Braille Monitor                                      August/September 2016

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Presidential Report 2016

An Address Delivered by
Mark Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
Orlando, Florida
July 3, 2016

President Mark RiccobonoDuring the past year, our movement has made progress at an ever-increasing pace and has forged connections with growing strength. On July 8, 2015, 2,480 individual members of the National Federation of the Blind from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, with diverse backgrounds and varied talents, joined together to share a mosaic with the world. This mosaic, formed by thousands of umbrellas raised in unison, represented our collective intention to live the lives we want and to transform our dreams into reality. On that morning we not only set a new Guinness Book World Record and demonstrated that we are “officially amazing,” we once again confirmed in our hearts our commitment to secure first-class status and our unwavering determination to achieve equality in society. From the individual stories of many, we create a hopeful mosaic that expresses action, imagination, power, influence, diversity, and determination—we are the National Federation of the Blind.

One story of determination is that of Yasmin Reyazuddin, a member of the Federation from Maryland. Yasmin is a talented and articulate woman who uses screen access software to manage information on the computer. In May 2008, she was working as an information and referral specialist in a call center for Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services. When she learned that her work would be consolidated into a new Montgomery County 3-1-1 call center, she inquired about the accessibility of the software for the new location and offered to assist in testing for accessibility barriers. She was told repeatedly and confidently that county officials would work it out. Yasmin continued to perform her job and carefully escalated her concern to more people, but the answer was always the same, “we will work it out.” Yasmin steadily received less work and was increasingly isolated from other employees—including a ten-day period in December when she was required to report to an office with no other employees and no heat. The new call center software was not accessible, and Yasmin was left with nothing to do despite continuing to be paid by the county. Yasmin wanted to work, she wanted to earn her pay, she wanted to add value to the county’s services, but all she was permitted to do was wait. The county never did work it out. Eventually they told her that providing accessibility would be an undue hardship to the county’s $3.73 billion budget, but Yasmin knew where to turn to work it out—the National Federation of the Blind.

We first filed suit in 2011 for Montgomery County’s violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Over the past five years there have been many ups and downs, and Yasmin could have walked away, found a different job, or settled for a second-class solution, but Yasmin is a Federationist. Last year I reported that the court of appeals reversed an earlier decision and ordered a new trial that was scheduled for February of this year. The resulting jury trial was a hard-fought, three-week battle that was followed by four days of jury deliberation. I am pleased to report that on February 26, 2016, the unequivocal decision of the jury was that Ms. Reyazuddin's employer had failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation, as required by law, and discriminated against her by not transferring her to the new telephone call center because it failed to make workplace technology accessible. This ruling is a significant victory for Yasmin and for all blind employees who experience discrimination from employers who believe their workplace technologies need not be accessible to blind people. We are now supporting Yasmin in seeking an order that Montgomery County update its call center software for accessibility and transfer her to that location. Although the road may be long and filled with setbacks, the National Federation of the Blind will not stop until the artificial barriers are eliminated and every blind person has equality of opportunity in the workplace.

A number of years ago the general rehabilitation agency for the state of New Jersey implemented an inaccessible case management system and used a statewide time and attendance system that was similarly unusable by the blind. It did not matter how effective blind counselors were or how often they were at work—they could not log their notes or account for their time in the established systems. The very agency responsible for managing plans to get people with disabilities into successful employment was preventing people with disabilities from being successfully employed. The National Federation of the Blind believes in the full capacity of blind people, and we do not take lightly the unequal treatment of the blind, especially by agencies claiming expertise in employing the disabled. We entered into negotiations with the agency, and we can now report that this matter has been settled. The State of New Jersey has made its time and attendance system accessible and will maintain accessibility going forward. Similarly, the agency has replaced its inaccessible case management system with one that all employees can effectively use. For this lesson in equal treatment, the State of New Jersey has paid $285,000 in damages to the individual clients and in fees to the National Federation of the Blind.

Often the barriers arise before we even get to the workplace. Eric Patterson began applying for customer service positions through an employment agency. One of the requirements he encountered was a series of computer-based job assessment tests. The assessments were developed by Kenexa, a subsidiary of IBM, and they were inaccessible to a blind person. With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, Eric successfully engaged the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which got Kenexa to successfully make all of their tests accessible. While the EEOC is continuing to work to resolve issues with the employment agency, this case represents an important step forward in protecting the blind from being shut out at the application phase.

