by Daniel B. Frye
The 2009 Washington Seminar, our thirty-seventh annual midwinter legislative event, occurred only three weeks after the inauguration of Barack Obama. The enthusiasm and energy of the over five hundred Federationists who filled the Columbia and Discovery ballrooms in the Holiday Inn Capitol--our traditional headquarters hotel--were palpable. The crowd was buoyed by the celebratory air of a new administration, a welcome change in leadership at the U.S. Department of Education, and the hopeful prospect that our legislative priorities for 2009 would be favorably received by a new Congress and executive.
President Maurer called the gathering to order at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 8, a full week later than usual. The old tradition, though, of starting the Washington Seminar on Sunday evening was resurrected this year, after several years of beginning on Monday night. Among the many Federationists present to educate the 111th Congress were fourteen members of the NFB board of directors and representatives from forty-eight of our affiliates.
Everyone was given a red and white 2009 NFB in D.C. button to wear that said, "Ask me about Braille." The word “Braille” was written using the Braille dots for “Brl,” the contraction for Braille, so as to be a conversation starter. In addition to the several legislative issues addressed, our efforts surrounding the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille dominated our internal discussions in Washington this year.
But, even before the great gathering-in meeting occurred, an entire weekend full of pre-Washington Seminar programs and activities had already happened. Here is a partial list of these events:
During the great gathering-in meeting, NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder reviewed several components of our national Braille Readers are Leaders (BRL) campaign. He invited everybody to attend the launch of the Louis Braille Commemorative Bicentennial Silver Dollar at the National Center on Thursday, March 26, 2009. Those unable to attend the launch were urged to visit <www.braille.org> to remain current on the NFB's BRL initiative throughout the year. Fred also urged Federationists not otherwise scheduled to be on Capitol Hill to attend an international symposium on Braille, jointly sponsored by the NFB, the World Bank, and others, at the U.S. headquarters of the World Bank on Tuesday, February 10. Fred was the keynote speaker for this international conference, and it was convenient and fortunate that this event coincided with our 2009 Washington Seminar.
President Maurer announced that the NFB has become a nationwide distributor of the knfbReader Mobile. NFB Board Member and KNFB Reading Technology, Inc., Vice President for Business Development James Gashel demonstrated the newest features of this revolutionary reading machine to Washington Seminar participants. Longtime Federationist and World Trade Center survivor Michael Hingson was introduced as the one who will coordinate our national sales effort. Interested people can learn more about the knfbReader Mobile by contacting him at (888) 965-9191 or through the Internet at <http://knfbreader.michaelhingson.com>.
John Paré, NFB executive director for strategic initiatives, along with Jim McCarthy and Jesse Hartle, NFB government program specialists, then briefed the audience on our three legislative priorities for this year: reintroducing and promoting H.R. 734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, to members of Congress; floating the concept of developing an accessible technology bill of rights; and unveiling H.R. 886, new legislation to enhance work incentives for blind recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance. Our legislative fact sheets, providing more detail on these initiatives, are printed elsewhere in this issue. Federationists blanketed Capitol Hill on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to discuss these issues with every member of the House and Senate and their staffs.
Now that we have returned home from Washington, the hard work begins. We must follow up with the staffers responsible for the issues we discussed. We must urge that our U.S. Representatives cosponsor H.R. 734 and H.R. 886. We must remain at the ready to follow any instructions our national legislative staff may give at a moment's notice so that the collective power of the NFB can continue to influence public policy for blind people in America. We must not let the momentum started at the 2009 Washington Seminar subside; our work has just begun.