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 a.m., 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 a.m., 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.