Vol. 58, No. 8 August/September 2015
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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Vol. 58, No. 8 August/September 2015
Illustration: Not All Business at Convention
The 2015 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Presidential Report 2015
by Mark A. Riccobono
Awards Presented at the 2015 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
Meet the 2015 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind
The Federation at Seventy-Five: The Determination of Value and the Reflection of Hope
by Mark A. Riccobono
The 2015 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind: A Personal Reflection
by Marc Maurer
The Blind of the World: Spreading the Federation Message
by Fredric K. Schroeder
The Impact of the Organized Blind Movement: Perspectives from a Friend
and Champion in the Maryland Legislature
by Brooke Lierman
Adjusting Attitudes: A Landmark Victory in the Iowa Supreme Court
by Aaron Cannon
3DPhotoWorks Helps Commemorate History of the Organized Blind
by Anna Kresmer
Special Commemorative Jewelry and More
by Jeannie Massay
We Can Bank On It: The Cardtronics Accessibility Center of Excellence and the Future
presented by Randy Rice
Resolutions from the Diamond Convention
by Sharon Maneki
Copyright 2015 by the National Federation of the Blind
A lot of serious business happens at national conventions: elections are held, both for the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, and for many of the divisions of the NFB. Resolutions are proposed, discussed, and voted on during the convention. And lots of money is handed out in awards and scholarships to those deemed worthy by the committees that present them.
But convention isn't all serious business. Convention is also a chance for friends from across the country to meet in person and have some fun together. This convention will always be special to Giovanni Francese and Mary Kay Jorgensen for it was there that they became engaged. Wednesday, July 8, was an evening for such fun and social activity. The National Association of Blind Students hosted a Monte Carlo night, and the seven original state affiliates hosted the Diamond Anniversary Ball.
by Gary Wunder
No convention in modern times has been as anticipated as the seventy-fifth convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We have planned for it through the appointment of a diamond anniversary committee, engaged in the first joint hosting of a convention in my memory if not the history of the organization, and added to the excitement by planning to break a world record. What words might we use to characterize the 2015 NFB National Convention: how about anticipation, participation, celebration, and rededication?
Meetings began on Sunday, July 5, and the morning, afternoon, and evening were packed full of program items for people of all ages and interests. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children hosted what might modestly be called a mini convention, and the theme was Crafting Your Diamonds: The Four C’s of Bringing up Blind Children. And what are those four Cs? They are competence, confidence, creativity, and community. The keynote address delivered to the parents division by its president, Carlton Walker, will appear in an upcoming issue.
But before that keynote address was given, President Riccobono came to the meeting and sat on the floor to chat with the children. He talked with them about the special celebration that would occur because of our seventy-fifth anniversary, told them how the diamond was the symbol for this event, and explained that these children were all diamonds, created to shine. He said that the most important work of the Federation was to see that they had every opportunity to become all that they can be and to shine like the finest diamonds. He said that, when they are more than four feet tall, they will be asked to start taking on the responsibilities involved in Federation leadership and the work of the organization. After that moving introduction he asked if there were questions, and the very first was “Do you like lobster?”
“Eating them or playing with them?” he asked, without missing a beat. Other questions followed, such as how one could find her friends in a crowded place, how to make friends in high school, and what President Riccobono was going to do when he became the president of the United States. To this latter question he said that he had no plans to run for that office but that he believed one day a blind person should run for it and that many of us should be found in the halls of Congress.
President Riccobono’s interaction with the children and his answers to their questions revealed a leader who is kind; humorous; and, without being preachy, a teacher. It was clear to all that our new president likes children, is accustomed to their questions, and projects the warmth and kindness that interest and inspires these young people.
On Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. first-time conventioneers attended the Rookie Roundup, a meeting offering an opportunity to learn about what would happen in the week to follow, to meet veteran NFB members, and to meet the leadership of the organization. Immediate Past President Maurer spoke encouragingly to the group, and many got to meet him for the first time. President Riccobono also offered his greetings and stayed to circulate among the crowd. But the person who stole the show was the First Lady of the Federation, Melissa Riccobono, as she talked about being a blind person, her family, and the fact that she is a blind parent raising two blind children. She made it clear that, while she has certainly been and continues to be a leader, first and foremost she is a member, and those who listened felt the sincerity, love, and compassion she warmly represents.
Monday morning began with a special time for sponsor-level exhibitors. Many members came to the exhibit hall both to say thank you for the support of the National Federation of the Blind that these exhibitor-level sponsors had demonstrated and to take advantage of the specials offered to honor the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind. Sponsors of our diamond anniversary convention were:
Accessibility Champions: Google and Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Corporate Volunteerism: UPS
Platinum: Delta Airlines, Target
Silver: AT&T, Freedom Scientific, H&R Block, HumanWare, and Pearson
Bronze: Chris Park Technology Designs
White Cane: 3D PhotoWorks LLC, Ai Squared, BAUM USA, En-Vision America, HIMS Inc., Learning Ally, Onix Networking, and VitalSource Technologies
Our generous sponsors contributed just over half a million dollars to our work, and for this we are tremendously grateful.
Monday afternoon began with a session titled “Filing Your Taxes with H&R Block,” and a session about non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder for those whose sleep problems were not caused by their taxes. Ai Squared offered a session for those Microsoft users who employ Window-Eyes. The people from HIMS Inc. held a seminar to discuss their products, and the Microsoft Corporation held meetings between convention attendees and Microsoft engineers to provide information about upcoming releases and to get consumer input based on product experiences.
But for most delegates and members the most important gathering of the afternoon was the meeting of the Resolutions Committee. The meeting began promptly at 1:30 p.m. with twenty-nine resolutions to be considered. A full report of the work of the committee and the resolutions adopted will be printed elsewhere in this issue. This meeting was immediately followed by the annual mock trial presented by the NFB National Association of Blind Lawyers, and, like so many events at this year’s convention, it had a record-breaking crowd in attendance.
Users of the K1000 could attend the Kurzweil 1000 users group meeting, and affiliate presidents and treasurers were encouraged to attend a meeting on managing state finances and meeting the reporting requirements of state and federal authorities. The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research conducted a seminar on how to write a professional article for publication. The National Association of Blind Students held its annual business meeting, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille met to discuss Braille-related research and technology for producing hard copy and refreshable Braille and to discuss progress in implementing the new Unified English Braille Code. All told, convention attendees had to decide among nineteen meetings and events that afternoon and evening, all of which would play a role in shaping the lives and future opportunities of blind people.
When the board meeting was gaveled to order at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the voice calling the convention to order was not the one the convention had heard for twenty-eight years. The voice that enthusiastically brought the meeting to order was, however, quite familiar and belonged to none other than President Mark Riccobono. The crowd responded with a cheer that took over where the coffee left off, ensuring that all present were awake and ready to do business.
When the roll was called, all board members were present and ready to do business. A moment of silence was observed for those who were taken from us this year.
President Riccobono discussed elections that would take place during the convention. Positions needing to be filled included the office of first vice president, and board positions that were currently being held by Parnell Diggs of South Carolina, Sam Gleese of Mississippi, Ever Lee Hairston of California, Cathy Jackson of Kentucky, Jeannie Massay of Oklahoma, and Joe Ruffalo of New Jersey. Positions not up for election were president Mark Riccobono of Maryland, second vice president Ron Brown of Indiana, secretary James Gashel of Colorado, treasurer Pam Allen of Louisiana, and board members James Brown of Tennessee, Amy Buresh of Nebraska, Patti Chang of Illinois, John Fritz of Wisconsin, Carl Jacobsen of New York, and Alpidio Rolón of Puerto Rico.
Parnell Diggs asked for the floor and announced that he would not be seeking reelection. President Riccobono thanked him for his service on the board and as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. He said that he had recently asked Parnell to serve as our manager of governmental affairs, a position which he accepted. Parnell will replace Lauren McLarney, who is going to law school in the fall.
Last year the National Federation of the Blind passed an amendment to its constitution creating the position of chairman of the board. The board of directors elected Pam Allen to the position, and she was introduced for her remarks. After offering greetings to the convention, she said: “As we reflect this week on our history, celebrate our accomplishments, and plan for the future full of opportunity for all blind people, we know that we have been blessed with incredible leaders like Dr. Jernigan and Dr. Maurer, who have nurtured us and mentored us. President Riccobono, you have shown us through your dedication and service what it truly means to lead with love. Sarah Ban Breathnach said, ‘The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.’ In the National Federation of the Blind we know that with love, hope, and determination, we are transforming dreams into reality.”
After the remarks of the chairman President Riccobono said, “In honor of our seventy-fifth anniversary, our seven original founding states came together to serve as a committee to make this one of the most dynamic conventions we’ve ever had, so the states of California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have come together to host the convention. We had a host committee chaired by two dynamic ladies, members of our national board, and now I would like to introduce to you for words of welcome from our host committee Patti Chang and Ever Lee Hairston.”
Co-chairman Patti Chang took the microphone to talk about a special tour available only during the convention and to promote the seventy-fifth anniversary ball that would take place on Wednesday, July 8. The ball would feature the Z Street Band, would run from 8:00 until midnight, would cost ten dollars for admission, and would provide drinks and light snacks. The seventy-fifth anniversary ball ran concurrently with the Monte Carlo Night sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind National Association of Blind Students, and Patti encouraged people to come and go as they pleased, enjoying the best that each event had to offer.
Ever Lee Hairston was introduced. She told the board meeting that the seven affiliates, along with help from our divisions and other states, raised $7,775.75 to be awarded as door prizes at the banquet. There will be seven special door prizes, the largest being for $1,775.75. She talked about the affiliate suite being hosted by the original seven, with the Ohio affiliate coordinating the suite’s activities, and each of the seven states taking its turn at staffing. She gave special commendation to the Merchants Division for the significant donations it has made in providing food for the affiliate suite and funding for other necessities. The co-chairs concluded by promising that we would be treated to a wonderful opening ceremony befitting our seventy-fifth anniversary, and they were as good as their word.
President Riccobono next announced the author of a new book. Ever Lee Hairston told the convention that civil rights had long been one of her passions and that coming to know the National Federation of the Blind helped her more fully to appreciate that there was yet another civil rights battle for her to embrace. She has chronicled the story of her life and the civil rights battles it has represented in a new book entitled Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. She presented a copy of her book to President Riccobono.
The President introduced our new director of convention arrangements, John Berggren. He has taken over the responsibilities that were for many years filled by Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan, who celebrated her fiftieth consecutive convention in 2015. John came to the microphone to talk about convention logistics such as our guide dog relief areas, our Guinness World Record attempt, and our convention streaming. His message was that, whether or not you can be with us, you still have a chance to join, and he asked all who could tweet, post on Facebook, or advertise on our listservs to tell people about the convention streaming.
For this year's convention we preregistered 2,163 people, but as of the close of registration on Monday, our number stood at 2,625. In addition to a large delegation representing the United States of America, the National Federation of the Blind also hosted guests from sixteen countries.
To talk about one of the mechanisms we use to raise funds from those not directly involved with us, President Riccobono called to the stage Anil Lewis, the chairman of our Imagination Fund. He observed that many people support our programs and wish to help us who are not members of the National Federation of the Blind. We need to make sure that they know about the mechanism for making contributions. This is why we have created our Imagination Fund. When people admire what you do, let them know what part the National Federation of the Blind has played in your life, and encourage them to support you in the work we all do together.
President Riccobono told the audience that all the resolutions presented to the committee on the previous day had passed and that all were available for inspection on the NFB website. Since time would be short, he asked that everyone take a look in advance so that they could offer questions and concerns ahead of time. He reminded all of those listening that the resolutions appearing on the website were not policy statements of the National Federation of the Blind until they had been passed by the convention.
The president observed that the Federation is a membership organization and that all who wish to are welcome to join. He said that our website now has on every page a button saying “Join the NFB,” an expression of the emphasis we place on welcoming to the Federation those who will be influenced by and can help influence the policies of the organization.
The Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) fund is chaired by Sandy Halverson, and she was introduced for her annual report. The goal of this committee is to secure the financial future of the NFB by providing a fund that can be used in times of financial emergency. It is similar to the savings accounts that we as individuals set up to protect against a rainy day. This year we raised slightly over $13,000 for the fund, and our current total is $1,994,008.70.
Scott LaBarre took the podium to talk about the Preauthorized Contribution Program, which is now in its thirty-ninth year. Coming into the convention, the PAC Plan generated $459,000 for us, but Scott expressed the hope that we could increase that amount to at least half a million dollars by the end of the convention. This program is critical because it allows our members to contribute on a monthly basis to the direct support of the National Federation of the Blind. It is a way to give automatically and to help provide the predictability we need in establishing a budget for the programs the Federation supports.
Joining Scott LaBarre was Everette Bacon, the newly appointed co-chair of the committee. He took the floor to announce contests that would be sponsored during the convention to reward those who signed up for the PAC Plan, those who increased, and the affiliate or division responsible for the largest number of increases. The person who increases his or her PAC Plan the most will win a prize. The person who starts a new PAC Plan with the largest amount will also win. The state that increases its PAC Plan the most will also take home a prize, that being the PAC Rat. The state that has the largest PAC Plan donation during the convention will win the PAChyderm. The division that increases its PAC Plan contribution by the greatest amount will win the PAC Mule. If PAC contributions can be increased to $500,000 or more, there will be a prize of $750, and anyone who starts on the plan or made an increase will be eligible to win it.
The Jernigan Fund was created in honor of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the end of his life, and its purpose is to help first-timers attend the national convention. This year, in honor of our seventy-fifth anniversary, it awarded seventy-five scholarships. The Jernigan Fund is supported by donations and by the sale of two different tickets. A $10 ticket enters one into a drawing which will provide one winner with transportation for two to the convention, two banquet tickets, registration, and $1,000 in spending money. The $5 ticket for the second drawing is a limited raffle providing one winner a check in the amount of $2,500. This is a most worthy fund that has provided a tremendous opportunity for many men and women who now make attendance at the convention an annual event as a result of their introduction to it.
Diane McGeorge warned the convention that there would be changes in next year's Washington Seminar and asked that we all be alert to upcoming messages. One substantial change will be that the hotel will be taking our reservations directly, but the traditional Great Gathering-In meeting will still be on the last Monday in January, this one falling on the twenty-fifth.
The Vehicle Donation Program is another way in which we can help fund the work of the National Federation of the Blind. In the first six months of 2014 we received ninety-one vehicles, which raised just over $37,000. In the first six months of this year we have received 176 vehicles, raising just shy of $70,000. This means that donations this year are up 93 percent, so this program is definitely trending in the right direction. Cars have been received from forty-eight of our state affiliates, which means that we have great participation, but in our seventy-fifth year we are going to try to get seventy-five cars in seventy-five days starting on July thirteenth.
President Riccobono introduced the next program item by saying that we have given scholarships for fifty years and that our chairman is now in her fifth year in this role. He introduced Patti Chang to present to the board of directors and the convention the class of 2015. The remarks the scholarship finalists made will appear elsewhere in this issue. After the introduction of this year’s class, the board of directors unanimously voted to continue the scholarship program in 2016.
Dr. Schroeder next came to the microphone to talk about the need for Federationists to write letters in support of phasing out Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He asked that letters be directed to a special committee within the Department of Labor that will consider this proposal. The ARC organization is currently writing to support the retention of the subminimum wage, and Dr. Schroeder asked that we do our best while at convention to generate letters that would address our experience with sheltered employment and the need for every worker in America to be paid at least the minimum wage.
Immediate Past President Maurer was next introduced to discuss several matters with the assembled. The first was transition: the transition from the Maurer administration to the Riccobono administration. He said that, before becoming president of the National Federation of the Blind, he was the chairman of the PAC Plan Committee, and in this transition and during this convention he plans to spend much of his time back at that table, encouraging those who can to give in support of our programs. He finished his comments about transition by saying, "I was a joyous Federationist before I came to be the president of the organization, I was joyous in the presidency, and I still am joyous. I look forward to sharing that joy with you as we go forward."
He went on to announce that the KNFB Reader now belongs to the National Federation of the Blind, and we have great plans for its future development, including a soon-to-be released version of the application that will run on the Android Operating System. During the convention the KNFB Reader went on sale for $75 in recognition of our seventy-fifth anniversary. Apparently the Apple company has difficulty in selling applications for a price that includes two zeros after the decimal point, so the price of the reader was actually $74.99.
The Federation has invited the World Blind Union to the United States for its 2016 meeting of the general assembly. It will be held at the Rosen Centre Hotel, and many of us will be needed to make this event run smoothly.
Ending his presentation in the way he ended many presidential releases, Dr. Maurer asked, “What do you call a belt made entirely of watches? A waist of time.”
The president of the National Federation of the Blind of California was recognized and presented a donation from the state affiliate to the national treasury in the amount of $23,668.61. This donation has come as a result of a bequest received by the California affiliate, and, in keeping with our national policy, the board of directors and the members of the National Federation of the Blind of California gladly sent it to be used in the service of the Federation nationwide.
The chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund, James Brown, took the microphone to address the need to fund the building that is known as the National Center for the Blind, where the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind and other worthwhile charities are housed. Certainly maintaining this space costs money, the new roof we placed on the building last year being but one example. Contributions are always welcome for the maintenance of our facility and should be directed to the Jacobus tenBroek Fund, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
Anna Kresmer was next called upon to talk about an exhibit created for us by 3D PhotoWorks. It was available outside the convention hall and represented the timeline of the National Federation of the Blind both tactilely and audibly. An extended version of her remarks will appear elsewhere in this issue.
Jeannie Massay was recognized to talk about jewelry that has been created to commemorate our seventy-fifth anniversary. An article about these items and where they may be obtained appears elsewhere in this issue.
Our general counsel, Mehgan Sidhu, talked about the need for us to get more information about kiosks. Many business and government services that were once performed by human beings are now relying on these machines to sell tickets and groceries and even to take applications for Social Security benefits. Kiosks are also becoming prominent in the healthcare industry, not only for checking in and checking out, but also for interacting with a doctor. Anyone who has had difficulty using these kiosks is encouraged to contact our legal department by calling Mehgan Sidhu or Valerie Yingling at the National Center for the Blind.
One of our priority issues has always been getting blind people jobs, and, more frequently than we would like, we are finding inaccessible online employment applications and inaccessible employment tests. Those who have experiences to relate regarding these tests are also encouraged to contact our general counsel or her assistant.
The board meeting concluded with special recognition for longtime Federationist and former staff member Duane Gerstenberger. Mr. Gerstenberger began his work with Dr. Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind and later moved to Baltimore, where he served for a number of years as the executive director of the National Federation of the Blind.
At the conclusion of the board meeting conventioneers were faced with the daunting challenge of deciding which event or events they would attend. “I Can’t Hear the Whispers!” was sponsored by the Deaf-Blind Division of the NFB; the Diabetes Action Network began the afternoon with expert presenters and ended with a business meeting; the National Association of Blind Lawyers spent the afternoon examining laws that affect blind people and those with other disabilities and addressing ongoing struggles to gain equal access to websites, employment, legal texts, and examinations; the NFB in Computer Science discussed how to enhance nonvisual access to information technology and how to improve the ability of blind IT professionals to compete in today’s world. The National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith was addressed by speakers who explained how their faith has helped them face and overcome challenges and by presenters representing faith-based libraries and publishing houses describing what their organizations do. The Public Relations Committee held a seminar to discuss what a successful media interview looks and sounds like and to give attendees the opportunity to learn from experts and share ideas and strategies on how to harness the power of the media.
The National Organization of Blind Educators met to discuss techniques they use in their classrooms and to allow participants to break into small groups where they could develop relationships and create mentoring opportunities that would serve them in their profession. The National Association of Blind Merchants focused on the topic “Moving Forward: Making a Difference in and around Randolph-Sheppard.” The National Association of Blind Rehab Professionals provided a space in which rehabilitation professionals could network, share mutual interests, find placement strategies, and examine and discuss concerns and current issues. During the afternoon—and in fact throughout the week—Microsoft held a number of accessibility meetings encouraging people to talk with company engineers to learn about new releases, to provide feedback on product experiences, and to participate in focus groups. The Human Services Division focused on learning effective ways of advocating for accessibility of electronic health records and for addressing the lack of accessibility of practice/licensing examinations required for entering many professions.
NFB-NEWSLINE® held an open house to acquaint people with its services, sign them up, or help those who are already NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers in getting more out of the service. For those who wanted a different twist, there was an opportunity to experience tactile art as a creative way to gather and share information and ideas, which took place from 1:00 to 8:00 p.m. and culminated in an art exhibit in which all of the items were touchable. And what would board meeting and division day be without the annual Braille Book Fair? To celebrate the NFB’s seventy-fifth anniversary, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults donated 750 print-Braille books to the Braille Book Fair. This was definitely a book lover’s dream come true.
Later in the evening a meeting of the United Blind Industrial Workers of America was held, and Federation colleagues held a wide-ranging discussion about improving working conditions and wages for all blind workers and developing strategies to ensure that all disabled workers are paid at least the minimum wage. The National Association of Guide Dog Users held a seminar and business meeting at which it celebrated thirty years of education and advocacy on behalf of guide dog users in the United States and throughout the world. The NFB Community Service Division discussed how important it is for blind people to be active contributors in our communities, how to find out about community opportunities, and how to take the plunge and get involved. This is but a brief overview of the opportunities for learning and participation that occurred. A detailed description of all of these events and more can be found in the convention agenda and by contacting the presidents, chairpersons, and coordinators who conducted the sessions.
Even as the meetings ran long into the evening and many of us took advantage of the opportunity to socialize with people we meet only at the convention, we knew that we had to be ready bright and early on the following morning, for a big task lay before us: the breaking of a world record. So it was that many of us rose after only a few hours of sleep: some to work on arranging the large parking lot so that people would know where to stand; some to go over the route so they could marshal the crowds that would soon come; some to coordinate the publicity and bring to fruition the work that had been painstakingly done for weeks in advance; some to grab an early breakfast because they knew there would be no time between the breaking of the world record and the dropping of the gavel to begin the first business session of the convention. Hundreds of us were in the lobby at 7:00 am, and the elevators worked overtime for the next hour and a half as we processed out of the building into the large parking lot, were given our wristbands and umbrellas, and found our places in anticipation of creating the largest umbrella mosaic ever displayed.
The orderly procession of Federationists from the hotel to the parking lot and to the spaces they would occupy was a tribute to the discipline of our members, the work of dedicated marshals who served as our audible signposts, the diligence of staff members and volunteers who helped us find our places, and the efforts of Kevan Worley and Gabe Cazares, who provided the enthusiasm, ongoing commentary, and frequent updates in English and Spanish that ensured we were all informed and coordinated. Even at 8:00 a.m. it can be hot and muggy in Orlando, and, although Florida sunshine may produce some of the best oranges in the world, it was very tempting to raise one’s umbrella early as a shield against those penetrating rays.
When we had cleared the hotel, when all of those who had patiently waited in line outside were in place, and when those who had marshaled and ushered were all a part of the mosaic, it was time for the real event to begin. A request for silence came from the podium so that everyone could observe, whether visually or audibly, the spectacle that was about to occur. When the letters N-F-B were spoken, there immediately followed a great whoosh, and more than 2,000 umbrellas displayed the logo of the National Federation of the Blind along with our tagline “Live the life you want.” Our mosaic had to be displayed for at least five minutes to meet the qualifications of the Guinness World Record organization, but soon the adjudicator sent from GWR came to the microphone to say that the National Federation of the Blind was amazing and that we had broken the previous record of 2,170 umbrellas by raising 2,480 of them to tell the world who we are and what we want for blind people.
On Wednesday morning at 9:45 am, the first business session of the convention was gaveled to order by President Riccobono. The enthusiasm with which this session was greeted might well have set a world record of its own had the Guinness World Record adjudicator been equipped with a measuring device capable of measuring sound in the hundreds of decibels. When the cheering subsided and a door prize of $100 was drawn, President Riccobono introduced the co-chairwomen representing the committee of seven states who were hosting the seventy-fifth annual convention. Ever Lee Hairston began by reading the names of all of those who traveled by train to the convention in 1940: California, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Hazel tenBroek; Illinois, Collins and Miss Mary McCann; Minnesota, Frank Hall; Missouri, Lucille Debeer, Ellis Forshee, Marlo Howell; Ohio, Glenn Hoffman; Pennsylvania, Harold Alexander, Robert Brown, Gayle Burlingane, Evelyn Burlingane, Enoch Kester, Frank Rennard; and Wisconsin, David Treatman and Emil Harndt.
There followed a roll call of these seven states in the voices of Former President tenBroek, Former President Jernigan, and our Immediate Past President, Dr. Maurer. The constitution passed at the first meeting of the National Federation of the Blind was then read by JW Smith of Ohio and Jennifer Dunnam of Minnesota. There were seven articles in that document, and the audience was moved to applause by the reading of the word “of” in the phrase “of the blind,” and by the phrase “Delegations shall represent organizations of the blind controlled by the blind; but individuals may be admitted to membership with all the privileges and duties of representative members except that they shall not be entitled to vote or hold office.”
Our founding document reads as follows:
Article I. The Name: The name of this organization is The National Federation of the Blind.
Article II. Purpose: The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to promote the economic and social welfare of the Blind.
Article III. Membership:
Section a) The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of delegations from each of the states of the United States.
Section b) Each state shall have one vote.
Section c) Delegations shall represent organizations of the blind controlled by the blind; but individuals may be admitted to membership with all the privileges and duties of representative members except that they shall not be entitled to vote or hold office.
Article IV. Officers:
Section a) The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of president, first vice-president, second vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section b) The officers shall be selected by majority vote of the states.
Section c) The National Federation of the Blind shall have an executive board which shall be composed of the officers plus four members selected in the same way whose regular term shall be four years but at the first election two shall be elected for two years.
Article V. Duties of Officers: The officers shall have such powers as are usual to their respective officers and they shall be governed by Robert's Rules of Order revised.
Article VI. Proceedings: Robert’s Rules of Order revised shall govern all proceedings.
Article VII. Amendments: This constitution may be amended at any annual meeting by a two-thirds majority vote of those present and voting.
Adopted and effective from Nov. 16, 1940
The crowd celebrated the seventy-fifth year of the National Federation of the Blind by joining in clapping along with the song “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. Mark Zauss and the Z Street Band then treated us to a popular song from the 1940s, a hint of the kind of music we would have at the seventy-fifth anniversary ball that evening. This was followed by more contemporary tunes. The seven-state welcome concluded with the playing of the song “Love Train” by the O’Jays, and the members of the seven-state committee were recognized and applauded for their service.
The president of the National Federation of the Blind National Association of Blind Veterans, Dwight Sayer, was next introduced to recognize those at the convention who have served our country in the armed forces. Thirty-seven veterans walked across the stage and were applauded, and President Sayer then introduced Impact of Orlando, who escorted the National Association of Blind Veterans color guard into the room. In the presence of the color guard the audience rose and said the Pledge of Allegiance, and then Julie McGinnity led us in the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
President Riccobono announced that a framed document was on stage, and he read what it said: “The largest umbrella mosaic was achieved by the National Federation of the Blind (USA), depicting their icon with ‘Live the Life You Want,’ in Orlando, Florida, USA, on 8 July 2015.” Following is the tagline “OFFICIALLY AMAZING,” and a silver seal of approval.
After announcing that our registration at the beginning of Wednesday morning stood at 2,746, the President began the roll call of states. In answering for the District of Columbia, Shawn Calloway noted that among the attendees from DC was his six-month-old daughter Camille, and Sean observed with pride that she sat through the first twenty minutes of resolutions without crying, something he said in a tone making one wonder if all members of the Resolutions Committee could make the same claim. Hawaii observed that at this year’s convention they have a record number of attendees with thirty-five. When the state of Kansas rose to answer the roll call, they announced that they would soon be receiving a bequest in the amount of $75,000, which they would split with the national treasury. The convention expressed its appreciation for what would be coming from Kansas as did President Riccobono.
When Pam Allen answered the roll call for the state of Louisiana, she said this was a very special year for the National Federation of the Blind, not only because we were celebrating our seventy-fifth anniversary, but also because the Louisiana Center for the Blind was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. She also noted with pride that six of the thirty scholarship winners in the class of 2015 were graduates of the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
President Sharon Maneki announced that the state of Maryland had secured passage of the law that says that all blind students in the state will be presumed to need orientation and mobility instruction, a significant accomplishment legislatively and one the National Federation of the Blind will have to ensure is enforced. Cassie McKinney, president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire, told the convention that her state would be celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year and that the affiliate would soon be graced with a new member whose last name will also be McKinney. The convention congratulated the New Hampshire affiliate on both counts. Not to be outdone, the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico also said that this year would witness its sixtieth anniversary.
When President James Antonacci rose to be recognized from the state of Pennsylvania, he proudly declared that his state was the first to join the National Federation of the Blind, that its state convention would be held over the weekend of November 13 to 15, 2015, and that the event would be held at the Genetti Hotel, the very establishment where the National Federation of the Blind was born.
In addition to these interesting tidbits gleaned from the roll call of states, it is uplifting to observe how many states are now holding a BELL Program, with many of them holding as many as three. A number of affiliates also said they would be expanding their affiliate conventions to four days, just one more indication of the depth and the programs we are engaging in at the affiliate level. Yet another sign of our growth and vigor is found in the number of newly elected state presidents answering the roll, the transition to younger members being a normal and healthy trend in organizations that are vital and growing.
The roll call of states being the last order of business for the morning, the convention recessed. Some went off to find lunch, others to visit the exhibit hall and Independence Market, and still others joined the Louisiana Center for the Blind alumni reception.
Shortly before 2:00 p.m. the crowd began to assemble, every member wondering what the newly elected president of the National Federation of the Blind would say in the annual presidential report. Many Federationists regard this as one of the two major speeches of the convention, and what President Riccobono said and the way he presented it left no doubt that in 2014 we elected a worthy successor to our longest-serving president, Dr. Marc Maurer.
In his first report as president of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Riccobono talked about the importance of celebrating the past but focused on the imperative of building for the future; discussed legal confrontations but focused on the need to turn adversaries into allies; and stressed repeatedly that we must balance the pride we feel in the organization we have against the absolute imperative of envisioning and growing into the organization we must become. President Riccobono’s report appears elsewhere in this issue.
Somebody always has the unenviable task of delivering remarks after the presidential report; this year the job fell to Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, a partner with the law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP. Her topic was “Protecting the Bonds of Love: Progress in Defending Our Right to Parent.” She began her presentation with these comments: “Good afternoon, proud and dedicated members of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you, President Riccobono and Dr. Maurer, for giving me the honor of speaking to this incredible audience. I feel passionate about the issue that I will be talking about and saddened and angry about what I have seen. I speak to you today from the perspective of an attorney and a parent. Let me start by saying that I am tired of hearing judges, caseworkers, psychologists, and lawyers ask me whether my client is capable of taking care of his child merely because he is blind.” With that introduction, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum went on to make a presentation that was certainly worthy of the buildup provided by her introduction. Her comments will appear in a future issue of this magazine.
During the roll call of states the previous day, at least two affiliates bragged about the fact that they were celebrating their sixtieth anniversary, but next on the agenda was a man who has spent sixty years in the Federation. His name is Tom Bickford, and the title of his presentation was “Sixty Years of Living and Singing in the Federation.” Tom is a member of the Sligo Creek chapter in Maryland, and many Federationists will recognize his contributions in the songs that have been written, recorded, and distributed by this most talented group. Tom told us how he came to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind, how he learned from some of the masters of the organization, and the things he did that represented a true first for blind people. His comments will appear in a later issue of the Monitor.
President Riccobono introduced our next topic and presenter as follows: “The next item we have is ‘The Impact of the Organized Blind Movement: Perspectives from a Friend and Champion in the Maryland Legislature.’ Part of what we do is move the policy agenda, and we do it more effectively than anybody else in the blindness field and probably more effectively than most nonprofits around. We have been fortunate over the years to have relationships with individuals who come to understand our philosophy and believe in our mission and bring that to the work they do for civil rights in state and national legislatures. Our next speaker is doing that; she is young in her political career, but I believe that she has a bright future, based on what we have seen of her work as a lawyer and a community leader in Maryland. She now represents the Forty-Sixth District of Maryland, which is the district that includes the National Center for the Blind. A true friend of ours who has a long career ahead of her, a person who is blind at heart, here to talk with us about her experience in the legislature: Brooke Lierman.”
Delegate Lierman’s mission was to convince members that we need to be involved in politics, and, as we would expect from a lawyer, she laid out a very convincing case. Her challenge was for us to become so involved in the legislative process that we could convince members of state legislatures from each of our affiliates to attend. What a pleasant problem it would be if we were faced with trying to decide which public officials to offer time on our program agenda. Her remarks appear later in this issue.
President Riccobono observed that we spend a lot of time and a lot of money helping blind people but unfortunately helping them is no guarantee that they will see the justice in our cause and the necessity of people like them becoming involved in it. The next presenter on the agenda has received our help, has remained a strong and active member, and is an active participant in his community. He is a husband, a father, and a software engineer, but the topic on which he came to address the 2015 convention was “Adjusting Attitudes: a Landmark Victory in the Iowa Supreme Court.” The presenter was Aaron Cannon, and he came to talk with us about his desire to be a chiropractor, the resistance he has encountered from Palmer College, the long legal battle that has ensued, and the effect this battle has had on his life. Aaron concluded his remarks in this way: “The Federation, as I’m sure you all know, does not seek out conflict; we don’t fight because we want to. We do it because we must; we do it to protect our freedoms and our livelihoods and our children. And make no mistake: when we go to battle, we go to win.” The presentation Aaron made will appear later in this issue.
One of the projects undertaken to help celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind was the writing of a book. Spearheading that effort was Scott LaBarre. The committee hired Debbie Kent Stein, a well-known author and longtime Federationist, and together she and Scott spoke on the topic “We Wrote the Book: Reflections on the Federation.” Scott began by noting that on our fiftieth anniversary we wrote a book entitled Walking Alone and Marching Together, a comprehensive history spanning some 1,116 pages. In writing the book to commemorate our seventy-fifth anniversary, the goal was not to repeat what is found in the first book or to try to match it in length. Instead, the committee decided to create a shorter book, one that reflects the changes in the power of the written word when linked with the technology of today. The book that was written is meant to be an ebook, meaning that it will be read from the device of one’s choice, and, using links found throughout the book, one can explore a topic in as much or as little detail as desired. Our book will be released in EPUB 3, a completely accessible digital format out of the box. It will be available by Labor Day, and information about how and where to get it will be made available in these pages as well as on the internet, on presidential releases, and through social media.
As an appetizer, the table of contents and the first chapter were released while this presentation was in progress. It can be found at <www.nfb.org/buildingthelives>. It is also available on NFB-NEWSLINE. As a special treat, that first chapter, authored by Mary Ellen Jernigan, is available in her voice. And the chapter lives up to everything we have come to expect of her as a student of blindness, an expert in our philosophy, and a talented writer.
Debbie Kent Stein opened with these remarks: “Working on this book has really been an extraordinary experience. It has increased my respect, my sense of history of our organization, what we have done in the past seventy-five years, where we have come from, and where we have arrived at—it’s really extraordinary. I have enormous appreciation for all of the Federationists who worked on this project and who made time in their extremely busy lives to do research, to write, to rewrite, and to do all that needed to be done in order to create the chapters that they contributed. Twenty-six authors and co-authors are represented in this book—to say nothing of all of the people on the staff at the national office who worked on photographs, looking in the archives to find material, putting together the EPUB book, and in dealing with all of the technical tasks required.”
