by Gary Wunder
What has four letters and never five? Replace the question mark with a period and you have your answer. Not so hard, was it? Let's try another. What event sometimes starts in June but always ends in July and causes blind people by the thousands to travel to one location to make policies for the blind of the nation? An easier question for members of the National Federation of the Blind and one of the high points of our year.
The 2017 Convention started on July 10, giving many of us our first Fourth of July at home in decades. My fourth was filled with the anticipation of family events to come during the day, the blast of fireworks, and the sharing of love. So too was the convention that started six days later, and both went well beyond my expectations.
The term I heard most in going through my email and talking with Federationists was excitement about the upcoming convention. Perhaps my perception is biased by my promise to bring fifteen-year-old grandson Ethan to Orlando, this being his fourth convention and his third in a row. Every few days he would ask me if I was getting ready, but the important thing he would ask is, "Are you excited?" Of course I said yes, but not just because it seemed the right thing to say. I am always excited to participate in the convention, but I admit that I was even more excited to see his enthusiasm, and he was excited to see mine. This shared anticipation resulted in feedback: not the whining, squeaking, irritating noise one wants stopped immediately, but the feedback that creates anticipation, causes one to dream about what will come, and starts the countdown clock that asks again and again, "How soon until we go? I wonder if I can stand the wait?"
The District of Columbia, Shawn Callaway, president; Tennessee, James Brown, president; Hawaii, Nani Fife, president; and Arizona, Donald Porterfield, president, served as our host affiliates. They were assisted by the National Association of Blind Students, whose president is Kathryn Webster. These hosts raised the bar for all future conventions, and the reaction from those who attended and who listened to the convention stream affirmed this throughout the week. The information table was a benefit to all of us, the welcoming presentations were first-rate, the luau was exceptional, and the door prize was well worth waiting for and delivered a dramatic ending to an exciting and moving convention banquet.
Throughout this report we will reference meetings of divisions, committees, and groups through which the Federation does much of its work. Mentioning these meetings will hint at some of our major convention activities, but to fully understand the breadth and depth of the meetings just held will require browsing the 2017 Convention Agenda which can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/agenda. Also look in this issue and those to follow for reports of the meetings listed here, because each division, committee, and group has been invited to submit a few paragraphs to explain how they are contributing to bettering the lives of blind people.
The National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children division activities began on seminar day and continued throughout the week. The Federation's commitment to children and seeing that they have unparalleled opportunities in their lives is perhaps the highest priority of the organization. The seminars, workshops, and discussion groups of this division testify to the commitment we have made, and its program offerings make it real. Activities included Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Success in Elementary School Math; Stress Management for Parents and Their Kids Too; A Parent's Perspective on Raising a Blind Child with Autism; Technology Basics in Five Steps or Less; Using Google Drive, Google Docs, and Other Google Products in the Classroom; You Are Your Child's First Teacher: Encouraging Play and Exploration in Early Childhood; Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Surviving Higher Level Math; It's Recess Time: Encouraging Kids to Participate in Recess, Sports, and Other Social Activities; Remote Technology Instruction: What Is It, What Are Its Advantages, and How Can My Child Receive It?; It Might Not Be a Braille Thing: Recognizing Possible Reading or Other Learning Disabilities in Blind Children; and Learning to Drive: Take Control of Getting from Place to Place When Driving Yourself Is Not an Option.
Seminar day was also filled with learning opportunities for adults, though activities for the youngest among us threatened to pull us away. We contented ourselves with previewing the newest JAWS features from VFO/Freedom Scientific; presentations on the BrailleNote Touch, the world's first Google-certified notetaker for the blind from HumanWare; and the newly released ElBraille, the only Windows 10 Braille notetaker from VFO. Adobe offered three sessions to discuss its suite of products which run not only on Windows but on iOS and Android. Google offered a seminar discussing enhancements in Android accessibility and the eyes-free Google Home, designed to enhance the home environment.
Then there were the presentations from our own NFB Jernigan Institute such as Cutting the Cord: Accessibly Watching TV without a Cable Subscription; Microsoft Office 365: Reinventing Everyday Productivity; Web Browsing in the Twenty-First Century; and Refreshable Braille Rumble: An Overview of Braille Display Support across OSs and Screen Readers.
The direction technology takes in solving problems for the blind requires our input, and what is developed must be evaluated and promoted if it is found worthy. A report from the NFB Committee for the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology will appear in Convention Miniatures later in this issue.
But there is more than technology. What is technology if one isn't healthy enough to use it? So the sessions offered by our NFB Sports and Recreation Division in cooperation with WE Fit Wellness included learning about your health: Check out Accessible Activity Trackers and Other Health Devices; a chance to donate blood; and once all of that was done, what could be better than trying some fun activities like sword fighting, cardio drumming, goalball, and more. Then there was the session on essential oils, the benefits of which may include weight management, reducing stress, promoting quality sleep, reducing anxiety, and avoiding depression, pain, and sinus or allergy issues.
Employment is one of the biggest steps we take in becoming integrated into our communities. So it is no surprise that a convention attendee would see "Load up with Ammunition for Your Job Hunt: Expert Advice and Great Ideas from NFB Training Centers, Agencies, and Employers." After that training, what's next: "Set Your Sights for the NFB National Job Fair," an event sponsored by the NFB Employment Committee.
All of what we do is predicated on our ability to move from place to place independently, and we do this with guide dogs and canes. Not surprisingly one of our most active divisions is the National Association of Guide Dog Users. Its seminar featured sessions on maintaining optimal health throughout your dog's life, tips on preventative care, tips on grooming, and learning about the rights and responsibilities of guide dog users and the businesses they frequent.
It is both encouraging and amazing to see how many new people come to the national convention each year. The Rookie Roundup plays an important part in letting them meet one another, meet our leaders, and hear about what is to come in the sleepless week they are about to enjoy.
Because some excellent performers have emerged on the public stage, one of the stereotypes about the blind is that we are musically gifted. Karaoke Night puts this to the test, but the fun is not in the gathering of evidence but in the sheer joy of having a chance to be a rock star. For those singing a different tune, a meeting of blind students for getting acquainted, sharing common problems and possible solutions, and just having a good time was another opportunity offered at seminar night's conclusion.
