by Gary Wunder
When I was a young boy, no part of the year was more exciting than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holiday season. The music changed, and the TV movies were more about families reuniting to help one another overcome struggles. We were moving toward the celebration of the birthday of the Holiest of Holies, and, if that weren’t enough, we were all going to give and get gifts. It just didn’t get any better.
But the day after Christmas was a different matter in the head and in the heart of the young boy who, two days before, couldn’t wait for the big event. December 26 was the day when we were furthest from celebrating another Christmas, and the magic that had been so long in the coming had disappeared. My father went back to work; the radio played commercials selling Chevrolets and cigarettes. I might not know the color blue, but the feeling was one I well understood.
Although I am more mature and now know better how to appreciate the holiday season, some of the same anticipation, excitement, and letdown still lives in me. So it is with conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. With our celebration of the magic seventy-fifth anniversary, what would seventy-six be like? What would make it stand out, make it special, make it memorable, make it more than second best to what we experienced in 2015? But, the world being what it is, the past isn’t the last word on the best, for the future always has a special promise to be discovered, experienced, enjoyed, and rejoiced in.
The 2016 convention was an amazing mixture of the familiar and the not-so-familiar. We were returning to a familiar city, Orlando being our travel destination with one exception since 2011. Our convention would be familiar in its daily routines, beginning with seminar day, then registration and resolutions day, then board meeting and division day, and finally the dropping of the gavel and the beginning of the three days in which we hold our official convention sessions.
This was the traditional, but what about the new and different? Our hotel was the Rosen Shingle Creek and not the Rosen Centre, which for three years was our convention home in early July. Our 2013 and 2014 conventions were leading up to something—our seventy-fifth anniversary celebration, but this convention was not about leading to something or looking back to celebrate; it was about something infinitely more important—taking stock of our present and deciding how we will shape the future. Celebrating lets us share an emotional high, but bringing it about, defining the problems, strategizing about how to solve them, finding the people who care enough to put their hearts and minds into it, and watching them grow in this process—this is the real bread and butter of the Federation, and this is what the 2016 convention was all about.
This year the convention was hosted by four states: Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and New Hampshire. This dynamic team staffed the host convention suite, welcomed the convention to Orlando, sponsored a well-attended concert, and provided a tremendous door prize at the convention banquet.
The Federation’s commitment to blind children is second to none, the logical consequence of realizing that early contact with positive blind people is essential and that every blind child is indeed our future reflection. Activities for the parents of blind children began on Thursday, June 30, and continued until the adjournment of the convention on Tuesday, July 5. The parent agenda was fifteen pages in length and included spectacular general sessions and in-depth workshops on topics for parents and children of all ages and abilities. The first breakout session was “Essential 411: What You Need to Know to Optimize Your Convention Experience.” A second was “On the Go: Transitioning to and Encouraging Independent Movement in Young Blind Children.” Since many blind people are not totally blind, a big question many parents and their blind children must address was answered by the workshop entitled “Where do I fit in? Transitions for children with low vision.”
To live the lives we want, we must be able to travel independently, and being out in the community means knowing the risks of interacting with the public and being able to defend oneself when threatened. This is the reason the Sports and Recreation Division has for several years sponsored the 1Touch self-defense class, and it continues to win rave reviews among attendees.
Since employment is closely tied to integration and first-class citizenship, an offering that figured prominently in preconvention activities was the job seeker seminar sponsored by the NFB Employment Committee. In addition to helping people learn about how to participate in job interviews and construct a resumé, this committee also hosted a job fair with twenty-four employers in attendance. At least five of those were Fortune 500 companies: FedEx ground, UPS, Target Corporation, Oracle, and Wells Fargo. Though not a Fortune 500 company, the job fair was strengthened by the presence of the American Heart Association, which has more than three thousand employees. At least three hundred blind jobseekers were also in attendance to learn about job opportunities, drop off their resumés, and participate in the all-important process of networking.
The Jernigan Institute continued its tradition of sponsoring educational seminars, the first being on accessible equation creation, followed by a session on academic ebooks, followed by a WordPress boot camp, which featured instruction for using this popular web authoring and content management system. After training and the job that will follow, one needs to know how to manage money, so a session was held on software tools for keeping a checkbook, financial planning, and committing to implementing at least one financial goal arrived at during the seminar.
Even more important than financial health is one’s physical health. Recognizing this, the Sports and Recreation Division partnered with WE Fit Wellness to sponsor a hands-on health and exercise experience which included sword fighting, cardio drumming, and goalball. One could check out accessible activity trackers and other health devices, learn about one’s health, and even give blood to help meet the extreme need posed by the recent shootings in the Orlando area.
Preconvention sessions are also a wonderful opportunity for vendors of assistive technology to spend time with consumers and would-be buyers of their equipment. The VFO Group, formerly Freedom Scientific, conducted a three-hour seminar at which representatives discussed updates to be found in the soon-to-be-released Job Access with Speech version 18, convention specials for purchasing software and maintenance agreements, and a prototype of a Braille notetaker that will run on and give access to many of the programs available on Windows 10.
HumanWare displayed its newest notetaker, the BrailleNote Touch, which relies on the KeySoft system familiar to BrailleNote users. The notetaker has moved from the unsupported Windows CE operating system to the Android platform created and supported by Google. The machine will not only be a notetaker but will allow access to any accessible program found in Google’s online store since the machine is a tablet with a Braille display.
For mainstream developers of technology with a commitment to making their products accessible, none was more visible than Microsoft. Starting on June 30 and continuing throughout the convention, Microsoft sought input from blind users on their experience with Office 365, including Word, Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, OneNote, and other products used with the Windows operating system.
On Thursday evening the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee gave all interested exhibitors a few minutes to talk about what they were selling in the exhibit hall, any convention specials they were running, and products that were on the horizon.
Since the convention has so much happening, we again conducted our rookie roundup for first-time convention attendees, and these first-timers were met by President Riccobono and others who were anxious to answer their questions and ensure that their convention experience would be all it could be.
As we would expect, the students were busy on seminar evening with a meet-and-greet social. BLIND Inc. sponsored the ever-popular karaoke night, and in a separate event those wanting to meet the fingers behind the tweets had a chance to visit face-to-face.
Those who contributed to the 2016 convention as convention sponsors were:
ELITE: Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc.
PLATINUM: Cardtronics Inc.; Delta Air Lines; Google Inc.; Oracle; Target; UPS; VFO (Freedom Scientific/Optelec)
GOLD: Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Market Development Group, Inc.; Microsoft; Sprint; Uber Technologies, Inc.
SILVER: Amazon.com, Inc.; AT&T; Dropbox Inc.; HumanWare; Pearson
BRONZE: Facebook; IBM; National Industries for the Blind; VitalSource Technologies
WHITE CANE: Ai Squared; BAUM (USA) Inc.; HIMS Inc.; Learning Ally; OrCam
Friday was registration and resolutions day, and the lines for those who preregistered and those wanting to register were models of efficiency. No longer is registration a thirty-minute meet-and-greet to get an agenda and a name badge. Thirty minutes has been reduced to thirty seconds, just one of the many benefits when most convention-goers preregister. On Friday morning a special exhibitor opportunity was held for exhibit sponsors of our convention. The Independence Market did a brisk business, and the exhibit hall was filled with audible advertisements for everything from suntan lotion to umbrellas, snack foods to trail mix, foldable scissors to the most complicated hardware and software found anywhere. In addition to exhibitors whose names we have come to know and whose presence we have come to expect, a few new names were added. One exhibitor was Aira, a company planning to offer a subscription-based service providing both visual assistance and the power of artificial intelligence to solve problems blind people confront daily. Using special electronic glasses and a smart phone, Aira intends to combine augmented reality and artificial intelligence with trained agents to provide assistance ranging from telling a blind person the color of a garment to helping him travel through an airport, look for signs, screens, and food locations. This company is especially interested in the Federation’s input so that it meets real needs and advertises itself in a way that promotes dignity and independence.
