Braille Monitor

Vol. 62, No. 8                                   August/September 2019

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

telephone: 410-659-9314
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        ISSN 0006-8829

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.

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Vol. 62, No. 8                                   August/September 2019

Illustration: All Work and No Play—Not Happening

The 2019 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder

Presidential Report 2019
by Mark A. Riccobono

Meet the 2019 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class

Choice, Exploration, and Resistance: The Road to Freedom for the Blind
by Mark A. Riccobono

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Presented by James Gashel

Awards Presented at the 2019 National Convention 

Digital Inequality and the Myth of Injustice: Equal Access for the Blind May Not Be Delayed
by Eve Hill

A Platform for Information and Innovation: Insights into the
Aira Ecosystem in Partnership with the Blind
by Suman Kanuganti

The American Action Fund Celebrates a Century of Service for the Blind
by Barbara Loos

American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults: A Century of Innovation,
a Century for the Blind
by Marc Maurer

Leave a Legacy

Braille Carnival: A Swimming Success
by Julie Deden

Be My Eyes Partnership Announcement
by Will Butler

Perspectives on Raising the Bar in the Blindness Field: Why a New Accreditation System?
by Emily Coleman

Not Without Question: The Difference of the Federation Philosophy in Our Lives
by Jean Brown

The 2019 Convention Resolutions: A Guidepost on Our Road to Freedom
by Sharon Maneki

National Federation of the Blind 2019 Resolutions

Convention Miniatures

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2019 by the National Federation of the Blind

All Work and No Play—Not Happening

We often talk about the serious work we do in the Federation, and some of the serious work is done at national convention with resolutions, division meetings, and national board elections. But we also make time for fun with our Federation family during convention. Since most of this issue is devoted to the work we have done, are doing, and will do, it seems appropriate to showcase some of the play that happened during the 2019 National Convention.

President Mark Riccobono and his wife Melissa have a lot of responsibility during convention, but during the Braille carnival, they set aside the serious to get a little silly wearing flamingo hats. Other Federationists took the time to enjoy a concert by the Broken Spectacles sponsored by the host affiliates. Sometimes the fun mixed with educational opportunities. Participants in the NOPBC Youth Track participated in a self-defense class where they got to practice kicks and strikes against instructors using pads and body armor one day and attempted to pop balloons using blowguns made from slim PVC pipes on another day.

[PHOTO CAPTION: Melissa and Mark Riccobono wearing flamingo hats at the Action Fund Braille Carnival]
[PHOTO CAPTION: John Arroy and Ramona Walhof wear top hats while taking tickets at the Broken Spectacles concert]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Hannah Clemenson and Quincie Mattick smile and laugh together at the Broken Spectacles concert]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Youth Track students take a self-defense class. In the foreground a young girl swings her leg hard to kick a blocking pad the instructor is holding.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Participants in the Youth Track use PVC blowguns to try to pop balloons]

The 2019 Convention Roundup

by Gary Wunder

Las Vegas is known for taking the big risk, the big chance, and flirting with the possibility that one might really hit it big and see life-changing results. In some ways the convention of the National Federation of the Blind is the same, except we know that what happens will not be a matter of luck but of hard work, faith in one another, and channeling that faith into action.

Normally we know when the National Federation of the Blind shows up because the sounds in the environment change. The clicking of dog nails and the tapping of canes take center stage, but Las Vegas had enough background noise from the chirping of the slot machines and the occasional shriek of joy when someone got the big payoff that our move through the hotel was harder to hear.

But our presence was obvious when the marshals made their announcements, when people began asking about the elevator banks, and when the joyous shouts that come when meeting old friends rang out across the lobby.

This year the convention ran from July 7 through July 12, with the first day being seminar day, the second being resolutions and registration day, the next being board meeting and division day, and all of these being followed by day one, day two, and day three of the convention. All of this would climax with the banquet. Some who have attended convention for decades find it hard not to speak of convention Saturday or convention Wednesday, but the names listed above are now starting to feel as traditional as the ones we used when convention start was always on Saturday and convention end was always on Friday.

Even before the convention started, the ground began to quake and shake. Although the two quakes that shook Las Vegas were a couple of hundred miles away, one could certainly feel them. I have often enjoyed the song that contains the line “I feel the earth move under my feet; I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down.” But it is one thing to enjoy the song and quite another to live through the experience, wondering whether you really will. Most of us are quite accustomed to moving on the earth, but feeling the earth move is a different matter. What might have been very disruptive blessedly turned out to be only a talking point, a shared experience that will help to make our visit to Las Vegas even more memorable.

No matter what it is called, seminar day always begins early for the amateur radio division. They meet to discuss emergency preparedness during the convention and to make sure they understand the logistics of the hotel should they be needed. They also have one other very important function, that being to distribute the FM receivers that are used by the hearing-impaired and a different set used by Spanish-speaking attendees. These services are invaluable, and they highlight why the country values amateur radio and why the Federation values our division.

These early risers weren’t alone. The rehabilitation professionals were busy beginning their conference entitled, “Contemporary Issues in Rehabilitation and Education for the Blind—Eighteenth Annual Rehabilitation and Orientation and Mobility Conference.” It was chaired by rehabilitation professional Jennifer Kennedy, who was at the time from Virginia and is now the new executive director of BLIND Incorporated in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This all-day seminar was sponsored by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) and the Professional Development & Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB). All of the presentations addressed the way we bring Federation philosophy to programming and how we help the private and governmental systems to use their funding not only to teach skills but the attitudes that make those skills most beneficial and help rehabilitation students live the lives they want.

Many of us use seminar day to listen to providers of technology as they tell us about updates they have made to increase the productivity of the blind. Vispero, formerly Freedom Scientific, held a session on what’s new with JAWS, Fusion, and ZoomText. HIMS Inc. held a meeting of its user group to report on progress with its Braille displays and notetakers and to gather the all-important input it gets from its users who attend the National Federation of the Blind convention.

Seminar day concluded with the Rookie Roundup, a time for new convention attendees to hear about what will happen in the week that follows and to make the acquaintance of leaders of the Federation. A report of the Rookie Roundup activities will be found in the convention miniatures section in this issue.

On Monday morning at 9 a.m. Federationists who had preregistered picked up their packets, and those who had not registered, bought on-site. All the lines moved swiftly, for everyone knew that what awaited was the sponsors-only exhibitor opportunity offering the kind of deals one only finds at a convention of the Federation. In the afternoon there was the traditional meeting of the resolutions committee where policy statements are presented, discussed, and proposed or rejected for floor consideration by the committee.

On the same afternoon while we were resolving policies, forty-five employers had face-to-face meetings with blind people who were looking for jobs. Still others attended a seminar on how to use credit, and our deaf-blind division conducted a workshop designed to give unique solutions and create positive changes for those who live with a combined loss of hearing and sight.

When the gavel fell to begin the board meeting, which is often regarded as the first session of the convention, President Riccobono announced that Jeannie Massay was absent due to illness. She was listening on the convention stream, and she said in a later phone call that her heart felt really good to hear the love and affection that were communicated through the cheers and applause of the three thousand gathered in the room.

A moment of silence was observed for those lost to death in the previous year. President Riccobono announced forty-one people whose names he knew about, but there were others, and they too were a part of our tribute.

Daniel Martinez took the floor to tell our Spanish speakers that translation service would be available throughout the convention and where they could get receivers to listen. Special receivers were also made available to people who would otherwise have had trouble hearing the proceedings.

Joe Ruffalo led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, and President Riccobono led us in the Federation pledge.

A review of those who serve on the national board of directors was next on the agenda, with President Riccobono beginning with the names of those whose terms expire this year: Denise Avant, Illinois; Everette Bacon, Utah; Norma Crosby, Texas; Ever Lee Hairston, California; Cathy Jackson, Kentucky; and Joe Ruffalo, New Jersey. Holdover positions that were not up for election are currently held by President Mark Riccobono, Maryland; Vice President Pam Allen, Louisiana; Second Vice President Ron Brown, Indiana; Secretary James Gashel, Hawaii; Treasurer Jeannie Massay, Oklahoma; and board members Amy Buresh, Nebraska; Shawn Callaway, District of Columbia; John Fritz, Wisconsin; Carla McQuillan, Oregon; Amy Ruell, Massachusetts; and Adelmo Vigil, New Mexico.

Cathy Jackson asked for the floor. She has been a member of the Federation for forty-four years and has only missed one convention since 1977. She was asked to run for the board in 2002, and after the shock of being asked, she said yes. She has enjoyed her service but now believes it is time to let someone else take on this most important responsibility. Her only request of President Riccobono is that he remembers she is stepping down but not stepping away and that he remembers her for any tasks that he needs performed in the future. Her service and her character won her great applause and a number of people exclaiming "We love you, Cathy!"

President Riccobono introduced the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada, Terri Rupp. She began by welcoming us to Las Vegas and explained just how much this part of the country means to her. She travels frequently, and whenever she returns home she feels great pride in being in Las Vegas. She hopes and believes that we will come to feel the same attraction to her city and that it too will come to see that we are special.

President Rupp thanked the Idaho affiliate for helping host the convention and congratulated the fifty-seven people who had registered from Nevada. She invited the convention to attend the concert that would be held the following evening, the performing group being composed of blind musicians who operate under the name of the Broken Spectacles. She said that general admission to the concert would be ten dollars, but for those showing a registration badge and a membership coin, that amount would be reduced by 50 percent, a tremendous incentive to bring both.

There is a common saying that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but this is a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, and the code of conduct we have long observed and recently published is in effect, no matter the state in which our convention occurs. People who believe they have been the victim of a violation can contact any Federation leader or staff member. Listed in the agenda and presented on the convention floor were telephone numbers people could call if they observed a breach of the code of conduct or if they needed a place to go, relax, and unwind. Part of the convention experience should be to have fun, but fun should never come at the expense of safety and personal security. This is a message we repeat often because it is so very important.

Immediate Past President Maurer was next welcomed to the stage to talk about a longtime organizational ally of the National Federation of the Blind, that being the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. In honor of its 100th anniversary celebration, the Action Fund hosted a carnival on the evening of July 9. More about the carnival will appear elsewhere in this issue.

For our 2019 Convention, John Berggren served as the chairman of convention organization and activities. He was invited to the stage to discuss convention logistics, and in the presentation he talked about convention registration, the various formats in which agendas were available, and the logistics for getting three thousand people out of a room so that in less than two hours it could be used for our banquet.

The next topic considered by the board was registration, and the registration number attributable to states as of the close of business on July 8 was 2,914. An additional seventy-one people had registered from other nations, raising this initial total to 2,985. Whether we would break the total set in New Orleans in 1997 of 3,347 registrants was a topic of interest to everyone until the final announcement was made at the banquet on July 12.

President Riccobono discussed some courtesy rules. If people must take telephone calls, he asked that they go outside. Although everyone is encouraged to show enthusiasm, noisemakers such as bullhorns are discouraged. A number of people will cross our stage, some of them expressing views with which we enthusiastically agree, others expressing views with which we may, with equal passion, disagree. By long-standing tradition every presenter is treated with courtesy and respect. We may confront any idea we wish, but anyone who comes to make a presentation should leave knowing that they have been heard, that their point of view has been considered, and that they have been treated with civility and respect second to none.

As is customary, microphones are placed throughout the convention. Delegates use them for making reports, and anyone wishing the floor for any matter of business should find one and use it. Locating the closest microphone to one's delegation is always encouraged.

In keeping with tradition, announcements from the floor must be sent to the podium in Braille, and if the screener determines that they relate to convention business, they will be read to all on the public address system.

Activity at the NFB 2019 Convention was highlighted on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #NFB2019. Some of the comments made will be published in the Braille Monitor, but to read everything that was said and all of the responses, please use this hashtag and live the moments as they happened.

Much of our work to increase opportunities for blind people has to do with public relations, and a critical part is the public service announcements which are aired on radio and television. They can be found on the NFB website at nfb.org/PSAs.

In addition to our public service announcements, we are also actively producing two podcasts. One of them is the Nation's Blind Podcast, and our newest is the Blind Parents Connection. To make contributions, or provide ideas or stories, please send an email to [email protected]. These are all part of our promotional efforts to get the word out about the National Federation of the Blind.

Carla McQuillan came to the microphone to recognize an outstanding teacher of blind students who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to meet the needs of his or her students. More information about the presentation of the 2019 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Much of the work of the Federation is done through its divisions. Changes in division officers should be reported to Beth Braun by writing to [email protected]. Each division is also asked to submit a report to the President by August 15, 2019.

Scott LaBarre is the chairman of the Preauthorized Contribution Plan, and he came to the stage to explain its purpose and to encourage everyone to participate. In this program members and nonmembers alike are asked to sign up for a monthly donation which is automatically deducted from their checking account, savings account, IRA, or credit card. No other membership-driven program has contributed as much to our organization, and this year we came into the convention with annual donations of $465,000. To keep pace with the ever-increasing needs and expenses that face the organization, we must increase the amount that this program generates, and Scott expressed the hope that at the end of the convention we would be well on our way to reaching the $500,000 mark. Because of the generosity of our members, contributions increased to $494,000, a significant distance in meeting our goal and one in which we can all take pride.

Sandy Halverson was the next to take the stage. She began by describing the Shares Unlimited in the NFB (SUN) Fund with a few lines from a song popular in the 1970s called "Here Comes the Sun." The SUN Fund is the National Federation of the Blind's savings account created for a time we hope will never come. It is the kind of account all of us provide for ourselves, a rainy-day account, and it is intended to help the Federation in the hard times that may visit us. Those of us who know Federation history can remember at least two times when the fundraising mechanisms on which we depended were severely disrupted, so the need for this reserve cannot be overstated. Demonstrating the efficiency of Braille and her mastery of it, Chairman Halverson presented the rankings of all fifty-two affiliates, and she was able to do this without the gentle prodding of the President to move the agenda along. Congratulations to Sandy, to the SUN Fund, and to all of us who are looking out for the future of the Federation.

Patti Chang is a former member of the board of directors and a former president of our Illinois affiliate, the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. She now works as the outreach director for the organization, and she addressed the board and all of the Federationists in attendance about several programs that bring much-needed funding to the organization. One of the programs that generates funds for us is our Vehicle Donation Program. We take every kind of vehicle except airplanes, and donations may be made by calling 800-659-9314. This program is active in every state, and each chapter and affiliate should advertise the way to get a little more mileage out of the vehicle that has seen its best days.

Our organization also works with GreenDrop in seven of our Eastern states and the District of Columbia. The states in which our program is active are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. People who wish to donate their gently used items should call 888-610-4632.

Many of us are interested in giving to the National Federation of the Blind while we are alive, and a growing number are also interested in helping after our deaths. People can make donations through their will, their IRA, a payable-on-death account, etc. For more information about The Dream Maker's Circle or other programs, Patti can be reached at 410-659-9314, extension 2422 or by writing to her at [email protected].

We know that all too often one of the things that accompanies blindness is isolation. This is true whether the onset of it is recent or whether a person is blind from birth. Knowing that there are other blind people who have dreams and are accomplishing them makes all the difference, and this is one of the major reasons why the blind of the nation came together in the 2019 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. To assist first-time convention attendees we have created the Kenneth Jernigan Fund, its purpose being to provide a stipend to those seeking this monumental experience.

The chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund is Allen Harris, but in 2019 he was unable to attend the convention due to the illness of his wife Joy. The convention sent its heartfelt love and appreciation for their work through the cheers and applause, and co-chairman Tracy Soforenko was welcomed to the dais to make a report for the committee.

Due to the generosity of those contributing to the Jernigan Fund, we were able to bring ninety members and families to the convention. The Jernigan Fund gets most of its money in two ways: people buy a ten-dollar ticket which offers them the possibility of two roundtrip tickets to next year's convention and a check for one thousand dollars. The Jernigan Fund also holds a raffle in which a limited number of tickets are sold for five dollars each. The winner of that raffle gets $2,500, and the remaining funds are used to bring first-timers to convention.

Tracy also talked about the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund, the owner of the building which houses the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Currently the tenBroek Fund is in the process of a $4 million renovation to create updated sleeping space for the seminars and other activities which occur at the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind. The sleeping rooms were first created in 1981, so the upgrades are timely and will reflect the best in comfort and modern technology.

President Riccobono introduced Will Butler, the vice president of Be My Eyes, to make a presentation. He briefly discussed the service and then announced the partnership between Be My Eyes and the NFB. His remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.

Dr. Edward Bell came to the stage to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award. We know that good educators of the blind make a significant difference in the lives of those they teach, and so it is that we proudly present this annual award. Dr. Bell's presentation and the remarks made by the winner appear later in this issue.

One of the highlights of the annual board meeting has come to be the presentation of the thirty scholarship finalists selected to be mentored by and receive money from the National Federation of the Blind. Chairman Cayte Mendez introduced the 2019 class and gave each of them about thirty seconds to introduce themselves. Her remarks and those of our scholarship class are found elsewhere in this issue.

Jennifer Dunnam is the chairman of the board of directors for BLIND Incorporated in Minneapolis, Minnesota. BLIND Incorporated is a part of the National Federation of the Blind, and Jennifer's purpose was to present a check to the national organization in honor of RoseAnn Faber. After serving for twenty years as the president of the board, RoseAnn left a bequest, and Jennifer presented a check in the amount of $25,000 to be used by the national body of our organization.

Ryan Strunk, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, next took the floor. He also rose to compliment RoseAnn Faber on her thirty-one years of service on the board of BLIND Incorporated and on her activity at all levels of the Federation. From the bequest she gave to the Minnesota affiliate, Ryan presented a check to the national body in the amount of $77,866.55. This was a tremendous contribution and shows what can happen when Federationist choose to share what they have.

Julie Deden, the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB), presented a bequest to the organization in the amount of $2,333,000. This is the latest in a long string of bequests given by the CCB and the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, and it also represents the understanding that gifts at all levels must be shared. Although it was announced later in the week, the state of Texas joined these grand givers by presenting a check in the amount of $22,365.72.

Valerie Yingling is a paralegal working as a staff member for our organization. She reported that we will soon be doing testing to confirm that Redbox is complying with its 2017 class action settlement. We will be testing its kiosks in all fifty states and the District of Columbia with the exception of California, which has its own legal agreement.

We will soon be concluding our secret shopper program with Greyhound. If blind people use the telephone because they are unable to navigate the website or mobile app, they are not to be charged extra to book Greyhound service.

We continue to seek feedback regarding Uber and Lyft and their compliance with settlement agreements we have reached. We must monitor this program to ensure that drivers who knowingly deny rides to blind people using guide dogs are terminated as required by the driver agreements to which they have pledged themselves.

Eve Hill, who handles many of our cases at Brown Goldstein & Levy, reported that we are quite focused on the issue of voting and are dealing with the state of Maryland where the right of blind people to cast a secret ballot is made impossible by the use of machines that only the disabled are encouraged to use. If we don't have a vote, we don't have a voice. We have recently resolved issues about accessible voting in Ohio, New York, and in the state of California in Alameda County. Right now we are interested in the experiences of blind people in Alaska, New Hampshire, and Maryland.

The NFB is also working hard to see that new technologies are not rolled out before accessibility is considered and built into them. Of primary interest here is the issue of employment: knowing that companies are seeking employees, being able to fill out their applications, being able to take their tests, and being able to schedule interviews. All of these activities are now performed online, and accessibility problems at any level can be the determining factor in whether or not blind people get jobs.

One of the things we need to understand is where all of these inaccessible websites are being generated. This includes knowing what web authoring tools are generating them and which web development companies are sponsoring their creation? Our best hope of reducing the proliferation of inaccessible websites will come through dealing with these companies and making certain that the products they use generate websites we can use.

Many healthcare services are moving to online platforms for scheduling appointments, communicating with doctors, and reading test results. Far too many are not accessible. As we have reiterated many times, we are not only interested in seeing that the public side of websites are accessible but also that the behind-the-scenes services that employees perform are also usable by blind people. Since the healthcare industry represents more than 1/7 of the nation's economy, we must be vigilant in pressing for equal access to these jobs.

Board member Norma Crosby took the microphone as one of the final events at the board meeting. She said she had been given an assignment by President Riccobono, had decided to change it, but when she brought him a thirty-page proposal for her presentation, he rejected it on the grounds that a) she could not convince him that there were blind people at the Alamo, and b) she had to make a presentation that would fit in five minutes. Badly shaken but always resourceful, Norma reworked her presentation with the aid of some of her friends. Together they told the 2019 Convention that in 2020 the National Federation of the Blind would be meeting in Houston, Texas. The convention will be from June 30 to July 6.

The final presentation of the board meeting was made by Board Chairman Pam Allen. Here is what she said:  

Thank you, President Riccobono, and good morning my Federation family. It is my sincere pleasure to welcome all of you to our 2019 Convention in fabulous Vegas, where we all are working together, as noted on our membership coin, to transform our dreams into reality. I want to commend our host committee again for its phenomenal work and for making this convention one to remember, and I also want to recognize our first-time convention attendees. We are so happy to welcome all of you to our family, and as we all know and you as first-timers are discovering, there's no better place to be than here in Las Vegas this week for the most powerful gathering of blind people in the world.

As we reflect this week on our history, celebrate our successes, and share our stories and plans for a future filled with hope and unlimited opportunities for all blind people, we are thankful for the strong legacy of our leaders: Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer, whose impact and example continue to guide us. President Riccobono, every day you exemplify what it means to be a true leader. Your integrity, vulnerability, transparency, love, and unwavering commitment to our organization and to each of us inspire and challenge us all to do more than we ever imagined possible.

I want to thank all of you who are here at this convention and acknowledge our members who are listening online and who are with us in spirit. I thank you for your work and for your never-ending energy.

On a personal note, I want to take this opportunity to recognize and thank all of you for the incredible support and outpouring of love shown to all of us in Louisiana affected by the tornado. Words cannot adequately express our sincere appreciation or how much strength we have all drawn from our Federation family as we rebuild stronger than ever. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Each day in the National Federation of the Blind we strive for excellence. We push the boundaries and stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones. We embrace diversity; we encourage and love each other; and we raise expectations and shatter misconceptions about blindness that would not be possible without all of us doing our part. The National Federation of the Blind is made up of people from diverse backgrounds with many different life experiences, but we speak with one voice and together share our life-changing message of empowerment, hope, and love for all blind people. Thank you, and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

With those concluding remarks the board meeting was adjourned, and Federationists grabbed what food we could before moving to an afternoon of division, committee, and group meetings. The Sports and Recreation Division gave us a seminar on exercising to build muscle and reduce body fat and after that to increase flexibility and enhance mental well-being with yoga and meditation. Many blind people suffer from diabetes, and the Diabetes Action Network conducted a meeting to discuss how to test our blood, administer our medication, and deal with ever-advancing technology that we cannot read, cannot set, and therefore cannot use.

Many of us who are teachers attended the National Organization of Blind Educators. How do we get people into the field and handle the perception of blindness held by parents and school administrators? For children and parents there was the always exciting Book Fair. Faith is an important part of what we do, and so the NFB in Communities of Faith met to talk about faith leaders who are blind and the way they lead their congregations. A lot of what we do directly helps the blind, but one of our missions must be showing that we can give as well as receive. This is the goal of the Community Service Division. The Performing Arts Division continues to break down the barriers that keep blind actors out of movies and off the big screen, and they were joined by a successful blind actress. More about this meeting will appear later in this issue.

For the last several years we have talked a lot about autonomous vehicles. This year we did more than talk about them; some of us experienced them. Nearly fifty people took a ride in autonomous vehicles provided by Lyft. They said that the experience was much like riding in a human-driven vehicle, but there was none of the herky-jerky stopping and starting or changing of speeds that are part of some rideshare and taxicab experiences.

On Wednesday morning when the first official session was gaveled to order, one lucky person was awarded a substantial door prize. An invocation was given by Tom Anderson, the music minister of the Temple Pentecostal Church of Lecompton, Kansas. He is also the president of the National Federation of the Blind in Communities of Faith division and a longtime friend and teacher of many in the National Federation of the Blind.

To begin our official welcome to the 2019 Convention, Marley Rupp, the daughter of President Terri Rupp of Nevada, began the ceremony. One couldn’t have asked for more poise, and it is hard to believe that Marley is nine years old. Tia Gilliam, a member of the Southern Nevada Chapter, sang “Try Everything,” “Climb,” and “Just the Way You Are.” After the first of three moving songs, President Rupp made these remarks:

Once upon a time in a war-torn country far away, a family hoped and dreamed for a better future. They hopped on a plane and came clear across the world, landing in the United States of America. Shortly after arriving, while trying to learn the language and the culture, they realized their daughter was losing her eyesight. Not knowing where to turn, they listened to all the professionals. They had high school family members translating at doctor's offices, and their little girl grew up trying to fit in with the sighted world. Because she couldn't see well enough, she never felt good enough; she never felt strong enough; she never felt smart enough; she never felt pretty enough; she never felt fast enough. But indeed this little girl was enough.

It wasn't until the little girl grew up and found the National Federation of the Blind that she realized that there was no shame in not hiding who she was. She got tired of faking it to make it in the sighted world. She got training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and she hit the ground running. As a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, this little girl now has her own little girl, who she graciously gifted with optic nerve atrophy. The first little girl's dream is for her daughter to grow up knowing that, wherever she goes, she is good enough; she is smart enough; she is pretty enough; and wherever she goes, she belongs to the National Federation of the Blind.

After several inspiring welcomes from others, Dana Ard, our president in Idaho and the affiliate jointly hosting with Nevada took the floor. Here, in part, are the remarks she made in her own welcome:

I'm Dana Ard, and I'm the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho. I want to tell you how my life has been shaped by the National Federation of the Blind. I met my first Federationist when I was five years old. She came to teach me Braille, but she taught me so much more. She taught me that she could travel independently to a place that she'd never been, and as I got to know her I learned that she was just like my mom: she could cook, clean, and do all those things that everybody else does. Except, of course, she was blind.

Then when I was seventeen I went to the orientation and adjustment center at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I was so awed by my instructors, but particularly by Jan Omvig Gawith. She could really travel, and I wanted to be able to travel just like Jan. Of course there was also Ramona Walhof and her husband Chuck, who invited the students up to her apartment for dinner. I was amazed! She entertained just like my mom.

I have to tell you about a very meaningful conversation that I had last year. This is something no one has brought up yet, and I feel the need to do it. We were at lunch, and a fellow state president said to me, ‘You know, I didn't think that I could be elected president because I have orientation challenges.’

I said, ‘You do? I do too.’ I told him that I thought I was the only one who was a president with orientation challenges. ‘Everybody looks like they do everything so well. So I've always been ashamed to admit it.’ It was wonderful—we connected. So as we explore our diversity and we talk about who we are and the wonderful lives that we can have in the National Federation of the Blind, we have to remember that we’re not cookie-cutter Federationists; we didn't all come out of the same box of chocolate chip cookies. We are different, we are all individuals, and we have our strengths and our weaknesses just like everyone else. So today I invite you to go out, meet more Federation friends, have lots of experiences during this convention, and enjoy the largest family reunion of the blind in the world, the National Federation of the Blind.
The welcoming ceremony concluded with the drawing of two tickets to any show in Las Vegas, and they are good until July of 2020. With those tickets the door prize winner also received five hundred dollars in cash. Under anyone's definition, this was quite a welcoming and the beginning of great things to come.

When President Riccobono took back the microphone, he noted that Jan Omvig Gawith, who was mentioned in Dana Ard’s presentation, was attending her fifty-seventh annual convention and that her husband Harry, who long has been involved in the distribution of door prizes, was forced to remain at home due to illness. The President urged that we keep Harry in our prayers.

Our celebration of freedom followed, and to conduct it was the president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, Dwight Sayer. Twenty-nine veterans walked across the stage and received their red, white, and blue freedom ribbon. A moment of silence was observed in honor of one of our color guard members, James Bryant White, who passed on January 26 of this year. We were then treated to a tremendous drum solo, and eight members of the color guard introduced themselves to the assembled.

The ceremony continued by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem by the Performing Arts Division and all of us in the hall. The newly elected president of the division, Dr. Vernon Humphry, presented President Riccobono with a shirt and a check in the amount of $22,574.82. President Humphry concluded by asking that God bless America and the National Federation of the Blind.

John Paré and Gabe Cazares asked that all of us, whether listening in person or on the convention stream, call our representatives and senators to encourage the passage of our bills. Of particular interest in this session was the Accessible Technology Affordability Act. In addition to the state flag for each delegation, a special sign has been prepared for each affiliate which has made significant progress in the area of parental rights and/or the elimination of subminimum wage. If a state has passed a parental rights act, it will get an orange flag. If the progress has been to eliminate subminimum wage, the flag will be blue.

We next moved to the roll call of states. Barbara Manwell from Alabama rose to say that the Freedom Center for the Blind is alive and well and that a parental rights bill for the blind was enacted into law during the last year. President Donald Porterfield took the floor to acknowledge the strong participation of Arizona, and the affiliate also received a flag for advancement of its own parental rights legislation into law. He is joined by 105 first-time attendees, and the affiliate with our convention in its backyard was clearly vocal and enthusiastic.

When the state of Colorado answered the roll, President Scott LaBarre proclaimed that not only did Colorado have a parental rights law but also a voting rights law for the blind. Every Coloradan is allowed to vote from home, but this has not been the case for blind people until this year.

On the heels of that inspiring report, we were further uplifted by a fit break conducted by Jessica Beecham. The fit breaks continue to demonstrate how physical fitness does not require lots of space but simply the thought and ingenuity to figure out how to move one's muscles, stretch one's body, and get one's blood flowing.

Connecticut next rose to be recognized and was presented with a parental rights flag. Georgia was the next state affiliate to receive one. President Dorothy Griffin said that Georgia’s parental rights bill had been signed in June, and the cheers from the affiliate were among the longest and most prolonged during the roll call of states.

Hawaii proudly reported that it was represented by thirty members, a delegation which encompassed every island of the state. Nani Fife announced that she was stepping down as state president, and the convention responded with a reverent round of applause showing the regard in which she is held after her many distinguished years of service. Nani made a special point of noting the arrival of a rather prominent Federationist as a member of the Hawaii delegation, that being none other than James Gashel. The state was also recognized for its passage of parental rights legislation.

The National Federation of the Blind of Illinois received a parental rights flag, and the affiliate proudly announced that it had seven first-time attendees at the convention. President Ron Brown of Indiana provided the information needed from the affiliate and announced that he and Jean Brown were celebrating thirty-two years of marriage on this very day. This remark would take on significance later in the agenda when we heard from Jean herself.

The National Federation of the Blind of Maryland was the only affiliate to receive two flags, and President Ronza Othman reminded us that Maryland, the state of strong deeds and gentle words, was the only one that refused to implement prohibition. The affiliate proudly boasted of bringing fifty-four new people to the convention, and this trend of bringing newcomers, noted among the many states, bids well for the National Federation of the Blind.

President Riccobono recognized Missouri as the first state to have passed a parental rights bill and presented the affiliate with a flag. President Amy Buresh of Nebraska announced that the state has passed a parental rights bill, and President Terri Rupp noted that Nevada has done the same. During the roll call, New Hampshire was recognized as the first state to outlaw the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities, and President Cassie McKinney gave a warm welcome to Daniel Frye, who will start his new role as the director of services for the blind in New Hampshire at the end of the convention. President Carla McQuillan of Oregon announced that the state has abolished the payment of subminimum wages. When South Carolina was called on, we learned that it too has passed a parental rights bill and that this year marks seventy-five years of service to the blind by the affiliate.

When President Christina Clift of the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee was called on, she reminded us that this is the state where the mighty Mississippi runs in the west, music city is in the middle, and the great Smoky Mountains are found in the east. Tennessee has passed parental rights legislation, and this year the affiliate is proud to bring a dozen first-time attendees to the convention.

When the great state of Texas was reached in the roll call, as expected the voices of Texans were heard, but they were joined by many others in the convention who are already looking forward to 2020. The state passed a prohibition against the payment of subminimum wages, as did the proud state of Utah. The state of Vermont was recognized for eliminating the payment of subminimum wages within its borders as was the state of Washington.

At the close of the roll call of states, the President updated us on the registration figures as of the close of business the previous day. Tension continued to build as we waited to see whether this would be the largest convention in Federation history.

The afternoon session began with what has come to be a tradition in the Federation, the Presidential Report. As made clear by the response of the crowd, this was a much-anticipated presentation that lived up to what people hoped and thought it would be. Its scope was broad, its recitation of our accomplishments specific, and its resolution to continue raising the expectations of blind people unambiguous. The report is printed in full following this article.

Eve Hill had the unenviable task of following President Riccobono to the stage, but she is a treasure trove of information, and her ability to make a presentation that is compelling, riveting, and interesting is second to none. She addressed “Digital Inequality and the Myth of Injustice: Equal Access for the Blind May Not Be Delayed.” In the address she discussed why we file the lawsuits we do, the work we do prior to filing them in hopes of developing partnerships without an adversarial relationship, and our responsibility to ensure that with our litigation we create good law, transparent outcomes, and bring about changes that truly benefit blind people. We deplore the practice of “click-by lawsuits,” but with equal force we oppose changes that would undermine our ability to use the law to ensure that the leading vehicle for commerce, healthcare, and information does not shut us out. Her remarks will appear elsewhere in this issue.

"Leadership, Partnership, and the Pursuit of Financial Accessibility” was next, and its presenter was Doug Marshall, the executive vice president and chief digital and product officer of BECU, formerly the Boeing Employees’ Credit Union located in Tukwila, Washington. BECU is the fourth largest credit union in the country and has about $20 billion in assets. In terms of our engagement with BECU, Mr. Marshall said that what is important to understand is that “It started as a legal issue; it rapidly became a moral issue for us. Doing the right thing is important to BECU." He said the company was founded in 1935 in the depths of the depression by eighteen machinists working for the Boeing Company. Each of those machinists contributed fifty cents to raise the nine dollars that began the first loan fund. At that time an employee had to buy his own tools, and so the first loan of $2.50 was made so that a new man could have a job at Boeing. From there the business has grown exponentially.

The BECU came not only to make a presentation but also to search for two blind employees who will help it on its journey toward accessibility and seeing that it is sustained. The remarks made by Mr. Marshall will appear later in the fall.

