rather than exclude our blind youth.  

Many jobs in the American economy have been transformed during the pandemic. However, blind entrepreneurs operating under the Randolph-Sheppard Program in federal and state government facilities have been especially disadvantaged. Beginning in March 2020, our governmental affairs staff worked closely with our National Association of Blind Merchants (NABM) to seek targeted relief for blind small business operators across the country. Unlike other small businesses that were able to make transformations in their business models to bring in some income, blind people in this program had no access to their businesses, their inventories, or their customers due to government facility closures. For blind business owners, the New Year’s celebration came a few days early as on December 27, 2020, the president signed an act authorizing a one-time, twenty-million-dollar emergency relief and restoration grant program to offset losses of blind vendors resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. We aggressively followed through to ensure that the United States Department of Education gave appropriate guidance to state licensing agencies, and by the early spring of 2021, blind business owners were finally receiving the financial support they needed. Once again, the National Federation of the Blind has transformed difficult circumstances into greater hope and opportunity for the blind. 

The American democracy places a high value on the ability of individuals to cast an independent and private vote in elections. Yet our nation has not come to a day when all blind people have equal access to the full process of registering, independently marking a ballot, and privately casting their final vote. Thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, we are making steady progress toward that day, and we can count the last year as a significant milestone in advancing toward our goal. 

In the run-up to the 2020 federal elections, as jurisdictions expanded absentee voting because of the pandemic, we found that most states failed to make their absentee ballots accessible despite the Federation’s prior legal victories and guidance. We engaged election officials, wrote letters, published op-eds, or filed lawsuits—or some combination of these—in at least nineteen states, including Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In most cases, the state, by settlement or under pressure from the court, either contracted with a remote accessible vote-by-mail system or made PDF absentee ballots accessible for the 2020 election. Whenever possible, our national organization led a coordinated effort including local affiliates, individual Federation members, and other interested organizations, such as protection and advocacy groups. These collaborative efforts allowed us to provide both the legal expertise and arguments and the real-world experiences of blind people to help educate the judges and the state officials on the importance of accessibility. As a direct result of the Federation’s efforts in these cases alone, over eleven thousand blind people and people with print disabilities were able to vote absentee in the 2020 presidential election—a vote they would have otherwise been denied or had to risk exposure to the virus to cast. 

Through our Help America Vote Act work, we continue to educate elections officials, protection and advocacy personnel, and voting system manufacturers on nonvisual access issues. Starting with the 2008 presidential elections, the National Federation of the Blind has offered a survey to capture data on the experience of blind voters every four years. Among those completing our 2020 blind voter survey, 64 percent voted in person at a local polling place while 36 percent voted absentee. While the growing experience of blind voters using remote accessible voting systems is improving privacy and independence, we cannot ignore the importance of equal access at in-person polling places. 

One success from this past year is the resolution of a lawsuit against the Maryland Board of Elections for their failure to protect the right of blind people to a private and independent vote at the polls. After defeating the Board’s motion to dismiss the case, we came to a mutual agreement on a statewide plan to increase the use of accessible ballot marking devices and poll workers’ familiarity with them. The Board also agreed to pay our attorneys’ fees and costs. No matter how often the State of Maryland, or any other state for that matter, puts barriers in our way, we will transform them into equality for the blind. 

In 2020, we hosted our first-ever virtual national convention, where ten thousand individuals engaged in the seminars, workshops, exhibits, and business sessions of our organization. We were disappointed that the uncertainty of the pandemic continued into the fall, but we knew without doubt that the blind would show up to greet the 117th Congress in the winter. On February 8, 2021, we gathered for our first virtual Washington Seminar. With more than four hundred meetings engaging more blind people than ever before, we have again made the priorities of the organized blind movement clear, and we have laid the groundwork for years of work ahead. On March 1, 2021, we celebrated the date after which all hybrid and electric vehicles must be manufactured to meet the minimum sound standards established by the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which had been a priority of our Washington Seminar more than a decade earlier. When we come to the halls of power, we know that transforming our priorities into reality takes time, energy, and lots of follow through—even after the heavy lift of getting a bill signed into law. We do not give up until we have passed the final milestone.  