Vanda Pharmaceuticals offered a session about Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder, its symptoms, impact, and prevalence in the blindness community, and the way one can treat it using Hetlioz, the medication manufactured by Vanda.
The KNFB Reader, the cool tool for work and school, conducted a number of sessions throughout the convention, introducing those who wish to read print to the most powerful, portable reading machine on the market and showing current users new features that have recently been or will soon be introduced in the product.
On Saturday, July 2, the gavel fell at 9:00 AM calling together the meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors. President Mark Riccobono began the meeting by asking for a moment of silence to honor those lost in the last year. Members recognized were Burnell Brown, Shirley Morris, Matt Lyles, Eliza Brown, Cynthia Cross, Heidi Van Gorp, Jack Hemphill, Geraldine Croom, Jim Daley, Rick Reed, Tom Ferry, Kristina Wadia, Margaret Williams, Karen Walston, Jim Valliant, and William Owens.
President Riccobono announced that again this year we would be providing Spanish translation of the board meeting and general sessions of the convention. In addition those who have difficulty hearing can check out a receiver and will get information directly from the podium.
Board members standing for reelection at the 2016 convention were Mark Riccobono, president; Pam Allen, first vice president; Ron Brown, second vice president; James Gashel, secretary; Jeannie Massay, treasurer; and board members James Brown, Amy Buresh, Patti Chang, John Fritz, Carl Jacobsen, and Alpidio Rolón. Those positions not up for reelection are currently held by Everette Bacon, Norma Crosby, Sam Gleese, Ever Lee Hairston, Cathy Jackson, and Joe Ruffalo.
Carl Jacobsen asked for the floor and said it had been his honor to serve as a member of this body since 2004. He believes that after twelve years of service it is his duty, in the name of continuing to grow the organization and see it evolve, no longer to run for a board position. “I think it is time for me to help the transition; that doesn’t mean I’m leaving; that doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere; that doesn’t mean I will ever shut up. However, it does mean that somebody new should be taking my chair while I can still stand behind them and whisper in their ear about what they should be doing.”
In response, President Riccobono said: “Thank you very much, Carl, for your tremendous service to the National Federation of the Blind. You are a leader who has raised many people in the organization, and we know that you’re going to continue to make our New York affiliate stand up and be one of the loudest and most boisterous ones in the nation. So we appreciate it, and we love you. Thank you very much.”
Alpidio Rolón next asked for the floor. Alpidio said that he would not stand for reelection but that he would continue to be a militant rank-and-file member of the Federation. “When I came to the Federation in 1992, I said that I had found my way home. I plan to stay here.”
President Riccobono thanked Alpidio for his service, said that he knew there would be many battles ahead in which Alpidio would be needed, and thanked him for his leadership and love of the organization.
Patti Chang next asked for the floor. She said that she has enjoyed her service as a member of the board of directors but also believes that this opportunity must be given to others. "With immense gratitude and sincerity, I ask the convention not to put my name in nomination."
President Riccobono thanked Patti for her service, including her shepherding of the scholarship program, one of the most important we run in the organization. He again offered thanks to all of those who have chosen to relinquish their positions, expressing his gratitude and confidence that they will continue to serve with distinction in the Federation.
Our former president announced that this was his forty-eighth convention, a record to be proud of but one that he points out falls short of some, such as Mrs. Jernigan celebrating her fifty-first convention. He notes that at his first convention the agenda was several pages in length, and now it extends to 117. He said that frequently he is asked why he is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and at least part of the answer is that he is annoyed with conditions in the world as he finds them and needs help to change them. One such condition is the payment of what is called a special subminimum wage, though he notes there is nothing special about it. It is simply a subminimum wage paid to people who are mistakenly believed to be incapable of productive work. Of course, as our former president notes, there is more to being a Federationist than being annoyed and finding colleagues to help; part of being in this organization means having fun, and this we certainly did at the convention.
Former President Maurer concluded by observing that the United States of America is the host for the 2016 meeting of the World Blind Union, and the National Federation of the Blind is making arrangements for it, with him in charge. This is a wonderful way to help the blind of the world see what can be achieved through self-organization, discipline, and commitment, and our former president hopes to see many of us at the meeting in August.
John Berggren now serves as the chairman of convention organization and activities. He spoke briefly at the board meeting, discussing banquet details and other logistical matters of interest. Though he never gets much time on the microphone, his kindness, sincerity, and dry wit always leave the audience glad that he is one of us and remind us that we are blessed to have him on our staff.
The President announced that registration at the beginning of the board meeting stood at 2,220, with representatives from all fifty-two of our affiliates as well as representatives from fourteen countries.
Although the NFB does not support individual candidates or parties, the organization is extremely interested in our members being politically active. To this end the President announced that we would hold a voter registration drive, which would run from noon until 5:00 PM. Charlie Brown was in charge of the activity, and many people were registered to vote in the November elections.
Everette Bacon addressed the gathering in his capacity as the chair of the Imagination Fund. This fund is used to support the innovative programs conducted by the Jernigan Institute to support people in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In the coming year we will be looking at new ways to raise funds for this program, and Everette welcomes people with good ideas and the energy and enthusiasm to implement them.
Carla McQuillan was introduced to present the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award, previously named the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. The presentation made by Chairman McQuillan and the remarks of the winner will be found elsewhere in this issue.
The President reminded those assembled that much of the work of the Federation is done through its committees. All committees are appointed by the President, and he wants to hear from anyone interested in serving. Write to him at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or contact him by writing to the national office at the address listed on the front page of this magazine.
It is a hallmark of wisdom to save for the future both individually and organizationally. For this reason the National Federation of the Blind has established the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Fund. The chair of the SUN Fund committee is Sandy Halverson, and she reported that at the beginning of the convention twelve states were not participants in the program. The District of Columbia decided it did not want to be one of the twelve and enlisted in the program with the contribution of $300. The bottom line is that contributions to the SUN Fund were up by almost $2,000 this year, a far cry from where we wish to be, but certainly an indication that we are moving in the right direction.
Unquestionably the most successful membership-funded program of the National Federation of the Blind is our Preauthorized Contribution Program, and its chairperson is Scott LaBarre. Scott told the audience that the National Federation of the Blind has a tremendous philosophy, a tremendous corps of volunteers, and more than our share of expertise on many issues, but, in order to take advantage of these assets, we must have one essential tool in our toolbox—money. We started this convention with annual giving on the PAC Plan of $480,000, and the goal during convention was to raise our contributions so that we are able to sustain a giving level that meets or exceeds half a million dollars annually.
Before Scott left the stage, the President announced that both our PAC chairman and Everette Bacon, a member of the national board of directors from Utah, were celebrating birthdays. Naturally the convention serenaded both on this special occasion.
The Kenneth Jernigan Fund was created in 1998, its purpose being to help first-timers attend the national convention. Allen Harris chairs this effort, and he came to the dais to report on awards made this year. The Jernigan Fund awarded grants to fifty-five people from around the country to attend. This is in keeping with the average number of awards the committee has made since 1999. Asking for a shout-out of those present who have been recipients of cash from this fund revealed the significant role it has played in building our movement. Chairman Harris explained that the Jernigan Fund gets its money in two ways: an annual raffle is held in which 1,000 tickets are printed and sold for five dollars each. The winner of that raffle splits the proceeds from the sale with the Jernigan Fund. A ten-dollar ticket is also sold to anyone who wishes a chance to receive an all-expense-paid trip to the convention. The winner receives round-trip airfare for two, payment of hotel, banquet, and registration, and $1,000 in cash. This is a fantastic program for helping Federationists get to and observe for themselves the magic that is the national convention. “The way we get people here fifty times is by getting them here for the first time," Allen reminded us, and with that he ended his report.