Registration/resolutions day came early for those who met long into the night. The exhibit hall is a treat for many of us wishing to see what's new and to chat with the people we've met over the phone in purchasing and getting support for our devices. This year the hall was packed, and sadly we had to turn away exhibitors for lack of space. In 1996 our convention had fifty-three exhibitors from outside the NFB. This year we had eighty-three. Some of the specials at the convention featured significant discounts, and for convention sponsors the floor was theirs alone from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Proudly sponsoring our 2017 Convention are these progressive companies: Platinum sponsors included Aira and AT&T; Google Inc.; Microsoft; Oracle; OrCam; UPS; Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc.; VFO (Ai Squared / Freedom Scientific / Optelec). Our Gold sponsors for 2017 are Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP; iSenpai, LLC; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Target; and Uber Technologies Inc. Silver sponsors include Amazon; Dropbox; HumanWare; Market Development Group Inc.; Pearson; and Sprint. Sponsoring at the Bronze level were Charter Communications; Facebook; National Industries for the Blind; VitalSource Technologies LLC; and Wells Fargo. Participants at the White Cane sponsor level include BAUM (USA) Inc.; C&P - Chris Park Design; Disability Relations Group; Duxbury Systems Inc; Educational Testing Service; Envision Inc.; En-Vision America Inc.; HIMS; iFactory; Lyft Inc.; OHFA Tech Inc.; Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP; and TRE Legal Practice. These sponsors take seriously the work of the National Federation of the Blind, and we are grateful to and thank them for their financial and public support.
One challenge of being blind in a predominantly sighted world is coming to think of oneself as beautiful. While there are different definitions of beauty and different degrees of it, blind people have too often incorporated as part of our self-concept the idea that that we are flawed or broken. To really understand blindness and beauty requires a reset, and this is just what was provided by the style show that was sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
In the afternoon the resolutions committee met to propose policies that will guide the Federation now and in the years to come. A full report of the process, the resolutions presented, and those which passed is included in this issue.
Other meetings were held on this afternoon and evening. Among them was a meeting of the deaf-blind division, the blind musicians division, the professionals in blindness education division, the National Association of Blind Students division, and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. To learn more about the meetings held and the topics discussed, continue to look in these pages and issues of the Monitor that will appear in the coming months.
Since showing the world what blind people can do is important to our mission, learning how to take and share audio and video content is a must. To address this the communications team sponsored a hands-on photo and video workshop. Amazon took the opportunity to demonstrate the tremendous progress it has made in addressing accessibility in its products. Highlighted were its tablets, its hardware device for connecting one's television to the internet, and its line of home products which include those on which Alexa responds to our requests and answers our questions.
Demonstrations and instruction in the use of the KNFB Reader and NFB-NEWSLINE® were a popular attraction, and these products demonstrate our role not only as advocates but as an organization that can and will provide a product or service when living the life we want requires it. The innovative spirit behind these offerings is a visible testament to the value of action through self-organization.
In the evening, members of the National Association of Blind Veterans held a reception to honor the brave women and men who have served our country, and that reception was followed by the division's business meeting.
Board meeting/division day began with the traditional meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors. All members of the board announced themselves as present with the exception of Jeannie Massay, who was kept at home by her doctor. She plans to be with us next year and shared most of the convention through the live convention streaming done for the board meeting, all sessions of the convention, and the 2017 banquet. She was also active on Twitter, energetically participating in convention conversations from a distance.
After a moment of silence for those lost to death this year, President Riccobono called on Gabe Cazares for two important announcements. The first is that convention sessions are translated into Spanish and transmitted to special receivers provided to those who request them. Receivers operating on a different channel are also given to those who have trouble hearing convention business being conducted from the stage.
President Riccobono read the names of those board members up for election and those whose terms extend until 2018. Sam Gleese of Mississippi called for the floor. He said that serving on the national board has been one of the highest honors of his life, but he now believes it is time to relinquish his position so that a younger person might take up the leadership and responsibility he has carried for so long in the organization. President Riccobono thanked Sam for his service, and Sam received enthusiastic applause both from his colleagues on the board and members of the Federation who were present in the audience.
The President announced that our 2018 convention will be held at a Rosen property, but the hotel and specific dates will not be fixed until November. Given that it may be some time before we are back in Florida, we should do our best to see that the 2018 convention is well attended. The 2019 convention location remains a mystery except that we do know it will be held somewhere west of the Mississippi.
The building which houses the NFB Jernigan Institute is owned by the Jacobus tenBroek Fund. Given that we have more space than we currently need, it is likely we will rent out some of it. The NFBJI is located in an area where space is extremely valuable, and the income the tenBroek Fund will likely receive would be very helpful in maintaining and improving this property.
Patti Chang is the director of development for the organization. She encouraged us to advertise the NFB Vehicle Donation Program using the public service announcements available in English and Spanish. Materials for promoting the program are available at https://www.nfb.org/vehicle-donation-materials.
Much of the work of the Federation is conducted through committees appointed by the President, and President Riccobono would like to hear from Federationists who wish to serve. A list of committees can be found at https://nfb.org/divisions-and-committees.
One of the organizations we partner with is the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. A popular program it administers provides Braille books and magazines to children, and this year National Geographic has been added. If you know of children who can benefit from this service, have them contact Patricia Maurer by calling (410) 659-9314, extension 2272.
Everything we do takes money. Accordingly the board and those assembled reviewed some primary funding sources. The Preauthorized Check Program (PAC) is the way many Federationists and other highly committed members of the public give monthly donations from a checking account or card. Chairman Scott LaBarre told us this year $493,000 was collected, though more than half a million dollars was pledged at last year's convention. Our goal this year is to raise enough in new and increased pledges to sustain our yearly giving so that it remains above half a million dollars.
Chairman Everette Bacon reminded us that the Imagination Fund is supported not by members but by others who contribute to the innovative programs we run. To solicit that support requires us to reach out to family, friends, and people with whom we do business to tell them about the work of the organization and explain why they should be financially involved.
The Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind is the organization's savings account. It is a fund in which money is set aside for the catastrophe we hope never happens. Chairman Sandy Halverson reported that at the beginning of the convention ten states had made no contribution in 2017, but by convention's end that number had fallen to two.
The Kenneth Jernigan Fund raises money to help first-timers attend the national convention. Money comes from the sale of tickets for two drawings. One grants the winner and a person of their choice round-trip airfare to the convention, a hotel room, banquet, registration, and a thousand dollars. The winner of the second gets $2,500 in cash. But the real winners from the drawings are the men and women who can be a part of the transforming experience we call the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Chairman Allen Harris reported that this year the fund brought fifty-seven people, and the cheer from present and past winners proves its value.
Tracy Soforenko is the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund committee. This committee encourages contributions to the Jacobus tenBroek Fund which maintains the grounds and buildings at 200 East Wells Street in Baltimore that have become known the world over. Tracy welcomes suggestions about how to raise the money we need to maintain and enhance our facilities so we can continue to operate the stellar programs that bring credit to the work of the organization.
The merit scholarships offered to thirty blind students from across America are second to none, and the students we invite as finalists represent the finest blind students in America. They are introduced at every preconvention board meeting and are given a chance to speak. Their remarks appear elsewhere in this issue. Following these, the board of directors voted unanimously to authorize a scholarship program for 2018.
