Vol. 61, No. 8 August/September 2018
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
email address: [email protected]
website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: 866-504-7300
Like us on Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
Follow us on Twitter: @NFB_Voice
Watch and share our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind
Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.
You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.
Vol. 61, No. 8 August/September 2018
The 2018 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Presidential Report 2018
by Mark Riccobono
Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
presented by James Gashel
Authenticity, Diversity, and the Synergy of the Organized Blind
by Mark Riccobono
Introducing Chloe: Guided by the Blind
by Suman Kanuganti
Aviation, Technology, and Law
by Dr. Marc Maurer
A Summary of Recent Legal Activity
by Eve Hill
What Does Democracy Look Like? The 2018 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
Copyright 2018 by the National Federation of the Blind
[PHOTO CAPTION: President Mark Riccobono sits on the floor to talk with the kids at the beginning of the many parent sessions that made up the 2018 National Convention.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Katey Jackson from Florida jumps sky-high (as much as hotel ceilings allow) on the trampoline]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Four-year-old Theo Thevo of Michigan tumbles with his older sister in the bounce house]
The National Federation of the Blind National Convention is a time for business, for meeting up with people, and learning about companies that are harder to talk with the rest of the year. And these opportunities aren’t just for the adults of the Federation. The convention has activities for children, not just because there are adult Federationists who wouldn’t be able to attend without bringing their children, but because this is a perfect opportunity to teach these future Federation leaders valuable lessons.
They are taught that they can be heard by adults around them, even those with important jobs. Each year the Federation President sits down—literally down on the floor—with children attending the convention. They may exchange a few presidential release-worthy jokes, but they also talk about more serious topics.
Away from the presentations and the seminars, there are important lessons learned during the purely fun activities as well. Among fellow Federationists, who know exactly how capable these kids can be, they get to run around and take part in physical activities that well-meaning sighted adults back home might shelter them from in a misguided attempt to protect them. But here at convention they can strap into a safety harness to jump on a giant trampoline or ricochet around in a bounce house. They get a chance to explore their own boundaries and abilities with people who will say, “Give it a try; just be careful,” rather than, “You can’t do that; you’ll hurt yourself.”
[PHOTO CAPTION: Apl.de.Ap performs for the convention]
[PHOTO CAPTION: The audience standing and clapping after the announcement of the 2019 National Convention location]
[PHOTO CAPTION: The Ladies from Sweet Adeline’s]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Singers from Vintage Mix performing]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Impact of Orlando drummers marching down the aisle]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Impact of Orlando buglers marching in the aisle]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mark Riccobono and Congressman Darren Soto]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Scott LaBarre]
by Gary Wunder
Some of you will recall a man named Garrison Keillor who did a radio show for more than forty years called “A Prairie Home Companion.” In that weekly show he did a twenty-minute monologue about characters he developed in the small town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. When asked how he was able to do it every week year in and year out, Mr. Keillor credited his success to always having an opening line: “Well it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown.” His reasoning was that having captured the opening line, everything after that began to flow more easily. So it is each year that I wrestle with how to begin this roundup. Sometimes the themes are obvious: we’re approaching three-quarters of a century in service to blind people. Once our seventy-fifth anniversary was gone, we reached our seventy-sixth; the seventy-sixth and seventy-seventh are history. Now that it is our seventy-eighth, it seems all too soon to start counting up to eighty.
So was there a theme this year, something for which the 2018 National Convention will be remembered? I submit that there was, and that theme was raising expectations. The agenda loudly proclaimed it; the presentations consistently confirmed it, and the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind boldly promised it again and again through the actions reported and the promises made. Though the vast majority of us who do the work of the Federation are volunteers, we take the work seriously, for we know this is no game we play with the lives of blind people. As you read through this report, witness again and again what it means to raise expectations and how blind people working with blind people and those who are blind at heart are truly making a difference.
When you see an agenda that is sixty-two pages in print and 102 pages in Braille, you can be certain that blind people are involved in everything under the sun and are prepared to talk about how blindness plays a factor in it. If there is one document that speaks to the diverse interests of blind people, it is the convention agenda, and between its covers one could find more than 130 meetings before the gavel fell on the first day of session and another twenty-five held between the general sessions.
Our commitment to blind children is always evidenced through a large number of seminars and workshops aimed at helping parents see that their children have every chance to succeed. Both our convention agenda and the agenda of our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children show how active we are on so many fronts and how committed we are to seeing that our “future reflections” inherit a world even better than the one we occupy.
When the board meeting began on July 5, the room was filled with enthusiastic people who responded with a loud cheer to the falling of the gavel. All members of the board were present and answered enthusiastically to the roll call.
President Riccobono began by asking for a moment of silence in memory of those who died during the past year. He recognized thirty-six of our departed colleagues, and together we honored them and others who may not have been on the list with a reverent pause.
To help every member get the most out of the convention sessions, we offered Spanish translation and listening devices that can receive Spanish or English for those who need them. Conchita Hernandez announced these services in Spanish, and President Riccobono did the same in English. The listening devices were provided courtesy of the National Federation of the Blind Amateur Radio Division.
We stood to pledge our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and then to our Federation flag. Both of these pledges resounded throughout the hall and were recited with pride and reverence.
President Riccobono reviewed the current board of directors with those assembled. Members whose terms expire at the end of the 2018 Convention were President Mark Riccobono from Maryland; first vice president Pam Allen from Louisiana; second vice president Ron Brown from Indiana; secretary James Gashel from Hawaii; treasurer Jeannie Massay from Oklahoma; and board members Amy Buresh from Nebraska, Shawn Callaway from the District of Columbia, John Fritz from Wisconsin, Carla McQuillan from Oregon, Amy Ruell from Massachusetts, and Adelmo Vigil from New Mexico. Board members not up for reelection in 2018 are Denise Avant from Illinois, Everette Bacon from Utah, Norma Crosby from Texas, Ever Lee Hairston from California, Cathy Jackson from Kentucky, and Joe Ruffalo from New Jersey.
In addition to our distinguished board members and more than 1,500 people in the audience, we had the honor of being with Sarah Mosley, a woman attending her first national convention at age 101. The convention greeted her with warm applause.
The host affiliates for the 2018 Convention were Iowa, Florida, and Virginia. We were welcomed by each affiliate president, starting with the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia, Tracy Soforenko. He urged that all of us be early for the next morning’s session because in the first thirty minutes the host affiliates had arranged for a first-rate welcome. He next introduced Denise Valkema, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, who welcomed all of us to the host affiliates’ suite. She reminded us that there is no better way to mingle with old friends and make new ones. President Jerad Nylin from the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa invited all of us to a concert by the performer Apl.de.Ap, formerly of The Black Eyed Peas. Performers also included our own James Brown and Marion Gwizdala.
For some time now we have had an ongoing conflict with the Greyhound bus company because its website and smart phone apps have not been accessible. Given the extent to which blind people rely on Greyhound to get from city to city, this is no small inconvenience. After repeated attempts to talk with the company, we filed a lawsuit. But much to the relief of all parties, once we sat down together at a table, we found that we had more in common than we had separating us. Greyhound now understands the accessibility problems posed by its website and its smart phone apps. Thanks to the efforts of James Gashel and Timothy Elder, we now have a working relationship with Greyhound. Mr. Elder, an attorney with TRE Legal Practice, introduced Tricia Martinez, the senior vice president of legal affairs at Greyhound. She said that it is important for people to listen to the concerns of other people, and that Greyhound gets it: “Blind people deserve access to our services, and that includes our technology. [applause] You know, I’m going to be a little frank here: we are selfish; we want your business. We want to be the provider that gets you where you need to go, and we hope to do that in a way that helps you live the lives you want to live, including your independence. We are committed to partnering with the NFB to make sure you have equal access to our services, and that includes our website and our mobile app.”
President Riccobono observed that some partnerships are new while others are long-standing. An example of the latter is our working relationship with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, and Immediate Past President Maurer was introduced to make some comments. He said that the Action Fund has long operated a library from California but that the library’s list of patrons does not justify keeping it open. Instead of operating a lending library, the Action Fund will give away its books to those who ask for them, and if they choose to pass them along to others when they no longer have need of them, the ShareBraille.org service will provide a mechanism for seeing that the books find a new home. This service can also be used for next year’s flea market of Braille books, so stay tuned for additional information.
We next turned our attention to the code of conduct passed by the board of directors, recently published in the Braille Monitor, and found in the convention agenda. The reason for the code of conduct is to put in writing the expectations we have long shared for the behavior of our members, our volunteers, and our guests when we work together on Federation business. As President Riccobono said, "The code of conduct confirms in writing what we have had as an expectation amongst our membership in terms of how we treat each other, how we view equality and equal treatment among the members, how we value diversity within our organization, and it sets out in writing how we will hold each other accountable to that conduct."
Jeannie Massay followed up this announcement by saying that any infraction of the code of conduct could be reported at any time during the convention, and she provided a phone number that would be continuously monitored for this purpose. She also said that we know that for a number of people the national convention of the Federation is the largest gathering of men and women they will be a part of during the year, and sometimes this experience of being among so many people can become overwhelming. For the first time we have implemented a quiet room where a person can step away for a minute. Someone will be in the room at all times, but it is a place where one can relax, get reoriented, and make plans to go out and interact with the crowd.
John Berggren was introduced as our convention coordinator, and he took the opportunity to remind people about the banquet exchange program. Buying a banquet ticket gets you a ticket to get into the ballroom, but you do not yet have a seat. In addition to the traditional meal, we offer a kosher meal or a vegetarian meal. He said that our convention agenda was available in Braille, print, and in three different electronic forms depending on the way you prefer to view it. He also announced our partnering with internet radio station 195 The Globe, and not only will it be streaming the convention, but it will be providing interviews and other information between convention sessions.
Everyone who came to the board meeting had a shared purpose, and that was to find out where the 2019 Convention would be held. Each time the upcoming convention was mentioned, people thought we had arrived at the great reveal, but, to the glee of President Riccobono and the groans of most of the audience, that announcement was held and was one of the concluding items of the board meeting.
President Riccobono observed that our agenda would bring Democratic members of Congress and Republican members of the administration to the dais, and he reminded us that we are known for the courtesy and respect that we give to all who come to visit with us. Sometimes our questions may be pointed and our message is often direct, but in all of our conduct we are unerringly polite, and this is a tradition we want and will preserve.
All throughout the convention we were active on social media with the hashtag #NFB18. A review of the tweets sent will reveal both the anticipation felt during the convention and reactions to the presentations made. Sometimes the very conciseness demanded by the character limitations of a tweet make a point more clearly than many words on the subject, and a review of this year's hashtag will prove to be quite worthwhile.
President Riccobono encouraged everyone to review the Braille Monitor, the Nation's Blind podcast, and our app for smart phones called NFB Connect. Although he likes all the ways in which we communicate, he has a particular fondness for the female host of the podcast. Be sure to check it out if you don't already know why. To offer a favorite convention memory that may well make the podcast, call 410-659-9314, extension 2444.
Public service announcements will be available soon after the convention for download, and some will be sent directly to radio stations. Two were previewed and excitedly received by the convention.
Although there are some parts of the country in which we enjoy a good relationship with the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), its attempts to revive NAC (National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services) and its opposition to our implementing the National Reading Media Assessment to determine whether blind people should read Braille, print, or both has put a significant strain on our relationship. For this reason we are planning an AER strike, and Everette Bacon came to the microphone to address this. Because we want members of AER to really come to know and understand us, we will attend the conference they are holding late in July and will tell them who we are and our desire to engage in programs of collaboration rather than confrontation.
Carla McQuillan is the chairperson of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award Committee. Carla and her committee presented an award to a teacher who has been in the field for thirty-three years, and more about this award will be found elsewhere in this issue.
Given the tremendous progress we have made in making more Braille available and in increasing its instruction in schools and rehabilitation centers, the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, has asked the board of directors to dissolve the division and reconstitute it as a committee. The request of the division was approved unanimously, and a committee will be appointed by the President. All divisions of the Federation will continue to support and use Braille, and our advocacy for the code and the people who need it will continue with vigor.
Much of the work of the Federation is done through committees, and anyone wishing to be on one should contact President Riccobono by sending an email to [email protected] or by calling him at 410-659-9314.
In the Federation we have a number of skilled and committed carpenters, but carpenters cannot work without tools. One of the most important tools we have is money. The SUN Fund (Shares Unlimited in the NFB) is a savings account which is to be used as a rainy day or emergency fund should financial circumstances require its use. Sandy Halverson coordinates raising money for this fund, and the state of Arizona is number one in giving to our savings program. Any gift we receive for this fund is an investment in a financially stable future for the National Federation of the Blind.
Scott LaBarre addressed the board meeting on the subject of the Preauthorized Contribution Program, PAC. He explained that the program is not for political fundraising but is the way we make predictable monthly contributions to our movement. It has long been our goal to hit a giving level of half a million dollars a year, and although we have sometimes reached monthly giving amounts that suggest we will do it, never have we been able to sustain it for a year. He hopes that this year will be the exception. At the board meeting we had annualized giving of $477,117.24.
Patti Chang talked with the board and the audience about our Vehicle Donation Program, which allows us to turn unwanted vehicles into cash for our programs. She said that we no longer take airplanes, but we do take cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, and almost anything that has wheels. To donate a vehicle people should call 855-659-9314. This is a good program, and we should work hard to promote it. One car donated last month from New Jersey helped us raise over $5,000.
GreenDrop is a program which takes gently used clothing, resells it, and generates money for the organization. For more information about this program and the states in which it operates, go to www.gogreendrop.com.
The Dream Makers Circle is a relatively new program that will allow us to make donations to the Federation upon our death. While no one is looking for your donation soon, all of us will die, and all of us have an interest in helping those who live on after us to live the lives they want. For more information about this program call Patti Chang at 410-659-9314, extension 2422.
At this convention the Kenneth Jernigan Fund celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Its purpose is to bring new people to the convention who have never attended before, and this year we gave more than sixty grants to help people experience the magic of our national convention.
The Blind Educator of the Year award was presented by Dr. Edward Bell, the chairman of the committee. His presentation and comments by the winner can be found elsewhere in this issue.
One of our longtime sponsors and a platinum sponsor for this year was HumanWare. For brief remarks the president of the company, Bruce Miles, was introduced. This is the thirtieth year in which HumanWare has been in business, and the company believes that an important ingredient in being able to serve blind people year after year is the long and productive relationship with the National Federation of the Blind. Although one organization is a nonprofit and the other a business, our missions are complementary: empowering people with vision loss to participate fully in society, to transform dreams into reality, and to help people live the lives they want. Another mission we share is to see that blind people have access to a quality education. The 30 percent employment rate or the 70 percent unemployment rate runs afoul of all the missions we share. For a few remarks, Mr. Miles introduced Mr. Peter Tucic, a man who has worked for HumanWare for three years and has been promoted to ambassador for blindness products at the company. He believes there are two problems we must address. The first one we are all familiar with: the lack of equal access to many cloud-based products that will allow us to get instant information in real-time and in Braille. The second issue is just as significant. It is convincing blind people that we must start at the bottom, take jobs we don't really want, learn in those jobs how to be productive and how to be good self-advocates, and eventually move to the place where we are doing what we would call our dream job. What many of us lack are introductory workplace skills, and it is only through focusing on these that we will narrow the gap between our education and gainful employment. To provide these introductory work skills, integrated with an understanding of how to use twenty-first century products in Braille, HumanWare has offered an internship to Christina Laddie, an eighteen-year-old from Colorado. She expressed her thanks for the award and for the opportunity to be at the convention.
For many of us the highlight of the board meeting is the introduction of our scholarship winners. Cayte Mendez is the chair of the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee, and she came to introduce the class of thirty 2018 finalists. Her introductory remarks and the finalists’ remarks to the board of directors can be found elsewhere in this issue.
So impressed was the board by the 2018 scholarship class that Jeannie Massay made a motion to continue the program for another year. It was seconded and passed unanimously.
The National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division is chaired by Julie McGinnity, and as a service to convention goers, it offered to send a singing telegram to anyone at the convention. As an example, one was delivered to our President. It consisted simultaneously of the PAC song and “Don't Stop Believin’” by Journey.
Tracy Soforenko again took the stage, this time in his capacity as the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund. The tenBroek fund owns the building in which the National Federation of the Blind has space. It will be doing some significant renovations to the space the Federation occupies, including the creation of new sleeping rooms. The ones now used were created in 1981, and this upgrade will change the location and add other amenities that will make people even more comfortable at our facility. Chairman Soforenko asked that we help figure out ways to raise money for the fund and this renovation, and he asked that we give generously when donations are solicited during the convention.
Laura James, the eastern regional community relations manager for UPS, has been very involved in helping us during the years we have been in Orlando. She thanked the board for giving her time to make a presentation, and she said that while she is the regional community relations manager in most weeks, for this week she is simply one more UPS volunteer. UPS has been helping the Federation since 1992. She observed that most of the training that UPS members have gotten in how to work with blind people has come from three Federationists who themselves have worked for UPS. In addition to the generous and kind volunteer support UPS has provided over the years, it has also donated $115,000 to support the organization.
In addition to Laura, about two dozen UPS volunteers appeared with her. Elainna Moore has led the UPS effort to help the NFB for five of the last six years; she has worked for UPS for twenty-nine years, is an HR professional, and sometimes works twelve-hour days for the convention while at the same time continuing to perform her duties for the company. Elainna was presented with a crystal vase that says, "In grateful appreciation of five years to the NFB Community." President Riccobono said, "Thank you, Laura, congratulations to Elainna, and thank you to all of our UPS volunteers.”
Eve Hill is a person well known to the Federation because of her work with the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, and her extensive legal work for us at Brown, Goldstein & Levy. She was the next to come to the stage. Because of the importance of her comments, they will be found elsewhere as an article in this issue.
As the board meeting moved ever closer to conclusion, every member of the audience could feel the tension, but the calmest among us about reached the breaking point when the time for the great reveal found President Riccobono saying, "I am not prepared to announce today.” As the audience began to growl and roar, the President started over, "I am not prepared to announce today, but someone is prepared to make an announcement, so let's have the announcement.”
What followed was a taped presentation from Brad Garrett, the actor who starred as the brother in Everybody Loves Raymond and who also was the voice of the blowfish Bloat in Finding Nemo. After some discussion of his career, of the National Federation of the Blind, and of the conventions we hold, the great reveal came at last: our 2019 Convention will be in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the Mandalay Bay Resort. The convention will run from July 7 to July 12, and rates will be ninety-nine dollars for singles, doubles, triples, and quads. Some of us had to get this information secondhand, because the cheering proved to be louder than the name of the hotel. People were ecstatic, and the wait was over at last.
Pam Allen took the microphone in her capacity as chairman of the board. She said that people are excited about the 2019 Convention, but the 2018 Convention is still ahead and one which will live long in our memories. We had so many new convention attendees this year that we did not have enough ribbons for those who attended the Rookie Roundup. On that happy note and with an inspirational quotation from John Lennon, Pam concluded her report. The beautiful quotation she ended with was: A dream we dream alone is only a dream, but a dream we dream together becomes reality.
Immediately following the board meeting and the lively discussion about Mandalay Bay and Las Vegas, members gathered for a meeting of the sports and recreation division, the NFB deaf-blind division held a business meeting, the seniors division met to discuss an upcoming retreat, and the Diabetes Action Network held a seminar to learn about new accessible diabetes equipment coming to market and strategies for living well with diabetes. The National Association of Blind Lawyers met to discuss strategies for getting more people involved in the field and the work that must be done to advance our cause in the courts of our nation. The National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science met to discuss the ever-changing technology that so many of us rely on for work, at home, and more and more in our recreational pursuits. The performing arts division met to discuss how to break into the field of acting, the National Association of Blind Veterans held a welcoming reception with food and a cash bar for its members, the National Organization of Blind Educators discussed the techniques teachers use in their classrooms, and the National Association of Blind Merchants met to discuss defending the Randolph-Sheppard Program against ongoing attacks and new initiatives of the division including a women’s entrepreneur initiative. These and many more divisions will no doubt take advantage of the opportunity to discuss their meetings at greater length in this and future issues of the magazine throughout the fall. Whether you wanted to participate in sword fighting or work on meditation and mindfulness, there was something for you that happened on the afternoon and evening of July 5.
When the gavel fell on the morning of July 6, the 2018 National Convention was officially in order. After an invocation from Tom Anderson, who heads our communities of faith division, and a $100 door prize to recognize one lucky person who made it to convention on time, the welcoming ceremonies began. Chairman Tracy Soforenko welcomed to the stage a group from Sweet Adeline’s called “The Ladies.” This group was so good that it not only received applause at the end of each song but drew applause several times in the middle of particularly complicated arrangements superbly executed. This group was followed to the stage by quadruplets who formed the group called “Vintage Mix.” They concluded their three-song set with a tribute to veterans by singing “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”
The welcome ceremony ended with three moving presentations, each made by the presidents of our host affiliates of Florida, Iowa, and Virginia. These remarks can be heard by going to the convention highlights page found at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2018_convention
Dwight Sayer is the president of the National Association of Blind Veterans. He took the stage to honor the brave men and women who had risked their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. He led the traditional ceremony in which veterans came across the stage, introduced themselves, and were given a special ribbon. We were honored to have in attendance a seven-member color guard and the incredible Impact of Orlando Drum and Bugle Corps. They marched through every aisle, serenading us with the rhythmic beat of drums that found the audience constantly applauding. We then recited the Pledge of Allegiance, immediately followed by the singing of the national anthem performed by Julie McGinnity of the performing arts division and Impact of Orlando.
The convention next moved to the roll call of states. Alaska received a cheer when its rejection of the payment of subminimum wages was announced. Arizona passed a blind parents bill of rights, and it was approved unanimously by the legislature. Colorado also passed a parental rights bill of which they are rightly proud. The Idaho affiliate was proud to have the director of the Idaho Commission for the Blind, and Illinois announced that at its next convention there will be a celebration of the affiliate’s fiftieth anniversary. In addition to its always impressive list of leaders in the Federation and throughout the field of blindness, Maryland was proud to announce that it is the first state in the nation to provide for civil penalties against those who sell inaccessible products to the state. Nebraska proudly reported that it too has had a parental rights bill signed into law, and so enthusiastic was the response by Federationists and others with disabilities that we overflowed the governor’s hearing room during the bill signing. New Mexico proudly announced that it has a totally accessible voting system, and the Virginia affiliate joyfully announced that it would next be holding its sixtieth annual convention. Washington state enthusiastically proclaimed that in Seattle the subminimum wage is no more. With all fifty-two affiliates having reported, the morning session adjourned.
Most people would say that two predictable highlights of every convention are the presidential report and the banquet speech. One starts the convention, the other ends it. When the afternoon session was called to order, the presidential report was the first order of business, and it did not disappoint. In the last year we have dreamed and planned for the future while tackling the problems of today. Whether it is conducting public education, raising the expectations of blind people, enforcing our civil rights through legal action, creating better public policy through service on boards and commissions, or working with companies to pioneer new technology or enhance that which exists, the National Federation of the Blind stands on the frontlines. We expect our President to guide and direct all of these efforts, and he does. He expects that in return we give our time, talent, treasure, and tremendous imagination to work with him, and we do. As he says, “Without you, there is no us.” All of this is found in the “2018 Presidential Report,” which is presented immediately following this roundup.
Currently we have ninety-five people who make up the Dream Maker's Circle, not including those who have asked to remain anonymous. Their names were read aloud to the convention, and it expressed its appreciation through cheers and applause.
3DPhotoWorks is a company most readers have heard about frequently in these pages, and the exhibit at the Newseum in Washington DC, gave many of us who attended the Washington Seminar a tremendous opportunity to feel the pictures that were featured in LIFE magazine and propelled its photographer, John Olson, into the public spotlight. He was the next person to come to the stage, and in his presentation he told the story of how 3DPhotoWorks came to be, about the role of the National Federation of the Blind in believing in his project and in helping him fund it, and about the importance of protecting one's lunch when attending a state convention. You can look for Mr. Olson's remarks to be printed in full in an upcoming issue.
One significant philosophical challenge we face today is determining how we will incorporate new technology into our lives and the lives of other blind people without compromising on the need to teach and to retain what we have long considered to be basic skills of blindness. In the presentation "Directing Big Data and Technological Innovation: Perspectives on the Importance of Leadership by the Blind,” Chancey Fleet brings both tremendous perspective and wise counsel. As we consider how to integrate the information we can acquire with our senses using low-tech techniques, while incorporating visual information that new technology brings through the use of artificial intelligence and visual interpreters, she offers that wonderful mix of philosophical integrity and a rich sense of technology for which she is so well known. As she says, "We can improvise with technology, perform our own access when we need to, and teach our fellows how that's done, but let's keep the beat of the drums of freedom, the careful cultivation of embodied skills that don't rely on technology but rely on our self-trust and self-respect.” Her remarks will appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
President Riccobono introduced what was to come next in this way: "Our next speaker describes his passions as ‘innovation, personal development, changing paradigms, people, and the adventures of life.’ Well, that sounds a lot like the National Federation of the Blind. His company has never presented at this convention before, but I suspect his company's product has been in many people's pockets: does anybody use Be My Eyes? [applause] Their work is authentically driven by the perspective of blind people, and here to talk with us about the blind and a new worldwide crowd for access to information is the CEO and cofounder of Be My Eyes. Here's Christian Erfurt.”
Mr. Erfurt described Be My Eyes and the collaboration that brought it about. He said that the service links blind people who need assistance with sighted volunteers. There are currently 86,000 blind users, 1.4 million sighted volunteers, that the service is available in 150 countries, and that assistance is offered in 180 languages. The service is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. “Our efforts were recently recognized by Google as we were given the best accessibility award by Google. [applause] But that means nothing compared to being here in front of you and having an opportunity for your feedback and to hear your applause. Thank you for that.” But Be My Eyes is more than a service for people helping people; it has greater ambitions. “One thing that I am very, very proud of with Be My Eyes is that the willingness to help one another is not only in some of us; it is in all of us, no matter your cultural background, your nationality, your religion—people are connecting globally every day and minimizing the gaps between us and them in terms of borders and religions, and realizing that we have one big global citizenship and that we should care more about each other.” [applause] Mr. Erfurt’s remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.
Undoubtedly the most significant force in social media is Facebook, and the director of global public policy for the company, Monica Desai, was our next presenter. In her remarks she said, "With respect to our ethos, our mission is to bring the world closer together, and that means everyone. Accessibility is a core part of that mission. Consider, for example, that on Facebook one in ten people use the zoom feature on the desktop browser, 20 percent of people increase the font size on iOS, and over 100,000 people use screen readers on desktop and mobile devices to use Facebook. We want to make it possible for anyone, regardless of ability, to access the information and connections that happen on Facebook.”
One of the projects Ms. Desai is most excited about is Facebook's automatic alternative text feature. It uses artificial intelligence to identify pictures and write captions, relying less on sighted users to do something that is unnatural (picture description), and making the process automated. The goal is not just to identify how many people there are in a photo and who they are but to say something significant about what is happening in the photo. The company is also excited about the navigation assistant that it designed specifically for screen readers using both the desktop and mobile devices. Facebook recognizes that one of the obstacles to accessibility is that few people know how to implement it because it is seldom part of the curriculum in computer science programs. Therefore the company is part of an industrywide initiative to change this and recently received an award for their work. Facebook also realizes that understanding accessibility requires hiring people with disabilities who rely on that accessibility. The remarks made by Ms. Desai will appear later in the fall.
President Riccobono introduced the next item on the agenda in this way: "Our next presentation comes from someone who is not a first-timer to the stage. This is the second time, and he also represents a technology that many in the room have dealt with, Aira. [applause] The Aira corporation has been very disruptive to the technology companies in the blindness field, and I think that's what the CEO intended—to be disruptive. They are very aggressively working on developing new services and a platform that is driven and directed by the hopes and dreams of blind people. By moving aggressively that sometimes means that they try some things; sometimes those things work, and sometimes they don't. As part of their commitment, they have done certain things like making this convention a place where you can try Aira out for free. … I believe there is great value in our working with technology startups and bringing our authentic experience to technology companies, and it is so much easier to do when they have a real, genuine interest in learning from us and incorporating our point of view into their products. I think the CEO of Aira has exhibited this. Last year he was in and around this convention under blindfold, traveling with a cane, not to show solidarity but to learn something. He has listened to many, many people at this convention and throughout the year, both the good and the bad, but he is prepared to innovate on behalf of blind people and to innovate with us. So here is the cofounder and CEO of Aira, a good friend of the National Federation of the Blind, Suman Kanuganti."
Suman began his remarks by saying, “I am delighted to be attending my fourth NFB convention [applause], an early July tradition that I plan to celebrate with all of you for years to come. … Aira is proud to be a part of the NFB family. Many of you have played a vital role in molding our company. I am grateful to President Mark Riccobono and all of you for being vital stakeholders, creating a platform to augment the ability of every human being on the planet by providing instant access to information anywhere at any time." This highly energetic and moving presentation will appear elsewhere in this issue.
At the conclusion of Mr. Kanuganti’s remarks, President Riccobono offered one more announcement prior to the close of the session. He said that the NFB is all about developing partnerships, and our latest partnership is with the Kellogg Corporation. Jessica Waller, the senior vice president of sales, said that more information about our partnership and the initiatives that are planned will be forthcoming in August. Like the NFB, the Kellogg Corporation believes strongly in education and will be working with us in this arena in the near future.
The last matter of the day was the announcement that the NFB and our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children gave away $10,000 of technology to blind children in memory of the late Megan Bening. Our hope is to do this again next year, and this can happen if we purchase a five-dollar angel pin from one of our blind children. For every five dollars in sold pins, a technology company in Virginia will make a matching donation.
The Rev. Dr. Carolyn Peters began the Saturday morning session with an invocation, and we then moved to the financial report read by President Riccobono. A review of our financials for 2017 shows that we had income that exceeded expenses by about $1 million. Given that we do not borrow money, this is a good figure. The more troubling figures are found in the first five months of 2018 in which we find ourselves with expenses exceeding income by about the same amount, $1 million. What this means is that we are active and successful in getting public support, but the need is ever present, and we must always regard seeking funding for our programs as a major priority in the work we do.
After a motivational PAC report from Scott LaBarre and the spirited roll call from our state affiliates and divisions to raise money for the tenBroek and general fund, we next moved to elections. Pam Allen was the chairman of the nominating committee, and she read the slate that the committee proposed.
We then moved to the election, and the name of Mark Riccobono was placed in nomination for President. He was elected by acclamation and said, “Thank you very much, my Federation family. It is truly the deepest honor to serve in the office of the President for this tremendous organization. I have to credit each and every one of you for the work that you do to make what we do look easy. Each and every one of us knows that it’s not easy, but what you do in supporting the leadership of this organization makes it practical for any of us to serve. So I’m humbled, honored, and inspired by the work that happens every day by people with big hearts in this organization. It wouldn’t be possible to serve in the office of the President, I don’t think, without the awesome support and leadership that Melissa Riccobono provides to this organization. [applause] I continue to pledge to do all that I can to build this organization in the good times and in the face of challenges. We are making tremendous progress, but there is so much more we can do. The beautiful thing is that it gets more fun every day—more fun every day. So thank you for the honor of serving; I will always do everything I can for this organization, and I love each and every one of you. Thank you.”
Pam Allen of Louisiana was nominated to fill the position of first vice president. She was enthusiastically reelected unanimously. She began her acceptance speech by saying: “Thank you, my Federation family, for this truly humbling honor. Mark Caine said that, ‘The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.’ In the National Federation of the Blind we refuse to be captives of low expectations, stereotypes about blindness, and unfulfilled dreams. We know that by coming together at our local chapters, in our affiliates and divisions, and here at this convention, we will be challenged to stretch ourselves and to accomplish more than we ever thought possible. In the National Federation of the Blind we know firsthand about the power of working together, the strength and the energy that we draw from the bonds of love and commitment that unite us. We know that our collective efforts bring about individual and systemic change and that change is life-giving and allows us to grow into someone and collectively something greater than we would ever have believed possible. Think about how different our lives would be today if those Federationists who met in 1940 had not taken a stand and joined together to organize, and imagine how different the lives of all blind people are and will continue to be because of the commitment we demonstrate. The work we do each day, whether it is talking with a new member, answering questions from a parent of a blind child or a senior losing vision, working to end discrimination, getting legislation passed to protect the rights of blind parents, the risks we take and the possibilities we imagine make our hopes and dreams a reality. We have been nurtured and mentored by our leaders: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, and now by President Riccobono, who shows us each day through his example and words what it truly means to be a leader. His love for us and unwavering dedication to this organization are unparalleled, and also the commitment of our First Lady Melissa, whose passion, wisdom, and never-ending commitment inspire us. Thank you to each of you and to the thousands of members listening online who live the lives they want each day and share our message of hope and empowerment, the heartbeat of our organization.
“Serving as your first vice president is truly a blessing, and I continue to learn from all of you every day. I’m inspired and motivated as I stand before you, and I pledge to all of you to keep fighting, keep pushing the envelope, keep serving and leading with love. Thank you, my Federation family, and especially my husband Roland, for your love, trust, and support. Together we stand, united we will not be defeated. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.”
The name of Ron Brown from Indiana was recommended by the committee for election to the office of second vice president, his nomination was seconded, and he was voted into the office unanimously. Ron told the convention it was an honor and a privilege to serve on the board, and he said that the other day someone asked him if he had lived his best destiny. In reflecting on the question, Ron has concluded that he is living it right now, and the reason is that the Federation gave him the tools to be successful and is now giving him the opportunity to give back.