As a former President of the National Federation of the Blind, Kenneth Jernigan is widely regarded as the most consequential figure in the fields of rehabilitation and civil rights in the twentieth century. The impact of his life and work has been discussed in much of our literature, but only recently has there been a book about his impact on the lives of others, it being edited by Ramona Walhof. She came to address the board about The Power of Love: How Kenneth Jernigan Changed the World for the Blind. She said that the goal in writing this book was to offer to those who did not have the opportunity to learn from Dr. Jernigan that part of the experience which those who did could pass along. The book has been published by <http://iUniverse.com> and is available at <http://www.barnes&noble.com>, <books.google.com>, and in the Apple Store as an iBook. Ramona reviewed the table of contents, encouraged the purchase of the book, and asked that those who read it provide feedback on the site where they made the purchase since this will encourage others to read and learn about the work of this outstanding man.
Following Ramona’s presentation the board of directors adopted a motion retiring the Newel Perry Award and putting in its place the Kenneth Jernigan Award. This motion takes effect at the end of the 2016 convention.
Dr. Edward Bell was invited to address those assembled to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award. His presentation, the name of the award recipient, and the remarks the recipient made are found elsewhere in this issue.
Patti Chang came to the podium to introduce the 2016 scholarship finalists chosen by the Federation. The remarks which each of the thirty winners made to the board appear later in this issue. Following the presentations from the scholarship finalists, the board of directors voted to continue the scholarship program in 2017. Given the caliber of the class and their diverse fields of study, it is not surprising that the vote was both unanimous and enthusiastic.
Dr. Fred Schroeder is currently the first vice president of the World Blind Union, and at its meeting in August he will be a candidate for president. He talked about the importance of our hosting this meeting and the role we can play in showing the world how much can be accomplished through self-determination and collective action. He emphasized that, by working together with the World Blind Union, we can make great strides in improving the lives of blind people not only in this country but throughout the world.
President Riccobono called on Bob Kresmer in recognition of donations that have been received through bequests made to the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. President Kresmer said that one of the projects in his state was to distribute Federation literature and donor cards to every funeral home in Arizona and that this project was spearheaded by Sharon Omvig before she and Jim returned to Iowa. Although Arizona has not been the recipient of bequests in the recent past, in this year they received checks for $88,000 and $187,000, and soon they expect to receive a check for $145,000. By long-standing policy and with the goodwill and concurrence of members of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, 50 percent of all bequests were and will continue to be shared with the national treasury.
Parnell Diggs addressed the crowd to talk about the need for regulations clarifying the role of the Americans with Disabilities Act as it pertains to the internet. It is important that we participate in the regulatory process, and announcements about how this may be done will be widely distributed.
In order to stimulate greater activity and coordinate our efforts on behalf of blind parents, the Federation has created the Blind Parent’s Initiative, and Melissa Riccobono was called to the stage to discuss it. One of the goals of this initiative is to demonstrate how blind parents perform childcare tasks that are normally assumed to require vision. Short videos describing and demonstrating these techniques are being solicited, and those wishing to learn more about the videos or contribute to them should go to the website <www.blindparents.org> for more information.
Following the adjournment of the board meeting, Federationists had more than thirty opportunities to participate in meetings of divisions, committees, and groups. The diverse interests of those who met on Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening took six printed pages and seventeen Braille pages to capture in the agenda, and in most of these gatherings one could find a multipage document listing the issues that needed to be discussed and addressed. One could attend a meeting of the Sports and Recreation Division; the National Organization of Blind Educators; the Deaf-Blind division workshop; and a meeting sponsored by the NFB Seniors Division entitled “Knowledge is Power: Be a Powerful Senior.” There were meetings for lawyers, diabetics, computer scientists, people in the performing arts, merchants, writers, rehabilitation professionals, human service workers, workers in the sheltered workshop system, and many others. For a complete list of activities that took place on Saturday, July 2, refer to the convention agenda found at <https://nfb.org/convention#main-conte>.
When the gavel fell on Sunday morning bringing the first official session of the 2016 convention to order, it was very clear that the blind people in Orlando were alive, well, and ready to get about the business of making policy. President Riccobono's "Good morning, Federationists,” was greeted with enthusiastic applause, but the reaction was decidedly different when he announced there would be no door prizes for the morning. But those groans quickly turned to joy when it was revealed that the door prize to open the convention would be $201.16.
Conchita Hernandez came to the microphone to talk about services offered to people who have special needs in order to enjoy the convention session fully. The convention provides audio devices for those who are hard of hearing, and Spanish interpretation is also provided using a headset that operates on a different frequency.
The host committee was introduced for the opening ceremony and began by conveying the way Federationists go about living the lives we want. Jeannie Massay says that the state motto in Oklahoma is "Labor conquers all things." Pam Allen says that in Louisiana living the life you want means “Laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll." Cassie McKinney said that in New Hampshire the state motto is "Live free or die." Everette Bacon said that in Utah "The worker bees love our industry." The full comments each affiliate made about its Federation history appear later in this issue. To enjoy the songs interspersed in the opening ceremony and the audio of these affiliate histories visit <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2016_convention_highlights/
President Dwight Sayer of the National Association of Blind Veterans asked that all of those who had served in the Armed Forces of the United States come to the stage. Each passed a microphone and introduced him or herself, and First Lady Melissa Riccobono presented thirty-eight ribbons of appreciation to the brave men and women who risked their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. The ceremony continued with a marching band, the Impact Drum and Bugle Corps of Orlando, coming through the convention hall and serenading us with a medley of military songs. After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and dismissing the color guard, Miss Devon Sauer led us in the singing of the National Anthem.
Beginning the roll call of states, Joy Harris, the president of our Alabama affiliate, announced that Alabama now has a new training program which emphasizes structured discovery. It is called the Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind. From the state of Idaho, president Dana Ard announced that Jan Gawith was attending her fifty-fifth consecutive convention, an enviable record to say the least. The Nebraska affiliate was able to boast forty rookies in its delegation, and a commendable number of staff from the Nebraska Commission for the Blind, and its governing board were also present. Of course the roll call of states is used as an opportunity for each affiliate to brag about its state, and sometimes in addition to the traditional comments about the Show-Me State, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and the Empire State, we get something that is truly clever and original. South Dakota wins the prize this year as Ken Rollman commented, "Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. I'm Ken Rollman from the great state of South Dakota, the sunshine state of the north, the home of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Wall Drug, of course, where you can get free ice water and a nickel cup of coffee."
When the morning session was recessed, people could visit the Independence Market and the exhibit hall; attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind alumni reception; or, for those arriving late, register for the convention.
One of the high points of the convention occurred on Sunday afternoon when, after gaveling the convention to order, the President began with the Presidential Report. In his remarks President Riccobono reviewed cases won, new challenges undertaken, and ongoing programs of the National Federation of the Blind that create opportunity where none has existed before. President Riccobono's remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
After his report the President introduced the next agenda item in this way: “We met with the CEO of Microsoft in the early part of last year, and we have been engaging with Microsoft in trying to move accessibility in the work they have been doing. We have engaged with Microsoft at many levels. As you heard in the Report, we were invited to speak on accessibility at Microsoft's Envision conference in New Orleans. Here to speak to us from Microsoft is the director of program management for Microsoft. He has responsibility for many of the Microsoft projects, and he has been a true champion for accessibility, grabbing hold of the spark that we have been able to light with both the CEO of the company Satya Nadella and the president of the company Brad Smith, who signed a letter with us about the ADA regulations. Here to talk with us about product progress at Microsoft is John Jendrezak.”