Much of what we do in the area of civil rights requires top-notch legal talent. No one exemplifies this more than our friend and colleague Dan Goldstein. He is retiring and has moved to New Hampshire, but his interest in our organization, our struggles, and our successes mean enough to him that he continues to join us at our convention. His presence was recognized with cheers and applause, representing not only our respect for this man but our admiration for the heart that drives him.
Our legal work must continue, and our longtime friend Eve Hill, formerly employed by the United States Department of Justice, has returned to the law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. In her remarks to the board she quickly reviewed some of the legal priorities she is addressing at our direction. One is the accessibility of websites run by the government and the private sector. We are focusing on the design of web-authoring programs that result in inaccessible webpages, our commitment being to get these tools to produce content that is accessible. Our commitment knows no limits when it comes to protecting the rights of blind parents. Then there is our longstanding focus on seeing that blind workers are not inappropriately placed in sheltered workshops and that, when this is their preferred place of employment, they receive the benefits that should be given to all workers: the right to be treated with dignity and respect, the right to advancement, and the right to be paid at least the minimum wage. Eve said that a friend who writes books on disability rights said that, of the top ten cases in 2016 and 2017, the NFB was the lead in four of these.
Valerie Yingling is the legal program coordinator for the NFB. She reminded the board and the audience that we have a rideshare program to monitor the activities of Uber and Lyft. We have a system in place for reporting both good and bad experiences, particularly those involving the use of guide dogs. She said we have filed a lawsuit against Greyhound in which we are requesting class certification because of its systems that cannot be used by blind people. She encouraged those who have had trouble using the website or the mobile app to contact her. The same is true if you have been charged a convenience fee for making reservations by telephone. People with experiences to share should write to her at [email protected] or call her at (410) 659-9314, Extension 2440.
Two affiliates were recognized for substantial bequests they received this year and are sharing with the national treasury. California presented a check for $21,671.67. In that same spirit, Nebraska presented a check for $122,898.54. These affiliates exemplify generosity, the understanding that we are one movement, and the importance of abiding by our longstanding policy of dividing bequests received by chapters and affiliates with our national body.
The board meeting adjourned seven minutes ahead of schedule, a relief to those wanting to grab food before the afternoon and evening called them away to discuss issues specific to their job interests and aspirations.
More than twenty divisions, committees, and groups met to conduct their business meetings, hold seminars, and receive presentations in the field of interest they represent. In addition to the formal meetings, one could attend an equally large number of gatherings. Those who love art attended the gathering entitled "Inspiring Artists, Beginners to Pros." Some of us attended the 1Touch Self Defense Workshops that occurred throughout the convention. Then there was the event that blind children look forward to all year: The Braille Book Fair made possible thanks to the help of hundreds of donors and volunteers.
On Thursday morning when the gavel fell, the crowd of more than 2,400 applauded, and the convention was underway. Assisting with the opening gavel was seven-year-old Oriana Riccobono. Each of the host affiliates gave a welcome from their state, and this was followed by an address recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the National Association of Blind Students. This stellar speech will appear in the Braille Monitor later in the fall.
The songs that were sang by Blessing Arthur got the convention jumping, and everyone was engaged when Briley O'Connor, Tom Page, and Ryan Strunk concluded the ceremony with the song "Live the Life You Want."
The convention recognized our veterans with a ceremony in which, for the first time, the color guard was composed entirely of blind people. In the tradition of past ceremonies, all veterans in attendance are asked to come to the stage, introduce themselves, and given a ribbon and a pin. This year Melissa and Oriana Riccobono offered these tokens of our gratitude. The event concluded with music performed by members of the performing arts division, and the warm applause let our veterans know they are appreciated for the patriots they are and the service they have given.
Delegates were introduced as the convention moved to the roll call of states. Alabama said it would be holding its first BELL Academy; Arizona was rightly proud to have thirty-five first-timers at the convention, and it too will have a BELL Academy that will serve thirty-one students. Illinois proudly announced the passage of a parental rights act, and Indiana followed with the good news that it has secured one million dollars in support of NFB-NEWSLINE. Maryland proudly announced it would be holding not one, not two, but three BELL Academy programs. Minnesota loudly cheered as President Dunham was introduced, and an even louder cheer erupted from the convention when she asked it to remember the loyalty and hard work of Joyce and Tom Scanlan who could not be with us because of poor health.
New voices were heard throughout the roll as new leaders take on the job of carrying forward the work of the Federation. One new voice was Shelia Wright from Missouri. She said that Missouri is involved in the National Fitness Challenge, is one of thirteen organizations working with the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and is the only statewide consumer organization to be involved in the competition.
President Frank Coppel from South Carolina gave a shout-out to longtime leaders Don and Betty Capps and told the convention about a new program called Successful Transitions, which serves young people ages thirteen to twenty-three. Since the fall of 2016 this program has served more than 200 young people as they find their way through the education system and seek employment.
This session of the convention ended with President Riccobono asking the audience to indicate in which decade they attended their first national convention. We had no one present from our founding decade, but in each of the succeeding ones we heard loud and enthusiastic cheers, the loudest being from those attending their first NFB National Convention.
The afternoon session began with a presentation that would be referenced again and again throughout the Convention. This was the annual Presidential Report, and its theme was the heartbeat of the Federation and the rhythm of the movement. It appears in this issue, and those who listen to or read it will understand why it was followed by a prolonged standing ovation.
The Federation and UPS have been working together for twenty-five years. UPS has been a tremendous source of volunteer help to us. Kim Wyant is the president of the Florida district of UPS, and she came to the podium to acknowledge our relationship and to present the Federation with a check for $90,000. You guessed it—another long ovation both for the volunteer service and a contribution that will help us carry on with the programs that mean so much to blind people.
Leadership in Self-Driving Automobiles: the Blind and the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets was presented by a man who has long been a friend to blind people as we have worked with the United States Department of Transportation to solve the problem of cars too quiet to hear. He is David Strickland, who now serves as General Counsel and Spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. The world is moving toward vehicles that drive themselves, and the challenge we face is to see that they are ones we can operate. Mr. Strickland and his organization are committed to this, and we will work hand in hand to see that we can go where we want to go, when we want to go, and we will soon join the rest of America in taking to the open road.
What would a convention be without a presentation from our Immediate Past President, Dr. Marc Maurer? When he writes and delivers a speech, we are the beneficiaries of his intellect, his wisdom, and his enthusiasm. Perhaps as important as these are the other things he brings: his curiosity, his sense of wonder, and his willingness to dream. “Leadership in Literacy: How Do We Know What We Do Not Know,” was the title of his presentation. In it he explores the way we get information and the way it differs from how people with sight get it. He also discusses the language we use as it relates to sight and the experience of coming to know what we do not know. His remarks appear later in this issue.
