First Report from the Community Service Division:
The Community Service Division celebrated a milestone as we conducted our first-ever division meeting. Excitement and energy filled the room as the seminar came to order.
Our seminar had a diverse array of speakers, from young scholarship winners to longtime leaders in the organization, all of them sharing their story and their belief in community service and how it enriches our lives and changes the way we as blind people are viewed.
Dr. Maurer shared with us that he sees the division and its members as a vehicle to take our message in the Federation to places it typically would not go as a part of what we currently do in our movement. Brooke Anderson, Secretary of the T-Town chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, told us of a successful service project that she and fellow chapter members took part in at a local food bank. The members packed and organized food alongside their sighted peers. Together they worked as people who saw a need in their community and sought to do their part as citizens to address it.
Libra Robinson, president of our District of Columbia Community Service Division and co-chair of the NFB Community Service Division’s “75 Days of Service” initiative shared her reflections on a project that she felt brought a number of people together to think about and do community service. She expressed how inspired she was by what our members did and urged that everyone do more of the same. She reminded us that we don’t need a special event to do community service.
Hindley Williams shared with the members eight ways that a person might get involved in community service if he or she was interested but doesn’t know how to start. She suggested that one must be confident in one’s abilities. Don’t be afraid to communicate and show what you can do. Tap the resources of knowledgeable blind people such as those in the National Federation of the Blind and in the Community Service Division of the NFB.
We heard from a host of national scholarship winners who shared their unique stories. Chris Stewart spoke to how he intends to use his law degree to serve populations who can’t afford legal counsel. Annika Ariel, Hannah Werbel, and Bryan Duarte talked about teamwork, selflessness, and the role they play in being of service in one’s community. Kelsi Watters spoke about the way strength and faith can play a vital role in the service we have to give, and Nefertiti Matos shared how volunteering can in fact help you land that all important job.
Oklahoma affiliate President Jeannie Massay explained how community service played an important role in her life growing up in Oklahoma and how the way we wish to serve versus the way we may end up serving may be less important than the fact that we are helping, being seen as contributors, and perhaps for the first time being seen as givers.
Julie McGinnity explained the importance of using all of the nonvisual tools we have at our disposal as blind people to live the lives we want through service and how she does this as a guide dog user. Vern Humphry, a blind veteran, told us how he is an ambassador for blindness and the Federation through community service. People see him participating in Rotary club events, and this allows him to educate while he serves.
Conchita Hernandez moderated a panel comprised of training center students which included Jessie Kitchens of BLIND Inc., Haylee Holland of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and Yadiel Sotomayor of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Each of these students told us how they came to be students at their respective center, what they gained in confidence, and how they now believe with not a doubt in their mind that they can live the life they want.
Of course with a new division comes new officers. Elections were held, with the following results: president, Darian Smith (CA); vice president, Chris Parsons (CO); secretary, Hindley Williams (MD); treasurer, Corina Salinas (TX); and board members Jonathan Franks (TX), Mary Church (CA), and Juan Munoz (TX)
Elections were held during the division meeting at convention. Those elected and those who continue to serve are as follows: president, Alice Eaddy; first vice president, Marsha Drenth; second vice president, Janice Toothman; secretary, Danielle Burton; treasurer, Randy Miller; and board members Cathy Miller, John L. Williams, Joseph B. Naulty, and Brooke Evans.
Diabetes Action Network:
At its recent meeting, held on the afternoon of July 7 during the 2015 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind Diabetes Action Network conducted elections, with the following results: Mike Freeman, president; first vice president, Sandi Ryan (IA); second vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); secretary, Mindy Jacobsen (NY); and board member Juan Figueroa (MA).
NFB Cancer Survivors Support Group Report from Convention:
The NFB-Cancer Survivors Support Group convened at the 2015 NFB National Convention for an awesome seventy-fifth anniversary celebration. The NFB Cancer Survivors hosted our annual meeting Tuesday, July 7. With over forty members in attendance, we handed out gift bags filled with accessible information on cancer, healthy snacks, and maracas for those dining with the NFB Cancer Survivors at the fiesta banquet table during the 2015 NFB banquet. The cancer survivors generated $1,080 with the attendance of eighteen survivors shaking their maracas to let everyone know “we are here.”
The keynote speaker of the cancer survivors annual meeting was Ms. Liliya Asadullina, an NFB Scholarship finalist and a blind cancer survivor. Liliya delivered a phenomenal presentation on holistic medicine. We thank Liliya for sharing an awesome presentation with us and wish her continued success.
The NFB Cancer Survivors host monthly networking/conference calls. You are invited to join the National Federation of the Blind Cancer Survivors Support Group mailing list. This list is sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.