Anil Lewis next came to the stage to address the topic “Adding Value through Community Partnerships with the Organized Blind." He began by observing that litigation is more sexy than other things we do, but when we can, we get much more from good, solid partnerships. To illustrate this point, he introduced two people to the audience. The first of these was Eve Andersson, the director of accessibility at Google.

Eve began by saying that accessibility is part of the core mission statement of Google: "to make the world's information universally accessible and useful for everyone." As Google CEO Sundar Pichai has said, "Technology’s great promise is to give everyone the same power to achieve their goals. As long as there are barriers for some, there is still work to be done."

Eve provided several splendid examples of products made by Google to help people who are blind and people who have hearing loss. She said it is also a core value at Google that all of its software work with screen-reading technology.

In terms of its own accessibility commitments, Google has significantly expanded its accessibility work since 2017, and its goal to make products accessible is that “We want to bake it in rather than layer it on.” If followed, this prescription will ensure that accessibility is a core part of the product and not an afterthought that finishes second to the essential functions of the system. Eve's remarks will appear in full later in the fall.

The second person introduced by Anil was Kathy Martinez, senior vice president, disability/accessibility strategy for Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, California. Kathy began by noting that Wells Fargo's work with disabled people began at its founding in 1866, in large part because its founder was a stutterer. Although there has always been work to assist the disabled, Wells Fargo significantly upped its game in 2015, and it is proud to work with the National Federation of the Blind on what the company calls “our BELL Program.”

Ms. Martinez concluded by saying, “We are thriving, we are embracing people with disabilities as our allies, and I just want to say that our experience is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. We know we have a ways to go, but we have definitely made progress, and you are the key to the change in perspective. You are also the key to the change in attitude within the company and our priorities at Wells Fargo. Thank you very much.” The remarks of Ms. Martinez will appear in full later in the fall.

Our moderator concluded his presentation with these remarks: “I introduced these people as my friends, so to prove a point, how many individuals out there are attorneys? Say I." A few cheers could be heard. “Okay, that’s good, and I charge you to continue to exercise the surgical precision of our legal strategy that has made us successful for so many years. Now, how many of you are not attorneys? Say I.” Most of the audience responded. “Okay, I charge you to go out and build the partnerships like the ones that you’ve just witnessed, because they are not just my friends; they are friends of the Federation. We must continue to build these relationships so that we can build the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.”

President Riccobono offered his own concluding remarks: “Both Kathy and Eve represent the important relationships that we have both organizationally and more importantly through their personal commitment: the heart that they put into it, the determination that they put into it, and the real listening that they do to make sure that they can craft their side of our win-win partnership to work for both of us. So Eve and Kathy, we would like to present you with a Louis Braille coin.”

Continuing with the theme of partnership, the President introduced the final item of the afternoon, its title being "A Century of Advancing Literacy for the Blind: A Legacy of Partnership with the Organized Blind Movement.” To begin the presentation was Barbara Loos, the president of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. She thanked those who helped make the carnival a success the previous evening, talked about how long she has been involved with the Action Fund, described some exciting moments in her tenure as its president, and then turned the floor over to the general counsel of the organization, Dr. Marc Maurer.

In his remarks to the convention, the longtime executive director and now general counsel started with the creation of the Action Fund, discussed its production of materials in Braille even before Braille was a recognized standard among blind people, highlighted its affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind, emphasized its absolute commitment to Braille, and emphatically expressed the commitment of the organization to explore the utility and production of tactile drawings and the means by which they can be made and modified by blind people. His remarks and those of Barbara Loos will also be reproduced in full later in the fall.

Upon adjournment many breakout sessions were available to help us address the specific tasks we must do to advance the causes we care about. The Research and Academic Professionals met to discuss how better to get our information into the hands of those working in the field. The Communications Committee talked about how to strengthen communications within the organization so we can be more effective. Some of us went to the NFB LGBT meeting to discuss building the NFB and giving back with pride! Proposed topics included special concerns related to being blind and coming out, inclusion at Pride events, accessibility and availability of LGBT books, and community resources.

The exhibit hall was open for two hours, providing vendors and attendees with an evening time to take advantage of the many exhibitors and products featured at the convention. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOBPC) held concurrent sessions, one being a mini BELL Academy and another on the basics of a high-quality IEP.

For those ready for a break, there was a concert sponsored by our host affiliates featuring the Broken Spectacles, and those who attended were very pleased with the performance and the fellowship.

The Thursday morning session began with an invocation by Dr. Carolyn Peters, a member of College Hill Presbyterian Church of Dayton, Ohio.

The question on the minds of those in the South Pacific Ballroom in Las Vegas was whether this would be our largest convention ever, and at the close of business on Wednesday, the answer was clearly no, but the prospect of two more days to register meant it was a possible yes.

President Riccobono introduced the first speaker of the morning with these remarks:

Our first agenda item is one that I’m particularly excited about. “Global Leadership, Responsibility, and Technology: Accessibility as a Core Value at Microsoft.” Our presenter today has a great resumé, but I think all you really need to know is that he comes from good roots, having been born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. End of story! But I guess you should know that he started working for Microsoft in 1993 and led many legal and corporate initiatives. In 2002 he was named general counsel for the company, and in 2015 CEO Satya Nadella promoted Brad to be the president and chief legal officer for Microsoft. Federationists will recall that in 2015 we went to meet with Satya Nadella at Microsoft, and we said that we wanted Microsoft to be the leader in equal access to technology for blind people and that we wanted executive level leadership. I would suggest to this convention that since 2015 Microsoft has fulfilled completely the idea of executive level leadership in accessibility. [applause] If you had the opportunity to read Satya Nadella’s book, you know that accessibility is talked about in it. But also Brad Smith is a key part of that leadership, and I have had the opportunity to meet with Brad on many occasions. He continues to be consistent about Microsoft’s journey in accessibility. He continues to own the fact that Microsoft knows at all levels of the corporation that it not only needs to continue to raise the expectations, but it wants to. So it is my privilege to introduce to you Brad Smith.

The president of Microsoft began his remarks with these words: "The first thing I want to say is that, as the president of Microsoft on behalf of the team that is here with me in this room, and more importantly on behalf of the 140,000 who work at our company across this country and around the world, we are honored to be with you today. Thank you for making room for us.” [applause] Not surprisingly, President Smith wanted to talk about technology, but more than technology he wanted to talk about technology in the service of people and technology being driven by people. He started by mentioning Louis Braille harnessing the technology of his day to create a code through which the blind could efficiently read and write. He talked about Jacobus tenBroek making his own significant academic and societal contributions and working with Newel Perry to create a movement of the blind that is known not just in this room, not just in this country, but throughout the world, a movement committed to better lives for the blind. He talked about Anne Taylor, and about her he said:

You know, Anne started as a student at the Kentucky School for the Blind, and Anne, in her day, had an aspiration, an aspiration that certainly speaks to all of us every day, all of us who work at Microsoft. Anne said that she wanted to learn computer science. It was not offered at the Kentucky School for the Blind, but it was offered at a public school nearby. So for part of the day Anne would go there, and, as she said, they had never worked with someone like her. They had never worked with a student who was blind, but as Anne is prone to do with so many people, she quickly won them over. Like Louis Braille, she became the best student in the class. Anne, as many of you know, would go on to college, would pursue this career building on computer science, and ultimately she recognized that it would become a career that would take her into this movement. It would bring her to the National Federation of the Blind.

For twelve years Anne led the team here at NFB, ultimately as the director of access technology, promoting across the tech sector the need for companies like ours to better understand and better serve this community. Eventually there came a day when Anne’s phone rang, and on the other end was Microsoft’s head of accessibility, our chief accessibility officer, a woman who is here today, Jenny Lay-Flurrie. [applause] Like all good leaders, Jenny recognized talent and sought to recruit Anne. Fatefully, from my perspective, she succeeded. Her message to Anne was, ‘You've changed technology from the outside; come join us, and see what you can do on the inside.’ Every day I am grateful that Anne took that offer.

One of the things I always try to remind every product team at Microsoft is that this is a big community. As you all know, there are 300 million people in the world who are blind. Think about this for a moment: think about the almost 3,300 people who are here, and yet each one of you in an important way is a voice for 100,000 more. It is a voice that, as you’ve heard, needs to be heard. But it’s a voice that needs to be more than heard: it’s a voice that we need to listen to.

In keeping with the theme that people should drive technology, President Smith said: "We need to look beyond the features and the products that everyone uses today and fundamentally ask ourselves the same question that Louis Braille asked himself: How can we imagine new technology that can fundamentally improve people’s lives in ways that they haven’t yet experienced?”

In recognition of the efforts the Federation has made to raise the awareness of individuals and businesses to the unfair and unequal treatment of people with disabilities in the workplace, President Smith said, "We are saying now to our suppliers that, if you want to work with us, you have to pay people the minimum wage.” [applause]

In concluding his remarks, President Smith said,

We all come together in Las Vegas in 2019 in a time that often feels pretty tumultuous. There are many days in our country when it feels that people disagree with each other more than they agree. There are even days when it feels that people are shouting at each other more than listening to each other. But we need to have the vision to pursue a brighter future, and so many times I believe the best way to imagine a brighter future is to think about the journey that we must continue to pursue that will build on the best journeys of the past. When I think about that, I think of the journey that Louis Braille put all of us on two centuries ago. I think about the journey that a century ago the founders of the NFB put us all on together. I think about the Anne Taylor’s of Microsoft and across the tech sector in the NFB, and I say there is not only cause for hope; there is reason for optimism. Let us build on this ability to work together, and let us do what it takes to stay committed to this journey and build on the shoulders of those who have come before us. Thank you very much.

In following up, President Riccobono said, "Thank you Brad for your leadership at Microsoft, for your perspective on the organized blind movement, but most importantly, I thank you for what I think is the first major corporation to make a commitment to eliminate the payment of subminimum wages from the vendor pipeline, and we cannot overstate the significance of this. [applause] That’s true leadership.” President Smith’s remarks will appear in full later in the fall.

With the cheers of many who respect Suman Kanuganti and the company he has founded, the president of Aira Tech Corp. came to the stage. In introducing him, President Riccobono said:

This next presentation is “A Platform of Information and Innovation: Insights into the Aira Ecosystem in Partnership with the Blind.” Now this next gentleman has been invited to speak with us, and his company is an elite sponsor of this convention. [applause] While we appreciate that, that’s not why we invited him. Last year I introduced him noting that he continues to steer his corporation toward taking risks, and that means they don’t always get it right. But he has been very clear that they will make the course corrections they need to, especially as demanded by their blind customers. He stays rooted in what people in this room give him as feedback for the direction of his company, and he is deeply committed to that, having come to many conventions now.

Recently the Aira Corporation introduced a new CEO, Michael Randall, who is here at this convention. Before that announcement was made public and on his second day as CEO, Suman made sure that he came first to the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind. So although Suman’s position is changing slightly within the company, it does not change the very deep-rooted strength he has within the organized blind movement to be grounded in that, but also to steer the company in the innovative directions of the future. He is a member of our organization, he’s a friend, he’s an emerging tech leader, and here is Suman Kanuganti.

Suman began his remarks in this way: "Good morning, NFB. I am Suman Kanuganti, founder and president of Aira. It is my pleasure to celebrate my fifth national convention with all of you. It is no hype to acknowledge the sheer number of friends I have made at this annual convention, and it’s also no hype to recognize the knowledge that I have gained from each of you, and it’s also no hype, this knowledge that shapes the heart and soul of what Aira is today.”

As Suman explained, Aira is not a safety device, not a replacement for cane or dog. It is a provider of information, but it is more than a set of eyes. Aira brings to its users the sophistication of information provided to its agents and to its explorers through the computerized dashboard, and very soon agents and users will benefit from the automated intelligence which is being built on the experiences of blind users in the environments into which Aira is taken. Suman’s remarks will be printed in full elsewhere in this issue.

We next turned our attention to the finances of the Federation, and the President presented the annual report for 2018 and a preliminary report covering the first six months of 2019. Although we suffered a loss from investments due to the downturn in the stock market in 2018, these losses have been recovered as a result of the upturn and of the vigorous fundraising efforts made on behalf of our organization. Revenue is encouraging, but our expenses are significant, and there is far more that needs to be done that we wish to do. Fundraising must remain a significant priority for all of us, not just a task taken on by some of us. The report was accepted by the convention by the passage of a motion and the applause that followed its adoption.

Pam Allen presented the report of the nominating committee, and after the acceptance of it, elections were held. Denise Avant of Illinois was returned to the board, and here is what she said to the convention:

I want to thank you all for the trust that you have placed in me. Being part of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind is not ceremonial. We have very challenging work, but it is rewarding work as we strive to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for all blind people. I am especially gratified by this convention in seeing more than twelve hours of programming that we have had for diverse groups. I am also very happy that we are partnering with other groups such as the NAACP as we seek civil rights for all. Most importantly, I am glad to have been part of the board that put forth the code of conduct that emphasizes diversity and inclusion and sets forth that we will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in the National Federation of the Blind. [applause]

Everette Bacon of Utah was recommended by the committee and unanimously elected by the convention. Everette struck a chord that would be echoed again and again as newly elected board members came to speak. What is important is not the official title we have after our name. The title that really counts is “member,” our members being the foundation of everything we do and the reason we do it.

For board position number four the name of Ever Lee Hairston of California was placed in nomination, and she was elected unanimously by the convention.

The name of Joe Ruffalo of New Jersey was put forward for board position number five, and he too was elected unanimously.

The last position elected was board position six, and the person nominated and unanimously elected was Terri Rupp of Nevada. In her first remarks as a newly elected board member, Terri said:

Fellow Federationists: last year Anil Lewis spoke about putting his hat on his Federation head. Today I am honored and humbled to be putting my feet into my Federation shoes. Some of you may know that, along with planning to host the national convention, I have also been unpacking my home and unpacking my thirty-two pairs of shoes. Today I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for giving me a powerful pair of shoes. I’ve often felt inadequate because I don’t have fancy titles behind my name. I have chosen to put a professional career aside to raise my children. [applause] But names and titles don’t really mean anything. Whether or not I am serving on the national board, serving as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada, I serve the Federation. I invite everybody to serve and walk along with me, and if some of you are up to the challenge, strap those laces tight, because we are on a fun run. Let’s hit the road, let’s remove the obstacles from our paths, let’s raise expectations, and let’s create a world where our children don’t have to fight for equal access, where our children don’t have to struggle the way the last generation did. Let’s run, let’s roll, and let’s rock ‘n’ roll.

After congratulating all of the newly elected board members, President Riccobono took note of our visitors from foreign countries. Nineteen countries are represented in the 2019 registration list, and those countries are Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Gambia, Iceland, India, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, St. Lucia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

Following the morning session, representatives from Google invited attendees to see two products developed especially for the blind: Lookout, and Auto-Captioning. It goes without saying that those who did not witness the presentation can find out about each by using Google.

The NOPBC held a brainstorming session in which people were asked what they liked about this convention and what they would like to see at the next. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped held a focus group to discuss graphics and the role that the library should play in making them available. Apple conducted a session in which participants were invited to learn how Apple continues to break barriers in new arenas, including the entertainment industry, striving to empower the blind community in bold ways. 

The afternoon session began with a presentation from Karen Keninger, the director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. There once was a time in which the National Library Service was the only significant source from which blind people could receive library service, and although we have Audible, Bookshare, Learning Ally, and a tremendous number of sources on the Internet including an expanding treasure trove of commercially produced audiobooks, NLS is still as relevant today as it ever was, because it is our free lending library. Almost every community of any size has access to a library, and clearly access to quality, easily accessible information is fundamental to our participation in democracy.

Bringing refreshable Braille to library patrons has been seven years in the making, but it seems reasonable to believe that a pilot program will take place next year and that between now and 2024 the program will rollout. The director is committed to digital Braille for everyone who wants it, and the machine that is envisioned, though it will not be a notetaker, will have a Braille keyboard for finding text, navigating throughout the book, and placing bookmarks and other information as one would expect from a technologically sophisticated device.

The library is excited about the changes that will come from the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty, but there are still changes in the law that must be made for them to participate fully. The director noted that NFB has been crucial in supporting the requests of NLS and that this support will be necessary as we go forward with the refreshable Braille display and critical information technology infrastructure to support more people who will come as a result of the change as to who qualifies for the service.

The National Library Service will be making a change in its name, and it will be called the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. This change is expected to occur in October 2019, and it received significant applause. Too many agencies created to serve the blind have changed their names so that their affiliation with blind people isn’t clear, but director Keninger and the head of the Library of Congress are both committed to keeping the word blind in the name, and of this we are most supportive. Karen Keninger’s remarks will appear later in the fall.

“Accelerating Accessible Content: Progress through the DAISY Consortium” was next presented by our friend and ally, Richard Orme. He is the chief executive officer of the DAISY Consortium and lives in Warwick, United Kingdom. Not surprisingly, Richard is very committed to literacy and the books whose knowledge is revealed when people are literate. As important as the invention of the Gutenberg press was to those who can see, it has taken more work to bring about widespread availability of materials for the blind. At this time in history we now have a solution whereby books can be created through accessible mainstream publishing, and this is one of the major commitments of the DAISY Consortium. Despite this amazing possibility, the truth is that both in the United States and Europe, the number of books made available in accessible formats is about 1/10 of the new books published. This is unacceptable. As Richard says, “When books are born digital, they can be born accessible; when books are born digital, they should be born accessible; when books are born digital, they must be accessible!” [applause]

In his remarks Richard outlined the three major pillars of the DAISY Consortium, and his excellent presentation will appear in full in the fall.

Continuing with the topic of access to information and focusing particularly on the Marrakesh Treaty, President Riccobono introduced our next presenter in this way:

This next item is “Negotiation, Collaboration, and High Expectations: The Journey of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.” This person is someone likely many of you do not know, but he is someone who is well-known to the National Federation of the Blind because he was essential in making the Marrakesh Treaty a reality and in guiding the path to its ratification and implementation in the United States. While that may be the most important thing for you to know about him, he also has an extensive legal career. He served in the Obama administration, which is the thing that put him in the middle of the Marrakesh Treaty from 2009 through 2013. He worked in the Obama administration as the senior administrator to the undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property. He is a professor, and most importantly, he is a friend of the blind who has helped to increase equal access to books. Here is Justin Hughes.
In his remarks, Professor Hughes began by disavowing responsibility for the nineteen-word-title that is the name of the treaty we have worked so hard to pass. He acknowledged the significant role that the National Federation of the Blind played in the negotiation and eventual ratification of this document, and now more than 3 billion people stand to benefit from its provisions given the current number of countries that have ratified it.

When wanting to make substantial change in any field, it is first necessary to learn about that field. The NFB has done this in its work to make silent vehicles pedestrian-safe, but it had to go through the same learning curve when it came to working on copyright law and working in the international community. Whether our NFB team knew it or not, we were parachuting into a battlefield, and this is where Justin Hughes was of tremendous help. His remarks will appear in full later in the fall, and the ceremony in which he was given an award will appear in this issue.

“Expanding Opportunities, Protecting Rights, and Ensuring Accountability: A Report from the Advocacy and Policy Department” was addressed by John Paré and Gabe Cazares. This has been a spectacular year for the National Federation of the Blind legislatively, but the challenges that lay before us in the next year are even more exciting. In listening to Gabe and John, it is very clear that we can and will do the work that needs to be done to see that the ambitious agenda of the National Federation of the Blind that requires changes in laws and regulations will be accomplished. The remarks of both of these impassioned Federationists will appear later in the fall.

Sharon Maneki, the chairman of the National Federation of the Blind Resolutions Committee, came to preside over the assembly as we considered and passed twenty-one resolutions. A full report, including a copy of each resolution, will appear later in this issue.

On adjournment of the afternoon session, Microsoft presented a seminar to tell people about its new mobility app called Soundscape. What makes it unique is its use of 3D audio to communicate information about where one is in the environment.

Spectrum, the provider of television, Internet, and television services held a session to describe its products and the strides it has made in making them usable by blind people.

We know that blindness comes with a whole host of issues that spring from low expectations, fundamental misunderstandings about what blind people want and need, and the assumption that somebody else knows better than we do what can be done to solve the problems we face. As blind people we also understand that there are other characteristics of our members that pose similar difficulties and that when combined all of these characteristics come together and require solutions that are more than any particular characteristic would require. This intersectionality of characteristics was discussed on Thursday evening when a meeting for intersectional meet-ups was held, and breakout sessions from it included “Masculinity, Blindness, and Latino Culture,” “Blindness and Interracial Relationships,” and “Marriage and Dating as a Blind Person in the Asian/South Asian Community.”

For those needing to know more about navigating the Social Security system there was “SSI and SSDI 101: What You Should Know” hosted by none other than James Gashel. Because getting Braille into the hands of those who need it is so important, we hosted a seminar on Braille Proofreading sponsored by the National Association of Blindness Professionals and another seminar on the ways we can make Braille more available sponsored by the Committee for the Advancement and Promotion of Braille. Because the messages we send to the public are so important, a seminar was held entitled “How to be a Brand Ambassador.” It was facilitated by Karen Anderson, Stephanie Cascone, Chris Danielsen, Suzanne Shaffer, and Alyssa Vetro. But if relaxation was what you needed after all of the general sessions, Amazon sponsored a movie night, first discussing the devices it creates to make watching television and movies easier, and this being followed by the showing of a movie and light snacks.

The Friday morning session began with President Riccobono gaveling the session to order and then calling on Syed Rizvi, a person who is grounded in and speaks with God through the Muslim faith. His prayer was delivered first in Arabic and then in English, and the melody in the original was beautiful and moved the hall.

The first item of business was presented by Anil Lewis, the executive director for blind initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, and his topic was “Bringing the Synergy of the Blindness Movement into Concentrated Programs: Blindness Initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.” Anyone who knows Anil Lewis has experienced firsthand his charisma. What he says is moving because it is sincere, authentic, and heartfelt. His presentation was indeed about initiatives at the Jernigan Institute, but at least for this writer it was so much more. It was about realizing that all of us have a way to shine, that all of us have a way to sing, and that the biggest barrier to our being able to do these things is in failing to recognize what makes us the people we are and being able to admit to others the people and organizations that have helped bring out the best within us. His remarks will appear in full in an upcoming issue.

What followed was one of the most interactive sessions ever seen in a session with three thousand people attending. It was hosted by Natalie Shaheen, project director, Spatial Ability and Blind Engineering Research, National Federation of the Blind, and Dr. Wade Goodridge, associate professor of engineering education, Utah State University. The title of the presentation was “Education, Research, and Raising Expectations: Exploring Spatial Abilities and Training Blind Engineers.” Placed on every chair before opening session was a sheet of paper with three tactile shapes on it, one fun-size box of dots, and six toothpicks. The initial task was to eat our dots in halves, matching the shape of each dot to one of the embossed images. Each dot had a domed end and a flat end. The sides of each dot were almost but not quite cylindrical. Our first task was to bite down the center of the dot so the dot was cut in half from dome end to flat end. This left half a dot in the mouth for exploration by the pallet, and the other half for sticky exploration.

We then examined the shape of our dots, compared them with the shapes on the paper, and were asked to shout out which of the three shapes corresponded to the shape of the dot. It turned out to be the embossed shape on the left. We were then asked to extract the other two dots from the box. The question we were asked was, “How can you bite a dot to produce a cutting plane with the shape of a circle like the middle image?” The last question was, “How can you bite a dot to produce a cutting plane with the shape of an ellipse like the shape on the right of the embossed paper?” Once we had figured this out, we shared our findings with those sitting beside us. Then, using the box, the dots, and the toothpicks, our job was to build something, let others examine it, and see if they could determine what it was. I was not very creative, coming up with a self-standing tower. My wife, on the other hand, built a three-room house complete with central air and a two-car garage.

The purpose of the exercise was to show that tools used to assess and build spatial skills that are particularly important in the field of engineering can be adapted so that blind people can be evaluated and taught to use spatial concepts. These skills are all required to excel in engineering, physics, and other STEM activities. One of the goals of the project is also to better understand how blind people think of and deal with spatial concepts and perhaps incorporate our own creativity into the process of building things for society. To experience some of the fun in this participatory experiment and to better understand the possibilities it holds for propelling blind people into science, technology, engineering, art, and math, go to https://nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/past-conventions/2019-national-convention.

Dr. Angela Frederick is a Federationist many of us first met when she won a national scholarship in 1995. It was a tremendous experience when she came to the stage and spoke on the topic “Exploring the Layers: A Blind Researcher, Mom, and Federationist Enhancing the Understanding of Disability.” In her remarks Angela relates her initial determination not to be involved in much of anything to do with blindness other than her voluntary participation in the Federation. Over time she has come to see that the field of disability and intersectionality needs the insights that only good research can provide and the expertise of great minds in the field of sociology, a distinction she won’t claim for herself but one which will be obvious when you read her remarks later in the fall.

Saying that we are committed to diversity and that we will not discriminate is but the first step in including people in our organization. Achieving the kind of diversity that blind people deserve requires outreach, and understanding of different cultures, and showing that we have just as much to offer them as we do to the traditional populations we have served. This was the abbreviated message of the next presentation entitled, “Cambiando Vidas en la Frontera de Tejas,” which in English means, “Changing Lives on the Texas Border.” To make her own remarks and to introduce the panel who would speak, Norma Crosby took the stage. She is, as many will know, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and a national board member who resides in Alvin, Texas. She was joined by Daniel Martinez, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas; Raul Gallegos, bilingual access technology trainer and the vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Houston, Texas; Hilda Hernandez, legal and healthcare interpreter as well as the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind Rio Grande Valley Chapter. So moving and timely are the remarks that all of these women and men made, that they will appear in the October issue.

Throughout the convention all of us wanted to know whether this would break a record, and although the attendance was tremendous, it did not. For 2019 we registered 3,284, falling short of our record convention noted earlier. Perhaps 2020 in Houston, Texas, will see us establish a new high in convention attendance.

Core to what we do is representing the authentic experiences of blind people, but we know that this representation must go beyond organizations of the blind and must find its way into the hundreds of organizations raising money to serve the blind. Bryan Bashin is the chief executive officer at the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind, and his presentation was “Led by the Blind: Bringing Authenticity to Services for the Blind and Making Them Relevant to the Lives We Want to Live.” The spirit of cooperation, partnership, inclusiveness, and respect is one that permeated his speech, and the message is one Federationist would love to hear from every agency doing work in the field. Clearly demonstrated in his remarks was a respect for our history, the determination to do the best we can in the present, and to work hand-in-hand to make certain that the future is the one we want those who come after us to inherit. Bryan’s remarks will appear in an upcoming issue.

Never in the history of the National Federation of the Blind has the president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) appeared in his or her official capacity to address the positive outcomes our organizations desire and the significantly different ways in which we believe they are achieved and evaluated. This year we were pleased to have Emily Coleman, the president of AER, on our stage to speak on the topic “Perspectives on Raising the Bar in the Blindness Field: Why a New Accreditation System?” President Riccobono introduced her in this way:

This is my twenty-fourth convention, and I don’t know about before that, but I do not ever recall anybody from AER being on our agenda in those twenty-four years. In many ways this is an important and an historic speaker. This is a quick history lesson. You will recall that in the summer of 2017 the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired announced that it was taking over the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind, otherwise known as NAC, an entity which the National Federation of the Blind for 40+ years protested, picketed, and virtually sent out of business. [applause] Going back to the early 1970s, we had a resolution saying that we were not against accreditation in this organization, but, nothing without us. We weren’t heard, so we showed up and made sure we were heard.

So frankly we were astonished when AER said it was taking over NAC. It was going to breathe new life into this organization. We invited ourselves to have a conversation with the leadership of AER about it. That happened many months later. We were told that we would get an in-person meeting in January 2018. January went by, and February went by, and March started to go by, and I called the then executive director of AER, and said, ‘And so, which January did you mean?’ He said that the accreditation council was going to meet, and they were going to talk about the participation of the National Federation of the Blind. Two months later we got a letter saying that we were invited to have a seat—one seat—on the accreditation council, the exact same thing that NAC offered us forty-five years ago.

We invited the executive director of AER to this convention last year—he couldn't do it—couldn't come. As you heard in the Presidential Report, we said that was fine and that we will come to you. So twenty-five of us showed up in Reno. We made a very clear and strategic decision. The board of directors discussed this and decided not to show up and picket, as we know how to do, but to show up and play on their terms. We got an exhibit booth, which we paid for. We held a reception, which we paid for, and we said, ‘We are here to be partners, not to be served as patients.’ [applause]

Now to fast-forward to January of this year. There is a new executive director. Her name is Janie Blome. She was the president of AER, and because she became a staff member, the executive director, AER now has a new president. I have taken the opportunity on our behalf to meet with Janie a number of times. We have started a very promising dialogue. But the accreditation effort goes forward. We have made various suggestions: we have encouraged that at least 50 percent of NAC’s board should be made up of blind people. We are making progress in the conversation, and so I invited AER to this convention. I think maybe this is the first time they've actually come. [applause]

Janie could not be here because of a family obligation, but she very much wanted to be here. But the president of AER has come, and the first thing I want you to know is that, while you may not know her, she knows the National Federation of the Blind because she was one of the individuals who participated in our teacher of tomorrow program. [applause] She is soon going to be the superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind. When I talked with her, one of the things she said to me was, “I don’t know why we don’t have a relationship with the Federation here in Texas?” She came from Washington, where she had the opportunity to work with the Federation all of the time. So she says that one of the first things she’s going to do when she gets the job is look up Norma Crosby. That told me she is pretty smart, and she also wants to get some real stuff done for blind students. She’s here to talk to us about AER and accreditation. Then we’re going to have another speaker, and we might ask some questions. I don’t know that we are going to agree with AER; I don’t know that we’re ever going to come to an agreement about accreditation, but I feel confident that our presenter this morning understands and actually appreciates that, no matter what, we are going to be the watchdogs. Here is the president of AER, Emily Coleman.

President Coleman introduced herself to the audience. She is the mother of a blind child and formed an organization associated with our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children which was called HOPE, the acronym for Helping Other Parents Excel. She has since gone into educational administration and looks forward to her new assignment with the Texas School for the Blind as its superintendent. She says that she is fairly new to our field, so she had to do a little research to understand our concerns. Her research suggested to her that we had real, valid concerns about NAC standards and its treatment of consumers. [applause] She says that AER has heard our concerns about NAC and about accreditation in general, and her personal promise is that “We will continue to listen to NFB.”

She observed that we cannot ignore our history because if we do, we will most certainly repeat the mistakes of the past and carry with us our unaddressed biases. While it is clear that AER will do what it can to rebuild NAC, President Coleman pledges to do everything she can to see that we are heard, that we are included, that the standards developed will have real meaning, and that they will be enforced.

Readers of the Braille Monitor are aware of the Federation’s longstanding problems with accreditation without meaningful participation, accreditation without meaningful standards, and accreditation without consistent enforcement. NAC embodied the role of the agencies that believed the blind should be controlled not consulted. As for accreditation, we have never been against the concept, but whether it is meaningful and the way it is used make all the difference in terms of whether it helps or hinders blind people. If accreditation is used to elevate blind people so that we are advanced in our integration on terms of equality, it is a good thing. If it is used to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the status quo in which the agency is the dominant force in the lives of blind people and presumes to speak for them, then it is not.

Blind people clearly remember that it was not so long ago that certification was used to keep blind people out of the field of work with the blind, particularly the occupation of cane travel instructor. Accreditation applies to institutions and certification to individuals. Because Dr. Schroeder’s desire was to become a cane travel instructor and he was joined in his fight by the Federation, the certifying authority at the time said it would revise its standards so that they would no longer discriminate against blind people. Those new standards included functional requirements specifically designed to keep blind people out. One of the standards was that a teacher must be able to monitor a student’s line of travel from a distance of 375 feet. A second standard required that an instructor be able to stand on a street corner and observe the other three corners within a period of three seconds. The certification process was most certainly designed to keep blind people out and did not reflect the substance of providing cane travel instruction or the authentic experience of people who are blind.

President Coleman’s remarks and the questions that followed will appear elsewhere in this issue.

The Friday afternoon session began with the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards by the committee’s chairman, James Gashel. This is the twelfth year that these awards have been presented, and their presentation is covered elsewhere in this issue.

“Electronic Braille Reimagined: The Revolution of the Canute 360” was the topic addressed by Ed Rogers, the founder and managing director of Bristol Braille Technology, headquartered in Bristol, United Kingdom. Since the debut of refreshable Braille displays three decades ago, the dream of blind people has been to get more than one line of Braille. In many situations it is important to see multiple lines of information to understand what is being conveyed. Simple arithmetic provides an excellent example when one considers the task in multiplying two three-digit numbers: first deriving the partial products and then adding them together. Viewing spreadsheets on a multi-line display will provide information that will show relationships difficult to understand by viewing them as we normally do, one row or one column at a time.

In the United States the Canute has been supported by the National Federation of the Blind, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, and the American Printing House for the Blind. The Canute contains nine lines of Braille, each line having forty cells. Currently the unit is not available in the United States, but selling has begun in the United Kingdom, and the price is about $2,000. Whether for pleasure reading or an extended dip into science and technology, there is no question that this technology represents a significant step forward in providing to blind readers through Braille what sighted readers get through print. The remarks of Ed Rogers will appear later in the fall.

“The Next Generation of Innovations in Access Technology for the Blind: Customer-Driven Progress at HumanWare” was the next item on the agenda, and it was presented by Bruce Miles, the company’s president. He was joined in his presentation by Peter Tucic, the head of the product specialist team at the company.

President Miles began by saying that he had been at HumanWare for almost four years and that this was his third NFB convention. “This is always a fantastic experience. I go to a lot of different trade shows and things, but this is my favorite event of the year—it is. You all do a great job. It’s an opportunity to meet amazing people and get feedback from our customers. What we get is real feedback, and there’s no filter here. That’s a good thing—we hear the good and the bad, and that’s what we have to hear, so I really appreciate that.” [applause]

He went on to say that the Victor Reader Stream was developed in partnership with the NFB. It is now in its third generation and is a very successful product. As material became available in varied and sometimes complicated digital formats, the beauty of the stream was that it made all of them easily accessible. “Working together, we overcame this element of the digital divide. This was and continues to be one of the most successful products ever launched in the market, and yes, we did it together. Thank you for that.”