The most persistent example of our tenacity is our quest to eliminate Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which permits unequal and substandard pay for people with disabilities—a quest that began at our founding in November 1940. I am proud to report that we are getting closer to this goal every day. While we continue to build support for the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act in Congress, an increasing number of states, agencies, and organizations are adding their support to the message we have shared since 1940. In September 2020, the United States Commission on Civil Rights released a strong report on the intersection of civil rights and employment of people with disabilities. In October 2020, the National Council on Disability released a similar report on the unintended consequences of the AbilityOne program and Section 14(c). Both of these significant reports clearly call for the repeal of Section 14(c). Most surprisingly, an April 2021 consensus letter to Congressional leaders co-signed by National Industries for the Blind, the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind, and Source America marks a significant milestone in our quest. For the first time ever, these entities acknowledged and affirmed the long-standing demand of disability advocates to eliminate special wage certificates. One simple sentence in the letter says it all: “We agree.” I will let you decide for yourself why this 2021 declaration is surprising. We are not done, and we will not take the pressure off until we transform the laws of the nation to eliminate unequal treatment of people with disabilities. A full report of the work of our Advocacy and Policy staff will be given later in this convention. 

Similarly, the Amazon corporation has, once again, learned that the organized blind movement does not quit. Last year I reported that we filed several complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of five blind people who were hired at Amazon fulfillment centers, only to be placed on unpaid leave as early as their first day. This was not because they failed a background check or drug test or due to their violation of company policy. They were simply blind. It puts a smile on my face to report that we have delivered a settlement with Amazon that will open new opportunities for the blind in its growing number of fulfillment centers. Beginning this month, Amazon has agreed to adopt technology and accommodation solutions to make many fulfillment-center jobs accessible, to work with us to identify accessibility innovations, to provide online training internally on accommodating blind employees, and to conduct outreach to the blind community on these efforts. The company also reinstated and accommodated the four individuals who still wanted to work in Amazon warehouses, including backdating their benefits to their original start dates.  

Many blind people know the pain of being rejected for a position before an application is even submitted to an employer. The National Federation of the Blind is prepared to fight against the discriminatory actions based on blindness that bar us from the equal opportunity to compete for positions. One example is our filing of a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination on behalf of Roger Sullivan regarding discriminatory hiring practices by National Telecommuting Institute (NTI). Specifically, NTI tells applicants that it cannot accommodate individuals who use tools such as JAWS, magnification greater than 2X, voice-recognition software, or relay services. We will not allow employment opportunities to be denied to individuals who request these accommodations, and we will continue to transform the employment prospects for the blind. 

Some of the most damaging discrimination comes when we have work that we are passionate about, but we are forced to endure the stress of harassment and low expectations from our supervisors. We have the security of knowing that the National Federation of the Blind continues to use the force of law to raise expectations. In a proceeding before the EEOC, we fought hard against the Department of the Army on behalf of a blind childcare worker, Olivia Chamberlain, who had faced discrimination, harassment, denial of accommodations, and retaliation because of her blindness. Despite her successful record as a childcare worker for years, Ms. Chamberlain’s supervisor repeatedly made offensive remarks about her disability, demanded a list of job tasks that Ms. Chamberlain could not perform, and disciplined her when she defended her rights. The agency intentionally delayed acting on her accommodation requests for ten months and demanded unnecessary medical information. Finally, even after agreeing to some accommodations, they failed to follow through. With the transformational support of our movement, we reached a settlement agreement for Ms. Chamberlain that secured the accommodations she was entitled to and that promised the dignified treatment she deserved. The agreement also provided her with the job transfer that she wanted—one more example of the power of our movement and the strength of our togetherness. 