Each of us, regardless of our work, needs access to quality healthcare and deserves the protections of privacy for our health information. The increasing negative impact of inaccessible electronic health records and health-related kiosks is a growing concern for blind employees and blind patients. Manny Morse is a dispatcher for the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts. When his employer purchased and installed inaccessible software, he found himself unable to perform his job. The National Federation of the Blind has come to his aid, and we have filed suit against the employer. Recognizing that the broader problem is the lack of care taken by technology companies that sell these systems, we have also sued the creator of the software, Epic Systems, for aiding and abetting the employer’s violations by developing and marketing an inaccessible product. Similarly, last summer we learned that the Department of Defense (DOD) Healthcare Management Systems had issued a contract for the design and implementation of an electronic health records program for both the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that will be used by employees and patients and that should, according to the law, be accessible. The contract was awarded to Cerner—the primary competitor to Epic Systems and a company that has already installed dozens of inaccessible systems that have adversely impacted blind people across the country. We have proactively reached out to both Cerner and the Department of Defense to raise our concerns and offer our expertise. To date, the response—when we have received one—has been cordial but without commitment. Despite their deepest hope, we are not going away. More broadly, we are investigating and testing healthcare kiosks placed in hospitals and urgent care facilities. We are currently negotiating with one of the kiosk manufacturers, and our plan is to visit others very soon. It is not permissible to shut out blind employees in the healthcare industry, nor is it permissible to shut out the patients. If the government and other health providers continue to ignore their responsibility, and if our prescription for equality continues to be unfilled, we have no choice but to offer a visit from the doctors of jurisprudence to cure the disease of inaccessibility.

Our nationwide network of advocates has been hard at work moving our policy agenda. The commitment and determination of the National Federation of the Blind was never as strongly in evidence as it was during the 2016 Washington Seminar when even a record-setting snowstorm would not stop Federationists from taking extraordinary steps to meet the call to action. The snow was a suitable symbol for the difficult and long-fought battle we have been engaged in to secure equal protections for the blind under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Through our commitment, the barriers to equality are melting faster than any time in our seventy-six year history. Since the 1930s, federal law has permitted employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage guaranteed to others, but only if the lower wage is necessary to ensure employment opportunities. The law contains a little-known provision allowing workers with disabilities to petition the United States Department of Labor for an administrative review of their wages in an expedited process. After working for an average of $2.50 an hour for more than three years, three employees with disabilities—Joe Magers, who is blind; Pam Steward; and Mark Felton—sought fair pay from Seneca Re-Ads, a sheltered workshop run by the County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Seneca County, Ohio. It took tremendous courage for these individuals to be the pioneers who stepped forward to use the petition process to challenge their unequal wages, and the National Federation of the Blind stood with them in the fight. The lead representative for the complainants was the director of legal policy and Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind, Marc Maurer. In January of this year, after a week-long trial, an administrative law judge issued a precedent-setting decision awarding the workers minimum wage going forward and back pay from their prior work. This decision is one more signal to employers that the unequal pay system for the disabled is out of date. Although the matter has been appealed we are confident we will win this fight and we will teach others how to leverage the petition process. Let there be no doubt that we will put an end to discriminatory wages paid to workers with disabilities.

Our progress in wage equality can also be observed in legislative bodies at the federal and state level. We have doubled the number of cosponsors in the United States House of Representatives who are supporting H.R. 188—the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act—which sets a timetable for ending the wage exemption under the law. In August 2015, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire—whose state was the first in the nation to completely outlaw the wage exemption at the state level—introduced a version of the TIME Act in the United States Senate (S. 2001). And on May 19, after successful work and partnership building by Federation members, Maryland’s governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that starts the clock on phasing out the unfair wage exemption in Maryland by the year 2020.

Another focus for raising expectations in employment has been the federal procurement contract program branded as AbilityOne. Under the program two central nonprofit agencies are responsible for coordinating contracts: National Industries for the Blind (NIB) for agencies that employ blind people and SourceAmerica for agencies serving those with other disabilities. In October, with growing concern about the abuse of AbilityOne contracts by SourceAmerica, the National Federation of the Blind led the disability community in developing a platform of seven principles for reform of the AbilityOne program. Implementation of the reform principles would strengthen accountability, raise the expectations for people with disabilities, and further promote integrated and competitive employment opportunities. As a result of our collaborative reform agenda, SourceAmerica finally agreed to engage in dialogue with us after more than a year of avoidance. Although a number of honest conversations took place, we could not secure agreement from SourceAmerica on any of our seven principles, including elimination of the special wage system for people with disabilities. In contrast, National Industries for the Blind demonstrates increasing sincerity in addressing our concerns and seeking collaborative opportunities. NIB has eagerly endorsed introduction of the TIME Act in the United States Senate, and their organizational commitments over the past few years leave them with only two small NIB-associated agencies that still utilize the special wage exemption under the law. NIB is here at this convention, we will hear from them later in the program, and we will continue to work closely with them to raise expectations and find new employment opportunities for the blind.