The afternoon session concluded with a presentation from the president and chief executive officer of Freedom Scientific, John Blake. His presentation was entitled “Building Technology to Enhance Employment: the Next Generation of Innovative Innovation at Freedom Scientific.” In introducing this presentation, President Riccobono said, “We have a long and sordid history with Freedom Scientific; we have a love-hate relationship with some of its products; and over the last two years, since this gentleman has taken over the company, he has brought a different personality to the leadership, he brings twenty years of career experience with Eastman Kodak, he has experience in consumer electronics both hardware and software, and he brings his knowledge of industry and experience to the work that’s happening at Freedom Scientific. I think he also brings a new era of partnership with the organized blind movement, and here is John Blake.”
Mr. Blake began by acknowledging that President Riccobono and the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, Anil Lewis, visited Freedom Scientific several months previously, and their visit prominently figured in an episode of FSCast, the Freedom Scientific podcast for those interested in JAWS for Windows and other Freedom Scientific products. Mr. Blake said it was important for technology companies to understand not only what is happening now but what is likely to happen in the future. Undoubtedly computers will continue to get lighter, cheaper, and faster. What may be less obvious is that working remotely is a trend that will definitely continue and expand, as will the need to collaborate with others in the creation of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. In addition to what we might consider traditional word processing, spreadsheet construction and manipulation, and the construction of presentations using PowerPoint and other tools, we must begin to deal with what is known as the “internet of things” in which the internet is expanded to wearable devices, sensors, and machines traditionally controlled only through being onsite and pressing buttons. Blind people must be involved in all of this, but we dare not be reactive but must be proactive, anticipating where the industry is going and making sure there is a place for us there.
Mr. Blake said that he has always held firm to the conviction that “You’ve gotta believe in what you do, and you’ve got to do what you believe.” He says that Freedom Scientific believes in blind people and that this is evidenced by the fact that more than 20 percent of the company’s workforce is blind. Many of these people are in highly skilled positions and exercise tremendous influence in the company. The chief technology officer for Freedom Scientific is blind, as is the vice president and manager of hardware. Blind people are represented in all parts of the company including sales, marketing, testing, and technical support.
Mr. Blake concluded his remarks by highlighting the specials that were inaugurated as a result of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, by talking about a new agreement with Wells Fargo that will put the JAWS screen-reading software on more than six thousand terminals throughout the country, and by expressing both his hope and commitment that this is just the beginning of relationships with banks and other institutions where significant accessibility needs cry out to be met. In concluding he said, “Do not be satisfied with technology that merely duplicates what you did in a different manner beforehand—frankly that’s immature technology, and that’s a manifestation of so-so products. Good products and good technology allow you to do something you were never able to do before. Demand that of your technology companies, and I can tell you we demand that at Freedom Scientific.”
On the recess of the afternoon session, breakout sessions were offered on self-advocacy in higher education, an open house by the Colorado Center for the Blind; a reception sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind, with welcoming remarks from Carl Augusto, AFB’s president and chief executive officer; and a meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee in which job applicants were invited to bring their résumés and talk about themselves. The exhibit hall was also open from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m., and the Parents of Blind Children Division continued to offer concurrent seminars with panels for everyone interested in issues around parenting, the individualized education plan, and adopting a blind or visually impaired child. For young people ages eleven to eighteen there was “Deal Me in: Learning Poker and Other Card Games,” a thinly-disguised effort to train people for future Monte Carlo nights sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind National Association of Blind Students.
But the big highlight of the evening was the Diamond Anniversary Ball, sponsored by the original seven states that came together to form the National Federation of the Blind in 1940. The Z Street Band made its second appearance of the day, and their music, the dance floor, the light snacks, the cash bar, the greeters, and the enthusiastic crowd all resulted in an event that is best captured by the word "classy." The Z Street Band was an excellent choice, playing the big band hits of the 40s, rock ‘n roll of the 50s, and popular songs from every succeeding decade to the present.
With Thursday morning came the second day of convention sessions, and President Riccobono began by saying that our Guinness-World-Record-breaking umbrella mosaic had gone viral. Diane McGeorge opined that she wasn’t sure if she knew what that meant, but she assumed that it had something to do with Facebook and Twitter and all of that Google and internet stuff.
Our first item of business was to review the financial report, jointly presented by Immediate Past President Maurer and President Riccobono. Because the financial report is based on the calendar year, Former President Maurer discussed the first half of the report, while President Riccobono took the second and discussed trends that are obvious in observing the data from January through May of this year.
Last year when then-President Maurer presented the financial report, he warned that our investment in the Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader was significant, that there was the possibility that the company would be dissolved, and that we would do everything we could to see that the patents and the programming developed to further the project of a reader in one’s pocket, the KNFB Reader, would remain the property of the National Federation of the Blind. However, we should be prepared to see a decline in our assets as work to secure the KNFB Reader went forward. This was certainly evidenced in the report given on this morning, the bad news being that we suffered a loss of almost $9 million in our assets. On the positive side of the ledger, had it not been for this expense, our income would have met and slightly exceeded expenses for this year. So far in 2015 we are in the black, and, although the challenge of fundraising is always one of the most significant we face, there is every reason to be optimistic about our ability to maintain and grow the programs that are improving lives in every state in our union.
Following the acceptance of the financial report based on two motions, one covering the time while Dr. Maurer was president and the other covering the ongoing presidency of Mark Riccobono, the convention turned its attention to the honor roll call of states. As a result of state, division, and chapter contributions, $36,085 was raised for the White Cane Fund and $26,325 for the Jacobus tenBroek Fund.
The convention next turned its attention to elections, and the chairman of the committee, Second Vice President Ronald Brown, gave the report. A motion to adopt the report was made and seconded, at which point Garrick Scott asked for the floor. He thanked the committee for its nomination of him for an at-large board seat, said how much he appreciated the confidence of the committee, but respectfully declined it after reflecting overnight on the many issues he knows must be addressed in his home state of Georgia. The report as amended was accepted.
The name of Pam Allen was submitted by the committee, and she was unanimously elected to be the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. In accepting her election, Pam Allen said, “Thank you President Riccobono and my Federation family. When I attended my first convention in New Orleans in 1991 as a national scholarship winner, little did I know how my life would forever be changed. Though I was very grateful for the scholarship, the true gift I received was the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and countless others have taken time to mentor me, to show me the true meaning of leadership and commitment. Henry David Thoreau said, ‘I have learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.’ The National Federation of the Blind has shown that, with love, hope, and determination, our dreams as blind people have been transformed into reality. As I stand here before you today, I am inspired by the power in this room: the imagination, dedication, and most importantly the love. Because of the work of each of you, the National Federation of the Blind is the most powerful force in our nation and the world, shattering misconceptions, changing lives, setting world records, and shaping the future—one that is full of hope and opportunity for all blind people. I have been privileged and blessed to serve as your treasurer for more than eight years. I am honored to serve in my new role as first vice president of this life-changing organization, where, because of all of you—our dedicated members—we are changing the world and helping blind people live the lives they want. Thank you, President Riccobono, for your leadership and loving example, and thank you my Federation family for your trust, support, and most of all your love.”
Given Pam Allen’s elevation to the office of first vice president, Jeannie Massay’s name was presented to the convention as treasurer, and she was elected unanimously. Sam Gleese was nominated to fill board position one, and he was elected unanimously. For board position number two the name of Ever Lee Hairston was submitted, and she was elected by acclamation. For board position number three the name of Cathy Jackson was placed in nomination, and she was elected unanimously. For board position four the name of Norma Crosby was placed in nomination. She was elected by acclamation. In accepting her election, Norma said, “Good morning, fellow Federationists. I grew up in the red dirt hills of Texas. I was a little girl who was often introduced as ‘This is my daughter Norma, she doesn’t see very well.’ My parents loved me, and they did the best they could, but until I found the National Federation of the Blind, I didn’t understand that it was respectable to be a blind person. As soon as I attended my first convention, I recognized the power of this organization. You know we are a diverse and a dynamic organization made up of all kinds of people, and, as I think about what Jeannie said, I wish to echo it because our most important role is as members. I’m proud to be one of you, I’m proud to be a member of this organization, and I make the promise to our national membership that I made to my state membership when they elected me in November: I will wake up every morning and work hard to help build the Federation. Thank you very much.”
Given that Garrick Scott withdrew his name from consideration for board position five, nominations were taken from the floor, and Everette Bacon of Utah was nominated. After comments in support of this nomination were made by Garrick Scott, Everette Bacon was elected by the convention unanimously. He addressed the convention, saying: “Thank you, Mr. President. I am truly honored and truly humbled to be considered for this position. I want to let you know that I come from a long history of blind people. In my family blindness is hereditary, and it goes back thirteen generations. I grew up, though, never knowing about consumer organizations; the blind people I knew were just plain people who were doing their own thing. Some of them had jobs, some were homemakers, but I didn’t know anything about a consumer organization.
“I didn’t get an opportunity to learn what a consumer organization could do for blind people until the year 2003 when I faced discrimination from a company that no longer exists, Blockbuster Video. They discriminated against me–I lost my job, a really good job I had there, and an email blast went out to anyone and everyone from my lovely wife. That email just happened to reach the email box of Scott LaBarre. Scott LaBarre reached out to me, found out about what happened, and said, ‘Everette, I and the NFB want to take your case,’ and they represented me against Blockbuster Video, and Blockbuster Video settled out of court. I had never seen what the outpouring of love from an organization could do for somebody until that moment.
Scott LaBarre was very strategic in getting me involved in the Utah affiliate because I was moving there. I met great leaders like Karl Smith, Ron Gardner, Norm Gardner, and so many more I could mention. They were all so good to me and taught me about the great things that the National Federation of the Blind does. Then I was introduced to Dr. Maurer, President Riccobono, Jim Gashel–so many other leaders—so many people who go out there and change lives with hope and opportunity and determination and love. I am so proud and honored to be a member of this board, and I will work hard to help this board and administration to do everything it needs to do.
“I want to leave you with a quote from César Chávez:
‘Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.’
“Come, be active in your local chapters, your divisions, and be a part of this movement as we join together to make up the National Federation of the Blind.”
For board position six the committee placed in nomination the name of Joe Ruffalo. He was elected by acclamation.
Following elections, Serena Olson came to the platform to speak on the topic “Sharing the Spirit of Our Movement Around the World: A Federationist in the Peace Corps.” Serena drew amazing parallels between the blind of 1940 before the Federation and conditions for the blind today in the Kyrgyz Republic. She knows that the expertise and the commitment of the National Federation of the Blind can make a world of difference in Kyrgyzstan, and all of us were invited not only to visit this wonderful country but to help bring people to the United States for instruction so that they may return and provide the excellent skills training and the positive attitudes spawned and nourished by our organization. This presentation will appear in its entirety later in the fall.
“The Blind in the World: Spreading the Federation Message” was the topic next addressed by our own Fredric K. Schroeder, currently the first vice president of the World Blind Union and a candidate for the presidency of that organization. His words embodied everything we have come to expect in Dr. Schroeder’s well thought out, clearly articulated, and strongly felt presentations. His speech will appear elsewhere in this issue.
Following the enthusiastic response to Dr. Schroeder’s speech, President Riccobono introduced the next presentation with these words: “The last item on this morning’s agenda is an important one. We have been on a long quest to get equal access to ebooks, and we have been seeking leadership in that area from those working on ebook technologies. I think the next gentleman to speak represents true partnership and innovation with the blind of America in that effort. He is the chief technology officer and one of the founders of VitalSource, and VitalSource has made a true commitment to building accessibility in a way that includes blind people and access to ebooks. This gentleman brings a long history of working in the digital publishing space and in technology, so I’m pleased to introduce to you for an item entitled ‘Celebrating Excellence in eBooks: a Commitment to Equal Access’; here is Rick Johnson.” Mr. Johnson began his presentation by explaining that he created this company in the mid-1990s in part as a result of contact he made with a blind college student who used music to create beautiful performances that helped to move Mr. Johnson to an appreciation of music using his ears, his hands, and the rest of his body to feel the vibrations of the instruments that he had never felt before. The role of VitalSource Technologies is to work with content providers to make what they sell not only accessible based on the various checklists that exist in the world, but to see that they are truly usable by blind people. They also strive to do more than convert content: their goal is to change the supply chain fundamentally so that the needs of people who are blind are considered as content is developed. The result is not only enhanced educational opportunities for blind people but a fuller and richer experience for all who use ebooks.
“It’s been a while, I realize, since I’ve been in education, and, if you could look at me, you could see that I have a gray beard and graying hair, and I see many of you out there like me—it’s been a while since you’ve worried about a textbook, I realize that. But you have a unique position: you are the leaders, the advocates—you are the advocates for the rest of the community, the voice of tomorrow, the voice of our children, the voice of our next generation—and we are all lifelong learners. Access to learning materials cannot be about special versions, special applications, special processes: it needs to be mainstreamed; it needs to be there where everyone else is getting access.” The convention affirmed its agreement with these sentiments through prolonged applause for Mr. Johnson and his forward-looking company.
At the end of the morning session conventioneers had their last opportunity to visit the exhibit hall and the Independence Market. In a further effort to share fundraising tips and tricks and to take advantage of events we already host, a meeting was held of the Cash and Caring Committee with the goal of creating some short state and local publications that use fewer words and rely more on pictures. More information about the work of this important committee can be had by contacting Ramona Walhof at <[email protected]>.
“We Can Bank on It: the Cardtronics Accessibility Center of Excellence and the Future” led the afternoon session as Randy Rice, director, Cardtronics Accessibility Center of Excellence, and executive vice president, audit and risk management, addressed the audience. We have had a long and difficult battle with Cardtronics, but the presentation by Mr. Rice leaves little doubt that there has been a significant change in direction on the part of the company, and once again we have been able to build a relationship in which we began as adversaries and now work together as committed partners to make ATM accessibility universal. Mr. Rice concluded his remarks by saying, “Let me conclude by saying again that we are proud to be your partner and to underscore this partnership by asking that Dr. Maurer and President Riccobono join me here to receive a presentation from Cardtronics. Dr. Maurer, your immediate past president, has provided leadership and perseverance for over ten years to get the three of us together on this platform. President Riccobono, with whom I’m also proud to say that I attended the University of Wisconsin, is now providing the leadership for our partnership going forward. We at Cardtronics are pleased to work with the NFB, America’s leading advocacy group for the blind, and to support your efforts to improve the accessibility of ATMs for all blind Americans. On behalf of Cardtronics, as our contribution to your ongoing efforts, we are proud to present to you a big check—it’s four feet long—and for $1,250,000. Thank you, Dr. Maurer, thank you, President Riccobono, and thank you all for having us here this week.”
In thanking Cardtronics, President Riccobono said, “Randy, I’d like to say that we truly do believe that what we’re doing with you will dramatically change opportunities for blind people to participate in our society and in the banking industry. We really appreciate Cardtronics’ leadership in not only taking on an obligation to create a center of excellence but actually taking it on as a responsibility and a point of competitive advantage for Cardtronics. We appreciate that together we can innovate, and Cardtronics can make substantial gains made on that innovation; we recognize that that means we’ve expanded our participation in the society and helped transform your thinking, and your presentation exhibits that spirit, so thank you very much.” The remarks made by Mr. Rice can be found elsewhere in this issue.
Following an update on our progress in raising PAC contributions, President Riccobono introduced the next presentation in this way: “The next item on the agenda is ‘Living the Lives We Want: Opportunities and Strength in Numbers.’ As you know, for our seventy-fifth year, one of our primary initiatives has been to again re-energize and refocus our organization on building and strengthening our local chapters. Last fall we had a very successful seventy-five days of action, where we built and strengthened new chapters throughout the fall. This year we set an ambitious goal of bringing 750 new members into our Federation family. Helping to lead this effort is our next speaker. She is chair of our Membership Committee, she serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, she’s now treasurer-elect of the National Federation of the Blind: here is Jeannie Massay.”
Jeannie recapped the seventy-five days of action, offered a heartfelt thank you to the members of the committee, and talked about our goal to recruit 750 new members by the end of the year. She used her own life story to remind us just how important the Federation can be in helping people dare to dream, in giving them the tools to accomplish their dreams, and then in letting them share their difficulties and successes with other blind people so that our forward momentum continues. To make it easier to join, people can go to <https://www.nfb.org/membership-application>. From this link one can get in contact with a local chapter or state affiliate. Yet another resource for those wishing to join is an email address which can be used to contact our chairman directly. It is <[email protected]>.
Our next agenda item was to receive an Advocacy and Policy report, and the first presenter was John Paré Jr., executive director for advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind. He began his report by talking about his life before blindness, his loss of job, his finding the National Federation of the Blind through NFB-NEWSLINE®, and eventually the restoration of the belief he once had in himself as a competent and capable human being. When he came to understand that the organization that could provide him with such a fine service and help restore his confidence also needed him, this realization is what caused him to apply for a job and what now motivates him to do the work he does for other blind people. John’s introductory remarks and much of his report will appear in the October issue.
No one who knows the staff of our governmental affairs team will be surprised by the observation that what was presented was a spectacular review of the legislation we are supporting and the passion that will carry it through to become the law of the land. Lauren McLarney and Gabe Cazares spoke about the Stimulating the Marketplace to Make Accessibility a Reality Today (SMART) Act. Rose Sloan roused the group with a presentation discussing the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act, as well as legislation to improve the work incentives in the Social Security Disability Insurance Act while simultaneously convincing Congress to avert the possibility that the fund will go broke in 2016. This report will appear in the October issue of the magazine.
In thanking the policy and advocacy staff for their report, President Riccobono said, “And, Lauren, I expect you to get this SMART Act passed even while you’re in school. I’ve been dealing with this higher-ed thing for quite a while as well—I served on the Accessible Instructional Materials Commission a number of years ago—the only representative from an organization of the blind—and Lauren has done a tremendous job in pushing back against the continual custodial attitude that blind people and access to technology are in opposition to innovation in higher education, and we know, because we’ve had her on our side, that we’re going to win this battle.”
Turning from the implementation of policy, the convention focused on making that policy in the form of twenty-nine resolutions. Twenty-eight of those are now policy statements of the organization, and a full report of the resolutions adopted will appear elsewhere in this issue.
The afternoon session was recessed, but this just meant that smaller group activities were in order. The evening featured a session on advocacy skills for blind parents, a workshop on advocacy strategies for blind parents in the context of family law proceedings, interactions with the Department of Social Services, and participation in K-12 public school systems. “Social Security and SSI: What You Should Know” helped those who wanted to learn more about Social Security and SSI benefits, eligibility criteria, the application process, and reporting obligations. The National Association of Blind Office Professionals conducted a seminar on Braille proofreading, demonstrations and training were conducted for those interested in the KNFB Reader, and the fifteenth annual Showcase of Talent was held by the Performing Arts Division. Last but not least, those wishing to engage in friendly competition were invited to Trivia Night, where they competed to determine who knew the most about seventy-five years of music and seventy-five questions about the Federation.
Earlier in the week the convention talked about how we wrote the book, but the Friday morning session began with “The Rhythm of the Movement: the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary in Song.” This item was presented by Richie Flores of Texas, James Brown of Tennessee, the Performing Arts Division, and the Diamond Anniversary Choir. After James Brown treated us to a tune by the arguably more famous singer of the blues, the group played “Glory Glory Federation,” the fight song of the organization since 1969. This was followed by a new song written by JP Williams entitled “Braille Is Beautiful.” Following was a performance of “Tap That,” highlighting our free white cane program, and next a new song about the efforts in which we are involved to increase the accessibility of technology. Michelle Clark sang “We Shall Overcome,” followed by Stansel Tootle, the Blues King of Georgia, singing “The Blind Workshop Blues.” This song was immediately followed by “M-O-N-E-Y,” a commitment to address many of the problems that are highlighted in the song “Blind Workshop Blues.” The final song performed by the choir was “Live the Life You Want,” and the Diamond Anniversary Choir was joined by none other than President Mark Riccobono. No written account can begin to convey the skill with which the songs were performed and the enthusiasm they generated in the hall, but readers of the Braille Monitor can listen to this performance at <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2015%20convention%20agenda/ 07_friday_july_10.mp3>.
Our next presentation was made by Chad Allen, entitled “The Art of Illusion, Determination, Imagination, and Skill with No Vision Required.” The presenter of this agenda item was a person very familiar to Federationists for his long participation in the organization. While magic is often thought of as a visual art, Chad considers it an art which relies on imagination and sometimes uses vision to illustrate the fruits of that imagination. To show that magic does not have to be visual, the audience was treated to two tricks in which we were invited to participate, and neither required vision to be appreciated.
Our next agenda item was “The Federation Philosophy at Work: Transforming Dreams into Reality Through Our Jernigan Institute.” To present this item was a gentleman who has been with us a long time. He started out as a rank-and-file member, was elected to be a chapter president, came to be the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia, was hired to work at the Jernigan Institute, and now serves as its executive director. The presenter was Anil Lewis, and he talked about his first year in his new position. He talked about the departments that make up the Jernigan Institute, acknowledging all of the people who play a part in the progress he is privileged to stand and report. He said that in his first year as the executive director he decided to follow one of the principles articulated by Stephen Covey: seek to understand, and then seek to be understood. In these past twelve months he has worked hard to understand the programs and activities of the Jernigan Institute and the inner workings of the National Federation of the Blind. Now he is ready to be understood, and what he shared were some of the visions he has for the future of the Institute.
Our executive director came to the National Federation of the Blind after working for the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, now known as the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Recently he made a presentation to that organization, and, as he observed the interaction in the group, he heard one young woman say, “I don’t use my cane because I don’t want to be treated any differently.” Anil instantly realized that this is what he was used to, and this is what he had run away from. But immediately one gentleman in the room said, “You need to understand that you are being treated differently because you’re not using a cane.” He then gave examples, saying “that this is why people think you are awkward or regard you as being drunk.” Anil was cheered, for he thought that organizationally there had been some progress. Unfortunately, as the gentleman began to elaborate on why one should carry a cane, it became clear that his view was that one could and should get all kinds of help when carrying it. He was not at the place where he understood that the cane meant that he could now do all kinds of things independently, only that this cane would help him get more help. The epiphany for Anil, of course, was that he was there once, as most of us have been. Like most of us, he doesn’t know exactly how or when his view of blindness changed or when he came to regard differently the value of the tools we use as blind people. He reminded us that his challenge and our challenge is to remember back to those days and to help others find what we have found through the philosophy of the Federation. We must celebrate not only where we are now but the journey that got us there. This requires self-reflection, a listening ear, and patience with others, but it also requires that we believe that the transformative miracle we have been blessed to share will come to others and help them in their struggle to find what life really has to offer them.
Anil observed that one thing that is clear from all of the traffic on our lists is that we are constantly being asked to provide researchers with blind people willing to share their experiences through surveys and interviews. Of course we have more than blind people to offer: what we have to offer, something that is every bit as valuable, is our expertise, and this we need to use to ensure that we are at the center of important research being conducted in the field. Anil is keenly interested in hearing from anyone who would like to assist in forming a research committee. He can be reached by calling the National Center for the Blind or by writing to him at <[email protected]>.
“#NCBYS: Making the Connection and Equipping the Next Generation” was the title of our next presentation, and the young man presenting it was Angel Ayala, apprentice, National Federation of the Blind STEM2U program. Angel gave a first-hand report on the difficulties blind children have in moving through the educational system: not being challenged at the school for the blind; finding more academic challenges in public school but having to face the social misunderstandings that come with blindness; and realizing that, through participation in programs such as the NFB STEM2U program, one can build self-confidence, sow the seeds for that confidence in others, and come away with a commitment to create even greater opportunities for the blind people who will follow. Angel’s presentation can be heard in its entirety at <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/ 2015%20convention%20agenda/07_friday_july_10.mp3>.
President Riccobono introduced the next agenda item with these words: “‘Raising Expectations: a Commitment to Full Participation in the Twenty-First Century Workforce’ is our next topic. Since our founding in 1940 the National Federation of the Blind has been working on raising expectations for blind people in employment. We have been trying to make it possible for blind people to be paid a fair and meaningful wage. Recently we have been building a relationship with the United States Department of Labor around efforts to promote competitive, integrated employment. So we are very pleased to have with us this morning a partner and a friend in our effort for fair wages and competitive employment, the deputy secretary of the United States Department of Labor, The Honorable Christopher P. Lu.”
Mr. Lu’s presentation directly addressed much of the work we are doing in the National Federation of the Blind to see that blind people have a chance at getting and keeping good jobs. It is clear that the Department of Labor understands the problems posed by inaccessible job applications, websites, and the hardware and software used in the work setting. His remarks will appear in full in an issue later in the fall.
President Riccobono moved the agenda by saying: “This next item is about technology. It is about our growing work with the Google corporation, and it is entitled ‘A Growing Partnership for Accessibility: Google and the Organized Blind Movement.’ The presenter was Kannan Pashupathy, who serves as the director and chief operating officer for research, Google Incorporated. I mentioned in the presidential report that Google is well aware of our concerns about the Google suite of apps and accessibility, and there have been times in the past when we have been disappointed with Google’s delivery on the promises that they’ve made to us. On the other hand, as we expressed in our resolution yesterday, in the last year Google has been making significant progress. It’s not enough; it’s not fast enough, but they have made a real commitment: they are putting more energy, effort, and leadership into it, and accessibility is a growing part of the culture at Google. Here to give us an update on Google’s progress is the director and chief operating officer for the research division of Google, a friend of ours and a partner we’ve been working with; here’s Kannan Pashupathy.”
Mr. Pashupathy talked about the effect attending his first convention had on his desire to make products accessible, but also how the experience resulted in his commitment to himself to make fundamental changes in the way in which Google would approach the notion of accessibility from design to implementation to launch. “To do this, we started training programs in accessibility for every new engineer, product manager, and user experience designer who joined the company.” He was surprised to learn that accessible design is not something that is taught in universities, so this is something he is also trying to encourage. Kannan Pashupathy’s remarks will appear in this publication in full later in the fall.
“Pushing the Limits: Changing the World through Big Ideas” was next on the agenda and was delivered by Eileen Bartholomew, senior vice president, prizes, at the XPRIZE Foundation. She began her presentation by saying, “At XPrize we like to say that the day before something is a breakthrough it’s a crazy idea, and you know the world needs a lot of crazy ideas. Never before has the world been poised to take individuals and empower them to make those crazy ideas the breakthroughs we need.” With this as the framework for her comments, Ms. Bartholomew riveted the audience with her remarks, and they will appear in a future issue.
When the applause subsided following Miss Bartholomew’s remarks, the President said, “The final item for this morning is ‘Increasing the Investment in Accessibility: Nonvisual Access in Microsoft Products and Services.’ Microsoft has not been as responsive lately as Google has, but, as I reported, we did have a meeting with the chief executive officer at Microsoft, and we were given certain commitments that we intend to hold Microsoft to. One of the things that is clearly happening at Microsoft is that there is a change in leadership and that there is a more significant commitment to working on accessibility amongst the leaders at Microsoft. It isn’t just Mr. Satya Nadella, the CEO, but amongst the next layer of managers. Our next speaker is part of that. John Jendrezak is the partner director of project management, Microsoft Corporation. He has responsibility for the Microsoft Office suite of products. He has been at the convention; many people at Microsoft have been here as well. There have been a number of focus groups happening to get our feedback, and I think you’ll find that John is a perfect example of the change in leadership at Microsoft and a renewed understanding about accessibility because of the dialogue we’ve been having. Here is John Jendrezak.”
Mr. Jendrezak discussed Microsoft’s new commitment to accessibility, the imperative to hire fully qualified engineers to be a part of the development and testing teams, and the way this kind of involvement changes the perspective of everyone on the team, the result being a product in which accessibility becomes a core part of the design. Mr. Jendrezak’s comments will appear in an upcoming issue of the Braille Monitor.
President Riccobono announced that shortly before the convention the director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Karen Keninger, fell and broke her leg. Nevertheless, he said that representatives from the National Library Service would be available over the lunch hour to talk about the ongoing work of the organization and to answer questions from interested patrons.
When the Friday afternoon session began, Everette Bacon, the co-chairman of the Preauthorized Contribution Program, delivered the happy news that we had just reached annualized giving of half a million dollars due to the efforts made at the convention. This was wonderful news, but, as we were to learn at the banquet, there was still better news to follow.
President Riccobono announced the first formal presentation of the afternoon in this way: “To start off this afternoon, the last day of our seventy-fifth anniversary convention, we have a gentleman who has been our president for more than a quarter of a century and a leader in our organization for nearly half a century. He continues to be a significant contributor to the work that we do in the legal area and in other aspects of our advocacy—most certainly in the philosophical shaping of our understanding of blindness and how to expand the limits of what we can do together. He serves as our director of legal policy on a day-to-day basis—as I said he is the immediate past president of the National Federation of the Blind, but many of us, including myself, know him as a friend and mentor. Here is Dr. Marc Maurer.”
With that introduction former President Maurer delivered a speech entitled “The Nature of Blindness.” In it he speculated that blindness is often not what we think it is, and, while many of us can easily list those things we consider disadvantages, there are a number of situations in which blindness is indeed a positive attribute. Former President Maurer’s remarks will appear in the October issue.
Jim Gashel, the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and the person who also serves as the vice president in charge of marketing for KNFB Reading Technologies, next came to the stage to do a product demonstration of the KNFB Reader. He said that everyone was familiar with the point-and-shoot technology that has for so long been a part of the product, but this time he brought a reading stand, a book, and a piece of hardware running the Android operating system. He placed the hardware with the KNFB Reader on the stand, placed the book under it, and began turning the pages of the book. After quickly scanning five pages, Jim instructed the KNFB Reader to recognize and read those pages, which it did. This demonstration showed that the KNFB Reader is no longer just a pocket-sized reader for small documents but, with the assistance of a stand, can be used to read entire books. As Jim said, “If you had told me forty years ago that blind people would have a reading machine that they could buy for less than $100, I would’ve told you you were crazy.”
With this transition, “The Next Seventy-Five Years of Blindness: Perspectives from an Inventor and Partner” was the next presentation received by the convention, and these remarks were delivered by Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering, Google Incorporated. He said, the success of humankind is due in large part to our ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment but, more important, to thrive in that environment and to increase our capacity to understand. Machines are and will continue to be important in our ability to do more and to do it more quickly, but very soon the limitations of our brain, which are constrained by the physical space in which it is housed, will be surmounted by the direct interface to computer technology throughout the world which we know as the cloud. Very soon there will be no need to think about a half-remembered poem or number and then search for its source; the interface will be in our brains, and we will use the intelligence of the cloud to find the quotation verbatim. Dr. Kurzweil speculated that this will be commonplace in less than two decades, but in the meantime we will keep working on technology that meets immediate needs and perfecting it so that one day it will be a part of us.
“Leadership through Law: Perspectives on Advancing Civil Rights for the Blind” was next presented by Maura Healey, attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Ms. Healey talked about her desire to become an attorney, her work in private practice, her decision to leave private practice to work for the office of the attorney general, and eventually her decision to quit that job to seek the office. She summarized a number of cases in which the attorney general’s office in Massachusetts has worked in cooperation with the National Federation of the Blind to take on some of the largest corporations and biggest accessibility challenges in the country. Her remarks will appear in an issue later in the fall.
“Innovation and Accessibility: Creating Outstanding Customer Experiences at Target” was the title of our next presentation by Alan Wizemann, vice president of product at target.com and at targetmobile.com. At one time the National Federation of the Blind received a lot of bad press by pursuing this major retailer for accessibility in its online environment, but now we find that Target has an accessibility record which makes it one of the leaders in accessible shopping experiences in the world. Target has a dedicated accessibility team, and many of those people are blind. Mr. Wizemann says that Target is dedicated to being 100 percent accessible; his remarks will be printed in a future issue of this magazine.
Readers of the Braille Monitor are familiar with the name Sachin Pavithran. He was a former scholarship winner, serves as the legislative director for the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, and is the chairman of the United States Access Board. His topic was “Leadership from the Blind Person’s Perspective: Accessibility in Action.” He talked about his introduction to the Federation, his desire to make significant change, his appointment to the access board, and his election as its chairman. He said that one of the foremost priorities of the commission is to work for updated regulations regarding Section 508, and he pledged to do all he can to make that happen. Our job is to see that we bring forward willing and talented Federationists who are willing to serve on the access board given that these positions are term limited and his own term will soon expire.
Following him to the podium was Michael Yudin, who formerly served as a member of the access board but has recently been promoted to assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education. The secretary’s remarks spoke to the belief in children, the need to evaluate outcomes and not just rules, and the work that lies ahead of us if blind children are to receive a quality education that will prepare them for the work of the twenty-first century. Secretary Yudin’s remarks will appear in a later issue of the Braille Monitor.
James Gashel was next called to the podium for the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards. The winners certainly represent individuals and agencies on the cutting edge of innovation and service, and a full report on this program item appears elsewhere in this issue.
The next program item was one that would normally be conducted at the banquet, but circumstances would not allow the recipient to stay, so the presentation was made as the afternoon’s last order of business. This was the presentation of the Newel Perry Award, and the text of the ceremony in which it was presented is found elsewhere in this issue.
With the conclusion of the afternoon session, the seventy-fifth anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind was quickly moving toward its climax, that being the annual banquet of the organization. The master of ceremonies for the evening was Former President Maurer, and it was clear that he was thrilled to have the job. After an introductory drawing for $1,000 provided by the hosting affiliates, Scott LaBarre was introduced to summarize our efforts in raising contributions through the PAC Plan. At the close of convention annualized giving has been increased to $504,949. Co-chairman Everette Bacon suggested that it was no mere coincidence that, in the year he was appointed to help run the effort, we achieved our largest increase in history. During this convention PAC Plan contributions were raised by over $45,000. This monumental increase was achieved because more than 320 people came to the PAC table either to start a new withdrawal or to increase the monthly amount they already give.
To commemorate our seventy-fifth anniversary, everyone who attended the banquet received a diamond anniversary coffee mug. It is what some might call an Irish coffee mug, and etched into the cup is our seventy-fifth anniversary logo with the text “1940 to 2015;” below the logo are the words “75 Years;” and then the full name of the organization, "National Federation of the Blind."
Several drawings were held during the banquet. HumanWare, Target, and BAUM USA awarded prizes to those who had visited them in the exhibit hall. The Jernigan Fund conducted two drawings: a $2,500 drawing resulting from the sale of 50-50 tickets, and an all-expense paid trip to next year’s convention for one lucky person who had purchased a ten dollar ticket. The parent’s division drew the name of one winner who walked away with $798.
After these, other drawings, and a fine banquet meal, Former President Maurer asked for silence and made these remarks in introducing President Riccobono: “We come now to a time at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind when we take a moment to reflect about who we are. We remember what we have done, where we’ve been, what dreams we have had, what burdens we have shared, what joys we have known, what hopes we cherish for our future, and what we intend to become.
“Tonight we are seventy-five. Our history stretches back three quarters of a century. At our beginning we numbered fewer than twenty. Fifty years ago Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founding president, was our banquet speaker. He reflected on the beginnings of our movement and on what it would become in the decades ahead. More than 500 people attended that gathering, but we were still well under 1,000.