We continue our work to ensure that support programs administered by federal, state, and local governments provide meaningful access to blind people. Christopher Meyer is a Federation member from Indiana. In 2017 he had his Indiana Medicaid terminated because he had not responded to a print mailing telling him that he needed to submit additional information to maintain his eligibility. The print letter was delivered despite his prior request that all correspondence be sent in Braille. Even if he had known about the request, Christopher would have needed to overcome the inaccessibility of the online Indiana benefits portal. On behalf of Christopher, his sister Sarah, and the National Federation of the Blind, we filed suit against the state to secure equal access. The court issued an order finding that the state’s websites are part of their programs and activities, and that the failure to offer accessible programs violates federal disability rights law. In May, we finalized a comprehensive settlement agreement in this case that will ensure that Christopher, Sarah, and all other blind Hoosiers will be given their choice of alternative formats for print communications from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, the Division of Family Resources, and their contractors. Those agencies will also achieve and maintain the accessibility of their websites and benefits portal. 

In North Carolina we found that UNC Health Care and its affiliate, Nash General Hospital, failed to provide blind patients with accessible copies of critical documents such as consent-to-treatment forms, after-visit care summaries, and medical bills. We wrote to UNC Health and asked to work collaboratively on a solution. UNC Health declined our offer, so we went to the courts. In November 2020, we reached a $150,000 settlement with Nash General Hospital, while continuing our legal battle with UNC Health, which includes affiliated medical providers across North Carolina. Both sides have now moved for summary judgment, and we are awaiting a decision. We hope this case will send a message to healthcare providers throughout the country that they must plan for the timely and consistent provision of documents in accessible formats to blind patients. 

Jamal Mazrui is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and a retired federal employee who received health insurance benefits through Blue Cross Blue Shield’s (BCBS) Federal Employee Program. For years, he has been unable to access information about his benefits because the BCBS program’s website was inaccessible. Thanks to a transformational lawsuit filed by the Federation, federal employees, retirees, and their families will now be able to fully access all insurance benefit information that is on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) health benefits website. Significantly, under the settlement OPM will require all of its insurance carriers to make their federal employee benefits websites and apps fully accessible. BCBS will be bound by the OPM requirements. We will not tolerate being prevented from accessing the benefits and services we are entitled to receive, and we celebrate our Federation family members who have taken courageous steps to transform their frustrations into effective communications for the blind. 

The National Federation of the Blind continues to lead the way in ensuring equal access to self-service kiosk technologies, which have grown in popularity during the pandemic. Two recent examples come from California. When the California Department of Motor Vehicles implemented new self-service kiosks in local communities, they apparently assumed blind people had no need to pay their car registration and print registration tags. However, we know that while blind people are not legally permitted to drive, we often own vehicles for our family, employment, and even sometimes Federation business. California Federation members who had a need to use these machines found that the DMV kiosks, unlike ATMs and other machines they had encountered, were not independently usable through nonvisual access. With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, a group of Federation members entered into structured negotiations with the California DMV and the kiosk manufacturer, Intellectual Technology Inc., (ITI) to reach a resolution announced earlier this year. As a result, ITI has now added Braille labels, tactile controls, speech output through a headphone jack, and other accessibility features to its kiosks. ITI will continue consulting with the National Federation of the Blind, and one of its machines can be found at our International Braille and Technology Center in Baltimore. As a national contractor with a presence in many states, ITI is now positioned to lead the market on accessible government self-service technology. 

While visiting McDonalds’ locations in California, Federation members Brian Buhrow, Juanita Herrera, and Santiago Hernandez discovered new self-service kiosk technology was being installed without features that would enable blind people to independently use these machines. They reported their experience to our national office, we reached out to McDonald’s, and the company has worked collaboratively with us to develop a solution. McDonald’s USA’s company-owned restaurants will implement enhancements to existing accessibility features by December 31, 2021. The enhancements include screen-reading software, tactile keypads, and the ability for customers to connect their headphones to the kiosk. The enhancements will be incorporated into 100 percent of existing kiosks in California and 25 percent of existing kiosks in each company-owned restaurant in other states. McDonald’s will also incorporate these upgrades into all kiosks that are installed in any of their US locations after July 1, 2021, including new kiosks available to franchised locations. We commend McDonald’s for their collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind to promote inclusivity and access. While there are those who will say that McDonald’s French fries are what is truly transformative, we are loving the transformation that comes from discovering greater accessibility across the nation through partnership with the organized blind movement. 