Anil Lewis, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, serves as a presidential appointee to the AbilityOne Commission representing the general public. With his leadership and the foundation first laid by Jim Omvig, the AbilityOne commission issued, for the first time ever, a statement declaring the goal of the program to be that all people with disabilities receive the prevailing wage for the work they perform. Members of the National Federation of the Blind continue to seek policy opportunities, at all levels, to bring the disabled into the protected class of workers who are guaranteed fair wages, and we will not stop until we have equality in employment.

A central component of participation in our society is the right to vote, and we continue to provide leadership in all aspects of the voting process. Through our advocacy work we provide information to the blind regarding voter registration and expectations for casting a ballot privately and independently. We also work closely with election officials, researchers, and developers of voting systems. When we must, we engage directly in combating discrimination against blind voters. Last year I reported that we had secured a ruling from the federal court in Baltimore requiring the State of Maryland to provide an accessible ballot-marking tool for absentee voting. The state appealed that ruling, but the appellate court soundly rebuffed their claim in favor of equal access. Our victory in Maryland stands, the Federation will receive nearly a quarter of a million dollars in compensation for attorneys’ fees, and we now proceed to other states. We are currently fighting for justice in Ohio where some of the state’s voting services are not accessible, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And just last month we sued the New York State Board of Elections, whose website has many inaccessible forms, with the hope that we can resolve the barriers prior to the November election. We will have equal access to voting, and we will be recognized as an important constituency by the elected leaders of our nation.

In 2010 the president of the United States called the release of web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” Nearly six years later—a couple of generations in terms of technology development—the most important update is left undone and has been deferred for reconsideration to sometime approximately, possibly in 2018 or thereabouts. While the government bureaucrats sit on their keyboards, the blind of America continue to find a path forward. We have held a number of information briefings to demystify accessibility among key officials in the administration, distributed our views in publications such as the Huffington Post, hosted training for web developers, and gathered support from a broad range of allies. Businesses, even more than the blind, need the regulations in order to clarify how they satisfactorily meet their accessibility obligations under the law. We have asked many of the major technology companies to join with us in urging the government to release the needed regulations. To date, all but one has turned us down—although the one is significant. Earlier this year, a letter co-authored by the President of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of Microsoft Corporation was sent to the White House urging the president of the United States to act swiftly on internet regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Subsequent to that letter, Microsoft invited me to give a presentation on accessibility at Microsoft’s Envision Conference—the premier gathering for chief information officers and other business executives responsible for large-scale implementation of technology. As we continue to build our team of supporters for the regulations, Microsoft should be recognized for its leadership in firmly standing with the blind of this nation on this issue.

While the marketplace awaits clarity on accessibility from the government, we continue to forge the legal framework in the courts. After a preliminary court victory, we resolved our precedent-setting litigation against Scribd, Inc.—an online subscription reading service. The settlement agreement requires the company to make its subscription content available and its website accessible to blind users by the end of 2017. We look forward to Scribd’s more than sixty million works being available for all readers; and, without the regulations, we have no choice but to continue to pursue those who bar us from access to the benefits and services available on the internet.

Equal access for the blind also extends to transportation. A frequent barrier is the refusal of drivers to take passengers who use dog guides. I most recently experienced this myself when my wife Melissa (who uses a dog guide), our three children, and I were denied a ride by an Uber driver just outside the gates of the White House. In April, the National Federation of the Blind, our California affiliate, and a number of individual dog guide users offered the court a first-of-its-kind class action agreement with Uber that requires Uber to take affirmative steps to prevent discrimination against blind riders in its transportation network across the United States. Under the agreement, pending approval from the court later this fall, Uber will require drivers to confirm their legal obligation to transport riders with dog guides or other service animals, will implement stricter enforcement policies and terminate drivers for discriminatory actions, will enhance its response system for complaints, and will track detailed data on all allegations of discrimination against the blind. Over the next few years, the National Federation of the Blind will deploy testers to evaluate Uber’s compliance with the settlement. We will continue to work toward equal access with other transportation services and their technologies, including Lyft, Greyhound, and the major airlines, and we will hold all transportation services accountable for discriminatory actions against the blind in any aspect of their services.