“A quarter of a century ago I was on this platform with you. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was our banquet speaker, and he remembered for us what the forces were that brought our Federation into being, and he speculated about what those forces would be able to accomplish as our size and strength increased. By 1990, 2,000 people at our conventions was an annual event. Our registration at that convention was more than 2,000, and the banquet was not far behind.
“Tonight we have another leader of our organization to reflect upon what we as blind people can be. Our president, who has served us now in that role for a year, has enormous energy, a passionate spirit, a robust intellect, and a level of commitment that is both unusual and the envy of those who know it. President Riccobono grew up in the state of Wisconsin. When he began his education at the public school, he had a small amount of vision. Consequently, although he knew that he could not see well, he did not know that he was blind. Nobody told him, and he did not have enough background to know. Furthermore, nobody taught him the techniques that blind people use. His capacity to read was limited. Often he was expected to pretend that he had vision beyond that which he possessed. He learned by listening. If the tools that blind people used for education had been available to him, the experience of being in grade school and high school would have been simpler and much more productive. The pretending that was a necessary part of the educational process for him meant that education was sometimes a lonely experience and also a little scary because he never knew when somebody would find out.
“Educational opportunities and a number of other things began to change when our president met the National Federation of the Blind. He came to know from his friends in the Federation that another way existed, and this knowledge served as a springboard to make him a successful business leader, the administrator of a major school system, and an aggressive advocate on behalf of the blind. He has spent more than ten years building programs of the National Federation of the Blind. He has served as our president in Wisconsin; he has been director of education on a national level for our Federation; he has spent seven years as executive director of our Jernigan Institute, the part of our organization that concentrates attention on research, innovation, and education. He loves to explore territory that we have not already covered; he loves to bring hope to those who have been without it; he loves a challenge. It is a pleasure and an honor to introduce to you the president of the National Federation of the Blind for the 2015 banquet address. Here is Mark Riccobono.”
With those words President Riccobono stood at the podium and for his inaugural speech delivered remarks that were worthy of the seventy-fifth anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind. His speech is a part of this issue, but there is little doubt that it will be one of the more popular pieces of literature that are requested from and distributed by this organization.
At the conclusion of the banquet speech, a number of paper airplanes were thrown by members of the audience. The airplanes were a historic salute to Kenneth Jernigan, who sometimes playfully threw paper airplanes into the audience. The airplanes were thrown by those who had completed the Diamond Quest—a game that was secretly built into the convention by members of the Federation. The game included puzzles and clues planted throughout the convention, starting with mention of the Diamond Quest on page seventy-five of the Braille agenda. The game added an additional element of fun to the convention, but it turned out to be a way for members to get to know the personal side of our new President and his family—many of the clues related to the First Family and invited people to come to the Presidential Suite to find the next clue. After the banquet speech Dr. Maurer announced that the winners of the Diamond Quest won the honor of helping to design the game for next year’s convention.
Following President Riccobono’s speech, Ray Kurzweil was invited to the microphone for his thoughts. He said that it was an honor for him to witness yet a second transition in leadership within the National Federation of the Blind and that President Riccobono has definitely shown his ability to think deeply and to encapsulate in his speech so many elements that are important to the organization. Dr. Kurzweil talked about his love of the National Federation of the Blind because of our work in creating STEM2U, our work to be innovators, our embracing of technology, and our unswerving commitment to civil rights for all people. These are the very cornerstones of his life, and it is for this reason that he values the forty years he has spent knowing and working with us.
Following Dr. Kurzweil’s remarks, President Riccobono once again took the podium and asked that the board of directors institute an annual award in the amount of $10,000 to recognize pioneering innovations in technology that benefits the blind. Ray Kurzweil has agreed to have his name on this award, and a motion was made, seconded, and passed to establish it.
Chair Patti Chang was introduced to present scholarship awards to the class of 2015. Her presentation, including some interesting trivia about the history of the scholarship program, appears later in this issue.
For the 2015 convention President Riccobono appointed former President Maurer to chair the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. The winner of the award for 2015 is the organization’s second vice president, Ronald Brown, and a report of this presentation is found elsewhere in this issue.
The evening’s festivities concluded with a final door prize in the amount of $1,575.75, and, with the falling of the solid silver gavel given to President Riccobono by former President Maurer, the convention was adjourned.I confess that as I watched and participated in all of the hype and anticipation surrounding our seventy-fifth convention, I harbored a fear that there was no way that it could be all we expected. I secretly worried that there was no way that one week could fulfill all of the expectations we had for our seventy-fifth convention, that there was no way that one man could carry out the duties of his office in a way that would do credit not only to his first year as President but to the anniversary commemorating three quarters of a century in the life of a movement. All my worry was for naught, for the convention was all I had hoped, the Guinness World Record more than I expected, and the leadership, love, and charisma of our new president more than I ever dreamed it could be. I can think of no better words to conclude this Roundup than those uttered by former President Maurer when he said, “Many of us came, wondering how our seventy-fifth would be; now we know. Many of us came, wondering how our new leader would perform; now we know.” The 2015 convention represented a wonderful balance: the reverent acknowledgment of our past, the laser-like focus on our present, and the hopeful and joyful planning for the future we intend to bring about.
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 8, 2015
The last year of our movement has been marked by transition, growth, determination, exploration, and accomplishment. While an anniversary is often used as a time for reflection, we have used our seventy-fifth year as an opportunity to strengthen our organization at the local level, reinvest in the next generation of leaders at the state level, and expand our reach at the national level. We continue to be a strong organization powered by the collective action of individuals of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and talents. Our stories are unique, but they carry the common threads of hope, determination, and high expectations that bond us together in this family that is the National Federation of the Blind.
On July 17, 2014, I attended the organizing meeting for the Towson, Lutherville, and Cockeysville (TLC) chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. This was the first of many gatherings I personally had the opportunity to participate in as part of our renewed membership engagement efforts during the past year. Whether the activities were in Maryland, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, or Texas, the events all carried the same energy and forward-looking spirit that characterizes the Federation. While some organizations face declining membership, we enjoy steady growth because we continue to build an organization that offers the blind of this nation an authentic and effective vehicle for collective action. And together, with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality.
Jeanine Owens is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of California, and she has been living the life she wants as a worker in the childcare industry for nearly thirty years. In 2010 she began work at Brighter Beginnings, where she provided both care to children and education to parents. In 2013 a parent complained to management that it was unsafe for a blind woman to be watching her child. Management responded by instructing Jeanine to submit herself to a medical exam, and the doctor opined that it was unsafe for Jeanine Owens to watch children due to her blindness. Although the company knew of Jeanine’s blindness when they hired her and there had been no unsafe incident involving her, the company agreed with the expert evaluation of the doctor and fired Jeanine. We filed charges of employment discrimination with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for the violation of Jeanine’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the EEOC investigation found probable cause to believe that both Brighter Beginnings and the doctor discriminated against Jeanine Owens on the basis of her disability. We are now working toward a suitable resolution. However, make no mistake, if we do not receive just relief for Jeanine Owens, we will take this case to the highest courts in the land, and we will not stop until justice is done!
You will recall that several years ago, we filed suit on behalf of Yasmin Reyazuddin, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and an employee of Montgomery County. When she learned that the county would be investing in new technologies to operate countywide information systems that were used in her work at a local call center, she urged the county to plan for accessibility and offered to help provide early user testing. Montgomery County ignored her, installed inaccessible systems, and proceeded to move her around to different jobs to hide their failure. In March 2014 the trial court decided that Ms. Reyazuddin was not entitled to a trial on her claim of discrimination. Knowing that the judges, like the doctors, are not always well-informed, we appealed the decision. A couple of weeks ago the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an opinion reversing the original decision. Among other things the Fourth Circuit opinion states that an employer cannot duck its obligation to provide accessibility through budgeting tricks—in this case, by budgeting only $15,000 for accessibility from a $3.7 billion budget—and the employer must look at the savings it gains when implementing new technology, not just its costs. Although the fight is not over, we are one more significant step closer to eliminating the misconception that technology and accessibility are in opposition to each other. We want to use our talents in the workplace, and we will continue to defend our right to equal access.
Equal access in the workplace also means equal pay for equal work, and we are providing the leadership required to significantly advance competitive integrated employment for the blind. On July 22, 2014, I was honored to represent the National Federation of the Blind at the White House ceremony where President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. Due to our considerable advocacy efforts, Section 511 of WIOA will reduce the number of youth with disabilities who are tracked into subminimum-wage employment by requiring that these youth receive the training and services that will maximize their talents in meaningful employment placements through the vocational rehabilitation system. Additionally, a new advisory committee to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities was established under the United States Department of Labor. Dr. Fred Schroeder, a former longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind and former commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation Services Administration, is serving on this committee, and the many years of foundation we have laid in our fight for fair wages is paying off.
We have tried to reason with the employers, but they sometimes ignore us. Source America, formerly known as NISH, is a central nonprofit agency that coordinates the distribution of government service contracts to agencies that hire people with disabilities. More than 80 percent of the five hundred agencies that receive contracts through Source America are holders of subminimum wage certificates. Source America lives up to its name—it is the source of America’s institutionalized discrimination against workers with disabilities. In August 2014 members of the National Federation of the Blind were joined by five other disability-run advocacy groups in an informational protest in front of the Virginia headquarters of Source America. Our protest received considerable exposure through traditional and social media. Sadly, Source America continues to postpone meeting with us face-to-face, but we are not going away.
In contrast, the leadership of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has been making a good-faith effort to understand our perspective and change their patterns. In October 2014 I was invited to provide a keynote address to a general session of NIB’s national conference in Alexandria, Virginia. In January I met with Kevin Lynch, president of National Industries for the Blind, who shared his organization’s commitment that all contracts facilitated by NIB now require that all workers paid under the contract receive at least the minimum wage. In addition, the NIB Board of Directors has established a policy that an administrator from an agency that pays anyone less than the minimum wage will be ineligible to serve on its board. National Industries for the Blind is not doing all of the things that we believe they need to do, and they have not yet committed to actively supporting the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment legislation that Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi has sponsored on our behalf. However, NIB is here at this convention, they are committed to actively engage with us, and they appear sincerely interested in changing their practices. We are making great progress, and more friends are joining this effort every day. The justice of our cause and our unwavering determination will continue to raise expectations for workers with disabilities.
A critical component in our pursuit of the careers we want is our access to high quality education. The infusion of new technologies into higher education should have brought greater access to information for blind students. However, the failure of technology companies to design their systems to include nonvisual access and the shortsighted behavior of universities that did not require equal access in the purchase of educational technologies has left blind students frustrated and in many cases shut out. The National Federation of the Blind is not prepared to settle for second-class work, and we are not prepared to settle for second-class education.
When Anthony Lanzilotti, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, sought to improve his opportunities through education at Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC), he learned that even the teachers can be wrong. Anthony faced barriers in every aspect of his experience at ACCC. The technologies that Anthony was required to use were inaccessible. The curriculum materials that Anthony needed in order to compete were inferior. And the custodial restrictions that Anthony was forced to tolerate were insulting. Among these insults, he was told that while on campus he would need to be accompanied by a sighted guide at all times. Although Anthony has suffered, we have been able to turn his experience into a lesson for the higher education community. On June 1, 2015, we secured a consent decree from the court that directs Atlantic Cape Community College to eliminate the artificial barriers they place in front of blind students. This is the most detailed and comprehensive resolution of its kind. The consent decree requires specific training of ACCC personnel, comprehensive audits of ACCC technology, implementation of corrective action plans, provisions for students with disabilities while corrective action is in process, and other benchmarks that ACCC must meet in order to reach the expected standard of equal access that is the right of all students in our country. In September 2014 we entered into a similar settlement agreement with Maricopa Community College District of Arizona, and we are actively pursuing action at other universities. We will keep the pressure on as long as the campuses prevent our full participation.
The barriers do not only exist in the universities. Last fall we secured a settlement agreement with the United States Department of Education regarding its oversight of the Direct Loan program. As a result, the Department of Education will now require all student loan servicers to have and maintain accessible websites; make all publications, notices, statements, and other information fully accessible in a variety of formats; and make all forms accessibly fillable, reviewable, signable, savable, and sendable. All of this will happen over the next two years, and the National Federation of the Blind recovered a quarter of a million dollars in attorneys’ fees. The bad news for students is that inaccessibility will no longer be an available excuse for not paying those student loans.
High-stakes testing is ubiquitous—most people seeking entry into graduate school or work in a professional field find there is a test to pass, and most of those tests are taken online. We continue to hear from blind test-takers, such as Mary Chappell, Sherry Pablo, and Justin Schmeltz, who face barriers to taking entrance or professional certification exams in social work, professional counseling, teaching, medicine, psychology, or computer programming. Frequently the barriers are the result of testing platforms that are not fully usable with nonvisual access technology, and often testing entities do not understand the need for nonvisual accommodations—like tactile graphics. In every instance where we intervened, we were successful in getting a positive resolution and eliminating barriers. We will continue to work aggressively with the leading testing companies, Pearson VUE and Prometric, to change the unacceptable pattern of discrimination, and we will continue to assert the rights of blind people who seek to enter programs where testing presents a barrier.
One method we have been using to stimulate accessibility in higher education is advancing legislation that would create guidelines for educational technologies. Our bill was introduced in the last Congress with bipartisan support and broad endorsements. In the early development of our legislation we reached out to the American Council on Education. First they dismissed us, then they ignored us, but, once our bill gained momentum, they came out against us. They offered no justification for their statements and no alternative proposal—blind students were expected to wait. We were not prepared to wait, and a public debate ensued with eleven different blog posts, op-eds, and articles on this topic. Kyle Shachmut, one of our members from Massachusetts and an expert in educational technology, is one of the courageous leaders who spoke truth to power about his own experience with inaccessible technology in education. And we released a YouTube video, “A Lesson on the TEACH Act,” that received thousands of views.
We were finally able to get the higher education lobby to come to the table, and for the past eight months we have negotiated in good faith. We have often been frustrated by their misunderstanding, and they have often been upset that we continue to sue their constituent schools. They have told us they know how to run their institutions, and we have told them that we know how to run our lives. Despite the friction, I am pleased to report that we have very recently come to an agreement. The major points of our agreement, once made into law, will bring us significantly closer to the promise of equality of opportunity in our universities. I am hopeful that the process of developing actual legislative language will be less frustrating and more rapid. If it is not and there is no other way, we will continue to take our cases to the courts, we will continue to march on their campuses, and we will continue to use all of the tools in our toolbox to defend the rights of blind students.
The National Federation of the Blind is also providing leadership in equal access to transportation systems. The vast majority of taxi cabs that travel through our nation’s streets now include touchscreen terminals that allow passengers to monitor their trip fare, to pay when they reach their destination, to determine the vehicle’s location with GPS, and to access other meaningful information. These devices are often completely unusable by blind passengers. We have worked with the device manufacturers who have been eager to build in accessibility, and we have engaged in legal advocacy with those who have not.
During the past year we have secured significant agreements with two of the major players in this industry—VeriFone Systems Inc. and RideCharge. After a complaint against VeriFone was filed in Massachusetts, they immediately engaged us in discussions to understand accessibility, and this has led to a broad and inclusive agreement in which VeriFone has agreed to provide all information on its units in a manner accessible to the blind. Over the next few years VeriFone and NFB will be working cooperatively to ensure that VeriFone’s touchscreens are accessible to the blind wherever they are found.
Similarly, our original attempts to engage with RideCharge regarding accessibility failed. In April 2014 we filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and our members Rick Boggs, Geraldine Croom, Rochelle Houston, and Tina Thomas in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Just last month we finalized the terms of a comprehensive settlement promising that all RideCharge units in the nation will soon be accessible to blind passengers. The agreements with VeriFone and RideCharge, along with our previous partnership with Creative Mobile Technologies, represent a commitment to accessibility for nearly all of the touchscreens being used in taxis across the country.
The emergence of new transportation alternatives brings a promise of more customer control and greater affordability. Uber and Lyft are the most well known of these new alternatives, but, like many of our previous travel options, they have sometimes presented blind riders with discriminatory barriers to full participation. We have recently entered into an agreement with Uber to establish a collaborative partnership to ensure the accessibility of Uber’s mobile applications, to increase awareness among Uber drivers and managers regarding the rights of blind passengers, including the use of service animals, and to work toward the implementation of fair and effective public policies that require accessibility. We are also working to design a similar agreement with Lyft. Although we have an interest in exploring the possibilities for the blind to drive—as we have through our Blind Driver Challenge—as long as others are in the driver’s seat, we will not settle for being treated like second-class passengers.
One of the most dynamic ways that we live the lives we want is by providing the love and commitment that are needed to parent young children. Blind parents continue to get unfairly questioned by social workers, attorneys, and judges about their capacity to take care of their children simply because the parents happen to be blind. This year we have continued to reject those questions by assisting many blind parents who faced discriminatory actions in custody disputes. One case is that of a New York father, Pedro Martinez, who fought to have full custody of his young daughter. The social worker initially applauded his skills as a blind parent, but the social worker went on to conclude that the child was just too young to live with her father because he was blind and she would not have the ability to tell someone if she was being harmed. The report from the social service agency was described by our attorneys as one of the most shockingly discriminatory reports they had ever read. We were successful in convincing the government officials and the court that blindness was not the characteristic that defined the ability to be a good parent, and the little girl is now happily living with her dad. Mr. Martinez is with us at this convention. We are currently taking action on behalf of parents in New York, California, and Washington State who are each facing hostile and discriminatory presumptions about their ability to parent due to their blindness. Together we work with love to protect the rights of blind parents, and we are not afraid to use our parenting skills forcefully and loudly when our blindness is used to artificially limit us. We will continue to say “no” to that behavior.
One of the most important responsibilities we have in our society is directing our democracy. In 2002 the Help America Vote Act was signed into law, and, due to our work, it included specific language to ensure that nonvisual access to electronic voting machines was the rule, not the exception. Since the enactment of the law, the National Federation of the Blind has provided expert testing of nonvisual access to voting machines, facilitated discussions among industry leaders and consumers about the future of voting, and performed monitoring of voting patterns, especially during major elections. When the Maryland legislature directed the State Board of Elections to develop an online ballot-marking tool that could be made available for absentee participation in elections by any voter, we offered our assistance to the state. The final product was an online ballot-marking tool that was secure, reliable, and fully accessible to voters with disabilities. However, the Maryland State Board of Elections failed to certify the online ballot system, and they held no public meetings to discuss the reasons why. On behalf of Melissa Riccobono, who was serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland; Janice Toothman, a member of ours who is deaf-blind; and Kenneth Capone, a gentleman with cerebral palsy who uses a headstick and an iPad to communicate--we sued the state of Maryland. Bizarrely, a group of blind people clearly acting against their own interest attempted to support the state in blocking equal access to voting. The judge rebuffed the state’s reasoning that the disabled should be shut out of absentee voting, and we secured a permanent injunction that required use of the absentee ballot-marking tool in the November 2014 election and use of an accessible tool going forward. Although the state has appealed and the matter awaits argument in the court, we can be proud that we have secured a ruling that raises expectations for our participation in our democracy.
Our voting case emphasizes just how central the internet is to full participation in society in 2015. We have a clear history of demanding equal access to ebooks and demanding equal access to websites. Thus it should have come as no surprise to Scribd Inc. that we wanted equal access to its web- and mobile app-based ebook subscription service. After all, who would not want the ability to pick and choose from more than sixty million works made readily available through the Scribd subscriber’s “personal digital library”? NFB member and proud mother Heidi Viens wanted this resource, and she was excited to use Scribd to read to her young daughter, but Scribd’s website and mobile apps are not accessible to the blind. Scribd heard our demand for equality, and they responded by saying they had no obligation to allow us to participate. Scribd has offered a fight, but we are equal to the challenge; and we welcome the opportunity to create more good legal precedent that enforces the message that websites like Scribd must make their services accessible to the blind. I am proud to report that the federal court in Vermont recently agreed with us and rejected Scribd’s argument that, as a web-only business, it is not required to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Scribd is seeking to appeal that ruling, but we are pressing for the case to go forward. We want the court to hear the facts and to hold Scribd accountable for its persistent exclusion of blind patrons from its digital library.
Much of our work is about vigorously protecting our rights, but we are increasingly successful in turning those fights into friendships. Relationships take time to build trust and understanding, and we want to invest that effort with those who sincerely seek to integrate our perspective. On May 7, 2015, Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President and director of legal policy for the National Federation of the Blind, and I traveled to the federal court in Boston, where we joined with our partners from the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a class action fairness hearing. In that hearing the judge approved the outstanding settlement that has resulted from a brutal marathon of litigation with Cardtronics over the accessibility of its ATMs. When we started this case in 2003, we were arguing about fewer than ten thousand ATMs. Today Cardtronics controls almost one hundred thousand ATMs throughout the country and, under our agreement, virtually the entire fleet will be fully accessible with state-of-the-art voice guidance. Most significantly, I am proud to say that Cardtronics is now a willing and eager partner of the blind, and this milestone marks the beginning of an active relationship that I expect to live long beyond the terms of the current agreement. Cardtronics is participating actively in this convention, they will be installing a new state-of-the-art, accessible ATM at our headquarters in Baltimore, and Cardtronics will be making a seven-figure financial contribution to the accessibility work of the National Federation of the Blind.
Many years ago we settled a significant class action case against Target for the inaccessibility of its website. Although Target has faced challenges, it has worked proactively and creatively to address the issues, and it has included guidance from the Federation. Target is now taking the initiative to go further by seeking to make its stores more accessible and to make itself a model employer of blind people. Target is here at this convention—we will hear from one of its executives later this week—and it is providing leadership that is likely to hit the bullseye for high expectations and full participation.
Accessibility needs to be baked into the culture of corporations in order to be effectively maintained over time, and a new partner of ours, Expedia, has made that commitment. This week we are announcing an agreement with Expedia, which also operates Travelocity.com, that will provide the key elements to make its website and mobile apps accessible and that will help it remain accessible into the future. The blind want to travel and we want access to the tools that allow us to pursue our dreams—Expedia is prepared to help us go to the places we want to live our lives.
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, is our world-class headquarters from which our national activities are coordinated. During the past year we have hosted 3,607 members, friends, and guests from nearly every state in the nation and eight foreign countries. Although our work is serious, it is also fun. For example, educators are sometimes found playing Braille Twister or constructing Lego creations while sharing their expertise, overnight visitors frequently enjoy musical selections that help to start the day with a laugh, and the most popular choice of cookie among visitors remains chocolate chip. We have invested heavily in our communication and data management systems at our headquarters. We have recently upgraded our phone system. In addition to providing better call quality and stability, the new phone system incorporates accessibility features including audible caller ID and the ability to manage calls using the computer keyboard. We have upgraded more than one hundred handsets in our building and have installed phones in our conference rooms that are suitable for large meetings. We have also installed a new accessible copy machine for use in our office operations. We have converted our recording studio to enhance our production of video content to share our stories with the world. We have completed the first phase of a massive project to unify our internal databases in order to serve our members more effectively and share information among the blind of the nation. We have also launched the NFB Connect mobile app for iOS in order to share information in new ways, and we have significantly increased our presence in social media.
Access to information continues to be a central part of our mission. This is our fortieth year of partnership with inventor Ray Kurzweil. Early in this century we joined forces to establish the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reading Technology company to innovate the technologies needed for the twenty-first century reading machines. On April 22, 2015, we made a significant move related to our work in this area by securing the transfer of the reader technologies, including more than two dozen patents, to a new entity: KNFB Reader LLC. KNFB Reader LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Federation of the Blind, and I serve as managing director for the corporation. Now that the Federation is the sole owner of the technology, we are aggressively building the plans to secure the business, to further the existing mobile application, and to develop new elements of the technology. And, Ray Kurzweil has pledged his continued partnership in our innovative endeavors.
This is our twentieth year for the NFB-NEWSLINE® program—our expanding work to deliver timely, free, and accessible information to the blind that includes newspapers, breaking news, magazines, television listings, holiday shopping ads, and job listings. In the past year over one hundred thousand blind people have received more than thirty-eight million minutes of service along with many millions of additional interactions through the web and mobile applications.
Our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind continues to be a central place for the evaluation and testing of specialized products for the blind and of the accessibility of mainstream technologies. Through our technology program we also strategically invest in partnership projects that have significant potential to transform access for the blind. One such project is the Transforming Braille Group, which we began working on with other organizations around the world in 2012. Jim Gashel, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, is serving as our representative in this effort, and he is enthusiastic about the early prototypes. This project is on track to bring the cost of Braille display technology down by as much as 85 percent—imagine a twenty-cell Braille display for $500. We can expect to have a product for our convention next summer.
With support from the state of Maryland, we established an initiative known as the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. We kicked off this new initiative with a Web Accessibility Training Day in partnership with the Maryland Technology Assistance Program in September 2014. One of our primary goals is to provide training and best practices to information technology professionals who may not have experience with accessibility. In October we followed up with a Train-the-Trainer Conference that included access technology expertise and mainstream training on products from Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Technology training is critical to compete in the twenty-first century. Our other goal is to get more blind people to be part of the training and testing of technology and to raise expectations for our participation.
In the next year we will explore implementation of a new access to information portal under our Center of Excellence project. The HathiTrust represents a repository of more than thirteen million digital copies of books from university libraries. We have established a working relationship with the HathiTrust for the National Federation of the Blind to operate a secure mechanism for people with print disabilities to gain access to this collection, and we expect to build the portal for use in the coming year. This means more Braille, more books, more access to information, all because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind.
Shortly after the 2015 Washington Seminar, I traveled to Seattle to meet with Satya Nadella, chief executive officer for Microsoft. Microsoft products have presented significant accessibility barriers for the blind, and I hoped that the new leadership at Microsoft would receive our concerns and make actionable plans. I received a commitment from Mr. Nadella that Microsoft would make accessibility a higher priority, that he understood the urgency of the problem, and that he was personally invested in observable progress. We will be holding Microsoft to this commitment, and we will hear from the top executive over the Microsoft Office team later in the convention.
Google has also made commitments to us, and in the past they have not delivered on all of their promises. Over the past year we have noticed real progress in the accessibility of Google products and, more importantly, in the understanding of accessibility within Google. In May I was invited to participate in a presentation with the Google Accessibility team at Google I/O—the annual developer conference that represents the cutting edge of innovation and inspiration at Google. It is clear that accessibility is beginning to be better understood within Google and within the developer community. Although there is still a lot of work for Google to do, I believe we will be pleased with the report from Google later this week and that our determination in working with Google is paying off.
Other activities through our research and training institute continue to expand possibilities. Our disability law symposium—named after Jacobus tenBroek, constitutional scholar and the first President of the National Federation of the Blind—continues to grow and is the premier event for advancing disability law in the nation. Our Jacobus tenBroek Library continues to preserve our history and help us tell the diversity of our stories. The inquiries we get come from a wide range of individuals who want to better understand our impact on the world. One such person is Allie Tubbs, a middle school student from Iowa, who made Dr. tenBroek the subject of her performance in the National History Day Contest. Allie is not blind, but she discovered Dr. tenBroek in a book, and she wanted to learn more. Last month Allie took second place in the Junior Individual Performance category in the national final round for her presentation called, "Jacobus tenBroek: A Leader with a Vision of Equality for the Blind and a Legacy of Constitutional Equality for All." Tens of thousands of lives are touched directly and indirectly through the programs of our Jernigan Institute. A more complete report of our research and training activities will be given later this week. Whether it is the 7,222 free white canes we distributed, the 405 free Braille slates we gave, the constant flow of general information requests, or the impact of our research and training, together we change lives.
In the fall of last year we held a successful Seventy-Five Days of Action Campaign to build and strengthen NFB chapters. Although there are many reasons for us to undertake this work, I think the most significant reason is that we have a responsibility to the next generation. The barriers that still exist in the education system are a significant problem. The most powerful thing we can do to tackle those barriers is to build and strengthen the National Federation of the Blind. And building the Federation is what we are doing through our educational programs.
We continue to provide leadership to the nation in Braille education, Braille training, and Braille advocacy. During the summer of 2014 our NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program was in twenty-one of our affiliates, providing direct instruction in Braille to more than two hundred and fifty blind youth. We are also facilitating early connections to Braille and literacy through our Braille Reading Pals Club, and we are assisting with the distribution of Braille books across the country. In addition, we are the primary provider of training for Braille transcribers and proofreaders through our work with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And we are moving that program into the future by developing the components necessary for training in the Unified English Braille code.
Two consortia exist to develop assessments for states to measure the progress of K-12 students in the common core standards—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced. During the past year we have aggressively monitored progress from our settlement agreement with PARCC, coordinated efforts to press Smarter Balanced to build accessibility into its assessments and eliminate significant discriminatory practices, and provided expert technical assistance to both entities. Our goal has been to ensure that the results of these assessments measure blind students’ actual achievement rather than measuring blind students’ ability to overcome the barriers in accessing the test content.
We continue to educate school districts when our blind students are not receiving the services they need. One example is our support of the Pearce family in California. We overcame the resistance of the school district to ensure that their son Nathan received the blindness skills and educational supports necessary to build and strengthen his talents. We continue to support individual families with information about their rights, understanding the truth about blindness, and connections to successful blind adults. We have distributed tens of thousands of copies of Future Reflections magazine and thousands of pages of other literature to parents and educators.
We are raising expectations for the blind in science, technology, engineering, and math and improving the accessibility of museums and science centers. This year we held our NFB STEM2U programs in Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; and Columbus, Ohio. We trained a corps of young blind apprentices to serve as mentors to the younger students in our programs—we will hear from one of these young leaders later this week. We are raising the expectations for participation of the blind in the museums we are working with, and this will serve to provide best practices to other museums throughout the nation. This summer we will hold our first-ever week-long program focused entirely on teaching the engineering design process to blind high school students. I feel certain that these ambitious blind youth will be helping us engineer a brighter future for the blind very soon.
There is more to tell about our success in the past year. Our story—of determination, exploration, participation, collaboration, ambition, and optimism—is being told best by blind people who are living their lives with respect and confidence because of our work together in this Federation. I have been honored to serve as your President during this past year, and I look forward to the time to come. The work has been challenging due to the barriers we still face, and I recognize that the challenges ahead will require the same commitment from me. In every convention I attend, from each member I meet, with each report of new chapters I receive, and from every personal story I read, I find a renewed sense of energy and hope that is seventy-five times stronger than any obstacle we face. With the sense of history that has come to us from three-quarters of a century of Federation work, with the demands that will inevitably be our challenge in the years to come, I have done my best to keep faith with the bond we share, and I want to take this moment to thank each of you for doing your part to make the accomplishment reflected in this report possible. You have shown me tremendous love, hope, and determination during this year, and it is a true blessing that inspires me to give my all to this organization. I will never ask of you any more than I am prepared to demand of myself. But the stakes are too high, the opportunities are too much at risk, and our lives are too valuable for us to do anything less than take the actions that are required in order to reach the accomplishments that are within our grasp. We must commit to continuing our progress, and we must make the sacrifices required.
At one of this year’s membership events, I was asked what I would say to someone who had not been active in the organization for a number of years. With a firm handshake, I said, “Welcome back, we have been working hard while you have been gone, and we are happy you are here to help.” This organization is all that it is because of us. And it will be all that we dream it will be because we continue to grow and cultivate our Federation for the next generation. I am pleased to report that our determination unites, our philosophy works, our imagination soars, our program blooms, and our membership grows as our love flows. Let us celebrate the success of this year by making the next one even better. That is my commitment to you, and that is my report for the seventy-fifth year of the National Federation of the Blind.
From the Editor: Recognizing the work that is accomplished on behalf of blind people is a critical part of the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. For this reason we present a number of awards; some are presented annually; others are presented only as often as the Federation determines that a deserving candidate merits the presentation. This year awards were presented to agencies and organizations who represent the life’s work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, to a leader in the Federation who has performed exemplary service, and to a person who is not a member but who has made a significant contribution to improving the opportunities for the blind. Here are the presentations as witnessed at the 2015 Convention:
presented by Jim Gashel
From the Editor: The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are always presented late on the last afternoon of the convention, and given that the banquet follows, it is not possible to extend the session, no matter how important the program item. For this reason the chairman of the committee and those who accept the Bolotin awards are always under considerable pressure to move things along, and references to this need are found several times in the remarks that follow. Here is the presentation, beginning with introductory remarks from Chairman Gashel:
Thank you very much, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. We’re going to set a record this year for how quickly we can get the Bolotin Awards out. Let me just ask all of the Jacob Bolotin Award winners to join me here at the podium—that means you won’t have to walk very far when you get your award.
So again it’s my pleasure and privilege on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to present the Jacob Bolotin Awards this year. You know the story of Jacob Bolotin’s life defines living the life we want. He was born in 1888, he only lived thirty-six years, but in that time he accomplished twice as much--as much or more than twice as much--than most of us do in living twice as long trying to live the lives we want. Funds to support the Jacob Bolotin Awards are provided in part through a bequest left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind by the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. The other funds come directly from the National Federation of the Blind. The award includes a plaque and medallion, which each winner will receive, along with a cash award which I will specify.
Now for the Jacob Bolotin Award winners for 2015: the United States Association of Blind Athletes, $5,000 award recipient. Now, you know some of the things the USABA does, but one thing you may not know that they’re going to do: they set up the world’s first training center for goalball athletes. This is a professional training center, and USABA is preparing these athletes to win the gold in 2016 at the Paralympics. You know, the USABA, following in the footsteps of Jacob Bolotin, thinks big and plays to win. Join me in saluting the USABA and Mark Lucas, its executive director. And Mark, how fast can you say “thank you?”
Mark Lucas: I’m supposed to say “thank you and done,” but this is truly a tremendous honor for the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and we absolutely look forward to collaborating with the National Federation of the Blind in the future. As Dr. Maurer has said, the future is ours. Thank you very much.
Jim Gashel: The next recipient: Nicolaas tenBroek, $5,000. Now I know you don’t think you heard me right, but you did. Nicolaas tenBroek is Dr. tenBroek’s grandson. He’s also a professor of computer science at Heartland Community College. If you’ve ever found an app that is labeled right and the buttons are logically organized, it’s probable that Nicolaas tenBroek was that app developer’s professor. He’s developed an app accessibility training curriculum, and it’s part of the computer science curriculum at Heartland.
You know, Dr. Bolotin didn’t confront apps that didn’t work, but he did confront massive discrimination. He would be proud—in fact, let’s put it this way—both Chick (that’s Jacobus) and Nick tenBroek, Dr. Bolotin would be proud to know either one of these gentlemen. Please join me on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and its founder, Jacobus tenBroek, in saluting the grandson, Nicolaas tenBroek, here to receive the award.
Nicolaas tenBroek: Okay, I have to say thanks really quick. But I do want to thank Cary Supalo and Independent Science for all their support in this, and we will donate these monies to continue offering this course. Thank you.
Jim Gashel: University of California at Davis and the Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics: joint award of $10,000: These folks have developed not just an app, but a whole technology that makes it possible for blind people in a fully accessible way to create 3-D models of any molecule imaginable. It makes it possible for blind people to compete and succeed in advanced scientific fields. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, these award winners are making it possible for blind people to succeed in careers never before dreamed of. Success in advanced sciences will be the norm rather than the exception. Please join me in saluting CAL Davis and the Centre for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics, represented by Tim Newman, the chief of this program. Say thanks quick.