Mr. Jendrezak began his presentation by saying, "I believe our company mission and the direction set for our employees is truly in line with that of the Federation. That hasn't always been apparent, though; we know that firsthand … Our services, our apps, and our operating system over time degraded, and that impacted you. We understand that and are taking this as our responsibility … The work that we've done and are planning to do represents a small step in our journey to make our products better for you. This is work we have to do for the rest of our lives. In my experience at Microsoft I've heard countless personal stories that have provided indelible and incredible motivation to me as an employee and as an advocate. I learned that personal experience, passion, and understanding are crucial for our journey and to ensure that this is an enduring attribute of our culture. I want to thank the leadership of the Federation and the membership of the Federation for helping build this awareness in me. Thank you.”
One new addition this year was the insertion of fit breaks in our convention sessions. The first of these took about three minutes and involved standing on one foot, the claim being that doing this was equivalent to about forty minutes of exercise. The stretch was welcome, the enthusiasm was extraordinary, and the message that the National Federation of the Blind is committed to enhancing body, mind, and soul was made evident.
The next item on the agenda was entitled “The Law of Disability, Special Treatment, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and the Constitution.” It was presented by Immediate Past President Maurer, and he spoke directly to the way the word “special” is used to denote the blind and the otherwise disabled as a class really does not mean special but inferior, different, a reason to separate the class of the special from those rights that are supposed to be afforded to every citizen of the United States. Dr. Maurer's remarks will appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
Kathy Martinez came to the dais to speak on the topic “Undefined by Blindness: Seeking Employment and Financial Literacy Opportunities for the Blind.” Ms. Martinez works for Wells Fargo in an executive position, blazing trails in American corporations where blind people have held few executive positions. A goal of Ms. Martinez and of Wells Fargo is to make that institution the bank of choice for blind customers and the bank of choice for blind employees. Her remarks will appear in the Braille Monitor later in the fall.
The last presentation of the afternoon was entitled “National Industries for the Blind: Continuing to Raise Expectations and Create Opportunities.” It was presented by Kevin Lynch, the president and chief executive officer of National Industries for the Blind. Mr. Lynch said that of the sixty-five agencies that are affiliated with National Industries for the Blind, only two currently pay less than the minimum wage, and no agency that pays less than the minimum wage can have a member sit on the board of directors of NIB. Mr. Lynch's remarks will appear later in the fall.
With the last presentation of the first day’s session concluded, the Nominating Committee met to propose a slate; a seminar was held on self-advocacy in higher education; Target discussed its accessibility efforts, demonstrated the results of its work, invited user testing, and gave away what they called “some Target swag.”
The Colorado Center for the Blind conducted an open house, members of our Help America Vote Act staff conducted a seminar on how to hold a voter registration drive in six easy steps, and the Careers in Automotive-Related Specialties group discussed how blind people can excel in the automotive repair industry. The exhibit hall was once again open for business, and a KNFB Reader liaison marketing meeting was held to discuss the most effective ways to get out information about and to sell the KNFB Reader. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children held concurrent sessions on adaptive games, an IEP workshop, and one on basic IEP advocacy. These were for parents, but the youth track activities included “Deal Me In: Learning Poker and Other Card Games,” as well as a children’s craft show.
But even with all of these educational opportunities placed before us, a number of my colleagues chose to attend the concert sponsored by the Federation's four host affiliates, and I confess to being one of those in attendance. The concert started shortly after 7:00 PM with Marion Gwizdala conducting the warm-up for JP Williams of Nashville, Tennessee. I don't think any of us who sat in that air-conditioned room spent much time mourning about not being able to enjoy the Orlando rain and humidity that were very much in evidence Sunday evening, which had necessitated moving the outdoor concert into an indoor venue. Those attending were also grateful to Aira for donating $4,000 to help with concert expenses.
When the President dropped the gavel on the morning of the fourth of July, the first order of business to come before the convention was the presentation of the consolidated financial report. Although fundraising through the mail continues to pose a significant challenge, requiring greater investments and less return on them, the National Federation of the Blind did finish the year in the black. It is important that we continue to work hard to provide funds for the general treasury. The grants we secure from time to time are very helpful, but they are specific to a project or a program and do not give us the flexibility we need in meeting the day-to-day challenges that face the blind.
After the reading of the 2015 financial report, Dr. Maurer rose to indicate that he thought it was a fine report and moved that it be adopted. There was a second by many in the convention hall, and the motion passed unanimously.
President Riccobono then turned his attention to income and expenses for the first five months of 2016. In keeping with the general fluctuation of the stock market, the losses that we showed in 2015 show signs of recovery in the first five months of 2016, and again we currently find ourselves in the position of having slightly more assets than liabilities, with no debt whatsoever on our books. Organizationally this is an enviable place to be but one that we will continue to occupy only if we remain as dedicated to funding our organization as we do to making the promise that it will be there for blind people when they need it.
With the report being read for the first five months of 2016, the same motion was made, seconded, and passed unanimously, the President and all of those who helped in our fundraising activities receiving a tremendous vote of thanks from the convention through the applause that was given.
The honor roll call of states was our next order of business, and in this portion of the program affiliates, divisions, committees, and groups are encouraged to make pledges or donations to the national treasury, Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund, Kenneth Jernigan Fund, Imagination Fund, and SUN Fund.
Following the roll call of states, Pam Allen, the chairman of the Nominating Committee, rose to deliver the slate the committee has proposed. The committee recommended for the office of president, Mark Riccobono, Maryland; first vice president, Pam Allen, Louisiana; second vice president, Ron Brown, Indiana; secretary, James Gashel, Colorado; treasurer, Jeannie Massay, Oklahoma; board position one, James Brown, Tennessee; board position two, Amy Buresh, Nebraska; board position three, John Fritz, Wisconsin; board position four, Adelmo Vigil, New Mexico; board position five, Shawn Callaway, District of Columbia; and board position six, Carla McQuillan, Oregon. A motion was made and seconded to approve the report of the Nominating Committee, and it was accepted without dissent.
Pam Allen conducted the election for president, and Mark Riccobono was elected by acclamation. He said: "Thank you very much, my Federation family. When I first came to this family twenty years ago, I was inspired by the qualities that were reflected in my brothers and sisters in this movement. I was also humbled by the love and faith that were offered to me in the space that we create with each other. Today I feel the same way—inspired and humbled. The commitment and energy that you give to this organization continue to shape and inspire me on a daily basis. The trust and confidence that you place in me are truly very humbling.
“This morning I was reflecting on why I ever started to think that I, a kid from the Midwest who spent almost all of his time before coming to know this family faking it—I wondered what it was that made me think I could help out in this movement, and in reflecting I decided that it was the fact that this organization opened its collective heart to me and taught me that blindness would not be the characteristic that would prevent me from being successful and more importantly that blindness should not be the characteristic that should prevent me from loving myself. I want you to know that you have blessed me with the opportunity to share myself and whatever I have to offer with this organization, and for that I'm truly grateful.
“With the completeness of my heart I thank you for the honor of being able to serve as your president and will continue to give all that I can offer from the inspiration and the humility that you give me in this organization. In this moment I have to also acknowledge the woman who keeps me grounded, kicks me in the back now and then to keep me moving—my wife Melissa Riccobono, who, in the way she lives her life, reflects everything that this organization is about. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.”