Both Bruce and Peter talked about the commitment of HumanWare to research and development, and they hinted at the products we are likely to see in the near future. Their remarks will appear later in the fall.

We next moved to a section of the agenda that deals with one of the most significant problems faced by blind people—access to transportation on our terms. Kyle Vogt is the president and chief technology officer of Cruise Automation, a company located in San Francisco, California. The topic he addressed was “The Driverless Revolution: Setting a New Standard for Transportation and Technology.” This company has about 1,500 people and partners with General Motors to manufacture and deploy its vehicles. The company likes to think of its mission as today’s equivalent of the space race. The technology challenge is immense, and there has been nothing like it since the Apollo program. The goal is nothing less than to take one of the most complicated and confusing tasks that humans do and use artificial intelligence to do it better. Simply put, the mission of the company is to build the most advanced self-driving vehicles to safely connect people to the places, things, and experiences they care about. Every year 40,000 people lose their lives on the road, and despite all of the improvements we have been making in technology, this number continues to rise. Ninety-five percent of all accidents are directly attributable to human error, meaning that the vehicle fails in less than 5 percent of the fatalities suffered in this country. Kyle concluded by saying: “I know autonomous vehicles will change the way we live and move. They’ll save lives, improve accessibility, reduce emissions and air pollution, and give people back two of their most important resources: their time and their freedom to go where they want to go, when they want to go. Kyle Vogt’s remarks will appear later in the fall.

Continuing the discussion on this topic, President Riccobono recognized David Schwietert, the interim president and chief executive officer for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The address he delivered was “Autonomous Vehicles: Establishing Strong Policy for America’s Transportation Future.” The alliance represents some iconic names in the industry including Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Volvo. He believes that without question we are experiencing the most profound transformation in the auto sector that our nation has ever experienced. Although the technological challenges have been significant, the biggest problem faced by those wishing to move to autonomous vehicles is not found in the technology but in the embracing of it in laws and regulations. This is where the NFB can be of tremendous support. David Schwietert’s remarks will appear in full later in the fall, but he closed with this call to action:

For each of you, make your voices heard across the country but especially in Washington. Our joint call to action should be to reject the status quo and demand that politicians explain to each and every one of you what they are doing to expand mobility and ensuring that regulations aren’t holding back key safety innovations. Your voice and involvement are critical to make it known that self-driving vehicles will revolutionize the way you live your lives, and dare any politician to deny that simple urge for free movement. No more excuses! Let’s work to pass critical self-driving legislation into law that liberates mobility. The future is in our hands; we need only to reach out and take it. I’m proud to say that our nation’s automakers will fight this fight with you every step of the way. [applause]

“Blindness across Borders: Perspectives on Independence and Emerging Issues of Common Interest to the Blind around the World” was next presented by the treasurer of the World Blind Union, Martine Abel-Williamson. She hails from Auckland, New Zealand, and many of us had the pleasure to get to know her during the meeting of the World Blind Union that took place in Orlando in 2016. She began by talking about how welcomed she had been into the family of the National Federation of the Blind, and her experience caused her to reflect on an old saying from the indigenous people of New Zealand: “Between my food basket and your food basket, the people will thrive.” Although the saying speaks to survival, it has become a saying that many use in the cause of sharing knowledge and experience.

While international travel is easier than ever before, for blind people it is still a costly and frustrating experience. In her presentation, Martine related how difficult and expensive it has been to bring her guide dog to the United States, and one priority in our shared work must be making it easier, less stressful, and less expensive for blind people to travel. Her remarks can be found at https://nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/past-conventions/2019-national-convention.

As the afternoon began to give way to the evening’s festivities, the next to last presentation was an outstanding address entitled “Not without Question: The Difference of the Federation Philosophy in Our Lives.” President Riccobono introduced our presenter in this way:

We have with us a really dynamic woman, and if you do not know her, I am so glad you are about to. She is an individual who lives the Federation philosophy in her life every day... No matter what she takes on, whether it is being an entrepreneur or a parent, she brings the Federation confidence, swagger, and spirit to what she does. Many of you know her because of her husband, who serves as second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. But, from now on, I think our second vice president will be known as Jean Brown’s husband. Here, without question, is Jean Brown.

In her moving remarks Jean talked about what it was like to be a fashion model, a wife, a mother, and to experience at the age of twenty-three the onset of blindness. No summary could do justice to her remarks, but one phrase in particular gave them meaning and strength: “I’ve got this.” Her resolve, her belief in God, her selection of Ron Brown (a good man as her husband), and her desire to give back are all found in the remarks she delivered, which will appear elsewhere in this issue.

Our final presenter of the afternoon holds a highly responsible position in the state of Utah where she serves as the executive director of the governor’s office of management and budget. Her name will be familiar to Federationists because her career has included distinguished service with the National Federation of the Blind in our work on governmental affairs. Her name is Kristen Cox, and the topic she addressed was “Competing on Terms of Equality and Blending in: Government Service with Federation Style.” In her current job Kristen works with officials who are constantly asked to deliver more with less. Too often the response is “This can’t be done;” or “I could do it, but;” or, the most familiar of them all, “Yes, but.” For Kristen the issue is not if we can meet our goals but how we will meet them. The lessons she learned from the NFB about creative problem-solving have been crucial in her adjustment to blindness, in the flexibility that successful coping requires, and in meeting the demands of her job to make the seemingly impossible a reality. Her outstanding remarks will figure prominently in an upcoming issue.

When the afternoon session adjourned, the staff of the Mandalay observed something that even the house might have bet against: the movement of more than three thousand people out of the ballroom in less than five minutes so that the room could be transformed from a meeting hall to a banquet hall.

The festivities began shortly after 7 p.m. when Pamela Allen, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and master of ceremonies called the banquet to order.

Our invocation consisted of prayer and song with board member Ever Lee Hairston and Arietta Woods from Los Angeles entwining reference and artistic beauty in their thanks to and request of Almighty God.

With the serving of salad and the anticipation of a fine meal to come, those assembled were treated to a video presentation about the donors who help make our scholarship program the biggest and best in the country.

For the second time during the convention we took time to thank our sponsors of the 2019 Convention for the tangible commitment to the organization that their sponsorship represents. We gladly use this space to again thank them:

Elite: Aira Tech Corp
Platinum: Google, Inc.; HumanWare; Microsoft Corporation; Oracle; OrCam Technologies; UPS; Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Vispero
Gold: BlindShell; Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Target; Uber
Silver: Adobe; Amazon; AT&T; Delta Air Lines; Facebook; Lyft; Market Development Group, Inc.; Pearson; Waymo
Bronze: Educational Testing Service (ETS); Monster Worldwide, Inc.; National Industries for the Blind; Spectrum; Sprint; VitalSource Technologies; Wells Fargo
White Cane: BECU; C&P - Chris Park Design; Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind; Credit Union National Association; Dominion Voting; Duxbury Systems, Inc; Election Systems & Software; En-Vision America; Envision, Inc.; HIMS, Inc.; Law School Admission Council, Inc.; LCI; McGraw-Hill Education; Nevada Blind Children's Foundation; Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP; RTB Safe Traffic, Inc.; TRE Legal Practice.

After drawings conducted by some of our sponsors, divisions, and our Jernigan Fund, the time came for the most anticipated presentation of the evening, the banquet address delivered by President Mark Riccobono. Its title was “Choice, Exploration, and Resistance: The Road to Freedom for the Blind.” The address explores the essential link between freedom and choice, the unifying philosophy that binds the National Federation of the Blind, and the imperative that we take advantage of the opportunities provided in these times to grow and strengthen the mechanism that will increase both, the National Federation of the Blind.

After the banquet speech and the prolonged applause for it, Immediate Past President Maurer was asked to come to the microphone in his capacity as the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. The remarks he made about Jacobus tenBroek, the reason for this award, and its recipient appear elsewhere in this issue.

For the first time we in the Federation publicly recognized staff members who have given fifteen or more years of service to our organization. Each of them was called to the stage, and as a group they were given an enthusiastic round of applause. These valued people are Steve Booth, Gary Toporcer, John Paré, Candiss Kiah, Tammy Helm, Bridgid Burke, Byron Mitchell, Chris Danielsen, Bill Jacobs, Suzanne Shaffer, Belinda Hooks, Carylin Walton, John Berggren, Paul Ficarro, Sonia Little, Joseph Miller, and Pat Miller.

Much to the relief of the thirty most deserving blind scholars in the United States, the 2019 scholarship class was introduced. A report of the presentation and the speech of the winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Award are found elsewhere in this issue.

As Pam Allen observed nearing the end of the banquet, normally people say that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but such is not the case for the activities of the National Federation of the Blind. We want to take the energy, the love, the celebration of diversity, the hope, and the truth that we can live the lives we want, if we work together, to the places where we live and to translate this one week of intense activity into something that strengthens and sustains us every day. The city that hosted our convention is known for gaming, but we know this is no game we play. What we do or fail to do will make a real difference in the lives of blind people, and our commitment is the promise that we will do everything we can to better their lives. Luck is good, but resolve is better, and let there be no doubt that we have resolved to do everything we can to see that the voice of the nation’s blind is heard and that our message is clear: together with love, hope, and determination, we will transform dreams into reality.

Presidential Report 2019

An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
Las Vegas, Nevada
July 10, 2019

During the past year, the blind of this nation have continued their march to freedom at an accelerated pace. Individuals who possess determination, hope, ambition, strength, and a spirit of community join their unique talents and perspectives in our march. One by one we link arms—across cities, across states—to build the most powerful network of the blind anywhere in the world. In joining together, we create a movement that reflects the great diversity of the characteristics each of us bring to the effort. In staying united, we strengthen the bond that we share, and we enjoy the progress that comes from the power and influence our collective action commands. Together, we share a powerful name and make the commitments that form the foundation of our movement. We are the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

We have prepared our movement for a significant period of growth with the development of the latest strategic plan for the National Federation of the Blind, which we released earlier this year. In order to expand our organizational capacity, our areas of priority include (1) education, rehabilitation, and employment; (2) membership and community building; (3) advocacy; and (4) development. Each of these pillars supports our ultimate goal of freedom for the blind. This new plan will allow us to accurately measure our progress, effectively synthesize the feedback of active members, and strategically utilize our resources—which are not unlimited.

Our strongest and most valuable resource is our membership. This year we have issued a membership coin to each active member of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the one I carry with me—I invite you to take yours out as well. Members from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now carry this symbolic token of the bond we hold together. It represents the value of our individual effort, the support of the Federation family, and the power we share together. For those who do not yet understand the power of membership in our movement, we have developed, and are now piloting, a new-member onboarding process to improve our outreach to prospective members and to accelerate the active participation of new members. In addition, we are building stronger tools to improve communication between our national organization and local affiliates in order to enhance the community of resources our members share. With each new member added to our family, we can hear freedom ring even more sweetly. If you are a member of the Federation, let’s hear your freedom ring.

As our movement grows, our work becomes more complex. Systems that were once well understood or less formal must be communicated to a bigger and more diverse audience. In the spring of 2017 we began developing the foundation for what is now the Federation’s code of conduct. Initially adopted by the board of directors in January 2018, the code articulates in writing the expectations that members of the Federation have always had for each other and that our leadership has been required to model. This code is so core to what we do that we have made it more widely available than any other piece of Federation information. The board of directors has committed to regular review of the code, the procedures for handling grievances, and data regarding grievance outcomes. Furthermore, these policies and practices have been reviewed by an independent third-party consultant. Whether you are an active member, an individual considering joining with us, or part of a corporation seeking to partner with us, the code details our collective expectations. While the document speaks for itself, let me underscore a few points from the code that cannot be said enough:

Diversity is an asset in our movement, and we need more of it. To quote our code, “The National Federation of the Blind does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics.” We value diversity, we do not tolerate efforts to marginalize individuals based on their characteristics, and we accept the challenge of evolving our practices to strengthen our outreach to, and inclusion of the broadest cross-section of blind people possible. When we say we are the voice of the nation’s blind, we mean all blind people regardless of other characteristics or immigration status.

Harassment is a hindrance to our progress, and we want none of it. We choose to create an environment free of harassment for all of our members and their families. Harassment can be verbal, written, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of any of their characteristics and that has the effect of limiting participation in our movement. While all forms of harassment are against our core values, we are especially adverse to sexual harassment because of the significant long-term impact it can have on victims of this treatment.

Blind youth are our future leaders, and we value family. We continue to welcome an increasing number of minors into this movement, requiring us to take extra care to ensure that we are protecting these youth from harm. We continue to ensure that leaders understand their obligations, that adults participating in our youth programs have the appropriate background screening, and that we empower blind youth with resources to deal with situations that might arise, including methods to report to appropriate authorities or law enforcement.

Grievances are taken seriously and carefully investigated. Within the code, we have established a formal grievance process for reporting violations. The process permits formal grievances to be filed in a variety of ways including online, by telephone, using email, or through a direct conversation with a leader of the Federation. If desired, the process permits anonymous filing. Internal procedures for investigations, maintaining confidentiality, and training a team of investigators have been implemented. Retaliation for filing a grievance is expressly prohibited. No member is exempt from being investigated for violation of the code and, in circumstances where it is necessary, a third-party investigator will be used to make determinations.

The movement is more important than any one member or leader. Leaders shall practice accountability and transparency in all activities and transactions; disclose conflicts of interest; foster a welcoming environment at Federation activities; positively promote the NFB through verbal and written communication; and handle conflicts or complaints involving other members privately, directly, and respectfully.

Raising expectations in society starts with setting the highest standards for ourselves; that is the purpose of our code of conduct, and that is the unshakeable commitment we make on our march to freedom in the National Federation of the Blind.

Blind teachers, medical professionals, entrepreneurs, government employees, manufacturing personnel, customer service agents, and individuals seeking employment in dozens of other sectors of the economy receive support from the National Federation of the Blind. Last year we shared the story of Federation member Mary Flood of Washington, DC. Ms. Flood was hired by the United States Navy to serve as an educational technician working with young children. After a day and a half of work, she was informed that she was being fired at the recommendation of a doctor who believed the children would be at risk while under the supervision of a blind person. In April of 2018, we filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the Navy failed to uphold freedom and equality for the blind. Earlier this year, we settled the case—Flood prevailed over Navy. The Navy has paid $100,000 for lost wages and attorney’s fees, and they have agreed to work with the Federation to eliminate misconceptions based on disability from their employment practices.

With us at this convention is Dr. Jan Bartleson, a blind counselor and emotional/behavioral disabilities clinician employed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools for more than twenty-seven years. Despite her strong professional work skills, she constantly had to rely on sighted coworkers to help her do basic tasks like inputting student notes and accessing employee benefits, because the district used inaccessible workplace software. Despite her strong qualifications, these artificial barriers also prevented her advancement into other positions. With our help, Dr. Bartleson filed a groundbreaking suit against Miami-Dade under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that after-the-fact, ad hoc accommodations are not sufficient to meet an employer’s obligations to its blind employees. In February, a federal court approved a consent decree requiring the school district to make all existing websites, forms, and software accessible; to procure only accessible software in the future; to take steps to ensure the full inclusion of blind employees in school programs and activities; and to pay $250,000, which includes the Federation’s attorney’s fees. Going forward, the implementation of accessible technologies should improve access for all blind people interacting with the district in any capacity.

One of the fastest growing employers in the nation is Amazon, where jobs range from very technical to very physical. For twenty-four years, Alfredo Estrada worked as a blind aircraft maintenance technician with United Airlines at the San Francisco International Airport. He excelled at safely completing many tasks involving aircraft repair, working with pallets and handheld carts, and moving safely in unusual places like on the roof of aircraft. Desiring to do part-time work after his retirement, Alfredo sought a position at the Amazon.com sortation center near his home. During the application process he disclosed his blindness, and Amazon hired him. However, on his first day of work the supervisors quickly escorted him out of the workplace and would not allow his return. With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, Alfredo filed a complaint, and we secured a resolution to the discrimination. Amazon will provide training to the staff at the sortation center, engage in understanding how blind people can safely work in complex industrial environments, and pay the Federation for the costs of, once again, teaching the company that the blind cannot be excluded from opportunities within its workforce.

Established in 1938 by the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, the AbilityOne program is an independent government agency overseen by a group of appointees known as the AbilityOne Commission. The authorizing statute directs the commission to designate one or more central nonprofit agencies (CNAs) to facilitate the distribution of government orders of procurement-list products and services among nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Since 1938, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has been the CNA managing contracts employing blind people. On July 26, 2018, the AbilityOne Commission announced, without a public notice and comment period and without a competitive process to select the most qualified organization, that it was establishing a second CNA for employing the blind in competitive integrated settings. No blind workers currently employed on AbilityOne contracts were consulted, no agencies managing contracts were invited to shape the priorities, and no elected leaders of the blind were asked for feedback. Instead, the AbilityOne Commission appointed, through an exclusive backroom deal, the American Foundation for the Blind as the newest CNA.

Documents show that AbilityOne and the American Foundation for the Blind engaged in years of secret meetings and negotiations, a request for proposals was issued exclusively to the foundation, and, amazingly, the foundation was unanimously rejected for being unqualified by the AbilityOne evaluation committee. In spite of its own determination that the American Foundation for the Blind lacked the necessary qualifications, AbilityOne unilaterally made the designation and justified its edict with a press release that hyped the foundation’s, “unique experience and demonstrated expertise…” Regardless of the spin, the record demonstrates that the AbilityOne Commission secretly and knowingly entrusted development of a new government employment program for the blind to an unqualified agency without the experience or resources to meet the requirements. When we asked the American Foundation for the Blind about this lack of transparency, they responded by saying, “We had an opportunity, and we took it.” Neither the government nor the foundation gets to determine what the future priorities are for us, without us. In support of all blind AbilityOne workers, the National Federation of the Blind has taken the opportunity to file suit against the AbilityOne Commission for violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and federal contracting and grant-making regulations. Do not misunderstand: we believe the AbilityOne program should be transformed, but we want it done right, and we want it done in cooperation with the organized blind movement.

We have observed significant progress in our movement to eliminate Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which permits the payment of unequal wages to people with disabilities. During our Washington Seminar, both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives introduced the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (S. 260 and H.R. 873, respectively). While our advocacy is creating movement at the federal level, we are not waiting for Congress to fulfill its responsibility. Through our dynamic network of affiliates, we continue to make steady progress on securing state laws to eliminate the use of 14(c) certificates. Congratulations to the newest states to raise wage expectations for the blind: Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

While a full report of the Federation’s extensive advocacy and policy efforts will be presented later in this convention, we must highlight two significant achievements of the past year. The Department of Defense Space Available Program provides transportation on scheduled and unscheduled military flights within the continental United States and on scheduled overseas flights on a space-available basis to members of the Armed Forces entitled to retirement or retainer pay. Since 2012, we have been working to extend these benefits to veterans with a service-connected, permanent disability. Like our veterans, members of the Federation do not quit until we secure victory. On August 13, 2018, the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act including our bill language was signed by the president of the United States granting our blinded veterans the increased freedom they deserve.

A critical component to freedom is literacy. Previously blind people have only had access to a small fraction of the world’s published works, but, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, the circumstances are dramatically changing. In June 2013, our collaboration with leaders of the World Blind Union resulted in the completion of the first international treaty dedicated exclusively to access for the blind: The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually-Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. Over the proceeding five-and-a-half years, we undertook a substantial effort to secure United States ratification and implementation of the treaty, which would facilitate our use of the accessible works from other countries. On October 9, 2018, the president of the United States signed Public Law Number 115-261, confirming our nation as fully compliant with the Marrakesh Treaty. Our country is now an official party to the Marrakesh Union, which currently includes eighty-two other nations with more expected to join in the near future. As soon as the law was adopted, we turned our attention to encouraging the World Intellectual Property Organization to develop an efficient international system of exchange that serves blind people directly rather than requiring complex library structures. Our voice has been heard, and we will continue to provide leadership in establishing the access systems of the future.

Equal access to the full range of options for blind people to vote privately and independently in elections continues to be a pressing priority. In November 2018, we reached a comprehensive settlement agreement with Alameda County, California, requiring acquisition of new accessible voting machines, implementation of an accessible vote-by-mail system, dissemination of improved poll-worker training, adoption of procedures for managing election-day accessibility issues, and compliance with the WCAG 2.1 AA standards on the county’s website. In February 2019, we reached a court-ordered settlement agreement with the state of New York. The agreement, among other provisions, requires the state’s board of elections and department of motor vehicles to make their websites fully accessible, allowing for private and independent voter registration. 

In our voting outreach work under the Help America Vote Act, we evaluate nonvisual access to voting systems, bring key stakeholders together to advance best practices, and conduct regular, national conference calls with protection and advocacy system personnel and elections officials. The authenticity in our expertise comes through local engagement from Federation members. Since 2008, we have monitored fall elections through our Blind Voter Survey, which is the most meaningful data available that documents the experience of blind voters in the United States. We will continue to work tirelessly to advance full participation of the blind in the American democracy.

At our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, we coordinate the most extensive program of access to technology by the blind anywhere in the world. A growing area of focus for us is inaccessible touchscreens and kiosks. We are collaborating with manufacturers to include accessibility, as observed in progress we have made in tabletop machines in some restaurants and in micro-market vending locations. We are engaging in structured negotiations in other cases. One example is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which has deployed a fleet of inaccessible self-service kiosks in public locations around the state to alleviate wait times and improve access to a number of vehicle registration tasks. Does the state think that blind people have nothing better to do than wait in line?

Speaking of lines, many stores are implementing self-service checkout lines. Based on the experience of Cynthia Morales, a Federation member from Maryland, we raised the inaccessibility of these checkout lanes with Walmart. A Walmart employee, who was assisting Ms. Morales with the inaccessible self-checkout kiosk, selected the cash back option without Cynthia’s knowledge, and proceeded to pocket her money. Walmart brushed off the incident and ignored our offer to collaborate on equal access. In October we filed suit against Walmart to demand that its self-checkout kiosks be made accessible. In the meantime, members of the Federation may wish to spend our hard-earned dollars at other stores that value our equal participation in their services.

Artificial barriers in healthcare systems are frequently encountered by blind patients and blind employees. In North Carolina we are pursuing access to critical healthcare information and billing invoices in accessible formats. In Indiana we are exploring equal access to applications and resources provided online by state-administered benefits programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, low-income housing assistance, childcare assistance, and vocational rehabilitation services. In Massachusetts to protect the jobs of blind healthcare workers, we are demanding that Epic, one of the nation’s largest providers of healthcare software, build accessibility into the employee-facing portions of its systems. And across the nation we are pursuing a number of other accessibility issues related to medical devices and services.

Our network of dedicated members makes enforcement of our agreements effective, authentic, and powerful. At last year's convention, we announced a settlement with Greyhound Lines Inc. to provide blind customers with equal access to greyhound.com and the company's mobile application. As the company worked on its accessibility, blind customers were permitted to call to buy tickets without being charged the standard call-center booking fee. We conducted a secret shopper program with over 120 reports filed by Federationists that were essential to holding Greyhound accountable for the policy implementation. From now through 2021, we will monitor Greyhound’s maintenance of equal access to its website and mobile application.

We have also committed to holding both Uber and Lyft accountable for equal access to their services, including protections for blind users of service animals. Federation members have helped to generate over four thousand surveys in our monitoring effort, and it is clear that discrimination continues. We now enter the final year of our existing agreements. If the discrimination persists, we will have no choice but to head back to court to seek an even stronger court-mandated solution. While the lack of progress is frustrating, your continued effort to submit the Federation’s monitoring surveys is the best tool we have to document the scope of the problem. Your commitment to the final year of our rideshare-testing program is critical. In return, the National Federation of the Blind reconfirms its commitment to ensure that these companies arrive at the destination of equal access for the blind.

For decades, Federation affiliates have provided what assistance they could to blind individuals in the prison systems, recognizing that these individuals disproportionally come from minority backgrounds and experience some of the most brutal discrimination imaginable. Maryland is an unpleasant and typical example. The state holds all of its blind inmates in one facility but offers no access technology there. The prison communicates to inmates in writing and requires submission of handwritten forms for medical requests, grievances, commissary orders, and other matters, but it offers none of these in accessible formats. Blind inmates are not allowed to do any of the highest-paying inmate jobs, not provided with orientation and mobility instruction, not permitted to participate equally in education and self-improvement programs, and not given access to programs at other facilities. Blind inmates have no choice but to rely on other inmates for navigation and access to communications. You can imagine the horror of being at the mercy of another inmate who is unreliable, untrained, and frequently dangerous.

In 2016 we sued the Maryland Division of Correction on behalf of nine blind inmates, and last month we reached a landmark settlement. The state will now develop an accessible process for requesting and providing reasonable modifications and auxiliary aids to blind inmates; will provide accessible formats of all inmate documents and forms; will provide a suite of access technology; and, when human assistance is required, will ensure that the person is qualified, impartial, and maintains confidentiality. Maryland will pay each plaintiff $42,500 for the discrimination they suffered and reimburse the Federation over $1 million in attorney’s fees and costs. More than a great victory for social justice, it is our hope that this settlement serves as a model for all states to use in ensuring equal treatment of blind inmates.

In 2018 we joined forces with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the NAACP to file a federal lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act against the United States Department of Education. The suit challenged the announcement by the Office of Civil Rights that it was, without advance notice and public comment, changing its procedures dramatically with the effect of diminishing the enforcement of rights it is charged with protecting. In November, in response to our suit, the Office of Civil Rights voluntarily reversed course and restored previous protections. Yet, we continue to seek enforcement by the court. We are proud that we can link arms with other civil rights organizations to raise expectations for, and protect the civil rights of, the blind.

We continue to make progress in eliminating unequal treatment of the blind in higher education. After a two-year fight, we scored a victory last month when a United States District Court judge found that the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD)—the largest community college in the nation—discriminated against two blind students by denying them meaningful access to their education. The court’s findings specifically note discriminatory action including the use of Pearson’s inaccessible MyMathLab product, failure to deliver accessible instructional materials, operating an inaccessible website and a student information system made by PeopleSoft, and offering library databases with inaccessible documents. We now await the Court’s decision on the scope of the injunction that will be entered to ensure that LACCD complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We will continue to reject second-class treatment at all institutions of higher education, and we will provide leadership to those schools seeking to serve as a model of equal access.

Through our Blind Parents Initiative, we lead the way in advancing equal rights and creating resource connections for blind caregivers. We are a quarter of the way to our goal of every affiliate securing adoption of our model parental rights legislation. Today we celebrate the recent enactment of protections for blind parents in Georgia, Alabama, Nevada, and Hawaii.

Minh and Daniel Turnbull are a blind couple who live in Eagle Point, Oregon. On December 21, 2018, they experienced the joy of giving birth to their first child—a boy named Silas. Little did they know that the low expectations and misconceptions of a nurse in the hospital would soon turn their celebration into a nightmare. Uncertain how a blind couple would safely manage the care and feeding of a newborn baby, the nurse reported the couple to Oregon's Child Protective Services, where the most experienced staff were on leave due to the holidays. Exercising their duty to protect, the remaining agency staff ordered that, to take Silas home, the couple must have a sighted person observing their actions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Just one instance of the Turnbull’s failure to comply, they were warned, would result in Silas being removed from the family. Imagine, in the middle of the night, the parents must first rouse a sighted person before undertaking one of the many care tasks that newborns require—tasks that most parents, blind or sighted, learn to do without turning on the lights. What is harder to imagine is the irreversible impact this unnecessary restriction had on the bond between parent and child in the early days of life.

Fortunately, on New Year’s Day, a friend of the family called Carla McQuillan, a blind mother, educator, and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. It took Carla the better part of twenty-four hours to get someone from Child Protective Services to respond, but when they did, the biased restriction was lifted within the hour. Mihn, Daniel, and Silas are now members of the National Federation of the Blind, and they are here at their first convention.

Through the generous support of the Gibney Family Foundation, we are expanding our Blind Parents Initiative in order to reach more people before they face these harmful low expectations. We have launched a new podcast called Blind Parents Connection, and we are building new educational resources and expanding our blindparents.org website. None of this could happen without the tremendous expertise of the Federation members who volunteer their time to share their experience with others.

Some of the most meaningful contributions of Federation members are offered in our extensive education programs. Our nationwide Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academies provide blind students intensive instruction in Braille and related skills from people who model the Federation philosophy. This summer we will have forty-five academies—making it the most comprehensive national Braille instruction program.

We do so much more with Braille. On behalf of the Library of Congress, we train hundreds of people annually to be certified Braille transcribers or proofreaders. In partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, we distribute more than four thousand free Braille books to blind children every month. Through our early childhood outreach work, we engage families with Braille reading prompts and fun activities that empower parents to be their blind child's first and most important teacher using the positive philosophy of our organization. Let us not forget that we continue to partner with jolly old Santa Claus in sending Braille copies of his letters to more than four hundred children annually.

The Federation sets the standard for educating blind youth in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Two weeks ago we concluded another highly successful engineering academy for thirty students, and, for the first time, ten of our program alumni are here at this convention as part of our project to enhance their career exploration. Through our engineering program, which is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, we focus on teaching the development of spatial skills using nonvisual techniques and provide challenging opportunities to exercise those skills. Engineering relies heavily on spatial reasoning skills, and we believe our work will contribute significantly to helping sighted and blind students more effectively use spatial understanding in their discipline and in life more generally.

New understanding is being developed through our engagement with the museum and art communities. In partnership with 3DPhotoWorks, Federation leaders participated in an exhibit at the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums in New Orleans. The Alliance represents three thousand institutions worldwide. The exhibit booth included a letter, enlarged to be ten feet high, inviting institutions to work with the National Federation of the Blind on accessibility. In Baltimore we participated in a community-funded project known as the Ways of Seeing Tactile Art exhibit, which featured collaboration between blind and sighted artists. The exhibit facilitated conversation about tactile art and how to actively engage more people in the arts. In all of this our message is simple: incorporating our perspective enriches the experience for everyone.

We have attempted to share our philosophy with, and build bridges to, the professionals working with the blind. Last July, more than twenty-five Federationists attended the International Conference of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). We worked an exhibit table and hosted a reception in an attempt to share the authentic perspective from our movement. We sought to open avenues for collaboration and exchange of information. We intend to play a leading role in programs for the blind, and we hope that the professionals choose to treat us as partners rather than to serve us as patients.

In all of these areas of education and so many more we continue to lead the way. Our motto is if they will not teach them, we will teach them ourselves. We need more members to engage as mentors in our programs and to contribute expertise to raising expectations for the next generation. Later in this convention we will receive a full report of our education, technology, and research work, as well as hear from the partners that join with us to build the future.

In 1978 we committed to moving our national headquarters to the National Center for the Blind (now known as the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute), a complex of buildings occupying a square city block in Baltimore, Maryland. We had a property without much functional capacity, but over time and as resources have allowed, we have made improvements. Initially, this meant remodeling a significant portion, but not all, of the fourth floor of the primary building for our use. In the early 1980s we added sleeping rooms to the building, allowing us to host overnight seminars. In 2001 we broke ground for a new, twenty-million-dollar building on the southwest corner of the property to provide new conference, training, research, archive, office, and parking space—significantly increasing our capacity to implement almost any type of program or project we might imagine. We now seek to improve our capacity even further.

Work is currently underway to make modest upgrades to our beautiful dining room and to dramatically transform the 18,500 square feet east of it that has been office and storage space for the past forty years. Expected to open in September of this year, the remodeled space will include twenty-one new sleeping rooms along the east and north exterior walls, featuring windows, nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings, and comfortable amenities. Near the sleeping rooms will be casual spaces for working, open spaces for spending time with others, a kitchen space for teaching, laundry facilities, and a substantial fitness area. Immediately to the east of the dining room will be a foyer featuring a forty-two-inch diameter wood-burning fireplace with seating on all sides and touches of Federation history and symbolism. The foyer transitions to the north to a seating space named in honor of a blind couple from Colorado who have built programs for the blind that have transformed the lives of thousands of Federation members. This living room space will have a fountain built into the east wall—a symbol of the experience of being at their home. In our new spaces, as was true at their home, relationships will be forged, and the bond of faith we share will be passed between generations of blind leaders. We anticipate welcoming you to our new Diane and Ray McGeorge Living Room at the Jernigan Institute.

Our efforts to educate the public about blindness are growing faster than at any time in our history. We launched a new and improved nfb.org website, experienced strong growth in our social media engagement, reached a broader audience through stories published about us, and enjoyed the benefits of increased name recognition through distribution of our public service announcements. We launched the #LetUsPlayUs campaign to change the representation and inclusion of the blind on screen and stage, and we protested in front of CBS in New York City over the lack of authentic representation. We partnered with Kellogg's on the Rice Krispies Love Notes project to promote Braille. In less than one month, the complete stock of thousands of Braille Love Note sticker sheets and audio boxes were distributed. News about the partnership, including a video featuring members of the National Federation of the Blind, reached nearly 125 million web viewers. While this effort brought conversations about Braille to grocery stores in the United States, we are not done. In the fall of this year, we will announce a new partnership that will bring Braille and the name of the National Federation of the Blind to stores around the world.

All of these accomplishments, and those we have not had time to review, happen because of the individual efforts of each and every active member of the National Federation of the Blind. Every day I am filled with hope, energy, and love by participating in this organization because of what each of you does to raise expectations for us. I am humbled and blessed by the opportunity to serve as your President, and the trust you place in me is an unparalleled honor in my life.

On September 18, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles honored the National Federation of the Blind and our forty years of being headquartered in Charm City, by becoming the first professional sports team in the United States to wear Braille jerseys during a game. Over 250 stories about National Federation of the Blind night at Oriole Park reached 2 billion views on the worldwide web. One of the jerseys from that evening is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Another jersey is displayed at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. I had the distinct honor of wearing that jersey as I stood at the edge of the pitching mound in the center of the field at Oriole Park. With hundreds of Federationists in the stands, I held a regulation major league baseball, which felt at the time like a bowling ball. I took a deep breath and focused on the three things that keep me grounded every day. One, no matter what happens I know that the members of the Federation family have my back. As I felt the stitching on the ball, I experienced the strength of the interconnected commitment that binds us together in this movement. Two, it is my responsibility to raise expectations every day rather than settling for low expectations. I understood that while most of the crowd expected me to be the highlight on the evening blooper reel, Federationists know that blindness is not a defining characteristic, and I was expected to throw a strike. Three, I have been elected to represent the hopes and dreams of Federation members, and I should not ask of you anything that I am not prepared to deliver on myself. In everything I undertake for us, I dedicate all of the heart, energy, and thoughtfulness I can bring to the assignment. Whether it is with a baseball; our treasury; our legal team; our building; our picket signs; our educational resources; or the invaluable time, energy, and love of the members of this movement, I step forward as long as you call me to do so, and I strive to hit the mark every time. I stood up straight, gripped the seams of the ball one last time, and put everything I had into representing blind people that evening. I could not hear the ball hit the glove over the sound of our march to freedom. However, Orioles announcer Jim Hunter declared that we threw a strike that evening, shutting out the low expectations between blind people and our dreams.