To join the list, go to <http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfb-cancer-survivors_nfbnet.org>, or send an email to <[email protected]> and put “subscribe” in the subject line. If you have technical problems, please contact David Andrews at:
The National Association of the Blind in Communities of Faith held elections during their annual meeting with the following results: Tom Anderson, president; Renee Akins, vice president; Linda Netenik, secretary; and Sam Gleese, treasurer.
Report from the Human Services Division:
The Human Services Division held its annual meeting during convention. Elections were held with the following results: president, Merry Schoch [pronounced Shock]; first vice president, Mary Ann Robinson; second vice president, Tyrone Bratcher; treasurer, Candice Chapman; secretary, Lisa Irving; and board members Dennis Sumlin and Sarah Meyer.
Dennis Sumlin is spearheading the division’s efforts to have a larger presence on Facebook and a strong website. He encourages each of us to click the LIKE button on the Division’s Facebook page. Marion Gwizdala suggested that all members and interested parties sign up for and participate on the division’s email list. He informed us that joining the list is very simple. Go to <nfbnet.org>, click the “Join or Drop NFBNet Mailing Lists” link, find the “humanser” link, and complete the form with your name and email address.
President Schoch introduced our legal panel for a presentation on electronic medical records and licensure access issues. Dan Goldstein is a partner in the firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, which has represented the NFB in a number of legal issues including accessible voting and other civil-rights issues. Mehgan Sidhu is our NFB General Counsel, and Valerie Yingling is her legal assistant. Valerie has been collecting information on access issues which affect blind human service workers in the areas of electronic medical records and accessible licensure/certification examinations.
Legislative comments have been submitted stating that federally-certified programs address the access needs of blind clients/patients, but do not address blind employees and our needs to access and utilize these records. The Department of Defense is looking to establish an electronic medical records contract, and they are expecting the contracts to require full accessibility. Overall they expect electronic medical records to become accessible over time, and the NFB is committed to the effort.
With help from the NFB, similar issues involving electronic test formats for the legal bar examinations were made fully accessible. Now the two major firms which provide the frameworks for human services licensure examinations are working with the NFB to make these tests accessible as well. The panel’s overall recommendation for dealing with these and similar issues is to apply for accommodations early, be specific as to your personal needs, and provide documents regarding your disability. If you have issues, call the NFB early in the process for assistance, and ask for Mehgan Sidhu or Valerie Yingling.
National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education:
Elections were held with the following results: president, Eric Guillory; first vice president, Denise Mackenstadt; second vice president, Jackie Anderson; secretary, Casey Robertson; treasurer, Krystal Guillory; and board members Emily Gibbs, Charlene Guggisberg, Michael Harvey, and Carlton Walker.
For more information about the National Organization of Professionals in Blindness Education, contact Eric Guillory by email at <[email protected]>, or by phone at (318) 245-2157.
Report from the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee:
The Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee met on the convention's first day, Sunday, July 5. We were pleased to have a standing-room-only crowd, who came to witness our showcase of technology. From low tech to high tech, we had a great group of presenters—some exhibitors, some not.
AT&T was there this year, as was CTIA, which is the Wireless Association. [Knowing readers would want to know how the initials CTIA figured into the title, the Monitor inquired. We were told that CTIA was not an acronym but an initialism. We looked that one up and learned that an initialism is a group of letters never meant to be pronounced but said individually. The example was BBC for British Broadcasting Company. Okay, NFB is never pronounced but, like the BBC, it means something. So we wrote once again and were then told that an initialism doesn’t have to mean anything. So now you know what we know—CTIA is the Wireless Association and that’s that.]
We had BAUM USA talking about their new notetaker and HumanWare talking about their long-established one. We had AT Guys talking about low-priced and useful gadgets and a presentation about the new Bradley Braille Watch. Many of our longtime presenters were there, such as Stephen Baum of Kurzweil Educational Systems and Larry Skutchan from the American Printing House for the Blind.
One of the more interesting pieces of technology was the new camera that Rhys Filmer of OrCam spoke about. It is worn on glasses and can perform as an object identifier and reader. Many tried it out at their exhibit booth.
This year after the showcase our committee discussed some things President Riccobono wished us to pursue, namely evaluating products that come on the market that might or might not help blind people. We are in a much better position to know whether things are useful or are just some well-wisher’s idea of something we ought to like and use. The committee intends to be a helping hand to the International Braille and Technology Center for future evaluating. If there are those out there who believe they are experts in certain technologies used by the blind, I encourage you to contact me. We could use a few more folks on the committee. All committees are appointed by the President, but I can’t recommend you if I don’t know about your interests and expertise. My name is Mark Jones, and I can be reached on my cell phone at (601) 529-8629 or by email at <[email protected]>.