The nomination of Pam Allen to be the first vice president of the Federation was made by the committee, was seconded, and she was elected by acclamation. In accepting the office, Pam said: "Good morning and thank you. Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible. Each day in the National Federation of the Blind we strive for excellence, we push the boundaries, we encourage and love each other, and we raise the expectations and shatter misconceptions about blindness so our dreams are transformed into reality. It is so fitting too that we gather today on the Fourth of July to remember and celebrate those who fought for our nation's independence as we work together for freedom for our blind children, adults, and seniors. Freedom from complacency, from fear, from low expectations: imagine how different our lives would be today if those original Federationists who came together in 1940 had not organized, risked, and dared to dream and believe that blindness would not hold them back. Every day the National Federation of the Blind demonstrates the power of collective action. When people come together for a common purpose, the world is forever changed. We have been nurtured and taught by our leaders like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, and now by President Riccobono, who shows us each day—along with his wife and their beautiful children—through their example and words, his love for each of us and his unwavering dedication to this organization. As we come together this week, I am inspired and motivated, and I also take away a challenge, a call to action that I ask of each of you: to give more, to dig deeper, to dream bigger, to fight harder, to love each other, to build our Federation family by sharing our message that we can live the lives we want as blind people.
“Thank you to each of you and to our thousands of members listening in around the world who share and live our message each day. Thank you for your love, your trust, your support, your sacrifice and enthusiasm, your imagination, and your commitment. Thank you also to my incredible husband Roland, a leader in his own right, for his love and support. I am truly honored and humbled to serve as your first vice president. Each day I learn from you, my Federation family. Together we stand, united we cannot be defeated. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind."
The name of Ron Brown was presented to the convention to serve as second vice president. A motion was made and seconded to elect him, and it passed by acclamation. He thanked the convention for reelecting him, said what an honor it was to serve as its second vice president, and noted that our conventions are so much fun that his granddaughter asked that she be allowed to attend.
For the office of secretary the Nominating Committee recommended James Gashel, and the convention made, seconded, and approved a motion to elect him by acclamation. He was unanimously elected. He said: "Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, fellow Federationists. I first joined the National Federation of the Blind fifty-one years ago right about this time of the year. Now a lot of you weren't even born yet; in fact a whole bunch of you weren't even born yet. This is the fiftieth convention of the National Federation of the Blind that I have had the honor to attend. There have been a lot of honors and privileges that I have been able to participate in during all of those years. I attended our twenty-fifth anniversary convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Washington, DC in 1965, where 100 members of Congress, the House and Senate, participated in the banquet, and we let them all speak for a minute. That was quite an experience for a kid right out of high school to sit in an audience like that. I attended our fiftieth anniversary convention in Dallas in 1990. I attended our seventy-fifth anniversary last year here in Florida. I worked in the Federation under our President Jacobus tenBroek when we formed the national students division, and I was the first president. I worked under Dr. Marc Maurer when I served as director of governmental affairs and other names of that position—strategic affairs—and our national office for thirty-three years and six months. I was first elected to the board of directors in 2008 and have subsequently been reelected to the board and as secretary several times since, and I've had the opportunity to help out in advancing our efforts in reading technology for the last several years, including the KNFB Reader—which is my commercial.
“Now in all of those experiences, none of them attaches a greater sense of honor and responsibility than standing before you to accept election to the board of directors and to an officer position in this organization. As has been said by others, this is a position of sacred trust, of great responsibility, because we are changing the future for blind people in the United States and really all over the world. We set the standard. So I am humbled to be here—I am—and I hope you will keep electing me for a while, but you don't need to: I will be here because forever I will help to build the Federation. Let me just say that, while we are recognizing spouses, I'm joined here today by my wife Susan Gashel who, in the great tradition of the Federation as she works on blind vendor cases under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, hasn't lost a case yet. Thank you very much."
The committee recommended Jeannie Massay to serve as treasurer, and she was elected unanimously. In response she said: “Thank you, President Riccobono and my Federation family. One thing that has been common among each of the acceptance speeches of my fellow officers has been that we want to thank you for the trust and confidence you have placed in us, and I definitely want to thank you for that as well. I said it last year, and I will say it again this year, sir—that my most important role as a Federationist is as a member, because without our members we are nothing.
“When I first lost vision, I thought that I was alone. In finding the Federation, I unequivocally know that I am not. In a recent podcast I heard a really great description for what a family of choice is, and that is the discovery that you are not alone. So to you, my Federation family, thank you. I hope we can help other people find that they are not alone and that they never will be again, and that they can contribute and participate in helping us to change the world as we know it. Thank you, my family. I love you."
The nomination of James Brown of Tennessee was next considered for board position one, and he was elected by acclamation. "If there is one word that expresses why I am here today, it is love. I love so many of you all. I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, a year or two ago doing a presentation, and at the end of the presentation I had an opportunity to do a mobility lesson with the young girl who wasn't being taught the way she should have been taught in school. She asked me, ‘Why are you here? Why are you here helping little ol’ me?’ The answer was pretty easy; I told her that I wanted her to grow up and be able to live the life she wants—that's right. And so, I'm going to tell you the same thing here today.” With that James broke into song and ended his remarks by telling his wife that he loved her and appreciated all she did to make his work possible.
The committee placed in nomination the name of Amy Buresh for board position two. After three calls for nominations, a motion was made and seconded to elect Amy to the board of directors by acclamation, and it passed unanimously. Amy accepted the board position to which she had just been elected by suggesting that it is no coincidence that the blind of the nation meet annually to express our independence on the same day that our nation's forefathers did the very same. She said that declaring independence took courage, fighting for independence took courage, and retaining that independence has taken vigilance, courage, and a lot of work. She said that the same is true for the independence we seek in the National Federation of the Blind: the necessary ingredients being courage, hope, vigilance, and the willingness to exert the energy that transforms our ideals into action.
The name of John Fritz was next placed before the convention, and a gentleman from Ohio nominated himself from the floor for the position. After three calls for nominations, nominations were closed, and each candidate was invited to make a brief presentation. Both men shared with the convention a brief biography and his desire to serve the Federation. A voice vote was held to determine the winner, and John Fritz was reelected to the board to fill board position three.
In remarks made after his election, John thanked all of those who had voted for him, his wife, his children, and the scholarship program that brought him to the National Federation of the Blind. He promised to continue to blaze new trails for blind people and asked that all of us join him in this noble work.
The name of Adelmo Vigil was recommended by the committee to fill board position four. There being no nominations from the floor, a motion was made and seconded that Adelmo be elected by acclamation, and he was. In his remarks Adelmo said that he has been a Federationist since 1983, has been privileged to work hard in his home state, and has enjoyed working with Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and now President Riccobono. He thanked the convention for the confidence demonstrated in him, thanked his wife for her continuing support, and pledged to do his best as a leader in this organization.
Shawn Callaway was nominated by the committee to fill the fifth board position, and he was elected by acclamation. Shawn lost his sight in 1991, and, although he felt he possessed tremendous confidence in himself, confidence that extended to competing in education and employment, he lacked real confidence in his ability to be a parent. He says it is through the National Federation of the Blind that he gained his confidence, and that, through the magic of the Federation and his mentors, his reservations were transformed from "How can I?" into "How can I wait?" “When I hold my daughter, I feel the confidence in her that she knows Daddy is going to take care of her. So, ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much, and God bless the Federation."
For the final board position to be elected in 2016, the name of Carla McQuillan was placed before the convention. Carla was elected by acclamation. In addressing the convention, Carla said, "Thank you, sir, and thank you, my Federation family. I was first elected to the national board of directors in 1998, and I was so excited to serve under the only President in the Federation that I had ever known, Marc Maurer. It was in 1998 that a Federationist from Oregon called to ask me for advice on a political matter. It seems that he had moved to the state of Wisconsin, and a good friend of his was seeking to run against a well-founded, longtime leader in the Federation. He wanted to know how they should go about it. It turns out that that twenty-two-year-old upstart was Mr. Mark Riccobono. Apparently some good advice was given, because he won that election, and I don't need to tell you where he is today. So I am honored that you have had the confidence in me to serve under President Riccobono, and it seems we have come full circle as the teacher becomes the student. I am truly looking forward to serving with you, Mr. President, and I hope that I will meet the expectations that all of you have of me and will try to the best of my ability. This is truly an honor."