My Federation family, this is my report for 2019. This is our progress. This is our commitment to each other. This is the unshakeable bond of faith we share. This is how we grow the team that will transform our dreams into reality. Let our freedom ring.

Meet the 2019 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class

The chair of the scholarship committee, Cayte Mendez, introduced the 2019 class with these remarks:

Good morning, Mr. President and members of the board. It is my privilege to present to you today the thirty finalists in the 2019 National Federation of the Blind scholarship class. These folks hail from across the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. They have been selected because of their scholastic aptitude and leadership, and it is my honor to let them speak to you today. I will give you their full names, the state that they are hailing from (their home state), the state where they are attending school, and their vocational goals.


Amy Albin, New Jersey, New Jersey, Industrial Psychology: Hello, and thank you all for making this day possible. In psychology we study cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and ingroup-outgroup bias that affect our attitudes. My psychology major will give me the academic background to do what I’ve been doing already for years: promoting high expectations of blind people. Thank you.

Makayla Bouchea, Georgia, Georgia, Business and Human Resources: Good morning, everybody. I’m just going to start out by saying human resources is not only hiring, firing, and training. It's also the ability to make sure that everybody has the resources they need to be successful in the workplace. As someone who was not given accommodations and had to go find her own technology throughout school, I don’t want people to have to stress about that in the workplace. I talk about being a navel science 1-4 cadet all the time, because I was a big part of NJROTC. That program helped me to become a leader, a follower, and taking back all the information that I have learned from this convention to Georgia will definitely help.

Tracy Boyd, Oregon, Oregon, Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Good morning, Federation family. I am so grateful to be here and to be a part of this 2019 scholarship class. I have been a member of the National Federation for the past five years, and this organization has helped me raise the bar for myself. I am in my final year of my master’s program, and I’m excited to reach my goal to work with blind veterans. Thank you.

Kaden Calahan, New Mexico, New Mexico, High School Teacher: Good morning, Federation family. It is an honor and a privilege to be here today. One of the things that I think about as I go into education is the value and importance of mentorship and learning from others. I have tremendous mentors in the National Federation of the Blind, tremendous people who push the expectations higher every day. I feel confident now—this is my third major change—that education is the place I want to be. I want to push that knowledge on to those that I can help most. Thank you.

Rashid Dème, Michigan, Michigan, Human Rights or International Law: Good morning, marhaban, na nga def, bonjour. Aside from education, a portion of my time is spent advocating for equity, not only for individuals with disabilities but other identities as well. I work with local social justice initiatives learning about interfunctionalities of programs. With my compassion for humanity I truly believe in helping people help themselves. Thank you.

Eric Duffy, Ohio, Ohio, Vocational Rehabilitation Administration: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thirty-five years ago I became a part of the Federation family. At a very young age you helped me begin to define my understanding of what blindness is and what it is not, and that is what I will take into my career as a rehabilitation professional—our understanding of blindness. Together we will build a great agency somewhere in this country.

Skye Dunfield, Nevada, Nevada, Victim Advocate: Hi, everyone, and thank you so much for having us here as a scholarship class. You know, when I was first going to come to this convention, I wrote out a whole spiel. And then I came here, and I learned something: I learned that I have a lot to learn, and I have an entire family here to support me, and it’s going to be an amazing resource as I work my way up in my education, my career, and my life. I just want to say thank you so much. Normally I’m nervous, but right now, talking to all of you, I’m not because I know I have my whole family here in front of me. Thank you.

Emily Eagle, Texas, Indiana, Disability Rights Attorney: My desire to be an advocate has been reinforced by two recent experiences: first, my internship with the State Department’s international disability rights team, where I was inspired by international advocates, many of whom were fighting for even the slightest access to an education for those with disabilities. Then there was my involvement in the formation of Notre Dame’s first disability advocacy organization, where it’s been amazing to see the united voices of a very few build such meaningful bridges. However this convention has reminded me that we are so, so far from alone. Thanks y’all.

Amy Hatten, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rehab Counseling: Good morning, fellow Federationists. As a future rehabilitation counselor, I want to help individuals with disabilities with advocacy, breaking down the barriers, and to find the integrated, competitive employment like this organization has helped me do for myself. I want to bring the love, hope, and determination to all my future consumers and clients like this organization has brought to my life.

Maureen Hayden, Pennsylvania, Texas, Research or Academia in Marine Biology: Good morning, fellow Federationists, or as we say at Texas A&M, howdy. As a doctoral student pursuing my career in marine biology, I hope to work with individuals who are visually impaired or blind in discovering their own passion for STEM careers. I’m already active in this goal as a Learning Ally college success program mentor as well as an industry mentor for the Project POEM program funded by the National Science Foundation. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never say never.

Gene Kim, California, California, Engineering: Good morning, fellow Federationists, or as we say in California, hello. I will not lie. Up until last week engineering has been a very daunting task to me, a daunting career that I want to pursue. I doubted myself; I thought I would not be able to do it. After all I’ve only been blind for two-and-a-half years. I don’t know Braille skills yet; I don’t know all of these different tactics that are more efficient. But coming to this convention, which is my first, has given me a complete 180 in that direction. I now have met so many people who have accomplished so many great things, who have been so supportive to me, and who helped me conquer this fear and anxiety. So with this newfound confidence in my own blindness, I am eager to take the challenge that is before me, and I am eager to design technologies that will allow us to live more accessible lives and live the lives that we want, and help me live the life that I want, which is to express and share the love and empowerment that you have given me. Thank you, my new Federation family.

Jenelle Landgraf, Washington, Washington, Therapist: Thank you. Those of us who share the characteristic of blindness are aware of the dominant ableist norms that can lead to feelings of shame. One shame-resilience factor that won’t surprise the Federation family at all is connection with other people who share the same disability. This research has opened a door of understanding for my future patients rather than stigmatizing people as is often done in mental health care. I am passionate about strengthening mental health care services because it impacts all of us. Thank you.

Nina Marranca, New York, New York, Clinical Psychology: Good morning, Federation family. When I was thinking about what to speak about today—which is terrifying—I only have thirty seconds, and I talk way too much—this quote honestly came to mind: “Chase your dreams with a passion that makes it impossible for your fears to keep up." As President Riccobono has said, this is an investment. This is an investment in me, in my future, in my ability to succeed and to represent every single person in this room so that we can live the lives we want. And, honestly, it’s a little terrifying, because it’s like, wow, okay. But honestly it’s a huge honor because not everybody gets to say that they went through this program, and I’m so happy to be here. Thank you guys so much.

Ana Martinez-Larumbe, Louisiana, Louisiana, Social Work: Good morning, guys. Helping others and bringing people closer to Christ are my biggest passions, and if I can combine both, even better. As a social worker I want to help children who have been abused, neglected, or traumatized. I want to get a second degree in divinity, so I’m hoping to open my own facility and help children who are struggling with life situations while at the same time bringing them closer to Christ and share with them the joy of living a life with Him.

Lucas Mebane, North Carolina, North Carolina, Biomedical Engineer: Good morning, Federation family. I’m delighted and honored to receive this award. With biomedical engineering I want to help make people’s lives better by designing new technologies and fulfilling the slogan of the NFB by living the life I want to live. Thank you.

Gerald Meredith, Virginia, Virginia, Professor of Criminal Justice: Good morning, my Federation family. With criminal justice we study theory. I have twenty-five years of practical experience in the field of criminal justice and corrections and security. I want to marry these two, the theory and the practical, and teach criminal justice on the collegiate level and show that these two can work together. Thank you. I am grateful to be here.

Pablo Morales, North Carolina, North Carolina, Business and Management: Good morning, NFB family. I already have a degree in computers. Right now I am a senior student in business and economics, so my goal for the future is to have a master’s in information and technology management. My professional goal is to improve the value of our organization products and services and also make accessibility a competitive advantage.

Kaylee Nielson, Arizona, Massachusetts, Business Journalism: Thank you. About six years ago I became a member of the blind community, and it’s been a learning curve ever since. Skills like advocacy, independence, and creative problem-solving have served me beyond striving for equality. These skills have helped me become editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, president of national honor society, and an admitted student at Wellesley College for the fall. My blindness does not define me, but it is an important part of my story and my narrative. Luckily for me the Federation shares this feeling. I am honored to be here. Thank you.

Erin Olsen, Idaho, Idaho, Instructional Design for Vulnerable Populations: Well, being on the upper end of that age range, I’m going to try to be with my younger class members and try to say "wassup, NFB." My passion has always been knowing people, finding needs, identifying niches, and then trying to find ways to fix them. And I was able to do that for the last twenty years or so. Then I hit a couple little road bumps. One was blindness, and the second, within just a few months, was a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. When I got my act together, I said, “Huh, guess I need some new skills.” So I got some new skills through some excellent training, and then I found my NFB family sitting to my left, the fantastic Idaho affiliate—let's give a shout out Idaho, [cheers] thank you. The skills were the foundation, but my affiliate gave me the support that I needed to get through some pretty rough times and of course introduced me to all of you and the fantastic people on the stage behind me. What I look forward to is continuing with what I call “being a blur,” and yes, there’s multiple meanings to that. But it’s my philosophy and that is for all of us to live beyond living under restrictions. Thank you very much; have a fantastic rest of your convention.

Rachel Ooi, Tennessee, North Carolina, Law:  First of all, thank you so much to all who made this possible. I am having such a great time at convention, and it’s only Tuesday. As an intersectionally-diverse person (Singaporean, Japanese, blind, and a woman) I aspire to bring a unique cultural landscape to all aspects of my life. I aspire to be an attorney where I bring an equitable education and equal rights to all those who are underrepresented to help them live the lives they want. I believe that the National Federation of the Blind will help me in this goal.

Amelia Palmer, Idaho, Idaho, Electrical Engineering: To the futures we’ve all chosen, for the independence we fight for, and the dreams of jobs, dreams of grades, the prospects of dependence fade. Together we stand to make our worth known.

Aracely Rosillo, Georgia, Georgia, Vision Rehab Therapist: Hello, everybody. I am currently studying psychology, and I’m pursuing my bachelor’s degree. My career goal is to become an independent contracting vision rehabilitation therapist. First of all because I would love to make my own schedule and not listen to anybody else, but also because it would let me reach out into the immigrant community, something that is really close to my heart as a Latina woman. A lot of people in the immigrant community are unable to receive services like this, so I want to be able to work with them and help them so that they can achieve and be the best they can be. Thank you.

Heather Schey, Rhode Island, Rhode Island, Human Services: Good morning, everybody. I first want to say thank you for this amazing opportunity. I never thought I would be here today. I also want to share that when I started my journey in life—I’m a little bit older than some of the others here, too—I didn’t have a voice. It was hard for me to find my voice, my path in life. So from attending a conference all by myself, not knowing one person a few years ago, that challenged me. I found a little bit of my voice. Then I recently—before I attended this conference—flew away the week before. I was just inducted as the first blind president of my local Lions Club. My job and my human services degree will also help me to give others a voice. I work at an agency that assists people with disabilities to remain independent and living on their own. I am excited to say that with this degree I can actually become more involved one-on-one with the consumers, and that will help me give them more of a voice learning how to advocate for themselves and to continue their life’s journey so that they can have a successful life. Thank you.

Vanessa Sheehan, Arizona, Arizona, Manuscript Editor: Hello. For anyone who does not know what a manuscript editor is, it is a person who works with authors before their book is published. So books are probably one of the most important things in my life. When I lost my vision a few years ago, my first priority was finding a way to read using Braille, BARD, and other accessible methods. I want to be able to help people who are just as passionate about writing as I am to put out books that can make people just as passionate about reading as I am, and I’d like to thank the NFB for helping me to get closer to that goal. Thank you.

Brandon Shin, California, California, Law or PhD in English: I am an imperfectionist; I have had my share of faults both metaphorically and physically. As such, life can be both a journey and a fight. Likewise, life at times cannot just throw you a lemon but can pull the pin and lob a grenade at you. During the aftermath of those explosions we find ourselves having a hard time getting back up. It is never a shame to fall, but it is a shame to fall and never get back up. Life never plays fair, life will never fight fair, and in the words of Brad Williams, “Life is not what should be, but life is what is.” Life should be fair, life should be non-suffering, and everybody should not be blind, not be disabled, not sick. But we are blind, and we are here. I am a Federationist. Life can hit me as much as it wants; I can hit right back. Anything that threatens my development better hit hard because all I’m going to do is get back up and hit six times harder. Thank you.

Derique Simon, South Carolina, South Carolina, Law: Good morning, fellow Federationists. One year ago I was sitting where you guys are now as an LCB STEP student, and I came to a very disturbing discovery with myself: that I want to do better. I wanted to be better than what I was the day before and the week before that. I found amazing mentors who pushed me to think better, think smarter, and I discovered that I wanted to go into law. With law it’s not just for the blind community, it’s for every community, whether they be blind, deaf, etc., etc. And if it wasn’t for my Federation family, I don’t think I’d be here today; so I sincerely thank all of you, the scholarship committee, President Riccobono, and everyone for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

Georgie Sydnor, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Transcriber and Teacher of Blind Students: Federation family! Whew, I’m nervous. I want to be a teacher of blind students because I know the power of high expectations—I don’t believe in it. I know it for a fact. I see it in people around me, I feel it in my own life, and I’m ready to give back to our kids who will become our adults. I’m a very, very proud graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. I’m very, very proud to serve as the secretary of the Massachusetts affiliate. I’m very proud of the work we do in the Federation. I mean truly—when I was eighteen, nine years ago, the NFB changed my life, and it shapes it every day, and I’m so, so honored to be here. Thank you.

Alicia Ucciferri, Texas, Texas, Civil Rights or Human Rights Attorney: Good morning. I’m planning to study law for largely the same reason that I studied vocal performance before this. I believe that one of the reasons I exist is to communicate reality in ways that are accurate, beautiful, and convincing. Law is a means just like singing was a means. The goal is equity, that every single one of us be on the same playing field in society, that every single person in this room would get to live in a world in which we can entirely participate and genuinely flourish. Thank you Federationists for trusting and enabling me to fight for that alongside you.

Madelyn Walker, Texas, Mississippi, Pharmaceutical Oncology: Good morning, my fellow Federationists. I’m honored to be here in front of you today. When I first lost my vision, I thought my life was over. I only heard what I couldn’t do. But through examples, leadership, and encouragement of people in this organization in our community, I learned that the only thing stopping me was me. So in spite of that statement I organized a community day of service, blood drives, and raised over $60,000 for cancer research. This statement is all to say that I hope to encourage others, as you all have encouraged me, to overcome any obstacle in their path. Thank you.

Ryan Wullschleger, California, California, Attorney: Hello, everyone, my name is Ryan. I’m a little nervous here. I’ve been blind just a few years, and through those couple of years I haven’t met many in the community. I think it’s partially because of me being nervous to maybe even admit that things are different. But since I’ve been at this conference, I’ve been welcomed. People have treated me so well, and this won’t be the last conference. I thank everyone here for that. I thank the committee for accepting me, not just because of the scholarship, but because of you guys. So thank you for everything.

At the banquet Emily Eagle won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what she had to say:

Hi, everyone. Thank you so much. I genuinely never thought I would be in this position. I would like to begin by thanking President Riccobono, the scholarship committee, sponsors, and a special thank you to my mentors who made this week seamless and put me at ease. This is my first NFB convention, and in large part it’s my first genuine exposure to the National Federation of the Blind. And to say that this week is transformative is an extreme understatement. I genuinely hope that I can continue to contribute to this organization meaningfully throughout my life. I’m so grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, the growth that I’ve experienced, the beautiful friends that I’ve made, and especially for this extremely generous scholarship which is genuinely life changing. [applause] Thank you, thank you. Thank you so much. I genuinely really appreciate it. I really could go on and on about how amazing this experience has been, but I know that no words will be sufficient to express just how incredible it’s been. So I will simply finish by humbly saying thank you to the National Federation of the Blind for enabling me to live the life that I want. Thank you. [applause, cheers]

Following is a complete list of 2019 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to their scholarship, each student received a plaque and a $1,000 cash award from inventor and futurist Dr. Ray Kurzweil, an Acer Chromebook laptop and a $1,000 cash award from Google, a JAWS or Zoomtext license from Vispero, a $1,500 voucher toward the purchase of a Talking LabQuest from Independence Science, and nine months of service from Aira, for a total award for each winner with a minimum value exceeding $5,000.

$3,000 NFB Scholarship (16): Amy Albin, Kaden Calahan, Amy Hatten, Jenelle Landgraf, Nina Marranca, Lucas Mebane, Gerald Meredith, Pablo Morales, Rachel Ooi, Amelia Palmer, Aracely Rosillo, Heather Schey, Brandon Shin, Derique Simon, Georgie Sydnor, and Ryan Wullschleger

$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Eric Duffy

$3,000 Dr. Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Kaylee Nielson

$3,000 Edith R. and Alvin J. Domroe Foundation Scholarship: Ana Martinez Larumbe

$3,000 Janette C. Eyerly Scholarship: Vanessa Sheehan

$3,000 Charles and Melba T. Owen Scholarship: Maureen Hayden

$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Makayla Bouchea

$5,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship: Alicia Ucciferri

$5,000 NFB STEM Scholarship: Madelyn Walker

$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Erin Olsen

$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Rashid Dème

$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Gene Kim

$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Tracy Boyd

$10,000 Charles and Melba T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Skye Dunfield

Choice, Exploration, and Resistance: The Road to Freedom for the Blind

An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
Las Vegas, Nevada
July 12, 2019

Freedom: the quality or state of being free, such as the absence of constraint in choice or action. Freedom: a widely celebrated concept but one that is often taken for granted by those privileged to have the most of it. Freedom: a standard built upon the benefit of choice.

The poet Robert Frost wrote a number of works about choice. The most well-known is “The Road Not Taken” in which a choice is offered between two roads—one seemingly safer, but the other with more opportunities for adventure. The poem ends with these often-quoted lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sometimes the choices are this simple, while other times they are significantly more complex. Without thoughtful reflection we may find no true choices at all.

Frost wrote another poem about choice entitled, “The Armful,” which reads:

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns—
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

This evening we take a brief moment in our march to freedom to review the choices that are in front of us. We do so with the knowledge that we represent the most empowered blind people in the history of mankind. We have the greatest range of choices available to us because of the progress we have made over the past three-quarters of a century in the organized blind movement. Yet choices add complexity to our work. If we measure our freedom by comparing where we have been to where we are today, our current choices appear excellent. However, if our comparison uses where we want to be as our benchmark, our current choices are inadequate. If we believe equality is not yet ours, then we must make a conscious choice to continue our march to freedom. How does choice influence the freedom we seek as blind people, which choices are essential, and how do we take ownership of the choices for our future?

In the history of humanity the experience of the blind has largely not been characterized by the positive aspects associated with freedom. We have been constrained in choice and action, prevented from developing full independence, and exempted from participating in the responsibilities that come with the rights of freedom. For us no real choice existed. The future was thought to be determined. The systems were put in place to ensure that we were properly cared for by institutions. That was until a fundamental change altered the direction of our freedom. Blind people began to make choices for themselves and to align those choices to the freedom they wanted in the world. This change—like all revolutions—was neither an accident nor a certainty in outcome. It took hope, determination, and consistent choices to break the shackles and establish a new path. On November 16, 1940, Jacobus tenBroek—a blind scholar of the United States Constitution and the first President of the National Federation of the Blind—declared our intention to secure freedom for the blind by calling “for creating the machinery which will unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind, for an instrument through which the blind of the nation can speak to Congress and the public in a voice that will be heard and command attention.” Since that declaration in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, we have made the choice to determine what freedom means. We the blind, with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and intersectionalities, have chosen to come together to create a choir of freedom. When we say let freedom ring, we mean let us build the National Federation of the Blind.

Our road to freedom is shaped by the choices that individual blind people make and how we bring those efforts together into a unified force. Each generation of our movement attempts to expand choices for the one that follows. Dr. tenBroek had a brilliant understanding of the law but struggled to secure employment at a university. Yet, his tenure at the University of California at Berkeley was, among other things, a demonstration of progress. His own mentor, Dr. Newel Perry, graduated from the California School for the Blind and immediately dedicated himself to securing a doctorate of philosophy in mathematics with the goal of working at a university. Unable to secure employment in academia due to his blindness, Dr. Perry eventually made the choice to return to the California School for the Blind as an instructor, where he shaped the lives of dozens of future blind leaders by passing on the kernels of knowledge that became the basis for the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. While Dr. Perry faced great adversity with few choices, he did not allow his spirit to be broken. He consistently chose a path that brought him closer to freedom for the blind. The result was more choices for the blind of tenBroek’s generation.

Kenneth Jernigan was the second dynamic and long-term President of the National Federation of the Blind, but, before he knew the organization, he also was limited in his choices. He had thought that he might pursue the study of law in the early 1940s, but his rehabilitation counselor told him while he had the freedom to choose any course of study, the agency would not pay the costs for a blind person to study law. This type of choice is not far from the treatment modern-day rehabilitation clients receive. Dr. Jernigan later met the National Federation of the Blind and learned that, with the support of the Federation family, his choices could be different. He went on to build a brilliant career as a teacher and administrator of programs for the blind. He benefited from the choices made by the early marchers in our movement, thus allowing him to contribute by building the nation’s best blindness programs based on the understanding he gained through the National Federation of the Blind.

What is the understanding of the National Federation of the Blind? The fundamental building block is the development of a positive self-belief within the individual blind person. That self-belief system is guided by the body of knowledge collected and distilled into action by the members of our organization. Generally referred to as the Federation philosophy, it is the most misunderstood component of our march to freedom. We cannot adequately talk about choice unless we reflect on our philosophy about blindness.

Our philosophy is a collective understanding about the capacity of blind people and our place in society. While certain aspects of it have been documented in the Federation’s extensive publications, the understanding grows and evolves based upon blind people living their lives with confidence and sharing their experiences with others. Those who do not bother to examine our philosophy in detail portray it as an edict of commandments that the best blind people are expected to follow. While there are some guiding principles—such as understanding blindness as a characteristic that does not define an individual—it is not a list of things a blind person should or should not do. Our philosophy is also falsely portrayed as a path that only the highly skilled blind person can make actionable in their life. Based on the broad cross-section of blind people I know living this philosophy in their lives daily, I find no evidence that this is true. What is true is the more that people apply the Federation philosophy in their lives, the more choices they open for themselves. The Federation philosophy empowers us all with choices, and we strive for all blind individuals to enjoy the freedom of those choices.

To quote Dr. Jernigan from his speech entitled, “The Nature of Independence,” “Above all, independence means choices, and the power to make those choices stick. We are getting that power, and we intend to have more of it. That is why we have organized. That is why we have the National Federation of the Blind.”

If our philosophy is not merely a list of boxes to be checked and if it is a living body of knowledge, then consistent attention to our understanding is required for progress. This is why choosing to build a meaningful construction of blindness within ourselves remains one of the most important choices we can make. Do you make that conscious choice daily?

Before I met the National Federation of the Blind, I honestly believed that blindness did not play a major factor in my life because I pretended I was not a blind person. My self-belief was a result of years of conditioning that taught me to over-rely on the small amount of eyesight that I had. My actions were largely driven by what I could or could not see, but I rationalized my choices as though they had nothing to do with my blindness. I was faking it, and I was best at fooling myself. I told myself that I did not go places because I was uninterested in them, that I did not pursue work opportunities because they were beneath my standards for myself, and that I could do anything as long as I decided it was something I wanted to do. I believed that I was making a choice driven by my real desires.  

Yet my choices were often uninformed, which further reinforced the low expectations I had internalized—a constant downward cycle. When I was a senior in high school, the teacher of blind students offered to teach me Braille if I wanted to learn it. The choice was mine. Why would I want to learn Braille, what would I do with it, and what benefit would it have in my life? Had I known to ask these questions, my choices would have been more clearly understood. Instead, I was permitted to make an uninformed choice that rejected a tool that would have expanded my options. My choice confirmed what I had been conditioned to believe—I was different from all of those other people who had no choice but to use Braille. I lived in a pattern of denial that gave me the illusion of freedom and independence.

When I met the National Federation of the Blind in the summer of 1996, it gave me hope for my future, but could what the Federation said about freedom for the blind be true in my life? I faced some difficult choices. The easy road was to adhere to the understanding I already possessed—it was comfortable, I had strategies to fake my way through, and I could avoid the fear of uncertainty. It was also easy to find examples in society to confirm that it was not respectable to be blind and that vision was a requirement for success. Absent the skills and the true understanding of blindness, justifying my low expectations was a well-worn path.

The harder road was the one I did not know, the one I observed the members of the National Federation of the Blind traveling. It offered possibilities, but exposure to the Federation philosophy would challenge me to rebuild my understanding. It would be uncomfortable, frustrating, and maybe even painful. The examples of why it was worth the effort were evident in the lives of Federationists. More importantly, they told me they would be with me on the journey, they would share in my ups and downs, and they would be there for as far as I chose to go.

Breaking my previous instincts and internalizing the elements of freedom found in the Federation philosophy has taken a lot of work. Actually, it continues to take effort every day. It is a journey, not a destination; a journey for which we have not yet found the limits. Previously I only had the perception of choice. When I made the real commitment to explore the collective understanding of the Federation in both my heart and mind, my choices began to grow exponentially. Each time I thought I had it figured out, the Federation has presented a new choice—another opportunity to raise the expectations for myself and for others. What makes all the difference in pursuing even greater freedom is the love, hope, and determination I share with my sisters and brothers in the National Federation of the Blind.

One of the people I have been blessed to share with in this movement is Marc Maurer, the longest-serving President of the National Federation of the Blind. He began to learn about choices as a student in Dr. Jernigan’s programs. Under Dr. Maurer’s leadership, choices for blind people expanded significantly, including the development of our NFB training centers and the establishment of the only research and training institute run by the blind—our Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. Shortly before we opened the doors of our institute, Dr. Maurer asked me to come develop educational programs for the Federation. By this time, I had a good understanding of what I could do as a blind person, but Dr. Maurer challenged me to recognize that there were more choices. In our programs at the institute we often teach blind people how to operate a chainsaw. We do so because it teaches some very valuable lessons about our internal beliefs and fears around blindness. When a class was offered, Dr. Maurer was the teacher. One day he subtly mentioned that we needed to find some more teachers. The choice was mine: learn to teach or find some other instructors. I was confident I could run the chainsaw safely—I had done so many times. Did I believe I could teach it safely and competently? I was very uncertain about taking that risk, but Dr. Maurer believed in me. Tonight, I am proud to say there are a number of people in this room who think fondly of their choice to take the chainsaw class under blindfold with me as the teacher. The National Federation of the Blind empowers us with choice, and choice is fundamental to freedom. That is why when we say let freedom ring, we mean let us build the National Federation of the Blind.

As many have mused, “Freedom cannot be granted. It must be taken,” and the challenge we face daily as blind people is to align our choices to the freedom we desire for blind people. Consider just one example, the airport. When a blind person steps into the airport they are faced with a choice—do I turn myself over to the hands of the assistance program personnel to be treated like a piece of luggage, or do I exercise my independence and encounter the choices ahead?

Let me pause to say that I do not offer these choices as right or wrong alternatives. I offer them to illustrate that the choices we make contribute to our freedom as defined by blind people or to our freedom as limited by the misunderstanding of others. If you have no blindness skills or know nothing of the Federation philosophy, you do not perceive you have any choice beyond using assistance. Just knowing that blind people navigate airports independently does not automatically give you the choice to do so either. You need to know something about the techniques and to be prepared to practice them—in the airport this means having enough time before your plane takes off. Furthermore, you need to develop enough experience to understand which techniques work best in which situations and when assistance is or is not useful. All of that takes creating choices for yourself and finding ways to exercise those choices. The goal is not perfection but rather working toward making an informed choice that works for you and is built upon, and contributes to, the diverse experience of thousands of other blind people.

There are hundreds of other choices that blind people face in the airport. At the security checkpoint: Give over your cane and let the security staff push and pull you, or negotiate with them about the rules and what will best facilitate us moving with dignity through the process? After security: Explore the amenities of the airport (free roaming blind people always attract attention), or settle in at the gate where we are not likely to be physically handled as much? At the gate: Answer the questions—what’s your name, who are you with, where are you going, can I see your boarding pass? Or employ some other strategy to avoid the harassment? Pre-board or board at the appointed time? On the airplane: Keep your cane with you or let them take it? And do you suffer the individual safety briefing that is forced upon you or vigorously decline it? In this last example, the airline personnel are almost certain to tell you: “We are required to do this for you.” In other words, you have no choice.

If our goal is freedom defined by our expectations, those being equal treatment and full participation, then the Federation philosophy encourages us to make choices that point us toward that goal. It does not dictate that we choose the same thing all of the time, but it does encourage us to move consistently toward the freedom we want to have. The alternative choice is to let others define what freedom means for us, and that is a choice that limits our future.

An important element of defining freedom on our terms is choosing to share our understanding of blindness with the general public. I grow weary of explaining why going up an escalator is not amazing and that my standing in one place does not mean I am lost, confused, or waiting for my sighted assistant to retrieve me. However, I try to remember that my choice—to respond with joy or anger—will contribute to how my freedom is determined. In the National Federation of the Blind, we know that educating the public sometimes means having the strength to firmly yet politely assert our equality. Despite our best efforts, this causes conflict. While we should not take every incident as an attack on our freedom, we should determine the boundaries for ourselves. For me, those boundaries are always triggered when a mysterious hand silently grabs me. Were it to prevent me from falling off a cliff or getting hit by a moving vehicle, I would most certainly greet it with a thank you. However, it is almost always the result of the perception of an unknown individual who is concerned that I am not going where they think I should or to prevent my cane, which is intended to find things, from touching some object in front of me. These situations often create an opportunity for further conversation about expectations, but occasionally my unwillingness to be treated like an object for public handling creates conflict. In the effort to educate the public, we can choose our approach, but we cannot choose how others will react to the freedom we seek for ourselves.

In our enthusiasm to define freedom for ourselves, we must continue to choose to meet other blind people where they are today. Our philosophy is not a box to be checked; it is a choice that requires exploration, support, and constant effort. In order for all blind people to enjoy the benefits of that choice, we must first help them and their families understand that the choice is available, then support them as they navigate the complexities of freedom. Reaching blind people from diverse backgrounds and with characteristics different from our own will challenge us to build new understanding into our philosophy. All of this will advance our march to freedom in the National Federation of the Blind.

Once we have made the choice for ourselves we must ensure that the systems of our nation are consistent with the freedom we seek. We start with the premise that blind people are equal and, therefore, deserve equal treatment under the law. We also assert that we require equity within society to overcome the disadvantages of artificial barriers that bar us from full participation.

Consider the most fundamental activity within the American democracy—the right to vote. The Constitution of the United States did not originally define who was permitted to vote, leaving the determination to individual states. In general, this meant white males who owned property. Four of the amendments to the Constitution clarify voting rights by stating that these rights cannot be denied or abridged based on certain characteristics: “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the 15th Amendment; “on account of sex,” the 19th Amendment; “by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax,” the 24th Amendment; and “on account of age” (for those who are eighteen years of age or older), the 26th Amendment.

The Constitution does not address voting by people with disabilities, and thus second-class systems of access have been implemented. Since 1940 the National Federation of the Blind has worked to eliminate these voting inequalities. We secured significant national gains with the enactment of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. This act ensured that the blind would cast their votes, “in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters,” through nonvisually accessible electronic voting machines. In the decade after the act was passed, our monitoring efforts recorded steady progress in the ability of blind people to vote privately and independently at public polling places. We then began to seek equal access to absentee voting. In the state of Maryland, the board of elections argued that blind people had equal access to a method of voting (physical polling locations), and that the law did not require equal access to all of the voting options. We argued that equal access means having an equal opportunity to choose from the same range of options as all other voters. The court upheld our definition of freedom, choice is now the standard of equality, and it is due to the collective action of the National Federation of the Blind.

Our progress is threatened as many states are now responding to concerns about security in voting by returning to printed paper ballots. This has caused the return of segregated voting systems for the blind, which are being justified with the claim that both accessibility and security cannot be achieved. We say that a nation that can put a man on the moon and that has the greatest resources for technological innovation in the world can certainly provide equal access to a secure voting system for all of its citizens. We will never again choose to permit our voting rights to be denied or abridged. We have the power to define freedom for ourselves, and we intend to make it reality. Even if it takes an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, we will have equality in the American democracy.

Education is another example of limited choices for the blind. When blind children come to the public classroom, they are automatically sent to a second-class system of education. While the sighted children receive books, the educators must convene a meeting to decide if the blind children should receive Braille books. While the sighted children are tested using the latest technologies, the team is forced to choose a second-class alternative for the blind because the technology is not accessible. While the sighted child may show up at the school and move about freely, the educators sometimes require blind children to use a specific type of cane—generally short and heavy—and frequently limit when and where the blind child may have that cane. Of course, this is just for the safety of the sighted children in the school. These constructs of equal education are neither free nor appropriate. The cost to blind children is their freedom and their right to equal opportunity. We say set our blind children free. The time has come for us to redefine free and appropriate education for the blind. We will no longer tolerate the slavery of special education systems. Let freedom ring, and let the National Federation of the Blind lead the way in offering the choices of the future.

The laws of the land tell us that we have the freedom to seek equal employment opportunities, yet our choices are not comparable to other Americans. We are not guaranteed the right to a minimum wage throughout the nation. We cannot apply for positions where the job applications use inaccessible screening tools. What choices do we have when we manage to secure a job where the workplace systems discriminate against those without vision? Many blind people are in jobs where they have no chance of advancement unless they choose to confront their employers regarding the discriminatory artificial barriers they face. Second-class treatment or unemployment—that is the definition of Hobson’s choice.