Tim Newman: Thank you for having me here, fellow Federal—woah, look at me, little nervous here—fellow Federationists. On behalf of the AsteriXBVI team I’d like to thank you for this generous acknowledgement. It’s been a great honor working with Hoby Wedler over the last few years; I assume you’ve all heard about this man by now—you know about his personal accomplishments. Now being his tactical assistant through his graduate career has truly been a rewarding experience. I’ve learned first-hand, not only how often the abilities of the blind are misunderstood, but also how blind people are very capable when given the equal right to succeed. Thank you very much, sir.
Jim Gashel: Brevity is a virtue here, Tim. Let me just announce our next award recipient: Seedlings Braille Books for Children, $10,000. Seedlings was started by its founder, Debra Bonde, in 1984, and let’s just look at the vital statistics: over 400,000 publications created since that time and over twenty million pages of Braille material developed since that time, and more every single day. Anybody who knows the NFB BELL programs knows Seedlings. Following in Jacob Bolotin’s footsteps, Seedlings is removing barriers and helping blind people live the lives they want. Seedlings knows that literacy is the key to success, and they also know that Braille means literacy. Please join me in saluting Debra Bonde, executive director and founder of Seedlings, and Debra, brevity is a virtue.
Debra Bonde: Thank you so much. We are so deeply honored to be a recipient of this prestigious award, and we hope and believe that it comes with some of Dr. Bolotin’s drive, tenacity, and compassion for others, that we will combine with our own and infuse into the books, which will make them extra special for those who receive them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jim Gashel: Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired: this is our final and highest award this year, an award of $20,000. Now SAAVI is an agency for the blind, but that certainly wouldn’t get them the Bolotin Award. You got to do more than just be an agency to get the Bolotin Award, that’s for darn sure. They’re an agency that represents and is modeled on a consumer-empowerment mission, and that’s SAAVI. So it’s a long, long way from Southern Arizona to central Florida, but let’s just hear from the folks from SAAVI, a big, loud Federation cheer [cheers, noisemakers]. They’re all over the room! Rather than peaceful—yeah, I know, you’re taking my time. SAAVI, hold it down—rather than peaceful coexistence with the blind, SAAVI embraces our mission of living the lives we want. SAAVI executives and staff know that they succeed when their blind students live the lives they want. So please join me in saluting SAAVI and its executive director Mike Gordon for the Jacob Bolotin Grand Prize this year, $20,000. Here’s Mike:
Mike Gordon: Where’s JAWS when you need it? Quickly I want to thank first of all RSA from Arizona Blind Services for their flexibility, which has allowed us to be creative, think creatively in our programming. Secondly the Federation’s Arizona chapter and in particular Bob Krezmer, the president. Thank you, Bob, thank you, Lynn. And finally I want to thank the SAAVI staff, both past and present, and our students, for without them none of this would be possible. Now I’d like to introduce Amy Porterfield, our associate director.
Amy Porterfield: So I think you all know that SAAVI is committed to building the Federation; let’s hear it for the Federation and all our students! [cheers]
Jim Gashel: Thank you very much. So now, Mr. President, I also have a thank you, and that is to you for appointing us to be part of the Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. I want to thank Ron Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for reviewing the applications this year; let’s hear a cheer for Ron and Mary Ellen [cheer]. Mr. President, this concludes my report and the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2015.
presented by Marc Maurer
Our founding president is Jacobus tenBroek. Dr. tenBroek was a constitutional scholar, a lawyer, a professor, a blind person. And he thought that blind people were not strange, but normal. And he thought this in the 1930s, at a time when nobody thought it but a few radical malcontent types. The crowd of radical malcontents has increased. And we have awards that we give, a number of them are for people in our movement who have similar views about our work. But the one that we give to our own members, the one that we use to honor those within our ranks who have carried the flag and kept the faith and believed, and been the right kind of radical malcontent, this is the Jacobus tenBroek Award. And we have such a person tonight.
It has been my responsibility for some time to appoint the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee; this last year, I myself was appointed to chair it by our president. And I’m honored to do it. I never met Dr. tenBroek, but I have a firm belief that I would have admired him and liked him, and I hope he would have liked me, but I kind of think he would. I knew his student, Dr. Matson, very very well, and I liked him and he liked me. And I knew his other student, Dr. Jernigan, and we had both love and affection for one another. Consequently I think it’s a good likelihood that we would have found each other of interest, Dr. tenBroek and I. I’ve certainly been impressed by his writings, and I’ve certainly been impressed by his work, because much of his work is here.
The person selected by the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since the time of the 1970s. He’s been a leader, he’s a president of a state affiliate, he’s provided leadership not just on a state basis or a regional basis, but on a national basis as well. He’s brought inspiration, not just because of his work, but because of his personal activities and behavior. And because he has inspired not just with words, but with deeds. Some of them have been challenging to others, many of them have been enormously generous.
And the tenBroek Award which we have prepared, which I will now read to you, reflects the kind of life that he has. We show our logo, then we say:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
[name of recipient]
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE,
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND
OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED
NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES
BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND
OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED,
YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 10, 2015
I ask that our recipient join me here at the podium, please if you would: our second vice president, Ron Brown! [cheers, applause]. Richly deserved, here is your plaque, I have read the text, here is the Braille version of it. Congratulations to a man who deserves it.
Ron Brown: Wow. This—to my Federation family--this is the most humbling experience I have ever felt. I am usually not at a loss for words, but I cannot believe this. I thank you all so very very much, I love my Federation family. I will continue to do the work without being asked; you know you can call on me, and I’ll do it with love, with kindness, and to the best of my ability. Thank you all.
As the last order of business on Friday afternoon, President Riccobono said, “This is an unusual circumstance. We typically present (outside the Bolotin Awards) our awards during our banquet, however, there is an individual who is deserving of one of the highest awards available in the Federation, and we believe that her work is so important that we should acknowledge it here in the convention because this talented lady is not able to stay for our banquet. She’s not able to stay for our banquet because she’s going back to Massachusetts, presumably to defend somebody’s civil rights.
So I now ask the Honorable Attorney General Maura Healey to step this way. We have a number of awards that we give, and the one that we give to those who are not members but who carry the spirit and the courage and the determination of our organization is our Newel Perry award. Newel Perry was a mathematician, a teacher, but, most importantly, he was the craftsman who gave shape to the leaders of the organized blind movement. He was the teacher who gave shape to our first president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Newel Perry taught at the school for the blind in California for over thirty-five years—teaching and shaping blind people so that they could live the lives they want. He instilled in them the notion that blindness is not the characteristic that defines them, that the biggest barriers we face are public attitudes, and also that giving back is tremendously important. I believe it was clear from the attorney general’s presentation earlier today that she carries that understanding and those characteristics.
Now we didn’t give the attorney general any warning that we were doing this, but we did want to catch her before she left. We gave this award for the first time in 1955, and since then we have given it twenty-seven times. To my knowledge there is at least one recipient among us, and that is Ray Kurzweil. So, for the diamond presentation of our Newel Perry award, I give to you Attorney General Maura Healey. This plaque says:
NEWEL PERRY AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
In recognition of courageous leadership
and outstanding service.
The National Federation of the Blind
bestows the Newel Perry Award
the Honorable Maura Healey
our sister on the barricades;
You champion our progress;
You strengthen our hopes;
You share our dreams.
July 10, 2015.
Let’s hear it for the Attorney General.
Maura Healey: Thank you so much, Mr. President, Dr. Maurer, and all of the folks here. I am moved to tears by this—deeply humbled—but, more importantly, more inspired than ever. So I will get on that plane, go back home, and get ready to get after it on behalf of all of you and all of the great things you do and fight for. Thank you so much, NFB.”
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. This year’s class had two tenBroek winners, meaning that they have been previous recipients of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship.
In keeping with tradition, the first appearance of the class at a convention session occurred during the meeting of the board of directors. Members were introduced by Chair Patti Chang, who gave their names, their home states, and their school states. Here is what they said about themselves:
Katie Adkins, Kentucky, Kentucky: Thank you, Madam Chair, and good morning, fellow Federationists. As several of you know by now, I'm in the second year of my master's at the University of Louisville in elementary education. Once I finish this degree, I plan on starting a PhD in education administration in hopes of becoming the first blind principal in Louisville, Kentucky. What many of you do not know by this point is one of the reasons why I will be the first. It is not because there haven't been other blind individuals who have come before me with those qualifications. It is because the district has established policies that make it impossible for blind people to be hired. The difference between me and these other individuals is that they backed down from these challenges, and I will not. Thank you.
Douglas Alt, Michigan, Georgia: Hi, thank you for inviting me. My name is Douglas Alt. I grew up on an apple farm in western Michigan. I dreamed one day of carrying on the family farm. A car accident tragically changed that. I've since gone back to school; my new goal is to be a professor at Michigan State University in the horticulture department. I may not be able to sit behind the wheel of a tractor anymore, but I feel that with education and extension I can do my part to feed the world. Thank you very much.
Karen Arcos, California, California: Good morning, everyone. My name is Karen Arcos, and I am a first-generation Southern Californian of Colombian and Mauritian descent. I earned my bachelor of arts degree in psychology and a Spanish minor from the University of Southern California this past spring. Also during my time at USC I was a co-founder of an experience-based support group and a mentoring program for visually impaired youth and their families in Southern California called Survive or Thrive. I now plan on pursuing a PhD program at the University of California-Irving in cognitive neuroscience, and I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee and all those involved in selecting me as a scholarship recipient in this year's cohort. Thank you.
Annika Ariel, California, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. It's really great to be here today. I just graduated high school about a month ago, and in the fall I'll be moving from sunny California to freezing-cold Massachusetts to attend Amherst College. I'm planning on double- or triple-majoring in English; political science; and another major they have called law, jurisprudence, and social thought. In the future I really want to be a disability rights attorney, so hopefully you'll see me here in about ten years.
Liliya Asadullina, Pennsylvania, Colorado: Good morning, my Federation friends. I'm really happy to be here today thanks to the Scholarship Committee and President Riccobono. I was born in Russia. I immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when I was three due to cancer of the retinas. I immigrated here for medical treatment. Having this cancer (I had cancer twice) has made me a stronger person, and I am wanting to give back and help others in need. So I am majoring in integrative healthcare and minoring in pre-health in Denver, Colorado, at Metropolitan State University of Denver. I can't wait to open up doors for blind employees and to be able to work in the medical field successfully without discrimination. I just can't wait to make a difference in this world, so thank you for having me here.
Michael Ausbun, Nevada, Nevada: Good morning, Federation family. Thank you to President Riccobono, the members of the board of directors, and the Nevada affiliate. I am honored and humbled to be here before you today. I am studying at the University of Nevada in Reno--which is not near Vegas. I am studying political science with an emphasis on public policy and philosophy, with the hope to earn my juris doctor degree and a PhD in philosophy and to go on to do policy advocacy for marginalized individuals, including blind people and other marginalized groups. This is a really special day for me, actually, because this day specifically marks the seventh month of me being in the Federation. Seven months ago I attended my state convention for the first time and was advised by Mr. Anil Lewis to apply for the scholarship, and I did so. The subsequent day I was elected to the student position of Nevada Association of Blind Students secretary. It followed that the second day of this convention I was elected to a board position for the national, so I'm here to stay for a while. I hope to assist in the development and establishment of a legacy and hope to continue the dream so that we can live the life we want. Thank you.
Brianna (Bre) Brown, Texas, Texas: Good morning, Federation family. I am so excited to be here, and I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for allowing me this opportunity. I am currently a junior at Texas State University studying special education. And outside of school I have had the proud honor of teaching for the past four summers at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for our summer programs and at our Houston BELL Program for the past three years with the exception of this year. I am extremely passionate about teaching blind children. I feel that blind children deserve an equal education, and I want to play a role in helping our blind students get the education they deserve and showing that they can live the life they want, just like I have learned. Thank you.
Mary Church, California, California: Good morning, Federation family. My name is Mary Church, I'm from California. I'm at a community college right now, and hopefully in a couple—maybe two, two-and-a-half years—the Federation will be going to Stanford. I am a major in liberal arts right now, and then I will be moving into sports psychology. I am also a horse enthusiast, earning my license in equissage this summer. I am shooting for the stars with all of you because dreams do come true. I am so excited to be here. It is quite an honor to be with all these wonderful leaders and all of you. So thank you to the Scholarship Committee, thank you to President Riccobono and to everyone in my Federation family who has made this moment happen. Have a great convention, everyone, and I look forward to talking to you.
Chase Crispin, Nebraska, Nebraska: Good morning. My name is Chase Crispin. I'm from Blair, Nebraska; I'm a recent high school graduate—I'm one of the young ones of the scholarship class this year. In the fall I will be attending Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, majoring in K-12 music education and minoring in Spanish. I plan to be a middle school (seventh and eighth grade level) band director and help students enrich their lives with music as I have been able to do. I am truly honored to be here and really excited to use the connections I am building this week at my first-ever NFB convention to make myself a much stronger student, teacher, and independent individual in the future. Thank you.
MarChé Daughtry, Virginia, Massachusetts: Good morning, my Federation family. I will actually be abandoning my home state to move to Massachusetts to go to school at Williams College. I will be majoring in women's studies and political science, with a double minor in African studies and justice and law studies. My long-term goal is to go to law school and earn a joint PhD and JD, and my even-longer-term goal is to help students in grades K-12 gain more access to Braille. I'd like to make Braille the go-to and a necessity--not a decision that is sometimes made too late--since Braille has changed my life, and I hope that it will be able to change the lives of every other blind child. I would like to thank my Federation family and the Scholarship Committee for helping me to live the life that I want, and I hope that everyone else will be able to do the same.
Bryan Duarte, Arizona, Arizona: Hello, everyone. I am Bryan. I attend Arizona State University as a software engineering undergraduate and also graduate—I was accepted into the program as a four-plus-one, so I'll be taking my graduate studies with my last semesters of my undergrad. Instead of giving you all my resumé here today, I wanted to share with you my reason. It's a little philosophy I came up with, saying that leaders lead, servants serve, but it takes both to make change. As I stand here alongside my fellow scholars and with the leaders of the NFB behind me, I have to say this competition has already won with me being a servant for these leaders. I want to thank you all, and I'm looking forward to it.
Alexandra Engraf, North Dakota, North Dakota: Good morning, everyone. Growing up on a farm in southwestern North Dakota, my parents instilled in me the concepts of compassion and hard work. And today I have definitely realized those are going to be concepts I use quite widely in my career, especially and specifically since I will be working in the human services field. But I have not shared with you yet why I do it. So, after an individual who was really significant in my life committed suicide, I decided that I wanted to be a counselor, focusing on suicide prevention and intervention in the university system with college students. So hopefully there I will use my compassion and hard work to make a change in this issue that I see, and I want to be the change. Thank you.
LaShawna Fant, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning. My name is Lashawna Fant, and I am from a state in which two kings were born: the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, and the king of the blues, B. B. King. This fall I will attend Mississippi College and work toward obtaining a doctoral degree in counseling. Again I want to say from my heart that I appreciate this royal opportunity.
Robert (Tripp) Gulledge, Alabama, Alabama: Howdy, y’all. Good morning, Federation family, thank you, President Riccobono and members of the board of directors. This is my first NFB scholarship and first convention, and I couldn't possibly have had more fun. I would also like to thank my state president, Ms. Joy Harris, whom you heard a little while ago. She obviously wrote me a really nice recommendation, and she's cool anyway. I have recently graduated high school--like some of the others I'm a baby. I'm headed to the loveliest village on the plains, Auburn University, this fall—War Eagle. I will be double-majoring in music performance and music education to teach first a little bit of high school, and then ultimately I'll pursue a doctoral degree and take a position at a university teaching music theory and directing wind bands. Thank you, and I'll be here all week—seriously.
Dezman Jackson, Maryland, Online: Good morning, Madam Chair. Thank you, board of directors. I'm Dezman Jackson of Maryland. It is truly a humbling honor to be a part of such a distinguished group and to be with my Federation family. In addition to my duties at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, I will be continuing at the George Washington University with a master's in public health, concentrating on community health education and policy to help people live the healthy life they want to live. This truly has been a gift and an honor that I intend to keep giving away, being a part of the Federation. Join me in helping me to keep building the Federation. Thank you.
Mary Abby Jusayan, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: Good morning, everyone. My name is Mary Abby. I was born in the Philippines, but now I live in Providence. I attend school at Rhode Island College, I'm a sophomore, my major is elementary education, and I strongly believe that the blind youth should be empowered and shown that blindness is not a limitation and does not dictate where you can go and what you can do. So I'm going to be a teacher for the blind, and, when I've graduated with my bachelor's, I will attend U Mass Boston, hopefully in a few years. This is my first convention as well; I'm really excited to be here, and I just want to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to be here.
Kaitlyn Kellermeyer, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. As she said, my name is Kaitlyn Kellermeyer, and I'm an economics major at Texas A&M University. I'd like to start off by thanking the board and the committee for this amazing opportunity. Over the past year and a half that I've been a blind person, I've learned a lot about what it means to advocate for myself, and I've been able to be an advocate at my university as well. I'm hoping to go into the homeland security field because I really believe in the importance of professions and work that protect and empower people to live the lives that they want to live, even if they don't know who the people who are helping them do that are. So being here at my first NFB convention, it's been so wonderful to be able to see the ways in which this organization has protected and empowered the blind community so that we can go on to do amazing things and have opportunities like you've given me. So I just want to say thank you so much for everything that you've given to the blind community and to me, and I'm so excited to be here.
Miriam Lozneanu, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hello, everyone. Good morning, NFB family. I am from Clemson University in South Carolina, and I am the first deaf-blind student, and my major is computer science. I really enjoy learning this, and it is my goal to make apps which provide easier communication and improve living for those who are deaf and deaf and blind. I am learning a great deal, and I want to learn about a better life, and I want that for everyone else as well. Thank you so much for choosing me for this scholarship, and enjoy your time here and meeting one another. Thank you.
Nefertiti Matos (tenBroek Fellow), New York, New York: Good morning. I stand before you feeling extremely honored, privileged, humbled—oh my goodness, to be here once again. I am currently studying toward a bachelor's degree in community and human services with a double concentration in disability studies and mental health counseling. I am also an assistive technology instructor for the New York Public Library and a proud triathlon triathlete on a competitive level. I want to thank everyone who chose to believe in me yet again as I continue to forge meaning and identity through building upon this unstoppable, unparalleled, just amazing Federation. Thank you so much. Let's go!
Sarah Meyer, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I feel so thankful and honored to get to be a part of this incredible, momentous event this week. I especially want to thank the members of the board of directors for allowing us this opportunity to speak, and I really want to thank the Scholarship Committee and the state affiliates of Indiana and Colorado for investing in my life in so many incredible ways so far. Being a part of the Federation the last few years has truly taught me the meaning of family and has helped me to learn so much about myself, including the fact that I love advocacy and love to advocate for others. I will be pursuing two master's degrees at Ball State University in Indiana. I will be studying counseling psychology and social psychology because I have a passion for instilling hope and compassion into those who are struggling. And I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for instilling its belief in me so that I can instill that belief in others. Thank you.
Mark Myers II, Missouri, Missouri: Hi, everybody. My name is Mark Myers, and, as she said, I'm from Missouri. I will be attending Missouri University of Science and Technology in the fall, starting a double major in computer science and electrical engineering. I owe so much to the NFB. I actually got involved with the NFB when I was in seventh grade with the Law Program back in 2009 and then again in the 2011 Youth Slam and the Project Innovation and STEMX. I've just had so much experience with the amazingness of the NFB, and I am just so grateful for everything that they have done for me. Thank you.
Crystal Plemmons, North Carolina, North Carolina: Hello, everyone. It is a privilege to be here. I am a senior at Western Carolina University. I am majoring in English literature with a minor in professional writing. I am going to go on to get at least a master's degree, and then hopefully I will be able to work at my dream job of teaching English at a community college. There are two major things that I want to get done: one is to show everyone in my community, or to keep showing them, I should say, that blindness doesn't stop me from doing anything I want to do, and the other thing is to go out and show other blind people in my area that they can do the same thing. Thank you.
Jason Polansky, Maryland, Pennsylvania: Good morning, Federationists. My name is Jason Polansky. I grew up in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and I graduated from high school in 2014 (last year). I knew that before college I needed some good foundational skills of blindness, so I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and graduated last month. Then I had the great pleasure and opportunity of working in the Buddy Program teaching technology and being a mentor and positive role model for middle school students. In the fall I plan to attend Messiah College in Pennsylvania. I have a lot of different interests, so I'm going to go in an undecided for now and explore, but I just want to thank my state president, Sharon Maneki, President Riccobono, all of the great mentors who I've had the pleasure to meet and get to know and learn from, and my Federation family as a whole. Thank you.
Karolline Sales, Louisiana, Louisiana: [Chairman Chang was worried about her pronunciation of Karolline’s name, so her beginning comments are directed at telling Patti Chang she had mastered the pronunciation.] Bom dia, good morning. She always does a very good—a great—job saying my name, and she's—shall I say she's not just doing a great job, but it's perfect, so you don't need to worry about that. It's a great pleasure. Guys, I always had dreams, and I always did everything to achieve my dreams, but I could never imagine that this time it would be so perfect, really. Because this country got [welcomed] me with wide-open arms and not only the country but at the Louisiana Center for the Blind where—whoo!—where I took my training for a year, and Pam Allen, Ms. Pam Allen—thank you for everything. Also, right away after finishing my training, I stepped into teaching at the BELL Program, the little cute kids. After that the Buddy Program, where I helped with translation from English to Spanish, and now I have my students here and counselors for the STEP Program, it's very exciting. I took my undergraduate degree in Brazil in languages and arts, my postgraduate degree in accessibility, and now I'm planning to get my master's at Louisiana Tech in rehab teaching, about which I'm very excited. So again, thank you, Patti Chang; the committee; Ms. Pam Allen; Ms. Bethel Murphy, who helped me apply—[applause] yeah, she deserves that. Thank you to everybody for making my dream come true. Good luck, and have a great convention.
Kaitlin Shelton, (tenBroek Fellow), Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much to the Scholarship Committee . I'm really humbled and honored, and it's a pleasure to be in such a talented scholarship class this year. I am a senior music therapy major at the University of Dayton, and my goal is to work in a pediatric hospital using music's ability to accomplish nonmusical goals and overcome physical, language, and other barriers. I hope to ease discomfort for my patients as well as to help them gain the confidence to live the lives they want. I recently returned from a ten-day service trip for music therapy and music education students in Jamaica, where I did some clinical work in infirmaries and a school for children with special needs. This experience showed me that the NFB's conviction that no one should be ashamed of their disability or feel that they have a hindrance in their life is totally true and especially so for people in a third-world country. So in the Federation I am only growing stronger in this belief, and I am president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students currently. I aspire to do much more in the future, and I am so thankful and grateful to the mentors I have had thus far who have enriched my life so much. I totally intend to pay it forward in my career and in the Federation. Thank you so much, and have a great convention.
Christopher Stewart, Kentucky, Kentucky: I've never said this before; I'm a bit nervous, but let's see how it feels. Good morning, my Federation family. Feels pretty good—I look forward to saying it for many years to come. This is my first convention. My name is Chris Stewart, and I'm a third-year law student at the University of Kentucky. When I first spoke with Cathy Jackson a little bit over two years ago now, I got the feeling that something was going on in this organization. And as I attended my state convention, I got the feeling that a little bit more was going on in this organization. And now that I'm here at the National Convention, I’ve found out that there is way more going on in this organization than I could have ever imagined. I've met so many incredible people, so many incredible mentors, and to all the members of the Scholarship Committee, to every single one of you who has donated your time, your efforts, or to all of you who aren't involved in the Scholarship Committee and have ever given contributions to the fund or to the general fund, thank you so much for making this possible. I'll leave you with an anecdote rather than going through my resumé—I'd be happy to give one to you. I have them in large print, and I'll Braille one if you want. But I'm the first blind member of the law review in the 105-year history of the publication, and, when the academic dean told me that, he said "How does that feel? That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment." I thought about it, and I thought: you know, what's more important, and what I've learned from this Federation, what's far more important than being the first blind person to do anything is to make sure that I'm not the last blind person. Thank you all so much; I look forward to meeting as many of you as I possibly can. Thank you.
Teri Stroschein, Oregon, Oregon: Good morning, board of directors and Federationists. I'm Teri Stroschein; I'm from Oregon. I firstly want to thank everybody in the Federation for all of the work that they've done to date because that's what's positioned me well for my future. Thank you very much. I lost my vision a couple years ago after completing my nineteenth year of teaching high school math. I love the high school environment, but I decided it was time for a change, so I'm currently pursuing a degree in school counseling at George Fox University in Portland, Oregon. I'm really excited about what my future presents, I thank you for your support in letting me pursue my dreams, and I hope to help tomorrow's youth and today's youth pursue theirs.
Kelsi Watters, Wisconsin, Minnesota: Good morning. My name is Kelsi Watters, and I believe in building bridges. I am a senior at St. Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona, where I am currently studying psychology and pastoral and youth ministry with the future goal of becoming a spiritual counselor. I have already built and crossed several bridges in my life, some exciting, some challenging, and some both. I am doing a double internship this summer, the first part of which is at Franciscan Mayo in La Crosse, and the second remaining half at Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I am truly honored to be here with my Federation family, building a bridge for a better future for the blind community. I'd like you to know that this scholarship is coming at a truly gift of a time for me. In December my brother was in an accident in which he sustained a traumatic brain injury. Kyle is on the road to recovery, and he is working hard. If Kyle can build the bridge to his own recovery, it almost seems fair and easy that I should build my own bridge with the support of my Federation family for a better future for the blind community. Thank you.
Hannah Werbel, Washington, Washington: Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for this opportunity again. This is an amazing organization. I've just recently graduated from high school and will be a freshman at the University of Washington this upcoming fall, studying electrical engineering. My goal is to be working on cutting-edge technology and to show that there is room for the blind in this ever-growing field. I've actually already had the opportunity to work on research through a fellowship program I was in last summer where the software I created is still being used to analyze data from research experiments. I've had the opportunity to talk to the National Science Foundation about my research and am now possibly going to be an author on a scientific publication, which is pretty cool to do before entering college. It just goes to show that we are just as capable as anybody else, and anybody can do anything as long as they put their mind to it. Thank you.
Tamika Williams, Alabama, Alabama: Good morning, Federation family. I'm so proud to be able to call all of you my Federation family for about ten years now, and I want to be able to call you that for a long time. If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be “tenacious." I am very determined, strong-willed, and persistent. I'm sure Ms. Joy Harris and my local president, Ms. Minnie Walker, could back me up on that one. I'm very active in my state and local affiliate, and I'm ready to give all of that to the national level. I am going to the University of South Alabama to pursue a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in human services. My short-term goal is to be a social worker with blind services, and my long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur. Thank you.
At the banquet Chair Patti Chang made the following remarks: I thought that since we are celebrating our seventy-fifth convention and our fiftieth year of awarding national scholarships that I would take the time to share some of the history of the program with you and some of the facts that I find fascinating. We have given away 902 scholarships since 1965. Total monetary awards have exceeded $3 million. The highest dollar scholarship we have awarded was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. It was first awarded in 2000, it was given in the amount of $21,000, and it was awarded to Angela Sasser. This $21,000 scholarship was awarded in recognition of the new century. It was the first time we renamed the Action Fund scholarship in recognition of Dr. Jernigan. The second-highest scholarship we have ever given was called the Distinguished Scholar, it was awarded in 1991, and it was awarded in the amount of $20,000 to our own Pam Allen. The very first scholarships were given out in 1965, and they were awarded to Jeffrey Henry Diket of North Carolina and Joyce R. Fields of Arizona. We gave two separate payments of $150 each. Now that’s actually equivalent to receiving $2,257.80 in 2015 dollars.
The longest-running scholarship was named after Howard Brown Rickard. It lasted for forty-five years, from 1965 through 2010. It was originally established by a bequest from Thomas Rickard in honor of his father. Thomas was a longtime Federationist who practiced law in Lander, Wyoming. Interestingly enough the income from his practice and his interest in mines constituted the principle for the bequest. He attended school in California, and he in fact was taught by Dr. tenBroek at the University of California.
The first scholarship application only required transcripts and a 250-word essay. We did not require proof of blindness.
The first year we required convention attendance was 1971. A tenBroek Fellow is a student who has won more than one national scholarship. There have been fifty-seven tenBroek Fellows. It seems that the first reference to tenBroek Fellows is found in the 1996 Braille Monitor, and no tenBroek Fellow has ever won a third scholarship. The state with the most tenBroek Fellows, appropriately, is California. They have seven.
The first year that Ray Kurzweil presented the winners with additional awards was 2000. At the time Peggy Elliott said, “Dr. Kurzweil, as you can tell, was a friend of Dr. Jernigan. In honor and in memory of Dr. Jernigan, he will add to the money I’ve already told you about.”
Finally, the committee has had only six chairpersons in its fifty-year history. This year we, the National Federation of the Blind, are awarding $124,000 in scholarships, but that’s not all. We expend many resources to develop the next generation of leaders. In the scholarship program we use human capital in mentoring our scholarship finalists, and of course we use monetary resources in assisting our scholarship finalists to attend our convention. So allow me to present to you our fiftieth scholarship class.
After the scholarship class was introduced and the amount of each award was announced, Ms. Brianna (Bre) Brown was invited to address the convention in recognition of her winning the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Here is what she said:
Good evening, Federationists. I am truly honored to be the recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan scholarship. I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for all of their hard work, dedication, and belief in us. I would also like to thank my friends and family for all of the support that they have given me over the years. About seven years ago I felt confused and worried, but that was only until a few of our dear Federation family members came into my life and truly showed me the possibilities for blind people. Shortly after I joined, I was strongly encouraged to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind. By attending LCB, this helped me to build the skills, confidence, and self-advocacy that I would need to be successful in my life. It is because of all of you and our empowering organization and everything that we have accomplished over these past seventy-five years that I stand before you today with the opportunity to live the life I want. Thank you.
2015 Scholarship Program Awards won:
$3,000 NFB Awards: Katie Adkins, Douglas Alt, Karen Arcos, Annika Ariel, Liliya Asadullina, Michael Ausbun, Mary Church, Bryan Duarte, Alexandra Engraf, Robert Gulledge, Miriam Lozneanu, Nefertiti Matos, Mark Myers II, Crystal Plemmons, Jason Polansky, Christopher Stewart, and Kelsi Watters.
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: MarChé Daughtry
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Tamika Williams
$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: LaShawna Fant
$3,000 Lillian S. Edelstein Scholarship for the Blind: Teri Stroschein
$3,000 Pearson Award: Dezman Jackson
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Mary Abby Jusayan
$5,000 NFB Awards: Chase Crispin, Karolline Sales, and Kaitlin Shelton
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Hannah Werbel
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in STEM: Kaitlyn Kellermeyer
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Sarah Meyer
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Brianna Brown
From the Editor: It is wonderful when the winner of one of our scholarships is able to realize and articulate the primary benefit that is found in the opportunity in winning a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind. Here is a thank you letter from one of the members of the class of 2015.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all of your hard work on the Scholarship Committee to make convention such a wonderful experience for all of us. I know you put in many hours of hard work, and I truly appreciate it. I admit that I had no idea what to expect from my first convention and first real exposure to the NFB, but convention was one of the most amazing experiences that I have had. Our scholarship class really connected, found unique values and ideas to share, and bonded. I made many new friends that I will keep in touch with for years to come. Before convention I felt like I was going at many of these things alone—I did not know of anyone else who was blind and studying music education or who was teaching sighted students. I learned so much from each of my mentors and meetings such as the blind educators division and the musicians group gave me so many ideas. I left the convention with pages and pages of notes on my Braille Sense that will be extremely beneficial to me in the future. It was an honor to have this experience. The money will, of course, be a huge help and make it possible for me to avoid taking out a student loan this year. Though the money is awesome and truly appreciated, the people I met and the connections I made will be so much more valuable to me long-term. I would have never expected to learn so much in just a few days, to find so many new friends, or feel so motivated and empowered by the ideas I discovered. I’m so thankful to you and all members of the Scholarship Committee for making this possible not only for me but for all of us in the 2015 scholarship class. Other experiences, including meeting Mr. Kurzweil, just made the convention experience perfect. I am planning to return to convention next year with a few others from this year’s scholarship class, and I am also planning to run for a board or officer position in the Nebraska Association of Blind Students. In Nebraska, youth are not encouraged to join the NFB. I always knew NFB existed but did not know just how much I could learn from other members. Our towns are spread far enough apart here that each district with a blind student reinvents the wheel on many simple issues. I hope NABS can connect students and teachers in the state to share these ideas and get youth into the organization to find mentors for their long-term goals just as I did at convention. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to grow as an individual and realize how much support is out there. I hope you have recovered from convention and that we will meet again next year. Please pass along my greetings and thank you to the Scholarship Committee and to Ms. Dyer as well. They were all awesome!
Do you happen to have an address where I could send a thank you to Mr. Kurzweil for his generous contributions to the scholarship package?
Thanks again, and please keep in touch.
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 10, 2015
Value is a broad concept used to measure the worth of a resource, product, service, or a combination of these. Many theories have been offered through the centuries to help explain both the objective and subjective value that people place on things and on each other. The consideration of value began with the ancient philosophers attempting to apply a logical framework. In contrast the modern investigation, broadly known as value theory, is empirical research that involves concepts from psychology, sociology, and economics. Value is often inherent, and frequently it is changed by outside forces. Likewise, the diminishment of value is often established by compounding forces that have no true relationship to inherent value. Both research and experience have illuminated the fact that value is frequently determined by psychological perception, artificial control, and historical patterns rather than true economic influences that should drive value in the competitive marketplace.
Take, for example, the unique covalent bonding of carbon atoms. Carbon itself is readily available in the environment, being the sixth-most-abundant element in the universe. When carbon atoms are under enormous pressure for a significant period of time, the atoms bond with each other to form one of the toughest substances on Earth—the diamond. While diamonds have been praised for centuries, their status as a common commodity having both economic and emotional value is very recent. Until the late nineteenth century worldwide diamond production was measured only in pounds. The discovery of abundant diamond mines in South Africa quickly flooded the market with tons of the unique gem. The financiers of the mines recognized that these discoveries threatened the perceived value of the gem, so they sought to tightly control the flow of diamonds to the market in order to create value through scarcity. In 1888 De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. was established to control the value of diamonds around the world.
Compared to other commodities such as gold, silver, and grain, whose value has fluctuated due to economic pressures, diamonds have steadily increased in market value since the Great Depression. De Beers achieved this stability by controlling demand as well as supply. Beginning in the late 1930s, an aggressive advertising campaign was developed to create an emotional connection to the diamond. Love and commitment became symbolized through the diamond, and it was popularized as the true expression of romantic courtship. It was not long before some measured the depth of love in a relationship by the size of the diamond offered. Educational programs, diamond placements with celebrities, and strategically positioned newspaper articles added value to paid advertising, and the result was an entire generation of lovers who emotionally understood that the diamond was forever. In the 1960s when new supplies of smaller diamonds from Siberia threatened to diminish the market value, the advertising machinery shifted the messaging from the diamond’s size to strengthening the emotional connection to the other aspects of the gem—color, cut, and clarity. The diamond stands as a symbol of value and a shining example of the interplay among psychology, sociology, and economics in determining value.