For many blind people the written word has been the primary means through which we have learned and the way in which we express ourselves. Though there is beauty in language and what it allows us to learn and share, it is not the only way people learn. Pictures communicate in ways that words cannot. They touch our emotions where poetry begins, but they can convey so much more. Financial and scientific concepts difficult to explain in words are made clear using charts and graphs. For far too long these ways of communicating have been primarily visual. Tactile representations have been few in number, and we are just now coming to understand that interpreting drawings is not innate; it is learned, and many of us have been left out of that learning. But this is changing, and the next presenter is part of why we are finding more information that has traditionally required vision appearing under our fingertips. He and his company are giving us unparalleled opportunities to create this information ourselves. Josh Coffee is the president of E.A.S.Y. LLC, and the address he delivered is "Engineering Tools for Tactile Fluency: A Partnership with the Organized Blind Movement." This instructive and inspirational address will appear in full later in the fall.
Continuing with the theme of creating opportunities in STEM education and the employment it can make possible, our next presentation was "Empowering STEM Education through Technology: HumanWare's Commitment to the Future." Its chief presenter is a friend of the National Federation of the Blind, Gilles Pepin, chief executive officer of HumanWare. He said that today the computer world is working on artificial intelligence and deep machine learning. The goal is to give machines problems human beings are now solving, give them the answers humans come up with, and see if they can learn to take on tasks that can currently be done only with human intelligence. So excited is HumanWare about deep machine learning that it is doubling what it spends on research and development. HumanWare believes we will see the initial results of its work at our 2018 Convention. In furtherance of its promise to work with us in promoting STEM, HumanWare also announced its plan to offer a STEM internship in 2018 at HumanWare’s headquarters in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.
Greg Stilson is the senior blindness product manager at HumanWare. He said that forging new paths in STEM education is personal for him. Because of barriers in the studying of STEM subjects, he wanted to avoid math and science in high school. Luckily for him and for us, pressure from a teacher of the blind who believed in him kept him from running away from learning the skills that now fuel his life's work. He said that attending a convention of the NFB is more than the opportunity to show and sell products; it is the opportunity to get the ideas that will result in products to solve real problems. He offers as an example the BrailleNote Touch, the world's first Google-certified tablet for the blind. KeyMath is included in the latest update of the product and now makes it possible for a student to do her work in Braille, print out that work for her teacher, and show not only the answer but the steps used in arriving at it. No longer must the blind student turn in late work because a human transcriber had to convert it into something the public school teacher could read, and no longer does the student's grade depend both on her own understanding and the reliability of the transcriptionist helping her. Greg ended his presentation with a request and a promise: that we keep our awesome ideas coming, and that HumanWare will continue to make awesome products.
Betsy Beaumon is the president of Benetech. This company is best-known by blind people for spawning the creation of Bookshare, but their work has not stopped just because they have the largest library for the blind in the world. “Building New Paths to Accessibility: Powering the Next Generation of Accessible Educational Materials” is the title of the presentation she delivered, and it focuses on the "DIAGRAM Center" that Benetech has created. DIAGRAM is not only the right word to describe its work, but it is also an acronym: Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials. Mastering STEM subjects requires more than words; it requires access to diagrams, graphs, and even pictures. Solving a problem this large not only requires a committed company; it requires a community of really smart people, and the National Federation of the Blind is one of fifty organizations that are a part of it. Two clear challenges must be addressed: making images that are already available accessible, and creating standards that will aid in making certain that new images are born accessible. Making math more accessible is being enhanced by MathML Cloud, a repository where math images are stored and an environment in which conversion tools are developed and shared. The goal is that content from different software tools used in the subject can be made readable by the blind. Of course there are other images of interest to us, so, at the urging of Immediate Past President Maurer, Benetech is creating a new service called ImageShare. It is currently being piloted at several schools for the blind. The service contains or has links to two-dimensional and three-dimensional images that are described, and Benetech hopes to have a beta version in the spring of 2018. For more details on this and other exciting projects at Benetech, go to http://diagramcenter.org.
When the afternoon session concluded, some of us wished humans could be omnipresent. There was so much to do but no way to attend events that happened at the same time. One could learn about the Ski for Light program, the future of wearable technology, or the future of autonomous vehicles and the way we ensure they are usable by the blind. Being a student in higher education means knowing something about advocacy, and, to borrow from and substitute one word, "There's a meeting for that." Seeing that admissions tests treat the blind fairly is something that the Federation and the Educational Testing Service have been working together on for some time now, and getting our philosophy and life experiences into academic journals is critically important. Again, how to be in two places at one time was our dilemma.
When states are considering adopting new technology to assist in voting, how do we make sure the blind are included? How do we maximize the use of social media to reach blind people and to help sighted people understand that we are blind but we are just like them? We need outside contributors to help with our programs, so where do we look for grants, and how do we go about writing them? There was at least one meeting on each of these subjects and more that space limits us from covering. Watch these pages for further information as sponsors and coordinators of these and other meetings share their message.
If you needed some downtime, were hungry, and wanted the opportunity to socialize, the host affiliates sponsored a luau. If feeding the mind was more important than feeding the body, the Community Service Division sponsored a trivia night to see who would be the 2017 trivia champions.
On Friday morning the gavel fell promptly at 9 a.m., and President Riccobono said that at the close of business on Thursday, our registration figures stood at 2,465. At the end of the 2017 Convention that number increased to 2,481.
He presented the organization's financial report. The 2016 year was a good one, showing that income exceeded expenses by about two million dollars. In the first six months of 2017 the figures are disturbing. While past trends indicate that income in the last six months tends to be higher than in the first, we must increase our efforts to fund the programs we run and the new ones we need.
Pam Allen presented the report of the Nominating Committee, offering seven candidates to fill expiring positions on the board. The report was accepted and elections followed. Everette Bacon was elected to fill board position one. In his acceptance Everette quoted Cesar Chavez: "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate a person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore." Everette's request is that those who are not a part of the NFB join and that we who are increase our efforts so that the social change we work for will not be stopped.
Norma Crosby was the next to be elected. In her acceptance speech she said she grew up being told that she didn't see very well, and there were things she just shouldn't try. At the same time, the rehabilitation agency where she lived kept telling her she was not blind and should not ask for quality training in Braille and cane travel. When she came to the Federation she met a loving group who didn't tell her she was wrong for carrying a cane or wanting to learn Braille. Being a Federationist has meant finding a family and no longer feeling alone. Her leadership is the evidence of her commitment to share this with others.
Ever Lee Hairston was the next nominee elected to the board. Though civil rights was her passion and got her jailed in the 1960s, it wasn't until 1987 that she found that the struggle for civil rights also extends to the blind. She said that when she slept she dreamed about having the opportunity to live a life of service, but when she awoke, she found joy in living that life through the National Federation of the Blind.