The rehabilitation systems are intended to provide equity in the process of getting people with disabilities into the workforce. Yet more and more blind people struggle to get access to quality training. The rehabilitation regulations, due to our efforts, require informed choice to ensure that blind people are provided adequate information about the training options available. However, the state agencies often tell us, “Here are all the choices, but remember we will only pay for the state’s preferred vendor.” No real choices are offered by the very system that is intended to enhance our independence; and if you are a blind person from certain racial or socioeconomic circumstances, you can expect to face additional challenges in accessing services.

Specialized employment programs for the blind have, after decades of advocacy by us, raised their wages and improved their working conditions to a point where they want us to know their jobs are good jobs. These programs argue that blind people choose to work in these positions over jobs with other employers as if all of those blind people had equal choices in the economy. When we suggest to these programs that they need to go further to advance equality for the blind, such as creating opportunities for blind people to supervise the programs not just work for them, they suggest that the choices are limited by federal regulations, not employer practices. We can either choose the paths designated by the employers or design our own future, and we choose freedom for the blind.

As observed in this convention, we are working closely with a diverse range of companies and organizations on partnerships to raise the expectations for the blind in this nation. Despite this progress, we have not yet advanced far enough on our road to freedom to avoid all conflicts. There are those who simply do not believe what we do about blindness. There are those who fear we are pushing too hard for change. There are those who believe that conflict is to be avoided at any cost. To these individuals, we say that we do not seek confrontation as a matter of course. We seek freedom for the blind as defined by our growing expectations for equality. When we can combine our efforts with others to build that future, we choose that path. However, if our freedom is in question, we are not afraid to choose confrontation if it is necessary to go the rest of the way to equality. For nearly eight decades we have committed to take freedom for ourselves, to own it, shape it, and strengthen it into a powerful force that allows all blind people to enjoy the full rights and responsibilities of our nation.

Our most important choice is the one we reaffirm here this evening. We choose to participate actively in the National Federation of the Blind. We do so because it makes a difference to us as individuals and to the community of blind people for whom we seek freedom. Some choose not to march with us. Some make that choice because they misunderstand what we represent. Others make that choice because they fear the conflict that might be required. Still others do not know that the choice is available to them or, if they do know, they do not understand what it will mean in their own lives. We welcome all blind people who have not yet found the freedom that comes from choosing to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind to join our family. We need you, and our experience is that you will benefit by being part of us.  We choose to leave the door open, and we seek new ways to reach more blind people to contribute to our freedom. We, who have already committed to our collective freedom, re-commit to sharing our understanding with everyone.

We know how the road to freedom is determined, and we have not yet found the limits of where that road will take us. Every day we have more choices than the day before because of the progress of the National Federation of the Blind. We pause in the road and reset our load knowing that we must make a conscience choice daily: settle for where we are or face the challenge of going the rest of the way. To rewrite the conclusion of Frost’s poem to describe the nature of our movement since 1940:

Two freedoms diverge into the future, and we—
We chose the one to set the blind free,
And that has made all the difference.

My Federation family, while progress offers choices, we must not forget that our most important choice is to continue our march together—that will make all the difference in our freedom. We choose to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind. We choose to speak for ourselves. We choose to raise expectations. We choose to share our understanding with the world. We choose to transform our dreams into reality. We choose to explore the limits. We choose what is essential for our equality, not what is easy. We choose, with love, hope, and determination, to let our freedom ring. Let us go build the National Federation of the Blind.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

presented by James Gashel

Thank you, Mr. President. In Hawaii, which is where I live now, we use the term “ohana” to refer to our extended family. So to you I say, greetings my Federation ohana. [applause]

This is the twelfth year for the Jacob Bolotin Awards. These awards are made possible with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date we have presented $630,000 to fifty-nine recipients. Five new recipients will be added this year. [applause]

Jacob Bolotin was a medical doctor. He specialized in diseases of the heart and lungs. As a child he attended and then he graduated from the Illinois School for the Blind. He wasn’t just kind of hard of seeing; Bolotin was really, really blind. And he didn’t do anything at all to try to hide the fact that he was blind. He was proud that he was blind.

He practiced medicine in Chicago, and he lived thirty-six years, from 1888 to 1924. His story has been told by his niece Rosalind Perlman. The biography, called The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story is something you can buy in print or in audio CD on Amazon, or you can just get it free at the NLS. You all need to read this book. No matter if you’re sighted or blind, it’s going to give you some new perspectives and change some of the perspectives you already have.

Jacob Bolotin’s story defines what it means to live the life you want. Students of today take note: Bolotin had no rehabilitation, he had no agency for the blind to deal with, he had no ADA, he had no section 504, and he had no NFB to back him up. He had himself and his own determination. But, 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. So in every way that counts he was in fact if not in name a Federationist before the Federation itself existed.
The annual awards program we conduct keeps Dr. Bolotin’s memory alive by recognizing exemplary people and projects that work on behalf of the blind. The awards include a cash prize for each recipient along with an engraved commemorative plaque and a medallion. The medallion is especially inscribed for the purpose. Here’s the text that appears on the plaque:

Presented to
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
July 2019

The medallion suspended above the plaque has the NFB logo on the obverse side and says, “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award/Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." On the reverse side of the medallion you have Dr. Bolotin’s bust appearing and the inscribed words as follows: “Dr. Jacob Bolotin/1888-1924/Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."

Audio Introduction: Ladies and Gentlemen, the National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2019 recipients of our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These five individuals and organizations 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 are: Libra Robinson, CEO and owner of N’Sight VIP Services of Washington, DC, teaching blindness skills to seniors and other people losing vision.

Libra Robinson: What we do in the Washington, DC, area is provide computer training for the blind and visually impaired using the screen reader JAWS. I also teach intermediate Braille; that’s just the basic, it’s called the Braille Club. It’s just the basic Braille letters and alphabet and words. I also have what is called the smartphone Bootcamp in which I teach alongside another gentleman. We teach the smartphone as well as iPhone instructions for blind and visually impaired persons. So often our seniors are left out when it comes down to rehabilitation services because they feel that they don’t need computer skills or need to learn any kind of new technologies because they’re beyond working age. With my program I’m able to teach students of all ages.

Audio Narration: Michael Nye, artist, creator of the My Heart is Not Blind book and art exhibit.

Michael Nye: The project is really two separate projects: it’s a book printed by Trinity University Press, and it’s also a traveling photography and audio exhibition. It’s about understanding. It was really the greatest privilege of my life to spend seven years interviewing and photographing men and women, blind and visually impaired. I spent two to four days with each person. It takes time to tell a story, and it takes time to listen. And when it opened at the Witte Museum—it’s a large museum in San Antonio—everyone in the exhibit speaks in their own voice, so there’s an audio box and headphones underneath each large black-and-white portrait. Between 25 and 30,000 visitors came into the Witte, put on headphones, and listened. And these stories are not from a distance; they’re close up; they’re very intimate. I think that as I started this project, I really became an advocate and realized how incredibly unfair the blind and visually impaired are treated. Justice is about fairness, and it’s really obscene the misunderstanding by the public of the capacity of all of us, but especially someone who is visually impaired.

Audio Narration: The three initiatives and organizations receiving Bolotin Awards this year are: Bristol Braille Technology of the United Kingdom, creators of a new low-cost multi-line Braille display. Here is founder and managing director Ed Rogers:

Ed Rogers: This is called the Canute 360. It’s called 360 because it’s a Braille e-reader with 360 cells. That’s nine lines of Braille on one device, forty cells per line. As you can tell, that’s a radical and quite revolutionary amount of Braille. It means that you can present spatial Braille information, even basic tactile diagrams. But, more importantly, you can present mathematics, music, tables, represent headings as being properly indented with white space, and be able to see two paragraphs, one above the other—it just opens up electronic Braille to a much wider range of users who previously had been restricted to paper Braille. The other exciting part of this for us is that it’s brand-new technology that we designed ourselves in Bristol in the United Kingdom. It’s very hard—the Braille itself is hard; it doesn’t compress; it’s not piezoelectric technology. And, because we’ve designed our own technology for this, the price of the Canute is going to be somewhere under—it’s going to cost less than any single-line forty-cell Braille display, despite having 360 cells of Braille on it.

Audio Narration: BlindConnect of Las Vegas, for establishing Angela’s House, Nevada’s only training center dedicated to serving adults who are blind or losing vision—founded in loving memory of BlindConnect board member Angela Hoffman. Here’s BlindConnect President Raquel O’Neill:

Audio Narration: BlindConnect has been in existence in Las Vegas, Nevada, since 1998, and our original mission is really to provide Nevadans resources and information about vision loss as soon as it occurs in the early stages of eyesight conditions. Then, as we grew as an organization, we recognized the need for additional education and training for blind Nevadans. So now our mission is really to increase independence and self-sufficiency for blind Nevadans across the board. In the aftermath of Angela’s loss, our organization and her family have been committed to finding a place—a training center in Nevada—where blind Nevadans can begin their journey of independence without having to leave home or leave their loved ones and supportive networks.

Audio Narration: The United States Association of Blind Athletes for its National Fitness Challenges—here is USABA Programs and Finance Manager Kevin Brousard:

Kevin Brousard: The USABA National Fitness Challenge purpose is to improve the health of blind Americans, and we use that in two main ways. The first thing we do is we provide Fitbit wearable technology, the fitness trackers, for 450 blind Americans in seventeen different cities. The Fitbit is great because it is a highly accessible smartphone application, so it allows all of our participants to easily access their information. A big part of the Fitbit is tracking how many steps you have per day, and 10,000 is the recommended level of steps per day; that’s kind of the overarching goal everyone wants to achieve. That equates to about five miles per day. The second portion is that we work with our local partnering agencies to provide those people in seventeen cities with programming to introduce them to sports and recreation and kickstart some lifelong healthy habits. So we give them the tool with the Fitbit to track their fitness, and then we work with our local partners to ensure that they are getting opportunities to stay active and learning some new skills along the way, hopefully leading to a healthier lifestyle.

Audio Narration: And here’s Pam Allen, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, partner in the National Fitness Challenge:

Pam Allen: It’s been a great opportunity. We all know how important physical fitness is to overall wellbeing, so we were delighted to partner with USABA through the Fitness Challenge. We’ve done a variety of activities, anything from rock climbing to rowing. We’ve done several 5Ks. Also we’ve done yoga and a whole variety of different sports. We have had so many different opportunities to challenge our students and members of our affiliate to really push themselves, and the results have been incredible, both as far as better overall physical fitness and also just better wellbeing in general.

Audio Narration: Ladies and gentlemen, these winners will now receive their awards, which include a trophy and a monetary prize to advance their continuing work to help blind people live the lives we want. Please give each of them a warm welcome as the National Federation of the Blind proudly presents them with their 2019 Jacob Bolotin Awards.

Jim Gashel: Thank you very much. I’m going to ask our winners to form a line—we discussed, they got very specific instructions—so if you all will step forward in the order described. I tell you, no matter how many years we do this, these presentations always have an effect on me. So we have five more winners this year; you’ve heard from all of them. The thing you don’t know is how much money they’re getting. Now all together they’re getting $50,000, but not each one of them—don’t get your hopes up, guys. Please hold your applause while I announce each winner’s cash prize and President Riccobono presents each winner’s plaque.

Our first recipient is Libra Robinson for her inspired leadership of N’Sight VIP Services in Washington, DC. Congratulations Libra for your Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.

Our second winner is BlindConnect in Las Vegas to support its training center program called Angela’s House. Congratulations Raquel O’Neill, president, here to receive the award on behalf of BlindConnect in the amount of $5,000.

Our third winner is United States Association of Blind Athletes in recognition of its National Fitness Challenge Program. Congratulations to Kevin Brousard, programs and finance manager at USABA, here to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for USABA National Fitness Challenge in the amount of $5,000.

Our fourth recipient is Michael Nye for exploding the myths about blindness and helping blind people to tell our own stories in our own words. Congratulations to Michael Nye for your award in the amount of $15,000.

And now, for our highest cash prize—and this prize also comes with the opportunity to say a few words—this is the award that goes to Bristol Braille Technologies and its managing director Ed Rogers for the development of the Canute 360, the world’s first multi-line digital Braille e-reader—this has been a long time coming. [applause, cheers] The award to Bristol Braille Technologies is for $20,000. Here’s Ed Rogers.

Ed Rogers: Thank you very much to all the committee. It’s an incredible honor for the entire team and for the hundreds of people who’ve been testing, developing, trying, and showing us how the machine didn’t work in the past and helping us improve it. Thank you very much. I think it’s important to note here that not everyone knows the role that the NFB has played in the development of the Canute 360. Since I first took a prototype to Baltimore and showed it to President Riccobono in 2016, we have received guidance, we have received the support, and, very importantly, we have been sponsored by and had feedback from the Federation and the American Action Fund in the prototype pilot process, which has been what’s sustained us to this stage. So without the effort of everyone at the NFB and the Action Fund, this would not have happened. I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks, most especially, to President Riccobono and Dr. Maurer, and of course to all the Federationists here. Thank you. [applause]

Jim Gashel: Thank you, Ed Rogers. Now you guys get a chance. Here, standing before you, is the Jacob Bolotin Award winners’ class of 2019. Let’s hear a loud Federation cheer. [cheers, applause] Please visit our website, the Jacob Bolotin Award page at nfb.org, where you can listen to the full content of the audio text—we played shorter clips for this presentation, but the full presentation will be available on that page. Thank you to Ron Brown, to Mary Ellen Jernigan, to Everette Bacon, and to Marc Maurer for joining me on the Jacob Bolotin Award Committee this year, especially for their enlightened experience and wise judgment on picking through these winners.

Now also a special thanks to the people in our group who nominated these award winners. And all of you can do the same thing in the months and years to come. We know the projects that truly benefit blind people in the spirit of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. Our awards competition will open again in November 2019, and we will get ready to present the 2020 Jacob Bolotin Awards. The competition will close on April 15. Do your job, bring us the winners, and we will make the presentations. Mr. President, this is my report and the presentation of the Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2019. Mahalo. [applause]

Awards Presented at the 2019 National Convention

From the Editor: Of the many wonderful things that happen at national convention, one element that many Federationists look forward to each year is the presentation of awards, both to Federationists and those who are not members of our organization but go above and beyond in helping the Federation in the pursuit of our goals and agenda. Some awards are presented annually, others only when a truly deserving candidate is recognized. The energy, joy, and satisfaction shared by the committees who bestow the awards and the audience watching their presentation is something that we hope comes through as clearly in print as it did in-person at the convention:

Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award

presented by Carla McQuillan

Every year the National Federation of the Blind recognizes a teacher of blind students who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to meet the needs of his or her students and specifically to uphold the philosophies of the National Federation of the Blind, teaching Braille and other techniques of blindness. This year the 2019 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award is being given to Adrienne Shoemaker of Concord, Massachusetts. [applause, cheers]

Adrienne has been a teacher of blind students for ten years and is currently the only teacher of blind students in the Concord public school system. In addition to her teaching of blind students, Adrienne has helped to develop a program for teachers of blind students and has taught the Braille courses that are part of that curriculum. She has also served as a liaison between the Massachusetts Department of Education and the University of Massachusetts Northeast Center for Vision Education, recruiting candidates to be teachers of blind students.

Adrienne received her master of special education in 2010 from the University of Boston, Massachusetts. She has also, in 2018, received her orientation and mobility certification. In 2014 she was one of ten teachers chosen by the National Federation of the Blind to be part of our STEM2U program. She is an effective advocate for Braille and is helping to train future teachers of blind students. These qualities and her willingness to go above and beyond have made her an excellent candidate for this year’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award.

I have here a plaque that I’m going to give to Adrienne, and the plaque reads:


Adrienne Shoemaker


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.


JULY 9, 2019

Along with that—oh wait, the best is yet to come—although the plaque will last longer, we have a check here for $1,000. [applause] Congratulations.

Adrienne Shoemaker: My sincerest thanks to the National Federation of the Blind for this incredible recognition. As a teacher of blind and visually-impaired students and as an orientation and mobility instructor, I share your passion for high expectations and teaching skills that will enable my students to live their best lives. I have witnessed the power of Braille and the many opportunities it gives students for participating, accessing, and creating work. Having solid orientation and mobility skills leads to greater sufficiency and confidence. Skills in the use of technology increases independence and creates access to information at the same time as sighted peers.

I get so much joy from watching my students develop self-advocacy skills as they navigate through the education system in preparation for college and career. I love when my students are working collaboratively with sighted peers, and the only difference is that my student is using Braille and accessible tools and materials. So much learning is happening in these moments, and I am thrilled that sighted peers are getting exposure to what someone who is blind is capable of doing and achieving. [applause, cheers]

I am so thankful to Penny Duffy, first vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, who also happens to be the mother of one of my students, Abby. Over the years she had shared information with me about the NFB. Through her I learned about the National Reading Media Assessment, Structured Discovery, and the summer and weekend opportunities that her daughter Abby was participating in. Through these programs Abby was gaining incredible skills and forming relationships with other blind students. They have attended the annual convention for many years, and I’m always excited to hear about what they have learned and the experiences that they have had. It truly helps to make me a better teacher.

It is incredible being a part of convention this week. I now truly understand how the NFB is like a big family. Thank you again for recognizing educators and for the programs that you provide to students. The work being done by the NFB and the support to students, parents, and teachers is amazing and makes a positive impact on the lives of all of those involved. Thank you. [applause]

The Blind Educator of the Year Award

presented by Dr. Edward Bell

The Blind Educator Award was created through the National Federation of the Blind many years ago to recognize blind people who had successfully worked in the education field. Teaching is one of those professions that blind people are very well suited to but have not always had an easy time getting into, and those who get into the field change lives forever. It is our honor to be able to recognize individuals who make significant contributions in this field.

The 2019 recipient of the Blind Educator Award is a person who was a sighted individual and was a teacher of general education kids. After losing her vision she continued with her passion for teaching and obtained her graduate degree in teaching blind children. In 2013 she began working in the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program in her state and by 2014 was coordinating it statewide. In 2015 she started monthly Braille enrichment programs to help continue to get blind kids Braille throughout the year, rather than just a little here and there. In 2017 she became the transition coordinator in her state, where she continues to work with blind children and blind teenagers. Please help in congratulating Ms. Allison Steven of Idaho. [applause, cheers]

Here is a plaque for you, and included with this plaque is a check for $1,000. I’m going to read the language on the plaque:


Presented to
Allison Steven

In recognition of outstanding accomplishments
in the teaching profession.


JULY 9, 2019

Congratulations to Allison. [applause, cheers]

Allison Steven: I’m overwhelmed; this is incredible. I had no idea. I am very grateful for this. I’ve always had this imposter syndrome thing in my head where one day someone’s going to realize I don’t know what I’m talking about. [laughter] I am very grateful to the National Federation of the Blind because I’ve only been a member for about six years, but I have learned so much. I believe that we never stop learning. I had no idea of the direction my life would take, and it’s an honor and a privilege to have been called to work with blind individuals and particularly with kids. I want to thank my chapter and the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and also Louisiana Tech because that’s where I got my masters. [applause] I’d also like to honor the memory of my friend and mentor Becky Sherman, who died just recently, for everything that she put into my life. Thank you so much for this award. I am so glad to receive it for doing something that I love. [applause]

The Jacobus tenBroek Award

presented by Marc Maurer

Good evening, fellow Federationists. I'm mighty glad we’ve got a President like Mark Riccobono. I come tonight as the chairperson of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek was our first president. He came into the presidency in 1940, he was our first president, and he served until 1961. He resigned in that year, but he came back into the presidency in 1966, and he served until his death in 1968. He was an innovator; he was a scholar; he was a leader; he was a man of towering intellect; he was a demanding soul; he was a person who dreamed of a time different from the one that he inherited; he was a teacher, and he taught himself and the next generation. When something demanding needed doing, he could be counted as among those who would do it. He was a man who planned and caused change.
We give our Jacobus tenBroek Award to people who are like Dr. tenBroek, who have a history, who have a passion, who have the ability to lead, the ability to teach. And we don’t give it every year, but only as often as we find somebody among our company who is deserving of such an award. 

Now I serve as the chairperson of this committee, and I want to thank the members who serve with me: Pam Allen, Jim Gashel, Barbara Loos—they are people who are thoughtful, argumentative, [laughter] demanding, argumentative, [more laughter] great people to work with, and they sound just like Federation members, don’t they? [laughter, applause]

And after deliberation we have identified a person whose characteristics emulate those of our founding president, a lady who has been a member of our organization for some time, and who attended her first convention in the year that I began chairing conventions in the National Federation of the Blind, that is 1987. It was in Phoenix, Arizona. [cheers] A very interesting convention: Patricia Maurer was about to give birth; I persuaded her to come anyway. She waited until after she got home, which was just as well. [laughter] She’s not the recipient, because she attended her first convention much earlier than 1987.  

The person that we selected is also a leader, not just in the National Federation of the Blind, but also in the civil rights movement. So Ever Lee Hairston, [long, loud cheering and applause] while you make your way to the platform, I would like to say a word or two about you.

She was raised in a log cabin. I know we’ve all heard about wonderful people who were raised in log cabins. It was on the Cooleemee Plantation in North Carolina. She is the daughter of sharecroppers who were on the plantation, and when she was ten or eleven—somewhere in there, maybe twelve years old—she learned that her job was to pick cotton. Now, it doesn’t take a long time picking cotton to find out that there could be some other way of life that’s more fun. She wanted to be a nurse, but she was rejected because of her blindness. She decided, however, that she had to go to college. But she didn’t have any money, and there wasn’t anybody to provide it. She went to New York. She heard that she could get a job being a maid, and she spent time there in the summers being a maid so that she could earn enough money to go to college. She got a degree to be a teacher. [applause] She taught for a time, but she also learned that there was a civil rights movement in the United States, and she joined Martin Luther King Jr. in marches to protect the freedom for everybody in our country. For if one is not free, all share in the failure of freedom. [applause] The sheriff’s deputies came when she was demanding equal treatment, equal opportunity to work, and they threw her in jail. She didn’t know whether she would be required to stay there indefinitely; thankfully it was not long before she was released. But she also stood with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington for the most famous public address given in the twentieth century, the one which said, “I have a dream.” [applause, cheers]

I didn’t know Ever Lee then. I didn’t meet her until later. She came to her first convention in 1987, as I say. She learned that there was another civil rights movement, and she was attracted, although she had—as so many of us have from time to time—been faking it, and she hadn’t learned all the techniques, either. But she found that there were things to know and ways for her to be free that she hadn’t realized in the past, and eventually--after founding a chapter in New Jersey—she became its president, and she became vice president of our New Jersey affiliate for fourteen years. I kept trying to get her to run for president of a state affiliate. She resisted, but I finally got it done when she ran for and was elected to the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind of California. [applause, cheers]

She has a good many honors in her life: she has received from the NAACP Los Angeles chapter the Unsung Hero Award. She has been recognized as Woman of the Year. She has appeared on the "Sixty Minutes II" program nationally to talk about how it is that the white part of her family, which had owned the black part, hadn’t treated the black part very well. The white man, who was then a judge and was the head of the family, was taken aback when she demanded that he recognize that equal treatment demands more than just letting a person in the front door now and then.

She is a person who has come to be a central part of what we are. She has a stern and demanding voice when she insists that there be a little something for everybody. It is the honor of this argumentative committee and the honor of the National Federation of the Blind to present the Jacobus tenBroek Award to Ever Lee Hairston. [applause, cheers]


Ever Lee Hairston


JULY 12, 2019

Ever Lee Hairston: Federationists, this is truly an honor. I remember when I went to jail with Dr. Martin Luther King. I was a frightened young woman. Spending that night in jail for our freedom, I never imagined that I would be a part of another civil rights organization. [cheers] But becoming a part of the National Federation of the Blind has truly given me a new purpose for my life. And that purpose, I want all of you to hear, is about change—what our President has talked about in his speech tonight—change. What has it meant to me? Change has meant having courage. Change has meant gaining confidence in myself by going to the Louisiana Center for the Blind. [applause] Change has meant being competent, knowing and understanding that knowledge is power. The H in change stands for honesty: to thine own self be true. I have learned that no matter what I do in the Federation, I first must be honest with myself. A is the change that I have made: I know that all over the United States of America and in many of the islands, I have had to advocate for myself as well as others. N: Never say never. G: No matter what we do in life, we must have orderly directions, good orderly directions. That’s what G-O-D stands for, but for me it means God. Through Him I can do all things, for He strengthens me. And the E: the change that I have made in my life stands for enthusiasm. No matter what I have done, I realize that I must smile and be enthusiastic about it. I love you. God bless you. Thank you so much. [cheers, applause] This means so much to me.

Global Literacy Award

presented by Scott LaBarre

From the Editor: Following a presentation by Justin Hughes about the negotiation and passage of the Marrakesh Treaty, Scott LaBarre came to the podium to say a few words to Mr. Hughes and the convention:

So Justin, we have a little surprise for you. The work of the treaty was arduous and difficult. One of the reasons was because this was the first time that an intellectual property treaty was exclusively dedicated to a consumer interest and not granting further rights to rights-holders. So obviously all these huge companies were very afraid of the treaty. That's why Exxon and others opposed it. There were so many moving parts, and one of the most skillful negotiators was in fact Justin Hughes. We want to recognize your role in getting the treaty adopted, not only internationally. You played a big role with the United States delegation—the US governmental delegation to the Marrakesh Diplomatic Conference made a huge difference in getting the treaty adopted. By the way, one of the other members of the US delegation, because she was in the government at the time, was Eve Hill. [applause] She helped out as well.

But once we got Marrakesh adopted internationally we had to get it ratified in the US, and, as Justin said, it took five years. And we had to essentially relitigate all the same issues again. And once Justin got out of the government, he wanted to help. Now he didn’t go to the publishers and say, “Hey I’ll help you with the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty.” He didn’t go to the libraries; he didn’t go to anyone else except the National Federation of the Blind. [applause, cheers] He came to us to help us get the treaty ratified, and more critically, help us get the implementing legislation written so that we could implement the treaty in a practical way. Justin sat on our side of the table as we negotiated with the publishers again and negotiated with the libraries. He played a critical role in helping us draft the language that would make everybody happy. So in recognition of that work, Justin, we’re going to give you an award.

It’s in a beautiful box. We’re going to take it out of this beautiful box, hold it up here. It’s a beautiful, heavy, crystal award. The award reads like this:

Global Literacy Award

National Federation 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

Justin Hughes

this Global Literacy Award.

In recognition of your significant leadership
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 11, 2019

Justin Hughes: I’m not going to say anything but thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.

Digital Inequality and the Myth of Injustice: Equal Access for the Blind May Not Be Delayed

by Eve Hill

From the Editor: Eve Hill is the co-leader of inclusivity strategic consulting and a partner at Brown Goldstein & Levy. Her presentations are always outstanding, and this one, delivered on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 10, was no exception. Here is what she said:

You may have wondered what the title of my speech meant—I hope you said something like “Eve is going to talk about injustice being a myth? That doesn't sound like her!” Well, I’m not going to talk about injustice toward the blind being a myth. As we all know, injustice toward the blind is very, very real in the digital world.

The NFB has been talking about, advocating for, and helping companies and government agencies to make their websites and other technologies accessible for decades. There are now over 1.7 billion websites in the world. Luckily, 85 percent of them are inactive, so there are only about 200 million active ones. There are 547,200 new websites created every twenty-four hours (that’s 380 per minute).  The vast majority of websites are hosted in the US.

More and more, the internet is replacing physical stores—as you know, many retailers and service providers now have no physical presence at all. And workers now work virtually—even the application and assessment process is entirely online. This should be a good thing for blind people. The digital world is made up entirely of zeros and ones that can be presented to the user in any format—audible, visible, tactile. And online access relieves blind people of the hassle of traveling, which is a major barrier for people who can’t drive and have limited access to public transportation. 

According to WebAIM, among the top one million websites’ homepages, 98 percent had accessibility barriers.  WebAIM found an average of almost sixty accessibility errors per homepage. WebAIM concluded that fewer than one percent of homepages were accessible. 

To the NFB and its members, getting those websites to be accessible is a daunting task.  But as President Riccobono has discussed, we’re not daunted!  The NFB challenges inaccessible websites and other digital technologies in the most impactful areas of life—health care, employment, education, voting, retail, and more. The NFB gives the owners of inaccessible websites the opportunity to fix their websites before we litigate. 

With companies that are willing to work with us, the NFB enters into public settlements that require those websites to be made accessible and that require the owners to adopt policies and practices that make sure those websites stay accessible—as with Boeing Employees Credit Union, Monster.com, Expedia, Miami-Dade School District, Greyhound, and more. We monitor their progress to make sure they meet their commitments. 

And when the businesses refuse to make their websites accessible, we litigate the cases.  As a result, the NFB has made the law clear in cases across the country—from Target to Scribd to Los Angeles Community College to EPIC to Ohio’s Secretary of State to the Container Store to state and federal government agencies.

Now we’re going upstream to try to stop the flow of inaccessible websites into the digital world by challenging website developers like GoDaddy and Wix to make the websites they build accessible.  We learn from the parable of the babies in the river—we have to address the hundreds of thousands of inaccessible websites already in the digital river. But we also need to go upstream and stop the developers from throwing them in.

But to some other people, including some blind people and some lawyers, inaccessible internet growth is not a civil rights issue but a business opportunity. About fifty-seven web accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2015. In 2018 it was 2,285—a 177 percent increase. And that number is on track to increase this year.

You’ve probably heard about the so-called “click-by” lawsuits—where a lawyer runs an automated web accessibility test on a bunch of websites and files a bunch of lawsuits against the businesses that fail the automated tests in the name of a blind person. Some lawyers are filing ten or more complaints per week, sometimes in alphabetical order as if they’re picking from the phone book. These lawyers don’t send the owner of the website a demand letter in advance or seek settlement beforehand. Often they do little or no research about the company or its accessibility efforts, so websites have been sued even though the company has already entered into a public settlement with the NFB, and even if the company is already carrying out a comprehensive plan to make its website accessible.

After these lawyers file the complaint, they demand a confidential settlement for a monetary payment (usually $5,000 to $15,000).  So we never know whether they have required the websites to be fixed or whether they ever follow up to see if the websites are fixed. Often the companies sued are small businesses, and paying $5,000 is cheaper than either making their website accessible or hiring a lawyer to litigate the case. Other times, these are big businesses, and they sometimes fight back. And the lawyers who have filed more cases than they can handle and who haven’t done their research are unprepared to make the case. Unfortunately, this often creates bad law that can be used against the NFB and blind people in other cases. This bad law can limit who can sue over an inaccessible website or can limit the number of cases a blind plaintiff can file. Some companies even defend these cases by saying the ADA does not cover websites at all. 

These cases are being used by business associations (just like they use the “drive-by” cases involving wheelchair access) to argue for ADA Notification Acts that would require us to send certified letters to defendants before we can file and then wait six months to see if they’ll make the fixes. If they do, we can’t go forward, even if the fixes aren’t adequate and even if we were harmed by the discrimination. That act will come up again this year, and the drumbeat message of the business associations is turning Congress against people with disabilities and against our rights.

Because of these cases, businesses are arguing that digital equality for blind people is unjust to businesses. That’s the myth of injustice I’m going to talk about.

These cases are creating frustration among judges, who will seek any excuse to kick the cases out of court, making bad law that the NFB then has to step in to fix and hurting every one of us as we try to navigate the digital world.

And these “click-by” lawsuits are being used to tarnish all of us as if we were not enforcing real civil rights—I’ve been called a “drive-by” lawyer in court. The NFB has been accused of fabricating cases just to file lawsuits. None of that is true. We don’t rely on automated accessibility tests alone. We don’t agree to confidential settlements except in unusual circumstances. We back up our complaints with all our resources. We know the law. We monitor settlements to make sure they are fulfilled. We pay attention to the legal precedents we’re making. 

So, what’s the problem with filing lots of lawsuits challenging inaccessible websites?  Nothing. There are lots of inaccessible websites, and they’re violating the civil rights of blind people! They’re excluding blind people from everything from healthcare to voting to work to school! They have to be challenged. And, while sending a demand prior to litigating is a best practice, I don’t even think a website owner who uses an inaccessible website is entitled to a letter ahead of time telling them it’s inaccessible. It’s their website, they bought it, they designed it, they chose not to make it accessible. We have no obligation to explain it to them. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Getting caught for violating the law is not unjust.

But businesses like Dominos Pizza, Winn-Dixie, the National Restaurant Association, the American Bankers Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the International Council of Shopping Centers, the National Association of Convenience Stores, the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Theater Owners, and the National Retail Federation are arguing that it’s unjust to require them to make their websites accessible so blind people can be their customers. 

They say they need a regulation that says specifically that websites are covered by the ADA. Otherwise they don’t know. Well that’s pretty funny because the Department of Justice has been saying websites of public accommodations and government agencies are covered since 1996. And courts have been saying so too.

Those businesses are also saying they need a regulation that says what the applicable accessibility standard is. Well, that’s funny because during the last federal administration they opposed the DOJ’s efforts to release a regulation. But now they know there’s no possibility of getting such a regulation because of the Executive Order that requires each agency to rescind two regulations for every new one it issues.

So, safe in the knowledge that the federal government isn’t going to issue a regulation, these businesses are arguing that it would violate due process for courts to require their websites to be accessible because they don’t know what it means to be accessible. Dominos is trying to argue that to the Supreme Court. Winn-Dixie made that argument to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

These companies should be ashamed. In the face of clear violations of your civil rights, they have the nerve to argue that we’re violating their rights by demanding to be able to buy their products and services!

So is there any way they don’t understand what accessibility means? WCAG 2.1 Level AA is clearly the major way to achieve accessible websites. The federal government has adopted WCAG as its own accessibility standard under Section 508. Other countries have adopted WCAG as their accessibility standard. There isn’t another standard! 

But, in case there is or in case a company can come up with an innovative way to make its website accessible that isn’t WCAG, or in case WCAG is too much accessibility for the purpose of the particular website, what the ADA specifically and explicitly requires is “equally effective communication.” So as long as everything the website communicates is communicated equally effectively to people with and without disabilities, the business is complying. All they have to know is that they have provided the information in a way that lets PWDs acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students and faculty with substantially equivalent ease of use, including privacy and independence.