Our action to protect the bonds of love between blind parents and their children is one of our most important initiatives. Our work in the state of New York, where a trial has recently begun, is a good example. For over two years, a blind father of very young children has been unfairly restricted by a court order that requires him to have a sighted person present whenever he is with his children. Although the court has now lifted the order for nighttime hours, we are fighting for this father to have fair custody and visitation rights without the discriminatory requirement of sighted supervision. In this case, we are providing legal expertise, skilled blind parents as witnesses, and members of our organization who attend court hearings in order to support the parent and to acknowledge that discrimination on the basis of blindness impacts all blind parents. Other efforts this year in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New York, and Washington have been instrumental in protecting the rights of blind parents who have faced hostile and discriminatory presumptions about their ability to parent due to their blindness. We have drafted model legislation for desperately needed changes in state laws to prevent systemic discrimination in both public welfare proceedings and family law custody disputes. In Maryland we recently secured many of these legal protections, and a number of other states have had legislation introduced. After learning about our efforts on behalf of blind parents, a group of parental rights advocates came to meet with leaders of the Federation and, as a result, they have changed their proposed amendment to the United States Constitution intended to strengthen the rights of all parents to unambiguously state, “The parental rights guaranteed by this article shall not be denied or abridged on account of disability.”

We recognize that the most powerful change comes from within us as blind people. This is why we have significantly increased our investment in building our resource network to empower blind people planning to become parents and to connect them with our Federation family before they face discrimination. We have launched blindparents.org as our central home for resources; we have laid the plans for new educational programs; we have begun building a network of blind parent mentors; and, as a result, we have been found by an increasing number of blind people seeking parenting resources. We will continue to fight until we eliminate the discriminatory assumptions that others make about our capacity to serve as caretakers for our loved ones, and we will continue to build resources with the hope that through our litigation, legislative, and educational efforts we can find blind people and empower them with the understanding and support that protects us as members of the National Federation of the Blind.

Custody is not the only issue faced by blind parents. Noel Nightingale is an attorney, the mother of three children, and a member of the National Federation of the Blind. She became increasingly frustrated with the number of inaccessible online resources that she was expected to interact with to track the progress of her children in the school district, including helping them with their homework online. We filed suit on her behalf against the Seattle Public School District, and last fall we secured a wide-ranging consent decree that should serve as a national model for equal access for blind parents and students in districts across the country.

For more than a decade, we have had a strained relationship with Amazon regarding the accessibility of its products and services. When the New York City Board of Education announced plans to have Amazon create a virtual bookstore for its schools, we knew we had to act. The lack of alt tags in Kindle books, adequate navigation, Braille support, access to footnotes and tables, and other barriers would leave the one thousand blind students and any blind educators in the district at a disadvantage. After successfully and indefinitely delaying the vote to ratify the contract, we met with Amazon and agreed that together we could accomplish something truly innovative. We have been clear and firm that we will not settle for second-best for blind children or blind educators anywhere in this country. Amazon has been clear and firm that they share our point of view, and although they will not get there tomorrow they intend to exceed our expectations. We told Amazon that we intend to hold them accountable, and they responded that they would expect nothing less from the National Federation of the Blind. We now have an agreement with Amazon that provides the roadmap for accessibility improvements in Amazon’s educational products and services and sets an expectation for equality in the future. We will hear from Amazon later in this convention, and we have great hope for the accessible educational tools we will engineer together through this new partnership.

Raising the expectations for blind students in this nation’s education system is one of the more frustrating and complex problems we face. Whether the barrier is systemic or one faced by a single blind student, the remedies are extremely limited, and every day that a child waits for her education is a real loss. Take, for example, our work in the state of Virginia where we are in negotiations with the Chesterfield County Public Schools regarding the inaccessibility of its online delivery system, where students access most if not all of their daily curriculum. The barriers are so bad that at least one of the district’s blind students is now being homeschooled. Dozens of other complex individual cases of young blind students receiving unfair treatment, inaccessible materials, and artificial limits on their opportunities require thousands of hours of advocacy from Federation members across the country. Despite the challenges and the resources required, we will continue to find ways to make educational equality for the blind the rule rather than the exception.