The name of James Gashel from Hawaii was placed before the convention by the committee. He was elected to the office of secretary unanimously. Mr. Gashel said that he joined this movement in 1965 and the 2018 National Convention is his fifty-second. He said that though he is getting older, the vibrancy, the excitement, the energy, and the innovation of the National Federation of the Blind never gets old. He concluded by saying, “In rising to meet the challenge, I’m awfully impressed by the responsibility you think I can fulfill as one of the leaders of this organization, and the one thing I can definitely tell you is that in rising to meet this challenge, I will do everything in my power never to let you down.”
For the position of treasurer, the name of Jeannie Massay of Oklahoma was placed in nomination. She was elected unanimously, and she began by thanking the convention for the trust placed in her to lead in the organization. “All of this is very emotional. You know, we talk about changing lives, and I can tell you that the Federation changed the trajectory of my life. It is so important for us to find people where they are and help them get to where they want to be. That’s what we’re all about.”
The name of Amy Buresh from Nebraska was submitted for board position number one. She was elected by acclamation. Amy said: “My Federation brothers and sisters, it is a blessing and a privilege to stand here before you today. I recently read a quote that said that everything you do in your life to others comes back into your own. That is so true with the work we do here in the National Federation of the Blind. We come in lost, lonely, afraid, maybe frustrated, maybe held back, and tired of waiting for action from other people, and here we find friends, family, shoulders to cry on, to lean on, to stand upon as we strengthen ourselves and our movement. As John Holmes said, ‘There is no exercise better for the heart then reaching down and lifting people up.’ That is exactly what we do here each and every day.”
Shawn Callaway from Washington, DC was nominated to fill board position two. The convention agreed with the committee, and Shawn was elected by acclamation. Shawn began by thanking his wife and his daughter and by thanking God for their being in his life. He then offered a quote by Martin Luther King stressing the importance of equality for all men and women. He said that while our country has been slow to address some of the major civil rights issues that confront us, he believes that his work in the Federation has provided a model demonstrating that people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and other diverse beliefs cannot only get along but can become trusted friends and mentors.
John Fritz from Wisconsin was nominated to fill board position three. John was elected by acclamation. John said that he came to the Federation as a scholarship winner and that this might give current finalists some idea of the future in store for them if they so choose. John thanked his wife Heather and all of his children for their support in doing the work that takes so much time, energy, and commitment from all of them.
For board position four the committee placed in nomination the name of Carla McQuillan from Oregon. She was elected by acclamation. Carla said that when she was first elected to the board in 1998, she was told by Dr. Jernigan that she was the youngest serving member of the board and the second youngest ever to have served. Though she is no longer the youngest member, she still brings tremendous energy to the work of the Federation because of the people in the organization who, through their example, continue to encourage and inspire her. Though she did not mention it, she is the inspiration for many of these people as well. She thanked her husband Lucas: “I am so blessed that I have someone who puts up with the likes of me every day, and he says he loves it. Thank you for your support, Lucas.” [applause]
The name of Amy Ruell of Massachusetts was submitted for board position number five. She was elected by acclamation. In thanking the convention for her reelection she said, “I want to thank all of you for your support, your mentorship, your kindness, and your forbearance because, as any of you who know me is aware, I speak my mind. It is good to be in an organization that allows for different opinions to be spoken and respected. I also want to say that from the first time I joined the Federation and was given the opportunity for leadership and the first gavel I received from the students, I have taken this on as a tremendous responsibility and commitment. Although the initial draw of the Federation was the work that we do in advocacy, what keeps me going when I’m tired and when I wonder whether I have enough energy is the knowledge that I, along with all of you, have the opportunity to help other people to achieve their goals, realize their dreams, and live the life they want. Thank you all, and let’s continue to build the National Federation of the Blind.”
For board position six, the final position to be filled this year, the nominating committee submitted the name of Adelmo Vigil of New Mexico. Margot Downey from New York was also nominated to fill this position. Both candidates made brief presentations as to why they believe they should be elected to the board, and after their speeches the vote was to seat Adelmo Vigil. After thanking the convention for his election, Adelmo said: “I can tell you that when I joined the Federation back in 1983, I was mentored by many of you. I felt very alone before I joined the National Federation of the Blind, but when I went to that first convention, I felt like all of us were family. Today I can tell you that the family continues to grow. I want to thank my wife Soledad for all the support that she has given to me throughout the years. [applause] I want to thank all of you because if it wasn’t for you, none of us would be here. I pledge to you that I will do everything that I can to continue to help all of us live the life we want. Thank you.”
At the conclusion of the election, President Riccobono said, “Thank you very much to all of the leaders serving on the national board of directors. It’s an honor to serve with you, and I look forward to the next year ahead. How about a door prize for our elected leadership?”
One of the most inspiring speeches of the convention was presented by Joanne Gabias, and it was entitled “What Does Blind Have to Do with It? The Right to Parent from a Sighted Daughter’s Perspective.” In making the introduction for this presentation, President Riccobono noted that some people will say, “Well, I hear what you’re saying, but how do the sighted children of blind parents feel about it?” Though we think we know how our children feel, we wonder what they would say if asked by someone other than us. Joanne Gabias gave a most moving presentation about what it was like for her and her brothers to be the children of blind parents, and it will appear elsewhere in this issue.
José Viera is the new executive director for the World Blind Union. He has extensive work in civil rights and comes well prepared for his new job. He began his presentation by talking about his first significant contact with the National Federation of the Blind, that being in 2016. He said that he and some of his friends were at first amazed and a bit put off by the talking human signs they found at the general assembly; they laughed among themselves. But after a time what they thought silly turned out to be something they found inspirational. These are the blind helping the blind, they said. We do not have to wait for other people to help us; we can help ourselves. He said that this is one of the most significant things they took away from the conference.
Mr. Viera said that if people with disabilities all came together to form a country, it would be the third largest in the world. What unites people with disabilities is that most of us live in poverty, that we have tremendous needs, and that we all share the desire to be productive and competitive. He believes that the World Blind Union, following the example of the National Federation of the Blind, can begin to change the world for blind people, and he pledged that the World Blind Union and the National Federation of the Blind would continue to work together to see that this is done. His remarks can be heard in full at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/
The afternoon session began with a presentation entitled “Leading with Conviction: Making Equality for People with Disabilities the Priority for the United States of America.” It was presented by Neil Romano who is the chairperson of the National Council on Disability. He has previously served as an assistant secretary in the United States Department of Labor under the George W. Bush administration, and he was appointed by Congress to serve in this capacity in 2015. He is now serving in his second term, and it is clear that we could not have a stronger advocate in support of abolishing section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act which permits the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities, including those who are blind. A copy of his remarks will appear in this magazine later in the fall.
The Honorable Darren Soto, who serves in the United States House of Representatives for the Ninth Congressional District of Florida came to the podium to speak on the topic “Raising Expectations for the Nation from Florida’s Ninth Congressional District.” Congressman Soto supports all of the issues that we support and have caused to be introduced in this legislative session, and his presentation is a testament to how committed he is to each of these. His remarks can be heard by going to https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2018_convention_highlights/july_7/
Passion is something we have in abundance in the Federation, but it is hard to think of anyone more visibly passionate than our executive director for advocacy and policy, John Paré. “A Record Year of Advocacy for the Blind of America: a Report from the Advocacy and Policy Department” was the topic on which he spoke, and indeed we have had a record year in terms of our accomplishments. His remarks will appear in an upcoming issue, as will a summary of those made by Scott LaBarre on the subject of the Marrakesh treaty and its ratification. At the end of the advocacy and policy report, President Riccobono said, “Thank you, John for going all the way for the blind of America, and thank you to our entire advocacy and policy team, both paid and unpaid. Without you we couldn’t get it done, so congratulations to all of us.”
Before moving to the next agenda item, President Riccobono took time to introduce our convention sponsors. Here is what he said: “I want to take a moment to acknowledge our sponsors here at this convention. First let me make a few comments. We have a record number of sponsors at this convention [applause], and I’ve been surprised that a few folks have said during the course of this convention ‘Well, I know you have to give so-and-so time; they are a sponsor.’ I encourage you to read our sponsorship material. We don’t sell time on the stage. You can’t get up here by paying; it doesn’t happen. [applause] We invite folks we think have something important to say, or who we want to say something important to, or both. Some of them happen to be sponsors, and even when they are sponsors we still tell them how it is if you’re a blind person. You can’t pay to speak at the National Federation of the Blind.
“I think the fact that we invite many of our sponsors to speak and/or the fact that we push on a number of our sponsors to get the work done that’s needed for blind people speaks to who we are. Some of the folks on this list of sponsors did not start out as our friends. In fact it took a long time for some of them to be our friends, but now they are our best friends because they know that we will work with them honestly and that we will not sell out blind people. Working together we are making a difference. We appreciate our sponsors. I know that they appreciate it when our members stop and thank them for sponsoring.
“This year we have seven Platinum sponsors. They are: Aira Tech Corp, Enhanced Vision/Freedom Scientific/Optelec, Google Inc., HumanWare, Microsoft Corporation, UPS, and Vanda Pharmaceuticals.
“Our Gold sponsors: Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, HIMS Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Market Development Group Inc., Oracle, Target, and Uber.
“Our Silver sponsors: are Adobe, Amazon, AT&T, Automattic (WordPress.com), Facebook, Pearson, and Sprint.
“Bronze: Charter Communications, Delta, Educational Testing Service (ETS), Lyft, Monster Worldwide Inc., National Industries for the Blind, NReach, VitalSource Technologies, Waymo, and Wells Fargo.
“White cane: C&P - Chris Park Design, Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, Duxbury Systems Inc., En-Vision America, Envision Inc., Federal Bureau of Investigation, LC Industries, McGraw-Hill, OrCam Technologies, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Scribd, and last but not least our good friend, TRE Legal Practice.”
Twenty resolutions were submitted for consideration by the convention. All of them were available for review on the website when they were passed by committee and then adopted or rejected by the convention. A full report of the resolutions and the text of those that passed can be found elsewhere in this issue.
After acting on the resolutions the afternoon session was adjourned. In the evening Amazon presented a showcase of the products it offers that are accessible. It also held what it called a Night at the Movies, which included popcorn and snacks. A workshop was held for members whose states are becoming vote-by-mail states, the goal being to provide members with the tools to advocate for accessibility. A seminar on Social Security and SSI was held to help people better understand eligibility criteria, the application process, reporting obligations, and situations in which people can work while receiving Social Security benefits. A seminar was held for Braille proofreaders, the need for Braille proofreading increasing as more Braille is made available. The annual NFB job fair was held to link employers who want to find blind people with blind job applicants. This session not only included meeting and greeting employers and job seekers but also it included a session on polishing a resumé, how to dress for success, and how to prepare oneself to talk with an employer.
Of course there was the traditional showcase of talent presented by the performing arts division as well as a friends of recovery meeting, not that the two are in any way related. This is the point where the reviewer, especially the president, probably questions the wisdom of the foregoing.
On what is sometimes called the longest day of the convention, President Riccobono brought the session to order and asked that David Stayer deliver the invocation.
The first program item of the morning was delivered by Nicky Gacos, the president of the National Association of Blind Merchants. He said that some businesses which once dominated corporate America no longer exist; some are traceable to other businesses that have replaced them, but some are also traceable to the fact that there are fewer people who want to buy in our country. We have systemic problems we must address. When he entered the program, there were 4,000 blind merchants. Now there are 1,839 of them. The average age of blind merchants is around sixty. We need young people. Some of the sites we have are attractive to other businesses, and either we mount a defense of the program or we lose out. But we have no intention of losing out, and as our National Association of Blind Merchants president makes clear, we have no intention of losing. To hear his delightfully humorous and moving remarks, go to https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2018_convention_highlights/july_8/am/
Our much beloved Anil Lewis came to the podium to address the topic "A Movement of Excellence Built upon Blind Experience: A Report from Our Jernigan Institute.” He began by explaining that we operate so many programs that it is impossible to cover them all in one presentation. He also modestly observed that he serves with people who are the real experts in many of these, and he has the wonderful job of coordinating their energy and talent.
Some of the most interesting work we do is with young people, and dramatic differences in attitudes and skills can be observed in the challenging environments we present. Anil notes that we give people opportunities that they don't normally have in their day-to-day lives or opportunities they are denied when their classmates have them. When we show them that something can be done and they next encounter a similar barrier, their response is "Slam that!" But as important as opportunity is, we also give students the chance to fail and to regard that failure as a learning opportunity and not an insurmountable barrier. For the student who got lost we teach proper problem-solving skills that will allow him or her to be successful and have a brighter future. This is us: building our movement of excellence on the successes of blind people.
We have recently completed a grant to make six science museums around the country nonvisually accessible. Based in part on our success, we have been awarded a second grant for the Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research (SABER) project. This project will focus on the complex mental manipulation of shapes and will involve engineering design from concept to tactile drafting to model construction.
Then there is our Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access and the work we have done at the request of the New York City school system to help it make its systems accessible. The Jernigan Institute now has a research advisory council, and its job is to make sure that we are an active and vital part of all research that's going forward that may affect people who are blind.
Our executive director posed an interesting question to the audience. If we are asked to help with a project to develop a haptic windshield that will be placed in the back of a car and will let us see where we have been, should we become involved? When put to a vote, the audience was timid, and he thought this was good because there is no clear yes or no. Having a display of where we’ve been may not be a good idea, but being involved in the creation of a device that can give us a tactile representation of something we otherwise would not see is a good idea. Maybe it won’t be the back windshield of a vehicle; maybe it will be something we can place on our lap, and perhaps we will be able to control the focus of the thing it is that we want to touch. So the answer is that we work with the developers, encourage them, and direct them in ways that will be helpful to us.
In his last major item Anil discussed the career mentoring program we are now rolling out. In this program we go beyond connecting one mentor and one mentee. Our goal is to connect one mentee with many mentors, thereby increasing the richness of the mentee’s experience and helping to ensure that no one mentor feels overloaded by the responsibility he or she has undertaken.
Anil concluded by saying, "We must share our philosophy everywhere we go, and in everything we do we must be real to ourselves. In every place that we go and in every program that we operate, our philosophy must be the same. We must travel and wear different hats in so many different places, but in every place, regardless the hat, we are wearing it on our Federation head."
Carlton Anne Cook Walker is a familiar name to most Federationists. Most of us know her daughter Anna Catherine, but few of us know the story of Steve, Carlton, and Anna Catherine coming to the National Federation of the Blind and why. In a moving presentation Carlton explained how job one was saving her daughter’s life, that job two was learning that Anna Catherine is blind and figuring out that what she needed would not easily be gotten from the educational professionals who were to help her, and that job three was getting the training and associating with the right people to see that her daughter would have a chance at living the life she wants. Carlton’s presentation will be found in an upcoming issue of this magazine.
“Raising Expectations for Education and Rehabilitation: Creating Opportunities for the Blind through the United States Department of Education” was presented by the assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Johnny Collett. The secretary said that many of the conclusions he has arrived at about special education have come from his years of experience in many different capacities within education and human services. One of the things he has learned is that a number of agencies end up serving the same people even though they may have different relationships with them: one might call a person a student, one a client, one a patient, one a juvenile offender. The take away for him was that the agencies with which he has worked needed to coordinate so that they treated a person and not a symptom. They needed to focus not only on getting better separately as individual service providers but to consider how much better for the individual if they got better collaboratively. The result would most certainly be that collectively they would have an outcome greater than the sum of its parts. He said that service providers have to see the difficulties encountered by children not as problems with kids and families but as problems for our agencies to solve for our children. He believes that the problem is not that people don't work hard. If solving the problem for our children was just about working hard, we would already have solved it. He believes the answer is to be found in working differently and working collaboratively. Our work should be about preparing individuals, not protecting turf.
At the conclusion of his remarks, three questions were directed to Assistant Secretary Collett. A charitable characterization of his answers would be that they were a bit vague and general. A more straightforward characterization would be that they were a polite refusal to answer. It is not at all clear that the assistant secretary is prepared to be an advocate for integrated employment or that he is prepared to put pressure on the states to follow the law in making Braille the default reading medium for blind people and seeing that students get quality instruction in it. Courtesy and respect are absolutely essential in discussing contentious issues, but neither will serve as a real justification for evasion. Listening is essential, but it is not the same as engaging in real dialogue.
In a wonderful change of pace and mood, we were next treated to the item entitled “Playing Your Hand: A Blind Songwriter Doing What It Takes to Live the Life He Wants.” The presenter was JP Williams, a performer, songwriter, and accessibility technology professional who lives in Nashville. Fortunately Indiana, the state in which he was born, started him on the path to learning Braille at age four. When he was six, he and his parents moved to Texas. Even with all the talent this man brings to life, the educational system in Dallas said that because he was blind he was not teachable, and the agreement was that he would go through school and be given an attendance certificate. He and his parents did not know that this was unnecessarily limiting, and it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that he realized he was not accumulating the credits necessary to go to college. He transferred to the Tennessee School for the Blind, got his high school credits, went on to college, and graduated. Putting aside all of the misconceptions about compensatory senses and the blind having greater musical talent, the truth is that to make it in Nashville is tough, and blindness doesn’t make it one bit easier. But JP Williams has dared to follow his dreams, and the presentation that outlines how his life has gone so far will appear in an upcoming issue of this magazine.
We need more blind people on stage and on the big screen. Given that blind people represent a cross section of our society, it stands to reason that some of us want to be actors and that some of us have the talent to fulfill that dream. Marilee Talkington is a blind actor, writer, director, and activist. The presentation she gave was entitled “Authentically Blind on Stage and Screen: One Blind Actress Transforms Obstacles into Stepping Stones.” In her moving narrative she talked about how risky it is to dream, how difficult it is when those dreams don’t initially pan out, how much pressure there is to perform when one truly gets the opportunity, and the satisfaction that comes when one is successful and is challenged to do even more. Ms. Talkington’s spectacular performance that moved every person in the room at our 2018 National Convention will appear later in the fall.
Our morning session concluded with the presentation that was well worth delaying our lunch. It was entitled “Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities: A Blind Entrepreneur Breaks through Barriers Everywhere He Builds.” Its presenter started out as a childhood actor, graduated from Harvard at the age of nineteen with two degrees (one in mathematics and the other in computer science), became a lawyer, went on to work as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices, cofounded an internet startup, and now is an entrepreneur in central Florida running a company that does $150 million of business every year. Our presenter was Isaac Lidsky. He began by describing his career as a childhood actor and what it felt like at age thirteen to learn that he was going blind. He thought that he knew about blindness, and he harbored all of the fears and misconceptions that most people do. He described his transformation in thinking and explained that every day when he encounters people who have misconceptions about blindness, he makes himself remember how he felt and takes the opportunity to teach them the new reality that he understands and lives. His moving words will appear in full later this year.
To begin the final convention session before the annual banquet, President Riccobono introduced our next guest by saying: “Our first agenda item is ‘From Raising Wages to Defending the Right to Live in the World: A Champion for Disability Rights and Friend of the Blind.’ We have a gentleman who was born in Pennsylvania. He has distinguished himself through strong service both to our nation and as a champion for equality of opportunity. After a year of law school he was drafted into the United States Army in 1968, where he won several medals. He began his legal career in private practice in 1972 and eventually became the assistant district attorney in Erie County Pennsylvania in 1980. In 1982 he was first elected to the United States House of Representatives, and he won reelection six times. He was elected governor of the state of Pennsylvania in 1994, and he was reelected in 1998 with 50 percent of the vote. I told him that this crowd might rival his best campaign crowd. He has done many things, but after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush called upon him to manage the creation of the office of Homeland Security, and later he became the first department secretary. He has gone on to create advisory and consulting businesses, but probably if he wants you to know anything it is that in and amongst all the work he has done in public service, he’s most proud of being a family man. He comes to us as chairman of the National Organization on Disability, a position that he uses to champion equality of opportunity for all people with disabilities. Please welcome the Honorable Tom Ridge.”
Gov. Ridge spoke about the National Organization on Disability and its close working relationship with the National Federation of the Blind. He talked about the frustration of working with a population that experiences such a high rate of unemployment and how fatiguing it can be to keep up the good fight in the midst of all the bad news. He hastens to add that not all of the news is bad, and that an expanding economy finds employers looking for talent in places they have not traditionally looked. This is a sign of hope for people with disabilities. Governor Ridge’s remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.
“Aviation, Technology, and Law” was the next presentation presented by Immediate Past President Maurer, and it was enthusiastically received by the convention. In his remarks our director of legal policy discussed the law and its treatment of blind people. Too often we are viewed as the recipients of charity and government largess, people who should be grateful for any scraps we are thrown or any participation we are allowed to have. But we have moved beyond this place, and we have the right to make reasonable demands for access to information and the technology that delivers it. The aviation industry has been slow to acknowledge our needs in every aspect of travel from how we are treated before embarking, the way we are treated on flights, and even the way we are treated after disembarking. Dr. Maurer’s comments can be found later in this issue.
Following Immediate Past President Maurer to the stage was Blane Workie, the assistant general counsel in the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings for the United States Department of Transportation. Her remarks were entitled “Equal Access in Air Travel for the Blind: Raising Expectations from the United States Department of Transportation.” She said that while there are still a number of problems in the enforcement of the Air Carrier Access Act passed in 1986, the United States Department of Transportation is aggressively pursuing solutions to many of these that have been identified by blind and disabled passengers. Everything from kiosks to guide dogs was covered in her remarks, and they will be found in an upcoming issue.
James Gashel is the chairperson of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. This is the tenth year in which the National Federation of the Blind has made time on its agenda to present these awards, and we are proud to work with the Santa Barbara Foundation to see that deserving individuals and organizations are recognized. A report of the Bolotin presentation will be found elsewhere in this issue.
“Shaping Automotive Innovation for the Future: An Alliance with the Blind of America” was the next item on the agenda, and it was presented by Mitch Bainwol, the president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Mr. Bainwol commended the National Federation of the Blind for its pioneering work on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act and said that no other organization has demonstrated the leadership and initiative that the Federation has demonstrated. This puts us in a good position to have influence as automakers, legislators, and regulators make the changes necessary to move from human driven vehicles to self-driving vehicles. Mr. Bainwol’s remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.
Mrs. Jernigan was invited to the stage to present the Kenneth Jernigan Award to Mitch Bainwol, and this presentation can be found elsewhere in this issue.
Scott LaBarre was invited to introduce our next guest, who has been very helpful in advancing the rights of blind people to information through his work with the United Nations and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Our presenter was Francis Gurry, and his remarks were entitled “No Borders to the World’s Knowledge: A Commitment to Accessibility for the Blind.” He began his address with these remarks: “Thank you very much, Scott. Dear friends: it really is a privilege to be with you. It’s a thrill to be at the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind, and I would say that it is one of the highlights of my career to be with you to jointly celebrate the conclusion of the Marrakesh treaty and the pending ratification of the Marrakesh treaty by the United States of America. [applause] I’d like to thank Mark Riccobono, the President of the NFB; Fred Schroeder, president of the World Blind Union; Scott LaBarre, your indomitable negotiator, who has really led the process of negotiation and compromise that resulted in the Marrakesh treaty.” Mr. Gurry went on to describe what the Marrakesh treaty would do for rich and poor countries alike, discussed the time required to get a treaty passed, and explained what a remarkable process it was that we were able to do this in four years. His remarks will appear in full later in the fall.
In every convention we always look forward to new people who take the stage, but we also rejoice when old friends come to celebrate with us. Such is the case when Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google Inc. takes the stage. This year his topic was “Artificial Intelligence and Authentic Experience: Remarks from an Innovation Partner of the Blind.” Having come to his first convention in 1975, the 2018 National Convention makes the forty-fourth he has attended. He began by talking about his love for the promotion of civil rights and that it began in his family long before when his grandmother started a school for girls in the 1880s. Ray was present for some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s marches, and one of the things that drew him to the National Federation of the Blind was our insistence on confronting many of the issues that face us as civil rights concerns rather than medical ones. He said that when he was shopping his idea for a reading machine to help the blind, he visited a number of organizations. They commended him on his effort, wished him well, and sent him on his way. It was only when he came to visit James Gashel in our Washington office that he was connected with people who not only wished him well but did something to make that wish come true in the way of funding, contacts, and expert blind engineers who could help in the design of the product. He said that this experience in his young life gave him a real appreciation for how products should be developed. Since then he has gone on to make major contributions in the fields of synthetic electronic music, speech recognition, and overall pattern recognition, the latter bringing significant advancements in the field of artificial intelligence since much of intelligence is pattern recognition. To listen to his remarks in full, go to https://nfb.org/images/nfb/audio/2018_convention_highlights/july_8/
When the banquet convened at 7 p.m., we had a beautiful invocation by Ever Lee Hairston who was joined in an initial song of praise by Arietta Woods. Dr. Maurer was the master of ceremonies, and he had great fun giving away door prizes and made a friend every time a winner was found.
After drawing the winners who participated in building the Kenneth Jernigan Fund, we next heard from our PAC chairman Scott LaBarre. He said that we fell somewhat short of his goal of reaching half a million dollars in pledges, but that we were successful in raising our PAC pledges by $21,000, so we now have giving that totals $498,055. Certainly all of us hope that we can reach and exceed the half-million dollar mark through the generosity of those who will be attending our fall conventions.
After conducting some drawings from Federation divisions, sponsors, and exhibitors, Dr. Maurer introduced the head table and then introduced the President of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Riccobono, to deliver the banquet address entitled “Authenticity, Diversity, and the Synergy of the Organized Blind.” In his address he focused on the tremendous role women have played in the creation and advancement of our movement despite the fact that blind women have traditionally had less opportunity to participate in and have a meaningful impact on the societies in which they have lived. President Riccobono’s address will appear elsewhere in this issue, and what a tribute it is to the women and the men who have given of their time, talent, and treasure to create the movement we have today.
In keeping with long-standing tradition, Ray Kurzweil was invited to the podium to make some remarks. He wondered aloud just what it was that he did wrong to have been assigned the role of making comments after the banquet speeches given to the National Federation of the Blind. He said that he particularly appreciated the highlighting of women in the history of the Federation given his own family’s commitment to the education of girls and women.
Mr. Kurzweil was followed to the microphone by First Vice President Pam Allen. Her purpose in taking the microphone was to present the global literacy award to Francis Gurry. Her remarks and those of the recipient will be found elsewhere in this issue.
Dr. Maurer took back the microphone, shifting for a moment from his service as master of ceremonies to the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. He observed that when Dr. tenBroek started the work of founding the National Federation of the Blind, many people were of the opinion that blind people had no future. Creating an organization would not alter that, for adding zero to zero, no matter how many zeros you had, would still result in zero. But Dr. tenBroek knew differently, his own life and those of his intimates proclaiming that blind people did have a future, and more of them would have if they put their hearts and minds into the collective effort that could be marshaled by the creation of the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Maurer’s presentation of the Jacobus tenBroek Award can be found elsewhere in this issue.
No banquet would be complete without the presentation of our thirty scholarship winners, and Cayte Mendez came to the stage to introduce all of them and then to reveal which awards they would each receive. Cayte’s presentation and the remarks made by the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner will be found elsewhere in this issue.
After drawing several fantastic door prizes, the last of which being for $1,000, the 2018 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind was adjourned. Even after a long week of meetings and little sleep, we Federationists did not quietly sneak back to our rooms but instead took up the challenge of making the most of the next few hours that would let us wrap up our annual family reunion.
The 2018 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind became history when the gavel fell on the evening of July 8, but to consign it to the pages of history would be a mistake. Though the travelers are back home, the hotel space is being used by another group, and the luggage is most certainly unpacked, the real work of the convention has just begun. Now we internalize what was said, begin implementing the policies, and start the work of carrying out the many pledges and promises made to each other as we said goodbye for a time to the City of Orlando and the name Rosen, which has for almost a decade represented quality rooms and meeting space for the largest meeting of the blind in the world. When next July rolls around, even more of us will be found in Las Vegas, Nevada, but between now and then there is work to be done, members to be recruited, funds to be gathered, expectations to be raised, and lives to be changed for the better. This is our commitment, and this is our promise. We will make it come true because we are the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mark Riccobono delivers the 2018 Presidential Report]
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2018
During the past year, the blind of this nation have enjoyed continued success, expanding our participation in all aspects of society. Blindness does not define us or our future, but we are often limited by the low expectations and artificial barriers others put in our way. Despite these barriers, we seek equality of opportunity, and we strive to have full access to the rights and responsibilities afforded to all other Americans. Since 1940 we have found that the most effective means for us to reach full participation in society is for us to work together. When individual blind people come together in local communities, through state organizations, and as a whole in our national movement, we represent an authentic and powerful force for innovation, influence, and inspiration that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Together, we are the National Federation of the Blind.
Education is fundamental to full participation in society, and we have pioneered programs to demonstrate the high-quality educational services blind students deserve. In the twenty-first century, skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are critical to competing in the fastest growing sectors of the economy, and we continue to innovate programming in these subjects. In July 2017, we held a week-long STEM academy at Towson University in Maryland—the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam. Fifty-nine blind high school students from twenty-six states received instruction and mentoring from blind scientists, engineers, university professors, and other professionals. Nine instructional tracks combined with fourteen enrichment courses offered participants hands-on experiences in chemistry, computer science, cognitive neuroscience, ecology, engineering, genetics, marine biology, nanoscience, archaeology, and art. Full participation requires being well-rounded, so we provided opportunities for these youth to try salsa dancing, goalball, yoga, beep baseball, cardio drumming, karaoke, and dozens of other fun activities. Significantly, many of the mentors and instructors in this program were students during our very first NFB Youth Slam in 2007. Throughout the country, when faced with a barrier, blind students now say, “Slam that!”
Last fall, the National Federation of the Blind was awarded a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation, providing more than $2 million for a project we call Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research (SABER). In partnership with Utah State University, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and evaluators from the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, we will lead annual engineering programs that we call NFB Engineering Quotient (or NFB EQ for short). The first of these programs is scheduled to take place later this month in Baltimore, where thirty blind high school students will join with blind mentors to explore the process of engineering design, from concept to tactile drafting to model construction. In future years the program will take place at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and we will all have the opportunity to meet some of these young blind engineers as project activities will be a part of our national convention starting in 2019. We expect research generated from these programs to transform how we understand spatial ability, with impacts reaching far beyond our accessible engineering curricula.
We also expect public schools to provide quality training based upon high expectations. However, many schools fail to provide even the minimum educational support to blind students, requiring us to use more powerful tools to secure their full participation. Cody Davis is a high school student from a small town in northern Iowa. Despite his family’s urging that he be given stronger training in the skills of blindness as his vision deteriorated, the school district settled for low expectations and failed to prepare him for the future. By the time Cody reached eleventh grade he could not compete with his sighted peers and the overreliance on failing eyesight was holding him back. After meeting the family, we sent legal counsel to work with our affiliate and a local disability rights attorney, Tai Tomasi, who is also a member of the Federation. Despite the significant failure of the school system, our team fought hard to secure a settlement that avoided this near tragedy. As a result, earlier this year, Cody spent three months receiving intensive blindness skills training at BLIND Incorporated—an NFB training center in Minnesota—where he began to flourish. He is now back with his sighted peers in Iowa, and he will head into the next school year with an appropriate educational plan that will facilitate his full participation. Cody and his family are here at this convention. We wish that Cody’s story was an extreme exception, but we receive hundreds of requests to support parents of blind children who are receiving inadequate services. When we put a skilled blind adult from our nationwide network in the room with the school district staff, the chances of getting a strong result increases dramatically. We must find new ways to increase our ability to advocate with these parents, for if we do not, we are in danger of losing a generation to low expectations.
Through our partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, we help to get thousands of blind youth access to free Braille materials including the National Geographic Kids magazine. Last summer we announced the next phase of this partnership, bringing tactile exploration and creativity to blind youth through art. We assisted in distributing more than five hundred tactile art kits to families with blind children ages two through eight across the country. These kits included a variety of tactile art-making supplies with the aim of stimulating the imagination. YouTube videos were created to share with all families how tactile materials could be used at home. A second phase of this project has focused on tactile drawings. We anticipate further efforts to stimulate creativity through tactile fluency in the future.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to aggressively work to improve literacy through direct instruction in Braille. In the summer of 2017, we offered forty-eight NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academies in thirty-one of our state affiliates, serving more than three hundred and fifty blind students. In these programs blind children receive instruction in Braille as well as real experience with the techniques that blind people use to be successful in all aspects of life. Through our partnership with the Wells Fargo Foundation, we continue to expand both the depth and the reach of our program, and we are raising expectations among the sighted members of the community who interact with the academy. One example from earlier this summer was a coin-sorting contest matching our Arizona NFB BELL Academy students against the sighted bank executives during a visit to a Wells Fargo branch. While the aim is for our youth to learn financial literacy skills, we can be sure that the bank executives are having their own misconceptions about blindness shattered to the benefit of future blind customers of the bank.
We also seek to achieve equal participation in higher education. We create opportunities by offering the most dynamic scholarship program for blind people in the nation, and we actively eliminate artificial barriers that bar us from equality of opportunity. During the past year we have worked collaboratively on accessibility with universities from Harvard to Southern Oregon, where we have shared the best practice resources we have collected. We continue to pursue legislative solutions to accelerate equal treatment by advancing our Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education legislation, which has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. Yet some colleges refuse to treat blind students as first-class citizens although they continue to collect an equal amount of tuition. In those cases, we are prepared to hold schools accountable in the courts for their unequal treatment.
The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is the largest community college district in the United States and is reported to be one of the largest in the world. Blind students have faced systemic unequal treatment by the college, including being shut out of courses due to inaccessible educational technology and being coerced into attending one specific campus even if it was not the location they preferred to attend. The National Federation of the Blind, the NFB of California, and two blind students have sued LACCD for failing to meet its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Earlier this year, the court affirmed our standing in the case and granted summary judgment on finding that LACCD violated the law. We are now awaiting a trial date to determine damages and remedy. When our equal participation is at stake, it does not matter how big the fight; we are prepared to use the tools necessary to teach a lesson about our rights.