Travel & Tourism Report from Convention:
When registration opened at 6:00 p.m., we had twenty-eight people in attendance, and we had twenty-five people join or once again pay their dues. In addition to our annual meeting at the convention, this division holds meetings by conference call and plans to make use of the new online chat service called NFBLive.
In a special election to fill vacant seats, Jo Taylor was elected treasurer, John teBockhorst was elected secretary, and Denice Brown was elected to a board member position. These are all one-year terms.
Our division selects a travel site and plans a trip which is used as a fundraiser. Amy Baron is chairperson of our 2016 trip committee, and after much discussion the division decided on New York City/upstate New York. President Echevarria encouraged all those interested in participating in this fundraiser or who are interested in going on this trip to be part of the conference call which will be held in September. Our travel agent will be on the call, and information about the trip will be available on NFB listservs. One does not have to be a member of the NFB or the division to participate. Of course the trip isn’t just about traveling and enjoying a vacation. It can also serve to educate those we meet, both fellow travelers and employees of hotels and attractions, about the abilities of blind travelers.
We had a brief presentation from Tim Elder, who is outside council for the NFB. He talked about two cases on which the NFB is working: one involving Uber refusing service animals, the other with VeriFone and trying to make taxicab terminals accessible. If anyone has had issues with these companies, they should contact him at <[email protected]>. You can also contact Valerie Yingling or Mehgan Sidhu at the national center, and they can put you in contact with him.
We had a panel discussion featuring Steve Hastalis and Jemal Powell. Steve talked about his experiences with Amtrak, and Jemal talked about using public transportation in Chicago. Next we heard from Denice Brown, who spoke about her travel experiences in New York City. She talked about going to the theatre when she was a child, and she reminded us that going to the theatre doesn’t have to be expensive or inaccessible. All Disney productions like The Lion King and Aladdin (both of which are currently running) are accessible. One can sign up with a company called TDF (Theatre Development Fund) without charge at <https://www.tdf.org/>) It offers theatre accessibility programs for people with various disabilities.
The final item on the agenda was a presentation from two representatives, Suman Kanuganti from a new company called Aira.IO, and our own Michael Hingson. They did a demonstration of a new travel aid called Goggle Glasses. These glasses and software have the potential to connect a blind traveler real-time to an agent who could then guide the user to where he or she wanted to go, as well as read things like a menu or a sign. For more information about Aira.IO, check out their web page at <https://aira.io/>. The meeting adjourned after the presentation, though members were encouraged to stay and get a hands-on demonstration of the Goggle Glasses.
National Federation of the Blind Writers’ Division:
The Writers’ Division held elections at their meeting during convention, with the following elected: president, Eve Sanchez; first vice president, Chelsea Cook; second vice president, Myrna Badgerow; treasurer, Shawn Jacobson; secretary, Katie Colton; and board members Robert Gardner, Shelley Alongi, Kinston Walker, and Lori Letham.
A Report from the Piano Tuners Group:
Don Mitchell, the chairperson of the Piano Technology Group, conducted a piano technology seminar at the national convention on July 7. The general purpose of the group is to support the National Federation of the Blind's mission of changing what it means to be blind. The specific purpose of the group is to change what it means to be a blind piano tuner. More details about this seminar will appear later in the fall.
In our piano technology seminar we looked at the history of piano tuning as a stereotypic career.
The National Association of Blind Students Meeting:
NABS had an outstanding meeting at convention. In what may well have been record setting, 242 people registered, and many more attended.
President Riccobono challenged NABS to get twenty-five students to join or increase PAC pledges, and NABS rose to the challenge and then some, hitting fifty-six and winning the PAC Mule.
Gabe Cazares gave an excellent presentation about the SMART Act and NFB legislative priorities before announcing that he is stepping down from his position in NABS to focus on his work as a new government affairs specialist at the National Center for the Blind.
Sean Whalen updated NABS members on the progress made over the last year and called on each student in the room to pledge fifteen minutes a week to working on passing SMART, recruiting members, raising money, or doing other activities to build the Federation.
Karen Anderson, second vice president of NABS, gave a heartfelt speech about why she came to be involved with NABS and the NFB. Karen also announced that she would not be seeking reelection.
Scholarship winners introduced themselves, talked about their goals, and expressed their interest in the work of the division.
After elections, the board of NABS is: Sean Whalen, president; Candice Chapman, first vice president; Brianna Brown, second vice president; Derek Manners, treasurer; Kathryn Webster, secretary; and board members Hindley Williams; James Garrett; Chris Nusbaum; and Michael Ausbun.
We left the meeting with the firm conviction that, though much work lies ahead, we are up to the challenge.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.