We also continue to seek systemic change in institutions of higher education. Whether the technology that the university is using and continues to purchase is inaccessible or the procedures for securing accessible materials are completely inadequate, the result is the same—a frustrating and unequal education. We have recently met with university officials at Harvard, Southern Oregon University, and Wichita State where we believe progress will be made. In other cases, we continue to fight for equality through the courts. In order to build our own capacity, in January we launched version 1.0 of our online Self-Advocacy in Higher Ed Toolkit available at nfb.org. This resource, developed with the help of our national students division, provides blind students with an overview of their legal rights and tips on how to self-advocate for accessibility. In order to accelerate institutional change, we have just launched an online higher education resource guide to help university leaders understand the steps institutions should take to ensure accessibility for blind students and faculty, and to demystify accessibility.

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute—the national headquarters for our organization—occupies one square city block in Baltimore, Maryland. During the past year we have hosted 3,805 individuals at our building for individual tours, strategy meetings, affiliate-building gatherings, training seminars, and conferences. In addition to participation from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, we hosted visitors from at least seventeen foreign nations. Among the significant gatherings we have hosted this year are meetings of disability advocates, technology business leaders, international digital publishing experts, regional employment and transportation specialists, web accessibility consultants, and the International Council on English Braille. We continue to make improvements to the physical facilities and the technology assets that support our organizational objectives. We have installed a new three-ton chiller on the roof of our building to replace outdated equipment and gain greater energy efficiency. We have installed nine emergency evacuation chairs to improve safety for our visitors that might have difficulty using stairs in an emergency. We have improved aesthetics and energy efficiency by upgrading to LED lighting in key parts of the building. We selected and implemented use of the web-based Paycom platform for fully accessible management of employee data and payroll processing. And we launched the new Connections database for clearer tracking of the impact of our work on the blind and for more effective facilitation of communications among Federationists.

Through our national education, technology, and research programs we are changing lives faster than any time before. We give blind children a jump-start on literacy through our Braille Reading Pals Club which reaches nearly five hundred families annually. Through our investment in projects like the Transforming Braille Group, we are making it practical for refreshable Braille devices to be more widely available at an affordable price. With the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy, we are completely changing the expectations for the education of blind children. With support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, we have expanded the NFB BELL Academy lesson plans offered to teachers, including more math- and science-related content; we are aligning the curriculum to nationally recognized standards; and our reach will grow to forty-seven locations this summer. We have developed a curriculum that is worthy of the high-quality instruction blind students deserve to receive, and we make it available to them in the summer. We will now seek new ways to give them this quality of instruction every day of the year.

Our National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative continues to open doors to science, technology, engineering, art, and math in ways that are unparalleled. During the past year we have initiated a new hands-on, inquiry-based, engineering design program known as NFB EQ. This program challenges blind students to design a water craft and successfully float it on a river while performing a series of tasks. We know that vision is not a requirement for success, but the blind students who come to our programs have rarely been taught the techniques that blind people need to use to perform math, draw designs using tactile drawing tools, or independently measure and cut materials. We have hosted two engineering programs with a third planned for later this summer. In addition, we have now completed work with six museums around the country through our grant from the National Science Foundation. We will take what we have learned from combining our expertise in blindness together with the expertise in science education from Baltimore, Columbus, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, and we will now engineer new programs to further expand the opportunities for the blind to excel in science- and math-related subjects and careers.

We have focused our technology expertise in our Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. With partial support from the State of Maryland through the Maryland Department of Disabilities, our Web Accessibility Training Day, accessibility evaluation training for blind testers, and a series of intense accessibility training seminars, have contributed significantly to the growing community of individuals seeking to make accessibility a built-in feature in all digital products and services. We have begun development of an Accessibility Switchboard—an interactive online accessibility information resource for consumers and a compliance information portal for organizations. Through our switchboard we will increase the communication channels between blind consumers and web developers, increase the sharing of best practices, and develop new tools to further our mission of built-in accessibility.