But there is a problem with filing more lawsuits than you can actually litigate. I say a two-lawyer firm can’t handle ten lawsuits a week and do a competent job or even pretend to do a competent job litigating them. Disability rights lawyers and plaintiffs have a higher obligation to their community and to the disability rights movement than someone who files a slip-and-fall complaint. We have a moral obligation to each other to help the law develop in a way that respects civil rights—that fixes the problems the law was designed to fix. And we can’t do that if we don’t know the law, if we don’t use the law effectively, and if we don’t make sure the fixes happen.

And we have a moral obligation not to become part of the problem. Confidential settlements too often just hide the problem, hide the inaccessibility of the website that continues to exclude blind people, hide the incompetence of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, and hide the bad faith of the website owner. Confidential settlements avoid accountability on all sides. That’s why the NFB publicizes its cases and settlements on its website.

And that accountability doesn’t belong to the individual plaintiff and her lawyer.  Accountability belongs to all of us—the disability community, the community of people who want to decide what businesses they patronize based on their behavior, the American public who deserve to hold each other to our American standards. Five thousand dollars to the individual plaintiff lets those businesses off the hook without accountability to all of us.

So what’s the solution? Ignore inaccessible websites?  No—380 websites per minute. If those websites actually interfere with blind people’s access to those businesses’ services, we should let their owners know we don’t accept that. It’s not the number of lawsuits; it’s the quality of the lawsuits and the ability of the lawyers to handle them. What we have is not too many cases; what we have is not enough qualified and ethical lawyers to handle them.

Should we let small businesses off the hook for website accessibility?  No—those businesses should have us as customers, and making a website accessible is not hard and not expensive. 

Do we need to give businesses more time? It’s been almost thirty years!

What about disbarring or banning “click-by” lawyers and their clients from court if they file too many lawsuits? While that sometimes seems like a solution, that actually hurts all of us.  How many websites do we use each day? One article I saw said eighty-nine per month (about three per day). If half of them are inaccessible, that’s over five hundred inaccessible websites per blind person per year. So how many lawsuits is too many? And that’s not just an inconvenience–that’s discrimination, and it’s exclusion, and it hurts blind people. It hurts your productivity at work. It hurts your ability to educate your children. It hurts your ability to have your vote counted. It hurts your ability to participate in your community. Fighting your way through all those inaccessible websites wastes your time and your energy, taking time away from living your life. Again, it’s not the number of lawsuits that’s a problem—it’s the quality of the lawsuits and the ability of the lawyers to handle them.

I think accountability is the answer. We need to hold ourselves (and our lawyers and the businesses we buy from) accountable. Tell your lawyers you won’t accept a confidential settlement that just pays your lawyer and doesn’t fix the problem. If you have friends who are plaintiffs in cases that don’t fix the problem or that cover up the problem, tell them you don’t respect that. Don’t be afraid to call out lawyers who file so many cases they can’t possibly handle them all and those who enter into confidential settlements for money.

If you are a lawyer, join us in doing accessibility cases. We need more responsible lawyers to challenge barriers that are real barriers, not just technical ones, and to get them fixed.  But you should know the law and the pitfalls so you don’t make bad law. The NFB’s lawyers have encountered most of the pitfalls in this area, and we’re happy to help. Call us. There’s a whole Disability Rights Bar Association that can help. Call us.

Hold businesses and web designers accountable. If a website isn’t accessible, we should call them out. The NFB does that through public settlements, complaints and press releases, and through resolutions that condemn those businesses’ practices. Do enough people—blind people and sighted people—know about the websites that exclude people with disabilities?  Do we boycott businesses whose websites discriminate by taking our money elsewhere when a business’ website is inaccessible? Do we tell our friends? 

Do we call shame on the businesses that argue in court that it’s unjust to hold them accountable for excluding blind people? The National Restaurant Association has about 150 members—I have the list, which includes Walt Disney World, Yum! Brands, Starbucks, Sodexo, Subway, McDonalds, Marriott, Dunkin, Burger King, and 7-Eleven, just to name a few. Are we still patronizing them?

And all of us should resist—hard—any effort to cut back on our ability to enforce our rights just to prevent the bad apples from abusing our rights. Notification acts aren’t the answer. Businesses were notified thirty years ago when the ADA was passed. They were notified again in 1996 when the Department of Justice said websites of public accommodations were covered. They were notified by the many cases and settlements requiring website accessibility.

So—to quote the amazing Beyoncé—I ain’t sorry! I ain’t sorry for demanding accessible websites, mobile apps, self-checkout machines, kiosks, educational technology, employment software, and every other type of technology people use to live the lives they want! I ain’t sorry for filing lawsuits when companies refuse to comply!  I ain’t sorry for shaming businesses who discriminate against blind people!  I ain’t sorry for calling out lawyers who don’t do their job for all blind people. And, most of all, I ain’t sorry for representing the National Federation of the Blind and its members to demand the right to live the lives you want in every aspect of the digital world. 

A Platform for Information and Innovation: Insights into the Aira Ecosystem in Partnership with the Blind

by Suman Kanuganti

From the Editor: Aira is a partner of the National Federation of the Blind. It harnesses the power of technology to meet the needs of blind people, and those needs are defined by blind people. Suman Kanuganti is the president of Aira and is well-known to Federationists. Here is what he said to the convention on the morning of July 11:

Good morning, NFB! I’m Suman Kanuganti, founder and president of Aira, and it’s my pleasure to celebrate my fifth National Convention with all of you. It's no hype to acknowledge the sheer number of friends that I have made at this annual convention. And it’s also no hype to recognize the knowledge that I have gained from each of you—knowledge that shapes the heart and soul of what Aira is today.

NFB has been a partner, investor, and advisor to Aira since the beginning. Aira’s operating philosophy is in alignment with the National Federation of the Blind views on blindness. The shared understanding of the capacity of blind people is reflected in Aira’s fundamental operating model. Aira is designed to be an information tool that enables explorers to make their own decisions on their own terms. Simply put, Let Freedom Ring, #OnMyTerms.

Any of you can access the full partnership statement established between our two organizations at Aira.io/NFB

So, before I dig deeper, I want to thank President Riccobono; the national leaders of the Federation; the members of the NFB Advisory Group, led by Gary Wunder; and all of you for helping to create an enduring relationship grounded in mutual trust and respect that acknowledges the value of the consumer voice.

In partnership with all of you every year, we hope to do our part to make the convention fun, a place to learn, and a place to live! So Aira comes to you this year as The Elite Sponsor of the 2019 NFB Convention here in Las Vegas. Our teams always strive to generate lots of convention fun. For example, last year we held a concert with Apl De Ap of the Black Eyed Peas. This year, two days ago, we hosted an experience show with multiple partners: Zappos, Lyft, Vispero and Bose. Those who made it to the show on Tuesday–what do you think? [applause and cheers]

We have a number of Aira staff present for the entire week, and they are ready to engage with each of you this year. Mike Randall, why don’t you please stand. I want to briefly introduce Mike Randall, Aira’s new CEO; Randall will be managing the continued growth of Aira, while I work together with him to enhance Aira’s vision further.

Over the years we have made it crystal clear that Aira is not a safety device; it is not a replacement for the white cane or dog or blindness skills. Aira has evolved. Our agents have evolved. Our systems have evolved. Our policies have evolved. Yes, this evolution aligns with the fundamental principles that inform the Federation’s home-grown philosophy of self-determination.

Here is one example: There is a change that’s coming this fall on how explorers may interact with Aira agents when crossing the street. That’s right—you will witness how Aira’s policies on street-crossing are evolving, at the request and in favor of explorers. This new policy, though, will be flexible and available as an option.

Technology is a beautiful thing. Aira provides “visual interpretation” services, delivered by our well-trained agents, who enrich your experiences. Technology is moving faster than humans can adopt it. Historically, if you consider advancements in technological automation, these always begin with human efforts. Humans were moving items on an assembly line before robots could do that job. Humans interpreted maps before the navigation routes were automated. Humans labeled images before a computer could recognize a coffee mug or an apple. And, by way of recent example, humans drove cars before autonomous vehicles were made practical.

It’s humans that ultimately drive the innovation and algorithms for computers. We must be in the forefront of technology—not an afterthought. We can easily create an app to recognize objects based on those items already labeled, but without the human component of the human/AI equation, the opportunity to gain insights from the blind user community is lost. Often, we as humans understand technology in its simplest terms—Aira is, for example, a remote pair of professional eyes. However, there are at least 3 major technology components of Aira’s ecosystem.

The agent dashboard, often forgotten and the most powerful piece of software that allows our agents to teleport themselves into the world of our explorers. This dashboard includes everything from the camera, GPS, maps, satellite views, rideshare, etc. All of this offers an agent the ability to immerse him or herself into the explorer’s environment.

A second part of the Aira ecosystem is our Horizon Glasses, which give the Aira agent a 120-degree view of the explorer’s world and a hands-free experience for peak efficiency.

Finally, Chloe, our continuously learning AI agent that you should soon anticipate will undertake increasing levels of autonomous service.

In terms of a business model, Aira relies on free access zones that are sponsored by public and private partners. Over the last twelve months, Aira has grown to providing over 25,000 Aira access locations including brands such as Walgreens, Wegmans, AT&T, and Target. Then there is digital access such as Intuit and Vispero. We strive to bridge equal access for the blind community across the entire planet.

Our employment and educational programs are a crucial part of our access partner strategy. At last year’s convention, I announced the availability of Aira’s employment program. More than four hundred explorers took advantage of free Aira to perform tasks relating to their career enhancement. In analyzing observations from this program, I want to offer some insights from which the industry can benefit:

The top three use cases in the employment program, included 31 percent accessing printed and other visual information; 25 percent accessing and manipulating digital information; and 13 percent used Aira for navigation purposes.

A second insight gleaned from our study was that 80 percent of the tasks would have been accomplished only by relying on friends and family.

Major outcomes that I am excited to share include that 196 explorers (or 52 percent) of those surveyed for our study started new jobs or enhanced their careers. Even more encouraging, seventy-seven respondents were previously unemployed, beginning in jobs as diverse as salesforce administrator, school counselor, and licensed massage therapist, to name a few.

Based on these insights, here’s my first exciting announcement for this year’s convention. Previously the job-seeker program was limited to subscribing explorers. I hereby announce that we are now making this program available free to everybody.

All you need to do is download the Aira app, sign up as a free guest user, and begin using Aira to find work that you want starting now.

And now for a quick update on our Education Back-to-School Program made possible by our partners at AT&T. To date, over three hundred students across more than one hundred campuses have participated in this program. Of those enrolled, over 92 percent of these students have successfully graduated from college. In this context, over 30 percent of our student usage is related to supporting them to integrate and participate in social and recreational activity, a figure that resonates with me.

And this leads me to my second major announcement for this year. If you are a National NFB Scholarship finalist, make some noise. [the thirty finalists sound off] This year all thirty of you accomplished scholars will be given the opportunity to automatically be enrolled in our Back-To-School program, which gives you free access to Aira services for the next academic year.

Founders, business owners, and entrepreneurs in the room, make some noise. [cheers] As a result of the Self-Employment Program, sponsored by our partners at Intuit, 332 new small businesses were registered, and over fifty new businesses were created. I’d like to thank Ted Drake, Intuit’s chief accessibility officer, for his support. As an entrepreneur myself, this news truly gets me excited, and Aira will continue to promote new economic engines through this program.

Our newest partnership that I am excited about is Bose. How many of you tried Aira with Bose Frames? Bose is a leader in designing form factors for the best audio AR. Aira drives innovation in designing audio AR experiences. It’s a perfect partnership and many of you asked what does that entail? I am happy to announce that Bose has become an investor in Aira, and they are helping us bringing their world-class audio to next-generation Aira form factors. Visit our booth, meet our Bose partners, and experience Aira with Bose Frames.

I want to share a few more facts and figures with you, which reflect the vibrancy of Aira. These facts and figures reflect your interest and activities. So here’s some confidential information—which won’t be confidential anymore. In the last year the total time spent between explorers and Aira agents has tripled, hitting 3.5 million minutes, or 58,000 hours across half a million tasks averaging more than 1,000 calls per day. Aira answered 99.6 percent of all in-coming calls.

Beyond these global numbers, Aira supported, for example, formatting and layout of over 1,000 presentations. Aira also handled 2,000 PDF-related tasks such as digital signatures and exporting them. As part of our partnership with Vispero, over 4,000 JAWS-related inquiries were addressed.

Our agents either requested or tracked in excess of 15,000 rideshare rides. You may be surprised to know that our agents have described more than 1,400 titles during this last year, including Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. We’ve used our Aira Live feature to create community in this context—hosting virtual description parties among explorers who share common interests. 

Transportation is key, as it encourages mobility, and it leads to increased economic opportunities. We have grown to provide Aira access at more than forty domestic and international airports in the last year. Explorers touched more than 100 different airports at least once in the last twelve months.

We also entered into an exciting partnership with Boston’s MBTA. They introduced our pilot where Aira is enabling access at all 138 commuter rail stations, 145 subway stations, and all eight thousand bus stops in the greater Boston area.

We have diligently worked to bring Aira to as many as we can through free Aira access both physical and digital, and through low-priced introductory offerings; but this is simply not enough. Our business model has evolved and shaping in many ways at scale. Our mission has always been to bring Aira to explorers for low-cost or no-cost. This leads me to my biggest announcement in the history of Aira. I been waiting for this moment for a long time.

So, starting this fall, we will, for the first time, irrespective of the plan that an explorer is on, be offering to all a free tier of service that will allow “some” daily use of Aira for any task. We will be rolling this out in phases. The first phase will be for all active explorers and guests, whether you are on a paid plan or using Aira access for free in countries where Aira currently operates.   The details on limits of daily use will be disclosed during the rollout, but I can tell you that to be included in the earliest stages of the daily free use of Aira service, I encourage each of you to establish an account with Aira and start putting it to use today. What better place than to do it at this convention which is a free Aira access zone. Free daily service does not mean reduced quality; it means more access to more explorers and more guests. Visit our booth, and our staff will get you set up with an account, you will be up and running in seconds, and you will be part of this significant service expansion.

I hope that everyone here sees the energy and effort that goes into building the Aira platform. I hope you see how we bring your preferences and practices where Aira goes. I hope that you also see our commitment to breaking down barriers of information access in every facet of life. I hope you also see the results from the few insights I’ve shared today. You are all a part of the Aira revolution. It’s a revolution for equal access to information.

In closing, all the explorers and guests in the room (everybody who has had an experience with an Aira agent), I want all of you to please stand.  Ladies and gentlemen, you are all part of Aira shaping the future of information access, and we will not stop until the idea of inaccessibility becomes a thing of the past. Together, let Aira enable freedom to ring. Thank you all.

The American Action Fund Celebrates a Century of Service for the Blind

by Barbara Loos

"Time", according to Henry David Thoreau, "is but the stream I go a-fishing in."

When contemplating the century mark of the Action Fund, originally the American Brotherhood for the Blind, and its partnership with the National Federation of the Blind since its founding in 1940, it occurred to me that my tenure on the board is the same, to the month, as the entire life span of our current Federation president, Mark Riccobono. So if you know how old he is, you know how long I've served in this capacity. I was elected president in 1990, the year the Federation turned fifty.

The man I will soon introduce has been fishing in the stream for just a few months less than I have overall, but he has frequented more public areas. While serving as executive director of the Action Fund, he always encouraged us to be on the lookout for ways to expand the reach of our positive approach to blindness. I will share one moment when my line was in the water at just the right spot for a fun catch.

In 2015 I brought a book to one of our meetings and expressed interest in our partnering with a young man from my church, Travis Bossard, and his friend from Seattle, Mick Szydlowski, whose blind cat, Oskar, had become a social media sensation. In November of 2013 Travis had approached me seeking input on a children's book he and Mick were writing in response to the myriad questions Oskar's antics had raised about being blind. They wanted to portray blindness authentically, both to encourage people to adopt blind and disabled pets and to empower blind children.

Many of you are familiar with the resulting 2016 Bolotin Award winning books featuring thrill-seeking Oskar and his homebody pal Klaus: The Search for Bigfoot and Mission to Cataria, both of which became part of the Action Fund's free Braille books program in 2017. The latter received the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children's Twig Book Award that same year. It also traveled into space as the twelfth-ever Story Time from Space book. In April of 2018, astronaut Ricky Arnold read it from the International Space Station's cupola room while orbiting the earth.

Some of you may have Oskar into Orbit and other shirts featuring Braille and tactile designs. Maybe you have made LEGO Oskars or, as one of our Nebraska BELL students did, pretended to be him.

Sadly, Oskar died suddenly on February 5, 2018. Mick and his wife Bethany now have another blind cat, Juno, who we hope will be making her voice heard soon.

This week we are releasing a new Twin Vision book, Pedro and the Octopus, written by Deborah Kent and illustrated by Ann Cunningham. Reminiscent of our Shape of Things series from the 1980s, this one features not only shapes, but also texture and perspective.

On July 8, as part of our promotion, twelve-year-old Nick Oliver from Houston, NFB social media coordinator Karen Anderson, and I had the awesome privilege of touching and being embraced by an unnamed live octopus at the Shark Reef Aquarium. When I relive that wonderous moment, I call her PedroLena, in honor of the siblings in our book.

From Braille books and calendars to refreshable Braille and tactile graphics devices, from free canes and slates to GPS and print access, from driverless vehicles to 3D interactive photos, from cutting wood to grilling steaks, from offering scholarships to shaping laws, our next presenter has been helping us reel in attitude-changing, expectation-raising fare for decades. It is my honor and privilege to introduce to you now, for his perspective on this hundred-year anniversary, my colleague and friend, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults general counsel, Dr. Marc Maurer.

American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults: A Century of Innovation, a Century for the Blind

by Marc Maurer

From the Editor: Marc Maurer needs no introduction since many people know he is the immediate past president of the Federation. What some may not know is that he has long worked for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults to see that its programs continue to expand and thrive. Here are the comments he made following those of President Barbara Loos:

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults is one hundred years old—having initiated operations in 1919. Its official name at the time of formation was the American Brotherhood for the Blind, and its official name today is the American Brotherhood for the Blind, but it has adopted a trade name, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. At the time the organization came into being, the idea of brotherhood was an important concept in social organizations. Many of the labor unions that had been formed were known as brotherhoods, and the term was widely used for social action organizations. Of course, our president today is Barbara Loos, who may be more inclined to favor sisterhoods, but I have not heard her express an opinion. In 1990 the Action Fund decided that a more dynamic name would identify the purpose of the organization more precisely than the name Brotherhood. Consequently, the Brotherhood adopted its trade name.

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults conducts numerous programs to support the blind, but this is not new. At the time the Brotherhood began, its paramount program brought literacy to the blind. It produced Braille. This was before Braille had been adopted as the proper form of writing for the blind in the United States. The Action Fund loves Braille—Braille now, Braille one hundred years ago, Braille all the time.

The person responsible for founding the Action Fund is Florian A. Baker, born in Maine in 1866, who was a theosophist. Theosophists want:

First—To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color. Second—To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science. Third—To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
[taken from The American Theosophist, January 1914]

Florian A. Baker, who, among other things, painted portraits of movie stars in California in the second decade of the twentieth century, learned Braille in 1917. Members of the Theosophical Society asked him to manage a small library of Braille theosophical books, and Baker decided to learn Braille so that he could comprehend the material he was managing. Two years later he formed the Brotherhood.

The American Brotherhood published a quarterly periodical entitled Brotherhood Progress Magazine. Very little information about this magazine is contained in the records of the Brotherhood, but it appears that the magazine continued in circulation at least until 1938.

In 1932 the American Brotherhood created one of the most popular magazines for the blind distributed during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. This periodical, entitled the All Story Magazine, reprinted articles that appeared in nationally recognized publications such as Good Housekeeping, Collier’s, and McCall’s.

In 1945 the National Federation of the Blind persuaded the Brotherhood to include a legislative supplement in the All Story Magazine. The legislative supplement was edited by Newel Perry, who had been the most influential teacher of the founder of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. The legislative supplement continued to grow, and by 1957 the name of the magazine was changed to the Braille Monitor, which carried on its front cover the declaration “Voice of the National Federation of the Blind.” The focus of the newly-named magazine became blindness and the rights of the blind. The Brotherhood continued to support publication of the Braille Monitor through 1959. In 1960 the Monitor was not only the voice of the National Federation of the Blind but its property as well. The Braille Monitor has been the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind for well over half a century.

When the Federation ran out of money at the end of 1960, the Monitor was suspended. In the spring of 1961 the American Brotherhood for the Blind began the publication of The Blind American, which printed news about activities of the blind. In the summer of 1964 the Braille Monitor resumed publication and The Blind American stopped.

In 1965 the Brotherhood created a biweekly Braille publication entitled Hot-Line to Deaf-Blind. This magazine gathered news stories to be put into Braille for deaf-blind readers. Blind people could hear the news on the radio or television; sighted people could read it in the paper; but the deaf-blind could not get it at all until Hot-Line to Deaf-Blind brought it to them. The publication ceased in 2013. By that year deaf-blind people could get a number of Braille publications featuring the news of the day.

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults publishes the magazine for teachers and parents of blind children, Future Reflections, in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. Future Reflections promotes educational opportunities for the blind and provides methods for achieving them for parents and educators of blind children. Unlike other magazines produced by the Action Fund, Future Reflections is not published in Braille.

Shortly after the organization came together, the Brotherhood commenced printing Braille copies of books for distribution to state libraries for the blind and to the Library of Congress. Many of the early books were theosophical writings, but others were also produced. One book from the 1930s is a play by John Galsworthy with a copyright date of 1926 entitled Old English. A copy of this book resides on the shelves of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Another book is the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, one of the most famous autobiographies ever written. This autobiography is ascribed to the years 1558 to 1563. It details experiences of Benvenuto Cellini in the Renaissance era in Italy.

In 1960 Jean Dyon Norris, a leader in the Brotherhood, started work on small Twin Vision® volumes that contained print with pictures along with the same text in Braille. The method used to create such books is to remove the binding, interleave Braille between the pages with print, and rebind the whole. The first of these was produced upon the table in Mrs. Norris’s kitchen. Golden Books for children contained all of the print and all of the pictures that had been in them at the beginning, but they also had Braille. Blind children and sighted parents or sighted children and blind parents could read together.

The Action Fund decided that tactile reading with Braille enhanced the little books, but the organization wanted tactile pictures as well. Later efforts occurred to create raised illustrations of the pictures in the books. Then, the Brotherhood began to publish books of its own. Nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars are fairly easy to get, but what did the coins of the colonial era look like? What is meant by pieces of eight? What is a pine tree shilling? The American Brotherhood for the Blind created books on the theme the Shapes of Things and included within them raised illustrations of those shapes. Birds of the United States, dinosaurs, and colonial era coins were publications in the Shapes of Things from the Brotherhood.

At about the same time, the Brotherhood published Braille versions of great American documents including the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. When I walked into law school in 1974, I had my Braille copy of the United States Constitution in hand from the Brotherhood. I could find the Constitution in Braille only from the American Brotherhood for the Blind. Enclosed within the copy of the Constitution is a raised illustration of the Liberty Bell showing both the inscription on the bell and the crack. The Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge presented the George Washington Honor Medal to the American Brotherhood for its work in bringing the great documents of American history to the blind. A confession: I still have that copy of the Constitution. Don’t tell anybody at the Action Fund because I am not sending it back.

A Christmas book produced by the Brotherhood contained raised images of Christmas decorations. Actual candy canes were attached to the pages of the book. When I first observed this book, I wondered how many of the candy canes were returned to the library with no toothmarks.

Braille is important but not the only thing. The Action Fund supports travel by the blind as well. The Brotherhood published an original book entitled the White Cane Story in 1969. Some people view the white cane as evidence of failure, but a proper understanding of this tool is that it offers independence. The White Cane Story illustrates the truth of independence for the blind through travel. About a decade ago the Action Fund started giving away this tool for free—tens of thousands of them. The program continues to operate as a cooperative effort between the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and the National Federation of the Blind. The canes are small ones for toddlers, medium-sized ones for most other people, and enormous ones for those who possess the longest legs.

Although the Brotherhood began by creating books to be given to libraries for the blind, when it began producing Twin Vision books, it built a library of its own. For almost sixty years the books would come to the blind of the United States. Often the children and their moms and dads would read the stories together viewing the words on the page or touching them.

Borrowing a book is a good thing, but having a book of your own to keep and to read over and over is even better. How many times have parents read about Peter Rabbit? The children know Peter Rabbit, and they can’t stand Mr. McGregor. In 1997 the Action Fund began to print Braille books for blind children to keep: the Hardy Boys mysteries, the Nancy Drew stories, Little House books, National Geographic Kids, and many others. I, who believe that small miracles come in most lives, have always wanted to have a Christmas book to give away each year to blind children, and often we have made it. Sometimes we have Brailled an entire extensive series of books, such as The 39 Clues. Today we are printing in Braille the Here’s Hank books created by Henry Winkler, also known as “the Fonz.” Forty-three hundred books go out to the blind children of America each month.

In 2018 the books collected in the library of the Action Fund were moved from California to Baltimore. Distributing them through a lending library has been effective in the past. Today we are using the internet to let readers get their fingers on them. ShareBraille is the distribution system. Our volunteers place books on the ShareBraille website. Those who want them can request that the books be sent to them. Whenever the readers have finished with them, they may once again place the books on the ShareBraille site. Other readers can request them from those who are currently in possession. In the first few months of the program, more than a thousand books have been placed on https://sharebraille.org/.

For blind people Braille calendars have often been very hard to get. Beginning in 1964 the Brotherhood printed these calendars and distributed them to the blind of the United States. At the height of the program more than thirty thousand calendars were given to the blind free of charge annually. Even today some twelve thousand calendars are sent to the blind each year.

Promoting the use of Braille is as important as creating it. The Action Fund has recently become a sponsor of the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. This is a regional effort being promoted by the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. Most blind people who achieve positions of employment in the workforce possess the ability to read Braille. Braille readers are indeed leaders. Braille does not ensure leadership, but many people who read it rise to positions of leadership. Consequently, the Action Fund will promote this skill. The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest offers recognition to blind children who read significant amounts of Braille within a specified period of time. What is true for Braille is also true for print. At the beginning of using the skill of reading, most effort goes toward learning how to read. However, soon reading becomes a method of learning. Reading can be a chore, but it can also become a joy. The Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest shows blind children the wonder of unexplored arenas of science, poetry, and adventure.

The Action Fund supports educational opportunities as well. Any blind person in the United States who wants one can have a slate and stylus for writing Braille at no charge. The organization gives scholarships to blind people to offer educational opportunity. Probably the best known of these is the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship funded by the Action Fund and presented each year at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Sometimes we promote blind scholars who wish to enter fields that are uncommon for the blind. A brilliant student seeking to enter the study of bioethics received a scholarship from the Action Fund, became a professor of bioethics, and challenged those in the bioethics field to welcome all who have the drive and talent to enter this demanding profession.

The Action Fund also promotes research into areas of knowledge not yet fully developed. The organization is pursuing a program to make a practical guide for creating an automated translation program for Braille mathematics. When this project is successful, we will expand it to other scientific disciplines.

In recent years the Action Fund has undertaken programs to help blind children know that they too can participate in art. Sighted children get crayons and coloring books at an early age. Blind children should also have such products. The Action Fund distributed art boxes to blind children containing the supplies for tactile drawing that could be used at home. Posted on the website of the Action Fund are videos describing how these products can be used. Following the initial distribution of art boxes, the Action Fund presented interested blind children with more complex tactile drawing kits. Art is as much available to blind people as it is to the sighted although the methods for achieving it may not be the same. This is the message the Action Fund conveyed to the blind children participating in the project.

The Action Fund is also seeking mechanisms to produce raised images that are tactilely informative and visually interesting. Raised images in the past have been informative to the touch. Print images have been informative to the eye. But the new method for producing these tactile visual images makes them interesting to both. A book, commissioned by the Action Fund, is being released at this convention. This book, Pedro and the Octopus, has a number of images of a creature that is difficult for a blind person to handle. We will be seeking methods for automating the production of raised images that also present visual understanding.

Created as a theosophical organization to help the blind, the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) has become one of the strongest supporters of educational efforts for the blind in the United States. A quiet group, the Action Fund has steadfast leadership. It has had nine presidents in its hundred-year history. Some of these presidents will be well known to the blind. These presidents took office in the following years: Florian A. Baker (1919), Maitland L. Bishop (1939), Newel Perry (1939), Jacobus tenBroek (1945), Kenneth Jernigan (1968), Marc Maurer (1978), Ralph Sanders (1978), Joanne Becker (1981), and Barbara Loos (1990). Our current president, Barbara Loos, has served for twenty-nine years, the longest time that any person has been president of the Action Fund. She is a quiet person and introspective. However, she is also unflappable, toughminded, demanding, and gentle.

For nineteen years Dr. Kenneth Jernigan served as executive director of the Action Fund. I served in that office for twenty-one years. At the beginning of 2019 Mark Riccobono accepted that responsibility.

What will the future of the Action Fund be in the next hundred years? I suspect that it will remain the same quiet, steadfast, supportive organization it has always been. I suspect that it will continue to seek research projects to expand knowledge and educational learning for the blind. I suspect it will continue to seek partners to give greater opportunity to individual blind people throughout the nation—especially to blind children and to individuals who are deaf-blind. I suspect that it will remain the stalwart friend to the blind that has given it the position it now occupies. Its role is to support blind children and blind adults with greater opportunity than might have been available without it. I know that it will offer a full measure to the blind of hope and of faith.

Leave a Legacy

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 2018 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 Donation

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.

Pre-Authorized Contribution

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.

Braille Carnival: A Swimming Success

by Julie Deden

From the Editor: Julie Deden is the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, but she also serves as the vice president of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Taking assignments, as all board members do, Julie volunteered to chair the Century Celebration Carnival. Here is her report:

Schools of Braille enthusiasts swirled through the room for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Century Celebration Carnival on Tuesday, July 9. Hundreds of kids and adults were there to celebrate one hundred years of innovation in the areas of Braille and tactile literacy by the Action Fund.

At the center of it all was the Action Fund’s latest innovative product, Pedro and the Octopus, a beautifully written and illustrated tactile print and Braille book. Author Debra Kent (known to us as Debbie Stein) and tactile illustrator Ann Cunningham were on hand to pass out the books and sign them. The first one hundred families received a free copy.

Participants played Braille relay games, tried their hand at drawing, and sniffed out all kinds of scents. They enjoyed popcorn and lemonade and were given the brand new 2020 calendar by Dr. and Mrs. Maurer.   

Not surprisingly, the theme of the carnival was sea creatures. Austin Riccobono (the son of our President and First Lady) was there talking about all kinds of sea creatures. He showed off tactile replicas of many.

When the American Action Fund began its work as the American Brotherhood for the Blind in 1919, Braille itself had been around for less than one hundred years. At that time all Braille was produced by hand, so its availability was limited. The Action Fund began with the simple goal of making Braille materials available to blind adults and children. So our celebration was not just about the past one hundred years, but about the ocean of possible innovation that the next one hundred years will mean for the blind, and the American Action Fund will be sailing with a brisk tailwind.

We want to thank the National Association of Blind Students for all their work. Thank you also to the entire board of the Action Fund. All of us are ready for another century of service.

Be My Eyes Partnership Announcement

by Will Butler

From the Editor: President Riccobono introduced this special announcement with these words: “Every year now for a number of years we’ve had our Bolotin Award program. One of the things we do in the Bolotin Awards is acknowledge individuals and organizations that are undertaking innovative projects to help blind people live the lives they want. And, since we are the premier organization of blind people, we seek opportunities to partner with our Bolotin Award winners. I’d like to introduce for a few remarks one of our recent Bolotin Awardees who has come to talk about some recent developments and future developments with the National Federation of the Blind. Representing Be My Eyes, here is the vice president of Be My Eyes, Will Butler.”

Thank you, President Riccobono. When the blind Danish craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg came up with the idea for Be My Eyes back in 2013, it was based on a pretty simple concept: what if we could get blind people the support they needed, when they needed it, and that’s it. What if independence actually meant decentralizing when and how you ask for help so that you never had to tap the same person twice and not tax the sighted relationships in your life? [applause]

When we launched almost five years ago, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to build the community support platform that we were imagining. But in the first twenty-four hours we had 10,000 signups, and with the ongoing support of organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind and with the Bolotin Award that we received last year, we’ve been able to build that community into one of the largest global communities of blind and visually-impaired people across the world in 150 different countries, speaking about 185 different languages, 138,000 blind and visually impaired people. And as of this week we have about 2.5 million volunteers signed up for the platform. [applause]

But that was just the first step for us. In 2018 we introduced experts to the platform. We invited brands from tech support to personal care to banking; world leaders like Microsoft, Google, and Proctor & Gamble, who now provide support to our community through their experts every day. And just like Be My Eyes (the volunteering side), the expert support is free. Google recently launched its accessibility support video service globally across our platform so that now it’s available to everyone in the world.

Yesterday we announced a new partner called Clearblue. For those that don’t know, Clearblue is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of the home pregnancy test, a product that historically has been woefully inaccessible. If you ask a friend who is a blind woman who has a pregnancy story, she will also tell you a second story about who read her results. Starting this week, we are closing that gap with Clearblue, who will now be providing private, anonymous, and free interpretations of readings of home pregnancy and fertility test results for women anywhere in the world. [applause]

I share this today to communicate the brand of independence we are after at Be My Eyes. It’s a brand that brings awareness to accessibility issues that gives our users the peace of mind and confidence to live a life untethered and doesn’t put up any additional barriers to accessing information simply because you can’t see. To be clear, we don’t believe that information that is accessible to some 95 or 99 percent of the population is something you should have to pay for access to. [applause, cheers]

But there’s another kind of expertise that can’t be delivered through the eyes. Mentorship, sage wisdom, lived experience, in my opinion is the best way to live a life with confidence and zeal, and that’s why I’m pleased that we’ve worked with the NFB leadership to set up a partnership that will allow the NFB to join our specialized help platform, not as users but as providers of expert support. [applause] So with an emphasis on families, parenting, and daily life, NFB experts will be able to answer calls from our users starting this fall and give our users not help through the eyes, but a perspective that could be even more valuable. I personally am thrilled and excited to see how this helps our community grow and flourish, and I just want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for all of its support over the years, and here’s to the future for Be My Eyes. Thank you. [applause]

Perspectives on Raising the Bar in the Blindness Field: Why A New Accreditation System?

by Emily Coleman

From the Editor: Not all conflict can be resolved by communication, but if it is to be, communication is at least the first step. The Federation is reaching out to AER as evidenced by its multiple invitations for the Association to appear on our convention agendas. I think that the speech that appears below represents a commendable effort on the part of AER’s president to try building a bridge. See what you think:

Thank you President Riccobono, and thank you all for allowing me some time at the National Federation of the Blind 2019 National Convention. I’m grateful to be on this stage as I’ve watched a packed agenda with impressive speakers. Before I move to the topic of my presentation, I wanted to mention how I personally became acquainted with the Federation to help you understand my own philosophies. In 2005 my son Eddie was born blind in Montana, and I met a remarkable family trying to get a parent support group off the ground. By the time Eddie was six months old I had been recruited as an officer in our new organization tied to the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children—[applause] yeah, it’s worth clapping. We were called HOPE in Montana. HOPE was an acronym and in true NFB style meant Helping Other Parents Excel. [applause] So my introduction to NFB as a parent was that yes, you wanted to support families, but also you wanted to help me excel to provide the highest expectations for my son.