While we take responsibility for advocating for ourselves, we expect, as should other Americans, the government to uphold its responsibility to protect our rights when the system fails. The United States Department of Education has a significant responsibility for ensuring that the right to equal education by the blind is secure. However, the US Department of Education has abdicated this responsibility. Without notice or comment, and in violation of its own regulations, the US Department of Education changed the Office for Civil Rights’ Case Processing Manual in March of this year. The Office for Civil Rights will now dismiss discrimination complaints without investigating them whenever a complainant has a pattern of prior complaints or files a single complaint against multiple discriminators. Furthermore, the right to appeal the closure of a complaint has been eliminated. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Department of Education was required to provide notice and seek public comment before issuing such a substantive rule, and the ban on multiple complaints violates the Section 504 regulations and is arbitrary and capricious. The Department has already begun dismissing cases, but the National Federation of the Blind, along with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the NAACP, has filed suit to reverse this limitation on our rights. We seek equal education, and we will not permit the government to use taxpayer dollars to treat us as second-class citizens.
Education and training is not enough to achieve full participation in society—we want to work. Despite our progress, there are many employers who falsely believe blind people are a liability and that providing equal access is too hard or expensive. Mary Flood is a blind person who lives in Washington, DC. Based on her qualifications, she was hired by the US Navy as an educational technician, which involved responsibilities similar to a teaching assistant including working with children during indoor and outdoor playtime. Before her first day, she reported for a physical exam where a nurse and a doctor asked her several questions about her blindness and expressed their concern that she could not effectively keep the children safe without being able to see them. When she reported to the job site, she worked for about a day and a half before being called to human resources, where Mary was informed that the doctor had instructed that she should be fired because of her blindness. Ms. Flood had explained all of the alternative techniques she has employed while working with children in the past and how she lived independently as a blind woman, but the only thing that mattered to the Navy was how little she could see. She was fired from her position with the Navy, but in April we fired back by filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to guard against the Navy’s discrimination based on blindness. We have the deepest respect and appreciation for our country’s military personnel, but we also deeply value the full participation of the blind in society. In this case, we believe that Flood will prevail over Navy.
Dr. Jan Bartleson is a school psychologist who happens to be blind. She has a distinguished record of service over many decades in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida. Despite her expertise and her capacity to work independently in her job, she is forced to rely on her sighted colleagues to access most of the software that the district uses to manage data. Dr. Bartleson has been denied promotional opportunities as a direct result of the discriminatory practices and inaccessible systems she has had to endure. The National Federation of the Blind filed suit on behalf of Dr. Bartleson against the school district for its systemic discrimination through use of inaccessible software. In this groundbreaking case, we take the position that an employer cannot rely on less effective, after-the-fact accommodations to make up for having chosen to implement new, inaccessible employment technology. Taking a stand for full participation is hard when you have given a substantial portion of your life to an employer. We salute Dr. Bartleson, who is here at this convention, and we recommit to working together to achieve equality of opportunity.
We continue to raise the expectations for the minimum employment rights afforded to the blind of our nation. The United States recently celebrated the eightieth anniversary of the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act—a law that assured a basic standard of workers’ rights to everyone except the disabled. Most significantly that law includes an exception in Section 14(c) that permits employers to receive a certificate to pay people with disabilities pennies per hour while using those employees to get preference for government contracts. However, due to the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind the movement to eliminate this discriminatory exception is gaining considerable momentum. The number of people with disabilities paid under Section 14(c) has been cut nearly in half over the past six years. An increasing number of employers are voluntarily giving up use of this exception and successfully transitioning to respectful employment models. An increasing number of chief executives leading 14(c) employers are finding themselves out of a job. And an increasing number of public officials are joining with more than seventy-five supporting organizations to call for a higher standard of workers’ rights for the disabled. Where the United States Congress has not yet acted, states and cities are providing leadership. The most recent example came on April 2, 2018, when the city council and mayor of Seattle, Washington, repealed the exemption under the municipal code that authorized the payment of subminimum wages. The action in Seattle was no accident; it came through the persistent work of members of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. We will continue to seek more places to join the city of Seattle and the states of Alaska, Maryland, Vermont, and New Hampshire in making fair wages the standard for all.
In recent years we have celebrated our growing relationship with the Amazon corporation, but it was not always that way. For many years we attempted to get the company’s attention regarding the inaccessibility of its website and their rapidly growing catalog of Kindle books. We tried all of the tools we had available—we wrote letters, sought meetings, offered our technical expertise, attempted to find pressure points, worked our relationships, filed lawsuits, protested at their headquarters, and blocked them from getting contracts with public entities. Despite the historical frustrations, we have developed a partnership during the past few years as evidenced by their presentations at this convention and the increased accessibility of their products.
However, William O’Donnell is a blind person who was offered a contract job with Amazon in Massachusetts, but when he showed up for training, the contractor sent him home because the technology he had to use in his job was inaccessible. He had to wait four months for Amazon to make its inaccessible employment technology compatible with screen-reader software, and even then, he would not have had a job except for the support of the National Federation of the Blind. We negotiated a settlement requiring Amazon to place him back in the position once the software was accessible and to pay Mr. O’Donnell the wages he would have earned during the wait.
Then there is Maryann Murad who attempted to apply online to Amazon for a work-at-home customer service position, but she discovered that the online skills assessment would not work with a screen reader. Our investigation found that not only was the skills assessment inaccessible, but the software that work-at-home customer service agents use in their jobs is also inaccessible to those using nonvisual access tools. These are technologies built by Amazon. We have assisted Miss Murad in filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is currently investigating the matter, and we are prepared to go to Federal court if necessary.
Amazon employs more than five hundred thousand individuals in a variety of jobs around the world, and we want blind people to participate in those opportunities. The stories of Maryann and William are representative of the problems many blind people have experienced with jobs at Amazon. When we first raised our concerns about their employment practices, Amazon expressed surprise and pointed to the praise from blind people for their voice-enabled products—which you may not be able to afford if you do not have a job. To cut to the point, it has not been easy to communicate to Amazon what we expect when we call for equality of opportunity for the blind in employment. To Amazon’s credit, they are here at this convention, they are seeking more blind employees, and they are prepared to work with us to improve full participation by the blind; and we are prepared to push as hard as we need to in order to hold Amazon accountable.
We share these examples to put all companies on notice. We wish to participate fully in the community, and in the United States of America meaningful work has a big influence on meaningful participation. We seek to contribute, to develop our talents, to carry the responsibility of working on a team, and to compete in all aspects of the workforce. We do not seek greater opportunities than others, but we do expect equality of opportunity. We are prepared to work with you to innovate employment opportunities. But even if you are a partner of the organized blind movement, we will not accept second-class treatment in employment. From the stockroom to the boardroom, the National Federation of the Blind is committed to equal participation in employment, and we invite others to partner with us in that commitment.
Independent movement around our communities is an essential aspect of full participation. Ridesharing services have improved transportation options in many communities, and we have secured agreements with the largest providers, Uber and Lyft, to protect equal access by blind people using service animals. Only the National Federation of the Blind has the nationwide network needed to hold companies like these accountable to their commitments to blind customers. During the past year, blind travelers with service animals filed over two thousand Uber and Lyft reports as a part of NFB’s rideshare testing program. Progress in eliminating discrimination is mixed—many blind individuals continue to be denied rides—but we will not stop the monitoring until these companies adequately protect our equal participation.
In January Delta Air Lines publicly announced a new policy related to treatment of individuals with service animals with a plan for it to be in effect beginning March 1. The airline did not engage with the organized blind movement before releasing the policy that violated the principle of equal access and stood in conflict with the Air Carrier Access Act. Among other problems, the policy required guide dog users to submit paperwork to Delta forty-eight hours before flying. Our swift and forceful call for Delta to meet with us was covered by NBC News online, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and numerous travel publications. Delta responded quickly, and after a series of meetings, Delta revised its policy to be consistent with the National Federation of the Blind’s understanding of equal access. We have continued to discuss matters of importance to the blind with Delta, and you will observe that they are participating in this convention.
We have successfully protected our ability to walk safely in our communities and hear the pattern of traffic. After more than a decade of advocacy, partnership building, negotiation, and follow up, the final regulation for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2011 went into effect on September 5, 2017. The result of our unstoppable commitment is that all hybrid-electric vehicles manufactured on or after September 1, 2020, must comply with this regulation, making the streets safer for all pedestrians.
We have brought leadership and an authentic perspective to the emerging autonomous vehicle industry. On September 12, 2017, the US Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, released version 2.0 of the department’s guidance on autonomous vehicles at an event at the University of Michigan. Among an impressive list of industry representatives and policymakers, only the President of the National Federation of the Blind was invited to discuss equal access for the disabled during the secretary’s press conference. In October 2017, the National Federation of the Blind and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers jointly hosted “The Promise: Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community” at our headquarters in Baltimore. This conference was the first convening of representatives from government, the automotive industry, and advocates for the disabled to discuss the advances, challenges, and the path forward for autonomous vehicle development. Our leadership resulted in the inclusion of provisions to legislation being considered in the United States Senate (S. 1885) that prohibits states from establishing discriminatory licensing practices based on disability and which creates a disability-access working group to promote best practices for nonvisual interfaces. In January our leadership was recognized with one of the inaugural Autos2050 Awards presented by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Alliance for Transportation Innovation. There is no doubt that we intend to participate fully in the future of transportation systems.
Increasing equal access to the American democracy continues to drive one of our priorities. Through our Help America Vote Act project, we provide feedback on the accessibility of electronic ballot-delivery systems, train protection and advocacy personnel and elections officials, and distribute resources to blind voters on emerging topics in election accessibility. Where our rights as voters are second-class, we seek justice from the courts. One example is Ohio, where we won an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing a district court’s dismissal of our case that challenged inaccessible absentee voting. Following that reversal, Ohio issued a directive requiring all counties to implement accessible absentee voting in time for the November 2018 election. Through our dynamic network of affiliates across the country, we will continue to protect equal access to voting. Let all elected officials know that the blind expect to be a factor in deciding who represents us in the halls of power.
It is difficult to achieve full participation if you are prevented from having equal access to health insurance information and medical devices. In 2016 we filed suit against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for failing to provide meaningful and equal access to Medicare information to blind people. After extensive negotiations, we finalized a settlement agreement that requires that CMS set up processes so that beneficiaries can make a single request to receive all communications and notices from Medicare in an accessible format. Additional terms require accessible, fillable forms for beneficiaries on Medicare.gov and the issuance of accessibility best practices to Medicare Health and Drug Plans. Unrelated to our agreement, we have been working to reverse a 2017 CMS coverage policy decision that prohibited Medicare beneficiaries from using continuous glucose monitors in conjunction with mobile applications—a decision that had the effect of making blind diabetics choose between accessibility and reimbursement for the cost of this innovative device. With the expertise of the Federation’s Diabetes Action Network, we were successful in getting the Medicare policy changed. Effective June 7, 2018, blind diabetics can use continuous glucose monitors with accessible mobile applications, and the devices will be covered by Medicare.
We also require equal participation in our financial transactions. Marci Carpenter is president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington and a customer of Boeing Employees’ Credit Union (BECU). She became increasingly frustrated as the credit union implemented new mobile and web-banking services that were inaccessible—preventing a blind person from even logging in. She soon discovered a number of other blind people faced the same barriers. As a result, the NFB, the NFB of Washington, and three blind individuals complained to BECU about the inaccessibility of their mobile banking services. Working with the Washington Attorney General, we negotiated a settlement with BECU under which they will make their mobile app and website fully accessible. BECU will also adopt internal policies and procedures, train employees and contractors, and only purchase accessible technology in the future. While many credit unions are fighting against making their websites accessible, BECU has worked cooperatively with us to reach a result that sets the industry standard for equal participation by the blind.
The most important aspect of our work to achieve full participation has to do with our right to share our love with our family—our blind parents initiative. Over the past year we have continued to build our community of blind parents through our blindparents.org website and engagement on Facebook, by matching new blind parents with blind mentors, and through individual outreach via telephone. In the coming months we plan to expand our information sharing by launching an NFB podcast for blind parents and developing stronger training for social workers and others to understand the techniques that we use to raise families effectively. Our primary goal is to get blind parents connected to us as we know this connection is the strongest resource we can give to them. However, at the same time we seek to strengthen state laws to ensure that blindness is not used against parents in the family courts. We can proudly celebrate that we now have ten states that have passed a form of our model right-to-parent legislation. Congratulations to Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska for enacting laws this year, joining the states of Missouri, Tennessee, Connecticut, Maryland, Utah, South Carolina, and Illinois in protecting the rights of blind parents. The time is now for us to bring these equal rights to every state in the nation.
We continue to assist a number of individual blind parents who face discrimination that threatens the bond they have with their child. Last year I told you about our determined fight to assist a blind mother from Nevada named Kayla Dunfield. When Kayla’s daughter was about a month old, Nevada’s Child Protective Services removed her from Kayla’s care based on the claim of health and safety concerns. When we learned about Kayla and investigated, it became evident that blindness was the rationale for separating mother and daughter. More than just legal counsel, it took a village to support this mother through a series of actions by the CPS personnel that can only be described as setting the mother up to fail—CPS wanted to make the custody separation permanent. Coordinated by our affiliate in Nevada, which dedicated considerable financial and human resources to this case, NFB members in California, Oregon, and Colorado supported this parent as she fought for custody of her daughter and pursued the training and mentoring activities required by the court. The daughter is now three years old, but the bonds of love have not been broken. On May 25 the court permanently reunified mother and daughter, the case is now dismissed, and future birthdays will be celebrated with family.
On Capitol Hill we continue to carry an unmatched reputation for being consistent, clear in purpose, well-reasoned, and doggedly determined. When blindness comes up in the United States Congress, our organization has either introduced the conversation or is the first to be called and consulted. This year we have pursued a staggering number of regulatory and legislative issues. While the progress of our entire advocacy and policy agenda will be presented later in this convention, we must celebrate the significant milestones we passed one week ago. We should first recall that on June 28, 2013, many years of collaboration by blind leaders around the world culminated in the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually-Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. Countries that implement the treaty will be able to exchange accessible books across borders, creating a dramatic increase in materials available to the blind. For the Treaty to be enacted in the United States, a series of actions needs to be taken including advice and consent by the Senate, passage of implementing legislation by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and finally signature by the president of the United States. Over the past five years there has been a gauntlet of personalities and organizations that have all wished to influence or block the adoption of this historic treaty in the United States. There have been many who have told us that it will simply be too hard to get it done in our country, but they do not know the determination and commitment of the National Federation of the Blind. Our Marrakesh implementation team has been tirelessly led by Scott LaBarre, a blind attorney from Colorado, who has used diplomacy, technical skill, and an unshakeable commitment to equal access by the blind to knock down the obstacles, make friends, and get a consensus agreement into the hands of the decision makers in Congress. Meanwhile, Gabe Cazares from our advocacy team has been the glue behind the scenes, tracking thousands of details and bringing together our grassroots membership, making sure we were all well prepared and in the right place when a member of the Senate needed to hear from a blind person that the Marrakesh Treaty should be a priority. We have been heard, and the treaty is more than halfway to the finish line. On June 28, 2018, the United States Senate passed its advice and consent for the treaty and the implementing legislation on the same evening. These actions were taken with the unanimous consent of the Senate, demonstrating the power of our work together in the National Federation of the Blind. We will not stop until we have gone the rest of the way to making Marrakesh a reality. Let there be no doubt that when the full participation of the blind is on the line, we will deliver the promise of equal access.
Through our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute we concentrate our authentic expertise as blind people and explore new programs that can help us transform our dreams into reality. From the collaborations generated at our Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium to the expert evaluations of research proposals conducted by our newly established Research Advisory Council, our activities are driven by the hopes, dreams, and actions of blind people. With our Jacobus tenBroek Research Library on Blindness we are maintaining the strongest collection of materials that demonstrate the progress of blind people, and we are able to provide expertise to NFB members as well as scholars, researchers, and policymakers. Our library also gives us the opportunity to put the work of blind people in front of conferences like the Library Leaders Forum at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, where the Federation provided expertise on making digital collections accessible to all. Through our Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce we have provided training on everything from Braille notetakers to an introduction to web testing. A member of our team even taught a senior-level course titled, Universal Usability: Designing Computer Interfaces for Blind Users, for the Human Computer Interactions Program at Towson University during the spring semester. Our team fields hundreds of general information questions about technology for the blind. From working with Microsoft and Google to testing the latest idea from a tech startup, our concentrated expertise in technology gives us the ability to help shape the direction of the technologies of the future. A full report on the NFB Jernigan Institute will be presented later in this convention. Much of this work happens in our offices in Baltimore, where we have been for forty years. Our facility is known for its excellence by blind people from around the world. If we intend to maintain our leadership position, we should imagine and build what we need for the next phase of our work: classrooms, a maker space, fitness facilities, a museum, or even spaces for self-driving cars. The future is up to us, and we need to plan for the next forty years of our movement.
Full participation cannot happen without equal access to information, and we continue to explore new ways of gaining and interpreting information. In January we made history by making available the first tactile photographic exhibit in a major museum in this country through a partnership with 3DPhotoWorks and the Newseum in Washington, DC. This exhibit pays tribute to the brave marines who fought in the Battle of Huế City in 1968. Our aim is to explore what more can be learned from transforming visual images into tactile renderings—both what we can learn as blind people and what the sighted might learn from utilizing touch. By bringing tactile experiences into more public exhibits, we also have new opportunities to share our insights with the sighted and to create understanding about blindness.
The two most successful access-to-information tools available to blind people have been built by us—NFB-NEWSLINE and the KNFB Reader. NFB-NEWSLINE is now available in forty-five states and the District of Columbia, serving 118,900 subscribers with free access to over five hundred publications. The service also provides access to other information such as weather alerts, television listings, and shopping ads. The KNFB Reader has brought the power of fast and accurate text recognition to blind people around the world through a patented approach developed by the National Federation of the Blind in collaboration with Ray Kurzweil. We recently introduced KNFB Reader 3.0, which revamps the interface and provides a framework that will allow for additional improvements in the future. NFB-NEWSLINE and KNFB Reader were built by us, they reflect our priorities and our authentic experience, and we demand that these products meet our expectations for participation. We believe we can do even better with these tools we have built. Today, we are announcing our intent to innovate a new feature for users of the mobile application for NFB-NEWSLINE. Think of it as NFB-NEWSLINE Reader. Later this year, we will launch a new version of the NFB-NEWSLINE mobile application that incorporates the core functionality of the KNFB Reader mobile—point, shoot, and read. This means that every qualified subscriber to NFB-NEWSLINE will be able to download the new NFB-NEWSLINE app and flip from your morning paper to reading the letter that was just dropped on your desk. While the NFB-NEWSLINE Reader will not have all of the functionality that power users of KNFB Reader enjoy, it will be free, and a user can purchase the full KNFB Reader any time they want. You might ask why we are doing this, and there is only one reason, we seek full participation for the blind, and access to information is critical in that pursuit.
The depth and breadth of our accomplishments in one year cannot be adequately covered in one report. It is best observed in the lives blind people are living with confidence and determination in every community in our nation. It is felt in the spirit of love and hope that we share in our work together. From the seventy-two families of blind people that we assisted when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas to the countless number of blind people who have been helped by the small and great acts of kindness that each of our members extends to blind people every day, we are making a bigger difference in this nation and across the world than we will ever realize. I feel the impact of those contributions every day, and it is my deepest honor to serve as your President. I continue to be humbled by what each of you does to power this organization, and I continue to be inspired by the heartbeat that we share. We are making great progress, but there is so much potential for us still to achieve. As long as you should call me to serve, I am prepared to give my unwavering determination, tireless effort, and open heart to this movement. I pledge never to ask of you what I am not willing to commit to myself, and I will take all care to guard against those things that will slow our growth and diminish the progress we have gained. Without you there would be no us. It takes all of us to make these accomplishments, and it will take all of us to meet the future with love, hope, and determination. That is my commitment to you, that is my report of our progress, and that is our charge for the future. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Carol Begay Green accepting the Bolotin Award]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Peggy Chong accepting the Bolotin Award]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Michael McCulloch accepting the Bolotin Award]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Judy Dixon accepts the Bolotin Award on behalf of Ski for Light]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Scott Blanks accepts the Bolotin Award]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Be My Eyes cofounder Hans Jørgen Wiberg accepts the Bolotin Award on behalf of the company]
presented by James Gashel
Thank you, Mr. President and my Federation family. You know, I was arrested at least twice on the airlines. I'm proud of that. I joined the club with John Paré [laughter].
Well as the President has noted and the agenda has noted, this is the eleventh time that we have presented the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards on the final day of the National Federation of the Blind convention. Aside from the NFB's support—financial and otherwise—these awards are made possible with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date we have presented $580,000—[applause] yeah, go ahead and clap, that's a good one—to fifty-three recipients, and we're going to add six new recipients this year. A biography entitled The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story has been written by Rosalind Perlman and is available in print and audio CD format from Amazon, or you can get it free from the NLS program from the Library of Congress. Before you read any other book this year, if you have not read this story, you must do it. That is your required reading for the year.
Jacob Bolotin's story defines what it means to live the life you want. He was born in 1888, and he only lived thirty-six years. But in that thirty-six years he accomplished a whole lot more than most of us are able to accomplish in twice as many years, and he did it with precious little support to fulfill his dream—which he did fulfill—of becoming the first medical doctor blind from birth. [applause] After attending the Illinois School for the Blind, he worked to support himself and his family in Chicago by selling matches, brushes, and typewriters door-to-door. But not only did he support himself and his family; he also saved up enough money to go to medical school. People in the student division, I used to be your president—take note [laughter, cheers]. Bolotin had no rehabilitation—you may say that's an advantage—he had no ADA or Section 504, and more particularly he had no NFB to back him up. In the spirit of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Jacob Bolotin broke down barriers and blazed new trails for us to follow. And in every way that really counts, he was part of our Federation family before we organized the family.
The annual awards program we conduct helps to keep Dr. Bolotin's memory alive. It does so by recognizing exemplary people and projects at work on behalf of the blind. The awards include an amount of money that each recipient gets, but they also include an engraved plaque and medallion especially inscribed for the significance of the event. Here's the text on the plaque:
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
The medallion, which is suspended above the plaque, has the NFB logo appearing on the obverse side of the medallion and says, "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award/Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." Then on the reverse side there's Dr. Jacob Bolotin's engraved bust appearing with this inscription: "Dr. Jacob Bolotin/1888-1924/Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust." And now, for the 2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards:
Video Introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, the National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2018 recipients of our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These six innovators have broken down barriers faced by blind people in innovative ways, changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people, and pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights. Our two individual winners—who are both blind—are: Carol Begay Green, creator of the Navajo language Braille Code: [applause]
Carol Begay Green: “I developed a Navajo Braille code back in 2015. I developed a plan to teach the Navajo Braille code across the Navajo nation.”
Video Narration: Peggy Chong, also known as the "Blind History Lady":
Peggy Chong: “Several years ago somebody kind of gave me that little tag because I had been just finding all these little bits of odds and ends information and liked to share it about blind people. I had been doing a genealogy project on my family since about 2003, and then every once in a while on the same page as an article about my great-grandpa would be this article about a blind person. And I would copy it and paste it into another document and save it for researching later. About three years ago, I decided it was time to bring it forward—actually it was about four years ago now—and I began a project called "The Blind History Lady," taking a lot of the stories that I'd been collecting over about thirty-five years and putting them into a format that other people can gain access to. I consider the people that I research my ancestors. I have been collecting their data for a long time. Over the years I have gotten some of my articles in The Minnesota Bulletin or The Iowa History Journal, but to get this acknowledgment from my peers that this is important is, to me, very special. As a genealogist we often talk about how our families are the last to recognize us, so being recognized by my family just a few years after starting this project is very, very special.”
Video Narration: The four initiatives and organizations receiving Bolotin Awards are: Be My Eyes, a free service connecting blind people with sighted volunteers around the world. Cofounder and CEO Christian Erfurt:
Christian Erfurt: “Be My Eyes is a very simple but powerful app enabling blind and visually-impaired users to ask for visual assistance via their smartphone without having to decide who to call with the actual task at hand. What we do is that we match on time zone and language, and establish a video connection to a sighted volunteer somewhere in the world who speaks the same language you do. And since the call is forwarded until answered and we send out the requests in batches, the one who does take the call is someone who has time and resources to take the call and solve whatever challenge you have in front of you. My cofounder and the inventor, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, is visually impaired himself. Early on he came up with the idea of taking the part of calling someone out of the equation and setting up this community of sighted volunteers. One thing is media attention from a concept level, because they identify and understand the concept, but to actually be honored and recognized by the industry and the users is something that means everything to us.”
Video Narration: iBUG Today, blind people training other blind people to use technology. President and CEO Michael McCulloch:
Michael McCulloch: “We are a nonprofit organization, and our mission is to promote individual independence, social integration, and educational development. We've had a few people use their skills that they've picked up to gain some employment. We had one member about a year ago who got employed by one of our local Apple stores here in Houston. To see somebody who came in, maybe not even on their own, maybe wanted a smartphone, and we helped him go out and purchase one, select one that would be useful to him, and gain the training on it. There've been several that continued to gain the training so that they themselves could become our mentors and trainers and facilitators. To hear how they became successful and credit us for doing that is a real blessing. We couldn't do it without our volunteers; they're the best part of our organization.”
Video Narration: Ski for Light, connecting blind and sighted in the joy of cross-country skiing. President Marion Elmquist:
Marion Elmquist: “Ski for Light was started in the US in 1975 and was brought to the US by a Norwegian immigrant who had been very involved in a similar program in Norway that was started in 1964 by a blind Norwegian entertainer. The whole idea is to share the love of outdoor activities and the sport of cross-country skiing with blind and mobility impaired adults. We have an annual event; each year it moves around the United States, 250-300 people total are there, and that includes blind, visually impaired, mobility impaired cross-country skiers, and volunteer guides. From what I've read of Dr. Bolotin, it sounds like Ski for Light has been successful in continuing his philosophy and his thought that being blind is not a barrier to living a successful and healthy lifestyle. I think it really reinforces that we're doing the right thing.”
Video Narration: The Tactile Map Automated Production, TMAP, of the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired San Francisco. Scott Blanks, senior director of programs:
Scott Blanks: “Within minutes of making a phone call and providing an address, a tactile map can be embossed and either picked up at our San Francisco location (if you're in the local area) or mailed to you within a couple business days. What the TMAPs allow you to do is get your hands literally on a top-down view of a particular neighborhood or section of a city, and it is one of the things that comes closest to giving folks who are able to see sort of that similar experience to a street view. The recognition is wonderful. What I'm really excited about, though, is that we're going to be able to connect so deeply with so many blind people and give them a tool that is simple, it's elegant, it's inexpensive, and it's going to unlock the world for them. This is innovation, and that's what Dr. Bolotin was all about, so carrying on that tradition is something that—I don't think I really have the words to express it, but it is a wonderful honor to be able to receive this award.”
Video Narration: Ladies and gentlemen, please give each of these outstanding innovators a warm welcome as the National Federation of the Blind now proudly presents them with their 2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. [At this point in the presentation, the video ends, and the chairman resumes speaking.]
James Gashel: We have six award winners this year, and you've heard from all of them. Isn't this an outstanding class? [applause] Just a word to the winners: we're going to distribute the awards, and we're going to tell you how much money you get. If you'll come up as I call you by name, we'll get that done.
Carol Begay Green, creator of the Navajo Braille code. Here you go, Carol. Here's your Bolotin Award, and congratulations on the $5,000.
Peggy Chong, the Blind History Lady, $5,000.
iBUG, also known as iBUG Today, connecting blind people with iOS and Android technology and teaching them how to use it. Congratulations to Michael McCulloch, president and CEO, who is here to receive the award in the amount of $5,000 on behalf of iBUG Today.
Ski for Light, sharing the love of cross-country skiing, blind and sighted people working together in an atmosphere of equal opportunity and just plain fun. When it comes to skiing, I always like to put in "fun." Congratulations to Judy Dixon, who is here today to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000 on behalf of Ski for Light.
For the next $5,000, the TMAP’s project of the LightHouse for the Blind of San Francisco. Congratulations to Scott Blanks, who is senior director of programs at the LightHouse who is here to accept the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award on behalf of the LightHouse for the Blind of San Francisco.
Now for the final and the highest cash prize award this year: it also comes with the chance to say a few words to the group, and this is being given to Be My Eyes. [applause] If you have an iOS or an Android device and that device has a camera, then you can have a pair of eyes that work: twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, wherever you happen to be in the United States or in 150 foreign countries where over 180 different languages are spoken on the Earth. This is a free service, connecting blind people with sighted volunteers around the world. Congratulations to Hans Jørgen Wiberg, founder of Be My Eyes, who is here to accept [applause] the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $25, 000.
Hans Jørgen Wiberg: “I'm starting to like this better and better. [laughter] Thank you so much for this award. And with the honor—and also the money—it does make a big difference when you are a small startup, so this is super, super important. I am, myself, a member of the Danish Blind Association [applause], so I think you can understand that receiving this award is something super, super special when you are a blind guy from Denmark coming all the way over here and getting this. Thank you so much. I know firsthand how important it is to get a little bit of help sometimes. I also know that I don't want to have this help around all the time because they would drink all my coffee. So with Be My Eyes you can get those twenty seconds of help and then get rid of the helper in a nice way. And we have managed to get 1.5 million people to sign up to be your eyes. If you want to speak to all of them for one minute, it would take you three years, day and night—then you should take a break. But this will give you an understanding of how many good people there are in this world— and they are really willing to help in all those languages. Thank you to President Riccobono for inviting us over here and giving Christian the chance to speak yesterday. It has been a wonderful experience, and I'll be glad to come back next year. Thank you.”
Jim Gashel: Here's your award, Hans. Here's your hat; what's your hurry? [laughter] All of the members of the class of 2018 are now assembled right here around the podium behind me, Mr. President and members of the National Federation of the Blind. This is the distinguished and very deserving class for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award 2018. Please give them a round of applause. [applause, cheers]
Please visit our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award webpage at nfb.org for more details about all of these projects, including the full length of their audio interviews. Thank you to Ron Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for providing their enlightened experience and wise guidance in selecting our award winners this year. Mr. President, this completes the report of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee and the presentation of our 2018 awards. Thank you very much.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Riccobono gives the banquet speech.]
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
July 8, 2018
Any single moment in time can be an opportunity for reflection, for commitment, or for action. That we share this moment together means that we combine our unique perspectives, backgrounds, and talents into one unified experience. Publisher Malcolm Forbes noted that diversity is “the art of thinking independently together.” Artist Vincent van Gogh explained that “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” And Aristotle is credited with observing that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This philosophical musing has now been applied in almost every aspect of life—from the Gestalt psychological theory that, “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts,” to applications in physiology, economics, and theology.
This concept is now better known as synergy, from the Latin word synergia meaning working together. Synergy is broadly understood to be a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct participants or elements. Leadership coach Stephen Covey describes it this way: “Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand! It's the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge.” In this construction, synergy can be understood as the product of successful organizing. One of the best examples of synergy that I have experienced in my life is the organized blind movement. What are the distinct characteristics that have allowed us to achieve synergy, and how can we continue to grow the exponential impact of our combined effort?
Blindness has almost always been understood to be a characteristic that distinguishes one as lacking ability. Throughout the centuries the fear of darkness shaped the myths about blindness that were shared through oral storytelling and later retold in written works. On many occasions, the blind attempted to come together to move beyond the myths, but they were always marginalized or overtaken by people having the distinct trait of keen eyesight. The dominance of the vision-centered approach resulted in deeply rooted misconceptions about blindness and pushed blind people to the fringe of society—we did not belong. By the twentieth century it seemed as though the great misunderstanding of blindness was unstoppable. That was until blind women and men in the United States gained enough momentum to begin to organize and share their authentic insights.
In the fall of 1940, representatives of seven state organizations of the blind came together to form a unified national organization of blind people led by elected blind leaders—the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, a blind scholar of constitutional law, was elected as our first President, and his leadership was critical to keeping the new organization together. For nearly eight decades we have distinguished our movement by continuing to build on the authentic organizational principles that brought us together. The hopes, dreams, and actions of a diverse and committed corps of individual blind people, unified in purpose, and led by elected blind representatives have resulted in synergy. When others who are not elected by the blind have attempted to knock us off course, we have held the line. When those who choose not to join together with us have tried to divide us, we have held more tightly to the bonds that connect us. When others have said the blind cannot, we have followed our dreams and made them come true. With synergy, we are the blind—the National Federation of the Blind.
Blindness is merely one of a thousand characteristics we individually bring to this movement. Yet, for our organization blindness is preeminent to our mission and our governance structure. In everything we have done, we have kept a strong and singular focus on blind people. Although we welcome those who do not possess the characteristic of blindness as members, collectively they may not constitute a majority of our membership, and they cannot run our governing boards.
Kenneth Jernigan, the second great President of the National Federation of the Blind, articulated our philosophy regarding the definition of blindness this way: “One is blind to the extent that the individual must devise alternative techniques to do efficiently those things which he would do if he had normal vision. An individual may properly be said to be “blind” or a “blind person” when he has to devise so many alternative techniques—that is, if he is to function efficiently—that his pattern of daily living is substantially altered.”