Let us not forget that, as with work, we are also artificially kept out of play, solely due to our blindness. Despite numerous blind contestants succeeding on the game show Jeopardy!, one of our members recently discovered that the show’s updated online contestant application test was inaccessible to those using screen-access software. And the answer to this non-trivial discrimination: What is the National Federation of the Blind? We reached a settlement with Jeopardy! to make its online application test accessible immediately; to provide an immediate accommodation to allow our member, James Fetter, to take the test; and to pay attorneys’ fees and damages. Jeopardy! contestants beware, the organized blind movement is here to play.  

A strong value in our movement as blind people is taking the responsibility to build our own future together. One way we do that is through the development of innovative programs that we coordinate from the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. Though the building has only had a small core of our staff working onsite during the past year, the programs have continued to grow throughout the nation. 

While schools across the country were shuttered and moved to virtual learning platforms, our blind students needed the support of blind mentors more than ever before. Our pre-employment transition services, known as the National Federation of the Blind Career Mentoring Program, pivoted from in-person retreats to high-quality, two-hour Zoom meetings held three times a month. We developed twenty-eight virtual, interactive modules delivering 165 student participant hours to more than fifty students from Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, and Nebraska. The virtual modules covered a broad range of topics including college preparation, advocacy skills, employment readiness, leadership development, goal setting, nonvisual techniques, and learning-through-service—or what we refer to as giving back. We continued to broaden the network of mentors available to our program mentees through the Federation family. We will now begin resuming in-person gatherings for which there is no true substitute. However, we expect the innovations of the past year to positively transform our mentoring resources in the future.  

This summer we are expanding upon the innovative efforts we made in 2020 to deliver our NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy directly to the homes of families using the Zoom platform. In the NFB BELL In-Home Edition, we provide our Braille learners with a variety of hands-on materials, daily online instruction and support from skilled teachers of blind students, as well as mentoring from local blind adult role models. In the summer of 2020, we worked with 265 blind students. Each student received a Braille resource box weighing seven pounds. For the summer of 2021, we have divided the curriculum into three separate tracks—beginner, intermediate, and advanced—to facilitate more effective instruction based upon individual skill level. In addition, we have expanded the resources sent to blind students. Depending on which track a student is assigned to, they will receive a resource kit weighing eleven, sixteen, or nineteen pounds. The program also includes social opportunities to build relationships with peers across the country. Additional supports were added to the 2021 program to better serve blind students with a variety of additional disabilities, including students who are deafblind. We have also enhanced our training for mentors and instructors through a partnership with the Consent Academy. Eighty-six blind students participated in our first academy last month, and we have additional academies scheduled for July and August. Through our NFB BELL In-Home Edition, we are transforming the possibilities for the future. Literacy, independence, and the network of the National Federation of the Blind are gifts that will continue to give opportunities to these students throughout their lifetime. 

Our efforts to expand the possibilities for the blind in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) have continued despite the pandemic. Last fall we converted our plans to host in-person seminars in state affiliates to a national virtual format. In October and November 2020, the NFB STEM2U program engaged 102 blind students from across the country in STEAM instructional sessions in which participants were divided into tracks based on their age and experience. Prior to the program, students were sent materials to facilitate the development of spatial understanding including tangram puzzles, snap cubes, tactile graphics, and origami paper and instructions. During the program, students developed the requisite language to help each other understand unfamiliar spatial concepts and had the opportunity to receive authentic instruction in nonvisual exploration, which is rarely experienced in public school classrooms. After the program, students were sent additional materials and continue to have access to the mentoring network within the National Federation of the Blind. Our experience with this program helped to inform our virtual implementation of our NFB Engineering Quotient (EQ) program, which began this week and continues through July 30, 2021. 