As we come to the diamond anniversary banquet of the National Federation of the Blind, I find myself wondering about value, our value, and how it has evolved over time. Sometimes the story is similar to that of the diamond, but sometimes it is distinctly different. As we join together tonight to consider our past and to contemplate our future, we know with certainty how our value is determined and where our hope and energy are restored. For just as the diamond exhibits value, so does the National Federation of the Blind shine with love, hope, and determination as a collective reflection of the value each blind person brings to our movement. Like the individual carbon atoms, under pressure we have bonded together in love and faith to demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we have value—we are the blind, we have come to celebrate, and we will let our value shine. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
Diamonds are created out of individual carbon atoms being placed under intense pressure for a long period of time. Similarly, for nearly all of history prior to the founding of our organization in 1940, blind people faced tremendous suppression of our true value to society. The earliest humans learned that the night—the absence of the ability to see clearly—was something to be feared. Blind people at best were left to be beggars in developing communities. At worst, blind people were left to die or were exterminated outright in order to relieve society of the cost associated with the tragedy of blindness. In the late middle ages a greater enlightenment prevailed, and provisions were made to care for the unfortunate blind through almshouses and other segregated institutions. These provisions were not meant to maximize our potential, provide meaningful training, or bring us into the mainstream of society. Thus the pressure continued to build, society perpetuated the notion that the blind had little value, and we as blind people came to internalize that misunderstanding.
The establishment of institutions to support the blind helped to consolidate the marketplace for measuring the value of the blind in society. While their original intentions may have been out of kindness, the institutions became dependent on having blind people within their walls and selling the message that the blind had some capacity as long as they were under the right care. Success was not measured by how much value they added to the blind but rather how much value they added to society by taking care of the unfortunate blind so that others would not need to bother. If blind people were successful through their own means rather than the support of a benevolent agency, they were portrayed as amazing and unusual in order to perpetuate the message that the blind are inherently less valuable than the rest of society. While the diamond industry was based on enhanced value, the blindness service industry was based on suppressed value. Diamonds are forever, but the blind are forever in need of help.
There was no hope of changing the determination of the value of the blind until we, the blind of this nation, chose to build a new model. A diamond is an extremely tough substance that requires special tools to be cut. The job of cutting is much easier and exponentially more effective when another diamond is used to do the work. As blind people in the United States of America began to explore the value we could offer, we found fault in the limits that had been placed upon us. Blind people found opportunities to come together with other blind people, and they established state-based organizations where the blind first began to understand the power of collective action. In the state of California Dr. Newel Perry was the chief diamond cutter who gave shape to the first leaders of the organized blind movement. Dr. Perry, a teacher by instinct and mathematician by training, knew from his own difficult experience the tremendous struggle a blind person must endure in order to demonstrate true value. He dedicated his life to helping the blind of the next generation learn that value was not measured by the degree of vision in their eyes, but rather by the degree of determination, education, and heart they possessed. Among the rough diamonds that Dr. Perry cut was Jacobus tenBroek, who called on the blind of this nation to establish a vehicle for collective action—the National Federation of the Blind.
The birth of our organization in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in November of 1940 was a turning point in the value of the blind throughout the world. In his address to that first gathering of Federationists, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the twenty-nine-year-old junior instructor at the University of Chicago Law School and first long-term President of our organization, said in part:
Individually, we are scattered, ineffective, and inarticulate, subject alike to the oppression of the social worker and the arrogance of the governmental administrator. Collectively, we are the masters of our own future and the successful guardians of our own common interests. Let one speak in the name of many who are prepared to act in his support, let the democratically elected blind representatives of the blind act as spokesmen for all, let the machinery be created to unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind of the nation. The inherent justice of our cause and the good will of the public will do the rest.
The first phase of our movement was to convince each other that we had value and that, together, we could expand that value. Our first challenge was to bring together enough blind people who believed in their inherent value that we could mobilize the tools of our new organization. Our early leaders sacrificed what little they had in the way of money and gave generously of their time to find blind people, one by one, and to share what we had found. Our coming together reflected our hope for the future; our steady success strengthened our determination; and our increased understanding of what we could do, individually and collectively, began to raise our expectations and to accelerate the pace of progress.
In those early days our primary national initiative was to secure a basic level of public investment in our value by ensuring that the implementation of the federal social security program did not disadvantage blind people. While gaining a basic level of support took a lot of time, energy, and what few resources we had, the Federation was not satisfied to wait until one problem was solved before working on the next. A review of notes from the first conventions of the organization reveals discussions of ways to bring effective rehabilitation programs to states and of new ideas for aggressive outreach to help the blind secure meaningful employment. Dr. tenBroek, like his mentor, was passionate about teaching other blind people about their inherent value, but he was equally energetic and articulate in communicating the Federation’s message to the general public—using both written and oral media to change the understanding of blindness in our society.
Shortly after the blind of our nation united in recognition of our value, we began to feel the urgent desire to grow and cultivate that value in the second phase of our movement. While the work of the first phase continued, the second phase was marked by more aggressive efforts to get the blind into meaningful employment and to showcase our value through innovative training programs and meaningful public policies that were based on our philosophy. It was in this creative and disruptive time that the established agencies for the blind that had for decades controlled our value and determined our direction began to take us seriously and pushed back.
The agencies for the blind had controlled both the demand and the supply for our talents, but our organization challenged the entire premise on which the agencies built their value. For today’s generation of blind people, it is hard to imagine the dramatic influence of the agencies and the deep resentment for the Federation that characterized the environment for blind people across the country in the 1950s. For our brothers and sisters who faced the conditions at that time, the pressure was overwhelming. In 1957 the struggle had become so fierce that the Federation caused John F. Kennedy, then the junior senator from Massachusetts, to introduce a bill to protect the right of the blind to act collectively in our own best interest. That the protection of this very fundamental right would be a priority of the blind of America speaks to how powerful the agencies were and how little the blind were valued in many parts of our nation.
We faced struggles in the late fifties that challenged our toughness and commitment. At the beginning we were a small corps of blind people seeking to build value for each other. Two short decades later we were a powerful movement that a small group, emboldened by the agencies, desired to control for their own self-interests. This period of instability—sometimes referred to as the civil war—helped solidify our organizational values and deepen our commitment to securing an authentic organization of the blind. From the perspective of seventy-five years, the period of internal struggle within the Federation is relatively small. Yet the core values that we strengthened at that time—democracy, collective action, respect, full participation, love for one another, and a commitment to sharing our resources—have contributed significantly to the fifty-plus years of our movement since that time. We have established stability, which has fed growth, which has created a base of power from which we can demonstrate our value to society. We are the blind, and we intend to let our value shine.
Knowing our value and finding innovative methods for cultivating that value are not enough to succeed when the marketplace creates an unequal environment for our participation. Thus the third phase of our movement—the struggle for civil rights—can be thought of as the work to ensure our value is fairly tested in the marketplace. During this phase of our movement, we took to the streets to tell all who would listen that "we know who we are and we will never go back." We joined our second great President, Kenneth Jernigan, as he invited us to join him on the barricades to fight for our equality. Dr. Jernigan, a courageous and thoughtful man, personally helped raise a generation of leaders by instilling our philosophy into the blindness training programs in the state of Iowa, which became a model for the nation as well as the rest of the world. As more blind people learned of our movement and the value we were cultivating, our ranks grew. While we fought against the pressures, we built new connections, shared with each other, and discovered new opportunities. We were diamonds cutting diamonds, and we reflected a message of hope.
Within our struggle for civil rights, a generation of Federationists grew up together. Bonds were formed on the picket lines and during organizing trips to new states. As our scope and influence grew, we strengthened the understanding that the critical element in our organizational success is that the work is personal to each of us. In his first recorded Presidential Release in November 1973, President Jernigan made it clear that he hoped that providing information in recorded rather than written form would not only accelerate the pace of communication within the organization but also convey more of the personal feelings and commitment that were reflected when Federationists got together. It is not surprising that the most confrontational time of our struggle for civil rights was also one of the most dramatic periods of bonding together. The organization that was established by the blind of President tenBroek’s generation, and that was cultivated by the second generation under President Jernigan, developed the characteristic of being as much a family as it was a powerful member- and mission-driven organization.
As we came into the third generation of the Federation, one forever marked by the character, strength, and caring of the Federation’s next and longest-serving President, Marc Maurer, we did not lose any of the momentum we had built. The need still existed to teach each other about our inherent value, to push back on society’s attempt to limit our value through messages of low expectations, and to find new ways to exercise that value. Although more possibility for collaboration with agencies for the blind existed, the need to eliminate the barriers preventing us from equality of opportunity in society felt as urgent as ever. Under the proactive leadership of President Maurer, the true diversity and reach of the Federation began to flourish. The expansion of our scholarship program; the establishment of our model training centers in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota; the growth of our programs in employment, education, and technology; the increased reach of our public education; the improved effectiveness of our legislative and policy advocacy; and the execution of a bold litigation strategy were the result of a growing corps of leaders who, like their mentors, sacrificed to further cultivate value.
As the personal bonds began to be formed less on the picket lines and more in the board rooms, our President responded with an aggressive program of leadership development across the Federation. Diamonds need to be cut by diamonds, and care and planning must take place. Under President Maurer as many as a thousand leaders have received direct mentoring and guidance from the Federation’s chief executive, not to mention the tens of thousands who continue to benefit from his writings and innovative ideas as they are reflected around the world. Our President opened his family to us, and we continued to challenge our own thinking as he challenged his. The Federation is personal. Rarely do organizations with the reach and depth of the Federation have chief executives with engagement throughout their organization. The Federation is built on a bond that we, the blind, are in this together and that the cultivation of our value demands our knowing each other, sharing with each other, and pushing each other to test the limits of our value.
It is this last element—testing the limits of our value—that has characterized the next and current phase of our movement. We have come together to determine our value and to reflect our hope; we have pushed against the institutional and social pressures that suppressed our value; we have cultivated value and put it to work; and we have implemented an aggressive program to eliminate the barriers that prevent us from giving our full value. While this is a great start, our work is not done. We have not reached the limits of our value. Are we inherently limited by blindness, or can we continue to expand the horizons? Have we discovered all of the barriers that stand in our way, or are there still real and perceived obstacles preventing us from showing our full potential? Are we as blind people doing our part to maximize that value, or do we continue to fall into the limits of low expectations? Or, to say it another way, are we truly living the lives we want and letting our value shine?
It is in this current phase of exploration that I have come to know our movement. Almost twenty years ago I first came into our convention hall and felt the lift of spirit, the charged determination, and the reflection of hope that I had not experienced anywhere else. It is in this setting—a place we have created for each other—that I came to understand how I had put limits on my value, how the outside forces had artificially limited that value, and how we could mobilize the tools to change the determination of our value. I was shaped by leaders of the Federation and by the work in my home community on local, state, and national priorities of the blind. I have found that the more value I put into the work of our movement, the more value I cultivate in my own life through my enhanced understanding of blindness—what it is and what it is not. I continue to be sharpened by my active participation in the Federation. For me, as I am confident is true for you, this movement has always been personal—and that is why I am a Federationist.
We now find ourselves in our seventy-fifth year. Although our movement has been tremendously successful, we do not yet have equality in the marketplace. Equally important, some of us—maybe those who are here for the first time or those blind people we have not yet found—are still uncertain about our own value. Others of us, including me, have received some of the best mentoring of any generation of blind people in history. The question for us is will we settle for the value we have derived from those who came before us, or will we continue to take the risks, make the sacrifices, and test the limits to further increase our value? I am prepared to take those risks, make those sacrifices, and test those limits. Are you prepared to make our value shine?
It is said that a rough diamond is pure risk and pure potential. The rough diamond by itself has value, but, if expertly cut, the true beauty is able to show and the gem’s value is significantly increased in the marketplace. Yet, in the cutting, value can be lost, mistakes can be made, and the result can be failure. In the absence of trying, there is no risk, but the potential is limited. However, the risk turns into value when the cutting is done by a caring and knowledgeable craftsman.
It is also said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. I will let you draw your own parallels between that statement and the value provided by a soulmate who happens to be blind. I have been blessed in my life to find a partner who is a true diamond—my wife Melissa—and we have been fortunate to have three beautiful children who have grown up in the Federation. Our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, is three years old, and she is blind. A couple of months ago the local school district convened a meeting to talk about what type of services Elizabeth might receive. They explained that, because she does not currently have any deficits due to her blindness, she may not be eligible to receive blindness-related services under an individualized education program. Does this mean that her value is so high that they believe they cannot enhance her education any further? No, in fact, the entire premise of “special education” is an attempt to add value to those perceived as having less value than their peers. Without an IEP the school district would likely not provide an educational environment that is authentic to Elizabeth—for example including Braille—until she has suffered long enough under pressure to develop deficits compared to her sighted peers. Once the self-fulfilling pattern of low expectations has been allowed to unfold as designed, then and only then might the district provide those specialized services needed to bring value to this unfortunate child. Elizabeth’s story is not rare. Hundreds of blind children and their families face this struggle every year under the pressure of special education programs that suppress rather than enhance the value these children have to offer.
The same is true in other areas of our society. Our universities go to great lengths to show us that they are excellent places to add value to our lives. Yet the average blind person faces barriers at every turn. Inaccessible college applications, broken financial aid systems, barrier-filled course selection and registration programs, second-class student housing information, unmanageable learning management platforms, difficult library databases, incomplete electronic books, and segregated course collaboration tools all limit the talents of blind learners rather than unlock their potential and fuel their quest for knowledge. The university administrators say they have done the best they can, but the evidence demonstrates otherwise. We know that the blind have value and that these systems can and should be built to maximize the value of all students, not just those who generally access information with their eyes. Education should be about the cultivation of knowledge rather than the perpetuation of low expectations.
Similarly, some rehabilitation agencies fight against blind students pursuing quality adjustment-to-blindness training by offering a second-rate and less expensive substitute. The personnel in those same agencies throw up their hands when blind people say they want to be an engineer, a scientist, or a medical professional. These careers add value to our society, and the agency personnel have learned the traditional message that blind people have little value to offer. The inconsistency cannot be resolved in their own minds, especially when their agency adopts policies to put distance between the counselors and the blind clients they are there to serve.
Then there are the employers who struggle to find committed and qualified workers to carry out their business. They might want to hire people who are blind, but the value is hidden by the market. The traditional employers of the disabled, especially those hiding behind their nonprofit status, continue to spin the narrative about how the blind do not create as much value as others, and therefore they must be paid less than the minimum wage offered to the rest of society. The story always reaches the same climax, “Do not worry,” they say, “Because if you do not hire these people, we have plenty of good will to offer them.” Our great nation, built on equality and opportunity, has for more than seventy-five years resigned itself to the notion that the blind have less value than others; and our government has institutionalized this in the form of unequal work for unequal pay.
If that were not painful enough, when we seek to make the world better by giving our energy, our time, and our love to our families and to our children, we are told we do not supply enough value. After seventy-five years of progress, blind mothers, blind fathers, and sometimes even blind grandparents are told by social service agencies and by the courts that there is just too much risk in having a child in their custody. Has the measure of love ever been related to the distance one can see? Has the strength of commitment ever been dependent on the field of vision? Does the quality of care diminish when blindness comes? From the bottom of our hearts, the clear answer to these outdated questions is no.
Unlike diamonds, which are a commodity under the control of a consortium, we own the rights to our future, and we intend to let our value shine. We, the members of this organization, are the single most powerful force in determining the value of our participation in the marketplace. That is a tremendous risk and a tremendous opportunity. If we stop where we are—settling for the progress we have made—we will most certainly lose the value we have gained and fail to realize our potential. But we will not stop, we will not settle, the future will be ours.
Our history over the past seventy-five years gives us the tools we need to march confidently into the future. With this foundation we will build a future in which blind children will have their skills and abilities fairly tested. Through our work the testing agencies will eliminate inaccessible testing instruments that place artificial limits on our youth, and we will establish dynamic education programs that enhance the value these young people possess. We will build a future where a newly blind woman in the prime of her working years can get access to timely and quality training that allows her to continue in her chosen profession. Through our work we will raise expectations among rehabilitation professionals, provide greater leadership in the programs to train these professionals, and strengthen the connections between the professionals and the powerful information network that is the National Federation of the Blind. We will build a future where the blind can travel independently to any destination they choose with a spring of hope in their step. Through our work we will establish new and dynamic ways to teach the members of the general public that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us and that unwanted grabbing and unsolicited interventions diminish rather than enhance the value of our interactions in society. We will build a future in which the blind may choose not to walk but rather to pilot their own vehicles independently. Through our work, the blind will be included in the early development of new transportation systems, and our perspective will add value to the general evolution of transportation for all.
We will build a future in which a blind father will be deemed a suitable guardian for his children based only on his plans to provide for his family, his demonstrated ability to care for those around him, and his heartfelt expressions of love and support. Through our work social service agencies will find high value in the tools and techniques that blind parents use to care for their loved ones daily, and the judges will make custody decisions with the understanding that blindness does not hold us back. We will build a future in which we spend more time talking about innovation than inequality. We will build a future in which you and I belong, in which we add value, and in which we achieve great things. We will build a future that will match our dreams only if we continue to build the National Federation of the Blind.
A new framework for determining value exists, and it is strengthened as we live the lives we want. We have learned about our value, and we have bonded together to share that value. Although the pressure continues, we have toughened our resolve, we reflect the hope of our experience, and we have broken down many of the barriers in the marketplace. We have not yet found the limits of our value, and we intend to continue to explore our potential. We are diamonds, cut by generations of diamonds, and we have taken up the tools to cultivate our value. For too long our value has been suppressed, and we cannot take the pressure anymore. For Elizabeth; for the blind students struggling to overcome artificial barriers in their universities; for the blind people facing the low expectations of misguided rehabilitation professionals; for the blind workers whose value is being exploited by outdated employers; for the blind caregivers whose hearts are trampled by misconceptions; for the newly blind who have not yet discovered their value; and for us, all of us, the blind, bonded together in faith—we will determine our value, live our value, and continue to expand the limits of that value through the unstoppable engine of hope that is the National Federation of the Blind.
President tenBroek described the unique element of our organization very powerfully when he noted that our organization is built on a faith that can move mountains and mount movements. For Dr. tenBroek it was personal. And so it has been for each of us who come to contribute to this organization. I find it extremely humbling to stand at this diamond anniversary and to consider how we continue to build value for the next twenty-five years. The rough diamond, by itself, is pure risk and pure potential. With the right care, skilled polishing, and enhancement of a complementary setting, the diamond’s beauty can shine and the risk is turned into great value. We have taught each other that we are all diamonds. We have given each other the tools to unlock our value and to reflect the spirit of hope we experience in the Federation. The diamonds that have made us what we are have enriched our value. It is now left to us to carry that value into the future and to enhance it in a way that even we cannot imagine today. Tonight I invite you to share with me in celebrating our accomplishments by recommitting ourselves to the bond that we hold together in our organization and to take up the tools to cut a bright future.
My brothers and my sisters, we are the blind, and we have bonded together. We have built a legacy of hope and determination. We work today with love and commitment. And we welcome tomorrow with faith and imagination. We have learned our value, and we will not give it back; we have taught each other to explore the limits, and we have not found the boundaries; we have cultivated the power of our collective action, and we will not release the bond of hope. Let us go shine our value. Let us go live the lives we want. And let us go build the Federation.
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: Former President Maurer was one of the first people to impress on me the need to learn to dictate. He said that no matter how fast I might type, he was certain I could talk at least twice that rate and suggested that there might be a time when turning out material would require this kind of efficiency and therefore justified learning the skill. One of the first articles he helped me to write (without in any way accepting attribution) was one he dictated while pacing back and forth in a hotel room. With that encouragement, the advent of computer programs that could perform speech recognition, and a direct assignment from my boss to help one of our departments at the hospital where I worked to implement a dictation system, I eventually came to rely quite heavily on the ability to dictate and to have a machine turn that dictation into text. So often had I bragged to former President Maurer about the capabilities of this system that recently he invited me to Baltimore to help them learn how to use it. After a long day of work I left him with a speech about practicing what we had learned, my observation being that training is soon lost if not reinforced on a daily basis. He made no comment about my admonition, but on the following afternoon he called me to his office and asked if I was prepared to listen to something. I said yes, and what you are about to read came from his use of the computer and its ability to recognize human speech. Here, with some significant reflections about his thoughts going into the 2015 convention, is what Dr. Maurer had to say:
For twenty-eight years beginning in 1986, I have served as president of the National Federation of the Blind. During each of the conventions beginning in 1987 and continuing through 2014, I have occupied the presidential suite at the convention of the Federation, and I have directed activities of the Federation from that location, unless I was on the platform dealing with matters involving the general sessions of the convention itself.
As I approach the 2015 convention of the Federation, what I will be doing during the course of the convention seems to me to be substantially different from what I have done for the past twenty-eight conventions.
At the outset it seems to me that I have more flexibility than was true for me in past years. I will be able to attend and to participate in many of the activities of the convention which provide a measure of instruction or entertainment that have been unavailable to me in the past. The presidency of the National Federation of the Blind necessarily involves matters of political importance. Although I will be an element of the political process at the 2015 convention, my role in determining what the politics should be for the organization will be significantly different. In the past I have been responsible for decisions about internal political matters: how each of the affiliates of the organization interacts with the national group, how internal political struggles within an element of the organization shall be managed and solved, what the relationship between members and affiliates or chapters and affiliates might be—all of these have been my responsibility as the chief executive officer of the organization. At this convention, however, President Riccobono will determine what these decisions should be and how matters will be handled. I may be a consultant to President Riccobono, but the final responsibility is not mine, but his. This will mean that I can engage more thoroughly in some of the activities of affiliates and divisions and groups without having to worry about how my participation might change the political influences within the organization.
Furthermore, the politics of the organization are not only internal. There are political matters involving organizations outside of the National Federation of the Blind. These fall into two categories. First, the politics between the National Federation of the Blind and other blindness-related organizations must be considered. This has seemed to me to be external politics—sometimes I have thought of it as foreign relations. How will the National Federation of the Blind interact with National Industries for the Blind (NIB), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), or other organizations? A new political system has evolved in the past few years. This political system involves organizations that ordinarily do not focus their attention on the subject of blindness. Thus, how the Google company will deal with accessible technology, how the Microsoft company will make its operating system useful for the blind, how the Amazon company will present books that blind people can read—all of these are now part of the political atmosphere that has to be dealt with and managed inside the National Federation of the Blind.
The Apple company made its operating system accessible about twelve years ago. The usefulness of this operating system was sufficiently great that members of the organization are reluctant to criticize the failures that have occurred. The failures have been substantial, but members of the National Federation of the Blind are dramatically grateful that anybody has created an accessible system. Therefore, criticism of Apple for the failures is reluctantly offered—if at all. Managing the influence that the National Federation of the Blind has with major companies about accessibility to their products and programs is a significant element of the work that must be done by the president. I will have suggestions to make about this political process, but it is not my responsibility today.
In the past when I have entered the exhibit room at the convention, I have almost immediately been surrounded by individuals who wanted my attention for examination of products, programs, items for sale, or other matters. I believe that this has been the case because I served in those times as executive for the National Federation of the Blind, and the support that we would give to these companies offering products or items for sale or programs that might influence the blind or be beneficial to blind people was part of the portfolio of tasks assigned to me. Would we adopt the program being promoted by a company? Would we endorse a product being manufactured by a different company? How would we give adequate support to the programs and products of companies that would be most beneficial without being so heavy-handed that the politics within the blindness field would be affected? At this convention I believe that I will be able to examine products in the exhibit hall without dramatic disruption of my process in dealing with the people who are presenting them. I will probably have a better understanding of what products are available, who is selling them, and what characteristics they have.
In addition to this freedom of movement in the exhibit hall, I believe that I will have some more flexibility for the other activities that occur during the convention. In the past, whether I went to dinner with one person or another, whether I participated in a party being offered to convention attendees by one political group or one company or not, and other such matters were a part of the decisions that had to be addressed at convention which might affect the political realities of the organization in the months ahead. I do not control these political realities anymore. This means that I may decide to participate in a dinner without reflecting that the participation or its absence would make a political difference for the organization.
Another change that I think will occur at this convention is that my personal opinions about programs, products, and people may be more freely expressed than they have been in the past. I am reasonably well known for having strong opinions about the future of programming for the blind and the characteristics that should be exhibited in building those programs in the months and the years ahead. However, I have sometimes been reluctant to express forthrightly all of my points of view because some of them are based upon opinion which is not as thoroughly established in observed fact as the opinions that I customarily express. Will I serve as a member of the Resolutions Committee? Whether I am appointed to be a member of the committee or not, my voice will carry some impressive weight in the deliberations of the committee members. In the past I have felt that many of the decisions which could go one way or another should be left to the appointed delegates of state affiliates. Although I have sometimes quite dramatically intervened in the system for adopting policies within the organization, I have only been thoroughly involved in determining what those decisions shall be when I thought that the health of the National Federation of the Blind would be affected or programs for the blind would be significantly changed for the better if I did so. I am now at some liberty to express myself more thoroughly than I have been in the past. Some people may think that I have already expressed myself as thoroughly as possible, but they do not appreciate the times that I have held my opinions within myself rather than expressing them. How this works out in the daily operation of the convention of the Federation this year is yet to be known, but I speculate that there will be a much broader opportunity for me to speak my peace even than I did in previous times.
One other element of the convention that will be new, although I did it in the past, is that I will be in support of a different chief executive. In former times, at least in the last quarter of a century or a little more, I took steps to ensure that the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind was an office that could be supported and admired by those within the Federation and also those outside the organization. I could not say that the presidency was an important office. This would have seemed very much the wrong approach because it would be praising my own performance. However, to build the Federation’s principal administrative officer was an important part of the thought process in ensuring that the Federation was highly regarded by its own members and by others around the country and around the world. This convention gives me the opportunity to praise our chief executive. Praising the President of the National Federation of the Blind is always a joy, but I have not been in a position to do this for well over a quarter of a century. The president who served before my presidency was Dr. Jernigan. He was an easy man to praise, and he was a joyous person to support. I had no problem being a strong vocal supporter of Dr. Jernigan, and I love doing it. Now I will have the opportunity to praise and support our new President. Perhaps I am a little out of practice, but I think that this task will come easily to me.
At previous conventions I have been attentive to the people and the activities occurring because I wanted to identify those that would give us new opportunities to expand our reach and to institute innovative programs. At this convention I will continue to be attentive to the people and the programs occurring. When I observe those that might give us opportunities for innovation, I will bring them to the attention of our new president. However, it will not be my responsibility to determine how to address the questions that come with innovative opportunities. This will be for our new president to do.
The preceding thoughts indicate that I may not have as many demands on my time and attention as has been true at previous conventions. What will I do with additional time and additional energy that is not already committed to the daily operation and to speculation about the future of the Federation? I do not yet know. However, I have what might be called a restless spirit. Undoubtedly I will find some useful outlet for this form of energy and the commitment that is required to use it. I look forward to learning what this convention can tell. I have always found conventions of the National Federation of the Blind to be uplifting, joyous occasions. I am quite certain that this one will be no different. The difference will be how I fit into the joyous, uplifting time. Together let us find out what the new pattern may be.
by Fredric K. Schroeder
From the Editor: Fredric Schroeder is a man who needs little introduction. His work in the United States in the fields of education and rehabilitation is well-documented, and the passion he has for this work and the compassion for the people in it has made him an outstanding representative of blind people. It is not surprising that the world wants a bit of this man’s time. He currently serves as the first vice president of the World Blind Union, and in 2016 he will run for the office of president. Here is the moving speech he gave to a crowd so enthralled by his remarks that one could have heard a pin drop.
I remember Dr. Jernigan saying that, as long as one blind person is subject to discrimination, we are all subject to discrimination. I believe that sums up the essence of our philosophy, the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.
Seventy-five years ago a small number of blind people from seven states came together to found the National Federation of the Blind. The times were hard—very hard. There were no laws prohibiting discrimination against the blind. Employers could openly refuse to hire blind people with no fear of penalty. Buses and trains could refuse to transport blind people, unless they were accompanied by a sighted person. Landlords could refuse to rent to blind people, and hotels could turn away the unaccompanied blind. Many banks refused to rent safety deposit boxes to blind people, and blind people were routinely denied life insurance. When a blind person was hit by a car, the doctrine of "contributory negligence" held that the blind person, by virtue of blindness, contributed to causing the accident, thereby absolving the driver of responsibility for any injury the blind person may have suffered. Literally, blind people were deemed negligent simply by walking the public streets.
In 1940 nearly all blind people were unemployed, and there was no uniform welfare payment to meet basic needs. At that time the vast majority of blind people had to rely on the charity of family and friends for food and shelter. Most blind people suffered abject poverty with little hope of something better. But their hardship was more than the consequence of opportunity denied.
The blind of 1940 were subjugated to the status of virtual wards of the private and governmental agencies for the blind. The agencies exercised nearly total control over their lives. You may think I am exaggerating or overstating the situation, but consider this: in 1940, in my home state of Virginia, the state rehabilitation agency required sterilization whenever two blind people wished to marry. The agency explained that without a sighted person in the home there would be no one to care for the children, but there was a more ominous aspect behind the sterilization requirement. It was believed that sterilizing blind people was necessary to prevent hereditary blindness from being passed on to their children.
Unfortunately, the assumption that blind people live lesser lives was not aberrational to Virginia or unique to a single state official. In 1940, here and abroad, forced sterilization, under the banner of the eugenics movement, enjoyed nearly universal public acceptance. Eugenics was rooted in the biological determinist ideas of Sir Francis Galton, first expounded in the 1880s. Galton concluded that the social position of the upper classes of Britain was due to their superior genetic makeup. Early proponents of eugenics believed in selective breeding of human beings and supported the forced sterilization of the poor, the disabled, and the immoral. How do you like that? Not only were we lumped together with the poor--no shame in being poor—we were lumped together with the immoral. I have full confidence in the ability of blind people to be immoral, but no more so than the sighted. But I digress.
In 1924 the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted eugenics legislation known as the “Virginia Sterilization Act.” It was challenged; however, the Commonwealth soon found the courts to be sympathetic to its goal and what eventually became the goal of thirty-one other states, to rid society of those who were presumed to pose an unreasonable social burden. In the United States Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell (1927), Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., writing for the majority, found that the Virginia Sterilization Act permitting compulsory sterilization of the unfit, "for the protection and health of the state," did not violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That was 1927, and the Virginia Sterilization Act was not repealed until 1974—yes, I said 1974—and, incredible as it may sound, Virginia was not the last state to repeal its forced sterilization law.
In 1940 the times were hard and hope a cruel dream. But out of subjugation and despair, somehow, a small, unimaginably fragile flame of hope first sparked and then gradually took hold and steadied. And from that small flame of hope came action.
My purpose is not to romanticize human suffering. Tyranny and bondage are cruel and defy moral justification; oppression, however well intended, is evil; despair is not the antecedent to enlightenment. But, in the lives of the oppressed, subjugation has been their reality, forcing the choice to endure or rebel. That was the condition of the blind in 1940, and the blind chose rebellion over obeisance. They would no longer endure; they had to rise up and take concerted action. They came together to seek social change, to seek expanded opportunity, to seek the chance to work and live as others do. They knew in their hearts that, joining together, blind people could change their condition and work toward social acceptance.
Reflecting on that time, our first president, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, said: “When the founding fathers of the Federation came together at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to form a union, they labored in a climate of skepticism and scorn. The experts said it couldn't be done; the agencies for the blind said it shouldn't be done. ‘When the blind lead the blind,’ declared the prophets of doom, ‘all shall fall into the ditch.’"
Dr. tenBroek’s words remind us that our struggle, then as now, is a struggle against prejudice and misunderstanding; a struggle against the social attitudes that presume inferiority and prescribe isolation. We struggle to free ourselves from the low expectations that constrict opportunity and diminish our humanity. We struggle to rid society of its low expectations for blind people, as we struggle to rid ourselves of those same low expectations—low expectations that crush the spirit. Tragically, far too many blind people, lacking hope, conclude that living to endure is not living at all.
In December 2012, identical twins in Belgium were killed at their own request. The forty-five-year-old men, who were born deaf, spent their lives side by side, growing up together and later sharing an apartment and working together as cobblers. The two men had been losing their eyesight and soon would have been completely blind. According to their doctor, the prospect of being blind as well as deaf was unbearable. After winning approval from Belgian authorities, the two men were given lethal injections, ending their lives.
Under Belgian law people may be assisted to die if a doctor determines that the individual has made his or her wishes clear and is suffering unbearable pain. A member of the Belgian Commission of Euthanasia said that the twins met the legal requirements to end their lives since their suffering was grave and incurable. The official said that, when they became blind as well as deaf, they would not have been able to lead autonomous lives and that with only a sense of touch they had no prospects of a future.
The struggle of 1940 is the struggle of today. It is the struggle against low expectations. It is the struggle against the idea that it is acceptable, even merciful, to euthanize the blind to relieve their suffering and acceptable to sterilize the blind to relieve society of their burden.
While it is true that the forced sterilization of the 1940s is mostly a thing of the past, the underlying attitudes that gave forced sterilization its moral justification and legal protection remain. The courts still leave open the door to state-imposed sterilization, the authority to remove from society the unfit and undesirable. As disturbing as it is to contemplate, the United States Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell has never been overturned. As recently as 2001, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit cited Buck v. Bell to protect the constitutional rights of a woman coerced into sterilization without procedural due process. The court stated that error and abuse will result if the State does not follow the procedural requirements established by Buck v. Bell for performing an involuntary sterilization. In other words, according to the courts, compulsory sterilization is still okay, as long as the rules are followed.
For seventy-five years we, the blind of the United States, have worked together to forge new opportunities for the blind. For seventy-five years we have helped one another to live the lives we want to live, not the lives others prescribe for us, and our progress has been greater than the blind of 1940 could possibly have imagined. Still, while progress has been made, more remains to be done here in the United States and throughout the world, for the blind of the world are truly our brothers and sisters. Their hopes are our hopes; their dreams are our dreams; and their tears are our tears.
In August 2016 the World Blind Union will hold its ninth General Assembly in the United States, here in this very hotel. The General Assembly will be a time for the blind of the world to come together, encourage one another, and plan together, just as we in the National Federation of the Blind have been coming together, encouraging one another, and planning together, now for seventy-five years.
At the 2016 General Assembly, it is my intent to run for the position of President of the World Blind Union. The World Blind Union represents an estimated 285 million blind people around the world—285 million blind people struggling to free themselves from the low expectations that for far too long have defined the boundaries of their lives. The struggle ahead is daunting, but we know that progress begins with hope, the determination to seek a better life and to reject society’s kindly meant but misinformed assumptions about us--assumptions that have been used to justify euthanizing the blind to relieve their suffering and sterilizing the blind to relieve the burden they impose on others.
We must work together to increase access to education for blind children; we must work to expand employment opportunities; we must work together to gain recognition of our basic civil and human rights. And we must nurture and spread the flame of hope born of self-respect and the determination to govern our own lives, here and across the world.
No blind person suffers discrimination alone. As Dr. Jernigan taught us, as long as one blind person is subject to discrimination, we are all subject to discrimination. And the opposite is also true: the success of one blind person is the success of all blind people. The accomplishment of the individual is the accomplishment of us all, and with each step forward our collective future is brighter and more ablaze with opportunity.We must fan the flame of hope until it becomes an all-encompassing conflagration, an irresistible force impelling a change in the public consciousness leading to a change in educational and employment opportunities; a change in civil rights protections; and, most important, a change in the hearts and minds of blind people—a change that begins with hope and turns hope into action, action into opportunity, and opportunity into equality—equality for the blind of the United States and for the blind of the world.
by Brooke Lierman
From the Editor: One of the more moving speeches on the first afternoon came from a friend of the organized blind movement, a newly elected member of the Maryland Legislature who came to encourage and challenge us in our advocacy and in our building of relationships with elected officials. Here is what she said:
Good afternoon, Federation members. Wow, what a view I have from up here! You all look beautiful.