Under this functional definition of blindness, we reflect one class of people—blind people—a class that deserves equal treatment. There are those who attempt to divide us based upon how much remaining eyesight we have—carving us into categories such as low vision, visually impaired, hard of seeing, partially sighted, visually challenged, and that most feared group, the totals. We reject this hierarchical vision-centered approach which threatens our common bond and our unified interests. While some of us may use visual techniques now and then, as blind people we recognize that vision is not a requirement for success in the world. Blindness is our primary distinction, and it gives us authenticity and power, but when we choose to determine our own direction and speak for ourselves, it transforms into synergy.
An important second distinction fuels the synergy of our movement—equality. Since our founding, we have taken responsibility for setting the standard of equality for the participation of the blind in society. We have rejected society’s second-class accommodations. We have never sought greater advantages than our sighted peers, but we have insisted upon equality of opportunity and freedom from artificial barriers. Over time, we have raised the expectations for equal treatment. One example is our participation in voting for public officials. Blind people were once forced to have their paper ballot filled out by whomever the polling place assigned as a scribe—the blind did not have a choice. We fought for the right of blind people to vote independently by bringing a person of their own choosing into the voting booth. Today, we favor a new standard of equality where the blind use the same voting systems as every other voter with the expectation that the electronic machines will be fully accessible, and our ballots will look the same, allowing us to cast a vote independently and privately. We must continue to explore the limits and evaluate equality within our movement and throughout the broader society.
Equality contributes to our synergy in another important way—it strengthens our diversity. Blindness is not constrained by race, gender, economic status, or any of a thousand other characteristics. Therefore, if we are going to be a movement of blind people who synergize around equality, we must reflect a diverse range of blind people with a large variation in characteristics beyond blindness. We must continue to value and cultivate diversity as we have in the past, and we should guard against our diversity becoming a fracture that divides us as blind people.
I have been reflecting upon what we know about blind people throughout history and during the time of the National Federation of the Blind. A pattern of leadership is evident that I believe exemplifies the value we place on equality within our movement. In the stories of blind people prior to our founding, most of the prominent figures are men, not women. Consider the nineteenth century essays of James Wilson that profiled blind people in a series of volumes entitled Biography of the Blind. Wilson profiles sixty-three blind individuals, but only seven are women. While a handful of other stories of blind women have surfaced since Wilson published his sketches in the 1800s, the record is still thin.
Women have faced social, economic, and political barriers that have created inequality compared to men, and their stories have been under-recorded in history. Blind women, faced with the twin low expectations of being female and having the most feared disability, blindness, have been limited in opportunities to pursue their dreams. The lack of adequate training for blind people before the organized blind movement contributed to blind women being considered inadequate for even stereotypical roles in society. The full participation of blind women has been further complicated by efforts like the eugenics movement that reached its height in the early part of the twentieth century. Proponents of eugenics believed in selective breeding, which led to a movement to pass state laws requiring forced sterilization of the poor and disabled. These forced sterilization programs largely impacted women with disabilities and contributed to misconceptions about the capacity of the blind to be effective parents—a painful history we are still trying to overcome.
In contrast, the role of blind women within the National Federation of the Blind is clear and powerful. This evening I seek to highlight a sampling of the hundreds of female leaders of our movement whose stories illuminate the characteristics that have allowed us, as diverse individuals who happen to be blind, to synergize a movement that cannot be divided.
At our organizing on November 16, 1940, there were sixteen blind people from seven states in attendance, and two of them were women who both served on the board of directors. The first was Mary McCann of Illinois, who was elected as secretary of our organization at that first meeting but only served for a short time. The other blind woman was Evelyn Burlingame of Pennsylvania, who was not elected to the board in 1940 but was elected as first vice president of the organization in 1942.
Let me pause briefly to note that Hazel tenBroek was also in attendance at the organizing, and her notes are the most substantive record we have of the proceedings. Although she was not blind, she was a significant force in the early development of the Federation. Mrs. tenBroek set the standard for what has been a proud line of deeply loved and admired sighted marchers in our movement.
Let us return to Evelyn, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1906. After graduating from the Overbrook School for the Blind, she worked as the lead stenographer in the legal department for an insurance company; later she managed a small business among other jobs. In her free time she worked to bring together many small community-based organizations of the blind into a statewide organization called the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind (which officially came into existence in 1934). It was the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Federation that served as the backdrop for the constitutional meeting establishing the National Federation of the Blind. While early Federation leaders had to expend considerable time and energy convincing blind people that we could gain synergy by directing the future through building our own organization, Evelyn already knew the value of organizing, and she was prepared to make personal sacrifices for the movement.
Evelyn’s hard work, information sharing, and wise counsel to the Federation’s President were likely factors contributing to her election to the national board. In the National Federation of the Blind we elect leaders to speak for us, but those leaders must be able to synthesize the hopes, dreams, and innovative approaches that the members bring forward. In that regard, Evelyn may get credit for the Federation’s first major outreach and fundraising strategy. On November 9, 1941, she wrote to Dr. tenBroek to propose that we approach state and national unions to enlist their support in the Federation’s cause and to give specific examples of the circumstances in her state. This idea was developed into a significant program for making connections and gathering financial resources for the young organization. Evelyn’s early and active participation in our movement gave credibility to the notion that the blind can and should speak for themselves. For Evelyn the characteristic of blindness did not hold her back, and for the Federation the characteristic of blindness was most important to Evelyn’s leadership in our movement.
Francis Lorraine Goranson was born in 1918 to farmers near Huron, South Dakota. She was the youngest daughter of the family and, like her older sister, she was blind and received an education from the South Dakota School for the Blind. In 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the groundbreaking Randolph-Sheppard Act, giving blind individuals opportunities to operate vending facilities on federal property. By the time Lorraine graduated from the school in 1938, she was aware of the new program and prepared to build her own future.
By the early months of 1940, South Dakota had two vending locations run by blind people and, determined not to be restricted to a life of low expectations, Lorraine took the initiative to secure the resources needed to open the third. She began by convincing the officials at the Huron post office to provide her with space for a stand. She then used her previous contacts at the local Kiwanis Club to make a skillful presentation that resulted in the club building out Lorraine’s location and providing the early inventory of newspapers, magazines, candy, and cigars she needed to open the doors in April 1940. Lorraine is the first known woman to operate a facility under the Randolph-Sheppard program anywhere in the country.
Her early success did not leave her satisfied. She learned about the newly formed National Federation of the Blind through an editorial in the All Story magazine authored by Dr. tenBroek’s mentor, Dr. Newel Perry. On February 7, 1941, she wrote to Dr. tenBroek expressing excitement about a movement for the blind to speak for themselves. In her opening paragraph she notes, “I find that it is more difficult convincing my sighted friends of my capabilities, than the duty to be actually performed.” She later shares her ambition and commitment, “I am writing you because I am interested in what can be done for the blind, and am ready and willing to do whatever I can at any time. To be frank, as I feel I may be, I am so very anxious to get out and make a place in the world.”
Lorraine possessed another important characteristic that distinguishes members of the Federation—hope for the future. In 1942 the characteristics of blindness, a drive for equality, and a hope for the future combined with a readiness to work led her to be elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. Her self-directed efforts to build opportunities out of the Randolph-Sheppard priority laid the foundation for the leadership we have provided to that program.
Another woman from the Midwest was effective in teaching the synergy of local organizations connecting into a national movement. Ada Bates-Tiernan was born in Coon Rapids, Iowa, in 1889. She was blinded in an accident at age five, and her parents sent her to Iowa’s school for the blind, where she stayed until her graduation. In the early part of the twentieth century, Iowa had no adult rehabilitation program, and Ada recognized that bonding together with other blind people was critical in creating opportunities for herself. She started by regularly attending the annual gatherings of the school’s alumni group known as the Iowa Association of the Blind.
By 1941 Ada had moved to Des Moines where she was president of the local association. She met the tenBroeks while in Chicago, and a stream of information sharing began between them. Ada joined the Federation as an individual member since the Iowa association was interested only in the school for the blind locally. She understood that the new National Federation of the Blind was essential to bringing inspiration and innovative training practices to Iowa.
The hope and determination that came from a national movement fueled Ada’s leadership of other blind advocates in Iowa. The Federation’s National Convention was held in Des Moines in 1942, and Ada was critical in managing local details, including securing speakers. During that time the relationship between Ada and the tenBroeks developed into something more personal—what we would today describe as the Federation family. At the 1944 National Convention in Cleveland, Ada was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In later correspondence Ada demonstrates a deep commitment to supporting Dr. tenBroek and advises him on many matters. At the same time, she expresses her own doubts about whether she has the right talents to support the leadership where she has been asked to serve. During a series of correspondence from February 1946, Dr. tenBroek expresses a deep belief in the talents Ada brings to the organization, a personal commitment to their friendship, and a faith in her capacity to provide leadership among the board members.
Ada served on the national board until 1948, and her story helps to illuminate another important characteristic of Federationists—leadership. She wondered if she was really the right person for the job, whether she had the qualities needed to serve, and whether she was adequate to work closely with such a dynamic force for equality as Dr. tenBroek. These are doubts many of us have experienced when considering the work of this great organization compared to the individual contributions we make—doubts that are often a result of our internalizing society’s low expectations. When she did not believe in herself, the Federation believed in her. That is the bond of faith we pass from generation to generation in this movement. We believe in each other, and it is that element that brings out the potential for leadership in each of us. For Ada Tiernan her leadership was inspired by her participation in the organized blind movement, where the most important characteristics were that she was a blind person seeking equality, with hope for the future, and a willingness to lead when called.
A woman who was not born in the United States and who was not blind at the time of our founding came to be a force for sharing our message around the world. Isabelle Lyon Dean was born in 1896 in a fishing village on the northern coast of Scotland. At the age of twenty-eight, Isabelle and her husband, Dr. Alexander Grant, left Scotland to build their life together in the United States. In 1927 Isabelle began teaching in the Los Angeles County schools where, aided by her fluency in Spanish, she became a vocal advocate for the sizable population of Mexican American students. In 1940 she further enhanced her teaching credentials by earning a PhD in comparative literature.
Her career took a turn when she developed glaucoma and, by the fall of 1948, Dr. Grant was totally blind. She found no hope among the agencies for the blind she visited, and her uncertainty grew regarding how to manage her job as vice principal at Belvedere Junior High School. Hope and opportunity returned to her when a friend introduced her to a blind man who was a member of the National Federation of the Blind—an encounter that put her on the road to mastering the skills of blindness, to internalizing our shared philosophy, and to becoming an active member in our California affiliate.
Dr. Grant’s own determination, the unwavering support of her professional colleagues in the school, and the shared bond with her sisters and brothers in the Federation assisted in rejecting the school district’s attempt to force her to retire based on her disability. Yet, Dr. Grant would endure more than a decade of maneuvers by the district to sabotage her work by regularly shifting her assigned school and the students on her caseload. The discrimination she faced caused her real pain. One example is that the district assigned her a sighted teaching assistant to be with her at all times. When the sighted person left the classroom, the door was required to be locked as a safety precaution—a circumstance she described as “the blind teacher in a glass cage.”
As the first blind teacher in the California public school system, Dr. Grant worked tirelessly so that future generations of blind educators would not face similar barriers. She advocated for new state laws, organized conferences for blind educators, and innovated quality educational services for blind children based on the authentic experience of blind people. A trip to an international conference in 1957 sparked a passion for working on issues of education and self-organization of the blind outside of the United States, which would drive the final twenty years of her life.
During the 1959-60 school year, she took a sabbatical from teaching to make a remarkable journey through twenty-three countries, traveling alone, with the aim to learn from the educational and living conditions of other blind people, and to raise expectations through self-organization. She chronicled her adventures in a manuscript entitled, “Crooked Paths Made Straight,” which went unpublished until 2016. She would make many more international trips and correspond regularly with hundreds of blind people around the world. Significantly, 1960 also marked Dr. Grant’s election to the Board of the National Federation of the Blind on which she served until her death in 1977. In everything she did, no matter the continent, she was a constant promoter and information gatherer for the Federation. Blindness was what brought Dr. Grant to the Federation family, but it was only one of many dynamic characteristics that added synergy to our movement.
Isabel Grant was most certainly influenced by a blind educator from New Mexico named Pauline Gomez. Blind from birth, Pauline was educated at the New Mexico School for the Blind, where she graduated in 1940. A scholarship from the Perkins Institute for the Blind gave her an opportunity to meet blind people from around the country and set her on the path to be a teacher. In the fall of 1941, Pauline became the first blind student to enroll at the University of New Mexico, where she had to pioneer methods for gaining access to instructional materials and navigating the campus independently.
Upon successful graduation from the university, Pauline returned home to Santa Fe, where she planned to teach in the public schools. Despite her qualifications, the public-school administrators could not imagine a blind teacher working with children, but Pauline was determined to build her own opportunity to share her talents with the children of Santa Fe.
On October 1, 1946, Los Niños Kindergarten School opened in the back room of Pauline’s home. There were eight children in her first class, and Pauline served as the only teacher, in addition to managing the administrative details of the school. From that modest beginning, Pauline expanded her school over the following decades, serving the children of all of the most prominent families in Santa Fe.
Pauline’s school had been open almost a decade when she assisted in organizing the New Mexico affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind in 1956. When Pauline became president of the affiliate in 1960, she began aggressively working on legislative proposals to improve opportunities for the blind. A keen educator, Pauline recognized the efficacy of Kenneth Jernigan’s Iowa training program using the Federation’s philosophy. She wanted that level of training in New Mexico. In 1963 she persuaded the state legislature to study the value of establishing an adult rehabilitation training center in the state, which threatened the monopoly that the workshops for the blind had on the employment pipeline. Workshop supervisors attended the 1963 Convention of the NFB of New Mexico where they were able to coerce their blind employees into electing four agency supporters to the affiliate’s board of directors. Pauline took swift action to guard against the hostile takeover of the organized blind movement by sending affiliate documents to the President of the Federation, securing the treasury, and reorganizing the affiliate, all of this while running her own growing school in Santa Fe.
Whether it was in the president’s chair or another position within the Federation, Pauline had a hand in more victories than we can do justice to this evening. From leading New Mexico to be the first state in the nation to pass the Federation’s model White Cane Law in 1967, to developing the teachers division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1970, for Pauline the Federation was personal. Her community contributions outside of the Federation were extraordinary and widely celebrated. Her school was admired for its quality and innovative practices. It would have been easy for her to decide that the organized blind movement did not matter. Except for her it did matter. She was a blind person, she felt the pain of discrimination, and she understood the synergy of equality. The National Federation of the Blind fueled Pauline’s hope for the future, and we helped her to know she could do something to shape that future. She brought perspective, diversity, knowledge, and determination to us, and we gave to her the place where her blindness was a most important factor in her leadership, but the least important factor in her success.
There may be no better example of the role blind women have played in the National Federation of the Blind, than the pioneering, tough, persistent, dedicated, and generous women who founded the three training programs that proudly call themselves Federation training centers. While these women, Joanne Wilson (Louisiana), Diane McGeorge (Colorado), and Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota) built upon the philosophy and methodology tested by Kenneth Jernigan, they made significant personal sacrifices and took risks that few would even dream to pursue. While each of these women has an extraordinary personal story, they share a common bond. They are all blind people who, until they came to know the heartbeat of our movement, had internalized some of the misconceptions about blindness that threaten to hold each of us back. It was their coming to be part of our movement which allowed the rest of us to benefit from their leadership. Did the Federation believe in them more, or did they believe in the Federation more? The answer most certainly is yes. Each of these women has brought their talent and energy to our cause, and their lives have been enriched by being part of us. From the perspective of history—now having thirty years or more of graduates from these centers—we can be certain that all of us are stronger because these women invested in equality for the blind. In case anyone doubts the impact these three women have had on our movement, how about a cheer from anyone who has been impacted by the programs and graduates of our NFB training centers?
There are thousands of other examples of contributions small and great from blind people who happen to be women. From managing our scholarship program over the past fifty years, editing our publications, leading pickets and writing protest songs, directing our research and training institute, answering general information calls, testifying in Congress, building affiliates while raising families, commanding local legislatures, pioneering new teaching techniques, managing the operations of our Washington Seminar, directing fundraisers, to leading or serving wherever this movement has needed them, blind women have added synergy to our organization. That they were women was not nearly as important as the fact that they were blind people who believed in equality, had a hope for the future, and were willing to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind. From Arlene Hill practicing the techniques that blind people use to teach blind people to travel, to Ever Lee Hairston delivering a powerful address to the next generation of blind leaders from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, we have overcome because of the everyday and extraordinary blind people that have given synergy to our movement.
Tonight I call on us to celebrate these individuals and the thousands of others I have not named by committing ourselves to carrying the march forward. Tonight we celebrate the diversity of our organized blind movement, a movement that brings together blind people for a common purpose. We are blind people who come with varying characteristics—different races, sexual orientations, religions, political points of view, gender identities, disabilities, economic circumstances, languages, talents, interests, and priorities. Yet, in everything that matters we are one as blind people. We cannot be divided. We share a quest for equality and hope for the future. It is our diversity that gives us depth. It is our long-standing commitment to work together that gives us strength. It is our synergy that makes us unstoppable.
Tomorrow we must again pick up the tools of progress. There are those that seek to divide us and slow us down. There are those who say we do not represent those blind people who have some usable vision. There are those who claim that for us equality means only for blind people who do not have other disabilities. There are those who tell the story that in order to be one of us you must fit a certain type. To those who share these false claims about us we say, we, the blind, speak for ourselves. Our movement is for blind people, all blind people, and we will not let others who are not committed to equality and hope for the future stand in our way. We will set the direction and the pace, and we invite all blind people to contribute to our synergy.
We will not go back to a time when we must fight the agencies for the blind for recognition. We reject, as we have before, accreditation without authenticity in an effort to validate mediocracy. We leave behind the days when technologies were built and later made usable by the blind. We move past, but do not forget, the employment shackles of the sheltered workshops that pay pennies per hour. In doing so we recognize that there are those who wish to return to the good old days when the blind received what little charity was offered, and the experts in the field were qualified by the amount of eyesight not insight. To the extent that the past belongs to others, we declare once again this evening that the future is ours. Our future is filled with love, hope, and determination. Our future is distinguished by leadership, collaboration, and authenticity. And our future, as has been our pattern since 1940, is unified in the common bond of faith that we hold with each other as blind people.
My sisters and my brothers, blindness does not define us or our future. It does serve the most important role of bringing us together in this movement, a movement that is built on equality, a movement that feeds our hope for the future, a movement that empowers us to lead in all aspects of life, a movement where we come seeking a place to belong and where we stay because of those we befriend. Let us recommit to our march toward equality. Let us welcome new members into the diverse family that we share. Let us direct our own future and reach for unimagined possibilities. With synergy, let us go build the National Federation of the Blind.
From the Editor: One of the highlights of convention is the presentation of various awards. Some are presented annually; others are presented only as often as the Federation determines that a truly deserving candidate exists. The Federation recognizes that a critical part of our mission is recognizing the work that is accomplished by and on behalf of the blind, and the audience takes as much satisfaction and joy in presenting these awards as the committees who bestow them take in finding worthy recipients.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Carolyn Mason proudly displays her plaque]
presented by Carla McQuillan
Good morning. How is everybody this morning? Every year the National Federation of the Blind recognizes a teacher of blind students who has demonstrated performance above and beyond those of his or her colleagues. This year our distinguished educator has thirty-three years in the field. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Texas Austin. She has a national board certification in exceptional needs specialist for early childhood through adults. She has a certification in music, and here is what her colleagues say about Carolyn Mason: [applause] She never complains about her students or her workload. If she needs to learn a new skill to support her students, she will gladly learn it. If she has to put in extra hours, she will do so without complaint. She is calm and gracious under fire. In a few words, she is the ultimate professional.
But the thing that really endears Carolyn Mason to the National Federation of the Blind is that she served as Harley Fetterman's teacher from the time that he was three years old and first lost his vision until cancer took him in his senior year of high school. She encouraged Harley to learn Braille and taught him Nemeth Code for his advanced math classes. She encouraged him to compete in the National Braille Challenge and then decided that, “Why can't we just start a regional National Braille Challenge here in Texas so that more of the local students could participate?” And though it took a number of hours and effort on her part, without any compensation financially, she gladly did it for the cause.
We have here for her a plaque that has the National Federation of the Blind logo on it, and this is how it reads:
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF
For your skills in teaching Braille and other
alternative techniques of blindness;
For graciously devoting extra time to meet the needs of
your students, and for empowering your students to perform
beyond their expectations.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT.
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES.
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
JULY 5, 2018
Please give a warm welcome to this year's distinguished educator, Carolyn Mason.
Carolyn Mason: Thank you so much. I’m very honored to be here. I'd like to thank the National Federation of the Blind for choosing me for this award. I'd like to thank Jan McSorley for submitting my name, and of course Beth Fetterman, who provided information and has been one of my biggest cheerleaders throughout our time together with Harley. Just, thank you so much; it's very amazing to be awarded for something you love to do. [applause]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Robin L. House poses with her white cane and plaque]
presented by Dr. Eddie Bell
Good morning, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. It is my honor to again chair this committee. When I think of some of the most noble professions in the world, I'm hard-pressed to find one better than being a teacher. Giving the skills of literacy to children is one of the most important things that we have to do. The Blind Educator Award is designed to be given to individuals who are blind who have been able to get into the teaching profession. As noble as the profession is, it has too often barred entrance to blind people from participating in that. Through the work of the National Federation of the Blind, many pioneers have been able to be successful in that career, and the rewards just have continued to grow exponentially.
The recipient for this year, when I told the President whom we had selected, was very thrilled and reminded me that she was involved in 2004 at the very beginning of some of our STEM initiatives (science, technology, engineering, and math) in the creation of those programs and has worked with them ever since. She's been a leader in her state in working in the Braille enrichment programs. And in reading the nomination letter, it was pointed out that she is admired and revered amongst her colleagues at school, fellow teachers respect her, and parents love her. But what's most important is when you watch her interact with children, and the way they are engaged and the rapport they have is just phenomenal, and for many years now she has participated in this organization. Please help me in congratulating the 2018 Blind Educator, Robin L. House. [applause]
I'm going to ask Beth to read the language of the plaque as I present it to the recipient here. And I want to say in addition to my congratulations, you will be receiving this plaque; a check for $1,000; and most importantly the love, hope, and determination of all the members of your Federation family. Congratulations.
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
Robin L. House
In recognition of outstanding accomplishments
in the teaching profession.
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT,
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES,
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE.
JULY 5, 2018
Robin House: Thank you very much. I am really honored to receive this award. Thank you for being nominated, thank you to the committee and the National Federation of the Blind. I've been a part of this organization for eighteen years, and I've had some amazing opportunities to work with blind youth, and I really appreciate all those experiences. I currently am a school counselor, and I work in the St. Louis public schools. The work is hard, it is demanding, but my passion is in educating the whole child, the whole person: their social, their emotional, their psychological, their academic, and their career interests. So I appreciate all of the support that I’ve received from the National Federation of the Blind, all my friends that help me keep my passion alive and keep growing throughout the years. I love being part of this organization. Thank you very much. [applause]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mary Ellen Jernigan laughs as Mitch Bainwol accepts the Kenneth Jernigan Award]
presented by Mary Ellen Jernigan
The Kenneth Jernigan Award is being presented this afternoon for only the third time since its establishment. Like the previous recipients, Daniel Goldstein in 2016 and Frank Kurt Cylke in 2011, this presentation recognizes significant contributions to the well-being of blind individuals that will endure well beyond our own lifetimes. The other common thread running through the accomplishments of these individuals is that their work has been done in solid and ongoing relationship with the National Federation of the Blind. Through those relationships and the cooperative work inherent in them, we each reach our common goals more quickly, and the results of each of our efforts are immeasurably magnified.
Indeed, Mitch Bainwol and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers he leads have a commitment to pedestrian safety that matches our own. The advent of quiet cars endangered the safety of all pedestrians, but it also did something profoundly and insidiously damaging to the blind: it threatened the proven tenants upon which the entire system of safe and independent mobility for blind individuals is based. But together with the alliance we have faced that challenge and removed that threat. [applause]
With the issuance of the regulation implementing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, the techniques used by blind individuals to engage in safe and independent travel have been recognized and are now protected in the law. [applause, cheers] The three key provisions of this regulation that mattered to blind people: 1) that cars emit enough sound to be heard at all speeds; 2) that this level of sound be emitted at all times the engine is turned on, whether the car is moving or not moving; and 3) that the sound-generating system cannot be turned off at any time by the driver. [applause]
These provisions would not have survived the long years of study and negotiation without the staunch support of the alliance. Over and over Mitch Bainwol and the organization he leads joined us in insisting that the capacity of the blind to engage in safe and independent pedestrian travel be protected. And they backed up that commitment by taking concrete and public actions aimed toward achieving that end by endorsing the Quiet Car Amendment to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and later by issuing a joint letter to recommend implementation of what became known as the quiet car rule, which established minimum sound requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles.
The opening text of that joint communication reads as follows: “The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, and the tens of thousands of members of the National Federation of the Blind have a long history of working together to help identify and implement ways to help all Americans, including blind Americans, navigate safely around motor vehicles.” Here I am moved to express the gratitude of the National Federation of the Blind to the alliance for working with us in what we have come to view as the ideal model for working in collaborative rather than adversarial ways to solve problems that might initially seem to have competing interests. I also note with gratitude that neither we nor the alliance regard our work together as finished. We are already working collaboratively to address the promises and perils looming ahead when, like the horse, the human driver is replaced by something incredibly more efficient.
With autonomous vehicles now approaching on an increasingly shortening horizon, the Alliance cohosted an autonomous vehicle summit at the Jernigan Institute. At this conference, attended by disabled consumers, automotive industry representatives, ride-sharing providers, staff of elected officials, and policymakers at multiple levels of government, Mitch Bainwol made the following statement on behalf of the Alliance: “We are motivated by the tremendous potential for enhanced safety for everyone and the opportunity to provide greater mobility and freedom to people with disabilities. We are anxious to work with stakeholders and government leaders to develop the policy framework to realize these benefits as soon as we can.”
Well, Mr. Bainwol and members of the alliance, we are anxious, too. [applause] And we can think of no better partners to work with to make sure that when the fully-autonomous vehicles arrive, they will be fully accessible through fully nonvisual systems. [applause] We can think of no better way to express our gratitude, our trust, and our excitement for the future than to bestow upon you and your organization the award that bears the name of Kenneth Jernigan, who had unbounded faith in the unlimited future that could be created through the joint effort of individuals and organizations working together in love and trust to create that future.
So it is with enormous pleasure that I make this presentation which reads as follows:
KENNETH JERNIGAN AWARD
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
For your dedication to the highest ideals;
For your commitment to extraordinary partnership;
For your leadership in expanding access to transportation
and ensuring safety for pedestrians;
We, the organized blind movement, confer upon
and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
The Kenneth Jernigan Award
YOU HAVE MET EVERY CHALLENGE;
YOUR COMMITMENT TO SAFETY IS UNMATCHED;
YOU ARE A TRUSTED PARTNER AND A VALUED FRIEND.
July 8, 2018
[NFB logo on the left]
Mitch Bainwol: I just want to say thank you very much. I'm really touched. This is also very heavy [laughter]. I just want to say that we have a great journey into the future, and I'm so pleased we are on this journey together. Thank you very much.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Pam Allen hands Francis Gurry the Global Literacy Award]
presented by Pam Allen
Thank you so much, Dr. Maurer. What an incredible and inspiring banquet address from our President this evening. [applause] I'm so proud to serve and to be a part of that legacy in our Federation family.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." We in the National Federation of the Blind have worked diligently to turn the dream of global access to information into a reality. We have believed in this future and tirelessly worked together to achieve this fundamental right and to open new doors of opportunity in learning and literacy for the blind.
Fortunately, our dream of global access has been shared. We found a partner and true champion; someone who is willing to listen, to advocate, to educate, and to fight until the goal of literacy for all is achieved. Earlier today we heard about the many accomplishments of this most deserving individual, whose commitment to excellence has resulted in far-reaching changes and allowed access to thousands of published materials previously unavailable.
Under Dr. Francis Gurry's dynamic leadership and expert guidance as director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization, access to information across borders was transformed from a distant dream first articulated in 2009 when the concept was proposed to the reality of the Marrakesh Treaty adopted only four years later and soon to be ratified here in the United States. [applause]
Dr. Gurry has demonstrated a steadfast and proactive commitment by promoting the Marrakesh Treaty at all levels: sponsoring informative seminars, forming partnerships, and working with governments around the world. There are numerous examples of the important work Dr. Gurry has done to further the Marrakesh Treaty and access for all. To highlight one initiative, he established and secured funding for the Accessible Book Consortium.
We cherish the true friend we have found, and we are energized by the possibilities our continued collaboration will create together. In recognition and appreciation of his exemplary leadership and unwavering commitment to achieving access to information for all, it is my sincere pleasure to present Dr. Francis Gurry with the Global Literacy Award. [applause]
This beautiful crystal plaque has our logo on one side and includes the following text on the other:
GLOBAL LITERACY AWARD
OF THE BLIND
For your commitment to making
the world’s literature available to all;
For your dedication to accessibility for the blind;
For your imaginative leadership in eliminating
the barriers to sharing equal access across borders;
We, the organized blind movement, confer upon
THIS GLOBAL LITERACY AWARD.
In recognition of the significant leadership
of the World Intellectual Property Organization
in making a worldwide book treaty
for the blind possible.
You have facilitated effective sharing
of accessible, published works around the world.
You are a true friend of the blind
and a champion for literacy.
July 8, 2018
[NFB logo on the left]
Congratulations and thank you.
Dr. Francis Gurry: Dear friends, I am truly humbled by this award, and Pam, thank you so much. You have given an overly-generous assessment of the very modest contribution that I personally have made. It's you who did the Marrakesh Treaty. You were the origin of it, the National Federation of the Blind was the origin with the World Blind Union of the idea of the Marrakesh Treaty. You have driven us, you have had wonderful, wonderful negotiators. It was your time, Dr. Maurer, during which the treaty was concluded. It is President Riccobono's time during which the treaty will be ratified by the United States of America, and that is an event that the whole world is waiting for. I thank you all for your inspiration, and I thank you all for all that you have done in giving birth to this great treaty, which I hope will make a really worthwhile contribution to global access. Thank you so much. [applause]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Marc Maurer stands with Joy Harris as she displays her Jacobus tenBroek Award]
presented by Dr. Marc Maurer
Each year we have a committee that comes together to discuss the work that is being done by our own members. We think about our first President when we begin to plan this, because the award that we give for the internal work that is being conducted in our organization by our own members is reflective of the commitment of our first President, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and we name our award after him.
Dr. tenBroek began by having an idea. When he invited people to join him to create an organization, he did not have substantial financial resources to support it. He did not have a family connection that would build for him access to the people who might help to change the nature of the society in which we live based upon an idea. What he had was a thought that if he brought blind people together, that something might be done to change the society in which we live. Now many people at the time thought that blind people represented a number of folks without a future, and if you take zero and add it to zero, what you get is zero. It doesn't matter whether you add a hundred or a thousand zeros; it still comes out to zero.
Dr. tenBroek knew that that wasn't the case. He knew that in his own life things had been achieved that many thought could not be. He had written law journal articles. He had been in college and got diplomas. He had found a way to do some teaching, mostly of sighted people, but now and then of blind people too. He had inspired other people to go to college other than himself. He had dreamed that there could be something bigger than he was, and he created the National Federation of the Blind along with the help of many others.
So tonight we have a presentation to make to a person who has much the same sort of spirit, a person who's been long in the National Federation of the Blind, has taken some leadership positions (especially lately), but has mostly supported others in leadership rolls. And while we're on the subject, tonight we make our presentation of the tenBroek Award to a woman of the movement.
I want to invite Joy Harris [applause, cheers] to the podium. Joy has recently been president of our Alabama affiliate. [applause] She is no longer, that position now being held by Barbara Manuel, who was elected this spring.
Joy and Allen Harris moved to Alabama after Allen had come to be unwell, and they wanted to be closer to family. Joy and Allen got there, and Joy thought, ‘We have a noticeable lack of leadership and unity in Alabama, and I am going to do something about it!’ [applause]
So after a time she became the president of our Alabama affiliate, which had been off and on a troubled affiliate. And it came to be unified with her in the principal office. And it came to represent people of different races. There had been those who wanted it to be all one color or all the other, and Joy said, ‘I'm not having it. [applause] Everybody's welcome, and I mean everybody's welcome. You just come, and if you want to be a part of this organization, here you are. You can join it; you can participate fully.’
Now prior to her being a leader in Alabama, Joy was mostly a supporter of Allen Harris, who has been a leader of ours for many decades. He has served on the board, he's been president in Michigan, he has been treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind, and one of the people who would always be there to help him and to make sure that things were done as they ought to be done was Joy Harris. So you represent a human being with two leadership characteristics that do not often go together. One of them is that you know thoroughly how to support somebody else in a major leadership role, and the second is if that's not going to happen, you know how to do it yourself. [applause]
Consequently, tonight I have this plaque, which says:
JACOBUS tenBROEK AWARD
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES,
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED, YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 8, 2018
Joy Harris: [near tears] Thank you. I hardly know what to say, seriously. This is such an honor for me, just totally unexpected. I joined the Federation about forty-six years ago. Somebody told me to come to a meeting. I said, "I don't know; I'm busy..."
They said, “No, Joy, you've got to come to this meeting." I went to this meeting, and I heard people talking about blind people being equal and being first-class citizens—all the things—you could be what you wanted to be. I thought, Wow, I really kind of like this. People were getting a little rowdy; of course I'm a rowdy person, so I fit right in. I was elected ombudsman. I had no idea what that was at that point, but I was elected anyway, and I haven't left since. I'm just so proud of this organization.