After sitting through the financial report, the roll call of states, and the election, it was time for a fit break. This fit break began with some neck rolls, then exercising the shoulders, and eventually moving the right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, and to conclude the session we did some body stretching. Although I suspect that I would have regarded the fit breaks as silly were I simply to read about them, as a participant it is clear to me that they are quite helpful in providing a little exercise, muscle stretching, and increased concentration thereafter.
The next order of business to appear on the agenda was entitled “A Community of Practice: The Federation in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math,” and it was ably presented by Natalie Shaheen, project director, National Federation of the Blind. Using a grant provided by the National Science Foundation, the Federation has conducted a number of STEM programs throughout the country, and in this session Natalie describes how a grade of C in a chemistry class, which she considered a humiliation, actually opened a new career for her and new career possibilities for all of the students she touches. Natalie was joined by students from across the country relating how their experience with STEM2U has opened new career possibilities. This panel’s presentation will be covered in full later in the fall.
Following the morning recess, conventioneers were offered their last opportunity to visit the exhibit hall and the Independence Market. Those wishing to learn how to get more mileage from their conventions both in terms of publicity and fundraising were invited to visit the Cash and Caring Network, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children invited participants to be a part of a brainstorming activity to plan for the future, and registration was once again open for those running late.
The afternoon session began with President Riccobono asking that a moment of silence be observed in memory of recent tragedies befalling Orlando. After a reverent pause, the convention next received a presentation by Fredric Schroeder, first vice president of the World Blind Union, entitled “The Blind in the World: Leadership, Philosophy, and Action on a Global Scale.” Dr. Schroeder's message was simple yet profound: an individual action may not seem to have an impact, but, when followed and compounded by other actions, the result is significant change, the kind of change we have seen in America because of the National Federation of the Blind. We must share this change with a shrinking and ever more interdependent world. Dr. Schroeder's comments appear elsewhere in this issue.
"The Roots of the Federation in the World: The Isabel Grant Story in Her Own Words” was next presented by Deborah Kent Stein, the editor of Future Reflections, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, and a gifted and thoughtful author. Dr. Grant was a world traveler at a time when women did not travel alone, and especially not if they were blind. Isabel Grant rejected the limited view of who she should be and where she should go, and Debbie Stein has chronicled these adventures in a book. Debbie’s remarks and the list of places where the book can be purchased will appear later in the fall.
John Paré and his capable team came to the dais to deliver the annual Advocacy and Policy Report. He and his team discussed the legislative proposals and regulations which are now receiving much of the Federation's attention. Many of the remarks made during this session will appear in significant part later in this issue.
The convention next turned its attention to what is unquestionably the most important business it does each year: deciding on the policies of the organization by the passing of resolutions. An article by Chairman Maneki and the complete text of all of the resolutions passed by the convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
When the general session on Monday afternoon recessed, there was still much daylight to burn for those of us interested in getting more done before we visited, partied, and went back to our rooms for a little badly needed sleep. Amazon Devices and Education Accessibility was a topic discussed for three hours by those interested in learning about VoiceView, Amazon's new screen reader for its Fire OS and Kindle E-readers. Some chose to attend a ninety-minute session on advocacy skills for blind parents, which covered family law proceedings, interactions with the department of social services, and participation in the K-12 public school system. One could attend a session on Braille proofreading or a simultaneous session focusing on “Social Security and SSI: What You Should Know in Order to Be an Advocate.” Of course there were the “Sixteenth Annual Showcase of Talent” for those wanting to witness a night of great performances and salsa night, which ran from 8:00 PM until midnight.
On the third and final day of the convention were a breakfast sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind, devotions, and the last chance to register for the convention. When the President gaveled the Tuesday morning session to order, the first agenda item was "Putting News First: Breaking Down Stereotypes as a Blind Journalist.” Its presenter was Gary O'Donoghue, a reporter for the BBC who serves as its Washington correspondent. His presentation focused on the importance of journalism in a free and open society and stressed the competitive nature of the business and the way blind people wishing to work in the field must bring skills, a can-do attitude, and a mindset accustomed to solving problems and delivering the news in a timely and professional manner. Mr. O'Donoghue's remarks will appear in an upcoming issue of this magazine.
"Engaging Blind People in the Real Problems of Blindness: A Report on the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute” was presented by Anil Lewis, who serves as the institute's executive director. He was joined in his presentation by Lou Ann Blake and Clara Van Gerven. Anil expressed his appreciation to Lou Ann for her superb skills in time management, setting goals, and tracking their progress, and he said this is especially valuable to him given that these are not the assets he brings to the important job of leading the institute. Lou Ann is best known for her work in overseeing the Help America Vote Act and in seeing that its lofty provisions to guarantee blind people the right to cast a secret ballot independently are actually implemented on Election Day. The Jernigan Institute has developed accessibility and usability guidelines for voting systems, and the guide we have created has been included in a best practices document distributed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The institute has also developed “Voting Guide for Young People who are Blind or Visually Impaired” so that they know what to expect when they go to the polls for the first time, and in addition we have developed “The Blind Voter Experience” video which is available on YouTube.
Lou Ann said that, while the percentage of blind voters who are going to the polls and using accessible technology has increased, the number of blind voters who are able to vote privately and independently has decreased. "This we cannot stand for; this cannot continue.” She says that the Department of Justice has failed to enforce the Help America Vote Act, and election officials have become complacent. When we go to the polls and are told that the accessible voting systems we need have not been set up, we must insist on being able to use them, and, failing that, we must vote the best way we can and then register strong complaints with the DOJ.
For the ninth year in a row the National Federation of the Blind hosted the Jacobus tenBroek Law symposium. The theme this year was "Diversity in the Disability Rights Movement: Working Together to Achieve the Right to Live in the World." What better organization than the Federation to show the value of disabled people organizing to improve their lives, what can happen when hearts and minds are united in a goal, and the value of diversity from an organization that features a rainbow of people working together to achieve the right to live in the world.
The last item Lou Ann focused on was our scholarly journal, The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. This is the first scholarly journal created and managed by the blind to address the real problems of blindness. "We publish research manuscripts, professional practice articles, and opinion pieces that talk about how to increase the self-respect, the self-determination, and the independence of blind people." She urges that we share the expertise we have so that professionals in work with the blind are clear about what blind people need and the ways to provide services that make a difference in our lives.
Lou Ann ended her presentation by introducing Clara Van Gerven to talk with the audience about access technology. Clara observed that web accessibility affects almost everything we do, and, although there is a significant body of expertise in the Jernigan Institute, we need more help from members. Businesses and other entities that generate content on the web need our help not only in learning how to make their content accessible but also in testing the results of their coding. To meet this need, the institute is reaching out to our membership with the request that they become more involved in web testing and reporting.
One of the access technology team’s greatest strengths is being a connector: bringing together those who have products and services with those who have the interest and expertise to help create an accessible product. Our work with Target and Pearson shows what can happen when the blind and leaders in education and retail marketing collaborate to create products and services we can use.
In addition to helping the developers of technology in creating accessible products, it is vital that we help in sharing with the community of blind people what these technology innovators have developed and how we can make use of it. In October the institute will hold a three-day workshop to highlight the work Google has done in making its products accessible, and our goal is to train the trainers so that this technology is more widely understood and used by the blind.