Cathy Jackson was elected and said that once again she feels humbled and honored. In 2002 the National Convention was hosted by the Kentucky affiliate, so when she was called to the presidential suite by then President Maurer, she was certain something was terribly wrong. Her heartbeat was so loud that she almost missed President Maurer's request that she allow her name to be placed in nomination for a position on the board. She is delighted to serve and to do whatever she can so that blind people can live the life they want.
Joe Ruffalo was elected to board position five. He is motivated each day by the realization that the first two letters of member are the word me. He had to be invited six times before attending a meeting, but that meeting convinced him that losing his sight did not mean losing his vision: his vision to be a good father, a good husband, a good leader, and a person who cares about people. This is what the Federation means to him and why he will continue to carry the torch and share with others his belief that the acronym NFB not only stands for National Federation of the Blind but also "Never Felt Better."
Denise Avant was elected to board position six. She said that she knew of the NFB long before she joined in 2005. Who didn't know that the National Federation of the Blind was the largest organization of blind people in the world? But she didn't think of herself as a joiner and had little interest in being a part of an organization that was made up of mean-spirited, radical extremists. But the people she met and the organization she came to find was nothing like what she had heard. "I attended my first Chicago Chapter meeting in 2005, and I've missed very few since then," she says. Denise being newly elected to the board, readers can expect to learn more about her when we update her biography in "Who are the Blind Who Lead the Blind."
Amy Ruell was elected to fill the last board position. Amy said that when growing up she had little contact with blind people, the exception being a camp for the blind she attended as a child. Getting her education in a public school, she got no instruction in cane travel, and the Braille she learned came through the work of her mother and a volunteer, both staying a lesson ahead of her as the instruction proceeded. She came to the Federation when her job required that she attend the conventions of several national organizations of the blind, and at the NFB’s gathering she found people doing for themselves and at the same time helping others get around the hotel, read menus, and do so many other things in a wonderful spirit of cooperation. When she joined, her intent was to be a good member but not to become overly involved. But, when she saw things that needed changing, she realized her choice was to lead or to shut up; she concluded that leading was a task more suited to her character and temperament. More about Amy will also appear in a biography that will be found in “Who are the Blind Who Lead the Blind.”
After a cheer for the newly elected board of directors and a fit break conducted by the sports and recreation division, the convention moved to three presentations focusing on fitness and the role it plays in physical health, mental health, and the development of a positive image and self-concept. The first presentation was from a CrossFit trainer who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, Ms. Bettina Dolinsek. The title of her presentation was, "Leadership in Fitness: A CrossFit Trainer Living the Life She Wants." She has traveled a road familiar to many of us: loving sports as a spectator but being excused from physical education because nobody knew how she could compete. Bettina Dolinsek has used CrossFit training to move from spectator to participant, has learned how to take control of her life, and has learned the value of sharing that empowerment with others. Her inspiring remarks will appear in a future issue of this magazine.
Warmed up by Bettina's presentation, the convention was ready for the next program item titled "Running Across America: A Blind Ultra-Athlete's Challenge to Change.” It was delivered by Jason Romero, an Ultra-Athlete who lives in Denver, Colorado. At an appointment with his doctor at age fourteen, Jason was asked what he wanted to do with his life. He said he wanted to be the first person in his family to go to college, but the doctor would have none of it. He interrupted to tell his young patient that by thirty he would have no light perception, that blind people did not work, and that the doctor had five minutes before his next appointment and asked if Jason had any questions. But Jason took his degree, achieved significant success in several Fortune 500 companies, but one day found himself without a job, without blindness skills, and without hope. The story he relates explains how one hits bottom and climbs out, and that story will appear prominently in an upcoming issue.
“Breaking Blind: Staying Fit with a Dose of Federation Love, Hope, and Determination” was our next presentation. Its presenter was Maureen Nietfeld, the home management instructor at the NFB Colorado Center for the Blind. Maureen is blind as a result of brain tumors caused by von Hipptel-Lindau syndrome (VHL), a disease that creates both cancerous and noncancerous tumors in all of her organs. She went blind at age seventeen, and it took her ten years to come to terms with this. Maureen's moving presentation about the importance of health as she faces the challenges posed by VHL is available at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/bb. Maureen concluded her remarks with these moving words: "Each and every one of us is capable of making big changes for ourselves and for those around us. So with love, hope, and determination, let's defy expectations and turn our dreams into reality. Thank you, everyone. I love you all."
As President Riccobono remarked, "If you're not inspired to get up and get moving after those three presentations, I don't know what else we can do."
The last presentation of the morning was delivered by Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and the National Association of Blind Lawyers. Its title: “A Worldwide Revolution: The Marrakesh Treaty, the Accessible Books Consortium, and Global Literacy for the Blind.” Creating accessible books is often time-consuming and expensive. Cross-border sharing of accessible materials will help blind people throughout the world, but the United States has not yet signed the treaty negotiated in 2013. The process, the problems, and the progress we are making are all addressed in these remarks, and they will appear in an upcoming issue.
The afternoon session began with President Riccobono introducing our guest and presenter: "To start off the afternoon we have a presentation which features an organization which has not been on our agenda in at least a decade. The American Foundation for the Blind has sometimes been at odds with the National Federation of the Blind, but there is a new direction for the future of the American Foundation for the Blind [applause]. Here to talk with us about it is a gentleman who used to direct the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, where he demonstrated an openness and willingness to work with the organized blind movement, and he's bringing that perspective to the work of the AFB. So here to talk to us about the future at the American Foundation for the Blind is its president, Kirk Adams.”
Mr. Adams began by saying that listening to the acceptance speeches of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors was well worth the price of admission and that it is always a pleasure to witness strong leadership in action. He says that he wants to work with us, that our advice to the foundation in its development of a strategic plan has been very helpful, and that his organization wants to help in confronting the most significant problems faced by the blind today and in the future. President Riccobono asked Mr. Adams if the foundation would support the elimination of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. His answer was that this section is an antiquated law that should be replaced, but his concern is that repeal doesn't suggest how those with significant developmental disabilities in addition to blindness will be served. The President also asked whether the foundation would support the Aim High Act, and Mr. Adams said the foundation would support a higher education bill that was released earlier in the week but that it has concerns about the safe harbor provision in the bill we are supporting. President Riccobono said that we must be realistic about the times in which we live, the mood of Congress, and the need to pass something now and not ten years from now. A copy of Mr. Adams' remarks and the dialogue that followed will appear in full later in the fall.