When Dr. Maurer handed me this award though, I kind of laughed because Allen did receive the tenBroek Award, and he was holding it way up there, very proud. Well somehow the award got left, and he was holding up a plaque with a pineapple on it. [laughter] So anyway, I truly, dearly love the Federation. When I am called, I will definitely be there. It's been a major, major part of my life, and as long as I'm here, I will be with my Federation family, and I hope this will continue on for many years. Again, thank you so much. [applause, cheers]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Suman Kanuganti]
by Suman Kanuganti
From the Editor: Suman Kanuganti is the cofounder and chief executive officer of Aira Tech. Aira was a proud convention sponsor of the National Federation of the Blind 2018 Convention, and its services were made available to Aira Explorers and to Aira Guests. Those who had not yet tried Aira were invited to download the app and try the service while at the convention, the airport, and other sites around Orlando.
Here are the remarks that Mr. Kanuganti made to the convention on the afternoon of July 6:
Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Suman Kanuganti, founder and CEO of Aira. I'm delighted to be attending my fourth NFB convention, an early-July tradition that I plan to celebrate with you all for years to come.
As usual, joining me this year are another large group of Aira employees, engineers, Aira agents, and many, many Aira Explorers. I'd like to ask all of the Explorers in the crowd to say "I."
Aira is proud to be a part of the NFB family. Many of you have played a vital role in molding our company. I'm grateful to President Mark Riccobono and all of you for being vital stakeholders, creating a platform to augment the ability of every human being on the planet by providing instant access to information anywhere and anytime.
My involvement with the NFB has taught me much about blindness. The NFB's core philosophy informs how we at Aira understand our role and aim to enhance access to information: always on your terms, whenever you need it, and however you want it. If you had a great experience with an Aira Agent, make some noise. Aira's human agents and Chloe—our evolving AI assistant—exist to objectively enhance access to both the physical and digital world, enabling you to achieve peak efficiency no matter what you're doing, the mundane and the marvelous.
Because of my relationship with the NFB and through my study of our home-grown philosophy of self-determination as it relates to blindness, I want to reassure you that Aira trains its agents to believe fundamentally in the capacity of those who are blind. [applause] We train our staff to respect the alternative, nonvisual techniques of blindness. We teach our staff to convey useful visual detail in an objective manner. And we encourage our agents to defer to the on-the-ground judgment of Explorers, exactly as Chancey Fleet said in her earlier remarks. We also candidly set those expectations with every new Explorer.
In short, Aira is one of many effective tools or skills, such as the cane or Braille, that anyone may choose to use to manage their lives in the way they want. And, it's really, really important to understand that the comprehensive Aira service will organically improve through the growing community of Explorer usage, as analyzing usage patterns is an important way to teach both humans and Chloe what the community most desires. This is how Chloe will be guided by the blind. [applause]
If I may change the topic for a moment: recently, some of my NFB friends asked me about my background, and what influences my thinking. Well, I grew up in a small university town back in India, where I earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. Then I attended the University of Missouri—Columbia, where I earned my master's in robotics and computer engineering. Following school, I served in different roles, mostly in corporate America, including as an engineer programming robots at Caterpillar; as a hacker, integrating computers and machines at Qualcomm; and as a manager of several teams creating solutions in the connected world at Intuit. As a lifelong student, I took my second master's earning an MBA at the University of California, San Diego, focusing on entrepreneurship and economics. With this background, I started Aira. Before I continue, please remember that I love math, data, inflecting ideas, and economic models. So, with that in mind, I would like to share some key metrics at Aira.
Aira, in the last twelve months, went from amassing 60,000 minutes to 1.4 million minutes of live-description session time between our Explorers and agents. Put that in context, and that translates to 20,000 hours or nearly three calendar-years of conversations over 125,000 sessions across five-hundred unique tasks, falling into eight general categories at home, at work, and in the outside world. In 99.9 percent of cases, calls are answered in under ten seconds, precisely 8.64 seconds.
Why am I telling you about these numbers (other than because I love metrics)? Well the data speaks for itself. It tells us the story of how our technology and services are impacting Explorers on a massive scale.
We also gained some insightful surprises. One year ago, most people in the community thought that Aira would be a tool primarily for navigation; now as it developed, only 23 percent of our sessions have related to navigation. And who would have anticipated that 28 percent of our sessions would have primarily involved reading—and now we're using the contexts from these sessions to help Chloe learn and review relevant material for you. This is a beautiful example of how the community is shaping Chloe's maturation.
Now, superficially, Aira's technology may seem simple: a camera on a pair of glasses connecting Explorers to a trained agent who describes the environment. But the platform the Aira service is built on is not just based on video streaming from a phone-to-phone, Facetime-type application. Instead, our platform re-creates a composite, virtual environment of where you are, in a digital space, relying on our proprietary dashboard technology that our agents run on their computers. The dashboard is an intelligent, context-aware data integrator with video streams, GPS, sensors, mobile network data, satellite images, street view maps, and indoor views—I can go on— but also a number of online applications including Lyft, Uber, Yelp, Amazon, and even AirBnB. Our dashboard also runs Chloe, who uses each session's interactions to become a smarter AI agent.
For the last year we have been working on the fundamentals of Chloe, who has come to life at the convention with our new Horizon Smart Glasses. [applause] Inspired by the feedback from our Explorers, and meticulously designed by Aira engineers, Horizon is equipped with computational power, improved camera specifications, network stability, and the simplicity of Chloe dialogue. This provides not just a stable platform for Explorers, but it is also purpose-built for making the most of the Aira service.
One of Chloe's principal advantages is her ability to learn from you and others with whom you interact. Chloe is now able to listen and respond to you through our Horizon Glasses. Another key skill of Chloe's is the ability to spot read, which is currently in beta testing. Here's a fun fact—some of the technical components used in Chloe's system are powered by the NFB's own KNFB Reader. But, given the fact that reading a document and reading an overhead sign require different skills, our human agents are available to help Chloe when she needs it. This means that Chloe will be able to master reading in the widest array of areas. Chloe's capacity for situational awareness is growing gradually with each Explorer interaction—and we're incredibly excited to see what she'll do next.
If you know about our Back to School program, say I. Awesome! Did you know that Aira has recorded over 32,000 minutes over 4,500 sessions of student Explorer use on college campuses around the nation? Students are putting Aira into action in a number of ways, including finding and selecting books from a library; getting descriptions of images in those books; reading handwritten text on the blackboard; submitting assignments online that present tricky forms; experiencing campus events; and even working on their online job profiles and formats, along with applying for jobs on company websites that may be inaccessible with screen readers.
Recognizing our partnership with the NFB, I am now proud to announce that Aira will offer each recipient of the 2018 NFB scholarship class access to our Back to School program. [applause] These students are guaranteed nine months of free Aira services, with all the advantages that Aira Explorers enjoy every day. At this point, I would like to thank our partner AT&T for its support with this program. [applause]
But these students are not the only ones we want to share the Aira experience with this week. If you haven't already, please, and I say please, download the free Aira app by visiting aira.io/app on your mobile phone, and sign up as a Guest. Most of you may already know this, but I would like to formally announce that the NFB convention and a number of locations in Orlando are free Aira Access locations for every one of you including Orlando International Airport and all Rosen Hotels. This is made possible through the creation of an exclusive NFB plan for Explorers, and we also have a special starter plan created available during the convention days.
Not only do I want you to try Aira, but I would like to make your experience at the convention as efficient and enjoyable as possible. Thanks to our partnership with Lyft, all Aira Explorer and Guest calls for organizing Lyft rides during the convention are free. So Lyft, thank you. [applause] For more information visit aira.io/nfb.
We are continuously expanding our Aira Access around the country for our Guests and Explorers to access the Aira service free. I want you to know that this is not just about Aira providing greater access to the blind community. It is in fact the blind community that is paving the way for greater access in our time for all. Did you know NFB HQ in Baltimore is also part of the Aira Access Network? Yep.
Let's talk about Aira at work. A fun fact: Over 25,000 work-related tasks were captured last year leading to a productive workplace. Earlier this year on Feb 21, Aira launched its Aira Employment Program, joined by President Mark Riccobono, which allows all career-seeking Explorers to use the Aira service for all career-search related activities at no cost. Explorers have used the program to create and review resumés, fill out job applications, get rides to the interview, access previously inaccessible content, and perform independent navigation to and from the interview. And employers have used the program to increase employee efficiency by providing access to the tools and technologies that can enhance productivity, self-sufficiency, and motivation. A fun fact which is not in my script is that we have four-hundred people in the last five months who used our career-seeking platform. [applause] This is why I am inviting every employer in the United States to become part of the Aira Employer Network. I am proud to share that the American Foundation for the Blind is the latest employer joining this network. There is a great workforce available for hire right now, just waiting for an opportunity to shine.
For example, the Aira Employment Program just got stronger, and the Aira Access Network just got better. Let's see. How many of you are self-employed? Well that's reasonable. Many of our sessions involve sorting customer receipts, confirming inventory, and providing online assistance to send invoices.
So, it's my pleasure to announce a brand new partnership with Intuit targeted to those who are self-employed or who are business owners. Intuit's mission is to power prosperity. So, to power your prosperity, starting this September Intuit will enable free use of Aira's service whenever any Explorer or Guest needs visual access to all matters pertaining to running your business. Here is the best part: it doesn't matter if you are an Intuit customer. We are literally talking about all tasks related to operating or managing your business. This includes reading receipts, invoices, filing taxes, selecting paint for a new office, and, of course, using the market-leading products from Intuit such as QuickBooks. Ted Drake, please stand up if you are in the room. I want to thank Ted Drake, chief accessibility officer at Intuit, for making this partnership happen. So Ted, thank you. [applause]
So far we have touched on four topics. By expanding access to Aira for students, jobseekers, employees, and employers, we have the potential to transform lives to take 70 percent to 7 percent together.
A quick note: Aira occasionally faces the challenge of how the media portrays an Explorer's authentic experience with our service. So, to address any doubt about what Aira as a company fervently believes, I am pleased to release our brand guidelines. To view these, please visit Aira.io/branding. I want to thank the Aira NFB Advisory Committee for its feedback in our development and articulation of these fundamental principles.
There are always new value-added features and updates being added to the Aira service. So far, most sessions between Explorers and agents have been conducted through voice. Recently, we incorporated a new feature into our system, designed for accommodating the needs of our deaf-blind Explorers and for Explorers who want to communicate discreetly with our agents. I'm glad the Aira Messages feature is available now for all Explorers.
How many of you here use the JAWS screen reader? In yet another example of how Chloe's intelligence is derived from conversations between Explorers and agents, Aira announced a new collaboration with VFO. The new collaboration will equip all VFO customers with free use of the Aira service should they require visual access to a screen while using one of VFO's products, such as the JAWS screen reader. This will help to increase the user's efficiency while simultaneously prioritizing the development of features suggested by the data sought. This integration will also help Chloe to learn patterns of the software. I want to thank Tom Tiernan, CEO of the VFO Group, for his partnership. [applause]
Let me talk about our latest and greatest features that I saved for this moment, for all of you. First though, how do you like our Aira agents' live and vivid descriptions of events such as the Super Bowl and the royal wedding? The royal wedding was in fact suggested by the NFB, so we made it happen just two nights before. Also, how many Explorers have gone to a concert, watched a movie, or been to a museum with Aira? Now, what if Explorers could choose to share those experiences with others live?
Yep, for the first time ever, at this 2018 Convention, I would like to announce a new feature called "Aira Live." Aira Live gives Explorers the ability to go live during a session with an Aira agent, allowing fellow Explorers and Guests to listen to a live audio stream of their session. Aira Live is perfect for Explorers who want to share their experiences at events, shows, movies, or for exploring as a group—publicly or privately. Every feature I've shared today is available to you now, and yes, Aira Live is in queue for the app store release anytime today. To learn more, talk to any of our staff; they will be waiting on the left when you exit the ballroom.
Aira Live is another innovative way to engage our community and to further help Chloe to understand the context of people's emotions. The more she learns, the better she can serve the community. And although Chloe's main role is to serve the community, she can't do it without first learning from it. That's why we say that it's Chloe being guided by the blind. So, to express my appreciation, I would like to ask all the Explorers and Guests in the audience to please stand. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause. [applause] Thank you.
So far, we've talked about education, employment, and access. But for me, our work at Aira is about restructuring the economy and the industry and community and its market serving blind people.
To express my appreciation and commitment to all of you, and to celebrate this convention with you, I am super pumped to remind you to join us for an exclusive Aira and NFB event, the concert tonight with Apl.de.Ap from the Black Eyed Peas.
Aira has been around for a little over three years now, and I hope you all see the progress, the impact, and the vision of this company. This company is about the community, and it is about restructuring the economy in the industry—an industry that requires behavior change and that requires everyone to come together. It invites and engages the blind and low-vision community to benefit from the profound advantages of our system together. In fact, today's screen readers are built for reading and interpreting screens designed for visual experiences, which is a great solution. However, there is a need for a solution which is entrenched in every aspect of a blind or low-vision person's life that can cut time-tasks, regardless of whether it requires humans or computer algorithms or AI to work.
Aira will save time for everyone, thus saving money for everyone. Incremental investments today will yield larger positive developments for tomorrow. Potential developments include efficiency, higher education, more jobs, and more fun. I would like to close by saying that Aira is just warming up, and we will not stop until the idea of inaccessibility becomes a thing of the past. [applause] Let's welcome the generation of new accessibility together. Please visit NewAccessibility.io to let me know your thoughts and ideas. Thank you for this opportunity.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Marc Maurer]
An Address Delivered by
Marc Maurer, Director of Legal Policy
National Federation of the Blind
July 8, 2018
In 1917, Calvin Coolidge, who would later become president of the United States, declared that four behaviors are responsible for making New England great. He said: “‘Eat it up.’ ‘Wear it out.’ ‘Make it do.’ ‘Do without.’” Frugality is the theme.
The author Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't that “Good is the enemy of great.” He believes that if the performance of a company is good—especially very good—that company is unlikely to achieve greatness because the people involved in it will think that there is no point in changing what is working well.
In his play King Lear, Shakespeare has one of his characters remark: “Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.”
In 1772 Voltaire wrote: “Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.” (The better is the enemy of the good.)
The recommendation is to embrace frugality and to be satisfied whenever it seems that matters are good enough. However, greatness remains the elusive objective. Change at the basic level demands extravagant exertion, extravagant expenditure, extravagant imagination, and extravagant leaps of faith. If the systems we encounter are really adequate to meet whatever needs we have, extravagance is not required. But if something new is expected in the creative process, we must find a way to gather the resources and to apply them with the intense concentration necessary to shift the balance for progress.
Such matters come to mind when I contemplate the work of the National Federation of the Blind. When is the wise choice to accept what is good enough, and when is an absolute demand for excellence the only reasonable approach? We are asked, indeed expected, to accept what other people regard as good enough—not just occasionally but on a continuing basis. Sometimes we are not asked to accept the judgments of others but ordered to do so. However, something within us rejects this demand. Something within us speaks to the souls we have, telling us that good enough will never do. Something within us demands the best that we know.
In 1949 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first President of the National Federation of the Blind, published an article in which he said that equality as reflected in the Constitution of the United States must be interpreted so that characteristics of different groups of people would be employed to make legal distinctions only when those characteristics are relevant. At the time he wrote, he had observed that two classes of human beings, prisoners and people with disabilities, had been misclassified by the Supreme Court in ways that are not legally defensible. In 1955 Dr. tenBroek wrote that rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States are as applicable to disabled people as they are to anybody else. He thought that special legislation to address rights of disabled people should not perhaps be a part of the law because this would indicate that other legal protections available to people without disabilities might not apply to disabled human beings. By 1966 he had concluded that a criminal statute, the White Cane Law, should be adopted to assure disabled human beings the right to live in the world.
As members of the National Federation of the Blind know, the notion of disability rights, which was new during the period that Dr. tenBroek wrote, has come a long way since the drafting of the White Cane Law. However, my own review of Supreme Court decisions addressing the topic of disability rights indicates that the breadth of the scope of protection is much more limited for people with disabilities than is true for other classes.
Some groups of business leaders in the United States are attempting to cause members of Congress to add yet more restrictions to the protections offered in the law for people with disabilities. What these business leaders are saying, in effect, is, “Surely we didn’t mean to include you in the businesses we operate. Surely we shouldn’t be required to hire you. We run businesses for regular people; surely the law doesn’t say we are required to welcome you.” However, these business leaders are in favor of equal treatment for disabled people as long as the equal treatment must be provided by somebody else. When disabled people ask if their money isn’t just as good as the money offered by others, the honest response is, “No, not really, because it comes connected with you, and we don’t like your kind. Besides, aren’t there special places for you to live and to work, and didn’t our tax money pay for them already?”
Most technologies have not been intended for the use of the blind. Two products that have been proclaimed as essential in settling the American continent are the rifle and the axe. Most people believe these two products cannot be used effectively by the blind. In my own case, in the past I have agreed with this assessment. In a liberating and instructional sequence of events, I myself have learned, at least in a rudimentary way, how to use an axe. After I had learned to do this, and after I had been bragging about how courageous and gifted I was for acquiring such skill, I came upon a fellow member of the National Federation of the Blind who had been chopping wood for more than twenty years. He took the ability of blind people to chop wood for granted, and he could not imagine that knowledgeable people would doubt that the blind can perform this task.
This experience helped to change my mind about the application of technology to the lives of the blind. Technology is a fancy word for a tool. Generally, a piece of technology is a complicated tool, although the basic machines are not. Our experience has also changed the approach of the National Federation of the Blind to technology. We believe that it must be built so that all of us can use it whether we have the ability to see or not. Using technology with vision is valuable, but using it with touch or sound is equally valuable. This thought helped in the development of the blind-drivable car, and it is an element of the basis for our program to ensure that autonomous vehicles have an interface that is equally usable by sighted or blind drivers. The alteration of the approach is less in the technology itself than in the expectations that blind and sighted people will use it to the same degree.
In 1738 Daniel Bernoulli published scholarly material in which he observed that increasing the speed of a fluid over a surface decreases the pressure. The Bernoulli principle has application in aviation because the top surface of an airplane wing is curved, which means that the air flowing over it travels faster than the air flowing under it, which decreases the pressure and creates lift.
Almost from its very beginnings blind people have participated in aviation as passengers, but we have also had other roles. Some of us have been aviation mechanics, and some of us have supplied food or other materials to the aviation industry. Several years ago one blind man declared that he had become a pilot, and he spoke to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. However, despite significant efforts on my part to observe this blind person flying a plane, I was unable independently to verify the claims he made.
If we have learned anything during the decades of our history, we have come to know that changes in society that welcome our talent come only when we participate. Ordinarily the leaders of society do not think of the blind when they plan a design for the future. Consequently, we must find a way to get the attention of the people with whom we interact. It is said of the Army mule that it is a useful animal if you can get its attention. Frequently a two-by-four beside the head is the easiest way to accomplish this. Sometimes our own form of two-by-four is the only practical approach.
If we intend, as indeed we do, to be recognized as the valuable people we are, we must plan strategies for participation in all elements of the society in which we live. Consequently, it is incumbent upon us to begin with imaginative dreams and to plan for those dreams to become real. When I met the man who said he was a blind pilot, I was not convinced that he was telling me the whole story. However, I was convinced that methods could be devised for us to become nothing less than the people responsible for flying the planes. Indeed, I have tried it myself, sitting at the controls of a plane owned by a friend of mine. However, I did not think that I had sufficient information, or the tools to gather it, to permit me to land the plane independently. Such products must be invented.
In the aviation industry we are mostly unwelcomed—not just as workers but also sometimes as passengers on commercial planes. The list of complaints from blind people attempting to fly independently and peaceably on the airlines of the nation and the world is extensive. We decided in the 1980s that something should be done, and we persuaded our government to adopt the Air Carrier Access Act. This law was originally interpreted to mean that those of us denied the opportunity to fly on a commercial airline because of our disabilities could bring suit in federal court to challenge the discrimination. However, the Supreme Court decided to change the nature of the interpretation of law such that a right to sue the airlines would be withdrawn.
We have proposed to the American Bar Association that it adopt a resolution recognizing the urgent need for disabled passengers not to encounter discrimination in air travel and to be able to challenge the discrimination in court. The most recent statistics available indicate that in 2016, 32,445 complaints regarding disability-related incidents were filed against the airlines with the Department of Transportation. Some statisticians believe that at least ten incidents occur for each one for which a complaint is filed. The Department of Transportation does have some administrative authority over the airlines, but it almost never takes any action on behalf of disabled passengers except to send a note to the airlines telling them that discrimination is forbidden. As one commentator put it, this is like telling the airlines, “Bad dogs, no, no!”
The Industrial Revolution altered the mechanisms of production and as a result the nature of society. Some authors believe that we are now in the 4th industrial revolution. In this revolution biological systems will become digital, nanotechnology will permit manipulation of tissue at the cellular level, pyramidal governance systems will give way to much more widely distributed knowledge and power, and alterations will take place in the classification of human beings and the methods for acquiring wealth. Already blockchain technology has created the cryptocurrencies that have brought wealth to some and heartache to others. These currencies have not been issued by government but arise from the nature of the technology that created them. They represent a previously unknown form of wealth. Predictions for blockchain technology suggest that this particular method of sharing information will change much more than the investment options represented by bitcoin. These alterations will inevitably modify political systems and the law.
Within the 4th industrial revolution some people will invent new machines; some will write books, although they will not be distributed on paper; some will imagine new forms of entertainment; and some will concentrate on new concepts. Those who create the machines will undoubtedly change the nature of the ways we interact with one another. However, the organizations and individuals to address the future in the most effective manner will be those who concentrate on ideas.
In the National Federation of the Blind we have invented technologies. We created NFB-NEWSLINE® for the blind, and we built the blind-drivable car. Our work was also quite influential in bringing Braille notetakers into the marketplace. However, we have done most of our work by inventing new methods of thought, and this has been the most influential contribution we could make. Ours is a philosophical comprehension of disability which declares that all human beings have contributions to make—that all have value. Our job is to find that value and to employ methods that will put it to work. We will not just survive the 4th industrial revolution; we will help to bring to it the kind of basic thought and the kind of uplifted spirit that make our contributions welcomed. However, none of this will happen until we have made our determination perfectly clear. We will be grateful for an invitation to help with the planning no more. We expect to be in meetings when the decisions are made. We will apologize for the changes that we demand no more. We require that universal acceptance of the value that we have be understood. Our place on the fringe is no longer enough. Not only will we walk the corridors of power; we will help to shape them. The form they take will be better than it might otherwise have been because of the ideas we bring. We have value, and we cannot be written off.
When I was a small boy, I told my mother that I could help. I did not want to be left out of the projects we undertook as a family. She gave me a job. Since that time I have had many, many jobs, but in most cases I have had to invent them myself. I have contributions to make and a burning desire to make them. My experience with members of the National Federation of the Blind informs me that I am not alone. You share this goal. You too have contributions to make.
As I was considering these thoughts for our national convention, my friend and colleague Pat Miller urged me to tell you of a saying of Confucius which is, "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." I feel certain she had in mind that organizations and human beings are not perfect but that they possess qualities of genuine value without achieving perfection. If you put your mind and your heart to the effort, a diamond you can become. Unique contributions can be made by your energy and your commitment. Reflecting upon the comments of our President at the 75th anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, I know for a certainty that working with each other we have the power to build a society that includes us all. I know for a certainty that we can create a welcoming personality for each of us within our nation. Properly polished we will have the hardness and the force that comes to the tool that carries the diamond as its cutting edge. The value we possess has the beauty of the facets cut from this most enduring gem. The dream of equality we share is extravagant—and the only reasonable approach. Let us gather the force to make it real.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Eve Hill]
by Eve Hill
From the Editor: Here are comments made during the meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors that were too long to be captured in the 2018 Convention Roundup but simply must not be left out of this issue. Eve Hill now works for Brown, Goldstein & Levy and has a long history of involvement with the Federation as a result of her legal work at this firm and in a number of other government jobs. Here is what she said to the board and its substantial audience:
President Riccobono asked me to make it snappy so we can get on to the reveal, maybe. So I’m not going to thank everyone, and I’m not going to say how honored we are at Brown, Goldstein & Levy to be working for the NFB, but I do want to take this moment to talk about the cases and how we and NFB’s other lawyers do fit into a bigger framework.
When NFB sends a demand letter to the Boeing Employees Credit Union [BECU], we’re not just trying to get access for the three individuals who complained about their mobile app not being accessible. We’re not even just getting the app fixed for all the blind people in Washington who want to bank with the same convenience as everyone else. We are working to change how credit unions think about mobile access. Right now the credit union industry is pushing back hard on having to make their websites and mobile apps accessible, but BECU is showing them that they have to, and they can, and it’s the right thing to do if you want to be in business.
And when we work with the NFB of Maryland to challenge inaccessible checkouts at one of the biggest retailers in the world, we are teaching that retailer that it can’t achieve staff savings by switching everyone else to self-service checkout but leaving blind people to rely on the fewer and fewer staff they’ll keep.
When we tell Blue Cross Blue Shield’s federal employee program they can’t have an inaccessible website, we’re not just saying that blind people want equal access to healthcare; we’re saying that even if the federal government neglects to enforce its rights to accessible technology, we, the blind people will.
When we sue the Department of Education for abdicating its responsibility to enforce our rights, we’re not just saying we have rights to education; we are saying the blind are full taxpaying citizens, and the government can’t use our tax money to fund discrimination. [applause] Don’t applaud; I’m going too slow.
When we sue employers in Maryland and Florida and Michigan for excluding blind people from employment and advancement by employing inaccessible job technology, we’re not just saying we want accommodations. We are saying that when you build new things and new technology, you have to build it accessibly.
When we tell online web design sites like GoDaddy that it has to make its own websites accessible, and it has to help its customers make its websites accessible, we’re not just making a website accessible; we’re saying stop the flow of inaccessible websites into the world at its source.
So there are a number of surveys out. This is where you come in. Asking you about your experiences, filing Department of Education complaints, using GoDaddy, encountering inaccessible educational technology, using mobile banking apps, getting accessible bills from your doctors or health insurance, and experiencing employment technology barriers. Your answer is not just about solving the problem you face for you; it’s about getting rid of that barrier for everyone and stopping new barriers for everyone.
So thank you for your responses and your advocacy and for making the world a better place. [applause]
[PHOTO CAPTION: The 2018 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class. Back row, left to right: Matthew Turner, Tasnim Abdulsalam Alshuli, Elizabeth Rouse, John E. Harrison, Tyron Bratcher, Chrys Buckley, Paige Young, Shane Lowe, Eric J. Harvey, Sarah Beth Patnaude. Middle row, left to right: Harry Staley Jr., Sara LaVel Mornis, Yasmine Marie Sarraf, Trisha Kulkarni, Justin Heard, Seth Lowman, Jeff Humphrey, Cathy Tuton, Olivia Charland, Naim Muawia Abu-El Hawa. Front row, left to right: Alexandra Florencia Alfonso, Connor James Mullin, Purvi Contractor, Amanda L. Lannan, Caitlin Sarubbi, Kenia Flores, Ozgul Calicioglu, Rilee Sloan, Menuka (Jyoti) Rai, Millad Bokhouri]
The head of the scholarship committee, Cayte Mendez, introduced the 2018 scholarship class with these remarks:
Good morning, Mr. President and members of the board. It's been my privilege to serve as chair of this committee for the past year. Before I go any further, I just want to take a quick opportunity to thank my predecessor, Patti Chang, for all of her hard work with the committee. [applause] With her mentorship and the support of the committee members, it's made my learning curve as smooth as it could possibly have been, so thanks.
This scholarship program is an opportunity for the National Federation of the Blind to emphasize our commitment to academic excellence and leadership among blind students. The folks I'm going to introduce to you this morning exemplify these qualities in spades. I'm going to introduce each scholarship finalist in this fashion: first name, last name, and then two states. The first state is their home state; the second state is the state where they will be attending school. Now, last night at the NABS board meeting the students did a really wonderful job of following these directions, so today I hope the folks in the audience can follow them as well. [laughter] Please reserve your applause until the end. There are thirty scholarship finalists, and if we clap for all of them, we're going to be here until next Tuesday. They're all wonderful and deserve our attention, so let's please clap for them at the end. Now the students could follow these directions—so the audience at the board meeting, I hope you can as well.
Our first scholarship finalist this year, alphabetically, is one of only thirteen men in this class. Once again the numbers are skewed toward the ladies.
Naim Abu-El Hawa, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning, Federation family. It is my most sincere pleasure to be here this morning with ya'll and to be honored with the value of being a scholarship finalist. Little bit about me: I am studying international relations with a Middle East politics concentration. A fun fact about me: I am proud to identify with my activist status, no political implications within—actually, lots of political implications within. I cannot reiterate enough the honor that has been placed in my hands being a scholarship finalist, and I hope to live up to the expectations that the National Federation of the Blind has placed in my trust and care. Thank you fellow Federationists.
Alexandra Alfonso, District of Columbia, District of Columbia: In the fall I plan on attending Catholic University, where I will major in music education and pre-law. One day I hope to be a teacher of the visually impaired and a practicing lawyer in juvenile courts. I went to a school for the arts for three years, where I majored in vocal music, which motivated me to do music education. Thank you.
Tasnim Alshuli, Arizona, Arizona: Hello, everyone. Thank you. I'm so honored, first of all, to be here and to be one of the finalists in the 2018 scholarship class. I am a doctoral student in education. My focus is mathematics and visual impairment. I have faced a lot of exclusiveness and inaccessibility as well as discrimination in my education career. I have met a lot of you that have also faced the same in either K12 or higher education. I am devoting myself to research how blind students learn mathematics, and with your help my NFB family—brothers and sisters—we will do it together. Thank you.
Millad Bokhouri, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Hello NFB. I'm getting my master's in health care administration, specializing in disability services in medicine. The projected stats for the blind population in the United States are that it will grow by 30 percent. Seventy-five percent of that will be ages fifty-five and older, and I personally believe that they have a more difficult time adjusting to their vision loss and blindness than our citizens starting at a younger age. My motivation is that the blind people in this country need to break into health care and make an active change there. I'm hoping that by implementing and learning about administrative services, I can be a better advocate for not only the blind but also the sick and the ill. I'm also hoping that by next year when I come back to the 2019 convention—wherever it is—that I would also be able to potentially develop a health care committee to create transparency for not only health care individuals in medicine who are blind, but also within the immediate community.
Tyron Bratcher, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning, Federation family. This coming fall I will be completing my final year of undergraduate studies at Coppin State University in Baltimore. I am studying social work, and I have a rehabilitation services minor. After I am finished at Coppin, I am planning on pursuing my master's degree in social work, doing work that helps people who are not only blind but people with all types of disabilities realize what most of us here already do, which is that no matter what's going on, what type of disability you have, whatever the case is, it doesn't have to automatically stop you from living the life that you want. I am truly honored to be here. I have attended many conventions, but it is an honor to be here this year as one of the national scholarship finalists. I'm not only involved in things in the Federation but also in my school. And one of them that I am looking forward to this year is I may possibly have an opportunity to join my school's executive board of student government association this coming year as a representative to the University System of Maryland's student council, which has the opportunity to make recommendations to our chancellor and our board of regents on different issues including appointments of student regents and different things like that. I'm looking forward to that, and even if I don't get that position, I may have the opportunity to join in a different executive board position. I truly enjoy being part of the Federation, and I definitely use what I’ve learned here to help me with other things that I'm involved in at school as well as in my community. I thank you for all the support that everyone has given me over the years, and I look forward to continuing to be active in helping to build the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Our next finalist is also a tenBroek Fellow. That means that she has previously won a National Federation of the Blind scholarship, and this honor is named after Jacobus tenBroek, a renowned leader in our organization's past. So, without further delay I'm going to introduce all of you to Chrys Buckley, Oregon, Oregon:
Good morning, NFB. In a month from tomorrow I will be starting medical school, and it was a long journey to get to this point. I earned degrees in micromolecular biology, biochemistry, and arts and letters, and worked as a chemistry tutor and tutor coordinator. When it was time for me to take the MCAT, the NFB intervened to make sure that I got testing accommodations. I love science, and I love working with people, so I'm really excited for this new journey and also really excited and so grateful to be here today.
Ozgul Calicioglu, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, NFB. Thank you for welcoming me here. I obtained my bachelor's and master's degrees in environmental engineering in Turkey and another bachelor's in business management in Russia. Currently my PhD studies at Penn State involve converting waste into valuable products and biofuels. I conducted some part of this research in Switzerland last summer, and this summer I am interning in the UN in the food and agricultural organization headquartered in Rome, Italy. My work there is about assisting countries to attain the global sustainable development goals of the UN. I'm very passionate about sustainability as much as disability advocacy, and I aspire to a career in academia to raise environmentally-conscious and socially-aware citizens.
Olivia Charland, Massachusetts, Vermont: Hi. So this is my first time attending an NFB convention. This week was my first time traveling alone, and this was sort of my first time being independent. I'm not a naturally outspoken person; I'm not that outgoing. I've never been very open about being visually impaired, so this convention was a really critical first step in breaking some of those restraints I had been unwittingly putting on myself because I am blind. I'm going into a STEM field, and I'm hoping to do research in biology and biotech. I know it's going to be a challenge, but I know that the NFB is going to be behind me and that I'm going to have support from this community and that with that help I'm going to be able to achieve my dreams. Thank you for having me.
Purvi Contractor, Texas, Texas: Good morning, President Riccobono, members of the board of directors, and fellow Federationists. This fall I will be attending the University of Texas at Dallas and pursuing a bachelor's of science in physics. My goal is to be a scientist at NASA or conduct research at the university. Last year I completed a quantitative case study analyzing bird strikes with airplanes for the Dallas-Fort Worth and the Dallas Love Field airports. During my high school career I had advocated for the rights of the blind. When I was in ninth grade I presented a prototype of a Braille label on Pepsi products. I would like to thank you for this opportunity. For parents and teachers, I would like to encourage you to encourage your child or student to apply for this scholarship. Thank you.
