After a lively election with several contested positions, the following were elected to the board: president, Michael Freeman (WA); first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); second vice president, Sandi Ryan (IA); secretary, Marcey Gonzales, (TX); treasurer, Joy Stigile (CA); board members, Jean Brown (IN), Debbie Wunder (MO), Jonathan Franks (TX), and Ruby Polk (MO).
The following were elected to serve two-year terms expiring at the 2016 Convention: president, Cheryl Echevarria (NY); vice president, Amy Baron (MN); secretary, Margo Downey (NY); treasurer, Glenda Farnum (OK); and board members, Jemal Powell (IL), John TeBockhorst (MN), and Steve Hastalis (IL).
The division met during convention on July 3. The meeting began with a moment to remember those who were no longer with us and those who were ill and forced to remain at home, including our vice president, Maurice Shackelford. He was ill and had been in the hospital prior to convention, but he called during the meeting to let us know he was on the mend and back at home. Officers were introduced, and elections were held, the results of which are found above.
The secretary’s and treasurer’s reports were read, and there was discussion about the division’s first benefit fundraiser—a trip to Utah. The event raised $1,600, leading the division to take action.
The division’s contributions to the SUN, Jernigan, tenBroek, White Cane, and Imagination funds were all increased, and the division also chose to start a PAC plan.
A number of guest speakers addressed our division. First was Mark Riccobono, who spoke about independence, fighting for accessible travel, and the obstacles to living the life we want with the technologies available. One of those obstacles is inaccessible websites run by the airlines. Despite the fact that Southwest was a sponsor of the 2012 Convention, the website for the airline is not accessible for the blind, though the NFB continues to work with it to improve this situation.
The next speaker was Patrick Keyes, admissions coordinator, National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service, located in Buffalo, NY. He spoke about the Statler’s educational program and career placement services. The Statler’s program has an 85 percent placement rate after graduation and has matched graduates with jobs in such companies as Sheraton, Marriott, Disney, and even many of the cruise lines. Other graduates have gone on to become travel agents, either independently or with a host agency.
The next two speakers made a joint presentation because of the connected nature of the work their companies do. Andrew Garnett, president and CEO of the Special Needs Group and Cathy Vazquez, access officer manager, Norwegian Cruise Lines, spoke about the nature of their companies and how they relate to the NFB. The Special Needs Group not only provides guide or service dog relief boxes for all major cruise lines except European River Cruises, the company also Brailles menus for Norwegian Cruise Lines and will be doing Braille signs for ships as they come in for service or into dry dock. The Special Needs Group also works with travel professionals to provide many other accommodations while you travel, including wheelchairs (beach-capable chairs), scooters, walkers of all kinds, oxygen, specialty baby foods, and over one thousand other items. The Special Needs Group arranges to have these accommodations waiting for you at the cruise ship or resort and picks them up after you leave.
Cathy Vazquez wanted to let us know just how much had changed in the years since the NFB had a lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Lines. Not only has the company implemented Braille throughout its ships, with the assistance of the Special Needs Group’s services, but Norwegian is also the only cruise line to have an access officer on every ship. After boarding, one meets with the access officer for an introduction which includes a brief orientation to the ship, a meeting with some of the crew, and lifeboat drills or other hands-on services to make the cruise experience safer and more enjoyable.
The division also discussed the need for members to be involved year-round, not just at convention. We try to meet monthly by teleconference, with details posted on our talk list. To post a message to all the list members, email <[email protected]>, or to view prior postings go to <http://nfbnet.org/pipermail/travelandtourism_nfbnet.org/>. You can also follow us on Twitter at <https://twitter.com/TravelandTouri1>, or on Facebook at <https://www.facebook .com/NFB-Travel-and-Tourism-Division>. Video of our meeting and most of convention can be found on our website on the convention page at <http://nfbtravel.org/National_Convention.php>.
Elected at the association’s annual meeting during convention were Ivan Weich, president; John Halverson, vice president; Donald Christie, secretary; and Marcus Soulsby, treasurer.
The 2014 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science was held on Thursday, July 3. Although all of the program items were interesting, there are three noteworthy items that I would like to mention here.
The group heard about a joint effort conducted by AT&T and a company called LivePerson to develop and implement a web-based text chat application that would be fully accessible to everyone—including the blind—through a variety of platforms (e.g., Windows computer, mobile phone, etc.). Anyone who has ever had to engage in an online chat session through the web knows that this can be particularly vexing for someone using screen access technology; often the blind user decides to abandon the effort altogether in favor of the more simple phone call. Through its Corporate Accessibility Technology Office (CATO), AT&T has been working with LivePerson on an accessible chat interface. We were extremely pleased to hear a live demonstration of how this new accessible interface works, and we were told that within the next nine months or so this interface would be deployed throughout the many web-based chat interfaces that are currently active within the AT&T organization.
The presentation by Tracy Soforenko, a blind project manager who works for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, captured a lot of interest. I had several people come to me after the meeting asking how they could contact Tracy to discuss the techniques he uses to perform his job. One person told me that he admired Tracy's "can-do" attitude and his recognition that it was his responsibility to ensure that he was performing the quality work that his employer expected of him.