Anil wrapped up this presentation by asking "What is the purpose of the Jernigan Institute?" He answered by observing that through our projects and programs we are bringing together the brightest minds and engaging in potential partnerships that help us expand our footprint in this world. As an example he says we are developing what we call the accessibility switchboard to help those who are creating websites to become WCAG [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] compliant. Many who develop web content currently lack a component which we know to be essential to success in accessibility, and that is consumer involvement. He went on to say that we are changing the strategy used to bring about web accessibility from a process where we check the results of an organization's work to one in which we encourage that web accessibility be a part of the culture. The retailer Target is our first strategic nonvisual access partner. It has demonstrated to us that its websites are WCAG [Web Content Accessibility Guidance] compliant, but beyond that the company has adopted a culture in which a product isn't developed and handed to an accessibility team but instead is developed with accessibility built-in.
Perhaps the most intriguing title on our convention agenda was "Slam That! Living the Life She Wants Begins with the Federation,” and the presenter was Jordyn Castor, a software engineer for Apple Inc. This was a remarkable presentation that began by chronicling the birth of a child weighing less than two pounds, described the role of wonderful parents and teachers, discussed the significant difficulties in finding friends and being accepted in middle school, described the experience of contact with the National Federation of the Blind through the Youth Slam program, and discussed the exhilaration felt when graduating with a degree in computer science and landing a job at Apple. Even the word “spectacular” does not convey how moving this presentation was to those of us in the audience, and I trust that readers will feel much of this same emotion when they read it in this issue. After a tremendous response from the convention, President Riccobono asked Diane McGeorge if she had a door prize, and she said that she didn't know if she had one big enough to do credit to the speech just given.
The President introduced the next topic in this way: "On reflection the topic of taxes might not have been the best agenda item after Jordyn's presentation, but of course we want to be employed, and Jordyn is going to learn the joys of taxes very soon. ‘Participating in the American Dream Means Paying Taxes: the Innovation of Accessible Financial Tools at H&R Block’ is our next topic. This actually is a very important agenda item because getting access to the tools that are needed to file our taxes and independently manage our finances is an important topic, and over the last few years, through our work and cooperation, H&R Block has come to be a model of moving accessibility within an organization. Here to talk with us about the work of H&R Block, where over the last year 23 million people have filed their taxes online, is the technology manager who leads a team of accessibility experts in changing the paradigm of accessibility and improving the tools at H&R Block. Here to present to us is Bret Reimer.”
Bret's presentation focused on the tremendous task faced by H&R Block in changing the thousands of webpages and forms that previously made up its offerings, putting in place development and testing procedures to ensure that H&R Block's products are accessible, and allying the company with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that what appeared to be accessible was also usable. Mr. Reimer’s remarks will appear in a future issue of the Monitor.
Jon Twing came to the dais to discuss the topic "Educational Assessments, Math Innovations, and Real Accessibility: Progress at Pearson." Mr. Twing is a psychometrician. He explained how the subject of assessments can easily be thought of as boring, stressful, and punitive, but when they are used as a guide for teaching, when they are constructed properly so that they measure what a person knows, and when they are developed and validated by and for the people who will use them, they can be a very constructive part of the learning process. These remarks will be reprinted in these pages later this year.
When the presentation was concluded, President Riccobono said: "Thank you, Jon. We appreciate Pearson's commitment to mammoth innovations in this area. We definitely appreciate the continued work on the Pearson team, especially through Jon's leadership, to make accessibility the rule rather than the exception."
After a fit break, the convention turned its attention to "Bringing the Braille Commitment to New Heights: The Transformation of the BrailleNote." This presentation by HumanWare was begun by Gilles Pepin, its chief executive officer. He started by saying, "I am really happy to be here again this year. I believe this is my tenth time to have the honor to talk with all of you from this podium, and I want to tell you that you are a very important group of people for HumanWare. Every time we come here we get your feedback, your comments on our products, and suggestions for new products to come. We really appreciate this relationship and this partnership we have with the NFB and its members, so thank you for supporting us and being there with us."
Mr. Pepin said that a change is coming about in the assistive technology industry, that change being to merge with larger companies. He described his meeting with the chief executive of Essilor, a company that makes eyeglasses, and he convinced that executive that the company's mission statement, "To improve life by improving sight" was not complete. He told the CEO that it would not be complete unless they could address the 2 to 3 percent of the population whose vision could not be restored and that they needed to offer products for people who are blind and visually impaired. The head of Essilor agreed, and Mr. Pepin believes the result has been that HumanWare now has more capital and can make an even greater commitment to products and services to benefit this population.
Gilles invited Greg Stilson, the manager of low vision and blindness technology, to discuss the BrailleNote Touch, but Greg noted that the mission of HumanWare goes far beyond discussing products: it goes to the very heart of discussing literacy, Braille, and the freedom that comes with being able to read and write efficiently. He said that for far too long one had to choose between the efficiency of assistive technology and the power and universal design of mainstream technology. He said that at HumanWare they believe they can blend the best of both worlds and make the most powerful productivity devices ever built. To fully appreciate the presentation made by the HumanWare team, listen to their live presentation. It can be found at <https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2016_convention_highlights/tuesday_july_5/06_bringing_the_
Jim Gashel came to the platform with more good news to announce about Braille. The many doors that refreshable Braille displays offer are closed to those who simply can't afford them, the cost of most Braille cells being as much as eighty dollars apiece. At this price the cost of the forty-cell Braille display already starts out at at least $3,200, not including the computer, software, buttons, switches, and labor which must go into constructing a unit. Mr. Gashel's message was that the Transforming Braille Project was begun in 2012 with the goal of lowering the cost of Braille cells, and this it has done. The result is the Orbit Reader 20, a new, low-cost and feature-modest Braille display. Not only has this project resulted in a product that should be available in October, but we and the ten other organizations that came together to fund it have reduced the cost of a Braille cell from eighty dollars to twelve dollars, opening the door for other products that heretofore would have been economically impossible.
Karen Keninger, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), followed Jim Gashel to the stage and talked about the future she sees for library services and particularly those offered by the NLS. She believes in libraries—the repository of knowledge made available to young and old, rich and poor, and she believes in the provision of library services to those who cannot read standard print. The National Library Service has a wonderful program for the distribution of audio books that are easily navigable by part, chapter, and section. Although WebBraille represents a significant effort on the part of the NLS and a tremendous resource for Braille readers, the ability to navigate using the service is far too limited. Books are not formatted for Braille displays but are produced for reading in hard copy Braille. Ms. Keninger hopes to supplement this hardcopy reading experience through legislation aimed at allowing the NLS to distribute affordable Braille displays and to create material in such a way that one can easily jump by sentence, paragraph, page, section, chapter, and part. There is no doubt that the National Federation of the Blind will support this legislation and that it will pass once Congress understands the transformative power of electronic Braille.
At the conclusion of the morning session, chapters, affiliates, and divisions that had sold raffle tickets conducted their drawings, the NLS conducted a question-and-answer session, and the restaurants were crowded with those determined to get some lunch before the gavel dropped on the final working session of the convention.
When the convention was gaveled to order at 2:00 PM, the first order of business was the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. James Gashel is the chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee, and his presentation along with the remarks made by the winners can be found later in this issue.
“Living the Life She Wants: Rehabilitation Professional, Community Leader, and Mother” was the next topic on the agenda, and it was movingly presented by Amy Buresh, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska and a member of the national board of directors. What is it like to grow up as a blind child, pass through the education system, get what is offered through rehabilitation, get a job, get married, have children, participate in one's community, and be an advocate helping one's fellow blind? In one speech Amy Buresh captured it all, and hers is a presentation you will not want to miss when it appears in an upcoming issue.