As he entered school some educational programs were better than others, some teachers were better than others. Because he had multiple disabilities, at times I had to fight for better instruction so others could see him through the same lens as myself. Although his schools had accrediting bodies and certified teachers, they sometimes didn’t understand how to push my child. So I’m going to ask you all a few questions. Let me know if at any point in your life you were met with low expectations because you are blind. [loud cheering] Let me know if those people setting a low bar were certified professionals of some kind. [cheering] Now let me know if they worked for an organization that was supposed to train or educate blind individuals. [cheers] Let me know if you felt frustrated or helpless. [cheers]

So personally, for my son, I could answer yes to all of those questions. As a parent I felt helpless in many meetings because my voice was unheard. At that point in my life I knew I had to return to school and become a teacher of blind students. I couldn’t rely on always having good teachers and good programs and had to be prepared to be all those things for Eddie. While enrolled at Portland State University I learned about the NFB’s Teacher of Tomorrow Program. [applause] Not having worked with NFB from the professional angle, I wanted in. We don’t have enough time today to talk about all I learned in that year of travel, or the trouble we may have gotten into, or time to discuss the quality relationships I built with other teachers and also with Federationists. From Maryland to DC to Louisiana to Dallas, every step only fortified my belief that the NFB has great value to us, our children, and our work. [applause] So thank you for the multiple opportunities you provided to me and educators like myself.

Of course there is one phrase I learned from NFB that stuck in my mind and continues to be echoed in my thoughts throughout my work, and that is: nothing about us without us. Or as we just heard, nothing without us. I hope that as a teacher of blind students, as a past administrator at the Washington State School for the Blind, as the soon-to-be-Superintendent of the Texas School for the Blind, and as I’m here today as the president of the AER that I will always be seen as a professional inclusive of consumers. Somebody who invites you to the table and values your contributions to our work and the personal expertise that you bring to every conversation. [applause]

Now to return to my presentation, titled, “Perspectives on Raising the Bar in the Blindness Field: Why A New Accreditation System?” As Mark shared, I became president-elect of AER in July of 2018, and then due to Janie Blome’s move to executive director I became president early in January of this year. Therefore the decision to take on an AER accreditation program was made prior to me being seated on the board. However, I have great respect for AER leadership, membership, and the organization as a whole, so I do trust their decision. Our mission is to serve and empower professionals to deliver standards-based practices that lead to improved educational and rehabilitative outcomes for individuals with visual impairment and blindness. This is powerful to me. It speaks to me, and I can see why accreditation would land in our wheelhouse. As the AER president I am here to speak on our behalf, and I hope I can share something valuable with you today.

In some ways the title of my presentation answers the question within. We ask: why a new accreditation system? And my answer would be to raise the bar in the blindness field. As I shared about my own journey, we know in some instances poor services are being delivered. We know blind adults and students aren’t getting what they need. We know accountability systems for schools and agencies are often geared toward individuals who aren’t blind. Because of this their standards often do not reflect the needs of blind people. There are beliefs that organizations are mandated to have some accrediting or certifying body, but that is not the case. After asking around I’ve learned that, for example, some schools for the blind seek out accreditation not because they were required to do so but because they see value in outside oversight. However we know that oversight doesn’t work unless it is continuous and not just one check-in every five years or so. AER intends to provide continual progress monitoring of those they accredit and will not give a stamp of approval unless standards are met. Our council has already proved that to be true, AER accreditation is not easy. We also know that accreditation does not work without knowledgeable individuals on the team who know what to look for to ensure quality outcomes for consumers. AER’s accreditation work cannot consist of just anybody; it has to involve the right people and the right organization. This includes you. [applause]

As I shared, I wasn’t on the AER board when President Riccobono and Dr. Bell wrote their articles in the January 2018 edition of the Braille Monitor. I was on the board when Everette Bacon wrote his article in October 2018 and attended the NFB Texas convention shortly after, because we want to collaborate with NFB. I specifically look forward to collaborating with NFB Texas, which is a robust, successful chapter, as we heard earlier today.

Before traveling to Fort Worth I discussed my intent to attend, and our executive director at the time Lou Tutt and President Janie Blome were in full support. Learning about AER and my role as president alongside Janie has been a positive experience for me. It is my understanding that she meets regularly with President Riccobono, and although AER and NFB have not always seen eye-to-eye, our conversational efforts are important and will lead to better outcomes for blind adults and children. Through their discussions, it is also my understanding that blind individuals will be a required part of our accreditation council and your voice will be heard.

Janie was disappointed she couldn’t be here today, but she had, as Mark said, a family obligation which we all know is important too. After speaking with President Riccobono on the phone and reading his article in the Braille Monitor I have a better understanding of your history with NAC, so I understand your alarm when AER initially agreed to take on its accreditation program. Lou Tutt is a great mentor of mine, and his guidance lead me to AER leadership. He wanted you to understand that AER wasn’t just taking over NAC, that there would be new standards and greater oversight, but we may not have fully understood the personal component for all of you. I didn’t understand until recently. I’m fairly new to our field, so I did a little research, and based on what I’ve read within the Braille Monitor the NFB had real, valid concerns about NAC’s standards and its treatment of consumers. [applause]

AER has heard your concerns in regard to NAC and in regard to accreditation in general. We will continue to listen to NFB. As we’ve learned in our current political climate and the divisiveness in our country, we can’t ignore the past. We all come to the table with history, some good and some bad. And when we ignore the history we cannot help but repeat our mistakes and bring with us not only our knowledge to the table but also our unaddressed bias. AER plans to move forward acknowledging NFB’s concerns, including the lack of blind adult and blind professional participation in the past. [applause] As Dr. Jernigan said in 1971, NFB is not against the concept of accreditation, but NFB is against the lack of consumer participation. In President Riccobono’s call to action in 2018 he said to, “let AER know that the blind are not opposed to accreditation itself, but we are opposed to repeating all of the sad songs of the past.” We don’t want to repeat that playlist, either.

I want NFB to know, and President Riccobono to know, that AER hears you. Yes, we took over NAC, and yes, that means we have assumed its history, which was made very clear by the reaction of NFB which I completely respect. Therefore we need to make sure that we don’t ignore your concerns from the past and that we try to address them for the future to improve outcomes. Dr. Bell’s article in the January 2018 Braille Monitor explained the difference between certification, accreditation, training, and licensure. I, personally, was grateful for his work because the concepts are so intertwined that it’s hard to sort them out. He said that at their core, all of these concepts have largely to do with ensuring the individuals receive quality training and education and are protected from negligence and incompetence.

So if we ask why a new accreditation system, I would say why not? Can there be too many entities ensuring blind individuals are properly educated, trained, and kept free from negligence? Can there be too many effective organizations looking out for the best interests of blind people? I say not if it’s done right, and AER intends to do it right. [applause] As I understand it from my limited knowledge, NFB’s National Blindness Professional Certification Board has proven a successful method to ensure quality practices and outcomes for training centers operating under the Structured Discovery approach. [applause] Your model includes continual oversight, program monitoring, onsite visits, and more. You’ve recognized a need for oversight, and your training centers agreed and have thrived because of it. AER’s wishes are the same. We hope agencies will recognize a need for oversight, will seek out accreditation from not just anyone but someone knowledgeable about blindness. If they happen to seek out AER accreditation, we will increase positive outcomes for their clients and students, and we will be confident in our work because we will have learned from our field’s history.

As the president of AER, soon-to-be superintendent of TSBVI, and parent of a blind child, I want to thank NFB. Your work is some of the most important in our field, and I’m grateful for every written word or conversation you have that advocates for blind individuals. Advocacy is critical, and you have it in spades. There may be times we have differing opinions, or I need to ask lots of questions to better understand your perspective, but that doesn’t mean I want you to not show up. Keep up your work and hold us to task. Our task is better services for blind people, and you set the highest standard. If you choose to seek more opportunities to work with AER or with other organizations in our field, I hope you do. If you choose to simply stay behind the scenes and monitor what we’re doing, that’s great too. My only request is that you don’t disengage. We need you, and so do our consumers and students. [applause] I encourage you to think back ten minutes or so when I asked about you or your children receiving poor services and maybe feeling unheard. That’s a horrible feeling. Even given my professional background and personal experiences, I still find myself frustrated at complicated systems with questionable priorities. I look to organizations like AER and NFB to hold programs accountable to us, our students, and our friends.

Many parts of the president’s report two days ago resonated with me. When President Riccobono said, “Raising societal expectations starts with setting the highest standards for ourselves,” I felt that applies to professionals, too. If AER doesn’t set the highest standards for training and educational programs and doesn’t have a way to articulate what those are, then professional expectations will not rise either.

I appreciate your time and attention. Please reach out to me, and I’ll answer what questions I can. If I can’t answer due to my lack of knowledge, Janie Blome or myself will follow-up. As President Riccobono also said on Wednesday, “A movement is more important than any one leader,” and I need other leaders and members within AER, NFB, and beyond to have my back and more importantly the back of blind individuals. Thank you. [applause]

Before President Coleman left the stage, questions were invited from the audience, and Immediate Past President Maurer asked this one: “We have been doing the work of picketing the National Accreditation Council during almost all of the time I’ve been in the National Federation of the Blind. We have used the phrase repeatedly that we speak for ourselves. [applause] The education system in the United States has not served the blind well. I know there are some very good teachers and some people with very good hearts. But, as a whole, it has not served the blind well. I want to know if, when you put an accreditation system together, you plan to tell us what programs are good for us or if you plan to set up a system in which we have the right to tell you which programs are good for us? For we who experience what they are can tell you precisely which ones work and which ones don’t.” [applause]

President Riccobono called on President Coleman, and she replied: “I know that Janie and Mark have been in conversations about what the direct involvement will be from the NFB. I do know, as Mark shared, that 50 percent of the Council will consist of blind individuals, and we have offered a seat. I know there was some concern that that was a token offer. I don’t know that there has been a decision made on that at this time, but I would request that NFB strongly consider taking that seat because the Council will decide who receives accreditation and who doesn’t, and NFB should be in that room. So that is the suggestion I would make, but I don’t know exactly what is entailed in the entire process of accreditation, but I would almost guarantee that they do speak to individuals being served by the agencies and schools that are seeking accreditation, and I would personally value any of their input just as much as anybody else’s.”

Carlton Walker asked for and was granted the floor. She asked: “Miss Coleman, as you would agree I’m sure, teachers must be competent at what they teach. According to AER’s accreditation website, six University TVI programs hold AER accreditation. The Louisiana Tech program, which we know is superb has Braille courses that are integrated into every single course in the program, and individuals must demonstrate Braille proficiency by reading at least twenty words per minute or by obtaining NCUEB certification before graduating. Would AER be willing to condition accreditation of programs on similar high expectations and standards for teachers?”

President Coleman responded: “Thank you. I’m not going to argue against Louisiana Tech; that’s a great, great program. It’s hard to answer that question because I’m not on the accreditation council, and, as I shared with Mark, I’m probably not the best person to be here today. But I do think that is an important part, for NFB to be involved in the process to help us look at those standards and make sure that we are setting a high bar, because I certainly think that our teachers need to be qualified for the population that they serve. Personally I hold myself to the highest standard in that regard by maintaining my Braille certification anywhere that I live, even though I’m not doing direct teaching, just because I think that’s important for our students. [applause]”

President Riccobono concluded the presentation with these remarks: “So Emily, I appreciate you coming here to this convention. Again this is the first time that we’ve had an AER president be here with us. [prolonged applause] I think it does suggest a change in opportunities from the approach that AER has taken in the past. I also appreciate that you have acknowledged the real detrimental experience that people in this room have had from the low expectations that they’ve experienced and your real personal commitment to raise the bar. We give our commitment to that same thing. We are here to raise expectations, and whether it is as a formal member on the accreditation council, which we have not committed to because we don’t really feel that it accurately reflects the power and importance of the organized blind movement, but whether it’s on the council or not, you can be assured that this organization will continue to be honest with you, will continue to be authentic, will continue to hold ourselves and the professionals in the field accountable, and we will definitely let you know whether a program is accredited or not, whether it meets the expectations of the blind of this nation. Thank you for being here.”

Not Without Question: The Difference of the Federation Philosophy in our Lives

by Jean Brown

From the Editor: On the last afternoon of the 2019 Convention, many of us in the audience got to know someone we had only known as the wife of our second vice president, Ron Brown. When Jean Brown stepped to the microphone, she revealed that her life has been made up of many successes and challenges. Some of the successes raised her so high that they could have separated her from her faith and her God, but they did not. Some of her setbacks were so close to overwhelming that they could have done the same thing, but they only strengthened the values that make her who she is. Here is what she said:

Thank you, my Federation family. It is so good to be here today, and I thank President Riccobono for allowing me this opportunity.

Some of you, as he said, know me as Jean. Others, especially from Indiana, know me as Jeannie. Others simply know me as Ron’s wife. I thank all of you, because all of you are such a big part of our lives. We absolutely love the Federation family, and I want the Federation family to know more about me.

At the age of thirteen I became a freelance model, and at the age of eighteen I had a daughter named Lisa. At the age of twenty-three, which became a pivotal point in my life, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. At the age of twenty-three I found out that I was carrying my second child. At the age of twenty-three I found out that I was going to be an exclusive for Ann Geddes Modeling Agency. At the age of twenty-three I lost my sight. All of those things happened, and trying to deal with one thing after another was very hard to do. Those were some of the most memorable days of my life and some of the most heartbreaking days.

But, all in all, I realize that where we have a plan, God has a blueprint. [applause] I decided that there were three words that were going to get me through, and they were simply “I got this.” [Cheers and applause] It was amazing how a marriage that had gone on for almost ten years was about to end simply because my ex-husband couldn’t deal with my blindness. I had to wake up every day to it, but he couldn’t deal with it. I had to use the cane so that I didn’t step off the curb or fall down a flight of stairs, but he was busy putting that cane behind the door when I got ready to leave, saying “Take my arm; I gotcha.” I found out that doesn’t last forever. You better know how to get around by yourself [applause]. You better know how to take your cane and go where you need to go. Because if you are depending on someone else, you may or may not get there. So I realized that now this man is really putting me down. You are embarrassed because I have to use a cane? Well, at that point it was time to say, “You need to pack.” [applause]

So as he did just that, I had two daughters who were four and nine that I had to take care of. Mind you I left Mama’s house to go to his house, and now my house with my children and all of the responsibilities that came along with it were on me. That’s all good though, because I got this. I got this. [applause]

My daughters are very bright. They were good at reading and writing. My nine-year-old was helping me write out checks. I was making up stories and telling them to them because I couldn’t read Braille. Then the Lions Club gave me a Braille writer, and I sat with tears rolling down my face because I could not read Braille, I could not write Braille, and I would sit there at my dining room table at night trying to learn to read this. It made no sense to me. But I’ll tell you what: what did make sense was that if I did not learn it, I had only myself to blame, and I was going to be there for my daughters no matter what.

Let me go back just a little bit here. When my youngest, LaTrice, was born, I remember the nurse standing beside my bed, and she reached over and touched my hand as if to console me. She said, “You know, we can send someone to your house every day to help you take care of your baby because being at home alone like this with her is going to be really difficult.”
And you know, I had the same three words for her: “I got this. I’ve had one child in the house; I can do this.”

So she looked at me as if she didn’t quite understand, and she said, “But you know, it’s going to be hard. You’ve got to warm up her bottles, and you’ve got to change her, and how are you going to know…”

I said, “The same way you do. The finger in the diaper always works.” You see, I don’t need somebody to come into my house and be in my space where I’m giving my children all the love that I can possibly give them. I’ve got this! [applause]

When I met my now-husband, we were at a rehab center where he was working and I was getting ready to be a craft instructor, and I mean, I may be blind, but I still like tall, handsome, good-looking men. [applause] So when we were introduced, I kind of took a step back and said “Whew, yeah.” My daughter looked at him, and because she had seen him before, she thought “Whew, there’s Stevie Wonder.” She took off. She had never seen a blind man before, and here he was, with a head full of hair, and she thought for sure he was Stevie Wonder. Months later when I got the job and she saw him coming around the corner, tapping that cane, she said, “Momma, there’s Stevie Wonder again.” And I thought, “Oh yeah, this is all good!” [amused cheers] It was interesting how my sighted husband gave up almost ten years of marriage because he didn’t want to wake up every day to a blind wife. [some sporadic booing throughout the hall] Oh honey, I ain’t mad—and how I met Ron and after dating him for six years we got married, and he was like, “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever woke up to.” And I was like, “Oh, I like this.” [applause]

But you know, I went through a period of time where I thought family didn’t understand. The cousins that I’d grown up with were staying away from me and not stopping in like they used to because I lost my sight. They were just not the same. I mean, I knew what was different about me—I’d lost my sight—and if that made you want to stay away, then I thought, “Good idea. I didn’t ask for this either.” But I learned to adjust, and I learned that I could go on with or without those that I knew because I had the power of Almighty God on my side, [applause] and I had my daughters beside me, and I had Ron in my life, and I knew that things were going to be a lot different.

Ron was involved in the National Federation of the Blind thanks to Dr. Maurer, who recruited him when Ron was a teenager. When Ron and Paul Howard decided that they were going to start a chapter in Northwest Indiana, they were busy trying to convince me that I needed to be a part of it. I thought and said, “I don’t need to be a card-carrying member of anything. I’m fine like I am.”

Paul said, “But don’t you want to give back to the community?” And I thought, well, I guess I could. I kind of felt like so many people belong to so many things, and some of them mean something to them, and some don’t. They just want to be a part of something. Well, I used to do political fundraising, and I thought, “Okay, yes, I do want to give back.” I started fundraising back in 1982, and I’ve been fundraising ever since. [applause] I went from being a chapter fundraiser to becoming the state fundraiser in 1987 for the state of Indiana. I still hold that position, and I not only hold it as a position, but I hold it in my heart because I know the importance of the fundraising that we do. I know the importance of the advocacy work that we do. I know the importance of the community outreach that we do. I know that we have a purpose, and there is nothing that I would not do to build this organization. The Federation has made a significant difference in my life, and I want it to touch the hearts of everyone that I meet who is blind, who feels that they can’t do anything to give back to other blind people. I want them to know that there is something you can do, and whatever you do, no matter how small a project it is, it’s worth it. It’s worth it, and we thank you.

You know, being a blind wife is just like being a sighted wife. When we got ready to get married, my pastor looked at me and looked at Ron—some counselor, you know—and he said, “You know what? I really don’t think you two know what you’re getting yourselves into. Ron, you can’t even take her to the grocery store. You can’t take her shopping. I mean, you can’t give her the lifestyle she’s accustomed to. Why are you two getting married?”

And Ron, trying to be real nice, said “You know, pastor, I work every day, and as long as I’ve got money in my pocket, I can pay for a cab to take her anywhere she wants to go.” [applause and cheers] I think that getting married to Ron was one of the best things that I did, and I think that being a part of this organization and him introducing me to the Federation was indeed a highlight of my life. I love and appreciate all of you. I thank you, and please, check out my new book, Not without Question by D. J. Brown. Don’t ask me what that D stands for because I won’t tell you. But you can get the book from me, from my website, notwithoutquestion.com, from Amazon, from Kindle, it’s at Barnes & Noble, it’s on Books-A-Million, so get the book, read it, and please post your comments about it. I’m interested in what you’d like to see next and how you enjoyed the book. Thank you very much. I love you. [applause]

The 2019 Convention Resolutions: A Guidepost on Our Road to Freedom

by Sharon Maneki

Freedom has been an important value in American society since we declared our independence from England in 1776.  We have been singing and writing about freedom throughout our history.  For instance, in 1832, Samuel Francis Smith wrote the song “America.”  We still sing this song today, but it is better known as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”  The most famous verse of this song reads: 

My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and delivered one of the most famous speeches about freedom on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He delivered this speech entitled “I Have a Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  The last paragraph of this famous speech reads: “…when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

Freedom is equally as important to the blind as it is to the sighted.  Freedom is not something that we merely sing or write about.  Obtaining freedom requires action.  As President Riccobono explained in his 2019 banquet address:

“We the blind, with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and intersectionalities, have chosen to come together to create a choir of freedom. When we say, ‘Let freedom ring,’ we mean let us build the National Federation of the Blind.”

How do we determine the next steps on the road to freedom for the blind?  As we know, the convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. During the convention we establish policies and adjust priorities. Our policies and priorities are reflected in the resolutions adopted by the convention. Each year, President Riccobono appoints a resolutions committee to review all of the resolutions presented by the membership and to determine which resolutions should be considered by the convention.  This large committee of Federation leaders met to debate twenty-one resolutions on July 8.  I was honored to serve as the chairman of the committee and was ably assisted by Patricia Miller, secretary of the committee, who has been part of our national staff for thirty-two years.  Other members of the 2019 committee were:  Pam Allen, Denise Avant, Everette Bacon, Edward Bell, Ron Brown, Amy Buresh, Shawn Callaway, Christina Clift, Norma Crosby, Tim Elder, Chancey Fleet, Deepa Goraya, Ever Lee Hairston, Lynn Heitz, Cathy Jackson, Scott LaBarre, Anil Lewis, Barbara Loos, Jeannie Massay, Dr. Marc Maurer, Cassandra McKinney, Ronza Othman, Thomas Page, Sachin Pavithran, Barbara Pierce, Donald Porterfield, Bennett Prows, Casey Robertson, Amy Ruell, Joe Ruffalo, Tracy Soforenko, Ryan Strunk, Dan Wenzel, Kevan Worley, and Gary Wunder.  On July 10, the convention considered these resolutions and eventually decided to pass all of them. 

In his presidential report, President Riccobono explained “We have prepared our movement for a significant period of growth with the development of the latest strategic plan for the National Federation of the Blind, which we released earlier this year. In order to expand our organizational capacity, our areas of priority include (1) education, rehabilitation, and employment; (2) membership and community building; (3) advocacy; and (4) development. Each of these pillars supports our ultimate goal of freedom for the blind. This new plan will allow us to accurately measure our progress, effectively synthesize the feedback of active members, and strategically utilize our resources—which are not unlimited.” How do the twenty-one resolutions reflect the priorities in our strategic plan and establish a guidepost for our continued progress on the road to freedom for the blind? 

Pillar II of the strategic plan is membership and community building. Objective #4 under this pillar calls for the further development of methods and practices for recruitment of new diverse members from a diverse pool. Resolution 2019-01, regarding diversity, intersectionality, and blindness, promotes this objective. Intersectionality means the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. In this resolution it is resolved that, “the National Federation of the Blind pledge its willingness to partner with advocacy organizations to provide the authentic expertise of the blind and to connect blind members of these advocacy organizations with the resources and expertise of the Federation.” This resolution was sponsored by Ever Lee Hairston, a well-known author and civil rights advocate who serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

The convention passed six resolutions concerning the first pillar of our strategic plan: education, rehabilitation, and employment.  Four of these resolutions were about education. Ashley Neybert sponsored resolution 2019-07, regarding the lack of accessibility of the American Chemical Society examinations. Ashley is the vice president of the Science and Engineering Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She intends to obtain a PhD in chemistry. Unfortunately, she had to abandon her studies in the US because of the accessibility issues outlined in this resolution. Ashley will be continuing her studies in Australia. In this resolution we demand that the “American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education Examinations Institute promptly adopt and post publicly a robust accessibility policy.”

Resolution 2019-17 also deals with access to education, but in this case the culprit is Pearson Education Inc., North American Operations. In this resolution we call upon Pearson to demonstrate a full commitment to accessibility by publicizing its roadmap for addressing the accessibility of its educational products and services and by ensuring that all new products conform with WCAG 2.1 AA prior to their release. This resolution was sponsored by Johna Wright, a senior at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Johna also serves as vice president of the Community Services Division of the NFB and social media coordinator for the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).

Two people proposed resolution 2019-11 concerning equal accessibility for all Learning Ally customers, including the blind. Sheri Koch is the president of the NFB of West Virginia. Trisha Kulkarni is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students and the vice president of the California Association of Blind Students. She won a national scholarship in 2018. These proponents explained that one of the problems with the Learning Ally phone app is that you can only move backward through a book—you cannot go forward. Therefore, the resolution reads in part “this organization strongly urge Learning Ally immediately to upgrade its current book-reading software and VOICEtext audio format so that blind patrons have the same access and equivalent ease of use as other print-disabled readers.”

Tactile Graphics fluency is an important skill in education for both children and adults. We will never be able to achieve this fluency unless we have access to this material. Mausam Mehta, a board member of NABS and secretary of the Virginia Association of Blind Students, proposed resolution 2019-15. In this resolution we urge the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to include tactile graphics in the production of all future hardcopy Braille materials and to develop a policy that offers a hardcopy of just the accompanying tactile graphics that BARD users can order.

The convention passed one resolution concerning rehabilitation.  Thanks to the NFB, consumers have informed choice, which means that they can choose their rehabilitation service providers.  In resolution 2019-04 we “call upon all state vocational rehabilitation agencies to review implementation of their informed choice policies with particular reference to selection among comprehensive adjustment to blindness training centers, including documentation of public participation by blind individuals and organizations in those reviews.”  Aaron Espinoza, who was attending his first national convention, sponsored this resolution because he had difficulty getting information to attend an NFB training center. 

The convention passed two resolutions dealing with employment.  Denise Valkema, president of the NFB of Florida, introduced resolution 2019-02.  In this resolution we urge “all entities that continue to exploit workers with disabilities through the payment of subminimum wages immediately to develop and implement models to transition all of their disabled workers to competitive, integrated employment.”

The convention passed a second resolution concerning the subminimum wages problem.  In resolution 2019-06, we call upon the United States Congress quickly to pass H.R. 873 and S. 260, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act of 2019.  This act will sunset Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act and permanently unlock the doors to competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities.  Anna Forest, a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind program who will begin her college studies at Michigan State University this fall, sponsored this resolution.

The convention passed fourteen resolutions concerning the third pillar of our strategic plan, advocacy. This third pillar contains the most categories, so it is appropriate that most of our resolutions fall under advocacy. The vision statement of this pillar states: “The National Federation of the Blind is the leading advocate for all blind Americans in areas such as education, employment, transportation, voting, and civil rights. Blind people, their families, agencies for the blind, corporations, and the government turn to our organization for expert advice on programs, skills building, encouragement, nonvisual access, and technology that level the playing field for blind people.”  As you might expect from this priority, the convention passed resolutions on voting, civil rights, transportation, and accessibility.  

Over the years the convention has adopted many resolutions about voting. This year was no exception. Recently, the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act was introduced in the United States Senate. This act limits the use of ballot-marking devices (BMD) to voters with disabilities.  Since ballots printed from a BMD differ in size and content from hand-marked ballots, the BMD ballots are no longer secret. Lou Ann Blake, deputy director of the Jernigan Institute, proposed resolution 2019-05 to ensure that voters with disabilities have the same right to a secret ballot as voters without disabilities. The resolution further states, “that this organization demand that the Senate amend the PAVE Act to make BMDs the primary method for ballot-marking and provide sufficient funds to state and local governments to purchase the required number of BMDs for use by the majority of voters.” 

The convention passed two resolutions that specifically deal with civil rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. To assist us in asserting our rights under the ADA, the law contains a private right of action. A small group of plaintiffs and attorneys do not advance the cause of accessibility, because they file dozens of lawsuits all at once and settle them quickly and confidentially. In some cases the settlements do not evidence any changes to the websites, so the businesses pay money but no good for the blind results. In 2019-09, we urge members of the legal community to act responsibly and to draw up public settlement agreements that outline the specific steps to be taken by an entity to achieve accessibility and the anticipated timeline for those steps to be completed. The resolution also states our continued objection to any federal or state legislation, “that seeks to shift the burden of compliance from the entities to people with disabilities affected by noncompliance.” Tai Tomasi proposed this resolution. Tai is a civil rights lawyer who won national scholarships in 2000 and 2004.  She recently became the program manager for the Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind. 

Christina Clift, president of the NFB of Tennessee, sponsored the second civil rights resolution.  Title II of the ADA prohibits state-administered benefit programs, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, and workforce development from discrimination against and disparate treatment of people with disabilities and thus mandates the provision of equally effective communication and equal access to services for such persons. In resolution 2019-08, we insist that all state-administered benefit programs live up to their ADA obligations.

The convention passed three resolutions concerning relatively new forms of transportation. Dockless electric scooters disrupt the flow of pedestrian traffic because users leave them in locations that block curb cuts, obstruct sidewalks, and block bus stops and stoops. Resolution 2019-13 reads in part: “that this organization demand that all dockless electric scooter companies place their company name, scooter identification number, and contact information on each scooter in a format accessible and easily detectible by the blind and that these companies develop accessible websites and mobile applications so that blind pedestrians can easily communicate reports of misuse or injury.” Ronza Othman, who serves as both president of the Maryland affiliate and first vice president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers proposed this resolution. She won a national scholarship in 2006.

Domonique Lawless, who serves in the Virginia affiliate as the Richmond chapter president and won national scholarships in 2004 and 2013, sponsored resolution 2019-16. In 2017 the National Federation of the Blind entered into settlement agreements with Uber and Lyft to resolve drivers’ discriminatory treatment against blind travelers with service animals. In resolution 2019-16 we demand that Uber and Lyft vigorously enforce all aspects of these agreements.

Autonomous vehicles will be a tremendous transportation option for blind people when they become fully operational. The convention adopted resolution 2019-18 to send a message to automobile manufacturers and other stakeholders not to overlook or leave the blind behind. The resolution outlines four features that must be included in the design, development, and testing of these vehicles to ensure full accessibility for the blind. Scott Van Gorp, president of the Iowa affiliate, sponsored this resolution. 

The convention passed five resolutions dealing with accessibility. GreatCall is a cell service and medical alert provider whose products are primarily intended for use by seniors. Resolution 2019-03 outlines the accessibility issues with these products. The resolution reads in part “this organization urge GreatCall to provide an accessible activation method, describe the accessibility features of its phones in the Product-Support section of its website, and train customer service staff on all accessibility features.” Elizabeth Wisecarver is very familiar with the need for and problems with accessible phones because she serves as the NFB-NEWSLINE® coordinator for the NFB of Texas. Liz also directs a popular training program for seniors called Silver Bells. She was a great sponsor for this resolution.

Dorothy Griffin, president of the NFB of Georgia, introduced resolution 2019-10, regarding the speedy passage of the Greater Accessibility and Independence through Nonvisual Access Technology (GAIN) Act. Blind people are losing our independence because digital interfaces prevent us from operating home appliances, fitness equipment, and medical equipment used in the home.  This act will require the Access Board to create nonvisual access standards for this equipment, the Food and Drug Administration to enforce the nonvisual access standard for medical home use devices, and the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the nonvisual access standards for home appliances and fitness equipment.

Chelsea Page, a teacher of blind students who has been active in the Federation for some time and recently moved to Iowa, sponsored resolution 2019-12.  This resolution calls for social media to give accessibility features more prominence on their platforms and to implement stricter accessibility testing protocols.

When reading Kindle books with a refreshable Braille display, formatting and attribute information such as line breaks, indentation, and page breaks are frequently not conveyed to the reader.  In resolution 2019-19 we “call upon Amazon to design, develop, and implement solutions that will enable Kindle books displayed in Braille to convey formatting and attribute information to blind users.” Elizabeth Rouse, who serves as the vice president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students and won a scholarship in 2018, sponsored this resolution. 

Audio description makes movies and television programs more accessible to blind people.  Everette Bacon is president of the NFB of Utah and a member of the National Board of Directors. He also represents the Federation on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Disability Advisory Committee. Everette proposed resolution 2019-21 to demand that HBO begin airing new original programming with video description. In this resolution we “call upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to explore mandating that video description be provided by HBO and other premium cable services.”

The last two resolutions that I am discussing in this article illustrate how the Federation intends to carry out objective number three of the advocacy pillar or priority. Under this objective the Federation will “increase public support to achieve acceptance, full integration, and equal opportunity of blind people.” In resolution 2019-14 we “urge all parts of the entertainment industry, including directors, producers, casting agencies, and acting schools, to seek authentic representation when casting for blind roles.” When we achieve the goals of this resolution, the public will have a better understanding of the real capabilities of blind people. Maryanne Melley, president of the NFB of Connecticut, sponsored this resolution.

Cody Bair, treasurer of the NFB of Colorado, who also won national scholarships in 2012 and 2013, proposed resolution 2019-20.  Blind Ice Hockey is becoming a popular sport. Unfortunately, athletes who are totally blind are limited to playing only the goaltender position because additional modifications are needed such as locator sounds when the puck stops moving.  A sport for the blind should be fully accessible for all blind players.  A sport that is more accessible to individuals with a greater level of vision perpetuates misconceptions about the capabilities of blind athletes by promoting a hierarchy of sight. In this resolution we “demand that the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation, USA Hockey, and the United States Association of Blind Athletes immediately convene a study group that includes blind ice hockey players and members of the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division to explore ways to make the sport of blind ice hockey equally accessible to blind players regardless of their level of vision.” 