Dr. Fred Schroeder was elected as the president of the World Blind Union in August of 2016. His presentations are always thought-provoking, moving, and persuasive. His speech this year has all of these characteristics. Its title is: “Transforming Hope into Action: A Report from the World Blind Union.” In this presentation President Schroeder discusses the suffering we encounter as blind people. It is not the physical or psychological suffering that is so often assumed to be synonymous with blindness. Instead it is the suffering that comes when those in authority take away our children because they believe we are incapable of giving them a safe and loving environment. It is the suffering that comes from the fear that taking our children to the doctor may get us investigated by social service agencies. It is the suffering that comes from knowing that far too many people see us as broken human beings who are incapable of meeting the day-to-day challenges of the world. Dr. Schroeder's concluding remarks capture a pledge we have made to blind people in the United States and throughout the world: "Together we will continue changing the world until we are able to free ourselves from the tyranny of the good conscience standard, limitations not imposed by blindness but imposed on us by the misguided, well-intended beliefs of others. Together we will continue to change the world until we are finally able to live the lives we want, free from low expectations and discrimination." President Schroeder's address will appear elsewhere in this issue.
President Riccobono introduced the next item on the agenda with these words: “I'm particularly enthusiastic about our next speaker, because I believe his being here presents a great opportunity for this organization to offer our expertise and our authentic experience as blind people to the United States Department of Labor. Our next speaker has served in three presidentially-appointed and senate-confirmed positions. In 2002 he was appointed to serve as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, where he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions. In 2003 he was appointed assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. From 2005 to 2009 he served as the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Please give a warm Federation welcome to United States Secretary of Labor, the Honorable Alexander Acosta."
Secretary Acosta said he appreciated the opportunity to once again address the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, having done so when he served in the Department of Justice. His remarks focus on today's economy, the administration's commitment to grow that economy, and the importance of bringing people with disabilities into the workforce. What he said to the 2017 Convention, the remarks made by President Riccobono, and the question posed to the secretary by Immediate Past President Maurer will appear in full later in the fall.
"From Knowledge to Power: A Report on Advocacy and Policy Programs” was delivered by John Paré Jr., executive director for advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind. He said we have four bills currently introduced in the Congress and briefly described them. He also reminded us that bills we do not support are receiving congressional attention, and they threaten hard-won gains that have taken more than seven decades to achieve. Director Paré's remarks will appear in the October issue.
The last item of business during the afternoon session was the reading of twenty-four resolutions submitted for consideration as policy for the National Federation of the Blind. Chairman Sharon Maneki's report and the full text of the resolutions passed appear elsewhere in this issue.
On Friday evening Microsoft sponsored two sessions on the usability of its products with a number of screen reading programs and on several popular operating systems. A seminar to help advocates and recipients of benefits from the Social Security Administration was held, and so too was a session on Braille proofreading for parents, teachers, and others looking for employment in the field. People wanting to know how to use social media to find better jobs attended yet another seminar sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee.
Do You Dream in Color? is a documentary about four blind students and the obstacles they face in getting an education and in interacting with family, friends, and peers. It highlights the work we must do to see that the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of these and other young blind people are realized. We are encouraging chapters to host screenings and to discuss how each of us can contribute to the success of young people in our communities.
On the final day of convention, President Riccobono's stretch of twenty-one conventions without a door prize came to an end when he won one hundred dollars. This demonstrates once again that even President Riccobono and the Chicago Cubs cannot indefinitely maintain their losing streak.
The program began with a focus on technology. Giving the first presentation was the president and CEO of VFO, Tom Tiernan. His address bore the title: “The Future of Access Technology for the Blind: Progress at VFO.” A year ago when he was approached about heading VFO, he knew nothing about assistive technology, but he did have members of his family who were blind or who had limited vision. He evaluated the company and concluded that the climate is right for significant change and advancement that VFO can bring to the community. VFO is committed to directing more revenue into cutting-edge development, to building on the expertise and the commitment of its staff, and to continuing as an industry leader in assistive technology to make more of the world accessible to the blind. At the conclusion of his presentation President Riccobono asked if VFO was looking not only at the equipment it distributes but at its functionality for children and how they learn to use it. The answer was indeed that VFO has a renewed focus on education, and serving younger children is a part of the company's focus. The remarks delivered by Mr. Tiernan can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/vfo.
We have had a longstanding relationship with Microsoft and have watched as it has progressed from thinking about accessibility to speaking about accessibility and now to actively doing a great deal in enhancing accessibility. The work on accessibility is no longer just in one department dedicated to it. Engineers who know and care about quality access are spread throughout the company, and this is due in large part to the work of the person who next came to address the convention, Jenny Lay-Flurrie. She is the chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, and her topic was "The Future of Equal Access to Technology: A Commitment to the Journey at Microsoft.” She said that accessibility at Microsoft has had moments in which spectacular brilliance was displayed and moments of ugliness. This rollercoaster ride is not what she wants Microsoft to demonstrate. Rather, accessibility must be something that will be long-term, durable, and sustainable. To deliver consistently accessible products, Microsoft wants people with disabilities, is actively looking for them, and is finding them in such short supply that it is joining the community that encourages blind people to enter into science, technology, engineering, and math. Her address will appear in an upcoming issue, and it is well worth reading and hearing because of the information, enthusiasm, and commitment it communicates.
One company that exemplifies a real commitment to accessibility is Expedia. As President Riccobono said in introducing Bhala Dalvi, the vice president of technology and the executive sponsor of accessibility, "For Expedia it's not just about crossing a finishing line of accessibility, but it's about making a real commitment to going further." Mr. Dalvi's presentation was "Worldwide Excellence in Travel: Accessibility in Partnership with the Blind.” He began by saying that as of June 29, 2017, Expedia handed its website for booking hotels, flights, cars, and other travel products over to the NFB for testing. He said that four years ago when Expedia invited the NFB to evaluate its website and the services provided there, the experience was very uncomfortable; more than 50 percent of the functions provided by the site were not usable by someone who is blind. "Anne [Taylor] did a live demo using our website to our leadership team. During that demo, Anne couldn't even get past our homepage. That was when we realized that, even if we were 90 percent compliant, if a legally blind person cannot get past the homepage, how can they complete their travel? . . . We did not just want to follow the letter of the law. We wanted to go deeper ... we were interested in doing the right thing." These brief quotations hint at the journey Expedia has taken to make its offerings usable by the blind, and the remarks which will appear in an upcoming issue will shine a much-needed light on the pitfalls that come from acting on incorrect assumptions and the path to success that comes in working with the National Federation of the Blind.
A much-respected agency doing work for the blind is the American Printing House for the Blind. It has a new president whose background includes working with young people and partnering with the blind. The perspective he brings, and the keen interest he has in partnering with us promise a bright future. With these paraphrased remarks from our President, Craig Meador took the stage to discuss "Educational Leadership and Product Innovations: The Future of the American Printing House for the Blind." He discussed four ongoing projects at the printing house. The first is the Orbit Braille display in which the NFB has made a substantial investment. Production delays have all of us waiting for more units to be produced, but the result is a reliable and affordable Braille display that will place information under the fingertips of blind people around the world. Second is the Graphiti, the tactile graphics display board. The intention was to create the equivalent of an iPad which blind people could use to see and create tactile images. Having a math book on a tactile tablet would be a dream come true for a blind student, and this is their goal. Field testing will begin in the fall, and the product is expected to be available late in 2018.