My name is Brooke Lierman. I am an attorney at Brown, Goldstein & Levy (BGL)—that's right, another lawyer. But that is not why President Riccobono invited me up here today. He invited me up here because last November I was elected to the state legislature in Maryland. So now, not only do I have the honor of being part of the crack legal team that works with the NFB and its members on legal cases; I also have the honor of representing the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind in the Maryland House of Delegates.
When President Riccobono asked me to speak today, I asked him what he'd like me to speak about. He paused, thought for a moment, and then told me he'd like me to speak for about five minutes. I'm going to try to abide by his directions so I'm invited back.
I am here to do something lawyers do—I am here to make a case. I am here to make the case to you for why you need to be involved in politics. Local, state, federal—you choose the level, but you need to be involved. The reason for my argument is this: the blind community needs more champions fighting for it in the state house halls around this country.
So I am here to make a case to you because, although this room is full, it is not full enough. I am here to make a case to you because I don't want to be the only state legislator who attends NFB conventions. I am here to make a case to you that we must grow our ranks—we must have champions in every state legislature. I am here to make the case to you to educate legislators so we can create advocates. And then I want to briefly tell you how to do it.
If you remember nothing else today, the two words I hope you remember are "educate" and "advocate."
To educate, meaning "give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to."
To advocate, meaning "to support or argue for a cause or policy."
Legislators around this country—at the local, state, and federal level—are advocating every day. But are they educated about the issues you and I care about? Are they advocating for or against the causes you—and we—all champion?
I will tell you, in a word, by and large they are not. But you can change that. Why aren't they advocating for the civil rights of blind people, you ask me? Well, let me tell you a little bit about the district I represent. It includes about 117,000 people in Baltimore City. My district includes every neighborhood along or near the water in Baltimore. It is one of the, if not the most, racially diverse districts in the state, and it has the largest relative income gap between highest earner and lowest earner of any district in the state. It includes the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, the Ravens stadium, and the Ritz Carlton residents. It includes one of the largest public housing developments east of the Mississippi. I tell you this because one thing I have learned is that I cannot know what every one of my constituents needs or the challenges that they face on a daily basis. But what I do know after knocking on 14,000 doors in my campaign is that they all want the same thing: a safe, clean, green neighborhood where they can live and raise their children; good schools; good-paying jobs; and efficient public transit.
I ran for office so that I could help all neighborhoods and all constituencies white or black or Latino, rich or poor or middle-class, blind or sighted—to achieve these basic life goals. But to know how to help them, I need to know what obstacles are standing in their way. For that, sometimes, I need them to tell me.
When I go to community meetings, when I knock on doors, when I attend events, I tell everyone: if you don't educate me, I can't advocate for you. If there is an intersection in your neighborhood that you think is really dangerous, I can't help you fix that unless you tell me. If there is a principal at the school your child attends who is refusing to provide Braille, I can't help advocate for you or change laws unless you educate me. And I am here today to tell you—if you do not educate your elected officials, they—we—cannot be strong advocates for you.
Fortunately for the people in my district, President Riccobono, the NFB, and all of you—I have been learning about the challenges and injustices faced by the blind community for five years now through my work at BGL. My second day on the job at BGL, I spoke with a young man named Chris Toth and his girlfriend Jamie Principato. Despite having been admitted to Florida State University and paying their tuition just like everyone else, they were being denied access to even the most basic learning tools—a math book and the homework problems. Through my work with Chris and Jamie; through my work with blind vendors—some of the most creative entrepreneurs I know, by the way; through my work with workers at SSA—I have been educated. And because I am educated, I can be a more effective advocate.
Here are two small examples of how, through being educated and understanding issues, I can be a better advocate. I sit on the House Appropriations Committee, and this year the governor proposed steep budget cuts, including for the Library for the Blind. John Paré from the NFB told me about this issue, pointed me to where it was in the budget. I found the subcommittee chair that deals with that particular issue as well as the appropriations chair, talked to them, and explained to them why this funding was so important and needed to be restored. I'm happy to say it was. When the sausage of policy is being made in the backrooms of state capitols around the country, you need to know that you have leaders there in those state capitols watching your back.
Here is another example of the way in which one single person can make a difference through advocacy. I have a constituent who contacted me shortly after the election. He’s an older gentleman who had been working at a company for over twenty years, and his father had Parkinson’s disease. So he went to the company and he said to them, “I’d like to use my flexible leave.” Flexible leave is the state equivalent of FMLA.
They said, “Okay, you can use your flexible leave, but tell us what day you are going to start, because the day before that we are going to lay you off.”
Now that’s crazy. He said to them, “You can’t do that! That’s against the law. It says in the law that you can’t fire people for using their leave.”
Their reply to him was: “That’s right; you can’t be fired for using your leave, but you can be fired for asking to use your leave.” Can you imagine? What a loophole in the law, one that would have a chilling effect on anybody who wanted to use their flexible leave. So he came to me and he said, “We have to fix this. This basically guts Maryland’s entire Flexible Leave Act.”
I said “You are absolutely right!” I would never have known about that loophole in the law if he had not come forward to tell me about it. I’m happy to report that I introduced a bill to close that loophole, and it successfully passed this year, and now no one has to fear requesting to use their flexible leave in Maryland.
Unfortunately not every legislator gets the opportunity to work at Brown, Goldstein & Levy and learn about the importance of being a champion and ally to the blind community. It's sad but true—we are a pretty small firm, and Dan winnows out the applicant pool by ensuring that we know our tomatillo sauce from our ranchero sauce and our scotch from our bourbon. Thus it is up to you.
Now that I have explained why it is so important, here are just a couple notes on how to educate your legislator. First, I'm not going to ask for a show of hands or a round of claps, but I know there are people out there who are not registered to vote. I am here to tell you: we know who you are. We legislators—we do not have enough hours in the day to see everyone. We can look up online whether someone is registered and how many elections they have voted in. I can go in right now on my phone in fact and look up anyone in Maryland and see how many elections they have voted in. So take the time to get registered. Take the time to vote.
Second, cultivate a relationship with your legislators. Legislators are people. We have families. Most of us have other jobs. We have one or two part-time or full-time staff as well. Take the time to look up your legislators, learn about them, and schedule a meeting with them. Keep in touch with them. Sign up for their email blasts. Visit with them and their staff. Get to know them. You may not need anything from them right now. You may not need anything from them this year. But at some point there is going to be a budget item that you care about—maybe transit being cut or carve-outs being created to the state Randolph-Sheppard Act or policies around teaching Braille in schools debated. Someday there will be an issue. And, if you show up then for the first time, it's too late. You need to show up now so that, when you show up at the time it is most needed, that legislator can count on you to tell him or her the whole story.
Third, work with your local NFB chapter to organize advocacy days at the state capitol, and introduce yourself to many legislators. Above all, know that not all legislators are equal—some may have some knowledge of our issues, some may have none. Meet them where they are. Educate them so they can advocate for you.
Do it for yourself, and do it for your kids and your neighbors. You are leaders—you are here, you are involved. Take the initiative when you get home to find your legislator, and start ensuring that all fifty states have champions in their state legislatures.
I hope I've made my case to you successfully today [applause]. If I have, then I conclude with a challenge: I challenge you—between now and the next convention—grow the blind civil rights movement. Create more champions. Touch someone on your left. Touch someone on your right. If you each reach out and talk to your legislator, meet with your legislator, and educate your legislator, next year when we come back here there will be so many state legislators who are champions and advocates that I won't get a chance to take up another ten minutes. Thank you.
by Aaron Cannon
From the Editor: Aaron Cannon is a software accessibility engineer who works for Instructor Inc. Many will remember his name because of the ongoing battle we have had with Palmer Chiropractic, which has decided that sight is an essential element if one is to be trained and licensed. Here is Aaron's story:
Thank you, President Riccobono. Twelve years ago I decided I wanted to be a chiropractor—well, I decided I wanted to go to Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, considered to be the top chiropractic college in the world. At the time I didn't think of this as a very risky goal. To be honest, I wasn't too worried about the academics—obviously it was going to be challenging—but what was even better from my perspective was that I wasn't going to be the first blind chiropractor to graduate from Palmer. Several had done so before me.
I was very open with Palmer about my blindness. It was on my admissions essay, and I reached out to their office for students with disabilities. Hearing nothing that would dissuade me, I was accepted, and in January of 2004 we moved to Davenport, Iowa (which I can't recommend—not because it's Iowa—I love Iowa—but it was January, and don't move to Iowa in January).
My wife and I moved there, and I started to take classes in preparation to enter the Doctor of Chiropractic program on the Palmer campus. Shortly after I began in March of that same year, I met with Lori Newman, the director of the office for students with disabilities. We had a few meetings over the next several months, but the gist of those meetings was her telling me that I was going to have a problem because Palmer had recently adopted technical standards and that one of the requirements of these technical standards was that students must possess a sufficient sense of vision. Well, I shared with her that my vision was quite sufficient for my needs [applause], that I had put a great deal of work into getting to where I was, and that I was fully capable of dealing with whatever challenges might arise. I said that I wasn't planning on going anywhere.
She proposed that maybe we better meet with the Disability Steering Committee to try to come to some sort of agreement. Now I generally like to think the best of people, so I'm sure that the reason that the meeting with the Disability Steering Committee didn't take place until almost a year after my meeting with Lori Newman wasn't because they were stalling, hoping I would just go away; I'm sure it was really hard for them to keep taking my money all those months. Fortunately, just a couple of short weeks before I entered the Doctor of Chiropractic program proper, the folks on the Disability Steering Committee found some time in their busy schedules, and we met. As I mentioned, the purpose of this meeting was ostensibly for us to discuss accommodations and to come up with some sort of plan that would be agreeable to everyone. Of course I, gullible as I was, thought I would just simply explain to them the techniques of blindness, how I'd done it throughout all of my schooling, how I would use a human reader and other adaptations, and everyone would go home happy. As you might imagine, that's not quite how it worked out.
When I tried to talk with them about the use of a reader, they were very quick to shut me down. They just didn't want to hear it. They claimed that would give me an unfair advantage. Now perhaps if the meeting had ended there, I might have believed that maybe we could just talk to them some more, maybe we could convince them, maybe they needed to be educated a little more. But the meeting did not end there, and after I had been given my token say—well, let me tell you folks the types of things that were said, and you can be the judge of the true character of the meeting and its purpose.
Paraphrasing now, they said to me: you sure are spending a lot of money, not to mention time, blood, sweat, tears. What are you going to do when you get to the fifth trimester and you hit a stopping point, and you just can't go any further? What are you going to do then? You have a young family to think about, a new baby, and, after all, they claimed that the technical standards were not negotiable because they had adopted them in order not to lose their accreditation. So, even if they had wanted to, they just couldn't accommodate me.
Well, as it turns out, we found out later that the accreditation standards that they are held to tell a much different story. The closest that the standards came to supporting their position was the requirement that students must be able to observe patients. According to Palmer College of Chiropractic, we who are blind lack the ability to observe. That's what they say, so I guess that means we should stop doing it. If we buy their proposition that accepting me as a student would have cost them their accreditation, it really begs the question of why the California campus of Palmer still has their accreditation. Let me explain. In California there is a law that states that a student who is otherwise qualified cannot be excluded from a chiropractic college in California on the basis of blindness. I know of at least two people who have graduated since this all began, and yet Palmer West still holds its accreditation.
I quickly discovered that the Disability Steering Committee was doing an excellent job of steering persons with disabilities away from the college. After that I kind of gave up on the committee as a lost cause, and it was with this major setback hanging over my head that I entered the Doctor of Chiropractic program in March of 2005.
As a last resort I took my cause to the president of the college. I wrote him a letter in which I pleaded with him to intervene on my behalf. All I wanted was a chance—a chance just to do what others had done before me, a chance to either stand or fall based on my own abilities and not based on the whims and dictates of some so-called Disability Steering Committee that knew nothing about blindness. I also urged the president of the college to reach out to the Iowa Department for the Blind to see if they might have anything to offer. Alas, it was all in vain. The letter I received back from the president appeared to have as its purpose telling me what Palmer thought it was obligated to do under the law. Apparently, in its view, it was not obligated to accommodate one Aaron Cannon. I wish I had time to share the whole letter with you because it really is quite ridiculous. In one paragraph the president of the college (if you actually believe he wrote the letter and didn't delegate it to one of Palmer's attorneys) quotes a finding of the Supreme Court, and then in the very next paragraph, without a trace of irony, he says, "The college does, however, welcome students with disabilities, and therefore I have asked Dr. Cunningham to contact the Iowa Department for the Blind to inquire ..."
Citations of legal doctrine to justify discrimination always make me feel especially welcome, don't they you? When I talked with my counselor at the Iowa Department for the Blind about how the meeting went, he told me that his impression was that Palmer didn't seem interested in finding a solution, and they also shut him down on the topic of using a reader; they just didn't want to hear it.
I received this news right around finals week, and, as you might imagine, I was quite discouraged to say the least. What I did next I'm really not that proud of, but I was just so disgusted with the whole thing that I left Palmer without taking my final exams. Looking back on it now, I really wish I hadn't done that, but I just couldn't see the point. It was such a difficult time for my wife and I—our first daughter was about four months old and our plans for the next three years or so had just gone up in smoke. I think I don't need to explain to most of you the pain of discrimination.
But, you know, I really didn't have a Plan B. I hadn't thought about other contingencies because, in spite of all the warning signs, I don't think I ever actually believed that we wouldn't be able to work something out. It just seemed so obvious to me—I wasn't trying to do something that hadn't been done before; it had only been a few short years since the last blind person had graduated from Palmer, and, as far as I knew, the curriculum hadn't changed in that time.
As an aside, I wasn't the only student to leave Palmer at that time. Another individual I knew there who had a hearing impairment left because Palmer was not accommodating him either.
After I left Palmer I filed a complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission. I didn't really expect it to go anywhere. After all, Palmer seemed to have the Supreme Court on its side, and what did I know? But the commission surprised me: it found probable cause of discrimination, and at that point I realized that I probably needed an attorney, and I reached out to the Federation.
I'm running a bit short on time, so I can't share all of the legal back and forth, but just as a broad summary, we engaged in a conciliation process with Palmer through the Davenport Civil Rights Commission. That went nowhere. An administrative law judge then found in our favor after holding a hearing. Palmer appealed that decision to district court, which found in their favor. We then appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court and it, in June of last year, found in our favor. [applause]
Throughout this process a few Federationists were kind enough to step in on my behalf. In particular I want to publicly thank Cary Supalo, Curtis Chong, and Duane Hudspath. I was initially represented by the extremely talented and very tenacious Peggy Elliott. [applause] When she suffered some very unfortunate family emergencies, she was no longer able to continue in that role. So then Scott LaBarre, a man who needs absolutely no introduction, stepped in and, as everybody knew he would, he did an outstanding job.
Now Duane Hudspath, who is a Palmer graduate, a successfully practicing chiropractor who also happens to be totally blind and a Federationist—I mentioned him earlier, but it was quite amusing to listen to Palmer argue about the differences between Duane and me. You see, according to Palmer, Duane is more qualified to understand a visual description because he lost his sight as a child, whereas I was born blind and so have no concept of those tricky visual concepts. According to Palmer, there are the blind and then there are the really blind.
So how does a blind chiropractor actually do his or her job in spite of Palmer's doubts? I don't think the answer is going to be too surprising to most people here. We use our sense of touch, hearing, other senses—our alternative techniques—to observe and treat our patients. Many, like their sighted colleagues, choose to hire chiropractic assistants and can use those folks to gather visual information. Many, like their sighted colleagues, choose to outsource their x-rays and other diagnostic tests. You know, the blind have been practicing chiropractic since 1918. We're still doing it today, and I don't think we’re about to give up doing it based on ignorance and bigotry.
What did the Iowa Supreme Court have to say about all this? Basically they said that it is not acceptable for an educational institution to simply point to an arbitrary technical standard when accommodating students. They must perform an individual extensive inquiry to seek out means of accommodating students with disabilities. As I interpret it, a college can't simply say, "Well, we just can't imagine how a blind person could interpret x-rays, so, because we lack imagination, you’re out of luck." My friends, my Federation family, thank you so much for your support during all of this. The Federation, as I'm sure you all know, does not seek out conflict. We don't fight because we want to. We do it because we must; we do it to protect our freedoms and our livelihoods and our children. Make no mistake: when we go to battle, we go to win. Thank you.
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
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The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to provide more:
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by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: Anna Kresmer is the librarian at the Jacobus tenBroek Library. She has been especially busy this year in carrying on the day-to-day work of the library, but in addition she has been asked to research a number of issues directly relating to the celebration of our anniversary. All of this she has performed with energy, enthusiasm, and good will. As can be seen from the following remarks, she exhibits all of these qualities in her work with 3D PhotoWorks, and here is what she has to say about its efforts on our behalf:
As part of the celebrations for our seventy-fifth anniversary, the National Federation of the Blind was pleased to partner with the team at 3DPhotoWorks to create a tactile, talking timeline which chronicles the history of the NFB from our founding in 1940 to the present day. This timeline is filled with audio speeches from the current and past presidents, as well as tactile photographs that capture milestone events from throughout the past eight decades. It serves as both an introduction for newcomers and a trip down memory lane for veteran members, showcasing the impact of the Federation on blind men and women everywhere.
Originally dreamed up by 3DPhotoworks co-founder John Olson, the project was developed in collaboration with the tenBroek Library and Clara Van Gerven, the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind’s resident expert in tactile graphics. President Mark Riccobono was closely involved in the content development, in addition to voicing several of the audio segments. And Chris Danielsen, the NFB’s director of public relations, ensured that the Federation’s philosophy was accurately represented.
The mission of 3DPhotoworks is to make the world’s greatest art and photography available to blind people. They recently received their first patent and have seven other patent applications pending worldwide. They have also engaged with Federationists to form a group of technical advisors, including members Luc Gandarias, Lynn Jackson, Arthur Schreiber, and Ed Bible. John and his colleagues value their input immensely and say that they couldn't do this work without them.
This unique, museum-quality exhibit was on display throughout the festivities of the recent seventy-fifth anniversary convention, held in Orlando, Florida, July 4th through 10th. To ensure that the timeline was accessible to all visitors, a Braille transcript of the audio recordings was attached to the display. In addition, Federationist and technical advisor Luc Gandarias was on-hand to assist visitors and answer questions. The NFB plans to put the exhibit on display at our headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, sometime in the near future, where it will continue to be a great way to experience the historic events that made our organization what it is today.
by Jeannie Massay
From the Editor: Jeannie Massay is the newly elected treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, and the membership chairman for the organization. All of these jobs testify to the enthusiasm she brings to the work, and when she was assigned the task of coming up with commemorative items for our seventy-fifth anniversary, she approached Sorella Jewelry, and this collaborative effort has resulted in some fantastic items. Here is what she says:
Our seventy-fifth anniversary convention was a huge success, not only due to those in attendance, but to the entire Federation family. The time flew by so quickly! If you are like me, you made it home without having experienced or had the opportunity to purchase some of the unique commemorative items which mark this milestone event for the National Federation of the Blind. I would like to introduce you to a few of the items that you can order online or by phone.
The first group of items comes from Sorella Jewelry located in Michigan. Here is their story:
“Sorella Jewelry Studio is a company founded by two sisters, Beth and Lynn Stefani, with a true appreciation of design and a passion for quality. We took our name from the Italian word for “sister,” reflecting both our Tuscan heritage and our love of family. Sorella devotes itself exclusively to personalized jewelry that is artfully made by a small team of skilled craftsmen. We are fine jewelers creating fine jewelry. Each Sorella ring, pendant, charm, bracelet, and set of cuff links is custom-made in America at our Michigan studio to your exact order specifications.”
Not only do the Stefani sisters make beautiful jewelry, but they are pledging a percentage of sales of the items below to the National Federation of the Blind. President Riccobono was sporting the cuff links at the seventy-fifth anniversary convention. Federation First Lady Melissa Riccobono was wearing one of the pendants. What a great way to commemorate such a historic moment in time for our family!
The items are listed below, each followed by the link that you can use to order the item online. You may also order by phone at the following toll-free number: (800) 692-1950, Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST.
The charm is 16 mm (just over 2/3 inch) and features the single NFB icon on the front and “NFB 75” in tactile Braille on the back. The highly polished raised icon, the rim, and the Braille dots contrast beautifully with the matte finish background.
The charm is cast in the solid precious metal of your choice. Choose from Sterling Silver, 10K, 14K or 18K Rose, White, Yellow gold, or Palladium. Pricing begins at $90.00.
To order the charm online go to this link: <http://www.sorellajewelry.com/product-p/nfb-charm.htm>
The 20 mm (just over 3/4 inch) round pendant features the six icon NFB symbol on the front and “NFB 75” in tactile Braille on the back. The highly polished raised symbol, the rim, and the Braille dots contrast beautifully with the matte finish background.
The charm is cast in the solid precious metal of your choice. Choose from Sterling Silver, 10K, 14K or 18K Rose, White, Yellow gold, or Palladium. Pricing begins at $160.00.
To order the pendant online go to the following link: <http://www.sorellajewelry.com/product-p/nfb-pendant.htm>
The round cuff links are 20 mm (just over 3/4 inch) in diameter. One cuff link features the single NFB icon, while the other cuff link shows “NFB 75” in tactile Braille. The highly polished raised icon, the rims, and the Braille dots contrast beautifully with the matte finish background.
The cuff links can be cast in the solid precious metal of your choice. Choose from Sterling Silver, 10K, 14K or 18K Rose, White, Yellow gold, or Palladium. Pricing begins at $295.00.
To order the cuff links go to this link: <http://www.sorellajewelry.com/product-p/nfb-cufflinks.htm>
The 8 mm wide band is available in sizes from four to eighteen in whole and half sizes (quarter sizes available upon request). The single NFB icon and “NFB 75” in tactile Braille repeat around the band. The number of repeats is determined by the ring size. The highly polished raised edges, icons, and the Braille dots contrast beautifully with the matte finish background.
The ring is cast in the solid precious metal of your choice. Choose from Sterling Silver, 10K, 14K or 18K Rose, White, Yellow gold, or Palladium. Pricing begins at $340.00.
The second offering comes from 3DPhotoWorks. They produced the tactile and audio timeline of the Federation that you may have seen at convention. 3DPhotoWorks has developed a mixed media art piece, which has 3D photos of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and President Riccobono. The photos are arranged in the four corners starting top left with Dr. tenBroek and ending with President Riccobono in the lower right corner. A full color seventy-fifth anniversary logo is located in the middle with “Live the life you want” in Braille. Each piece is customized with the member’s name and “Member since” the year you joined the Federation in Braille. Cost for this really cool piece of art is $49.99, plus $20 for shipping.
Please email John at 3DPhotoWorks with your contact information and “NFB plaque” in the subject line. He will get in touch with you and make the payment arrangements. His email is <[email protected]>.I hope that you find these offerings as interesting as I do. They are beautiful and are fantastic keepsakes commemorating our seventy-fifth anniversary.
presented by Randy Rice
From the Editor: For more than twenty years the National Federation of the Blind has been working to see that automated teller machines can be used by people who cannot see the screen. Initially we were ignored, and jokes circulated about the foolishness of blind people arguing for their right to use the drive-up ATM. But we were not deterred, and much progress has been made in making these machines accessible. On Thursday, July 9, the convention received this upbeat report:
Thank you, President Riccobono, thank you, Dr. Maurer. Before I even start, I don’t know how many people tried to tell me what it was like to come to this event—there’s no way. I’m so touched by how many people came to see us. I just want to share, before I even start--it’s great what you’re doing to help adults, but what really touched me was the kids and the young people that were here, and how you will change their lives. So, with that said, I’m just thrilled to be here.
I met with many of you at our booth this week. We actually did over two hundred demonstrations of our talking ATMS, and I’m so glad that so many of you took time to visit with us and experience what those machines are doing. We really appreciate the feedback that you gave us. Many of you were able to also try out NCR’s new Kalpana ATM of the future. These new ATMs are like merging a tablet PC with a cash dispenser to make an ATM that is more secure, more reliable, more versatile, and more capable than ever before. We’re working jointly with NCR to ensure that these new ATMs are accessible to the blind, and we will be piloting these ATMs in the US market with NCR later this year. For those that tried them, the thing that’s really unique about these ATMs is that they have no keyboard; there’s no keypad. The touchscreen is the only interface.
We’re proud to work with your people in the NFB. At the Cardtronics Accessibility Center of Excellence I work regularly with your veteran accessibility expert, Ron Gardner, to ensure that we are always mindful of the needs of blind users as we consider further advances through the hardware and software of our ATMs. I actually spoke to Ron yesterday morning, and he sent his regrets. I think only his church mission that he’s on right now could keep him from this event.
First and foremost I want to thank you and your NFB leaders for the help you guys have provided us. So often as sighted people we simply don’t comprehend what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Ron has very patiently worked with us to help us understand more about your challenges, and he’s personally taught me many things. For instance, it seemed natural to me that--I believed that because I understood the voice instructions on how to use the ATMs, and I knew that all our approved Braille stickers were on the machines, that blind users would be able to use the machines. Ron helped me recognize how important it is to appreciate that the human mind processes visual information differently from audio data. Audible data is received sequentially, and you process it sequentially. Recognizing this, Ron led us to adopt several conventions in developing our audio scripts for the ATMs. For instance, the new and upgraded ATMs will always give you the option to choose before giving you the action to take. So the new audio scripts will always say, “for cash press one” instead of “press one for cash.” This reflects the sequential approach our mind uses to receive and process that data. A sighted person can look at an ATM screen and instantly choose from multiple options on the screen. Our spoken scripts must present these multiple options sequentially in a crisp and easy-to-understand script. Very simply, a lot of the scripts that sighted people had developed for you were backwards and bloated with unnecessary words.
Another example--very simple things--we abandoned some words like increase and decrease because some speech engines simply couldn’t pronounce them where you could tell them apart. And something as simple as raise and lower solved the problem. In several cases manufacturers wrote the scripts in countries where English is not their native language [laughter in audience]—I think some of you have probably seen that. And they simply didn’t produce good American English. Another lesson was to be consistent. ATMs should deliver the same message, the same way, every time. In short, don’t get overly creative, and don’t waste words.
On the new Kalpana-style ATM we also recognized that for a blind user, the entire ATM screen should be a touchscreen that is responsive to the users. Otherwise you can have difficulty finding where the keypad is on the touchscreen and punching in your PIN. If you got a chance to try the Kalpana ATM at our booth, you also noticed that NCR has developed a new script across the bottom of the screen that enables a blind user to enter numeric data on a touchscreen efficiently and securely.
Second, I want to share what Cardtronics and our engineers and service personnel will be doing over the next couple of years to ensure that our ATMs will operate in the US, equipped with the hardware, software, Braille stickers, and all the other elements that will improve their accessibility for blind users. This is a monumental task. Beginning next month, we will start visiting all the sites where our 45,000-plus Cardtronics-owned ATMs, and an even larger number of merchant-owned ATMs that we operate are found, totaling almost 100,000 ATMs. Each of these engineering visits we estimate to require about three hours, which adds up to over 300,000 man hours, or the equivalent of 150 engineers working full-time for a year to move this software out to the field. [applause] Ron Gardner and I, as well as David Cohen, a specialist who was assigned to us by a federal judge and approved by both Cardtronics and the NFB, comprise the team that are now working on your behalf to ensure that all of our ATMs meet the agreed-upon accessibility standards, and I put it as simply: we’re just three old Eagle Scouts working together to improve ATM accessibility for all of you. And I guess what I would emphasize is that we really are old--we’ve been doing this a long time.
We generally meet for two or three days every few weeks, and we do the work that we need to do together. Between the meetings, we at Cardtronics work with manufacturers, programmers, and others to see that what we decided actually gets done. We will continue working to rewrite and improve scripts and to test and certify new ATMs as they come along at the Cardtronics Accessibility Center of Excellence. This is really the first time there has ever been in our industry such a widespread usability testing and certification process for ATMs. We have already seen other ATM owners copy our Braille stickers; we were glad that they did. We intend to share with manufacturers what we’ve done with our improved scripts, and, frankly, we expect that they will copy that work as well, and we’re happy that they do.
And my third and final point: many people would wonder why it’s taken us this long to get to this point. And I fully understand why that’s a logical question. In 2010 the new, revised ADA required ATM owners to provide voice guidance on their ATMs. Manufacturers had developed the hardware and software that make this possible. They provided ATMs that they said were ADA compliant. We as purchasers of the ATMs accepted these manufacturers’ assertions, and we purchased and deployed those ATMs. But, as you know, simply being ADA compliant doesn’t always mean easy-to-use. Cardtronics has long felt that our ATMs were as good as or probably better than anyone else’s. Through our discussions with the NFB we began to recognize that better than everyone else’s still might not be good enough. [applause] When you think about it, I think this is an understandable situation. When we buy a car, we know the vehicle must comply with pollution regulations; we accept the manufacturer’s claim that it does. When we buy ground meat, we don’t test it to guarantee that it’s safe. But actually, in both cases, we might frequently be surprised if we did test them. And that’s pretty much what it was with manufacturer-supplied voice guidance. The built-in voice guidance might be minimal or broken, but without actually inspecting it we didn’t know. In addition to the Center of Excellence certification process, we’re now implementing an industry-leading fleet inspection process that will result in tens of thousands of video-recorded, detailed inspections of our ATMs each year to verify and document that the ATM voice guidance is operational. In addition, all future repair visits—and there’s far more of those, machines are repaired generally two or three times a year—all future repair visits to our ATM will include verification that the headphone jack is intact and functioning properly. [cheers and applause] This is an even larger number of additional inspections that will not be videoed. We want all Cardtronics-associated ATMs to work properly all the time. Please report any ATM that does not work satisfactorily so that we can send an engineer to repair it. I’m also very proud to announce that we will be installing the first operational NFB-certified ATM in your national office in Baltimore in the coming month. This ATM will be programed to provide free ATM transactions for NFB employees and their guests [scattered cheers] Cardtronics cannot guarantee that your bank might not charge you a fee, but we won’t charge you a fee.Let me conclude by saying again that we are proud to be your partner and to underscore this partnership by asking that Dr. Maurer and President Riccobono join me here to receive a presentation from Cardtronics. Dr. Maurer, your Immediate Past President, has provided leadership and perseverance for over ten years to get the three of us together on this platform. President Riccobono, with whom I’m also proud to say that I attended the University of Wisconsin, is now providing the leadership for our partnership going forward. We at Cardtronics are pleased to work with the NFB, America’s leading advocacy group for the blind, and to support your efforts to improve the accessibility of ATMs for all blind Americans. On behalf of Cardtronics, as our contribution to your ongoing efforts, we are proud to present to you a big check—it’s four feet long—and for $1,250,000. [prolonged, enthusiastic cheers and applause] Thank you, Dr. Maurer, thank you President Riccobono, and thank you all for having us here this week.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki has been the chairman of the Resolutions Committee for many years, and anyone who observes the work that goes into encouraging those with concerns to write them and then working through the drafting process so they are clear understands why she has such a hold on this job and how fortunate we are to have her.
Resolutions passed by the convention determine or reaffirm Federation policy. But the same cannot be said for those which are proposed but do not pass. A resolution proposed may be defeated based on poor construction, a lack of factual support, or a failure to agree on an appropriate solution. A proposed resolution does not by its submission or rejection define policy: resolutions approved by the convention are the policy of the organization. Here is what Sharon has to say about resolutions considered by the convention:
Since the 2015 convention was also a celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, there was much talk and discussion about diamonds. In his banquet address, "The Federation at Seventy-Five: The Determination of Value and the Reflection of Hope," President Riccobono compared the history of diamonds with the history of the National Federation of the Blind. Just as the value of diamonds has changed over the years, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind the value of blind people to society has increased dramatically. President Riccobono said in part: "For just as the diamond exhibits value, so does the National Federation of the Blind shine with love, hope, and determination as a collective reflection of the value each blind person brings to our movement. Like the individual carbon atoms, under pressure we have bonded together in love and faith to demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we have value—we are the blind, we have come to celebrate, and we will let our value shine."
Resolutions not only establish policies for the organization but also reflect its values. It was most appropriate that the Resolutions Committee met on July 6, the birthday of the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. Many of the values set forth by Dr. tenBroek still guide us today. As usual the Resolutions Committee was made up of a large cross-section of leaders throughout the country. I was honored to be the committee chairman and was ably assisted by Marsha Dyer and Ann-Marie Laney, who served as secretaries for the committee. We needed an extra pair of hands this year since Marsha Dyer had additional responsibilities with the Scholarship Committee.
The committee considered and passed twenty-nine resolutions which were sent to the convention floor on July 9. The convention defeated Resolution 2015-10 concerning unconditional ownership of guide dogs. The resolution stated that the individual rather than the guide dog school should own the dog upon completion of training. This resolution was sponsored by two well-known guide dog users, Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, and Michael Hingson, who serves as first vice president of this division. This resolution failed because many guide dog users did not want to disrupt their individual relationships with guide dog training schools.
Diamonds and resolutions have an interesting characteristic in common. The shaping of both is improved because their creation is built on connected sources. As President Riccobono explained in his 2015 banquet address: "A diamond is an extremely tough substance that requires special tools to be cut. The job of cutting is much easier and exponentially more effective when another diamond is used to do the work. As blind people in the United States of America began to explore the value we could offer, we found fault in the limits that had been placed upon us ... In the state of California, Dr. Newel Perry was the chief diamond cutter who gave shape to the first leaders of the organized blind movement...Among the rough diamonds that Dr. Perry cut was Jacobus tenBroek, who called on the blind of this nation to establish a vehicle for collective action—the National Federation of the Blind."
Our resolutions are reflections of our values because they are created through extensive membership involvement. Since the inception of the National Federation of the Blind, our core mission has been to insist on full integration of the blind into society. Looking at the 2015 resolutions with this mission in mind clearly demonstrates that they are also vehicles to help us live the life we want.
As is true in most years, in 2015 we had resolutions concerning barriers to employment, education, access to information, and full participation in all aspects of community life. As a civil rights organization our resolutions also have a long tradition of demanding that government officials on all levels take action to eliminate discrimination. Observe how many of our resolutions insist that departments in the executive branch of the federal government issue or improve regulations. Consider how many of our resolutions issue instructions to large companies and to state governments. Let us look at the twenty-eight resolutions from these perspectives so that we may see how our values shine like diamonds.
The Convention passed eight resolutions dealing with employment. For years the National Federation of the Blind has been fighting to end the practice of paying people with disabilities subminimum wages. In Resolution 2015-04 we call upon both houses of Congress immediately to pass the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME Act, H.R. 188). Justin Harford, a member of the NFB of California who also serves as co-chairman of the Employment-Social Security Subcommittee of the Legislative and Advocacy Committee on the National Council on Independent Living, sponsored this resolution.