Kenia Flores, North Carolina, South Carolina: Good morning, fellow Federationists. It is truly an honor to be recognized as a scholarship finalist. I am a rising junior at Furman University, majoring in politics and international affairs. I recognize that my rights as a woman who is Hispanic and blind would not be possible without individuals who came before me. After graduating from Furman I plan to attend law school so that I can become a civil rights attorney and protect the rights of individuals who fall within protected classes. I look forward to continuing to build the National Federation of the Blind alongside you and continuing our efforts to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind. Thank you.
John Harrison, Wisconsin, Wisconsin: Good morning, y'all. It's good to be back to my second convention. I'm having a great time; I hope you are too. Next year I'll be a sophomore majoring in English, creative writing, and psychology. I love reading and writing, so if you have any good book recommendations, hit me up. I am just fascinated by psychology. Next year I will get the opportunity to be my campus LGBTQ peer educator, and I'll be able to go into classrooms and help people through education, sitting on panels, and just being an advocate for them. I think that's great practice, because the life I want to live is helping others live the lives they want through education and advocacy. I'd like to thank you all for helping me live the life I want, and I look forward to talking to you all. Have a good day.
Now these next two finalists (I just have to share this with you) have the same birthday—not the same year, but they were both born January 15. So the first of them is Eric Harvey, California, Massachusetts:
Good morning, and thank you for this phenomenal honor. I am in the final year of my PhD, finishing up my dissertation in Near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis University. In my research I study the history, religion, and literature of the ancient Middle East. This means everything from the epic of Gilgamesh in Babylonian to funerary inscriptions in Phoenician to the Dead Sea Scrolls in Hebrew and Aramaic. And let me tell you, if you think information accessibility is a problem today, phew. [laughter] I study the religious past, but I don't want to keep it in the past. My goal is to become a professor because I think right now that religious literacy is one of the most important skills for the world we live in to understand the history and traditions of our own religion and to understand the religions of our neighbors and friends, both locally and across the globe. Thank you so much for supporting my last year of studies, and hopefully I will never need to apply for this scholarship again.
Justin Heard, Georgia, Georgia: Hello. I just want to say, the Federation love for students is both awesome and terrifying, so thank you. I'm literally controlling my breathing right now. I'm attending Georgia College and State University seeking a bachelor's degree in psychology, and then afterward I will either attend Louisiana Tech to get a master's in teaching blind students, or I will attend Orthodox Christian Seminary—so, Lord knows what's happening. [laugher] I have been president of the Georgia Association of Blind Students for the past four years, and I have been a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia for almost a year. I am a graduate of BLIND, Incorporated [cheers] from Minnesota, both the prep program and the adult program, and I'm also working at the Colorado Center for the Blind [cheers] this summer as a technology instructor and residential counselor. I believe that is all about me.
Jeff Humphrey, Michigan, Michigan: Ladies and gentlemen of the National Federation of the Blind: Next year I shall finish my bachelor's degree at Olivet College in sociology/anthropology, and also my double minors in political science and religious studies. After that I shall go on to Case Western Reserve University in Ohio [cheers], and I shall complete my master's degree in ethnomedicine and global health. My goals are to ensure that people are cared for and that I can become a holistic healer and help bridge the gap in our medical system and treating our people with compassion. I also wish to start a global educational exchange where cultures can share with one another all the different histories that they have so that we can learn from one another, respect one another, enjoy each other for who we are, and stop fighting so many wars. My other goal is to ensure that the advancement of Braille literacy continues, so after this I shall go and submit my name for the Braille committee. In high school I was always a member of SGA [Student Government Association]. I was even a member of the National Honor Society. In college I served on our Student Government Association for three years, two years as our activities liaison. I am the community service representative for Elite, or the Alpha Xi Omega social fraternity at Olivet College. I was also a founding member of this group called the Disability Rights Council, which is a group that advocates for all disabled students on campus for accommodations and to ensure that they can do the jobs that they wish to do. Thank you for giving me this opportunity as a first-time conventioneer and even as a newly-made NFB member. I did not expect to receive this honor. We must remember: we must educate to liberate.
Trisha Kulkarni, Ohio, California: In addition to yesterday being the national celebration of our country's independence, this first week in July has also come to have significant personal meaning to me. Last year at this time my family and I worked tirelessly to organize a fundraiser that raised over $70,000 for retinal research to help others with unstable eye conditions live the lives they want. Today I am also celebrating my one-year anniversary with my guide dog Liberty, my first national convention, and my newfound membership as a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind. [cheers] I will be attending Stanford University in the fall and majoring in symbolic systems with the hope of becoming a software engineer. Thank you so much for welcoming me to the NFB family.
Amanda Lannan, Florida, Florida: Good morning. I believe that education is the foundation for our future. Therefore my journey started long ago when I was diagnosed as being blind, but my parents really pushed me. I tried anything and everything, and because of their efforts, I have journeyed, and I find myself now at the University of Central Florida pursuing a PhD in exceptional student education. My focus though is on new teacher preparation. My goal is to help those teachers to understand that high expectations will lead to success. My purpose in life is to educate all children with hope, equality, and resourcefulness. I wanted to also share that I am a huge advocate. I will be leaving early Monday morning right after this amazing convention to go for the Student Exceptional Leadership Summit. I will be in Washington; I’ll be on the Hill. I have been doing a lot of research, but I will be advocating for many of our efforts here in the NFB: the AIM High and all of those initiatives. Additionally, I will be in Washington again for another summit at the end of July, and then I am really looking forward to going to Maryland and volunteering with the STEM EQ because I love to hang out with students, and I cannot wait to empower them with some STEM learning. Finally, my research involves augmentative and virtual realities, and we're working on how those technologies can benefit the accessibility of STEM for students who are blind. I really appreciate the honor, and let's go continue to build this amazing Federation.
Shane Lowe, Kentucky, Kentucky: Amanda, that's great. I'm here for the check. [laughter] No, not that check, the reality check, because there are so many misconceptions around the NFB. And in case you guys didn't know, as a member of the NFB you are allowed to ask other people for directions. When I'm not here, I'm an incoming freshman at a university you've never heard of, majoring in business administration and cyber security to reform the way that blind people analyze cyber threats so that we may live the lives we want and not the lives the guy who nicked our social security numbers want. I also want to combat these in the corporate world. I am a software engineer for Pearson, I'm a published author, and I've had the privilege of working with Kentucky's commissioner of education to enhance both my geographic and demographic community. On a more exciting note for some of you, tomorrow you will get to see me in a different light. Tomorrow evening I will have the honor of performing with Precious Perez at the welcoming concert, and I still suspect that they will make me buy a ticket. See you there; thank you so much.
Seth Lowman, Idaho, Montana: Okay, I want to begin by asking you how many of you are tech-savvy musicians? [scattered cheers and applause] All right, well, you're in luck. I'm studying music technology over at Montana State University and am paving the way for future music tech students in that field. My goal to help the NFB is to eventually advocate for better accessibility in the music tech world. So in the future we will have no more synthesizer inaccessibility, no more Soft Sense inaccessibility, etc., etc. You guys know the field; you know what I'm talking about. And I also want to be able to bring resources that already are accessible to the blind. Thank you.
Sara Mornis, Vermont, Vermont: Good morning. I am truly honored to be recognized as a scholarship finalist. And as a first-time conventionist I want to thank you all for being welcoming. I am attending Johnson State College as a senior this fall, studying English and psychology. I plan on pursuing a master's in counseling after that. I have passion for reading, writing, and helping others. So thank you.
Connor Mullin, New Jersey, Louisiana: Thank you, everyone. Joe Ruffalo, as a fellow New Jerseyan, I was wondering if someone could go pick up my vehicle donation; it's currently sitting over the Hudson River. [laughter] Famous O&M thinker and teacher Joe Cutter and others talk about how independent travel and learning independent travel skills are some of the most important things to encouraging blind people to go out into their world, literally and in an abstract sense to explore and achieve. Having the privilege of learning from Joe Cutter at a young age helped me when in my college years I began to build my independence. Getting involved with the Federation helped me to conduct an original research project of all state justices of supreme courts throughout the country, and it also helped when working with blind students in the Employment Development Guidance and Engagement Program run by Dan Frye, and now in my current endeavor as a graduate student in the cane travel instruction program at Louisiana Tech. I look forward to continuing to benefit from these insights with my connections with the Federation to give students the gift of independence. Thank you.
Our next finalist is also a tenBroek Fellow. This is Sarah Patnaude, Virginia, Virginia:
Good morning, Federation. As a cosplayer [a contraction of the words costume play], I know the importance of a good sewing machine, the ability to create patterns, and the importance of a good attitude in creating and embodying a character. The Federation has given me the necessary tools, skills, and confidence to become the individual, leader, and advocate I aspire to be. With my master's in social work I hope to become an advocate for those who so often do not have a voice and to empower others to awaken their inner hero or villain, just as you have done with me.
Menuka Rai, North Dakota, North Dakota: Good morning to you all. I have always dreamt of working in the medical field, so I'm studying physical therapy at the University of North Dakota. I have realized now that it is not always easy to turn our dreams into reality. Sometimes I get frustrated, and I feel like giving up. But then I think of the potential that I have and all the people who I will be able to help in the future by facing and overcoming all of the challenges. So that's what keeps me going. I would like to thank the NFB for encouraging me to move forward, and thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
Elizabeth Rouse, Iowa, Iowa: Hello everyone whose names I haven't learned yet. To add on to what Cayte has told you about me already, I am going to be a junior this fall at Central College. We are the Dutch. (I don't understand the mascot, either.) I have a lot of various campus activities in and outside the classroom. I'm an English/theater double major with a religion minor, and on any given Thursday night you can find me in Kuyper Athletic Center with my forty-five pseudo-big brothers also known as the Dutch wrestling team. Keeping forty-five college-age boys under control is a lot harder than you think. I also enjoy my job as a writing tutor; they're a lot quieter over there. Anything else you want to know, please ask; I'm here all week.
Yasmine Sarraf, Arizona, Arizona, and before she speaks I have to tell you that she is the last of eight finalists whose birthdays are in February. That's almost a third of the class. I don't know what's going on in February, but that's a good month. Go ahead, Yasmine: Good morning, everyone. This is my first convention, and I'm honored to be here. This year I will be majoring in forensic science in the Barrett Honors Program of Arizona State University. What really attracted me about this major was the variety of fields that it encompasses that I'm interested in, such as criminal justice, psychology, and the sciences—especially biology. I've known that I wanted to do forensics ever since I was eight years old and first heard about it. And I knew I wanted to do biology even before that, when I saw my first microscope in sixth grade. But the thing I really love about forensics is that I will be able to help people in so many ways, more than what I've been able to do in my community service projects in high school, because I will have learned all of what I need. What I've done before is the Welcome to America Project, so I've helped refugees, and I've worked at the Foothills Animal Rescue Shelter, where I helped care for abandoned and neglected animals. I've really loved being at this convention and seeing how my legal blindness can be used as a way to connect with people instead of isolating me from them, and being able to meet other blind people as hard-working and dedicated as I am and want to continue to be. So thank you.
Caitlin Sarubbi, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. It's an incredible honor to be here with you today. I was born with a rare syndrome which left me legally blind, hearing impaired, and having undergone over sixty-five surgeries. This is what initially sparked my passion for medicine. I graduated from Harvard in 2015 with a degree in social and cognitive neuroscience, and I'm currently earning a master's degree and applying to medical school this summer. I am also a United States Paralympian and competed in alpine ski racing at the 2010 games in Vancouver. I love to volunteer, teaching other children and veterans with disabilities how to live the lives that they want through sports. Thank you guys so much.
Rilee Sloan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: In the fall I will begin university as a history and political science major. I intend on becoming a lawyer specializing in disability advocacy, though I am also very passionate about other forms of advocacy. For example, LGBTQ+ advocacy and mental health awareness is also something I'm passionate about. I also work for the ACLU Smart Justice Campaign which is a national initiative to promote criminal justice reform and reduce the prison population by 50 percent. While attending university I hope to use those experiences to strengthen my leadership skills. I hope that by developing these skills I can serve my community more effectively.
Harry Staley, Texas, Texas: [cheers] Thank you my Texas family. I am currently attending Texas A&M San Antonio, majoring in computer science. My vocational goal is to become an autonomous vehicle engineer. I currently serve this country as a systems analyst for the United States Army. And in that role the biggest thing that I have learned is that accessibility needs to be baked in, not bolted on. [cheers]
Matthew Turner, Idaho, Massachusetts: Good morning, members of the board, Federationists. I'm Matt. I'm a rising sophomore at MIT, studying computer science and economics with a 4.9 GPA. My underlying mission in life is to inspire others to learn, dream, grow, and achieve. I have done this through leadership in my student council, where I helped us overcome an $18,000 budget loss, as well as through service in Mamelodi, South Africa, where I traveled with a team to educate high school students so that they could go on and pass college entrance exams. This summer I am currently interning at HP, and I am excited to begin research on a virtual assistant that will function similarly to Aira this fall at the MIT computer science and artificial intelligence lab. This is my first NFB convention, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am excited to get to know all of you more. Thank you.
This class ranges from eighteen to fifty, and this next finalist (and I won't tell you where on the continuum she falls), but she celebrated her birthday here with us on the third. This is Cathy Tuton, Oklahoma, Oklahoma:
Hi fellow Federationists. I am a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I am currently attending the Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City campus, working on my associate's degree. Then I will be going to the OU Health Sciences Center to get my bachelor's and master's in dietetics to be a registered dietician. As a small child all I wanted to do was to be in the medical field, but I was always told that because I'm blind I can't. I am very proud to say that I am fifty, I am the oldest one here, but I will tell you that with all of the obstacles that I've had to climb over, go around, and figure out a way to get through, I want to help other people, blind, sighted, and otherwise, to learn how to be healthy, to live a healthy life, not to be sick and die young because of their illnesses that can be prevented by healthy eating and exercise. I already have an associate's degree in personal fitness training that will go great with my degree that I'm working on now. Thank you very much.
Paige Young, Maine, Maine: Hi. I'll be a junior at Husson University this fall. I'm studying to receive my master's in business administration through accounting. As well as being blind, I'm also a type 1 diabetic, and over the last eight years I've coordinated the annual walk-a-thon in my county. It's fun to do that as well.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Harry Staley speaking at banquet]
At the banquet Harry Staley won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what he had to say:
Fellow Federationists, I had some words prepared, but I honestly did not think I would be standing up here. But one thing I can tell you is that I am surrounded by leaders who poured their lives into us as students. I'm constantly surrounded by people like Norma Crosby [cheers] and Glenn Crosby, some of the first folks that I met in coming back to the Federation two years ago. I thought I was a big dreamer before, but every day that I'm in the Federation, my dreams get pushed. I have a wonderful wife; I thought I was living my dream until I came and got involved in the National Federation of the Blind. And it's so true: my dreams are becoming a reality because I am involved in this organization, and I am pushed to dream bigger every single day. [applause]
Following is a complete list of 2018 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to the awards listed below, each finalist also received: $1,000 and additional prizes donated by Dr. Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation; $1,000 from Google and the newest Chromebook; a generous certificate from Cary Supalo and Independence Science toward the purchase of a Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest; a complimentary nine-month subscription to Aira; and a KNFB Reader courtesy of the NFB.
$3,000 NFB Scholarships (17): Naim Abu-El Hawa, Alexandra Alfonso, Millad Bokhouri, Tyron Bratcher, Olivia Charland, Purvi Contractor, John Harrison, Justin Heard, Jeff Humphrey, Amanda Lannan, Seth Lowman, Sara Mornis, Connor Mullin, Menuka Rai, Yasmine Sarraf, Rilee Sloan, and Paige Young
$3,000 Expedia Scholarships (2): Tasnim Alshuli and Caitlin Sarubbi
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Eric Harvey
$3,000 E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Sarah Patnaude
$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Matthew Turner
$5,000 NFB STEM Scholarship: Cathy Tuton
$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Elizabeth Rouse
$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Shane Lowe
$5,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship: Kenia Flores
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Ozgul Calicioglu
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Trisha Kulkarni
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Chrys Buckley
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Harry Staley, Jr.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Chancey Fleet]
by Chancey Fleet
From the Editor: Our history dictates much of what we believe, is the glue that holds us together, and represents a significant force guiding our policies and priorities: the shared experiences that come to make up the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. But the future isn't just history repeating itself. We are challenged to supplement our history with the changing demands and opportunities of today and to have those policies influenced for as far into the future as we can meaningfully speculate.
In this address, delivered on July 6, 2018, Chancey speaks to the proven techniques that have been a part of our independence, to the new technology that can either expand or limit it, and to the necessity of us seeing that it does the former rather than the latter. With her firm philosophical understanding, her impressive grasp of current technology, and the gift she has for blending all of this into something that speaks to us all, here is what she said:
We come to convention every year to gather the wisdom we’ll need to direct the course of the year to come: in our own lives, in the support we give to each other, and in the guidance and mentorship we offer to those who would like to be trusted as our allies. That’s a big job to fit into a week.
Twenty-five years ago today, I believe, in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan spoke to our convention about “The Nature of Independence.” Some students had written to him asking why, as a leader in the Federation and a proponent of cane travel skills, he had been noticed moving through the hotel with a guide. Dr. Jernigan explained that, while skills like cane travel and fluency in Braille are key, the core meaning of independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others and to get the information you need with the minimum of inconvenience or expense. Our independence comes from within, he said, and it depends on our self-respect, confidence, our will, and our ability to make choices. As we consider how technologies shape our lives and how we might shape technology through research, training, and advocacy, Dr. Jernigan’s conception of the nature of independence gives us points of reference that are useful whether we’re talking about canes, guides, or artificial intelligence.
As a technology educator I know it’s not enough to teach someone how a particular tool works: you can understand the layout of a screen or all the features of a recorder, but unless you have a sense of how and when to use each tool and how it’s valuable, that knowledge isn’t worth much.
Dieter Bohn, who writes for an online tech publication called The Verge, suggests that we think of new tech as instruments. “When you use an instrument,” he explains, “you have an expectation that it is going to take effort to use it well. It takes practice. You form a relationship with it. It becomes part of your identity when you make something with it. You tune it.” I would like to venture to add that, no matter how familiar and comfortable an instrument becomes, you can’t depend on it completely. You have to know that, if your favorite instruments break or you have to travel without them, you can still make your own music.
Mainstream media and the technology sector often talk about consumer technologies as though the instrument does all the work. But our successes and mistakes, no matter how dramatic, are made in the interplay among our instruments, skills, choices, and thoughts. Right now our community is grappling with the rise of visual interpreters: apps and hardware that supply visual information to blind people using computer vision, verbal description from a human being, or some combination of the two. Sighted assistance on demand is, potentially, a distraction from the cultivation of skills: having an interpreter on hand might make us less likely to check for Braille signage, label stuff, or notice landmarks as we travel. Even people who are comfortable with nonvisual techniques can be distracted by high-tech solutions because our attention is a finite commodity. I spent a couple of minutes my first day here using an app that shall remain nameless to sort shampoo and lotion bottles in my hotel room, only to discover in the middle of my shower that there were Braille characters marching around the cap on each one. I’ve noticed that sometimes, when a person is using an app to navigate, he or she (or okay, I) might start to have a cane arc that’s not so even and wide anymore. My husband says it looks like you’re plowing the fields, and we might attend less to the information that comes from the textures, patterns, and sounds around us. There’s something else competing for our attention. That doesn’t mean that we shame people any more than we shame people for bad typing technique. We give people options, and we give people tools. It’s hard to play more than one instrument at the same time. It’s not impossible, but blindness training must include strategies for using tech with mindfulness and self-awareness so that technology enriches rather than flattens our perceptions. [applause]
Technology meant to make our lives more convenient (or to borrow a buzzword that I hate—frictionless) is a buffet of unlimited enablement’s for anyone blind or sighted who can afford to partake. If you don’t want to walk five blocks, take a Lyft. Are you hungry, are you out of groceries and you can’t bother to talk to a human? Try GrubHub. Choosing between the convenience of a few taps and a less predictable adventure in the real world can be a struggle, and it’s an easy slide from some occasional use of an app to conjure up a pizza party or a late-night ride to a bleak procession of lunches ordered to your desk and long expensive rides that save twenty minutes on the train. Maybe developers have a responsibility to build in tools that help us notice and alter new patterns as they emerge. Maybe self-discipline is best managed within the self. Either way, your daily decisions add up to the lives we choose to live: when you walk in your city, are you always waiting for the next piece of advice, turn after turn, or do you sometimes pick a direction and just go? Do you ever get lost and take joy in the confusion, the clues along the way, and that feeling that you get when you’re not lost anymore?
Supporting and sometimes challenging each person’s ability to develop and his or her approach to independence is sometimes difficult and always worthwhile. Because of this Structured Discovery I received, informally through my mentors and formally through the Colorado Center for the Blind, I use technology to enhance and not replace the skills that I carry with me in my brain and my body. I love that I can discover a new coffee shop or get walking directions, but I know that if my phone dies, I’ll live. And I can always problem-solve, use what I know about urban and rural geography, and check out ambient clues in my environment to get where I am going.
Two years ago I went sea kayaking on Tomales Bay with the San Francisco LightHouse. [applause from the California delegation] I can easily use some ambient clues in my environment to know where the California delegation is sitting in the session. So we camped on Tomales Bay. There are no roads, no bars on my phone, no digital guides of any kind, but because of my fundamental trust in my nonvisual skills, that was a peaceful respite and not a scary time.
I grew up using Braille and a screen reader both since kindergarten, and my Braille teacher was petrified that if I learned to use a computer too early, I would abandon Braille. She was not wrong to worry, but instead of fearing the computer, she ultimately supported me using both and became the advocate in my life who would ensure that one day I would switch back and forth between Braille and speech and sometimes both all the time. [applause]
As we explore technologies for visual interpretation, we’ve got to practice mindfulness, and we’ve got to practice art. There is an art to effectively using a cane, taking notes with the slate, communicating efficiently when you’re working with a reader or a shopping assistant. The prevailing narrative in marketing materials and mainstream media sometimes is so reductive as to suggest that these technologies for the blind are mostly powered by magic, bouncy music, and positive thinking, but using machine vision and visual interpretation is an art that you learn.
I love learning new origami models. There is something really cool about following lots of little steps to transform a plain square paper into a flower or a fish, but most instructions online are chock full of pictures and diagrams and videos featuring several minutes of totally silent moving hands. I access this content using a visual interpreter, specifically sometimes Aira. But I am not a passive recipient of description. Here are a few things I had to learn first before I could actually learn how to fold a Koi fish with the help of an Aira agent: I learned that I needed a well-lighted workspace, and my phone camera works best [instead of the glasses provided]. I learned that the instructions that I think are good online because they have the most text are the most ad ridden and cluttered from a visual perspective, so believe it or not, the silent YouTube videos sometimes work the best. I learned that vocabulary is important. “Fold in half” can mean six different things, so it is better to say “bring the top right corner to the lower left corner and then crease.” Not every interpreter will be familiar with the vocabulary I prefer for this or any task, so I need to learn how to make suggestions that are clear, kind, and consistent. I’ve got to choose a time for skill building where I’m not feeling rushed so that I can give myself time to negotiate communication, work through mistakes, and not get frustrated. Last but not least, I have to write those steps down so I won’t need an interpreter next time, and at the end of the session I have not one fish but fish for a lifetime. [applause]
Directing technological innovation begins with the way we direct ourselves and one another. I believe that we best serve our community when we actively engage with the full range of instruments available. When we teach nonvisual skills, we introduce sleep shades as a tool to limit the distractions of visual information and help learners develop proficiency and trust in nonvisual techniques. We take other tools out of play to achieve instructional goals: sighted assistants, Perkins Braillers, GPS—you name it, you’re not getting it during training. Constraint is a powerful tool for focusing attention, directing effort, and building confidence. But I would encourage our mentors and professionals to practice the fine art of pursuing excellence through constraint while still supporting at appropriate times the exploration of high-tech tools as part of blindness training.
Our professionals around the country and informal mentors offer an approach that’s free from sales and marketing hype and grounded in the belief that any blind person can achieve the goal given the right skills and opportunities. We need a framework for exploring Structured Discovery and technology together to build confidence across unfamiliar situations, active goalsetting, problem-solving, task analysis, self-awareness, self-confidence—like structure discovery always does. High-tech tools work better when you’ve got solid Structured Discovery training, so let’s spark conversations and learning opportunities to use both, and let’s invite developers to design ways for users to experience and explore the structure discovery mindset. [applause]
We must ensure with the full power of collective advocacy that technology does not create collective harm. When I bought the first version of KNFB, it didn’t connect to the internet, so we didn’t update it much, and it was harder to share documents. But you know what—my software didn’t change unless I told it to. We’re living in an era of accessibility as a service. If you’ve ever updated to a newer operating system or an app and lost some abilities to read controls and screens, if you’ve felt like an unwilling test dummy when you’ve told a developer that you can’t do something anymore and gotten a form letter that thanks you for your feedback, you know why this is bad.
We live under the constant shadow of digital precarity: software can change at any time in ways that make our instruments more frustrating and less useful. Not only must we insist that new technologies be born accessible, but we must pursue with equal vigor acceptance of the proposition that accessibility should not be breached, that software testing includes performance with accessibility features to the degree that unusable features are not shipped and developers who, through errors or inaction, distribute software with accessibility breaches in it provide explanations and concrete action plans as they would when a security breach or service downtime affects the general population. [applause]
Algorithms are pieces of code that make decisions based on information they receive. They may check to see that you are running a screen reader and without your explicit consent send you to a special subprime version of a webpage. Algorithms can parse images and texts like the ones you might find in a social media context and decide what information gets exposed to your screen reader. If I take the liberty of defining algorithm broadly as anything that digitally mediates information and decision, an algorithm decides whether people uploading images to Twitter are prompted to describe them by default or are expected to find that accessibility tool buried in a secondary setting screen. Algorithms create the ads you see, the music you hear, your transit directions. They automate the information that cloud-based services collect about you, how long it’s kept, who can access it, and how your identity is protected or not protected. Algorithms surface what you find when you look for information about yourself. If you’ve ever done a search for the word “blind” and were disappointed by links for window shades and medical cures, you know what it’s like to work with an algorithm that was not designed with you in mind.
Algorithmic accountability is the process of assigning responsibility for harm when algorithmic decision-making results in discriminatory and inequitable outcomes. In the era of accessibility as a service, it’s time we hold developers accountable. When code denies assistive technology users access to cloud-based platforms or directs us to separate and subprime user experiences, the outcomes are discriminatory and inequitable. Holding developers accountable for creating platforms that support consistent, well tested, integrated accessibility is just the beginning. Design decisions matter. Developers can and should place image description and tools prominently enough to convey the expectation that users should employ them, not just on special occasions but always. Machine vision and interpretation apps should be designed with more than one path to communication. Audio works well for some of us some of the time, but whether we are deafblind or simply unable to talk or listen in a business environment or a loud concert, we need the option to use other methods. Transparency matters.
Developers should craft privacy policies that use plain language to explain how our data is used. We expose our personal documents, environments, colleagues, and daily lives to machine vision and interpretation, so it is critical that we know what data that we’re handing over. In many cases apps keep our voices, camera feeds, and location data long after we’re done using them, and we deserve to know how this information is stored, for how long, who can access it, how it’s being used, and how we can opt out. If a company gets acquired, we need to know whether a buyer we may or may not know or trust can inherit our legacy data without our explicit consent. Ownership and access matter.
We should be able to examine the data we contributed to a developer’s cloud at any time, collected for our own records, and deleted at will directly rather than through a process of faith. If the practice of locking a user out of his or her own data and history seems somehow more justifiable in the case of cloud-based vision apps than those we already use for cloud collaborations and social media, we need to have a lively and public discussion about why that is. Even when developers make design decisions informed by the community and manage data in ways that are consensual and transparent, collective harm can still happen.
Some of us are on the greener side of the digital divide, equipped with the training, infrastructure, and money it takes to use the latest technologies. Many of us don’t have the training or the funding, and any of us can find ourselves in a part of the city or the world without infrastructure that supports cloud services. We should approach this problem by pursuing partnerships and models that will bring more people into contact with high-quality training, reliable infrastructure, and sometimes direct funding. This is in line with our existing efforts to bridge the digital chasm that blind people must cross to participate fully in education, employment, and civil society. When we encounter an inaccessible place, product, or service though, and we solve it using technology, we must be careful not to let our possession of a personal bridge to access distract us from the important labor of building a more accessible world for everyone. [applause]
Last year I presented at an online conference that had a thoroughly inaccessible web platform, ON24. With the help of an Aira agent who remoted into my computer, I controlled my slide deck, read questions from the audience, and avoided having to ask the event organizers to solve the access problem for me. Although I documented the inaccessible nature of the platform and followed up by email with the conference organizers, part of me wonders whether I was as persistent as I would’ve been if persistence were my only option, and whether the presence of a competent interpreter made my access request seem a little less pressing.
It’s wonderful that we can use all of these apps to accessify everything from vacation photographs to museum exhibits to flat screen appliances, but it would be better still if we could touch the composition of every photo, rely on museum exhibits to engage all of our senses, and to expect every flat screen to come with accessibility options. It’s hard to play more than one instrument at the same time, but it’s not impossible. We can improvise with technology, perform our own access when we need to, and teach our fellows how that’s done. But let’s keep the beat of the drums of freedom: careful cultivation of embodied skills that don’t rely on technology but rely on our self-trust and self-respect, collective action that shapes a more accessible world from the status box to the ballot box—from those tiny Braille labels to the vivid tactile footprints of an astronaut’s indelible first steps on the moon—and tireless advocacy to help each blind person discover the tools, methods, and self-belief that he or she needs to find and live the life that he or she wants. Thank you.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Joanne Gabias]
by Joanne Gabias
From the Editor: As we struggle for the right to raise the children we have brought into the world or have chosen to adopt, many of us rely on our own experience to provide encouragement, counsel, and the assurance that there are time-tested techniques that blind people use in raising our children to be normal, happy adults. We think we see this in our children and in the children raised by other blind people, but many of us long for a verbal affirmation that what we think we have provided is really so and that our children don’t feel that they have received a second-rate upbringing. If ever there was an affirmation that one sighted daughter believes that she got what she needed to become a self-sufficient, well-balanced adult, Joanne Gabias provided that testimonial to the convention. Here is what the daughter of Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias said on the morning of July 7, 2018:
Hello, everyone. My name is Joanne Gabias, and I am honored to speak to you all today. I was four months old when I attended my first convention. Although I’ve missed some throughout the years, this is my twenty-first. [applause] I have come to convention by plane, by train, by bus, and by car. I was hoping to go by boat next year, but it would be hard to accomplish going from Arizona to Vegas. Maybe 2020 will be in Hawaii or Puerto Rico.
My convention experience has changed over the years. I used to be at NFB Camp or what is now called NFB Child Care with my brothers Jeffrey, Philip, and Elliott. I remember at the Atlanta convention all of the kids went to the Coca-Cola factory. I got really sick because I pigged out on all the free soda from all over the world. My parents wouldn’t normally let me drink soda. That was an early lesson on how parental advice is worth considering even when they’re not there to make you do what they say.
When I was too old to be babysat, I started working for NFB Camp, and now I am a blindness professional. [applause] Before you all think that my childhood is what got me into this field, I would like to point out that I never even knew that the field of orientation and mobility existed until I was finishing my undergraduate degree and didn’t know what to do with my life. I love my degree in linguistic anthropology, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But I couldn’t make a living wage as an anthropologist unless I became a university professor, something I definitely didn’t want to do. In fact I always said I would never become a teacher or go into psychology because that is what my dad does, and everyone assumed I would follow in his footsteps. Well, now I know never say never, because I obtained my masters in guidance and counseling, and I am currently an orientation and mobility instructor at SAAVI Services for the Blind in Tucson, Arizona.
I am here today for you, for your kids, and for the future children of blind parents. I hope that my story will help you convince doubters that children of blind parents can and do live wonderful lives. [applause]
People made a lot of assumptions about my life growing up—some true and some not so true. Both of my parents are totally blind due to retinopathy of prematurity. When people learn that, I get comments like, “Oh, I’m so sorry;” or “Wow, how is life growing up with blind parents?;” or “Oh, you must’ve been a big help around the house.” Most children of blind parents can probably list off a bunch of other naïve comments that we get all the time. My answer is always, “Well, I didn’t know any different, so it was normal to me.” And, quite frankly, my childhood was a pretty typical one.
During my schooling at Louisiana Tech University, I attended immersion at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Even after my immersion ended, I attended a seminar at least once a week throughout my entire program. One time the seminar question was “Who is the first blind person you met, and how old were you?” Pam Allen called upon me to speak. I told the group that I was in kindergarten when I met my first blind person. Clearly that’s an odd answer coming from a child whose parents are blind. It was in kindergarten that I first realized what people meant when they use the word. Before then, my parents were just my parents. My parents fed me, dressed me, and took me to school. My experience wasn’t any different from anyone else’s. I also thought it was weird at the age of four that everyone would say to me, “Oh, you must be a big help around the house.” Like what the heck was that supposed to mean; I’m four! I’m pretty sure that those comments ingrained in me and my brothers the determination to do the least amount possible around the house outside of our chores. Even getting us to do those were hard; so Mom, next time you need to yell at Elliott to take out the trash, blame it on the world for making us want to prove that the stereotype of saintly children helping their poor blind parents wrong. [applause]
I was spoiled. My mom made my breakfast and lunch every day until I graduated from high school. Even in university, if I asked or if she saw I was stressed with work or school, she would make me food. When I go home to visit, I have a list of favorite foods that I ask my mom to make. As everyone knows, there are just some things that taste better when mom makes them.