The third offering APH is working on is a Braille translation program called BrailleBlaster. This product will be free to anyone who wants it, and the printing house believes it is faster than any Braille translation product on the market. The beta version is currently available, and version 1 will debut in October.
The last product on which APH is currently working is intended to enhance indoor navigation. The product under development is called Indoor Explorer, and one of the goals of the printing house in attending our convention was to understand what we mean by accessibility and what information an indoor navigation system should provide. "Tell us what accessibility is. What are the hangups, what are the problems? Because we knew if we came to you with those questions, we would get it right the first time." Mr. Meador's remarks can be heard by going to https://nfb.org/convention/ 2017/aph.
“Excellence in Technology Led by the Blind: A Report from the Jernigan Institute” was the topic for our friend and fellow Federationist Anil Lewis. In his service as the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, he said he was more interested in having a conversation than in giving a presentation. But in his conversation one finds as much distilled wisdom as could be found in the most meticulously prepared speech. Anil Lewis's message was not only about forging relationships with the big players in technology. It was about making choices when it comes to what we want technology to do for us and what we want and can do for ourselves. It was about being a part of an organization with diverse opinions and building on them to make meaningful decisions about our futures as blind people. This message was delivered in that part of our agenda devoted to technology, but it could have as easily been placed in a section where we have a heart-to-heart discussion about who we are, what we want, and how, together, we will go about getting it. Director Lewis's remarks will be found in a later issue, but the mood and the flavor is best captured by listening to his presentation because anything less is like a song without its melody; the message is there, but the passion that gives it meaning is sorely missed.
One of the more intriguing topics found on the agenda is “Supporting Equality for Blind Americans: A New Sheriff in the United States House of Representatives.” It was presented by the Honorable Val Demings, a member of the United States House of Representatives from the Tenth Congressional District of Florida. Many have observed that we make the deepest connections when we share our stories, and this is the way Congresswoman Demings started the speech that Diane McGeorge was later to refer to as a “real stemwinder.” The essence of the congresswoman’s message was that success takes motivation and hard work, but it also takes the cooperation of others, the trails blazed by others, and the knowledge that those others have your back. Everyone in the house was stirred by her remarks and the parallels she drew between her life and the lives of those of us who are blind. Her speech will appear in the latter part of the year, and it will be well worth the wait.
When the general public thinks about blind people, most believe we are singularly cursed and moderately blessed. The curse is what they believe we cannot do, the blessing what they believe we are better at. Dr. Marina Bedny is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the mind using both psychology and magnetic resonance imaging. It is with this background that she spoke on the topic “The Power of the Mind: Research Exploring the Capacity of the Blind.” Science confirms that the part of our brain that would normally be used in processing vision does not die but is reassigned to other functions. There is some indication that we benefit in the form of greater tactile recognition, stronger memory, and the ability to process complex sentences. Mostly the research bears out what we have said for a long time; our differences are far less than our similarities, and the research clearly indicates that those differences should not steer us away from the fields that are now so lucrative in the twenty-first century. Dr. Bedny’s remarks will be one of the articles you won’t want to miss when they appear in a future issue.
Ann Cunningham is a hard-working member of the National Federation of the Blind. She works at the Colorado Center for the Blind as its art instructor, and her passion for sharing art with the blind is beyond measure. President Riccobono not only invited her to appear on the convention agenda but has asked that she head up a group within the Federation to take art to the next level. She addressed the convention on the topic “Touching the Imagination: Unlocking the Creativity of Blind Artists.” Ann began her career as most all artists do, creating art intended for sighted people. When she began creating tactile art, she realized that there was more to art appreciation than that which was taken in by the eye. Her work with our organization has convinced her that there is a world of richness to be found in tactile art. Unfortunately, many of us who are blind were never given the opportunity to learn what young sighted children do when they are taught at an early age to look at and interpret drawings and pictures. She looks forward to the day when exposure to art will be as common for the blind as it is for the sighted and when blind children say, “What do you mean there was a time when blind people had no access to art?” These moving, eloquently constructed, and passionately delivered remarks concluded our morning session and will appear in a future issue of this magazine.
One of the highlights of our last afternoon session has been the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards. This convention marks the tenth year that we have recognized outstanding individuals and organizations in work with the blind who exemplify the drive and the spirit of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. James Gashel is the chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee, and his remarks and those of the Bolotin Award recipients are found elsewhere in this issue.
Jim Gashel remained at the platform because his next job was to briefly discuss the expansion of the KNFB Reader technology to Windows 10 and our work to incorporate this technology into other products, services, and even wearable technology. In his demonstration Jim was assisted by Joel Zimba, who works at our Jernigan Institute as the reading project innovation manager. The demonstration and the comments about upcoming features can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/knfbreader.
Attending his forty-third convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Ray Kurzweil came to the podium to discuss “Exploring the Future: Disability, Technology, and Partnership.” Over the years presentations made by this futurist, inventor, thinker, and the current vice president of engineering at Google have had an undeniable consistency, but the change in emphasis is worthy of note and consideration. The story of how Ray Kurzweil came to meet the National Federation of the Blind is well known, and the same is true for what it took to invent the first Kurzweil Reading Machine. He had to work on the invention of the flatbed scanner. With the images he was then able to acquire he had to write the routines that would do optical character recognition that could handle the variations in font, size, and color that are inherent in print. Next came the task of refining speech synthesis that could turn recognized characters into the spoken word. Over the years the emphasis on the power of computers, the way that power would increase as predicted by Moore’s Law, and the resulting benefits to blind people has slowly transformed to a more philosophical approach that indicates just how far the development of hardware and software has come. Now the presentations he delivers focus more on the workings of the mind: it’s biological construction or its hardware, its hierarchical construction or the way it organizes memory and decision trees, and how this understanding can be used to harness the power of machines to do what we have traditionally considered to be things only humans can do. What Dr. Kurzweil said to the convention can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/ kurzweil.