We put blind people at the center of innovating new tools to access information and to solve the real problems of blindness. We held the first meetings for the National Federation of the Blind Indoor Navigation Challenge—a research initiative to foster the development of systems that the blind can use to obtain access to information about indoor environments. We continue to expand our NFB NEWSLINE system, which is available at no charge in forty-seven of our state affiliates and serves more than one hundred thousand subscribers with 343 domestic newspapers, 20 breaking news sources, 16 international newspapers, 51 magazines, shopping ads, television listings, and hundreds of thousands of job listings through USA JOBS and CareerBuilder.com. More significantly, later this year we will exponentially increase the amount of content available to the blind when we launch our new book portal that will provide blind people with free web-based access to the more than fourteen and a half million digital works available in the HathiTrust Digital Library.

We cannot discuss access to information without mentioning our work on the KNFB Reader—the fastest, most accurate, capture-and-read application on the market. Developed by blind people for blind people, the KNFB Reader continues to improve. In October the KNFB Reader for Android was released, and we began working on development of a Windows version of the app that will be available on devices running Windows 10, including tablets, phones, and desktops. The user community for KNFB Reader continues to grow, and we continue to rely on blind users as the designers for future enhancements of the technology. KNFB Reader is ours, it belongs to the National Federation of the Blind, and we need to dream of what more we want it to do and develop the partnerships and resources to make those dreams come true. As you know, we have been urging Google to make accessibility a priority. Google has been making steady progress in improving accessibility on the Android platform and they want to distinguish Android from other mobile platforms used by blind people. It is fitting that Independence Day is tomorrow, as Google and the National Federation of the Blind will be boosting independence through increased distribution of the KNFB Reader beginning tomorrow. I am proud to announce that through a development agreement between Google and the National Federation of the Blind, we will be offering a limited number of fully licensed downloads of KNFB Reader for Android in the Google Play Store at the unheard-of cost to users of $19.99.

In all that we do, we seek to connect with blind individuals and to bring their unique stories to the family that is the National Federation of the Blind. Through training for affiliate and local leaders, development of new membership outreach tools, and new communication channels like our Nation’s Blind podcast, we are strengthening the connections between us and growing our ability to help more individuals fit into the network of the Federation. Our growing outreach is a sign of the health and strength of our movement. One example is our work to develop a Spanish version of our monthly message shared at every chapter meeting in the nation—our Presidential Release. Although the message comes from me as your President, we could not make it available without the support of many dedicated Federationists who work to help make sure the message is accurate when provided in Spanish. Thank you to the Federationists who help expand our reach every day, and to those who are new and have not yet found their place in our movement, we say, “¡Bienvenidos! Estamos contentos que están aquí, esta también es su familia, y juntos podemos vivir la vida que deseamos.” “Welcome, we are glad you are here. This is your family, and together we can live the life we want.”

There are more stories to tell about the struggles we have faced, the barriers we have knocked down, and the achievements we have made during the past year. The lives that have been changed from our work together are represented in this report and in this room today by each of us. Although from day to day it might be difficult to recognize the progress we are making, an examination of the scope, depth, and complexity of the activities of our movement reveals that we are better today than we were a year ago, and that has been our pattern since 1940.

Although we face discrimination that gives us real pain, it is not the misconceptions of others that define who we are. Although we must confront obstacles between blind people and our dreams, those artificial barriers do not define the limits of our future. We bond together in the National Federation of the Blind to define for ourselves the height of our dreams and to strengthen our hope for the future.

I first came to this convention twenty years ago, and the experience changed my life. I have come back every year because the experience continues to improve my life. My story, like yours, is to be counted in the mosaic that is our Federation. From a distance the stories cannot be differentiated from the overall impression that the mosaic reflects. Our mosaic reflects love, hope, and determination.

It has been my deepest honor to serve as your President. It has challenged me in ways I had not expected, and I have given fully to meet those challenges. It has blessed me in ways that I had not expected, and I have tried to pay those blessings forward to others. It has energized me in ways that I had not expected, and I will continue to use that strength to make our mosaic shine brighter every day of my life. Your commitment has challenged me to live up to the powerful message and high expectations of our mosaic. Just as you have challenged me, I reflect that challenge to you. Our mosaic cannot be the symbol of one; it must be the reflection of the strength of many that we share in this grand movement. To live up to the reflection of our mosaic, I will never expect from you what I do not demand of myself. Your heart, imagination, and energy must also be reflected in our work. The stakes are too high and the future too promising to let it be any other way. That is the love you have shared with me, and that is the equal commitment I pledge to you. As I come to the close of my report for 2016, I acknowledge our bond of faith and call us to action—together with love, hope, and determination, let us transform our dreams into reality.

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