This year's NFB EQ program combines best practices from online learning and traditional correspondence courses to facilitate accessible and equitable digital STEAM learning opportunities. Through synchronous and asynchronous activities, our students will develop and utilize their spatial thinking skills. Research has demonstrated that paper folding and drawing are two types of activities that help build spatial thinking abilities. So, NFB EQ activities will revolve around paper folding and technical drawing. The most exciting transformation is that our blind students, as one of their final learning outcomes, will be creating spatial thinking learning resources and opportunities for our community. 

We remain committed to mentoring educators and other professionals in the blindness field. Earlier this year we selected twenty-two outstanding up-and-coming teachers of blind students for the 2021 NFB Teachers of Tomorrow cohort. This program provides monthly enrichment and mentoring from NFB members who have an educational background. Our goal is to build a community of practice for these professionals through the National Federation of the Blind. We expect these educators to be part of our transformational work to raise expectations for the blind, and we hope that many of them will teach in future NFB programs. 

Through our Center for Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce, we bring the authentic expertise of blind people to the intersection of technological innovations. With support from the State of Maryland, we offer intensive accessibility training seminars each month. In addition, our technology staff hosted a number of larger events, such as our Inclusive Publishing Conference, Smart Cities Summit, Educational Technology Seminar for State Superintendents, and mobile-app-development seminars for iOS and Android. As we begin to consider the next phase of our advocacy work within the technology revolution, we will be considering what the future of our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind will be. Our physical space in Baltimore, as well as the advocacy, technical assistance, and training we provide, will evolve to support the broader priorities of our movement and to advance our leadership in the field. 

Often the Federation’s partners bring us interesting opportunities to make the capacity of blind people a meaningful conversation in new places. For example, Pinna is a children’s app with podcasts, audio books, and music. The company has invited our help to improve the accessibility of their platform so that the content can benefit all families. Even more exciting is our consultation on the Pinna podcast Opal Watson Private Eye. Opal is a curious, brave, and persistent eleven year old with a thriving mystery-solving business. Opal also happens to be blind. Fortunately, Pinna has gotten to know the Federation and can raise Opal with a growing understanding of our philosophy. Similarly, our friends at Mattel asked us to support their inclusion of Helen Keller in their Barbie® Inspiring Women™ Series. In May the doll was publically released holding a miniature Braille book and the packaging included readable Braille. We have much more we want to do related to positive portrayals of blind people and with accessible packaging in the future.  

We continue to investigate partnerships that pursue innovative ways of making visual images and cultural institutions more available to the blind in authentically nonvisual ways. 3DPhotoWorks is one of our longest-standing partners in this area. In January, together our organizations launched a tactile images partnership that leverages the tremendous resources and brand of Getty Images. The partnership allows us to work collaboratively with museums and others to potentially make any of the approximately twenty-five million Getty Images available in tactile form in institutions and for traveling exhibits. Part of our interest in innovative approaches for inclusion and accessibility is to spark our imagination for what the experience could be at a future civil rights museum for the blind. Transformation comes through thousands of partnership connections, whether they are monthly contributions from non-blind donors who support our mission, the tireless efforts of marchers in our movement, or the spirited amplification of our message around the world. We are stronger together. 

The members of the National Federation of the Blind are the heartbeat of our transformation. Despite the pandemic, after our last convention we onboarded over eight hundred new members through our welcoming process. Our Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion continues to advise on the complexities of examining and expanding diversity and eliminating barriers to full participation within our movement. This spring we held a training for leaders on diversity, and six hundred members participated in our first diversity and inclusion survey. We confirmed that we have more work to do and that we need better strategies for planning and measuring that work. Later this year, we will be building a strategic plan for our diversity and inclusion work to make it more effective, more engaging, and more clearly aligned to our goal of increased participation by a more diverse range of blind people in order to move our Federation forward.  

During the past year, our online meetings helped us recognize we are not adequately hearing from our members who do not have equal access to the internet. This spring we piloted a new telephone information system for gathering survey data that leverages technologies previously built to support our NFB-NEWSLINE® program. Over 250 people completed survey responses during the pilot phase, allowing us to prove the effectiveness of the system. We will be adding enhancements to the system and expect that it will open new partnership opportunities for us.  

