Since a part of the job of the National Federation of the Blind is to let the public know that we are invested in civic responsibility and interested in political events and the way they influence the future of our country, we have recently offered the Jernigan Institute for two major public events in Baltimore. The first was a debate held on February 11 between four candidates seeking to be the council member from District 11. The second debate to help determine the next mayor of Baltimore was held on March 3, with twelve candidates participating. Topics covered were education, employment, public safety, housing, taxes, and disability. On this latter issue all of the candidates were asked this question: one in five Baltimore city residents has a disability and face barriers to education, inaccessible technology, and an unemployment rate of over 70 percent. What will your guiding principles be when determining disability policy for the city? Although President Riccobono had opened with welcoming remarks describing the purpose of our organization, some participants were shocked to get a question on disability. As one source said, "Four had the 'deer in the headlights’ look, four gave somewhat coherent answers, and four evidenced an understanding of what the Federation works to do through doing away with subminimum wages, making technology universally usable, and seeing that everyone gets a fair shake when considered for hiring and promotion.”
One hundred and twenty people attended the council debate, and more than 320 were present to witness the mayoral debate. The Federation was given high marks for the greeting we gave to each member of the community and for the organizing that went into these most successful events. We were assisted by the Baltimore City League of Women Voters and the six neighborhood Peninsula associations who helped in drafting questions and urging the community to attend.