Marci Carpenter, president of the NFB of Washington state, introduced a second resolution about subminimum wages. Section 511 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act prohibits entities with 14(c) certificates from tracking youth into subminimum wage jobs unless these young people have exhausted all resources available to them through vocational rehabilitation. In Resolution 2015-16 we urge "the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Education swiftly to propose additional regulations that will ensure that Section 511 of the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act is enforced."
The passage of Resolution 2015-18 was particularly timely since Congress will have to take action to keep the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund from running out of money as early as December 2016. In this resolution we urge Congress to pass legislation to create real work incentives for blind SSDI beneficiaries. Such reform has been a goal of the Federation for many years. Carlos Serván eloquently explained why this reform is vital. He is a longtime leader in the Nebraska affiliate and also serves as deputy director of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. He won national scholarships in 1992 and 1995.
NFB secretary Jim Gashel and his wife Susan proposed Resolution 2015-28. In this resolution we insist "that the US Department of Education clearly instruct the US Department of Defense that the Department of Education's regulations mean that a current non-blind operated contract for military dining services cannot be entered into or renewed unless a contract opportunity has been offered to the blind as provided by the Randolph-Sheppard Act."
The Convention passed four resolutions that deal with employment accessibility barriers. For the past seven years the United States Access Board has been considering regulations that will update or refresh Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires "that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities, including both employees of the federal government and members of the public."
On February 18, 2015, the access board finally issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on Section 508. We urge the access board to quickly finalize these regulations in Resolution 2015-11. Michael Kasey, a federal employee who also serves as president of the Virginia affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
Jose Marquez serves as first vice president of the NFB of Texas and as president of the Houston Chapter. He also works in the healthcare industry. Jose has first-hand experience with the issues raised in Resolution 2015-14. This resolution was necessary because the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT within the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a new notice of proposed rulemaking on March 30, 2015. This notice was inadequate because ONC "overlooked the need to require all of the criteria, not just certain criteria, to be compatible with text-to-speech software and also overlooked the need for Braille capability, zoom, contrast, captions, and other accessibility features that would have been covered had ONC required conformity with a generally-accepted, measurable accessibility standard like WCAG 2.0." In this resolution we demand that ONC enhance accessibility requirements to end discrimination against blind workers in the healthcare industry and against blind patients.
Resolution 2015-20 addresses barriers to employment created by inaccessible employment-related technology. Blind people encounter inaccessible technology during all phases of employment including the initial job search, online job applications, pre-employment tests, and software needed to perform the job. In this resolution we urge the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission both to update its rulemaking and implement strong enforcement measures to protect the right of blind job seekers and employees to accessible employment technology. Joni Martinez, a rehabilitation counselor and a leader in the NFB of Texas, proposed this resolution.
The Convention passed six resolutions concerning education. Two of these deal with policy changes, and the remaining four deal with accessibility. Maurice Peret and Mary Jo Hartle sponsored Resolution 2015-15. Maurice and Mary Jo are leaders in the Maryland affiliate. Maurice is a member of the NFBMD board of directors and Mary Jo serves as a local chapter president. Both of them have extensive experience in teaching orientation and mobility. This resolution reads in part, "this organization strongly urge every state in the Union, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, immediately to enact legislation that contains a presumption similar to the Braille presumption that explicitly states that all blind and visually impaired children need orientation and mobility instruction unless a proper evaluation demonstrates that such instruction is not appropriate for the child."
Casey Robertson has been a teacher of blind students for many years. She was recognized by the National Federation of the Blind for her outstanding advocacy and for her instructional abilities when she received the 2012 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. Casey proposed Resolution 2015-29, which addresses the problem created by some states as they implement the Unified English Braille Code (UEB) for use in textbooks. Some states intend to use only UEB symbols for the teaching and production of Braille mathematics. However, the Braille Authority of North America has provided "guidance on how to incorporate the Nemeth Code into UEB context with the intent that the Nemeth Code will continue to be integral to Braille in the United States." In this resolution we urge the Braille Authority of North America "to indicate unequivocally that the Nemeth Code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, is the standard for mathematics Braille in the United States." Prompt action is necessary so that students who move from one state to another will not encounter inconsistency in the use and meaning of Braille symbols in their math textbooks because the Nemeth Code may or may not be in use.
As the use of technology for classroom instruction and for testing increases, blind people face more accessibility problems. For instance, Amazon created a content delivery system that enables teachers more easily to distribute inaccessible content in the Kindle ebook format. Resolution 2015-03 has two resolve clauses: “this organization condemn and deplore Amazon's knowing, repeated, and reprehensible discrimination against the blind." We also urge "schools and universities to immediately cease their use of Whispercast and to refrain from offering Kindle ebooks to students." Angela Wolf, a member of the NFB of Texas who won national scholarships in 1997 and 2000, introduced this resolution.
Cayte Mendez is an elementary school teacher from New York. She is also the president of the National Organization of Blind Educators. She won a national scholarship in 2001. In 2012 Cayte received the Distinguished Blind Educator award from the National Federation of the Blind. With this background in education, Cayte was a most appropriate sponsor for Resolution 2015-13. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) develops online assessments for use in grades K-12. These assessments measure student progress and hold schools accountable to the federal government. In this resolution we urge Smarter Balanced to "follow through with our agreement and continue rectifying identified access barriers, and to make administrative changes to ensure that accessibility for students with disabilities is better, earlier, and more efficiently considered as the test is deployed in more and more states."
In Resolution 2015-22 we demand that colleges and universities “harness their purchasing power and compel developers of educational technology to make accessibility a component of their development framework, to consult with access technology experts, and to include blind and otherwise print-disabled people in their beta-testing processes, ensuring that the market includes accessible options and that equal access for all students is the norm, not the exception." Tina Haskin, a 2015 summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, who serves as the treasurer of the Cache Valley Chapter of the NFB of Utah, proposed this resolution.
For many years the NFB has sought legislative solutions to the accessibility problems in higher education. Our latest solution is the Stimulating the Market to Make Accessibility a Reality Today (SMART) Act. This act calls for an independent commission, comprised of relevant stakeholder communities, to create voluntary accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional material used in higher education. Colleges and universities will be encouraged to use these accessibility guidelines through a safe harbor mechanism. In Resolution 2015-07 we urge the 114th Congress promptly to introduce and pass the SMART Act. Kathryn Webster sponsored this resolution. She is the newly elected secretary of the National Association of Blind Students and a leader in both the Connecticut and North Carolina affiliates. Kathryn won a national scholarship in 2013.
The Convention passed eight resolutions about access to information. Three of these resolutions commend companies for making some progress toward improving the accessibility of their products, while the remaining five resolutions urge both the federal government and companies to step up to the plate by providing greater accessibility. Cardtronics Inc. is the largest retail ATM owner in the world. As a result of collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind, Cardtronics has established a Center of Excellence to develop enhanced voice-guidance software, not only to provide full access to existing ATMs, but also to ensure that future ATM innovation will be accessible to blind customers. In Resolution 2015-09 this organization commends Cardtronics for partnering with the National Federation of the Blind to raise the quality of access for blind users to financial transactions and other services provided by ATM technology. We also applaud Cardtronics for its leadership and commitment to be at the forefront of innovation in ATM technology for the blind. Donna Prime, president of the NFB of Iowa, introduced this resolution.
Many businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions have adopted Google products, making Google one of the largest and most far-reaching companies on the internet. Rick Reed is a technology trainer who also serves as president of the Wyoming affiliate. He introduced Resolution 2015-17. In this resolution we "commend Google for the progress it has made in improving the accessibility of Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides." We also strongly urge Google to maintain and improve the accessibility of its products.
Joy Breslauer, president of the Montana affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2015-26. Netflix has recently made strides in making its content more accessible by beginning to add audio description to its content. In this resolution we commend Netflix for the accessibility actions it has taken and urge the company to improve the accessibility of its mobile and web platforms.
The following three resolutions call for changes in government policies that will reduce barriers to accessing information. Denise Avant is president of the NFB of Illinois and also serves on the commission on disability rights of the American Bar Association. She forcefully explained why we were once again demanding that the US Department of Justice stop dragging its feet and issue regulations applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to public accommodations that have a presence on the internet. Resolution 2015-01 declares that the Obama administration has no excuse for the five-year delay in issuing this important regulation.
On October 20, 2013, the United States signed the Marrakesh Treaty; however, in order for this treaty to be accepted in this country, it must be ratified by the Senate. This treaty will help to end the book famine that blind people and others with print disabilities face throughout the world. In Resolution 2015-02 we call upon the US Senate to ratify this treaty as quickly as possible. Anya Avarmenko, who experienced the book famine when she lived in the Ukraine, sponsored this resolution. Anya won a national scholarship in 2014 and served as a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute in 2015.
The Social Security Administration should know better than to use self-service kiosks that are inaccessible to the blind. The agency's strategic plan for 2014 through 2018 calls for increased use of these kiosks in its own field offices and in other government agency buildings, but makes no mention of accessibility. In Resolution 2015-24 "this organization insist on a commitment from the Social Security Administration to purchase and use only kiosks that offer full and equal access." Parnell Diggs, who recently joined the staff at the National Center as manager of governmental affairs, introduced this resolution. For many years Parnell represented clients who were trying to deal with the adverse effects of problems caused by the Social Security Administration. He also served on the national board of directors of the NFB and as president of the South Carolina affiliate.
Another resolution on kiosks was necessary because kiosks are coming to be found everywhere and are used by both government and the private sector to gather and provide a large variety of information. No technological reasons prevent these kiosks from being made accessible to the blind. Resolution 2015-08 said "this organization condemn and deplore the entities who are manufacturing and deploying inaccessible kiosks for completely overlooking the needs of many of their customers." Evelyn Valdez sponsored this resolution. She won a national scholarship in 2006 and was a leader in the NFB of New Jersey for many years. Currently Evelyn serves as second vice president in the greater DC chapter of the NFB District of Columbia affiliate.
The following two resolutions instruct companies on the way to improve access to information for the blind. Hindley Williams was a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute in 2015. Hindley is also a newly elected member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students and an avid user of Braille. It was most appropriate for Hindley to be the proponent for Resolution 2015-06. This resolution was necessary because "Windows phones and tablets do not contain any Braille support, and Android and Chromebook devices developed by Google have such deeply flawed Braille support that for many activities it is insufficient to completely control the device without using speech." In this resolution we "strongly urge Google and Microsoft to include robust Braille access to their mobile platforms."
Derek Manners, the newly elected treasurer of the National Association of Blind Students, who also serves as vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Blind Students and won a national scholarship in 2014, made a cogent argument about the advantages and importance of 3D printing. Derek was the proponent of Resolution 2015-23 in which we strongly urged "developers of 3D design and printing software to give blind users the ability to print and make menu-driven modifications to models independently."
The Convention passed six resolutions dealing with barriers that limit full participation. These resolutions have very diverse subjects, but they all clearly speak to actions that prevent blind people from living the life we want.
In January 2015 Leader Dogs for the Blind announced that it had received accreditation by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC). NAC has no expertise in the guide dog arena. In reality NAC accreditation will cause a deterioration in training standards, which could limit the ability of guide dog users to travel throughout the community. The purpose of NAC has always been to undermine and thwart the right of the organized blind to speak on behalf of blind consumers. By affiliating with NAC, Leader Dogs for the Blind is also seeking to minimize the voice of the blind. In Resolution 2015-05 "this organization demand that Leader Dogs for the Blind take immediate steps to terminate its accreditation by NAC." This resolution was sponsored by Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, and Michael Hingson, who serves as first vice president of this division.
The quality of life for SSI beneficiaries will be improved because the US Congress passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. This act will allow many blind people to pay for critical expenses by saving money in an ABLE account without jeopardizing their eligibility for SSI benefits. The ABLE program must be implemented by each state. Jeremy Capati, a member of the NFB of New Jersey, was a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute in 2015. Earlier in 2015 he also had an internship at the White House in the Office of Public Engagement. Jeremy sponsored Resolution 2015-21 in which we "urge states that have not yet created an ABLE account program to do so immediately."
The Convention passed two resolutions concerning voting rights. The Help America Vote Act, which was passed in 2002, provides the blind and other voters with disabilities the opportunity to cast a secret ballot for all federal elections. This law has not lived up to its promise because of poor enforcement. In Resolution 2015-12 "this organization demand that the US Department of Justice increase its enforcement of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act." Charlie Brown, a longtime leader in the organization and who served as treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind for many years, sponsored this resolution. Charlie has been a longtime advocate for the rights of the blind. Through his leadership, the American Bar Association House of Delegates passed Resolution 113B in August 2014. This resolution urges governments "to use all appropriate means to improve enforcement of the voting rights for persons with disabilities." He certainly was a great spokesman for our resolution.
Aaron Timm, president of the Cache Valley Chapter of the NFB of Utah and secretary of the Utah Association of Blind Students, introduced our second resolution about voting, which was resolution 2015-19. Election officials throughout the United States are implementing online voter registration systems. Unfortunately, of the twenty states that currently offer online voter registration, California is the only state whose system is fully accessible to the blind. In this resolution we demand that all states with inaccessible online voter registration bring their websites into compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility standards. We also strongly urge states that currently do not have online voter registration to ensure accessibility when they implement their system.
Transportation is critical for full participation in community life. Greyhound Lines Inc. discriminates against blind customers because its website is generally not accessible to the blind; its US app for iOS is not usable with VoiceOver; blind passengers cannot purchase tickets without going to the station; and the fares are $10 more for passengers who must use the automated phone system. In resolution 2015-25, "this organization demand that Greyhound Lines Inc. immediately end its discriminatory practices by making all of its online and mobile services accessible to blind passengers." This resolution was sponsored by Aleeha Dudley and James Mooney. Aleeha Dudley is vice president of two divisions of the NFB of Ohio, the Ohio Association of Blind Students and the Ohio Association of Guide Dog Users. James Mooney is a member of the NFB of Indiana.
Darian Smith, president of the Community Service Division of the National Federation of the Blind proposed Resolution 2015-27. The Corporation for Nationals and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that provides a large variety of community service and volunteer opportunities for Americans from grade school through retirement. In this resolution we urge the CNCS to provide full and equal access to all of its programs for blind Americans.
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the Convention. By long-standing tradition, the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. These resolutions illustrate the values of our organization and how these values shine like diamonds.
WHEREAS, today access to the internet is critical for successful participation in education, employment, and other pursuits and in recognition of this reality the United States Department of Justice issued an advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 26, 2010, proposing to issue regulations applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to public accommodations that have a presence on the internet; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Justice took no further action on this rulemaking and later announced that a proposed rule would not be issued until March of 2015; and
WHEREAS, in June of 2015 no further action had taken place and the Department of Justice announced that the rulemaking will be further delayed until sometime after July of 2016, more than six years after the notice was first published: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization declare that the Obama administration’s failure to issue this critical rulemaking is inexcusable; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind demand that the Department of Justice immediately issue a robust regulation ensuring blind Americans’ full and equal access to the products and services of all public accommodations as defined by the ADA that are made available using the internet.
WHEREAS, in June 2013 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) convened a diplomatic conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, in order to deliberate on a treaty to address the book famine plaguing over three hundred million blind, low-vision, and print-disabled people across the globe, who are denied access to more than 95 percent of published works; and
WHEREAS, this grossly limited access to books is partly the result of a fragmented landscape of copyright laws, where one-third of the world’s nations have copyright exceptions to allow for the copying and distributing of books in accessible formats for the blind, like the Chaffee Amendment and Fair Use provision of the US Copyright Act, provisions which were adopted after significant advocacy by the National Federation of the Blind, while two-thirds of the world’s nations have no such exceptions; and
WHEREAS, this chaotic landscape has further exacerbated the lack of access to books by limiting cross-border exchanges between nations that have exceptions and those that do not, making possession of an accessible format copy illegal in the latter nations and also by limiting exchanges between nations that have exceptions because the laws are not consistent; and
WHEREAS, the document adopted on June 27, 2013, now known as the Marrakesh Treaty, calls for contracting parties to adopt copyright exceptions similar to the Chafee Amendment, creating a streamlined, global copyright apparatus through which each nation permits authorized entities to reproduce copyrighted materials in accessible formats, distribute those works to beneficiary persons, import accessible copies from other nations, and export copies to other nations; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind was one of the key negotiators in Marrakesh, expressing strong support for the treaty, which was signed by the United States on October 2, 2013; and
WHEREAS, in order to ratify the treaty and for the United States to become a contracting party, the US Senate must support ratification with a two-thirds majority and the Congress as a whole must implement any legislation deemed necessary by the administration to bring US law fully into compliance with the treaty; and
WHEREAS, ratification can be jeopardized if the implementing legislation package is so unduly complex that it incites controversy amongst stakeholder groups and creates a partisan divide, an outcome that can be avoided if the administration sticks to its communicated plan to call only for “sleek and narrow” changes to US law or considers adopting the American Bar Association’s position that no changes to US law are necessary for ratification; and
WHEREAS, the treaty currently has eighty-one signatories and has been ratified by eight countries, a positive trend that the United States can both influence and should want to be a part of: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we urge the Obama administration and its interagency working group to complete and transmit without delay the ratification and implementing legislation package to the US Senate, calling for minimal or no changes to US law; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon the US Senate to ratify the treaty as quickly as possible, and help put an end to the book famine.
WHEREAS, despite years of attempts by the National Federation of the Blind to assist and educate Amazon, it has repeatedly failed to make its Kindle ebook readers and platforms fully accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, in 2012 Amazon announced an initiative to promote aggressively the placement of inaccessible Kindle ereaders in the hands of school children; and
WHEREAS, Amazon created a content delivery system that enables teachers more easily to distribute inaccessible content in the Kindle ebook format, further limiting the opportunities for blind people to participate in classroom instruction; and
WHEREAS, in response to Amazon’s launch of Whispercast, this organization protested before Amazon’s headquarters and implored the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, to make Kindle ereaders and platforms accessible to blind students; and
WHEREAS, after Amazon failed to respond meaningfully to our concerns, the following year this organization wrote to the state superintendents of education in all fifty states to explain that Whispercast and Kindle ebooks are inaccessible to blind students and that adoption of Kindle ebooks in schools would place blind students at a significant disadvantage and violate the law; and
WHEREAS, despite these and other efforts by the National Federation of the Blind over many years, Amazon has failed to make Kindle ebooks fully accessible to the blind, particularly for academic reading, to the extent that some Kindle etextbooks are completely unreadable with text-to-speech or a refreshable Braille display; and
WHEREAS, in April 2015 Amazon announced the launch of Whispercast 3.0 and boasted that Whispercast is now used in more than 130 of the 250 largest school districts in the US and over 2,400 higher education organizations, including twenty-four of the thirty largest in the country; and
WHEREAS, the time is long past due for Amazon to stop ignoring the blind and to make its Kindle ebook readers and platforms accessible to the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore Amazon’s knowing, repeated, and reprehensible discrimination against the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge schools and universities to cease their use of Whispercast immediately and to refrain from offering Kindle ebooks to students.
WHEREAS, Congressman Gregg Harper introduced the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act (H.R. 188) on January 7, 2015; and
WHEREAS, the TIME Act has the same goal as the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, which was introduced in the previous two congresses, namely to phase out the use of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has passed two resolutions that support the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, Resolution 2013-02 Regarding Ending Subminimum Wage Payments to Workers with Disabilities and Resolution 2012-01 Regarding Support for the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2011, affirming our long-held goal to repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and to end the practice of paying people with disabilities subminimum wages; and
WHEREAS, as demonstrated by the states of Vermont, which has no entities that hold Section 14(c) certificates, and New Hampshire, which on May 7, 2015, signed a bill into law prohibiting entities from paying individuals with disabilities less than the minimum wage, special wage certificates are no longer needed; and
WHEREAS, over eighty organizations support the repeal of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, further illustrating the growing trend against this discriminatory practice: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Congressman Gregg Harper and all cosponsors of H.R. 188, the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act, for continuing to shepherd this legislation through this Congress and for having the courage to support a bill that will ensure that Americans with disabilities have access to integrated and meaningful employment opportunities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Education and Workforce Committee of the US House of Representatives to conduct an immediate hearing on H.R. 188 in order to facilitate informed debate and to learn the truth about the employment capacity of people with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the US Senate to introduce companion legislation to H.R. 188 immediately; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call for the immediate passage of the TIME Act by the US Congress and for the President of the United States to sign it into law.
WHEREAS, in 1989 the International Federation of Guide Dog Schools for the Blind, later known as the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), was formed to create and promulgate standards for the operation and administration of guide dog training programs throughout the world; and
WHEREAS, the IGDF today has over eighty member guide dog training programs around the world, including thirteen in the United States; and
WHEREAS, US-member guide dog training programs include Guide Dogs for the Blind, the Seeing Eye, and Leader Dogs for the Blind, the three largest guide dog training programs in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the standards of the IGDF are well known as a solid model for guide dog training program operation and administration; and
WHEREAS, in January 2015 Leader Dogs for the Blind announced that it had received accreditation by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC), an organization formed in the 1960s supposedly to create and promulgate standards for the operation of agencies serving the blind but which, in fact, has never provided a good model for the operation and administration of any agency; and
WHEREAS, NAC has no expertise in the guide dog arena, and any attempt by NAC to accredit guide dog training programs can serve only to undermine the efforts of the IGDF; and
WHEREAS, in the past Leader Dogs for the Blind, recognizing the worthless nature of NAC’s alleged accreditation, resisted attempts by NAC to accredit it and stood with consumers in opposing the shoddy and irrelevant standards NAC attempted to use to gain credibility among the ranks of guide dog training programs and their consumers; and
WHEREAS, Leader Dogs’ past vigorous opposition to NAC accreditation was expressed in part through a letter from Harold L. Pocklington, then-executive director of Leader Dogs for the Blind, to NAC’s president, and published in the February 1986 issue of the Braille Monitor, which said: "We believe we can handle our own affairs. If the dog guide training programs don't respond to your suggestions, it may be they don't believe the method of accreditation can be done only by you. We believe we can be our own judge of operation, without any help from NAC or a committee NAC might appoint. We are not indifferent, unaware, or apathetic. We just believe if it ain't broke, don't fix it"; and
WHEREAS, the purpose of NAC has always been to undermine and thwart the right of the organized blind to speak on behalf of blind consumers and Leader Dogs’ affiliation with NAC has the same effect in seeking to minimize the voice of the blind; and
WHEREAS, Leader Dogs receives a significant amount of its funding from Lions International and from individual Lions clubs; and
WHEREAS, any money spent by Leader Dogs in seeking and obtaining accreditation by NAC is a misuse of the support provided by its donors and can only encourage the efforts of an outdated and useless agency, NAC, to attempt to gain financial support from other guide dog training programs that it approaches in its attempts to convince them to accept its irrelevant and meaningless accreditation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore Leader Dogs for the Blind’s accreditation by and consequent support of NAC; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Leader Dogs for the Blind take immediate steps to terminate its accreditation by NAC; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on Lions International and individual Lions clubs to cease their funding of Leader Dogs for the Blind until it terminates its accreditation by NAC; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all guide dog training programs to resist any attempts by NAC to accredit them and insist instead that all guide dog training programs in the United States support the legitimate standards and accreditation of the IGDF.
WHEREAS, the use of mobile computing devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops has become increasingly important in business, education, and personal spheres; and
WHEREAS, Braille is essential in allowing blind people to work, learn, and play on an equal footing with their sighted counterparts; and
WHEREAS, with the growing prominence of mobile devices, mobile Braille displays have also become important tools for many blind users in all walks of life; and
WHEREAS, Apple has provided a very powerful example of how Braille displays can be used in mobile devices through its iOS platform, so that it is possible for deaf-blind people to use iPhones and iPads in nearly all the same ways that blind users using speech have available to them; and
WHEREAS, Windows phones and tablets do not contain any Braille support, and Android and Chromebook devices developed by Google have such deeply flawed Braille support that for many activities it is insufficient to control the device completely without using speech: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge Google and Microsoft to include robust Braille access to their mobile platforms, since it is necessary for Braille users, particularly those who are deaf-blind, to use their products and services with the same level of ease that they currently enjoy on traditional computing devices, as well as Apple’s iOS devices; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these companies to work with the National Federation of the Blind, Braille display manufacturers, and deaf-blind users to ensure that this support is robust and follows standard conventions of Braille display support, including command structure, feature set, and comparative ease of use.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the United States, has made access to all aspects of the educational experience for blind students a priority; and
WHEREAS, as a direct response to the first recommendation of a congressionally authorized report on the status of accessible materials in the college classroom, the National Federation of the Blind, in conjunction with the Association of American Publishers, drafted and urged the 113th Congress to introduce the Technology, Education and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act; and
WHEREAS, the TEACH Act authorized the creation of voluntary accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional materials and information technology used in higher education and incentivized the use of these guidelines by providing a safe harbor from litigation for schools that used material conforming to those guidelines, making it easier for schools to adopt accessible technology and to achieve compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and with Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
WHEREAS, in an effort to advance this legislation, the National Federation of the Blind has initiated negotiations with the higher education lobby, one of the largest stakeholder groups on the matter and one of the only remaining factions that had not supported the creation of guidelines; and
WHEREAS, as a result of those negotiations, a consensus has been reached on what will now be called the Stimulating the Market to Make Accessibility a Reality Today Act, (SMART Act), a modified version of the TEACH Act which has full stakeholder support; and
WHEREAS, the SMART Act aims to accomplish the same goals for which the National Federation of the Blind has long advocated, including the creation of voluntary accessibility guidelines for electronic instructional material used in higher education by an independent commission drawn from stakeholder communities such as higher education leadership, developers of post-secondary electronic instructional materials, and people with disabilities and also the incentivizing of the use of such guidelines through a safe harbor mechanism; and
WHEREAS, support from the higher education lobby and industry associations will increase the likelihood of the SMART Act’s passage in Congress and its successful implementation by both institutions and developers; and
WHEREAS, when passed, the influence of this legislation will not only positively affect the postsecondary experience of blind students and other students with print disabilities, ensuring that students are truly provided equal access to educational opportunities, but also stimulate the market for materials that are designed for postsecondary use or use outside of higher education and increase awareness about accessibility throughout a vast network of developers and vendors: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we urge Congress to show support for students with disabilities and reaffirm the need for voluntary accessibility guidelines in postsecondary education by promptly introducing the Stimulating the Market to Make Accessibility a Reality Today (SMART) Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge higher education leadership to build upon the success of recent negotiations by continually and consistently demonstrating a willingness to resolve accessibility barriers for students with disabilities, by working with the National Federation of the Blind to pass this legislation, and by encouraging rapid adoption of the guidelines by colleges and universities across the United States once the commission completes its work.
WHEREAS, kiosks are ubiquitous in airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs and are largely inaccessible to blind travelers; and
WHEREAS, kiosks are increasingly used in healthcare to conduct patient intake and to complete administrative tasks, with other functions slated to be added, and these kiosks also are almost universally inaccessible; and
WHEREAS, many restaurants and other establishments have similarly begun to use inaccessible kiosks for taking orders and payment; and
WHEREAS, kiosks that are not usable by the blind are also used for providing general information to visitors at visitor centers; and
WHEREAS, in entertainment facilities such as movie theaters and amusement parks, inaccessible kiosks are used for ticket sales, pick-up, and information; and
WHEREAS, virtually all of the entities using these kiosks are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and other antidiscrimination laws; and
WHEREAS, in many cases the operating systems running on these kiosks, such as Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS, have provided platforms that allow for accessible implementation of software which provides nonvisual access; and
WHEREAS, the hardware of these kiosks is often already configured for audio output and keyboard or touch-screen input and therefore poses no inherent barriers to accessibility; and
WHEREAS, there are no technological reasons why these kiosks cannot be made accessible to the blind, offering full equality of access: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the entities who are manufacturing and deploying inaccessible kiosks for completely overlooking the needs of many of their customers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist on a commitment from manufacturers, software developers, and service providers alike to ensure full accessibility of these increasingly common devices.
WHEREAS, equal and independent access to banking and financial transactions is critical in today’s society; and
WHEREAS, Cardtronics Inc. is the largest retail ATM owner in the world, with a fleet of over 100,000 ATMs in the United States; and
WHEREAS, Cardtronics has agreed to make its fleet of ATMs accessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, Cardtronics has established a Center of Excellence, whose mission is to deliver an industry-leading voice-guided user experience at Cardtronics-supported ATMs; and
WHEREAS, through the Center of Excellence, Cardtronics will collaborate with the National Federation of the Blind to develop enhanced voice-guidance software that will provide a fully accessible and superior user experience for blind customers with its ATMs and help to ensure that future ATM innovation is also fully accessible to blind users; and
WHEREAS, Cardtronics’ agreement to collaborate with the National Federation of the Blind and the establishment of the Center of Excellence resolves a multi-year class action lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Cardtronics for partnering with the National Federation of the Blind to raise the quality of access for blind users to financial transactions and other services provided by ATM technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization applaud Cardtronics’ leadership and commitment to be at the forefront of innovation in ATM technology for the blind.
WHEREAS, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities, including both employees of the federal government and members of the public; and
WHEREAS, the US Access Board is tasked with periodically updating the Section 508 guidelines that serve as a procurement guide and accessibility benchmark for the federal government as it seeks to comply with Section 508, and since 2008 the board has been engaged in a much-needed update, or “refresh,” that will ultimately bring the Section 508 regulations to a more robust and objective standard applicable to modern and future technologies for the first time since 2000; and
WHEREAS, seven years is far too long for the Access Board to have spent on this rulemaking, and, while we applaud Access Board chairperson Sachin Pavithran for releasing the long-overdue Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on February 18, 2015, and bringing the process to its penultimate stage, the federal government, the disability community, and developers of technology are frustrated with the delay of this critical refresh; and
WHEREAS, countless entities outside the federal government use the Section 508 accessibility standards as voluntary accessibility criteria, making it profoundly important for the Section 508 standards to be up-to-date to ensure stimulus of market-wide change that is favorable and effective: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we urge the Access Board to build on the progress begun by Chairman Pavithran within the last year and rapidly bring this rulemaking to a conclusion, thereby ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to information made available to the public by the federal government, and that the purchasing power of the federal sector be harnessed to create an accessible technology marketplace.
WHEREAS, passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 provides the blind and other voters with disabilities the opportunity to exercise their fundamental right to cast a secret ballot by requiring at least one accessible voting system in each polling place for all federal elections; and
WHEREAS, HAVA does not provide a private right of action so that citizens can enforce its mandate of accessible federal elections, but instead charges the US Department of Justice with enforcement responsibility; and
WHEREAS, surveys of blind and low-vision voters conducted by the National Federation of the Blind following the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections indicate that 14 percent and 25 percent, respectively, of the voters surveyed who attempted to use an accessible voting system were not able to vote privately and independently, and a survey of voters with disabilities conducted by the National Council on Disability following the 2012 election found that 20 percent of the voters surveyed were prevented from casting a private and independent ballot; and
WHEREAS, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration noted in its January 2014 report, The American Voting Experience, that throughout its fact-finding work the Commission heard complaints from disability rights advocates that provisions relevant to voters with disabilities in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and HAVA are underenforced; and
WHEREAS, Resolution 113B, adopted by the American Bar Association House of Delegates in August 2014, urges governments “to use all appropriate means to improve enforcement of the voting rights for persons with disabilities”: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that the US Department of Justice increase its enforcement of the ADA and HAVA so that blind and other voters with disabilities can exercise the same fundamental right to cast a secret ballot that is enjoyed by other Americans.
WHEREAS, in response to the nationwide adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Race to the Top grants, several consortia of states emerged to develop assessments that would be used in K-12 to test students, measure their progress, and hold schools accountable to the federal government; and
WHEREAS, the largest of the consortia is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced), a collection of eighteen states and one territory that have supported the development of, plan to implement the use of, or have already begun administering, Smarter Balanced’s online assessment system; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind, learning that Smarter Balanced’s platform was not fully accessible to blind students and that the consortium’s accommodations policy denied access to read-aloud and text-to-speech accommodations for students in grades 3-5 who could not read print or Braille, convened an informal coalition of disability advocates to urge the consortium to make necessary modifications to its platform and policies to ensure equal access for blind K-12 students in the states and territory that are affiliated with the group; and
WHEREAS, Smarter Balanced initially resisted our advocacy but later reacted positively to our recommendations and made the necessary modifications, recognizing that denying a blind student equal access to the test platform or any accommodations necessary to take the test and demonstrate proficiency in certain skills was a violation of federal law, violations that would be compounded by the popular deployment of the Smarter Balanced test: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we commend Smarter Balanced for working with our organization and, after significant pressure, agreeing to make the necessary modifications to ensure equal access for blind students; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge Smarter Balanced to follow through with our agreement and continue rectifying identified access barriers and to make administrative changes to ensure that accessibility for students with disabilities is better, earlier, and more efficiently considered as the test is deployed in more and more states; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we warn states about the use of the Smarter Balanced assessment, which, until the access barriers for students with disabilities that are currently being addressed are totally resolved, will be a violation of several federal civil rights statutes and that we suggest policies and practices be put in place at the state level to ensure that assessments do not exclude or discriminate against students with disabilities.
WHEREAS, technology has transformed the healthcare industry, allowing healthcare providers to transition from paper-based medical records to electronic-based healthcare records, share critical medical data across offices and with patients, and perform other functions of their jobs through innovative health information technology (health IT) applications and programs; and
WHEREAS, far too many health IT applications and programs are inaccessible, blocking the blind from being able to enter, compete for, participate in, and successfully perform jobs in the healthcare industry and forcing blind and low-vision doctors, therapists, assistants, and other positions in the healthcare sector to endure discrimination that is not only unlawful but also profoundly unnecessary, considering that it can and often does escalate to the point of needless termination; and
WHEREAS, one of those inaccessible applications is a software suite known as Epic, which is designed for midsize and large medical groups, hospitals, and integrated healthcare organizations, but is growing in popularity and proliferating in the industry and beyond, despite its inherent inaccessibility; and
WHEREAS, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) within the US Department of Health and Human Services has a certification program for health IT, a program that drives the way developers of Epic and other similar technology design their products so that the providers that ultimately use the technology can receive reimbursements for certain federal incentive programs; and
WHEREAS, last year ONC released a new, voluntary edition of this certification program and did not make accessibility a key component, a rulemaking that rightly sparked outrage among blind healthcare industry workers and provoked feedback from the National Federation of the Blind urging a revision of the criteria with consideration being given to the need for usability for the blind; and
WHEREAS, on March 30, 2015, ONC released a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking demonstrating that the office had internalized National Federation of the Blind’s concerns and proposing new criteria that called for some health IT functions to be compatible with text-to-speech software, a first step toward making change in the market and a move that validates the power of the National Federation of the Blind’s advocacy; and
WHEREAS, despite this positive step ONC overlooked the need to require all of the criteria, not just certain criteria, to be compatible with text-to-speech software and also overlooked the need for Braille capability, zoom, contrast, captions, and other accessibility features that would have been covered had ONC required conformity with a generally accepted, measurable accessibility standard like WCAG 2.0; and
WHEREAS, until ONC makes additional revisions, health IT will be the source of discrimination for blind workers in the healthcare industry, and countless providers that choose to deploy the inaccessible technology and collect money from federal incentive programs will be in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a provision that prohibits the use of federal funds to discriminate on the basis of disability, both outcomes being avoidable if health IT is required to be and is made accessible: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we recognize ONC’s reception of our suggestion to consider accessibility, but we demand that the agency enhance the accessibility requirements within the criteria to drive the market further and stop discrimination against blind people in the healthcare industry; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge developers of health IT to consider accessibility during the design phase of their products, lest they drive an entire population of people out of an industry that needs access to their talents, put their customers at risk for being in violation of federal civil rights laws, and undercut the promise of new technology.