We heard from a company called Discover Technologies. This company has developed an enterprise package which is designed to make Microsoft SharePoint more usable to nonvisual users. What was not clear from this presentation was whether large companies who are already using SharePoint would offer resistance to a proposal requiring an accessibility solution to be installed onto a corporate server.
In closing, let me say that a recording of our meeting was made and is available to anyone who sends $5 to our treasurer, Susie Stanzel. Anyone who wants to be provided with the recording should contact me directly, by email at <[email protected]> or via cell phone at (515) 306-1654.
This year the Job Fair had twenty-three employers in attendance, twice as many as last year. Through the efforts of Mrs. Jernigan, the Rosen Hotels and Resorts participated, and Mark Riccobono made a contact that was developed and brought LEGOLAND Florida to the event. Oracle brought its diversity team, and one of its members presented at the seminar as well. The Florida Division of Blind Services was present, and they are following up with some of the other employers, especially LEGOLAND, which has a completely accessible customer service program. A number of other agencies were present, including the three NFB Centers, the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and our own National Center, which is not an agency but recruited using the Job Fair for the first time. The Statler Center was scheduled but unable to come, apparently because of the east coast plane connection problems which made at least one other employer arrive late. We also had Brown, Goldstein & Levy present to do a survey of inaccessible job sites.
We had 150 to 200 blind jobseekers present at the Job Fair, and responses from a number of the employer attendees have been favorable. National Center staff collected a number of résumés and will be following up with those people. Our hope is that we can expand the Job Fair even more next year, since it seems to be a great way for the Federation to make friends with employers and with rehab agencies who not only want to hire our members but are impressed with the employment opportunities for their clients. For example: a man from the rehabilitation services in Florida offered to see if he could get more local employers to come in 2015. It would be great if we could establish the Federation as the national leader in finding employment for blind people.
The Employment Committee meeting went well, too. Much of it was taken up with suggestions for more things we can do to help blind people get jobs, but there was also a lot of networking between employers and prospective employees, as well as discussion of job-seeking methods. The Employment Committee is currently building up its new website, <http://employment.nfb.org/>. Information from the seminar and Job Fair, helpful articles, and other information will continue to be added to the site.
For next year we are working with Disney to see if we can get them to attend the Job Fair at the 2015 Convention. Based on suggestions from the 2014 Convention, we are looking into ways to work with blind jobseekers to help prepare them for interviews, either as part of the seminar or concurrent with the Job Fair.
It is our intent to work toward the establishment of a division within the National Federation of the Blind for blind cancer survivors. We want to help cancer survivors get well, stay well, provide preventive measures, create a platform for cohesive dialogue, and, through accessibility, enhance the lives of blind cancer survivors.
Our primary goal is to make sure that blind cancer survivors have literature in an accessible format, i.e. Braille, large print, or electronic format. For more information contact Isaiah Nelson at <[email protected]>, or call (803) 735-0821. You may also call Dorothy Barksdale at (803) 765-1602.
My name is Alexander Scott Kaiser. I'm a young blind adult with cerebral palsy. I am forming a group for blind and visually impaired individuals who have cerebral palsy. This group’s purpose is to provide support, education, information, advice, mentoring, and legal advocacy. From problem-solving rehabilitation training issues to civil rights challenges unique to those with both CP and visual impairment, this group will provide support from others who understand.
Meetings will be held by conference call on the first Sunday of the month, starting December 7, 2014, at 8:00 PM EST. To access the conference, dial (567) 704-0447 and use access code 999999#. If you are interested in joining the group, contact me by postal mail at Alexander Scott Kaiser, 2720 Middle Way, Lot 129, Forks Township, PA 18040. You may send me email at <[email protected]> or call me at (848) 205-0208.
Thank you to those who were able to make it to the Community Service seminar and division organizing meeting of the National Federation of the Blind. We hope you enjoyed the speakers and content as much as we enjoyed putting it together and having you there.
If you couldn't make it, we are truly sorry, and we hope that you will make it a point to join us next year in Orlando for our Diamond Seventy-fifth Anniversary Convention, where we plan to make a bigger and better experience to commemorate the occasion.
If for some reason you couldn't make or stay for the organizing meeting, we are glad to tell you that we approved a constitution and elected the following officers: Darian Smith, president; Chris Parsons, vice president; Charlotte Czarnecki, secretary, Corina Salinas, treasurer; and board members Michelle Mitchell, Sarah Leon, and James Gump. All of the members of the board of directors are very excited to get to work and to do so alongside our brothers and sisters in the movement. We are eager to hear from you on how we may work to serve our communities and build the Federation through that service. Please contact Darian Smith at (415) 215-9809 or <[email protected]>. In the meantime, please be in touch should you have any thoughts, questions, ideas, or want to become more active in our work. We look forward to working with you to expand community service opportunities for the blind at all levels of the organization and to create a platform that promotes the recognition of the true capacity of the blind. Let's live the lives we want through service; let's get involved!