"How Exponential Technologies Will Impact Disabilities" was the next item to come before the convention, and the presentation began with a demonstration of the KNFB Reader—not on the iPhone, not on an Android device, but on a Surface Pro 4 running on the Windows 10 Operating System. Although the software is not yet ready for release, in its beta version it demonstrates the extraordinary speed and accuracy we have come to associate with the KNFB Reader product.
Following Mr. Gashel's demonstration, Ray Kurzweil, the director of engineering at Google, came to the podium and announced that this was his forty-second consecutive convention and that it continues to be the highlight of his year. Without becoming embroiled in the political controversies of the day, Dr. Kurzweil says that the common perception that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be simply is not supported by available data, but a remnant of our evolutionary survival causes us to believe that the more we hear about a thing, the more dangerous it must be. He notes that, despite all of the inequality in the world, there is also a greater emphasis on justice and civil rights and the sharing of information and knowledge on a scale unparalleled in human history. He talked about some of the changes for the better that have come about in his own life, describing the efforts of his family to work for the equal treatment of women through the establishment of a school in 1868, his own acquaintance with a civil rights movement nearly 100 years later as he was present to watch and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the pleasure he has derived from knowing the great civil rights leaders for the blind he has met through his association with the Federation. He said that he was warned not to get involved with the NFB because it was something of a radical organization, but those warning him did not understand that he considered this an asset rather than a liability. He wryly observed that, while others were polite to him, wished him well, and characterized us in terms they viewed as unflattering, we were the people who came up with the money and the scientists when he needed help developing and distributing prototypes of the first Kurzweil Reading Machine.
President Riccobono introduced the next agenda item in this way: "We've already talked quite a bit at this convention about the Amazon Corporation and our relationship with them. There's a lot I can say about our next speaker, but I want to tell you this: when we met to talk about what Amazon needed to do in New York, I said to this gentleman that the problem is we only have two choices. We can either figure out a way to work together on accessibility, or we have to slay the dragon—that's it, we've only got two choices. He agreed that we only had two choices, and we agreed on all sides that one route was preferable to the other. In our speaker this afternoon we have found someone who I believe shares our vision for the future, does believe that making equality in education is a priority, and has been authentic in negotiating for what Amazon can do now and going forward in a meaningful way that will drive success rather than keeping us chasing the dragon. So here to talk about educational leadership at Amazon is the general manager for Amazon K-12 education, Rohit Agarwal.
Mr. Agarwal said that we are in the midst of a great revolution in education, one in which information presented digitally is transforming the way students learn and helping them learn concepts rather than memorizing phrases and sentences. As important as this digital transition is for everyone in raising educational outcomes, it is of tremendous importance to people who are blind. Mr. Agarwal says that the goal of Amazon is not just to create hardware and software that will allow the blind to read but to deploy systems that allow students to highlight a word, ask for a meaning, understand and interact with graphics and tables, and even share notes among their peers and teachers. He said that any product that is built for the K-12 educational sector will have accessibility built-in from day one. “It will not be an afterthought, it is not a remediation where you have to talk to us about slaying the dragon—we are not the dragon—we are a friendly face trying to do the right thing, and proof of that was that, since our agreement with the NFB, our first product that my team released was last week at the technology conference in Denver. It is called Amazon Inspire, and, though it is still in beta, from the time we made it available for anybody to use, it has had accessibility built-in in many different ways."
Eve Hill has been on our convention agenda for many years, and the quality of her presentations leaves no question why. This year her topic was “Eliminating Artificial Barriers: Civil Rights and Disability at the United States Department of Justice,” where she serves as deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division. In her presentation Eve Hill made it clear that she understands the broad array of legal challenges that face blind people and expressed how the Department of Justice is doing what it can to help address them. Ms. Hill's remarks will be reprinted in full in an upcoming issue.
Jamie Principato followed Ms. Hill to the stage, and her presentation was entitled “Equal Opportunity and Discovering Talent: A Journey from Discrimination to Particle Astrophysics Research." “Educational,” “motivational,” and “inspirational” are all fine words, but they only scratch the surface when used to describe this presentation. It will appear elsewhere in this issue.
The final presentation of the afternoon was “Leading the Nation in Systemic Accessibility: The Tennessee Commitment to Equal Access.” Its presenter was Tristan Denley, vice chancellor for academic affairs, Tennessee Board of Regents. Dr. Denley’s presentation was cut short due to the need to clear the meeting room at 5:00 PM, but the full text of his remarks will be reprinted later in the fall.
When the banquet commenced at 7:00 PM, the master of ceremonies, Dr. Maurer, delighted in giving away a number of door prizes, introducing divisions to do likewise, and inviting to the stage sponsor-level exhibitors who had collected names at their booths and who gave significant prizes at the banquet.
Scott LaBarre was introduced to talk about our progress in raising contributions to the PAC Plan, and the monthly amount pledged has risen by more than $25,000, meaning that we are leaving the convention with the new pledged amount of $507,504 annually. With our final registration being 2,368, this has certainly been a most impressive gathering.
The highlight of the banquet finally having arrived, Dr. Maurer introduced President Riccobono for the annual banquet speech, which centered on discussion of what is perhaps the greatest impediment to the progress of the blind, that being fear. Most would assume that our greatest stumbling block is fear of the dark, but fear manifests in many less visible ways, and the banquet speech masterfully demonstrates how fear can be acknowledged, embraced, and owned. These remarks appear in full later in this issue.
After rousing applause and ongoing chants, the banquet was next addressed by President Riccobono to present our first-ever award in the name of Ray Kurzweil. The official name of the award is the Ray Kurzweil Innovation Award. The presentation of this award and Dr. Paul Albrecht's remarks are found elsewhere in this issue.
The award ceremony was followed by yet another which has great significance in the Federation, that being the presentation of scholarships to the thirty most deserving blind students in the country. A list of the scholarship finalists appears in a separate article along with the remarks made by the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship.
Allen Harris was the chairman of the Newel Perry Award Committee. As it happens this was the last presentation made in the name of Dr. Perry, the board of directors having voted earlier in the week to rename the award in honor of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Allen asked that James Gashel handle the ceremony. His presentation of this award and the remarks of the recipient can be found elsewhere in this issue.
The master of ceremonies next introduced Mary Ellen Jernigan to present the Kenneth Jernigan Award. The presentation made by Mrs. Jernigan and the award recipient’s remarks appear later in this issue.
When the master of ceremonies again took the microphone, he did so with the purpose of presenting the Dr. Jacobus tenBroek Award. As with other awards presented at the 2016 banquet, his remarks and those of the winner are found elsewhere in this issue.
The last item of business to come before the banquet was the drawing of a door prize in the amount of $2,016. With one happy door prize winner and 2,000 people cheering his good fortune, President Riccobono took the silver gavel given to Dr. Maurer on his twenty-fifth anniversary as President and used that gavel to signal the end of the 2016 convention.
After a week that was jam-packed with education, fellowship, and fun, members left the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel physically exhausted but mentally recharged, tired in their bones but inspired in their hearts, depleted in the soles of their feet and delighted in their eternal souls. Indeed enthusiasm, creativity, and celebration did not stop at seventy-five or seventy-six, but are evidenced in even greater measure as we meet the challenges faced in the seventy-seventh year of our commitment to one another. What we have done is worthy of celebration for the lives it has changed, but what we will do is even more important, for it is the promise we have made to those who have not yet had the kind of future they can look upon years from now and say they were able to live their lives to the fullest, dared to dream their dreams, and found a way to realize them. With our work well defined and our commitment to it as solid as the most precious diamond, we left Orlando to continue the work of delivering brighter tomorrows for our brothers and sisters who are blind.