President Riccobono introduced our next presentation and its presenter in this way: “In his presentation Ray Kurzweil mentioned Michael Hingson, and in the spring of last year he came by the national office and said he wanted to introduce someone to me who would talk about technology. He brought with him our next speaker who said a lot of interesting things about technology, but I admit I was skeptical. We hear about a lot of technological schemes, but I said that he should come to our convention, which he did in 2016 (he had been there in 2015). I said that I’m going to come out and visit you at your office in San Diego, and while I was out there I asked all sorts of questions. I noticed that the questions that I asked had answers, but, more importantly, the feedback that I gave was always thoughtfully internalized. I came to understand very quickly that our next speaker was thoughtful about technology, but he recognized the value found in the users of the technology. I think he exhibits some of the same traits that Dr. Kurzweil emphasized in his presentation in terms of interactions with the National Federation of the Blind. As a technology CEO he brings passion, intelligence, and personality; he’s always studying to make sure that he understands what we’re about, where we want to go, and where our hopes and dreams are. It is my pleasure to introduce for the first time to the stage the cofounder and CEO of Aira Tech, Suman Kanuganti.”
Mr. Kanuganti said that Aira is a company whose mission is to provide instant access to information when it is requested and provide it in a way that is personalized by the customer who uses it. Put in a more concrete way, this company wants its agents to act as a pair of eyes and not as a brain. This has tremendous implications in the way Aira provides information to its customers and even extends to how it perceives the ability of those it serves. Mr. Kanuganti’s remarks will appear in full later in the year.
Christine Hà is an author of cookbooks, a chef, and the winner of the season three show Master Chef. Her mother died when Christine was fourteen years old, and she never learned to cook the food that she found so pleasurable. When she got to college and decided that she needed to learn to do more than scramble eggs and eat frozen pizza, she went to the library for cookbooks and started teaching herself. But the challenge she faced in learning to cook paled in significance to the one she faced when she found herself paralyzed and blind. In her search for resources, she turned to the President of the National Federation of the Blind, and his letter of response led her to the resources that allowed her to get a master’s degree in creative writing. The story she relates in her address is one of taking on adversities that life sends our way and figuring out a way to live a life full of opportunity despite them. Ms. Hà’s remarks can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/ 2017/ha.
“Transforming Dreams into Reality: The Fulfillment of One Blind Man’s Mission” was movingly presented by our friend and Federationist Ron Gardner. Ron is the past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, and his long service to the Federation both as a volunteer and a staff member testify to his sterling character and the depth of his commitment. In his address to the convention Ron talks about the obstructions placed in his path by low expectations and how he overcame them through involvement in the Federation. Achieving his life’s goals, Ron watched as much of what he built fell apart and described the steps he took to rebuild it. His honest and moving presentation can be found elsewhere in this issue.
“Leadership through Action: A Champion for the Blind in the United States Congress” was the message brought to us by the Honorable David Young, a member of the United States House of Representatives who serves the Third Congressional District of Iowa. Monitor readers will remember that Representative Young came to visit the headquarters of the Federation at the request of Jim and Sharon Omvig, and he has joined with us in pushing for the passage of our bills by sponsoring one and adding his name as a cosponsor to three of them.
At the conclusion of the afternoon session, the crowd quickly made its way out of the room so that the hotel staff could ready it for the 2017 banquet. Immediate Past President Maurer was the master of ceremonies at this event, and I believe from the joy in his voice that one of the high points of his convention is giving out the many door prizes offered there.
Sam Gleese is not only a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, but he is also an associate minister of the Hill Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Reverend Gleese offered thanks to God for all He has allowed us to do, for the dreams He has helped us to dream, and the progress He will help us achieve in the future.
In his capacity as the chairperson of the Preauthorized Check Program, Scott LaBarre presented awards to affiliates, divisions, and individuals who made substantial increases in providing monthly support for our movement. We end the 2017 convention with pledged amounts higher than ever before. Members and supporters have pledged $517,756.82 per month, a significant indicator of how seriously our members take the work we do and supported from their pockets.
The National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division serenaded the crowd with three wonderful songs: the first was the battle song of the NFB otherwise known as “Glory, Glory Federation,” the second was “Braille Is Beautiful,” and the concluding song was “Live the Life You Want.”
A video created to thank the donors who make our scholarship program possible was debuted, and an article recognizing those donors will be found later in this issue.
The master of ceremonies recognized the sponsors of the 2017 National Convention and thanked them for the tremendous support they give, not only to the convention through their donations but to the work of the Federation through their public support.
Aira, a platinum sponsor and one of the companies we have partnered with to further independence for blind people, was next invited to present $30,000 in subscriptions to students in the National Federation of the Blind. Two recipients expressed their gratitude to Aira and the Federation in song, and we recommend these to readers who can hear them at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/airasongs. John Berggren served as the chairman of convention organization and activities, and the assembled took this opportunity to wish him happy birthday in applause and song.
After introducing the head table, it was time for what everyone in the room came to hear: the banquet address that would be delivered by our President, Mark Riccobono. The address is found later in this issue, and it certainly is in line to be considered a Federation classic. The 2017 speech addressed the role of technology, challenging the all too frequent assumption that to be blind is to be broken and that the only fix possible is to be found in technology that will make the blind whole. This is not how our President sees it, and though we welcome the benefits that technology brings for all of us, we look to ourselves for the transformation that must occur if we are to feel like, act like, and live like first-class citizens.
Ray Kurzweil was invited to the stage and spoke briefly about the remarks made by President Riccobono. He said that they expressed quite well the perils and possibilities offered by technology and exemplify the need for leaders like President Riccobono to see that technology plays the role we want it to play in our lives. He reminded us that he was involved in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and when he came to his first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in 1975, he realized that there was another civil rights cause that would touch his heart and be worthy of his energy. He saw in attitudes about the blind the same kind of prejudice that has held back so many. “The most pervasive and pernicious implication of these prejudices is that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. If society sees a single group is less capable and less valuable, it inevitably sets up expectations and institutions and laws that make these outcomes a reality. I would say that overcoming these negative perceptions of blindness is, in my view, the greatest contribution of the National Federation of the Blind.” The convention was moved by what he said and expressed its emotion in cheers and applause.
Patti Chang was invited to the stage to award the most prestigious scholarships in the field of blindness to the thirty most deserving blind students. The presentation she made and the remarks of the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship appear elsewhere in this issue.
Dr. Maurer was appointed by President Riccobono to serve as the chairperson of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. The next order of business was the presentation of that award, and both his remarks and those of the winner/winners are found later in this issue.
The banquet concluded with President Riccobono thanking the convention for its strength, its passion, and its discipline. Immediate Past President Maurer gave the gavel presented to him by Dr. Jernigan to President Riccobono. With the dropping of this gavel, the 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind came to an end.In the aftermath of the convention, the reports received confirmed that this meeting is best characterized by the words excitement and change. As Ramona Walhof reports, “Idaho had more than twice as many members at convention this year compared to recent conventions. Sixteen of these had never attended a convention before. Two more have not attended for more than twenty years. This changed the experience for all of us, and our new conventioneers are excited as they look ahead. This is just one small state's experience, but it shows why our organization is growing.” I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, so very soon now I will start counting down the days until we begin our 2018 Convention. Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and keep building the Federation.