There were expectations, too. On each of our thirteenth birthdays, my mom taught us how to use the washer and dryer. She said, “You are a teenager now. I’m no longer doing your laundry. If you want clean clothes, you’ll have to do them yourself. [applause]
My family has always been very health-focused. My dad runs the Gabias Wellness Center out of our family home. Some of you might have met him in the exhibit hall talking about all the Nikken wellness products they offer. When I was younger, my dad was very strict about what we ate. My brothers are so lucky that he let up as we got older, but, as you know, parents are always the hardest and the most cautious with the first born. I even have proof. All the pictures from my first birthday party show my dad following me around making sure I was okay. I was running away with an annoyed look on my face. I already wanted to be my own person. By the time they had their fourth child, my parents were just satisfied that the youngest was wearing clean underwear.
When I was in kindergarten, my mom made a cake to bring to my class for my birthday. My parents had chosen not to have chocolate in our house, so my mom tried to make a cake using carob. If you have never worked with carob, it frankly tastes like dirt. My mom made carob frosting as well, a double dose of yuck. Carob doesn’t spread well. The frosting started clumping and breaking the cake. It was just a mess. I think Apple must’ve seen a picture of this cake because they made an emoji that looks exactly like it. [laughter] I think voiceover calls it the smiling pile of poo. I remember that day so vividly. The teachers tried to shush the kids when they asked why the cake looked so weird. The teacher assumed that it was because my mom was blind. I was annoyed, because I knew it wasn’t my mom’s blindness or her cooking skills. It was because of that stupid carob.
Mom can bake good stuff. I planned a surprise sweet sixteen party for my best friend, and my mom made a giant chocolate (real chocolate) heart-shaped cake with raspberry filling. Everyone loved it so much that all of my friends asked her to make one for their birthdays as well.
Misconceptions and confusing problems caused by other factors with problems caused by blindness happen all the time. My family lives in the beautiful Okanagan Valley in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, minutes away from a spectacular lake. When I was ten, my family bought a speedboat. Growing up we spent most of our summer on the lake waterskiing, tubing, wakeboarding, and swimming. Our family knew a man who drove for us. It was only natural that he would also drive our boat. When I was twelve our driver had a stroke and was in the hospital for most of the summer. My dad tried to hire random people to drive the boat. The cab driver he chose bent the propeller when he ran aground. The twenty-one-year-old son of a friend gouged the side of the boat while docking at a cost of $250. Dad was so annoyed with incompetent boat drivers that he started looking into the boat licensing process. He found out that twelve-year-olds can get a boat license in Canada. Conveniently I had just turned twelve, so I was volunteered. He paid for me and two of my friends to get our boat license. Dad sat in the class as we learned nautical rules and took the licensing exam, which we all passed. The only problem was that we completed the class without ever coming near a boat. The next day my dad took me out on the boat at 6 a.m. when there weren’t many boats on the lake and showed me what all the controls did. His family owned a boat when he was growing up, so he had been around them all his life. Whenever my dad gets a new gadget of any kind, he figures out every button, lever, and widget. So he knew exactly what to do with his boat. I remember being extremely nervous because of my dad’s high expectations. I remember my dad telling me, “Put it in full throttle and turn the wheel.” That scared me.
I said, “We’re going to flip.”
Firmly he said, “If you don’t do it, I will. You need to know how the boat will react to whatever you are doing.”
Everything I learned about boating, towing a waterskier, docking, and just cruising along I learned from my dad. I would like to point out that I have never put a scratch on our boat, and neither have my three brothers who were also taught by my dad. [applause]
When we all started to learn how to drive cars, my dad insisted that we take formal lessons. Dad went to every lesson with us. My dad went through the program four times to be exact. If he couldn’t make it to a lesson, he would have to reschedule because he wanted to make sure that he knew what we were being taught and that we were doing what we were supposed to do when we were driving alone. Even though he wasn’t the one directly teaching us this time, my dad was very much at the center of our driving experience.
As I grew older, I became more and more independent. I traveled all over Canada and the US. I even went to France, Guatemala, New Mexico, and Belize in high school and in college. Even when you’re legally an adult, sometimes you still need help from your parents. When I came back from Guatemala, my cell phone stopped working. I had insurance, so I brought it in to get it fixed. I spent three months contending with loaner phones that didn’t work and my original phone coming back to me more broken than before. I was complaining to my mom that they kept giving me the runaround, so she came to the store with me. But my mom is a very calm person. She doesn’t really raise her voice, but when she’s mad, you know it. My mother calmly but powerfully explained that this was unacceptable, and they needed to figure things out. Just like that I got a new upgraded phone at zero cost to me. If I had known that this would’ve been the outcome, I would’ve brought her in the first place. This skill is something I still don’t possess. I think my brother Jeffrey inherited this skill. Luckily for me I can still call on my mom when I’m in need.
Some kids are denied the chance to grow up learning from their parents, especially children of blind parents. When I was in the fifth grade, my life could’ve changed drastically. Some random lady came to school and separately pulled my brother and me out of class. She started asking me questions about my parents: whether my father hit my brother or if I was safe at home. I thought they were the weirdest questions ever. I was sure that they took the wrong kid out of class. These questions didn’t even remotely make sense in my life. When I came home, my mom was very upset. The random lady had been to our home too. I told her about my experience. My mom became livid. She had not been given the courtesy of being told that they would be interviewing us at school. The weird lady was from social services. Someone made an anonymous call about my parents. The complaint was that my dad might—just might—have hit or spanked my brother, our house was messy, and that my brother went to school with a dirty shirt. Can anyone in the audience tell me that your house is never messy and that your kids or you have never dirtied a shirt? I sure can’t.
After talking to us kids and visiting our parents at home, they realized that the complaint was unjustified. Luckily they never bothered us again. [applause] But that one incident has lingered with my mother to this day. All of her children are legal adults, yet she still wonders who called social services. We all know that social services didn’t show up because my dad might’ve spanked my brother or because of a messy house or because of a dirty shirt. They came because the caller said that both parents were totally blind. That was the real issue. It didn’t matter that my mother was a stay-at-home mom or that my dad was a university professor. Even though we had a parent at home to take care of us and a parent making sure we had the money to live a happy and prosperous life, the thing that mattered to the social workers was that my parents were blind. I know that many other parents have either experienced this visit or live in fear of this visit.
I recently testified at the Arizona House of Representatives in favor of the right to parent bill which was passed and signed into state law this spring. [applause] One of the committee members was asking a lot of naïve questions about how my parents knew when we were doing something wrong. He seemed convinced that I probably got away with a lot of things because my parents couldn’t see. I told him that when my brother Philip was still in preschool, my mother took him to the store with her. While she was busy in the checkout line my brother quickly grabbed a pack of gum. On the way out mom noticed that he was being very quiet. She heard him fiddling with something. She did a quick search of his pockets and marched him right back into the store and asked for the store manager. She made my five-year-old brother confess what he had done and apologize. [applause] Then she paid for the gum. The store manager said, “Well, you’ve paid for it now, so you can have it back.” My mom said, “Absolutely not! I’m not rewarding this behavior; throw it out.” My brother was so embarrassed that he never stole from a store again. [applause]
The committee member seemed unconvinced. He said, “Well, he was young. I have teenagers. It’s really hard to keep track of them.” The ways that my brothers and I got caught may be unconventional, but no matter what, we always got caught. In middle school the fad was to have your midriff showing, a fad that happens to be coming back recently. It’s funny how many things have come back from the 90s. Shout out to the 90s babies out there! [cheers] Well, I wasn’t allowed to show off my belly, but I wanted to be fashionable. Besides, it was hard for me to find shirts that fit because I’ve always been tall. I’ve been five-foot-nine since the seventh grade. Before I left for school, my parents would ask for a hug. This is how they would sneakily check to see that my shirt was long enough. My dad would ask for a hug from my brothers to check their breath to see if they had brushed their teeth. I could go on and on about all the ways we got caught, so when someone says “Oh, you must’ve gotten away with a lot of things,” I just laugh because they are so, so wrong.
When I was in high school, I did an exchange program. Sara, a girl from Québec, was to spend six weeks in my home, and I would spend six weeks in hers. We had to fill out a profile about our life, interests, parents, what they did for work, etc. There was no line asking if my parents were blind, so I didn’t write anything. It wasn’t important. We got each other’s paperwork in June, but Sara didn’t come until the end of January. On her way to our home, she met the program coordinator who remarked on how brave Sara was to come to a home run by two blind parents. Sara started freaking out. She even called her mom. Her mom told her that she should just see what it was like before she panicked and came home. When Sara arrived at the Kelowna airport, my dad and I were waiting for her with a big sign saying, “Bienvenue Sara,” meaning “Welcome Sara” in French. We picked up her luggage, which my dad carried. When we got home, mom made her a snack, and we talked with my parents for an hour before my new friend and I went to my room. She finally told me about her conversation with the coordinator and said, “I realized once I got here that your parents are supernormal, but why didn’t you tell me before?” I told her it wasn’t important to me, so I didn’t really think it was necessary to say anything. As things developed, I was happy I hadn’t told her. When I asked her what she would’ve done if she had gotten this information in advance, she admitted that she wasn’t sure she would’ve even come. Sara had a great time. It became so much more than a nice trip. We call each other sisters to this day. [applause]
When she had a semester off a few years later, Sara decided to come back to Kelowna and live with us for three months. Not only do their flesh and blood love my parents, but so do my friends. Sara was not the only one who lived with us either. I had four different friends live with my parents over the years. My house was the place to be. I wish my grandparents could see our family now. My grandmother was very upset when my dad married a blind person. She didn’t have a problem with him being blind, but she was scared that if he married another blind person, their children would grow up socially awkward because they wouldn’t learn any visual social cues. My grandmother died when I was one, so she didn’t get to see any of us grow up. I know my grandmother is biting her tongue up in heaven right now.
My mother, Mary Ellen Gabias, used to work at the national office in the 80s. She was in charge of the Job Opportunities for the Blind. My father, Paul Gabias, met my mother through that program briefly and then again while attending a leadership seminar. My mom happened to be one of the ones giving a tour for the seminar group. If you have ever been to the national office, you know that everyone helps out where they are needed no matter what their position may be. Well, my mom says that that was the worst tour she ever gave. Anything that could go wrong did. The ancient freight elevator got stuck with everybody onboard, among other minor disasters. My father, however, knew he had found his future wife even if she didn’t know it yet.
So I would like to thank the National Federation of the Blind. Because if it wasn’t for this community, I would not exist. [applause] Although I may not be blind, this is my family, I am a Federation baby, and this is my family reunion. [applause] I am part of the next generation of Federationists. The next generation may not all be blind, but we know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you, me, or your child’s future. Every day we live with high expectations of blind people. We don’t understand why there are low expectations. We are the result of the dreams of blind people. We live the lives you fought for. We know that blindness doesn’t hold you back because you have taught us. Thank you.
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Plan to Leave a Legacy
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
Invest in Opportunity
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
In 2017 the NFB:
Just imagine what we’ll do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.
Vehicle Donation Program
The NFB now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call 855-659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.
General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.
Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.
Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, and complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Sharon Maneki]
by Sharon Maneki
“What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.” This is a popular protest chant used to express dissatisfaction with everything from economic inequality to the failure to control gun violence. The origin of this chant is believed to be at the World Trade protests in Seattle in 1999. This chant has become more popular recently. This slogan was prominent during the Women’s March of January 2017 and most recently at the March for Our Lives protest in March 2018.
What does democracy look like in the National Federation of the Blind? There are many answers to this question, but one of the best answers is the resolutions process at National Convention. In his November 19, 1863, Gettysburg address, President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the best definitions of democracy. He said: “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The resolutions process meets Lincoln’s definition of democracy. This process is both by and of the people. Anyone can present a resolution to the committee provided that he or she abides by the rules. The chairman of the committee must receive the resolution two weeks before the committee meeting. If the individual misses that deadline, he can present the resolution to the chairman up to an hour before the meeting if three committee members agree that the resolution should come forward. The committee does not consider a resolution if there is no spokesman for it at the meeting.
The hallmark of democracy is participation by the people. The thirty-member resolutions committee always consists of a cross section of leaders from throughout the country. I was appointed chairman of the committee by President Riccobono and was ably assisted by Marsha Dyer, a member of the national staff for twenty-eight years. The committee’s job is to consider, debate, and then vote each resolution up or down. If the committee kills a resolution, it can still be brought to the Convention if the delegates from five states sponsor it. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation and has the final say on each resolution. If the Convention approves the resolution, that resolution becomes part of our policies. As you can see, the membership fully participates in the resolutions process.
This year the committee sent twenty resolutions to the Convention for its consideration on July 7, 2018. After some spirited discussion, the Convention passed all twenty of them. An examination of the subject of each resolution will demonstrate that they conform to the last criteria of Lincoln’s definition of democracy as they are for the people with blindness. The resolutions fall into two broad categories, expressing our views to various types of entities and resolutions dealing with information technology. It is interesting to note that five resolutions condemn and deplore the actions of various entities, a higher number than in most years.
The most unusual resolution that the Convention passed this year was Resolution 2018-20. It was unusual because of its subject matter. In this resolution, we commend CBS television for its portrayal of blindness on the NCIS show. CBS not only cast a blind actor as a blind character but also consulted with the National Federation of the Blind about the most authentic way to present Annie Barth, the blind character. We hope that the entertainment industry will follow CBS’s lead. Deepa Goraya, who won a national scholarship in 2010 and is second vice president of the Potomac Chapter of the NFB of Virginia and also serves as one of the legislative directors for the affiliate, proposed this resolution.
Lynn Heitz, president of the NFB of Pennsylvania, sponsored Resolution 2018-02. Accreditation, the subject of this resolution, was familiar to longtime Federationists because we have been passing resolutions about this subject since 1971. We needed another resolution this year because the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) “…transferred all of its remaining assets, $85,554, to AER, on June 30, 2018.” AER is now trying to follow the exclusionary practices of NAC. In this resolution we “…condemn and deplore the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired for its insulting gesture of tokenism toward the blind in the formation of its National Accreditation Council.” This resolution also states: “…we do not oppose proper accreditation properly done.”
It is customary to have resolutions about the US Congress at every National Convention. The Convention passed three resolutions that urge the US Congress to take action this year. In Resolution 2018-01, “...this organization condemn and deplore the action of 103 members of Congress who have asked the Department of Justice to exempt public accommodations from their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also call upon these members of Congress to withdraw their signatures from the letter immediately.” Greg Aikens, president of the NFB of Georgia, sponsored this resolution.
Ellana Crew, president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students and a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, introduced Resolution 2018-06. In this resolution “…this organization condemn and deplore the passage of H.R. 620 by the United States House of Representatives.” H.R. 620, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017” would severely weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act through its Notice and Cure provisions. Businesses would no longer have to comply fully with the ADA. They would be required to show only “substantial progress,” a term never defined in the bill. In this resolution we also urge the United States Senate to oppose H.R. 620 or any similar legislation.
In Resolution 2018-12, we urge the United States Senate to act quickly to pass the A/V Start Act, S.1885, that “…would prohibit states from imposing discriminatory licensing requirements, require manufacturers to provide information on their human-machine interface technology in their safety reports, and create a working group specifically tasked with promulgating recommendations on accessibility issues for people with disabilities.” When Gary Allen, president of the NFB of Connecticut, introduced this resolution, he reminded us of the dearth of public transportation and the opportunities that self-driving vehicles could provide to the blind.
The Convention passed five resolutions concerning entities in the executive branch of the US government. These resolutions are either reactions to proposed rules or reactions to problems in administration. Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, proposed Resolution 2018-10. The US Department of Transportation recently released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on the Air Carrier Access Act concerning the carriage of trained service animals and untrained emotional support animals. These proposed rules are vague and could lead to discriminatory practices. In Resolution 2018-10, “…this organization urge the United States Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations that are harmonized with the Americans with Disabilities Act and are sufficiently detailed so that they are not open to subjective interpretation.”
The Convention passed two resolutions regarding the US Department of Education. On March 5, 2018, the US Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, issued a new case processing manual for its investigators. These new procedures severely restrict the rights of complainants who are seeking assistance in eliminating discriminatory practices by all levels of educational institutions. In Resolution 2018-08, we not only condemn and deplore the actions of the US Department of Education and its Office of Civil Rights but also demand that the Department immediately halt the implementation of the changes outlined in this new manual. Matt Langland, second vice president of the Metro Chapter of the NFB of Minnesota and a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, introduced this resolution.
Terry Smith, first vice president of the NFB of Tennessee, proposed Resolution 2018-16. It was most appropriate for Terry to bring this resolution to the committee because of his experience working for the Entrepreneurs Program of the National Association of Blind Merchants. The US Department of Education through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) has oversight responsibilities for the Randolph-Sheppard program. This resolution describes the delays and backlogs in approving state rules and policies and in handling arbitration cases caused by RSA. In this resolution we also demand that the Department immediately remedy these problems and prevent future occurrences.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was the subject of two resolutions passed by the Convention this year. Joel Zimba, who was an access technology specialist at the Jernigan Institute but now works for HumanWare, proposed Resolution 2018-03. The FCC created the Lifeline program, which provides a free cell phone to seniors and other low-income individuals, including persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, the eligibility process is complex and time-consuming. Most of the free cell phones are inaccessible to the blind. In this resolution we call upon the FCC to create guidelines that ensure that Lifeline consumers receive accessible devices and the necessary training to use these devices.
In Resolution 2018-17, “…this organization demand that the FCC require audio description on live programming of all types.” This resolution came about in part because Comcast and NBC-Universal recently set a precedent of providing live audio description of the Olympics and Paralympics. Grace Anderson, vice president of the Alabama Association of Blind Students and a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute, introduced this resolution.
The remaining ten resolutions deal with accessibility. The Convention passed three resolutions concerning accessibility to voting. Lou Ann Blake, deputy director of the Jernigan Institute, proposed two of these voting resolutions. Too many voters with disabilities face discrimination and are deprived of their right to a secret ballot. Ballots that are marked using an electronic ballot marking device (BMD) are identifiable because they are different in size and content from hand-marked ballots. In Resolution 2018-05, “…this organization demand that election technology developers design and manufacture BMDs that produce ballots which are the same size and have the same content as hand-marked ballots. We also demand that state and local boards of elections that have procured BMDs which produce ballots that are different in size and content from hand-marked ballots, implement procedures that will ensure voters with disabilities have the same opportunity to cast a secret ballot as voters without disabilities.”
More and more state and local governments are adopting vote by mail systems. In Resolution 2018-13, we reminded these jurisdictions that they should ensure accessibility for voters with disabilities when implementing a vote by mail system. Lou Ann Blake also introduced this resolution.
Stephen Handschu, a long-time leader in the Michigan affiliate, proposed Resolution 2018-09. In this resolution we commend VOTEC Corporation for its leadership in developing an accessible pollbook system and urge other manufacturers of voting technology to implement nonvisually accessible pollbooks. A pollbook, which contains a voter’s name and address, is used to verify whether an individual is eligible to vote. In this resolution we also demand, “that all election jurisdictions that plan to use or are already using electronic pollbooks to purchase accessible election pollbooks as soon as they become available.”
The next three resolutions contain instructions to federal and state governments concerning accessibility. For many years blind citizens have been unable to obtain most forms and documents from federal agencies because the agencies used inaccessible PDF formats. The accessibility problems would be solved if agencies used the HTML5-based format. In Resolution 2018-07, we call upon all federal agencies to adopt policies requiring that all documents and forms be produced in HTML5-based formats by December 31, 2020. We also call upon these agencies to replace currently used forms and documents by converting them to the HTML5-based format. Janae Burgmeier, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students and vice president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution.
Rocky Hart, a high school student at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind, who was attending his first national convention sponsored Resolution 2018-15. Blind students at all levels struggle because the eLearning tools used in their classrooms are frequently inaccessible. In this resolution, “…this organization demand that schools and local education agencies require educational technology vendors to confirm the accessibility of their products prior to purchase and to assume cost and liability for any technology found to be inaccessible after purchase.”
The US Postal Service recently initiated the Informed Delivery Service Program to help residential consumers keep track of incoming mail and packages. Unfortunately, this program is inaccessible to the blind because it uses an image to display the status of mail. In Resolution 2018-19, we strongly urge the US Postal Service to make the Informed Delivery Service Program accessible quickly and to institute procedures to prevent the deployment of inaccessible services in the future. This resolution had two sponsors, Latonya Phipps and Ronza Othman. Latonya is a leader in the NFB of Maryland who won a national scholarship in 1994. Ronza Othman is chairman of the Blind Federal Employees Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Maryland affiliate, and she won a national scholarship in 2006.
The remaining four resolutions contain instructions to various software developers regarding accessibility. Epic Systems Corporation is a leader in the electronic health records industry. In Resolution 2018-04, “…this organization condemn and deplore Epic for incorporating gratuitous accessibility barriers in its health information software, for failing to commit to resolving these access barriers, and for perpetuating discrimination against blind health care employees.” We also demand that Epic immediately remove all accessibility barriers to employment for the blind. Syed Rizvi, first vice president of the National Association of Blind Students and winner of a national scholarship in 2016, introduced this resolution.
The remaining three resolutions address specific concerns with various software developers. Melissa Carney, secretary of the National Association of Blind Students, president of the Connecticut Association of Blind Students, and the winner of a national scholarship in 2017 introduced Resolution 2018-11. Apple, Google and Microsoft have Braille display support built into their operating systems. While we appreciate this action, these companies should do more. The resolution states: “…we strongly urge these companies to increase the priority given to developments in Braille access and to ensure that updates to their operating systems do not result in regression for Braille users.” Since Braille support in Android has been stagnant for more than two years, “…we call upon Google to demonstrate measurable and significant progress in the implementation of Braille in the Android platform by July 1, 2019.”
Resolution 2018-14 promotes the use of EPUB3 over the PDF format because of its accessibility features: “…this organization commend Apple for its robust implementation of ‘Save as EPUB’ in Pages.” We also “…call upon other major authoring tool developers to include, improve, or simplify the creation of EPUB3 documents in current and future updates.” Mausam Mehta, who was attending her second convention and will be a freshman at the University of Virginia, sponsored this resolution.
In the past we have enacted resolutions about inaccessible web browsers. We needed another resolution on this subject this year because Mozilla recently released an inaccessible version of Firefox. Michael Powell, president of the NFB of Michigan, sponsored Resolution 2018-18. In this resolution we call upon all web browser manufacturers to work closely with screen reader producers to ensure that new browsers or updates to browsers are not released unless they are fully accessible.What does democracy look like? In the National Federation of the Blind, democracy looks like the resolutions process. The process is definitely of and by the people. This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the 2018 Convention. The complete text of each resolution is reprinted below. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. These resolutions are definitely for the people with blindness.
These resolutions were passed by the Convention on July 7, 2018, in Orlando:
WHEREAS, for nearly twenty-eight years the Americans with Disabilities Act has required that public accommodations make their communications with the public accessible; and
WHEREAS, the ADA standard for accessible communication requires that all communications be equally effective for persons with and without disabilities; and
WHEREAS, communicating through websites is now the most commonly used method employed by public accommodations to interact with the public, a form of communication which must meet the ADA’s effective communication requirement; and
WHEREAS, the United States Department of Justice has not issued regulations setting out a specific accessibility standard for websites or for any particular type of communication, thus allowing public accommodations to use any available standard as long as that standard achieves effective communication for people with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, for years many public accommodations have advocated against the Department of Justice issuing website accessibility standards; and
WHEREAS, in spite of the fact that the ADA provides an effective communication standard that offers businesses flexibility in how they make their websites accessible, some public accommodations have argued in court that requiring them to make their websites accessible at all violates their due process rights; and
WHEREAS, every court to consider the issue has rejected these public accommodations’ due process arguments except one, and that opinion is currently on appeal; and
WHEREAS, on June 20, 2018, 103 Members of Congress wrote a letter asking the Department of Justice to issue guidance indicating that courts cannot require public accommodations to make their websites accessible because, they argued, such requirements violate due process rights: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the action of 103 members of Congress who have asked the Department of Justice to exempt public accommodations from their obligations under the ADA; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon these members of Congress to withdraw their signatures from the letter immediately; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization request that the Department of Justice confirm, as it has consistently made clear in briefs, technical assistance, and its own enforcement, that websites of public accommodations must comply with the effective communication requirement of Title III of the ADA and that due process does not restrict enforcement of that requirement.
WHEREAS, beginning in 1967 and for approximately thirty-five years thereafter, an organization known as the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) sought to control education and rehabilitation services provided to the blind by means of so-called standards leading to so-called accreditation; and
WHEREAS, NAC was the offspring of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), created by AFB in direct response to the growing effectiveness of the organized blind movement; and
WHEREAS, as opposition to NAC by the National Federation of the Blind and others gained strength, the federal government, state agencies, schools for the blind, and even the AFB itself withdrew their former support, financial and otherwise, leading the AFB executive director to exclaim in speaking to the NAC board in 2002 “What part of no more NAC don’t you understand?”; and
WHEREAS, although the dreams of NAC to hold dominance over the blind have lived on into the present decade, the independent voice of the blind has been heard and respected and has prevailed; and
WHEREAS, NAC died, and on June 30, 2017, transferred all of its remaining assets—$85,554—to AER; and
WHEREAS, AER has recently offered NFB a single seat on its National Accreditation Council, only after repeated attempts by NFB to communicate with AER about NAC; and
WHEREAS, this half-hearted offer of a single seat is the kind of tokenism that doomed the original NAC to utter and complete failure and which, unless altered, will eventually threaten the viability and very existence of AER itself: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore AER'S insulting gesture of tokenism toward the blind in the formation of its National Accreditation Council; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, as stated in our convention resolution 71-03 and repeated on many occasions since, it be made clear that: we do not oppose proper accreditation properly done; we will be happy to participate in and cooperate with any appropriately organized and democratically constituted accrediting activity; and if the time should come that a genuine accreditation system is created along democratic lines and blind people have more than token representation in the governance of the accreditation system and throughout the accreditation process, the National Federation of the Blind pledges its willingness to work with AER and other organizations truly to make services for the blind more relevant and responsive to the needs of the blind than ever before.
WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created the Lifeline program for low-vision seniors and others with low income to provide a free cellphone with free calling, texting, and some data services; and
WHEREAS, this service is funded through the universal access fee paid by all phone subscribers; and
WHEREAS, the service providers are typically mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), smaller third-party mobile phone service providers who resell access to the networks of the major carriers; and
WHEREAS, proof of residence and proof of disability or eligibility for other assistance (e.g., Medicaid, SSI, etc.) are required to participate in this program; and
WHEREAS, the phones provided by the MVNOs vary widely from a basic flip phone with tactile buttons which provides only calling services and possibly some limited text-to-speech functionality to a low-end Android smartphone with touchscreen that would require basic technology training for the newly blind or seniors, regardless of their level of vision; and
WHEREAS, many MVNOs require navigation of a complex list of menu options on the phone and long wait times to speak with a representative about specific needs and company options; and
WHEREAS, all companies surveyed by the National Federation of the Blind were modest operations with varying procedures, making the process of obtaining the free service complex and time-consuming: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the FCC to establish guidelines for the MVNOs that provide the Lifeline service to make available accessible devices and documentation and to establish a minimum standard for support to low-income citizens and seniors with vision loss.
WHEREAS, Epic Systems Corporation (Epic) is a leader in the electronic health records (EHR) industry and has developed a suite of health information software used nationwide by more than three hundred hospital and health clinic customers; and
WHEREAS, Epic has failed to conform the employee-facing side of its software to industry standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA, despite Epic’s proven ability to incorporate accessibility features in its patient-facing software; and
WHEREAS, blind professionals working in the healthcare field who are otherwise qualified for the work they have been hired to perform are unable to engage in basic functions of their jobs because of Epic’s inaccessible software design and have suffered from this lack of access, including the likelihood of being overlooked for promotions and raises or terminated from their positions entirely; and
WHEREAS, blind healthcare professionals are now forced to advocate for their protections under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and must engage in interactive dialogue with their employers to request accommodations that will give them access to Epic’s software; and
WHEREAS, Epic’s practice of selling software that it knows to be inaccessible has put its customer base at risk of violating federal law and has forced healthcare employers to rely on code scripting solutions that work only until a platform is updated, at which point the scripts break and must be rewritten; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind has insisted that Epic remediate its employee-facing software and legal action has been filed against Epic demanding that it do so; and
WHEREAS, despite these actions, Epic has failed to commit publicly to including accessibility features in all facets of its healthcare software: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore Epic for incorporating gratuitous accessibility barriers in its health information software, for failing to commit to resolving these access barriers, and for perpetuating discrimination against blind healthcare employees; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Epic take immediate action to remediate access barriers within its health information software so that it conforms with WCAG 2.1 AA and is fully and equally accessible to blind healthcare employees, removing this fundamental barrier to employment for the blind in the healthcare field.
WHEREAS, the ability to cast a secret and anonymous ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy that enables citizens to vote their conscience without fear; and
WHEREAS, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that voters with disabilities be afforded an opportunity to exercise their right to vote equivalent to the opportunity afforded to voters without disabilities; and
WHEREAS, election technology developers, such as Elections Systems and Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting Systems, and Unisyn Voting Solutions have designed accessible ballot-marking devices (BMDs) that produce ballots that are different in size and/or content from the ballot that is hand-marked by the majority of voters; and
WHEREAS, because the BMD ballots cast by voters with disabilities are different in size and/or content from the hand-marked ballots cast by the majority of voters, the BMD ballots can be identified as having been cast by a voter with a disability and are, as a result, not secret ballots; and
WHEREAS, a state or local board of elections is in violation of Title II of the ADA when it does not provide voters with disabilities the same opportunity to cast a secret ballot that it provides voters without disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that election technology developers design and manufacture BMDs that produce ballots which are the same size and have the same content as hand-marked ballots; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that state and local boards of elections that have procured BMDs which produce ballots that are different in size and content from hand-marked ballots implement procedures that will ensure voters with disabilities have the same opportunity to cast a secret ballot as voters without disabilities.
WHEREAS, H.R. 620, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017,” would fundamentally weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act by shifting the burden of compliance onto the backs of people with disabilities through the imposition of an oppressive “notice and cure” provision; and
WHEREAS, despite strong opposition from the National Federation of the Blind and the rest of the disability and civil rights communities, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 620 on February 15, 2018, by a vote of 225 to 192; and
WHEREAS, the proponents of H.R. 620 continue to advocate for its adoption in the United States Senate by flooding members of the Senate with letters and phone calls; and
WHEREAS, if opponents of H.R. 620 and similar legislation do not continue to fight this effort in the Senate, the prospects for its ultimate passage will increase: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the passage of H.R. 620 by the United States House of Representatives; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Senate to oppose H.R. 620 or any similar legislation.
WHEREAS, for many years blind citizens have been unable to obtain most forms and other government documents in an accessible format; and
WHEREAS, many documents sent to blind people from federal agencies are time-sensitive and have severe consequences attached to a missed deadline; and
WHEREAS, PDF documents are often inaccessible to the blind, and the remediation of these documents is both costly and time-consuming; and
WHEREAS, PDF documents cannot be completed on mobile devices using screen-access software nor be made compliant with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA; and
WHEREAS, HTML5-based formats render all documents accessible regardless of device; and
WHEREAS, all citizens benefit from documents that are properly formatted and easy to read on any device: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we call upon all federal agencies to adopt policies requiring that all documents and forms be produced in HTML5-based formats by December 31, 2019; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon these agencies to replace or convert all currently used forms or documents to the HTML5-based format and that this replacement or conversion process commence on or before January 1, 2020.
WHEREAS, the mission of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the United States Department of Education is to “ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools”; and
WHEREAS, for many blind people filing complaints with the Office for Civil Rights has been the only way to rectify instances of discrimination experienced at public schools, institutions of higher education, and other recipients of federal financial assistance through the US Department of Education; and
WHEREAS, the United States Department of Justice intervened in several cases and reached significant settlement agreements with institutions of higher education as a result of OCR complaints filed by NFB members; and
WHEREAS, on March 5, 2018, without any public notice and without affording interested stakeholders the opportunity to provide comments, the department issued a new “U. S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Case Processing Manual,” which replaced the 2015 Case Processing Manual and made substantial changes to the processes investigators must follow when attempting to evaluate, resolve, and dismiss complaints; and
WHEREAS, some of these changes include the automatic dismissal of an allegation or a complaint entirely if a complaint is a continuation of a pattern of complaints previously filed with OCR by an individual or group against multiple recipients or if a complaint is filed for the first time against multiple recipients that, viewed as a whole, places an unreasonable burden on OCR’s resources; and
WHEREAS, in addition to setting out broad criteria by which complaints can be automatically dismissed, the 2018 “U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Case Processing Manual” eliminated complainants’ right to appeal OCR findings of insufficient evidence; and
WHEREAS, these three changes substantially restrict the ability of blind Americans to exert our rights under existing disability law and will serve only to exacerbate the discrimination blind students, blind parents, parents of blind children, and advocates confront in K-12 and higher education settings nationwide; and
WHEREAS, on May 31, 2018, in response to these actions, the National Federation of the Blind, along with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed suit against the US Department of Education seeking declaratory and injunctive relief: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the actions of the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Ken Marcus immediately halt the implementation of the changes to the “U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Case Processing Manual,” and strongly urge them to consult with the blind and other stakeholders before making drastic changes in the enforcement of civil rights laws.