WHEREAS, skills in orientation and mobility (O&M) are essential for the successful transition of blind children, including children with low vision, to full and productive lives as adults; and
WHEREAS, local and state laws recognize the use of the long white cane as a tool for both safety and independence for blind people, yet too many school systems nationwide do not promote the use of the white cane by blind students; and
WHEREAS, regulations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 300.34[c], Related Services, clearly define O&M as “services provided to blind or visually impaired children by qualified personnel to enable those students to attain systematic orientation to and safe movement within their environments in school, home, and community”; and
WHEREAS, although IDEA clearly lists O&M as an essential service for blind and visually impaired children, too often these children are denied O&M instruction because the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team assumes that these children do not need this instruction; and
WHEREAS, another reason for denial of O&M instruction is insufficient evaluations, e.g., only examining a child’s movement in familiar areas, failing to consider environments in different lighting, not requesting input from parents, or not considering such factors as the child’s medically indicated expectation of further visual deterioration; and
WHEREAS, the IEP team should treat O&M instruction as a presumption for youth who have an IEP based on visual impairment, as it does with Braille, unless a proper assessment determines that O&M instruction is not necessary; and
WHEREAS, two states, Maryland and Texas, have incorporated the mobility presumption and stronger evaluation requirements into state law, which will ensure that more students who need O&M instruction in those states will receive it: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge every state in the Union, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, immediately to enact legislation that contains a presumption similar to the Braille presumption that explicitly states that all blind and visually impaired children need orientation and mobility instruction unless a proper evaluation demonstrates that such instruction is not appropriate for the child.
WHEREAS, on July 9, 2014, the US House of Representatives passed the US Senate-amended version of H.R. 803: the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, and on July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed WIOA into law; and
WHEREAS, one of the major objectives of WIOA, as demonstrated by Title IV, which amends and reauthorizes the Rehabilitation Act, is to ensure that all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to obtain competitive, integrated employment, defined as employment that is typically found in the community and is compensated at wages that are “not less than the customary rate paid by the employer for the same or similar work performed by other employees who are not individuals with disabilities”; and
WHEREAS, Section 511 of WIOA, Limitations on Use of Subminimum Wage, is one major avenue to achieve this objective because it will reduce the number of youth with disabilities tracked into subminimum wage “employment” by prohibiting youth with disabilities from being compensated at subminimum wages by Section 14(c)-certificate-holding entities unless they first have exhausted all resources available to them through vocational rehabilitation services such as establishing an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), working toward their IPE for a reasonable period of time, and receiving career counseling about job opportunities that reflect their IPE; and
WHEREAS, on April 16, 2015, the US Departments of Education and Labor released five Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs) proposing regulations for WIOA; and
WHEREAS, despite the fact that the US Department of Labor has authority over Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the US Department of Education has authority over regulations regarding the provision of vocational rehabilitation services, none of the NPRMs included any language regarding enforcement of Section 511; and
WHEREAS, without enforcement, entities that hold Section 14(c) certificates are likely to take a business-as-usual approach to employing youth with disabilities at subminimum wages unless there are penalties (such as fines or threat of 14(c) certificate revocation) to deter such behavior and incentivize them to change their practices as Section 511 obligates them to do: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we commend the US Congress and President Barack Obama for passing and signing into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; although the law is not perfect, we believe that Section 511 and other provisions significantly improve policies designed to create and enhance employment opportunities for American workers with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge the US Department of Labor and the US Department of Education swiftly to propose additional regulations ensuring that Section 511 of WIOA is enforced so that the goal of reducing the number of youth tracked into subminimum wage employment will come to fruition.
WHEREAS, Google is one of the largest and most far-reaching companies on the internet today, with products that touch hardware, software, work, entertainment, education, and many other spheres of life; and
WHEREAS, some of the best-known and most heavily used of these products include Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides; and
WHEREAS, these products have been adopted by many businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions; and
WHEREAS, the use of these applications has become essential within these institutions and organizations to participate fully in employment and education; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind and Google have spent considerable time and resources in forging a partnership to improve the accessibility of this suite of applications; and
WHEREAS, blind people in these environments are increasingly able to use these products due to the increased accessibility of the suite arising from this partnership; and
WHEREAS, Google has created some truly innovative solutions allowing blind users to collaborate in real time with their peers; and
WHEREAS, the stability and usability of the suite with screen-access software has increased dramatically over the last three years, but some features required for full accessibility of the tool, including full Braille support, have yet to be fully implemented; for example, it is not possible to read spreadsheets with Braille or to move the cursor with a Braille keyboard in any of the Google Apps: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Google for the progress it has made in improving the accessibility of Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge Google to continue to maintain and improve the accessibility of this suite, particularly for Braille users, by continuing to partner with the National Federation of the Blind so that blind people can enjoy the benefits of these applications.
WHEREAS, according to the 2014 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds, published on July 28, 2014, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund will be insolvent as early as December 2016; and
WHEREAS, if the 114th Congress does not pass legislation either allocating money to the SSDI trust fund or reforming the entire SSDI system to make it more cost effective, there will be an across-the-board cut of approximately 19 percent for SSDI beneficiaries; and
WHEREAS, if this cut is made, the average SSDI benefit will be reduced from $1200 per month to just $972 per month, putting beneficiaries that live alone and rely exclusively on benefits for survival to live on an income that is below the federal poverty guideline as set by the Department of Health and Human Services; and
WHEREAS, blind SSDI beneficiaries are discouraged from reaching their full employment potential because the current earnings limit test results in an earnings cliff, meaning that benefits are cut off once a beneficiary earns more than the “substantial gainful activity” limit, making it more financially strategic for beneficiaries to work less and stay below the earning limit; and
WHEREAS, the transition periods that are designed to help SSDI beneficiaries return to work, such as the trial work period and extended period of eligibility, are confusing and do little to counteract the effects of the earnings cliff and to encourage beneficiaries to return to work; and
WHEREAS, the crisis facing the SSDI trust fund has stimulated action by Congress, providing an appropriate window for the National Federation of the Blind to advocate for our long-desired reforms that will create true work incentives for blind SSDI beneficiaries: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we urge the US Congress swiftly to pass legislation that will create real work incentives for blind SSDI beneficiaries, such as a gradual phase-out of benefits and a simplified system for administration that will actually encourage blind SSDI beneficiaries to return to work, reach their full employment potential, and ultimately save taxpayer money and help keep the system financially solvent.
WHEREAS, most states currently use a paper voter registration form which is inaccessible to the blind and other persons with print disabilities; and
WHEREAS, election officials throughout the United States are implementing online voter registration because its use results in reduced administrative burdens, reduced costs, and more accurate data; and
WHEREAS, accessible online voter registration permits the blind and other qualified citizens with disabilities to register to vote conveniently, easily, and independently; and
WHEREAS, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in its January 2014 report, The American Voting Experience, recommended that states adopt online voter registration; and
WHEREAS, the American Civil Liberties Union in its January 2015 report, Access Denied: Barriers to Online Voter Registration for Citizens with Disabilities, found that of the twenty states that currently offer online voter registration, only California's is fully accessible and that the majority of the state online voter registration websites do not meet minimal accessibility standards; and
WHEREAS, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all state and local government entities to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to government programs and services and that the information communicated by government programs and services must be equally available to persons with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, an online voter registration system is a government program and service, and therefore the information it communicates must be equally available to persons with disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that all states with inaccessible online voter registration immediately bring their online voter registration websites into compliance with WCAG 2.0 AA; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge all states that do not currently offer online voter registration to implement online voter registration that complies with WCAG 2.0 AA so that the information communicated by the voter registration program and service is equally available to the blind and other qualified citizens with disabilities.
WHEREAS, technology has revolutionized the way our society functions, particularly in employment; and
WHEREAS, although technology in employment could open up countless opportunities for the blind, employment-related technology is instead, more often than not, a barrier to employment because it has been designed without accessibility; and
WHEREAS, the blind encounter inaccessible technology during all phases of employment, from the initial job search on inaccessible websites that require completing inaccessible online job applications, to inaccessible pre-employment tests, to inaccessible workplace software necessary to perform on the job; and
WHEREAS, inaccessible employment-related technology is endemic across industries, including federal and public sector employment and private employers of all sizes, as well as across occupations; and
WHEREAS, as a result of inaccessible employment-related technology, many blind people are excluded from employment or prohibited from performing to their capabilities in their professional occupations, sometimes leading to job termination or failure to be promoted; and
WHEREAS, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently sought input for retrospective regulatory review: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge the EEOC to update its rulemaking to ensure that employers and vendors of employment-related technology make their technology accessible at all stages of the employment process; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the EEOC to take swift and strong enforcement measures to protect the right of blind job seekers and employees to accessible employment technology.
WHEREAS, President Barack Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) into law on December 19, 2014; and
WHEREAS, prior to the signing of the ABLE Act, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries were subject to an asset limit of $2,000; and
WHEREAS, the ABLE Act allows an individual who became disabled before the age of twenty-six to open an “ABLE account,” a special account allowing such an individual to save for qualified disability expenses such as housing, employment, transportation, healthcare, and technology, which will not jeopardize the individual’s eligibility for SSI benefits, even if the ABLE account balance puts the individual’s assets over the $2,000 asset limit, as long as the ABLE account does not exceed $100,000; and
WHEREAS, SSI beneficiaries can open ABLE accounts only if states enact implementing legislation: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we commend the US Congress for passing the ABLE Act, which will allow many blind and otherwise disabled individuals to achieve security and pay for critical expenses by saving money in an ABLE account without jeopardizing their eligibility for SSI benefits; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we commend states that have already passed legislation implementing the ABLE Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge states that have not yet created an ABLE account program to do so immediately.
WHEREAS, technology has revolutionized information, course materials, recreation, interaction with administration, and other facets of student life in higher education; and
WHEREAS, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit colleges and universities from discriminating against persons with disabilities and mandate the provision of equal access to opportunities, using separate accommodations only when necessary for providing equivalent facilitation; and
WHEREAS, while colleges and universities may have been successful at complying with these mandates in the brick-and-mortar and print world, the vast majority of institutions of higher education are struggling to comply with these mandates as they apply in the digital world, routinely developing, procuring, or deploying inaccessible technology despite readily available solutions and continually providing separate and often inappropriate accommodations for blind students, an oversight that results in unequal access to opportunity, adverse effects on academic performance, and denial of full participation for blind students; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Justice has increased enforcement in cases regarding denial of equal access because of inaccessible technology and/or inadequate and inappropriate accommodations for students with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, solutions exist to make technology accessible to blind students and faculty members, but until the higher education apparatus makes systemic change, a viable digital marketplace that includes accessible materials will never emerge and the promises of technology will never be realized; and
WHEREAS, blind students can no longer wait for developers of technology and institutions of higher education voluntarily to implement accessibility into their products and practices: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we demand that colleges and universities make accessibility a top priority for their campus communities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we demand that colleges and universities harness their purchasing power and compel developers of educational technology to make accessibility a component of their development framework, to consult with access technology experts, and to include blind and otherwise print-disabled people in their beta testing processes, ensuring that the market includes accessible options and that equal access for all students is the norm, not the exception.
WHEREAS, 3D printing is quickly becoming a major element in the creation of tactile graphics for the blind; and
WHEREAS, 3D design and printing software is not developed with accessibility in mind, preventing the blind user from performing even the most basic functions such as resizing an object or moving it; and
WHEREAS, even software that uses code to create 3D objects does not make that code available to the user of screen-access software; and
WHEREAS, it has been amply demonstrated that neither access to menus nor access to coding poses significant technological challenges; and
WHEREAS, the Windows and Mac default application menus are accessible; and
WHEREAS, many text editors used for coding, as well as more complete developer tools such as Microsoft’s Visual Studio, are entirely usable by the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge developers of 3D design and printing software to give blind users the ability to print and make menu-driven modifications to models independently.
WHEREAS, self-service kiosks are regularly used in Social Security Administration field offices to check in; and
WHEREAS, visitors are required to enter their full names, social security numbers, and reasons for visiting into kiosks prior to meeting with Social Security Administration personnel; and
WHEREAS, field office kiosks are not commonly outfitted with accessibility features such as audio output, Braille instructions, tactile keyboards, and jacks for the use of headphones; and
WHEREAS, blind visitors must rely on strangers for assistance with entering personal information into the field office kiosks or forego meeting with Social Security Administration personnel; and
WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration expanded its public services in 2014 by implementing full-service Social Security Express kiosks in government buildings in which no social security office is located; and
WHEREAS, full-service Social Security Express kiosks allow users to substitute visiting Social Security Administration field offices by using the kiosks to create accounts, access benefits, change addresses, and participate in remote video teleconferencing with Social Security Administration personnel; and
WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration’s 2014-2018 agency strategic plan calls for increased use of self-service kiosks in field offices and partnering external government agency buildings; and
WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration is required to provide equal access to patrons with disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and other antidiscrimination laws; and
WHEREAS, existing technology allows accessible features, including audio output, to be built into the operating systems used in kiosks; and
WHEREAS, numerous vendors offer kiosks preconfigured with fully accessible physical components, including tactile keyboards, headphone jacks, and Braille notation; and
WHEREAS, no software- or hardware-related reasons exist that prevent these kiosks from being made accessible to the blind, offering full and equal access: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the Social Security Administration’s practice of using kiosks that are not readily accessible to the blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist on a commitment from the Social Security Administration to purchase and use only kiosks that offer full and equal access.
WHEREAS, the lack of access to public transportation is one of the greatest barriers preventing blind people from living the lives they want and from full participation in all aspects of community life; and
WHEREAS, according to Greyhound Lines Inc., it is the largest intercity bus transportation provider, serving more than 3,800 destinations in North America and 18 million passengers each year; and
WHEREAS, Greyhound should serve as a valuable asset to blind travelers but fails to do so because of its policies and practices that create barriers to using its services; and
WHEREAS, Greyhound’s website is generally inaccessible to blind passengers who use screen-access software to acquire information from desktop or mobile operating systems; and
WHEREAS, field labels for graphical icons are rarely present, making it all but impossible for blind people to retrieve current and frequently updated information posted on this website; and
WHEREAS, the Greyhound (US) app for iOS is not at all accessible with Apple’s VoiceOver, the gesture-based screen reader that has been developed for blind users; and
WHEREAS, buying a ticket online or through a phone app is now an impossible task for most blind passengers; and
WHEREAS, blind passengers, unlike their sighted peers, are denied the time-saving convenience of presenting a printed ticket at boarding and are forced to work with a ticket agent at the station; and
WHEREAS, fares from Greyhound’s automated phone booking system are $10 higher than fares from the inaccessible online booking system, and this $10 charge is not waived for blind passengers; and
WHEREAS, its website touts Greyhound’s services for persons with disabilities, yet fails even to mention nonvisual access to websites and apps: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that Greyhound Lines Inc. immediately end its discriminatory practices by making all of its online and mobile services accessible to blind passengers who use screen-access technology.
WHEREAS, Netflix is one of the leading services for watching movies and TV shows over the internet; and
WHEREAS, Netflix has recently made strides toward making its content more accessible by beginning to add audio description to some of its content, including its original programming; and
WHEREAS, despite this important step, many accessibility problems with the service exist across platforms, including the inability to turn on audio description and access playback controls in the web player on Windows and Mac computers; and
WHEREAS, other video streaming services do not have integrated audio description at all: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Netflix for the steps it has taken toward making its content fully and equally accessible and encourage it to continue in this process, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Netflix to improve the accessibility of its mobile and web platforms, enabling all users, regardless of device, to take advantage of audio description and other features of this popular service; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all similar streaming services to adopt audio description for their content and incorporate accessibility into their services.
WHEREAS, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through its core programs—Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Social Innovation Fund—and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, “United We Serve”; and
WHEREAS, the mission of CNCS is to improve lives, strengthen communities, and foster civic engagement through service and volunteering by harnessing America’s most powerful resource—the energy and talents of our citizens—to solve problems and by believing that “everyone can make a difference and that all of us should try to do so,” thereby empowering Americans and fostering a lifetime of volunteer service from all Americans, from grade school through retirement; and
WHEREAS, CNCS does not model best practices for recruitment, engagement, and equal inclusion of the blind and other Americans with disabilities in all aspects of its programs despite nondiscrimination policies, public statements to the contrary, and legislation such as the Serve America Act of 2009, which expanded national service opportunities for all Americans; and
WHEREAS, research released by CNCS in June 2013 concluded that those who volunteer have a better likelihood of finding a job than those who do not and that this is generally the case for all volunteers regardless of gender, age, education, ethnicity, geographic area, or job market conditions; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is uniquely positioned to further the inclusiveness and equality of CNCS and to become a partner in facilitating change, both vocationally and socially within the framework of volunteerism; and
WHEREAS, participation in CNCS programs can expose the blind to career-, skill-, and resumé-building opportunities; encourage lifelong volunteerism among the blind; raise expectations of the blind so that they see themselves as participants in society and not just as recipients of charity; serve as a valuable platform to display and enhance the skills the blind already possess; and help to reduce the over 70 percent unemployment rate among the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge the Corporation for National and Community Service, its board of directors, and its CEO to work with the National Federation of the Blind in order to ensure the full integration of the blind into all national service opportunities for participants, applicants, and prospective applicants; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the CNCS to develop a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that all policies and practices of CNCS comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to ensure the full accessibility of all websites, forms, and materials, including all equipment to be used by participants in CNCS programs; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly encourage the CNCS to establish a pipeline program that will engage members of the National Federation of the Blind in national service programs and match them to the programs and opportunities that fit their interests and desires best.
WHEREAS, in 1974 Congress expanded the priority for blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property, including military dining halls; and
WHEREAS, in 2001 the Fourth Circuit, in NISH v. Cohen, ruled: “[t]he RS Act deals explicitly with the subject at issue, the operation of cafeterias, whereas the JWOD Act is a general procurement statute. Because the RS Act is a ‘specific statute closely applicable to the substance of the controversy at hand,’ it must control”; and
WHEREAS, Congress defined food service contract to include “full food services, mess attendant services, or services supporting the operation of all or any part of a military dining facility” as stated in the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act; and
WHEREAS, the R-S Act charges the United States Department of Education, not the Department of Defense, with prescribing regulations, giving the Secretary of Education sole authority to determine whether any limitation on the placement or operation of a vending facility is justified; and
WHEREAS, in a conference report accompanying the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the Department of Defense to enact food service regulations based on a 2006 Joint Policy Statement of the Departments of Education and Defense; and
WHEREAS, that policy statement was never implemented because of significant opposition by blind vendors and state vocational rehabilitation agencies and second thoughts by Department of Education staff; because implementation of that policy statement would have effectively eliminated the prior right of the blind set forth in the R-S Act to operate vending facilities on all federal property: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that the Department of Education stand up to the Department of Defense and make clear that regulations of the Department of Education pertaining to food services supersede those of any other federal department; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insist that the Department of Education clearly instruct the Department of Defense that the Department of Education’s regulations mean that a current non-blind operated contract for military dining services cannot be entered into or renewed unless a contract opportunity has been offered to the blind as provided by the R-S Act.
WHEREAS, the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has voted that as of 2016 the official codes to be used in the United States are Unified English Braille (UEB), the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, the music Braille code, and the International Phonetic Alphabet code; and
WHEREAS, to reach the implementation goal, BANA announced as follows: "BANA is providing guidance on how to incorporate the Nemeth Code into UEB context with the intent that the Nemeth Code will continue to be integral to Braille in the United States"; and
WHEREAS, each state must create a customized plan for implementation of UEB; and
WHEREAS, some states, acting under an impression that part of the implementation process involves setting, at the state level, the standard for how mathematics Braille will be produced and taught in that state, have indicated an intent to move to the use of only UEB symbols for the teaching and production of Braille math in their state; and
WHEREAS, Braille production does not occur in isolation within each state, but rather is done to a great extent by a nationally connected network of Braille transcribers and producers; and
WHEREAS, the strong support for the use of Nemeth Code for mathematics is based in Nemeth Code being a known quantity, used successfully for decades, and found to be efficient and agile for reading and working mathematics problems because of its use of lower numbers distinct from letters, its one-cell representations of many mathematical symbols, its compact spacing, and other features that make it especially suited to mathematics; and
WHEREAS, theories that abandoning the Nemeth Code in favor of the use of UEB symbols for technical contexts will improve Braille readers' access to and performance in math are unproven; and
WHEREAS, there exists in the US a well-established network of certified Nemeth code transcribers, but there is no training or credential to ensure the qualification of transcribers producing technical materials using UEB symbols only; and
WHEREAS, the differences between the presentation of mathematics in Nemeth Code and math using UEB symbols are so fundamental that a blind child moving to a state with a different math standard could find his or her math books and tests inaccessible even though they are in Braille; and
WHEREAS, it is sometimes difficult to find the resources to produce a math book or test in Braille, much less the resources to produce the very same math textbook or test in two different ways; and
WHEREAS, during the transition to Unified English Braille, some duplication of effort will be unavoidable to minimize disruption to the education of Braille readers, but to add a further variant to the standards for math would make the transition exponentially more chaotic, costly, and confusing for all concerned: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this ninth day of July, 2015, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon state departments of education to eliminate needless confusion and unnecessary cost by using the Nemeth Code for Mathematics and Science Notation, with BANA's guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, as the standard for math Braille; andBE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Braille Authority of North America quickly to clarify that, although timelines and processes for UEB implementation are set at the state level, Braille code standards are not set by individual states; and to indicate unequivocally that the Nemeth Code, with the guidance for Nemeth in UEB contexts, is the standard for mathematics Braille in the United States.
First Report from the Community Service Division:
The Community Service Division celebrated a milestone as we conducted our first-ever division meeting. Excitement and energy filled the room as the seminar came to order.
Our seminar had a diverse array of speakers, from young scholarship winners to longtime leaders in the organization, all of them sharing their story and their belief in community service and how it enriches our lives and changes the way we as blind people are viewed.
Dr. Maurer shared with us that he sees the division and its members as a vehicle to take our message in the Federation to places it typically would not go as a part of what we currently do in our movement. Brooke Anderson, Secretary of the T-Town chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, told us of a successful service project that she and fellow chapter members took part in at a local food bank. The members packed and organized food alongside their sighted peers. Together they worked as people who saw a need in their community and sought to do their part as citizens to address it.
Libra Robinson, president of our District of Columbia Community Service Division and co-chair of the NFB Community Service Division’s “75 Days of Service” initiative shared her reflections on a project that she felt brought a number of people together to think about and do community service. She expressed how inspired she was by what our members did and urged that everyone do more of the same. She reminded us that we don’t need a special event to do community service.
Hindley Williams shared with the members eight ways that a person might get involved in community service if he or she was interested but doesn’t know how to start. She suggested that one must be confident in one’s abilities. Don’t be afraid to communicate and show what you can do. Tap the resources of knowledgeable blind people such as those in the National Federation of the Blind and in the Community Service Division of the NFB.
We heard from a host of national scholarship winners who shared their unique stories. Chris Stewart spoke to how he intends to use his law degree to serve populations who can’t afford legal counsel. Annika Ariel, Hannah Werbel, and Bryan Duarte talked about teamwork, selflessness, and the role they play in being of service in one’s community. Kelsi Watters spoke about the way strength and faith can play a vital role in the service we have to give, and Nefertiti Matos shared how volunteering can in fact help you land that all important job.
Oklahoma affiliate President Jeannie Massay explained how community service played an important role in her life growing up in Oklahoma and how the way we wish to serve versus the way we may end up serving may be less important than the fact that we are helping, being seen as contributors, and perhaps for the first time being seen as givers.
Julie McGinnity explained the importance of using all of the nonvisual tools we have at our disposal as blind people to live the lives we want through service and how she does this as a guide dog user. Vern Humphry, a blind veteran, told us how he is an ambassador for blindness and the Federation through community service. People see him participating in Rotary club events, and this allows him to educate while he serves.
Conchita Hernandez moderated a panel comprised of training center students which included Jessie Kitchens of BLIND Inc., Haylee Holland of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and Yadiel Sotomayor of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Each of these students told us how they came to be students at their respective center, what they gained in confidence, and how they now believe with not a doubt in their mind that they can live the life they want.
Of course with a new division comes new officers. Elections were held, with the following results: president, Darian Smith (CA); vice president, Chris Parsons (CO); secretary, Hindley Williams (MD); treasurer, Corina Salinas (TX); and board members Jonathan Franks (TX), Mary Church (CA), and Juan Munoz (TX)
Elections were held during the division meeting at convention. Those elected and those who continue to serve are as follows: president, Alice Eaddy; first vice president, Marsha Drenth; second vice president, Janice Toothman; secretary, Danielle Burton; treasurer, Randy Miller; and board members Cathy Miller, John L. Williams, Joseph B. Naulty, and Brooke Evans.
Diabetes Action Network:
At its recent meeting, held on the afternoon of July 7 during the 2015 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind Diabetes Action Network conducted elections, with the following results: Mike Freeman, president; first vice president, Sandi Ryan (IA); second vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); secretary, Mindy Jacobsen (NY); and board member Juan Figueroa (MA).
NFB Cancer Survivors Support Group Report from Convention:
The NFB-Cancer Survivors Support Group convened at the 2015 NFB National Convention for an awesome seventy-fifth anniversary celebration. The NFB Cancer Survivors hosted our annual meeting Tuesday, July 7. With over forty members in attendance, we handed out gift bags filled with accessible information on cancer, healthy snacks, and maracas for those dining with the NFB Cancer Survivors at the fiesta banquet table during the 2015 NFB banquet. The cancer survivors generated $1,080 with the attendance of eighteen survivors shaking their maracas to let everyone know “we are here.”
The keynote speaker of the cancer survivors annual meeting was Ms. Liliya Asadullina, an NFB Scholarship finalist and a blind cancer survivor. Liliya delivered a phenomenal presentation on holistic medicine. We thank Liliya for sharing an awesome presentation with us and wish her continued success.
The NFB Cancer Survivors host monthly networking/conference calls. You are invited to join the National Federation of the Blind Cancer Survivors Support Group mailing list. This list is sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.
To join the list, go to <http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfb-cancer-survivors_nfbnet.org>, or send an email to <[email protected]> and put “subscribe” in the subject line. If you have technical problems, please contact David Andrews at:
The National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith held elections during their annual meeting with the following results: Tom Anderson, president; Renee Akins, vice president; Linda Netenik, secretary; and Sam Gleese, treasurer.
Report from the Human Services Division:
The Human Services Division held its annual meeting during convention. Elections were held with the following results: president, Merry Schoch [pronounced Shock]; first vice president, Mary Ann Robinson; second vice president, Tyrone Bratcher; treasurer, Candice Chapman; secretary, Lisa Irving; and board members Dennis Sumlin and Sarah Meyer.
Dennis Sumlin is spearheading the division’s efforts to have a larger presence on Facebook and a strong website. He encourages each of us to click the LIKE button on the Division’s Facebook page. Marion Gwizdala suggested that all members and interested parties sign up for and participate on the division’s email list. He informed us that joining the list is very simple. Go to <nfbnet.org>, click the “Join or Drop NFBNet Mailing Lists” link, find the “humanser” link, and complete the form with your name and email address.
President Schoch introduced our legal panel for a presentation on electronic medical records and licensure access issues. Dan Goldstein is a partner in the firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, which has represented the NFB in a number of legal issues including accessible voting and other civil-rights issues. Mehgan Sidhu is our NFB General Counsel, and Valerie Yingling is her legal assistant. Valerie has been collecting information on access issues which affect blind human service workers in the areas of electronic medical records and accessible licensure/certification examinations.
Legislative comments have been submitted stating that federally-certified programs address the access needs of blind clients/patients, but do not address blind employees and our needs to access and utilize these records. The Department of Defense is looking to establish an electronic medical records contract, and they are expecting the contracts to require full accessibility. Overall they expect electronic medical records to become accessible over time, and the NFB is committed to the effort.
With help from the NFB, similar issues involving electronic test formats for the legal bar examinations were made fully accessible. Now the two major firms which provide the frameworks for human services licensure examinations are working with the NFB to make these tests accessible as well. The panel’s overall recommendation for dealing with these and similar issues is to apply for accommodations early, be specific as to your personal needs, and provide documents regarding your disability. If you have issues, call the NFB early in the process for assistance, and ask for Mehgan Sidhu or Valerie Yingling.
National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education:
Elections were held with the following results: president, Eric Guillory; first vice president, Denise Mackenstadt; second vice president, Jackie Anderson; secretary, Casey Robertson; treasurer, Krystal Guillory; and board members Emily Gibbs, Charlene Guggisberg, Michael Harvey, and Carlton Walker.
For more information about the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education, contact Eric Guillory by email at <[email protected]>, or by phone at (318) 245-2157.
Report from the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee:
The Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee met on the convention's first day, Sunday, July 5. We were pleased to have a standing-room-only crowd, who came to witness our showcase of technology. From low tech to high tech, we had a great group of presenters—some exhibitors, some not.
AT&T was there this year, as was CTIA, which is the Wireless Association. [Knowing readers would want to know how the initials CTIA figured into the title, the Monitor inquired. We were told that CTIA was not an acronym but an initialism. We looked that one up and learned that an initialism is a group of letters never meant to be pronounced but said individually. The example was BBC for British Broadcasting Company. Okay, NFB is never pronounced but, like the BBC, it means something. So we wrote once again and were then told that an initialism doesn’t have to mean anything. So now you know what we know—CTIA is the Wireless Association and that’s that.]
We had BAUM USA talking about their new notetaker and HumanWare talking about their long-established one. We had AT Guys talking about low-priced and useful gadgets and a presentation about the new Bradley Braille Watch. Many of our longtime presenters were there, such as Stephen Baum of Kurzweil Educational Systems and Larry Skutchan from the American Printing House for the Blind.
One of the more interesting pieces of technology was the new camera that Rhys Filmer of OrCam spoke about. It is worn on glasses and can perform as an object identifier and reader. Many tried it out at their exhibit booth.
This year after the showcase our committee discussed some things President Riccobono wished us to pursue, namely evaluating products that come on the market that might or might not help blind people. We are in a much better position to know whether things are useful or are just some well-wisher’s idea of something we ought to like and use. The committee intends to be a helping hand to the International Braille and Technology Center for future evaluating. If there are those out there who believe they are experts in certain technologies used by the blind, I encourage you to contact me. We could use a few more folks on the committee. All committees are appointed by the President, but I can’t recommend you if I don’t know about your interests and expertise. My name is Mark Jones, and I can be reached on my cell phone at (601) 529-8629 or by email at <[email protected]>.
Travel & Tourism Report from Convention:
When registration opened at 6:00 p.m., we had twenty-eight people in attendance, and we had twenty-five people join or once again pay their dues. In addition to our annual meeting at the convention, this division holds meetings by conference call and plans to make use of the new online chat service called NFBLive.
In a special election to fill vacant seats, Jo Taylor was elected treasurer, John teBockhorst was elected secretary, and Denice Brown was elected to a board member position. These are all one-year terms.
Our division selects a travel site and plans a trip which is used as a fundraiser. Amy Baron is chairperson of our 2016 trip committee, and after much discussion the division decided on New York City/upstate New York. President Echevarria encouraged all those interested in participating in this fundraiser or who are interested in going on this trip to be part of the conference call which will be held in September. Our travel agent will be on the call, and information about the trip will be available on NFB listservs. One does not have to be a member of the NFB or the division to participate. Of course the trip isn’t just about traveling and enjoying a vacation. It can also serve to educate those we meet, both fellow travelers and employees of hotels and attractions, about the abilities of blind travelers.
We had a brief presentation from Tim Elder, who is outside council for the NFB. He talked about two cases on which the NFB is working: one involving Uber refusing service animals, the other with VeriFone and trying to make taxicab terminals accessible. If anyone has had issues with these companies, they should contact him at <[email protected]>. You can also contact Valerie Yingling or Mehgan Sidhu at the national center, and they can put you in contact with him.
We had a panel discussion featuring Steve Hastalis and Jemal Powell. Steve talked about his experiences with Amtrak, and Jemal talked about using public transportation in Chicago. Next we heard from Denice Brown, who spoke about her travel experiences in New York City. She talked about going to the theatre when she was a child, and she reminded us that going to the theatre doesn’t have to be expensive or inaccessible. All Disney productions like The Lion King and Aladdin (both of which are currently running) are accessible. One can sign up with a company called TDF (Theatre Development Fund) without charge at <https://www.tdf.org/>) It offers theatre accessibility programs for people with various disabilities.
The final item on the agenda was a presentation from two representatives, Suman Kanuganti from a new company called Aira.IO, and our own Michael Hingson. They did a demonstration of a new travel aid called Goggle Glasses. These glasses and software have the potential to connect a blind traveler real-time to an agent who could then guide the user to where he or she wanted to go, as well as read things like a menu or a sign. For more information about Aira.IO, check out their web page at <https://aira.io/>. The meeting adjourned after the presentation, though members were encouraged to stay and get a hands-on demonstration of the Goggle Glasses.
National Federation of the Blind Writers’ Division:
The Writers’ Division held elections at their meeting during convention, with the following elected: president, Eve Sanchez; first vice president, Chelsea Cook; second vice president, Myrna Badgerow; treasurer, Shawn Jacobson; secretary, Katie Colton; and board members Robert Gardner, Shelley Alongi, Kinston Walker, and Lori Letham.
A Report from the Piano Tuners Group:
Don Mitchell, the chairperson of the Piano Technology Group, conducted a piano technology seminar at the national convention on July 7. The general purpose of the group is to support the National Federation of the Blind's mission of changing what it means to be blind. The specific purpose of the group is to change what it means to be a blind piano tuner. More details about this seminar will appear later in the fall.
In our piano technology seminar we looked at the history of piano tuning as a stereotypic career.
The National Association of Blind Students Meeting:
NABS had an outstanding meeting at convention. In what may well have been record setting, 242 people registered, and many more attended.
President Riccobono challenged NABS to get twenty-five students to join or increase PAC pledges, and NABS rose to the challenge and then some, hitting fifty-six and winning the PAC Mule.
Gabe Cazares gave an excellent presentation about the SMART Act and NFB legislative priorities before announcing that he is stepping down from his position in NABS to focus on his work as a new government affairs specialist at the National Center for the Blind.
Sean Whalen updated NABS members on the progress made over the last year and called on each student in the room to pledge fifteen minutes a week to working on passing SMART, recruiting members, raising money, or doing other activities to build the Federation.
Karen Anderson, second vice president of NABS, gave a heartfelt speech about why she came to be involved with NABS and the NFB. Karen also announced that she would not be seeking reelection.
Scholarship winners introduced themselves, talked about their goals, and expressed their interest in the work of the division.
After elections, the board of NABS is: Sean Whalen, president; Candice Chapman, first vice president; Brianna Brown, second vice president; Derek Manners, treasurer; Kathryn Webster, secretary; and board members Hindley Williams; James Garrett; Chris Nusbaum; and Michael Ausbun.
We left the meeting with the firm conviction that, though much work lies ahead, we are up to the challenge.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.