In 2018, the Federation’s Board of Directors established a consolidated Code of Conduct for members of the organization. Since that time, our members have continued to engage in meaningful conversations about the Code, how we implement it, and how our procedures for addressing misconduct could be better. The members of this organization must be the decision makers about where we go from here. I believe that the work we are doing is transformative, healing, and will make all of us stronger. You should judge for yourself and determine what our future will be. 

In January of this year, we announced a partnership with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. We have worked with RAINN to better understand the complexities of sexual misconduct within our community, including providing level-setting training to 745 leaders across the organization. RAINN has also performed a climate assessment to give us better data about the experiences and perceptions of our membership around sexual misconduct, as well as to better understand the existing barriers to reporting within the organization. The results from the RAINN climate survey were posted to our website last week, and the data will serve as a baseline to measure progress toward a safer Federation in the future. Finally, RAINN has undertaken an extensive review of our Code and existing procedures, conducted meetings with key leaders and workshops with a broad cross-section of members, and has prepared detailed recommendations for future response systems. The recommendations were delivered to our board of directors just days before this convention and will be considered in the coming months.  

In parallel with the RAINN partnership, I appointed six active members of the Federation who are survivors of sexual misconduct or abuse to serve on a short-term task force to steer improvements in our movement. They were charged with only one task: to bring whatever recommendations they felt would improve our response to misconduct, prioritize support of blind people, and build the organization. We have already implemented a number of improvements in our organization as a result of those recommendations. Our progress will be forever shaped by the work of Marci Carpenter, Cheryl Fields, Sarah Meyer, Daphne Mitchell, Briley O’Connor, and Kathryn Webster. We will receive a report from these leaders later in this convention. We offer them our deepest gratitude for the transformational work they have done to make the phrase “safe in the Federation” carry more meaning than ever before. 

On January 6, 2021, the NFB Board of Directors established a Special Committee to oversee and direct an internal investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct by NFB members, participants, or staff at NFB or NFB-affiliated events or facilities, including its affiliated training centers and its state affiliates—as well as the adequacy of the response to such allegations. Our goal was to give our elected leaders as much clear insight as possible about our past to strongly inform improvements for our future. Days before this convention, the board of directors made the full interim report of the special committee publicly available on our website as part of our commitment to transparency in this work. Reconciling the past with our expectations today and where we want our movement to go tomorrow is painful, challenging, and emotional work. If we continue to believe in each other, if we continue to work together, and if we stay grounded in the truth that our movement is bigger than any one of us, we will emerge from our uncertainty to a stronger and safer movement in the future. We are doing what we must do to honor the bond of faith we share in our movement. “Federation safe” means transforming our movement in ways that allow all of us to move forward, together.  

There are more transformational activities that we have undertaken during the past year that time does not permit me to share. Those I have shared are representative of thousands of other individual stories of blind people who have participated in and been impacted by our progress together. It has been my deepest honor to be a part of this movement for twenty-five years and to be elected to lead us for the past seven. Despite my best efforts to always do what I felt was right for the people of this movement when confronted with an issue, upon reflection I recognize that I have sometimes been imperfect. I regret that I cannot promise you that my future leadership will be perfect. However, I can promise you that I have and always will continue to listen to and learn from the members of this movement. My compass is what I understand to be in the best interest of blind people. I trust you to judge my actions as well as my heart and commitment. This movement transformed my life from a past limited by low expectations, to today where I have the joy and challenge of undertaking the work detailed in this report with each of you. I am here because you call me to serve. I will never ask of you to do anything that I am not prepared to do myself. I stay here to contribute to our collective advancement because of the love I have for the courage, commitment, and strength that lives in each of the members of this movement. I trust the people of this movement, and I cherish the trust you place in me. These accomplishments only happen because we work together. We are stronger together. We are smarter together. We are safer together. We are unstoppable together. 

My Federation family, this is my report for 2021. This is our progress in an uncertain year. This is our bond as a movement. This is the commitment we make together, with love, hope, and determination, to transform dreams into reality.