WHEREAS, universal suffrage, the hard-won right of every citizen to vote freely and secretly, is the bedrock upon which our democracy functions; and
WHEREAS, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that voters with disabilities be provided the opportunity to exercise the right to vote that is equal to the opportunity provided voters without disabilities; and
WHEREAS, great progress has been made in the development and use of accessible voting machines that allow blind voters to cast their ballots; and
WHEREAS, the voter pollbooks, the official registers of voters deemed eligible to vote, remain inaccessible to us, a clear violation of the spirit of the ADA; and
WHEREAS, to confirm or verify an individual’s voting status, he or she must have access to the pollbook for his or her voting area; and
WHEREAS, the VOTEC Corporation is leading the industry in developing the first fully accessible election pollbook; and
WHEREAS, if state and local boards of elections have electronic pollbooks, they should install accessible pollbooks as required under the ADA: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand all election jurisdictions that plan to use or are already using electronic pollbooks to purchase accessible election pollbooks as soon as they become available; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend the VOTEC Corporation for its leadership in developing an accessible pollbook system; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge other manufacturers of voting technology to follow the leadership of the VOTEC Corporation in implementing nonvisually accessible pollbooks.
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest consumer organization of blind people in the United States, and the National Association of Guide Dog Users is its special interest division consisting of guide dog users and those interested in issues related to the use of guide dogs; and
WHEREAS, this organization has been working with the airline industry and the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop sound, specific, and objective policies, practices, procedures, and regulations that effectively support the civil rights of airline passengers who use trained service animals; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has recently released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) on the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) concerning the carriage of trained service animals and untrained emotional support animals; and
WHEREAS, some of the proposed rules concerning service animals are vague and open to interpretation that could lead to discriminatory actions, such as referring to the safety concerns posed by a large animal; and
WHEREAS, the current implementing regulations of the ADA provide effective regulations and guidance concerning service animals which, if adopted by the DOT, would adequately secure the civil rights of disabled passengers accompanied by service animals while ensuring safety to all passengers and airline staff; and
WHEREAS, the ACAA does not currently provide for a private right of action, thus limiting the remedies available to disabled passengers when facing discrimination: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge all airlines to work with the National Federation of the Blind to adopt policies concerning the carriage of service animals that respect the dignity of the individual and protect our civil rights while ensuring safety for all passengers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the United States Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations that are harmonized with the Americans with Disabilities Act and are sufficiently detailed so that they are not open to subjective interpretation; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the United States Congress to amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action for violation of this law.
WHEREAS, Microsoft, Apple, and Google have Braille display support built in to their operating systems; and
WHEREAS, this support is a central component of access for blind and deaf-blind users alike; and
WHEREAS, each implementation still has room for improvement in both features and stability; and
WHEREAS, Braille support in Android has been stagnant for more than two years, severely limiting its usability for Braille users: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization recognize that Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all made efforts to create a robust user experience for Braille readers without the need for third-party screen readers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge these companies to increase the priority given to developments in Braille access, and to ensure that updates to their operating systems do not result in regression for Braille users; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Google to demonstrate measurable and significant progress in the implementation of Braille in the Android platform by July 1, 2019.
WHEREAS, blind people face challenges related to inadequate public transportation systems, insufficient paratransit networks, and inaccessible rural and suburban transportation options; and
WHEREAS, innovations in autonomous vehicle technology represent a potentially valuable new resource that will help blind people grapple with transportation challenges and gain greater independence; and
WHEREAS, private industry stakeholders are already designing, developing, and deploying autonomous vehicles on roads and highways across the country; and
WHEREAS, twenty-nine states have already enacted autonomous vehicle legislation, with more states introducing such legislation every year; and
WHEREAS, on September 6, 2017, the United States House of Representatives passed the SELF DRIVE Act (H.R. 3388), a bill to create a federal regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles; and
WHEREAS, on September 28, 2017, Senator John Thune (Republican, South Dakota) and Senator Gary Peters (Democrat, Michigan) introduced the AV START Act (S. 1885) in the United States Senate; and
WHEREAS, the AV START Act would prohibit states from imposing discriminatory licensing requirements, require manufacturers to provide information on their human-machine interface technology in their safety reports, and create a working group specifically tasked with promulgating recommendations on accessibility issues for people with disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we urge the United States Senate to act expeditiously to pass the AV START Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon automobile manufacturers, technology companies, and all other stakeholders involved in designing, developing, and deploying autonomous vehicles to make their vehicles fully accessible to the blind.
WHEREAS, vote by mail is a voting system in which local boards of elections mail a paper ballot to every registered voter and consolidate local polling places into remote voting centers; and
WHEREAS, the trend of states converting from the traditional system of voting at a local polling place to all vote by mail has continued in 2018 with Hawaii joining Oregon, Washington, and Colorado as an all vote-by-mail state starting in 2020; and
WHEREAS, local jurisdictions that use vote by mail include twenty-seven of twenty-nine counties in Utah, thirty-one of fifty-three counties in North Dakota, five counties in California, and the city of Anchorage, Alaska; and
WHEREAS, the reduced costs to local boards of elections, increased convenience to voters, and increased voter turnout that result when a state or local jurisdiction changes its voting system to all vote by mail will likely mean that the trend of states converting to all vote by mail will continue; and
WHEREAS, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that jurisdictions that implement vote by mail must provide voters with print disabilities an opportunity to mark their ballot privately and independently at home that is equal to the opportunity provided voters without disabilities; and
WHEREAS, accessible electronic ballot delivery systems that comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA would enable blind, low vision, deaf-blind, or other print-disabled voters to mark their ballot privately and independently at home or work using a computer and their own access technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that states and local jurisdictions include an accessible electronic ballot delivery system that conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA) when they convert to all vote by mail so that voters with print disabilities can mark their ballot privately and independently at home with the same convenience afforded voters without disabilities.
WHEREAS, PDF documents are ubiquitous because most major authoring tools including Word, Pages, and Google Docs will save or print to PDF; and
WHEREAS, PDF documents do not reflow, making them difficult to use on some platforms with screen-access software and difficult to read on phones, tablets, or with magnification; and
WHEREAS, EPUB 3 documents are reflowable, making them easier to use on small screens with or without magnification; and
WHEREAS, the specification itself was planned with accessibility in its core structure so that making it accessible is easier than PDF; and
WHEREAS, accessible EPUB is being adopted as the preferred standard in digital publishing by professional publishers; and
WHEREAS, end-user tools do not provide a mechanism for direct conversion as simple as the “Save as PDF” mechanism in Word, preventing its widespread adoption by individual content creators; and
WHEREAS, many end-user tools that do create EPUB documents do not create well-formed accessible EPUB documents, even when the original content is built with accessibility in mind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Apple for its robust implementation of “Save as EPUB” in Pages; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Microsoft to provide a robust “Save as EPUB” tool for the Microsoft Office Suite; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon Google to develop further the “Save as EPUB” option for GSuite; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call upon other major authoring tool developers to include, improve, or simplify the creation of EPUB 3 documents in current and future updates.
WHEREAS, success in K-12 and higher education is a critical indicator of career readiness, and traditional K-12 and higher education classrooms are being replaced in part by eLearning opportunities; and
WHEREAS, eLearning offers options for flexible learning schedules, the ability to complete coursework at home or other remote locations, and opportunities for taking coursework not available within a student’s physical school; and
WHEREAS, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit schools from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and ultimately require that schools provide effective communication and equal and integrated access to programs and activities; and
WHEREAS, technology exists to render electronic text nonvisually and thereby provide blind students with access to eLearning opportunities using screen-access software; and
WHEREAS, blind students nationwide have encountered eLearning technologies that fail to conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA and are incompatible with screen access software; and
WHEREAS, education technology vendors continue to sell eLearning platforms, ebooks, and online tools that are knowingly inaccessible to blind students, and K-12 schools, colleges, and universities continue to purchase such inaccessible eLearning technology; and
WHEREAS, blind students in K-12 and higher education have been discouraged from enrolling in courses and activities that rely on eLearning materials, have been urged to alter their preferred subject track or major, or have been advised to withdraw as online students entirely because of perceived or actual accessibility barriers with eLearning software: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand eLearning technology vendors take immediate action to incorporate accessibility into their products and development roadmaps; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that schools and local education agencies put in place procurement policies that will prohibit acquisition of eLearning technology that does not conform with WCAG 2.1 AA; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that these schools and local education agencies require educational technology vendors to confirm the accessibility of their products prior to purchase and to assume cost and liability for any technology found to be inaccessible after purchase.
WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard Act is the only federal legislation that solely focuses on promoting entrepreneurship for blind people in the United States, with the goals of “providing blind persons with remunerative employment, enlarging the economic opportunities of the blind, and stimulating the blind to greater efforts in striving to make themselves self-supporting”; and
WHEREAS, to assist in achieving these goals, Congress tasked the United States Department of Education with oversight responsibility of this program through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), which is required to review and approve rules, regulations, policies, or procedures to be used in the administration of the program at the local level by state agencies for the blind, but to date, approximately eight states are currently awaiting approval from RSA, and some approvals have been pending for as long as eighteen months; and
WHEREAS, The Randolph-Sheppard Act also requires the Department of Education to convene arbitration panels to resolve disputes between blind entrepreneurs and state licensing agencies, as well as between state licensing agencies and federal entities that are alleged to be out of compliance with the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
WHEREAS, at least a dozen pending arbitration cases are currently awaiting action by the Department of Education, when a simple convening letter is all that is required; however, despite pleas from the National Association of Blind Merchants, individual blind entrepreneurs, and individual states, the convening letters remain stuck in an unwieldy bureaucracy; and
WHEREAS, multiple arbitration panels hear the same complaint, and many of the issues being disputed are exactly the same, so the vast majority of such arbitration cases could be avoided if the US Department of Education would fulfill its responsibility to interpret the Randolph-Sheppard Act and issue policy guidance on these recurring issues: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the US Department of Education to complete the review and approval process for all pending rules, regulations, policies, or procedures pertaining to the administration of the Randolph-Sheppard Program without further delay, as well as immediately to issue convening letters for all pending arbitration cases; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the US Department of Education promptly issue policy guidance regarding recurring issues confronting the Randolph-Shepard Program in order to prevent similar backlogs and delays from occurring in the future.
WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently required a substantial increase in the amount of audio-described programming; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind, in collaboration with NBC-Universal, worked to create a potential waiver for broadcasters that would establish alternative measures, satisfactory to all parties, that could be used to satisfy the requirements of the FCC’s new rule; and
WHEREAS, neither the FCC rule nor the waiver requires live television programming to be audio-described because it would create a conflict on the single secondary audio programming (SAP) channel used to broadcast live events in other languages; and
WHEREAS, other accessible technology exists in the live broadcast arena, such as the Gala Pro Application for smartphone devices; and
WHEREAS, Comcast and NBC-Universal have set a precedent by providing audio description for the Olympics, Paralympics, and musical productions: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that the FCC and the broadcasters work together to create additional SAP channels so that both foreign language speakers and the blind are able to enjoy the same programming; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the FCC require audio description on live programming of all types.
WHEREAS, web browser manufacturers have historically introduced new browsers or updates to existing browsers to the market without ensuring accessibility prior to release; and
WHEREAS, prior to the release of Firefox Quantum, Mozilla Firefox was the most used browser by the blind because of its focus on accessibility; and
WHEREAS, users of screen readers other than JAWS 2018 have been advised to change or update their screen readers to JAWS 2018, change browsers, or avoid the latest versions of
WHEREAS, JAWS is used by less than half of screen reader users, many of whom are not using the latest version; and
WHEREAS, controls and functions can vary widely between screen readers, and changing to JAWS 2018 may require extensive retraining; and
WHEREAS, upgrading or switching to JAWS 2018 is often prohibitive in both cost and time; and
WHEREAS, accessibility features and screen-reader compatibility do not function uniformly across browsers, making a sudden browser change problematic; and
WHEREAS, blind people must have equal access to the web in order to be productive citizens and responsible members of the community; and
WHEREAS, the failure of web browsers to work efficiently with third-party screen readers can cost the blind money and time and significantly affect productivity; and
WHEREAS, browser developers should give as much priority to accessibility as they give to usability for non-disabled users: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Mozilla to make future versions of Firefox compatible with all widely used screen readers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all web browser manufacturers to work closely with screen reader producers such as Freedom Scientific and NVAccess to ensure that new browsers or updates to browsers are not released unless they are fully accessible.
WHEREAS, the United States Postal Service's (USPS) Informed Delivery service is a free and convenient notification tool that gives residential consumers the ability to preview incoming letter-sized mail and manage packages digitally; and
WHEREAS, Informed Delivery service has replaced My USPS as the avenue for tracking and managing incoming mail; and
WHEREAS, at present the service displays the status of mail only en route by an image, which is totally inaccessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, the technology exists to make the service accessible to those who are blind; and
WHEREAS, the USPS, as an independent agency of the executive branch, is subject to accessibility laws, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) used or procured by the USPS be accessible to individuals with disabilities, including the blind; and
WHEREAS, the USPS not only operates its Informed Delivery service without regard to accessibility in violation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, but also discriminates against the blind by depriving us of a service offered to the rest of the public: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the United States Postal Service quickly to make the Informed Delivery service accessible to those who are blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the USPS to work with the National Federation of the Blind to implement protocols that prevent deployment of inaccessible services in the future.
WHEREAS, the mainstream media rarely portrays people with disabilities in movies and television shows, and when it does, the portrayal is frequently negative and/or inaccurate; and
WHEREAS, one reason for the stereotypical portrayals of blind people in the media is that blind characters are hardly ever played by blind actors; and
WHEREAS, CBS produces a television series called Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which is an American action procedural series revolving around a team of special agents who investigate crimes involving the US Navy and Marine Corps; and
WHEREAS, NCIS episode number 350, entitled “Sight Unseen,” which aired on April 17, 2018, featured acclaimed blind stage actress Marilee Talkington as a key witness to a crime; and
WHEREAS, CBS consulted the National Federation of the Blind prior to casting Marilee Talkington in this episode and solicited feedback on portions of the script; and
WHEREAS, according to the Sacramento Bee, Marilee’s character, Annie Barth, was “written as emotionally complex, humorous, and powerful”; and
WHEREAS, Marilee also joined the CBS cast on a new television pilot, In the Dark, in a recurring guest role as a blind character; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this seventh day of July, 2018, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend CBS for promoting diversity among its characters, plots, and actors by casting blind actors as blind characters; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend CBS for consulting with the organized blind about the most authentic way to portray the character of Annie Barth on its episode of NCIS; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the entertainment industry to promote the inclusion of blind actors and characters in its television shows and movies, to portray blind characters in a positive and accurate light, and to consult the National Federation of the Blind when doing so.
2018 is a year of celebration and a changing of the guard. This year, Krafters celebrate our tenth birthday! Isn’t that great? As we look back, we appreciate the effort put forth to grow an idea into a working division of the NFB. We applaud Joyce Kane for her initiative to partner with many others to create what we now lovingly call “Krafters Korner.” We are crafters who happen to be blind. We share alternative techniques which enable us to continue growing in our crafts.
During our time at convention, we shared our division with many others in the Exhibit Hall. We provided the opportunity for members to demonstrate our skills by bringing items to our Market Place. Many NFB members came, visited, and even did some shopping. We appreciate all of you who spent time with us and recognized our efforts by purchasing our items. We left this event with excitement for what we could do for the next convention.
We wrapped up our division activities with our business meeting, where elections were held. We now have Tammy Freitag serving as president. We have brought enthusiasm and new motivation into our new decade. We have a great group of women and men excited about the ability to make fun and beautiful things with our hands and imagination. We extend an invitation to anybody else that would like to come join the fun. We welcome those that know a craft and don’t mind teaching the rest of us. We also welcome those that have either the desire to learn or the curiosity about how we do our crafts. Our Korner has room for all who are interested; come join us! If you have questions, please contact President Tammy Freitag: 402-904-5105 or email: [email protected].
We hope you will join the fun!
Report from Communities of Faith:
The NFB in Communities of Faith held its annual meeting on Thursday, July 5, at 1 p.m. We first heard from publishers of Christian and Jewish literature. Craig Leeds, director of Braille Bibles International and also representing MegaVoice, spoke about these respective organizations as well as Aurora Ministries. Braille Bibles International sends out translations of the Bible in Braille as well as solar case speaker Bibles from MegaVoice. Aurora Ministries has several versions of the Bible and other Christian literature available on cartridges.
Jeri Lyn Rogge, director of The Christian Record Braille Foundation, spoke about the many and varied activities of this organization. They have a lending library, produce magazines, and conduct camps for various age groups. Antonio Guimaraes, from the Jewish Braille Institute also spoke to us about the valuable work of this organization. JBI has produced this important literature for many years.
Michael Smith, director of the International Christian Braille Mission, spoke about its move to Grayson, Kentucky, from West Virginia. Mike, a veteran of our movement, is training others to further the work of this ministry. Anil Lewis, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, shared about his faith from childhood.
Tom Anderson and Rehnee Aikens spoke about the importance of encouraging others to become people of faith.
We had several new members join the division. Tom and Rehnee had a Bible quiz as part of the NABS Olympics.
The speakers for devotions this year were: Ron Brown, president of the NFB of Indiana; Tom Anderson, Overland Park, Kansas; and Reverend Carolyn Peters from Dayton, Ohio.
The officers of this division are: president, Tom Anderson, Kansas; vice president Rehnee Aikens, Texas; secretary, Linda Mentink, Nebraska; and treasurer, Sam Gleese, Mississippi.
On July 5, the Science and Engineering Division of the NFB elected the following officers for two-year terms: president, John Miller, [email protected], 858-774-9286; vice president, Ashley Neybert, [email protected]; secretary, Louis Maher, [email protected]; treasurer, Alfred Maneki, [email protected]; and board members Purvi Contractor, [email protected]; and David Hertweck, [email protected].
Report from the Seniors Division:
On July 3, the seniors division hosted a seminar, “Emergency Preparedness—How to Prepare to Remain in Place or Evacuate when Necessary.” Ms. Georgianna Cherry, Health Emergency Operations Manager for Florida, North Central Area, was our presenter. She focused on knowing your surroundings and thinking about what you need to do to evacuate from wherever you are—the hotel, your home, visiting friends, wherever you happen to be. She advised having a “go bag” with items you think you will need plus comfort items that will get you through about three or four days in an unfamiliar environment. If you have special needs such as a pet or you use a guide dog, or if you take medicine that must be kept chilled, learn from your local area disaster relief officials where you should go, and plan a strategy to get there. What services will you need to get to the best designated shelter that can meet your specific needs?
Next, have a chain of people that you contact, and they in turn will let others know where you are and what needs you may have. She emphasized getting as much information about local resources and where and how to access them, and then plan, plan, and plan still further. The more prepared you are, the more control you have over where you go and what happens to you when you get there.
Do not assume that services you believe you are entitled to will be available. Bring water, food, medicines, and change these in your go bag at least twice a year. Bring any important documentation such as bank and financial records, medical history, insurance policy, etc.
Finally, if you have others in your household that you are responsible for, make certain they know the plans you have made and know whom to contact and where to go.
Ms. Cherry distributed little emergency first-aid kits that can be packed in the go bag and added to with other items if need be.
In our annual business meeting of the seniors division, officers were elected as follows: president, Ruth Sager; first vice president, Judy Sanders; second vice president, Robert Leslie Newman; secretary, Shelley Coppel; and treasurer, Diane McGeorge assisted by Duncan Larsen.
Phyllis Chavez spoke about her first Washington Seminar experience and how she was able to put the training she has received from the Colorado Center into practice. She felt frightened and scared, but she learned that she could ask for help from others in her group or strangers as well. She enjoyed the meeting with legislators and the museum event held Tuesday evening of this four-day seminar. She stressed how important our legislative efforts are for all blind people across the country whether they are members of the NFB or not. She felt empowered and will be back again for many more Washington Seminars.
Ruth and Shelley spoke about the retreat, what its purpose is, and gave some details about the physical location of Rocky Bottom Retreat and Conference Center in South Carolina.
NFB members Nancy Yeager from Virginia and Carol Braithwaite from Alabama next informed everyone of upcoming events their senior divisions are in the process of exploring and noted what they have done this past year. These are newly formed divisions, and they are working on growing their memberships and fundraising activities as well as planning events for seniors in their states.
Theresa Gfroerer from Minnesota spoke about her experience losing vision and finding BLIND Inc. and their senior program. She also became an active member of the affiliate. She was proud of her accomplishments but wanted to also strongly encourage anyone who has the ability to get good training to take the opportunity and learn as much as you can. It will change your life for the better. Theresa is a tenBroek Scholar, and she was having a fabulous convention experience.
Michael Hingson gave a presentation on Aira, what it is, what it can do, and basic instructions on how to use it. And, as always, we had our "not so silent" auction. Come next year. We need you, and you need us.
At our business meeting on July 5, the Community Service Division elected a new board to serve for the 2018-2019 year. Board members are as follows: president, Jeanetta Price; vice president, Johna Wright; secretary, Kyra Sweeney; treasurer, Janae Burgmeier; and board members Chris Parsons, Jonathan Franks, and Sam Gates.
The NFB in Computer Science held its bi-annual board elections at its annual meeting on July 5. The results of the election are as follows: president, Brian Buhrow, [email protected]; vice president, Steve Jacobson, [email protected]; secretary, Louis Maher, [email protected]; treasurer, Curtis Chong, [email protected]; board members: Jeanine Lineback, [email protected]; Harry Staley, [email protected]; and Jim Barbour, [email protected].
Report from NAGDU:
On Tuesday, July 3, during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Association of Guide Dog Users held its second annual seminar. This dynamic seminar featured workshops on how to identify veterinary emergencies and creating wellness for our dogs, tips for solving the problem of counterfeit service animals, coping with the grief associated with the retirement or passing of our dogs, the process of applying for and training with a guide dog, and the ever-popular “Show & Tail.” The workshops were very well attended, and participants shared how much valuable information they received.
On Thursday, July 5, we held our annual meeting. We heard from our legal department about our rideshare testing program and from the Jernigan Institute’s Advocacy and Policy Department about our work with the Department of Transportation and the airline industry. We also elected our leadership with the following results: president, Marion Gwizdala (Florida); vice president, Michael Hingson (California); secretary, Sherrill O’Brien (Florida); treasurer, Linda O’Connell (Arkansas); board members, Aleeha Dudley (Louisiana), Raul Gallegos (Texas), and Jessica Snyder (Ohio).
Congratulations to our newly-elected board of directors and thanks to our membership for helping to make the National Association of Guide Dog Users the leading advocacy organization on the affairs of guide and service dog users in the United States.
Report from the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee:
The exhibitors showcase was held the first night of convention, July 3, with over twenty companies presenting brief information about their products and services that they would show in the exhibit hall in the coming days.
Tap technology spoke about its wearable keyboard that lets your fingers send letters or commands to a connected Bluetooth device. It has a unique alphabet, but their fastest typist types sixty-two words per minute. It also has a set of VoiceOver commands to make it more efficient.
Universal Low Vision Aids Inc. (ULVA) talked about its OCR and magnifying devices.
WayAround spoke about its non-camera device that gives information about the world around you. It can identify colors, appliance information, and even the date your milk expires. It uses tags for your personal information that is stored in the cloud, and the app is free.
A.T. Guys has a new, more powerful battery pack, new AfterShokz headphones that weigh just over an ounce, an updated audio recorder that can store ninety-six hours of recordings, and a new wireless speaker that will do Alexa through WiFi and Bluetooth.
NReach has an app that helps one understand the world around you through Bluetooth beacon technology. When in range of its transmitter that a business can obtain, you can get details about the location of a store, such as the stores in a mall, and, for as little as $100 a year, they say they can put a unit at the business location.
Envision America has improved ScriptTalk with a new app for iPhone 7 or higher that will read your prescriptions for you. Also, it says its ID Mate Galaxy barcode scanner will prove that apps just don't cut it for barcode information.
OrCam has a new wearable device that weighs about an ounce and is about the size of one’s finger that will read currency, identify colors, and even allow facial recognition.
Sprint talked about its desire to work with the blind, just as it has done with the deaf. It says it now has a fully accessible website and a toll-free help line.
Bookshare spoke about its 625,000-book collection that is available the same day as you can get them from Amazon or a bookstore. You can download books in Braille, in audio, or as a Word file. It's only $50 a year, and for many a membership is free.
Amazon talked about its new totally accessible TV and about its accessible Echo device.
VOTEC asks for help from the NFB in creating a new fully accessible pollbook. This will enable a blind person to sign in to the voting location completely on their own to assure voter verification.
VFO and Freedom Scientific spoke about its new magnifier and notetaker. The company talked to us about Fusion, which fuses JAWS and ZoomText together for the best of both worlds.
Project RAY has a new eyes-free user interface for Android that it says can be learned in fifteen minutes and makes operating touchscreen phones easier for Android 4.0 or higher.
HIMS discussed with us its new QBraille, a Braille display with all the modifier keys that are on a normal QWERTY keyboard, so there will be no need to learn workaround Braille entry keys. The new QBraille will also have a few built-in notetaking applications and is due out this fall. The company also has a new low-vision device with better full-page OCR called the GoVision PRO.
Zoomax is a new company specializing in low-vision magnifiers including the Snow 10 which is a ten-inch magnifier with OCR and speech in ten different languages.
Open Access has a core focus of document accessibility. It helps clients find and make accessible the documents that are on websites that are not currently accessible. It says it can make PowerPoints, Word documents, and PDFs accessible.
Duxbury Systems now has version 12.3 out for MAC systems. There are improvements for its translator for Nemeth and Perky Duck. Also, there are new improvements to JAWS scripts, and you can download tactile graphics from the company’s website.
Bristol Braille Technology is an English company that is introducing a new multiline Braille display. It's called the Canute, and many got to see it first at the end of our program. The company says this display will cost less than a forty-cell display when it comes out.
Sunu has a wearable band to detect objects around you using radar and augmented reality to reflect objects above the waist and overhead like tree branches. It also has a built-in compass and a GPS app. It's an all-in-one multitool to augment the cane and dog.
American Printing House for the Blind said that now Nearby Explorer, its GPS app, can do some indoor navigation. It now has a forty-by-sixty grid tactile graphics display and are again taking orders for the Orbit Reader, the $450 twenty-cell Braille display.
Microsoft came to talk about improvements to its Windows 10 screen reader called Narrator. The company also discussed a new magnifier that will have new features this fall.
Tactile street maps of your neighborhood are available now from LightHouse for the Blind of San Francisco. So anywhere in North America, you can get a map of the street around you that’s tactile with Braille Identifiers with a key.
There were well over a hundred people in the audience who came to learn about what they could see in the exhibit hall and particularly where to find it once there. The showcase continues to be a popular item that helps the committee promote and advance technology that can be of help for the blind. Whether a sponsor or a consumer, join us next year.
Join The Blind History Lady Mailing List:
One of the 2018 Bolotin Award winners, Peggy Chong, The Blind History Lady, invites all of you to sign up for her monthly emails celebrating our blind American ancestors. Just send an email to [email protected] asking to be added to her list. Then look for her emails at the beginning of each month, and enjoy the stories of those who paved the way before us. Also visit her website at www.theblindhistorylady.com to learn about The Blind History Lady’s activities and other published works.
Large Print Calendars Available:
The 2019 EZ2See® Weekly Calendar is now available. This is the most low-vision-friendly weekly calendar available on the market. It is designed specifically for those with low vision or who need the space to write big. Many of its helpful design features are found nowhere else. That’s because it is designed by a low-vision person.
Federationist Edward Cohen started making and selling the EZ2See® Weekly Calendar in 2015 after being frustrated by the absence of a weekly calendar that met his needs. Unique features include:
The product sells for $21.95 on the EZ2SeeProducts.com website. Visit the website to see it and place your order. Shipping is by Free Matter. Don’t buy online? No problem, email [email protected] to learn how to buy with a check.
National Federation of the Blind CAREER Mentoring program:
Blind and low-vision youth need exposure to positive blind role models who demonstrate a genuine belief in them and in their natural abilities. Here is a wonderful opportunity for you to give back to the next generation and to help them achieve their full potential.
We are actively recruiting successful independent blind or low-vision adults. Go to https://nfb.org/mentorapplication, and sign up to become a mentor.
Through guidance and example, you can help raise expectations and teach blind youth the practical strategies of how to access resources and to acquire skills for success.
If you are willing to share your life experiences, to teach tips and tools for living independently, and to assist blind youth to become better self-advocates, the National Federation of the Blind CAREER Mentoring Program offers you a golden opportunity to give back.
Our NFB CAREER Mentoring Program provides a framework of training and support that will empower you to be a successful mentor to an aspiring blind or low-vision youth. We will host several fun educational activities that allow the mentor/mentee relationships to grow. If you do not feel you have the time, remember that in many instances a phone call, an email, or a text may be a life-changing interaction.
In addition to having the opportunity to positively affect the life of a young blind person, you will also be able to improve your own skills and to expand your personal/professional networks.
For more information, check out the article in the April issue of the Braille Monitor, entitled "Changing Attitudes Regarding Education, Employment, and Rehabilitation through the National Federation of the Blind CAREER Mentoring Program:"
NABM Announces Nationally Acclaimed Mark Gungor Will be Featured at BLAST:
The National Association of Blind Merchants is excited to announce that Mark Gungor, one of the nation’s most sought after experts on communication and relationships, will be one of the keynote speakers at BLAST (Business Leadership and Superior Training). Do men and women really see the world through different eyes? Do they communicate differently? Are men really able to retreat into their “nothing box” and think about absolutely nothing? For answers to these and other burning questions, you will want to be at this year’s BLAST Conference. Prepare yourself to learn a little and laugh a lot when nationally acclaimed speaker and author Mark Gungor presents “The Tale of Two Brains” at BLAST.
Mark is a sought-after keynote speaker on the corporate circuit and thousands attend his workshops and seminars each year. His candid and comedic approach uses unforgettable illustrations to teach proven principles that are guaranteed to strengthen and enhance communication and relationships. Mark’s speaking is refreshing and free of textbook psychological lingo. His goal is to help people get it right and to get along.
Register now to attend BLAST November 13 through 16 at the fabulous Hyatt Regency Hill Country in San Antonio, Texas. It is shaping up to be a spectacular event that you won’t want to miss. It starts with a full day of staff training which is being cosponsored by the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind on Tuesday, November 13. SLA [State Licensing Agency] staff will want to arrive on Monday. The conference will also feature our all-encompassing trade show on Thursday afternoon, and there will be an old fashioned Texas BBQ Thursday evening. We conclude on Friday morning with some relevant Randolph-Sheppard programming.
So don’t miss out on this Texas-size blowout of an event. Go to https://blindmerchants.org/blast-2018-information/ and register today.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye!
Did you know that the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults produces over 12,000 Braille calendars each year? These pocket-sized calendars are given free to any blind or deaf-blind person in the United States.
Each calendar is embossed with the days of the week, the date, and all of the major national and religious holidays. You will love how quick and easy it is to use, not to mention the convenient size of the calendar.
If you or someone you know needs a 2019 Braille calendar, please feel free to complete the short online application at https://actionfund.org/braillecalendar. If you do not have access to the online form, you can send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9315 to request the calendars as well.
Eight Popular Kids' Books are Now in UEB from Seedlings:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children has added eight more titles to its collection of books in Unified English Braille. Four titles are brand-new: They are Wishtree, for independent readers ages eight to twelve; Just Critters Who Care and Finding Dory: Big Fish, Little Fish, for beginning readers; and Grumpy Bird for babies and preschoolers. The other four are titles for independent readers that have been converted from the old code: Where the Sidewalk Ends, Indian in the Cupboard, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens, and Where the Red Fern Grows. This brings to 428 the number of low-cost books in UEB Seedlings offers. Order at http://www.seedlings.org/order.php.
Keep watching our website as we are adding more UEB every month!
The Experience of a Lifetime Awaits You at Ski for Light International Week 2019:
The forty-fourth annual Ski for Light International Week will take place from Sunday, January 27 through Sunday, February 3, 2019, in Granby, Colorado. Ski for Light, an all-volunteer nonprofit, organizes an annual, week-long event where blind and mobility-impaired adults are taught the basics of cross-country skiing. The event attracts more than 250 skiers, guides, and volunteers from throughout the United States, as well as international participants. During the Ski for Light week, each skier with a disability is paired with an experienced sighted cross-country skier who acts as ski instructor and on-snow guide.
Participants in the forty-fourth annual Ski for Light International Week will ski and stay at Snow Mountain Ranch, part of the YMCA of the Rockies, located near Winter Park. Single rooms, doubles, triples, and quads are available. In addition to skiing on one hundred kilometers of wide and wonderfully groomed Nordic trails, participants will have the opportunity to hone their auditory laser rifle skills in a biathlon experience facilitated by the United States Association of Blind Athletes, compete in the Olav Pedersen Race/Rally, and enjoy many off-snow activities.
“I discovered Ski for Light at the 2012 event, and my life changed. Through skiing and the opportunities to work with other Ski for Light enthusiasts, I began to imagine what was possible and spent less time and energy dwelling on what I could no longer do after experiencing vision loss,” wrote skier Tim McCorcle.
If you have never before attended what many have called “the experience of a lifetime,” please consider participating in the Ski for Light 2019 International Week.
Registration forms and pricing for skiers, guides, and volunteers are now available at www.sfl.org. You can also visit www.sfl.org to view a brief, narrated video introduction to Ski for Light. For other questions regarding the program, contact Visually Impaired Participant Recruitment Coordinator Melinda Hollands at [email protected] or call her at 231-590-0986.
Hope to ski with you in Colorado!
Braille Calendars Available:
I am starting to make Braille calendars for 2019. Each calendar is six dollars. One third of the profit from each will go toward helping me attend the NFB convention next year, one third will go toward the NFB, and one third will go to help the hungry around the world. If you are interested, feel free to email me at: [email protected].
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.