As you can see, NFB resolutions provide the next steps in fulfilling our priorities. They truly are a guidepost on the road to freedom for the blind. This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the 2019 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.  Let freedom ring through the 2019 resolutions! 

National Federation of the Blind 2019 Resolutions

Resolution 2019-01
Regarding Diversity, Intersectionality, and Blindness

WHEREAS, since 1940 the National Federation of the Blind has served as a vehicle for collective action for the nation’s blind, working to expand equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; and

WHEREAS, for over seventy-eight years the Federation has served as the voice of the nation’s blind, has changed attitudes and public perceptions and has developed authentic expertise regarding topics affecting the lives of blind people; and

WHEREAS, consistent with the National Federation of the Blind’s code of conduct and reflective of the Federation’s members, the Federation does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital and/or socioeconomic status, age, genetic information, disability, and any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics; and

WHEREAS, these differing characteristics and life experiences are tied together by the common bond of blindness, and many of those intersecting identities are also subject to inequalities, public misconceptions, and injustices; and

WHEREAS, the Federation has actively worked to influence and improve public policy through self-advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels and has fostered relationships within industries to protect the rights of the blind; and

WHEREAS, in June of 2018, as an expression of our common interest with other organizations, the Federation jointly filed suit with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates against the United States Department of Education to prevent the erosion of civil rights enforcement regulations; and

WHEREAS, advocacy organizations such as the National Organization for Women, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Unidos US, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Campaign, and many others who advocate on behalf of issues that affect a cross-section of Federationists and who have resources, including websites, programs, and activities that are inaccessible to interested blind people; and

WHEREAS, these advocacy organizations can benefit from the collective expertise on blindness and unique perspectives that a diverse group of members of the Federation have gained through their participation in the organized blind movement: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge the National Organization for Women, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Unidos US, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Campaign, and other advocacy organizations to ensure that their resources including websites, programs, and activities are fully accessible to blind people; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge these advocacy organizations to include blind people in their policy and program discussions to reflect better the intersectional priorities of blind people; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind pledge its willingness to partner with advocacy organizations to provide the authentic expertise of the blind and to connect blind members of these advocacy organizations with the resources and expertise of the Federation.

Resolution 2019-02
Regarding the Continued Exploitation of Workers with Disabilities under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act

WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind believes in the capacity of the blind to be fully participating members of society, able to compete on equal terms with the sighted; and

WHEREAS, we oppose the unfair, discriminatory, and immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) (29 U.S.C. § 214(c)), that allows the United States Secretary of Labor to grant special wage certificates to employers, permitting them to pay their workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage; and

WHEREAS, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that people with significant disabilities who receive the proper training and support can also engage in competitive, integrated employment, making the use of subminimum wages unnecessary and exploitative; and

WHEREAS, although previously outspoken about the need for Section 14(c), the AbilityOne Commission and its two central nonprofit agencies, National Industries for the Blind and Source America, have finally begun to implement the proven strategies that led to the competitive, integrated employment of individuals who were historically placed in segregated subminimum wage environments; and

WHEREAS, many employers who have been informed about these successful training and employment strategies have abandoned their 14(c) certificates in favor of a model that creates competitive integrated employment opportunities and better futures for the people they serve; and

WHEREAS, employers who continue to advocate for the use of Section 14(c) may feel they are doing the right thing through their caretaker model of services but fail to acknowledge the detrimental impact this model has on the futures of the people they employ; and

WHEREAS, rather than using their resources to develop competitive integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities, these employers use funding to actively lobby against the repeal of Section 14(c); and

WHEREAS, employers continue to manipulate the thinking of the parents and guardians of the individuals with disabilities to the point where they are convinced that their children have reached their full potential through a legal provision that allows any entity lacking the talent, expertise, or desire to create better opportunities for people with disabilities to exploit these individuals through the payment of subminimum wages: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization condemn and deplore all entities that use special wage certificates under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all entities that continue to exploit workers with disabilities through the payment of subminimum wages immediately to develop and implement models to transition all of their disabled workers to competitive, integrated employment.

Resolution 2019-03
Regarding Mobile Phones for Blind Seniors

WHEREAS, the number of blind or low-vision seniors continues to increase, and the number of basic accessible phones available through the main mobile phone carriers continues to decrease; and

WHEREAS, Jitterbug is a manufacturer of phones designed for seniors and GreatCall is a cell service and medical alert provider whose products are primarily intended for use by seniors; and

WHEREAS, the Jitterbug Flip and Smart2 are the two phones offered by GreatCall; and

WHEREAS, the Jitterbug Flip, while offering limited font and contrast options for low-vision users, has no accessibility features for blind users; and

WHEREAS, the Smart2 includes Google Talkback but does not offer any opportunity to configure accessibility settings during phone setup and requires the use of a printed activation number that is not available in a nonvisual format; and

WHEREAS, GreatCall lacks information regarding accessibility features in any of its product documentation: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge Jitterbug to add nonvisual access features including menu and message readout to the Jitterbug Flip; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge Jitterbug to make available the ability to enable Talkback or other accessibility options at the initial stage of setup and provide documentation for all features of its products in an accessible format; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge GreatCall to provide an accessible activation method, describe the accessibility features of its phones in the Product-Support section of its website, and train customer service staff on all accessibility features. 

Resolution 2019-04
Regarding Informed Choice for Consumers in Selecting Blindness Training Programs

WHEREAS, comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training is often essential for blind people to succeed in education, employment, and full integration into society; and

WHEREAS, this training is frequently recommended and obtained under an individualized plan for employment with assistance provided by a state vocational rehabilitation agency; and

WHEREAS, providers of comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training include both state and private agencies, which, although following a general pattern of service and training curricula, often produce varying outcomes for students and graduates; and

WHEREAS, the law provides blind consumers the right to exercise informed choice in selecting among providers of comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training, but this right is often denied due to the lack of sufficient information for consumers to compare programs and expected outcomes; and

WHEREAS, the federal vocational rehabilitation regulations, 34 CFR § 361.52, “Informed Choice,” and RSA Policy Directive RSA-PD01-03, “Implementation of Informed Choice,” require state agency personnel to assist individuals to obtain information sufficient to exercise their right of informed choice, but this obligation is often not fulfilled: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization call upon all state vocational rehabilitation agencies to review implementation of their informed -choice policies with particular reference to selection among comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training centers, including documentation of public participation by blind individuals and organizations in those reviews; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that at a minimum the outcome of such reviews must ensure that each state vocational rehabilitation agency will obtain and maintain current descriptions and data supplied by each known training center (updated annually), regardless of whether the center is a currently approved agency contractor, and regardless of the location of the center within the United States; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all current and up-to-date descriptions and data, including contact information supplied to a state vocational rehabilitation agency by any public or private provider of comprehensive adjustment-to-blindness training, whether they are or ever  have been  a contractor and whether located in-state or out-of-state, must be  provided to all individuals considering such training,  to allow them  to evaluate the relevance and quality of any center’s program  for their desired employment outcome; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization request the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University with its expertise and experience to collaborate in the development and publication of consumer guidelines for selection among adjustment-to-blindness training centers as a reference for individuals to use in their exercise of informed choice.

Resolution 2019-05
Regarding the Use of Accessible Ballot-Marking Devices as the Primary Ballot Marking Tool

WHEREAS, the ability to cast a secret ballot independently 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 the right to vote that is equivalent to the opportunity afforded to voters without disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the majority of state and local elections are conducted using paper ballots with the accessible ballot marking device (BMD) limited to voters with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, election technology developers, such as Elections Systems and Software (ES&S), Dominion Voting Systems, and Unisyn Voting Solutions, have designed accessible 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 may be 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; and

WHEREAS, BMDs are the superior method for marking ballots because they prevent the stray marks and over-votes that can result when ballots are hand marked; and

WHEREAS, the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act, introduced in the United States Senate on May 15, 2019, mandates a hand-marked paper ballot, limits the use of BMDs to voters with disabilities, and provides state and local governments with enough funds to purchase only one BMD per polling place, thus denying voters with disabilities a secret ballot: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization demand that the Senate amend the PAVE Act to make BMDs the primary method for ballot-marking and provide sufficient funds to state and local governments to purchase the required number of BMDs for use by the majority of voters; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that state and local governments implement the legislation and election procedures necessary to make the use of BMDs the primary method of ballot-marking for the majority of voters, thus ensuring that voters with disabilities have a secret ballot.

Resolution 2019-06
Regarding Support for the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act of 2019

WHEREAS, since its founding in 1940, the National Federation of the Blind has fought to repeal the unfair, discriminatory, and immoral provision found in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), which allows the secretary of labor to grant special wage certificates to employers permitting them to pay their workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage; and

WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the FLSA is a statutory codification of the negative attitudes and erroneous stereotypes that perpetuate the unemployment and exacerbate the underemployment of people with disabilities based on the fallacious argument that they cannot be productive and therefore deserve to be paid less than nondisabled employees; and

WHEREAS, segregated subminimum-wage work environments are not transitional job-training service providers for workers with disabilities, and research conducted by Dr. Robert Cimera of Kent State University found that work habits learned in a segregated work environment must be unlearned in order for workers with disabilities to become competitively employed; and

WHEREAS, it has become evident that subminimum-wage employers who conceal their vested financial interest in the continuation of this exploitative subminimum-wage business model are actively lobbying against the repeal of Section 14(c); and

WHEREAS, data from the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division published on April 1, 2019, shows that 1,743 exploitive work environments continue to employ 106,339 workers with disabilities at wages lower than the federal minimum wage; and

WHEREAS, on January 29, 2019, Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland introduced S. 260, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act of 2019, which will sunset Section 14(c) of the FLSA over a six-year period and award grants to states and providers to assist with their successful transition to competitive integrated employment; and

WHEREAS, on January 30, 2019, the Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, along with Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, introduced identical companion legislation in the House, H.R. 873; and

WHEREAS, on May 21, 2019, the United States House Committee on Education and Labor held a full committee hearing entitled “Eliminating Barriers to Employment: Opening Doors to Opportunities” to learn more about the successful transition of workers with disabilities from segregated subminimum-wage employment to competitive integrated employment: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization commend Representatives Bobby Scott and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Senators Robert Casey and Chris Van Hollen as well as all cosponsors of H.R. 873 and S. 260, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act of 2019, for their leadership and bipartisan efforts to end the discrimination against people with disabilities and their belief in the capacity of people with disabilities to obtain competitive integrated employment; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Congress to take up consideration of this legislation without delay, sunsetting Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, thereby permanently unlocking the doors to competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend those entities who have voluntarily transitioned their business models away from subminimum wage employment and into competitive integrated employment.

Resolution 2019-07
Regarding American Chemical Society Examinations

WHEREAS, the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education Examinations Institute (ACS Exams) produces and distributes more than fifty different chemistry examinations for use in high school, collegiate, and graduate-level chemistry courses nationwide; and

WHEREAS, ACS Exams promotes its tests as nationally normed and standardized, and many schools use ACS Exams’s tests as required placement tests, qualifying assessments, or final exams; and

WHEREAS, ACS Exams does not make its full suite of tests available in Braille, but instead requires schools to transcribe and emboss ACS Exams’s tests for blind students individually, thus compromising the standardized assessments; and

WHEREAS, electronic versions of ACS Exams’s tests and study materials are not presented with corresponding tactile graphics, do not conform with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1 AA, and are therefore not accessible to blind students who use screen-access software; and

WHEREAS, blind students have been pushed out of their chemistry studies and given failing grades on tests because of access barriers and lack of Braille in ACS Exams’s products; and

WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind in December of 2018 urged the country’s top fifty chemistry programs to stop using ACS Exams’s products; and

WHEREAS, after meeting with the National Federation of the Blind in March of 2019, ACS Exams committed to adopting an accessibility statement, but has not yet made such a statement public: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization demand that ACS Exams promptly adopt and post publicly a robust accessibility policy; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education Examinations Institute implement a process by which schools can request and receive pre-embossed Braille versions of any ACS Exams test; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that ACS Exams audit and remediate electronic versions of its suite of assessments and study materials so that they conform with WCAG 2.1 AA and are fully accessible to blind students who use screen-access software.

Resolution 2019-08
Regarding the Accessibility of State-Administered Benefits Programs

WHEREAS, state-administered benefits programs include critical programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, workforce development, and low-income housing vouchers; and

WHEREAS, eligibility requirements are often streamlined so that ineligibility for one program results in ineligibility for multiple programs; and

WHEREAS, blind people are often unable to apply independently for or renew their eligibility for many state-administered benefit programs because the web-based eligibility forms do not conform with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1 AA and are therefore inaccessible using screen-access software; and

WHEREAS, blind people have been denied program communications in Braille or other alternative formats or have otherwise failed to receive communication that is as effective as communication provided to nondisabled beneficiaries; and

WHEREAS, blind people have been deemed ineligible for state-administered benefits solely because they were unable to complete required eligibility forms, resulting in immediate, unnecessary, and discriminatory hardship; and

WHEREAS, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits state-administered benefits programs from discrimination against and disparate treatment of people with disabilities and thus mandates the provision of equally effective communication and equal access to services for such persons: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization demand that all state-administered benefits programs honor requests for alternative format communications and equal access to programmatic information, benefits, and services in a timely manner; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that state-administered benefits programs promptly implement accessibility policies that require web-based information and forms to conform to web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA) and promptly audit and remediate application and renewal of eligibility processes and forms so that they are fully and equally accessible to blind people.

Resolution 2019-09
Regarding ADA Litigation

WHEREAS, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability; and

WHEREAS, to assist Americans with disabilities in asserting our rights under the ADA, Congress included a private right of action, which has assisted Americans with disabilities to secure landmark victories that have opened doors in employment, education, commerce, and other arenas; and

WHEREAS, under Department of Justice interpretation and court rulings, ADA Title III applies not only to physical places of public accommodation but also to their websites; and

WHEREAS, many websites are inaccessible to blind people who use screen readers to access digital content and to other people with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, a small group of plaintiffs and attorneys are exploiting the situation by filing dozens, occasionally hundreds, of lawsuits all at once or in rapid succession; and

WHEREAS, rather than acknowledging that website inaccessibility is a real and growing problem, some business groups and media outlets have focused on this behavior as evidence that the ADA is merely a tool for greedy lawyers to extort quick cash settlements from businesses; and

WHEREAS, this largely misplaced blame for ADA lawsuits has led to the introduction, and in some cases enactment, of state legislation that places onerous burdens on people and organizations who wish to bring legitimate complaints under the ADA, as well as attempts to enact federal legislation that would have the same effect; and

WHEREAS, even if litigants act in good faith and with noble intentions, blanketing a geographic area or business type with lawsuits often does not meaningfully advance the cause of accessibility because the litigants may lack the resources or the commitment to investigate each lawsuit thoroughly, and many lawsuits brought in this way are settled quickly and confidentially, thereby failing to hold public accommodations accountable for true progress toward making their websites accessible: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge members of the legal community to engage in responsible, ethical, and transparent behavior when pursuing ADA litigation, including contacting targeted entities to try to resolve accessibility issues without litigation where possible and appropriate and to draw up public settlement agreements that outline the specific steps to be taken by an entity to achieve accessibility and the anticipated timeline for those steps to be completed; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization reaffirm its opposition to any legislation, state or federal, that seeks to shift the burden of compliance from the entities to people with disabilities affected by noncompliance; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization continue to work collaboratively with the policymaking, legal, business, and web development communities to advance accessibility, while not hesitating to commence litigation if needed.

Resolution 2019-10
Regarding the Greater Accessibility and Independence Through Nonvisual Access Technology (GAIN) Act

WHEREAS, the rapid proliferation of digital technology has led to the increased use of touchscreens and interactive visual interfaces, replacing traditional controls such as knobs, switches, and buttons on home-use medical devices, exercise equipment, and home appliances; and

WHEREAS, this major shift in technology has rendered the majority of home-use medical devices, exercise equipment, and home appliances inaccessible to blind users, potentially threatening the health, safety, and independence of blind people; and

WHEREAS, in most cases the technology already exists to allow for nonvisual access to these products; and

WHEREAS, accessibility is relatively easy and inexpensive to implement when it is incorporated into the design of a product from the outset; and

WHEREAS, the ability to operate nonvisually all home-use medical devices, home appliances, and exercise equipment is essential to a blind person’s wellbeing, independence, and overall quality of life: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge the United States Congress swiftly to consider and pass the Greater Accessibility and Independence Through Nonvisual Access Technology (GAIN) Act, thereby ensuring and protecting the independence of blind Americans.

Resolution 2019-11  
Regarding Equal Accessibility for All Learning Ally Customers, Including the Blind

WHEREAS, in 1948 Recording for the Blind was established to enable blind veterans to take advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and over the years has expanded its services to include students with learning disabilities, as reflected in the change of its name to Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in 1995 and then to Learning Ally in 2011; and

WHEREAS, Learning Ally produces books in classic audio format or in VOICEtext format that readers use on their computer, reading device, or Learning Ally’s smart phone app; and

WHEREAS, Learning Ally’s expanded mission has redirected its resources to include print-reading populations, which offer larger markets, and mentions blind students on its website only when describing its history; and

WHEREAS, this expansion has resulted in a priority shift away from the blind, making our community no longer Learning Ally’s primary priority, nor even an equal priority with other served groups; and

WHEREAS, this second-class treatment is demonstrated by Learning Ally’s lack of accessible navigation for blind readers in its phone app; and

WHEREAS, the At-Large Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia has repeatedly asked Learning Ally to fix these problems; and

WHEREAS, the need for Learning Ally’s products and services, especially its human-read narration and scripted descriptions of figures, illustrations, graphics, charts, and tables in textbooks remains a paramount need because it is often the sole source of accessible educational material for blind patrons; and

WHEREAS, educational institutions, from K-12 through higher education, purchase subscriptions to Learning Ally for materials in specialized formats for their students; and

WHEREAS, these institutions are required to purchase products that provide equal access to all students, including the blind: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization strongly urge Learning Ally immediately to upgrade its current book-reading software and VOICEtext audio format so that blind patrons have the same access and equivalent ease of use as other print-disabled readers; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all educational institutions to refuse to purchase memberships to Learning Ally for students until it provides the same access to the blind that it offers to other print-disabled readers.  

Resolution 2019-12
Regarding Accessibility of Social Media Platforms

WHEREAS, social media has become an integral part of many people’s lives, serving as a vehicle for staying in touch with friends, seeking advice, searching for jobs, and staying up-to-date with information about local and national news and events; and

WHEREAS, much of the information available on social media platforms is added by users as photos or graphics that are not inherently readable by access technology such as screen readers; and

WHEREAS, when accessibility features such as the ability to add alt text to photos are included by social media platforms, they are often buried in “advanced settings,” requiring users to have knowledge of how to find these features; and

WHEREAS, frequent updates to social media platforms and apps introduce new features and bring changes to existing features, and accessibility is frequently not taken into account when these new builds and features are released, resulting in blind users being unable to use features, add content, or access content added by others: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization call upon social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and others, to make a serious commitment to creating more inclusive experiences by giving accessibility features a more prominent place on their platforms and implementing stricter accessibility testing protocols, including user testing, before new features launch; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all major social media companies to engage actively with the organized blind during the development stages of product and feature design in order to inform their accessibility and usability processes.

Resolution 2019-13
Regarding the Proliferation of Dockless Electric Scooters

WHEREAS, dockless electric scooters are a new form of transportation that has become increasingly popular in the United States; and

WHEREAS, the appeal of these scooters is that they may be retrieved from and left anywhere because they do not need to be parked at a docking station or rack; and

WHEREAS, as a result users are leaving these scooters in locations that block curb cuts, obstruct sidewalks, block bus stops and stoops, and generally disrupt the flow of pedestrian traffic; and

WHEREAS, users further endanger pedestrian traffic by riding these scooters on sidewalks and other pedestrian rights-of-way; and

WHEREAS, these scooters are virtually silent when in use, making it impossible for those using nonvisual means of travel to detect them; and

WHEREAS, the public is encouraged to contact the various scooter companies directly to report scooter misuse, request that a scooter be moved, or report an injury or other concern by calling the company, visiting the website, or making a report using the app; and

WHEREAS, the blind cannot identify the scooter companies’ names, phone numbers, or websites because the information on the scooter is available only in print; and

WHEREAS, blind people are further denied the opportunity to make reports or issue complaints, since scooter websites and apps are generally not accessible via access technology; and

WHEREAS, few laws in the United States regulate the use of these scooters, and laws that do exist are inconsistent from city to city: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization call upon the United States Congress to establish a minimum sound standard for dockless electric scooters; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge state and local governments to work with affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind to enact laws regulating scooter use to control parking, prohibit riding on sidewalks, and generally avoid disrupting the flow of pedestrian traffic; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that all dockless electric scooter companies place their company name, scooter identification number, and contact information on each scooter in a format accessible and easily detectible by the blind and that these companies develop accessible websites and mobile applications so that blind pedestrians can easily communicate reports of misuse or injury.

Resolution 2019-14
Regarding the Authentic Representation of Blind People in the Entertainment Industry

WHEREAS, the entertainment industry has produced dozens of movies and TV shows portraying blind characters, usually offensively or inaccurately, which exploit blindness for admiration and awards; and

WHEREAS, stereotypical portrayals of blind people in the media continue to affect negatively the perception of blind people in society; and

WHEREAS, the CW, CBS, and Red Hour Film produced a television series called In the Dark that follows a blind woman as she works to solve a suspected crime; and

WHEREAS, despite the fact that the main character in the show is blind, the role is portrayed by a sighted actor rather than a blind actor; and

WHEREAS, executives of In the Dark are perpetuating low expectations by making the excuse that a blind actor could not be found for the leading role; and

WHEREAS, various levels of the entertainment industry are failing to create a pipeline of blind actors in order to bring authentic representation to blind characters and roles for which a blind actor may be suited; and

WHEREAS, blind people are often discouraged from pursuing an acting career or are denied acting roles due to low expectations and misconceptions regarding the capacity of the blind: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge all parts of the entertainment industry, including directors, producers, casting agencies, and acting schools, to seek authentic representation when casting for blind roles; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the entertainment industry consult the organized blind and hire blind writers when developing a blind role, in order to eliminate stereotypes and misconceptions regarding blindness; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the CW, CBS, and Red Hour Films to produce the second season of In the Dark with the lead character played by a blind actor; 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, not solely in specific blind roles but in any role for which the blind actor may be suited.

Resolution 2019-15
Regarding the Handling of Graphics in NLS Materials

WHEREAS, graphics such as charts, tables, maps, and pictures are important features in books and periodicals; and

WHEREAS, the Braille Audio Reading Download (BARD) system is a popular service that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) uses to distribute books in accessible formats; and

WHEREAS, NLS provides some tactile graphics and descriptions of pictures in some of its hardcopy Braille formats, but cannot include tactile graphics on the BARD system because Braille devices cannot display this content; and

WHEREAS, the exclusion of graphical materials denies information and diminishes the reading experience for patrons: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge NLS to include tactile graphics in the production of all future hardcopy Braille materials; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend NLS for including its Braille collection on the BARD platform, thus enabling users to store and access Braille using refreshable Braille displays; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly encourage NLS to develop a policy that ensures that, when it produces a hardcopy Braille version of a book containing graphics, it also offers a hard copy of just the accompanying tactile graphics that BARD users can order.

Resolution 2019-16
Regarding Uber and Lyft Ride Denials for Travelers with Service Animals

WHEREAS, Uber and Lyft’s ridesharing services are increasingly available nationwide, are used for millions of rides annually, and are now considered transportation fixtures in society; and

WHEREAS, an ever increasing number of people with and without disabilities rely on these services as faster and more convenient alternatives to traditional public transportation options; and

WHEREAS, in 2017 the National Federation of the Blind entered into settlement agreements with Uber and Lyft in an effort to resolve drivers’ discriminatory treatment against blind travelers with service animals; and

WHEREAS, the settlement agreements include the education of drivers on their obligation to accept riders with service animals and strict single-strike policies that require Uber and Lyft to terminate drivers who knowingly deny transportation to travelers with service animals, and

WHEREAS, despite the settlement agreements, driver education, and strict policies, drivers continue knowingly to deny rides to and discriminate against blind travelers with service animals; and

WHEREAS, Uber and Lyft have chosen to reeducate rather than to terminate drivers who, after denying rides, claimed ignorance regarding knowledge of travelers’ service animals, even in cases where riders notified drivers that they travel with service animals: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization demand that Uber and Lyft vigorously enforce their single-strike policies for terminating drivers who knowingly refuse transportation to riders with service animals, as required by their settlement agreements with the NFB; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Uber and Lyft thoroughly investigate all claims of discrimination against travelers with service animals and that Uber and Lyft respond to complainants and the NFB promptly and transparently and in accordance with their settlement agreement obligations.

Resolution 2019-17
Regarding Pearson’s Access Barriers

WHEREAS, Pearson Education Inc.’s North America operations offer educational content, assessments, and digital services to K-12 and higher education schools nationwide; 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, Pearson’s 2018 Sustainability Report identifies that Pearson’s new products are not yet all born accessible; and

WHEREAS, some Pearson products, including MyLab, are compatible with screen-access software only for selected multiple-choice and free-response questions, but not for all questions; and

WHEREAS, Pearson has publicly posted robust steps to make elearning accessible, but has presented these steps as guidelines and not requirements for its development teams; and

WHEREAS, Pearson has received repeated complaints from students, the National Federation of the Blind, and others regarding the inaccessibility of its products but has failed to address systematically the cause of these barriers; and

WHEREAS, blind students have been harmed by Pearson’s failure to ensure that its products are fully and equally accessible, such harm being evidenced by low test and assignment scores, low course grades, or pressure to withdraw from classes that use Pearson’s products; and

WHEREAS, the United States District Court of the Central District of California recently found that the Los Angeles Community College District discriminated against a blind student when it failed to provide meaningful access to coursework via Pearson’s MyMathLab or equivalent assignments in a timely manner; and

WHEREAS, Pearson acknowledges falling short of its goal to make one hundred percent of its higher education courseware digital portfolio accessible by 2020, but has not yet been transparent in sharing its revised timeline with schools, students, and advocacy organizations; and

WHEREAS, Pearson promotes on its accessibility webpage that it works collaboratively with the NFB; and

WHEREAS, Pearson’s assessments team has partnered with the NFB on tactile graphic studies and other projects, but Pearson’s higher education and K-12 courseware and sales teams have not engaged with the NFB on accessibility-related solutions; and

WHEREAS, Pearson’s North America operations have not accepted NFB’s repeated invitations to enter into a robust company-wide accessibility agreement with the NFB and to take critical steps to enculturate accessibility fully, to the long-term detriment of blind students: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization call upon Pearson to demonstrate a full commitment to accessibility by publicizing its roadmap for addressing the accessibility of its educational products and services and by ensuring that all new products conform with WCAG 2.1 AA prior to their release; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that Pearson announce publicly its process and timeline for responding to complaints from schools, students, parents, and others regarding access barriers in Pearson products and services; and

 BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization condemn and deplore Pearson’s continued use of and failure to remediate its inaccessible MyLab questions, tutorial content, and features.

Resolution 2019-18
Regarding Considerations for Blind Users in the Development of Autonomous Vehicle Technology

WHEREAS, autonomous vehicles are the next major advancement in the transportation industry; and

WHEREAS, innovations in autonomous vehicle technology represent a valuable new resource that has extraordinary potential to help blind people gain greater independence and improve transportation options; and

WHEREAS, private industry stakeholders such as Cruise, Waymo, and Volkswagen Group, along with others, are already designing, developing, and testing autonomous vehicles on roads and highways across the country; and

WHEREAS, four essential features will need to be included with all autonomous vehicles to ensure that blind people can independently operate them; and

WHEREAS, the first of these essential features will be a nonvisual vehicle-location system that will direct the blind user to the vehicle and give instructions regarding pick-up and drop-off locations; and

WHEREAS, a second essential feature will be nonvisually accessible navigation and maintenance controls that will allow the blind user to program destinations and make changes during the trip and will alert the user to any maintenance the vehicle may need; and

WHEREAS, a third essential feature will be accessible interior environment controls, including but not limited to climate control, the entertainment system, and the opening and closing of the windows; and

WHEREAS, the final essential feature will be exterior environment alerts that will inform the blind user when the vehicle experiences sudden and unexpected changes due to heavy traffic, obstacles, or equipment malfunctions: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization urge 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 by including nonvisual access to these four essential features in their products; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge these entities to work directly with blind Americans to test and acquire feedback on the nonvisual access features of autonomous vehicles.

Resolution 2019-19
Regarding the Quality of Braille Output from Amazon Kindle Books

WHEREAS, Amazon’s Kindle books constitute a major source of titles in the commercial electronic book market; and

WHEREAS, when reading Kindle books with a refreshable Braille display, formatting and attribute information such as line breaks, indentation, page breaks, and text highlighting is frequently not conveyed to the reader; and

WHEREAS, when a book is displayed without proper formatting, technical material such as computer programming, mathematics, and creative or artistic content like poetry is rendered partially inaccessible or completely unusable; and

WHEREAS, consumers who purchase Kindle books with the expectation that they will be able to read them using a refreshable Braille device face the possibility that the book will not meet their needs, especially if formatting and attribute information is critical to the use of the book: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization call upon Amazon to design, develop, and implement solutions that will enable Kindle books displayed in Braille to convey formatting and attribute information to blind users.

Resolution 2019-20
Regarding Calling for a Study Group to Ensure Equitable Access to Blind Ice Hockey

WHEREAS, according to the United States Association of Blind Athletes, blind ice hockey is a new, increasingly popular sport, and while blind ice hockey is not yet a Paralympic sport, in 2015 the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation was formed to recruit athletes internationally in order to grow the sport; and

WHEREAS, currently, the only modifications to the sport of blind ice hockey are a larger, slower-moving puck that makes noise while in motion, goals thirty-six inches in height instead of forty-eight inches in order to keep the puck closer to the ice and increase the sound being made, and a rule that at least one pass must be completed on the offensive half of the rink before a team can attempt to score in order to increase opportunity for puck location; and

WHEREAS, although this is considered a sport for blind athletes, athletes who are totally blind are currently limited to the goaltender position due to a lack of additional modifications to the sport such as locator sounds when the puck stops moving and locator sounds on the goals; and

WHEREAS, a sport for the blind should be fully accessible to all blind players; and

WHEREAS, a sport that is more accessible to individuals with a greater level of vision promotes a “hierarchy of sight” and perpetuates low expectations and misconceptions about the capabilities of blind athletes: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization demand that the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation, USA Hockey, and the United States Association of Blind Athletes immediately convene a study group that includes blind ice hockey players and members of the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division to explore ways to make the sport of blind ice hockey equally accessible to blind players regardless of level of vision; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation to work closely with the National Federation of the Blind, USA Hockey, and the United States Association of Blind Hockey to implement recommendations from the study group so that all blind ice hockey players can enjoy equal access to the sport.

Resolution 2019-21
Regarding the HBO Cable Channels and the Lack of Video Description

WHEREAS, HBO, operated by Home Box Office, Inc, a subsidiary of AT&T’s WarnerMedia, is a package of premium cable channels that air commercial-free, uncensored content including movies, comedy specials, concerts, documentaries, sporting events, and original scripted television series; and

WHEREAS, subscribers pay an extra fee in addition to their regular cable or satellite television subscription for access to the HBO channels or can subscribe to a streaming service, HBO NOW, for a monthly fee if they do not have cable service; and

WHEREAS, over the past two decades the original programming produced by and for HBO has been among the most critically acclaimed, culturally significant, and popular television programming available, including shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, True Detective, Veep, Westworld, and its most recent hit, the miniseries Chernobyl; and

WHEREAS, HBO uses the Second Audio Program (SAP) feature that can be accessed by most televisions and cable devices to carry Spanish-language versions of its programs, but does not use this capability to carry video description of its programs for blind viewers; and

WHEREAS, the use of the SAP feature to carry programming dubbed into Spanish is redundant and unnecessary because the package of HBO channels sold to subscribers also includes HBO Latino, which simulcasts Spanish versions of the programming being aired on HBO’s main channel; and

WHEREAS, not only has HBO failed to add video description to its original programming, but it does not carry the video description that is already available for the movies that it runs nor even for the educational program Sesame Street, whose episodes are now first run on HBO instead of on the Public Broadcasting Service; and

WHEREAS, other cable channels, the major broadcast networks, and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime provide video description for some or all of their original programming and for many movies and programs that they license from other producers and providers; and

WHEREAS, while HBO and other premium cable services are not mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to carry video description, as the networks and some other cable channels are, nothing prevents HBO from voluntarily adding video description to its programming; and

WHEREAS, the lack of video description means that blind subscribers, while paying the same fee for access to HBO as subscribers without disabilities, do not have equal access to its programming: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eleventh day of July, 2019, in the City of Las Vegas, Nevada, that this organization demand that HBO begin airing new original programming with video description and set forth a plan to add video description to its existing movie and program library; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to explore mandating that video description be provided by HBO and other premium cable services.

Convention Miniatures

Honoring and Strengthening our Diversity:

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee organized nearly fifteen hours of content to advance our organizational diversity efforts, to provide platforms for intersectional gatherings, and to generate action plans that promote the growth of our organization in ways that are both meaningful and inclusive. The sessions are listed below in the order that they occurred during national convention:

Mujeres of the Federation
Black Leaders Advancing the Federation
Empowerment Seminar (conducted jointly with other Federation leaders)
Asian Membership Development
Diversity and Inclusion Committee Meeting
Presidential Diversity Morning Mixer
Masculinity, Blindness, and Latino Culture
Blindness and Interracial Relationships
Dating in the Asian/South Asian Community

These sessions provided an opportunity to learn about the unique ways in which blindness exists across various dimensions of identity, with the communities that are at the center of these experiences leading the conversation. Aside from providing platforms to build community and capacity, the sessions also served as vital sources of knowledge to bring increased visibility to issues of social justice and equity across our Federation work. 

Performing Arts Division Activities at Convention:

The National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division presented an exciting program of activities at this year’s convention. Every year we set a program that includes as much interactive performing as possible so that blind would-be performers have opportunities they may be discouraged from pursuing in their communities. This year we provided these opportunities through our acting workshop, dance lesson, and our annual Showcase of Talent.

We were honored to welcome Marilee Talkington, a professional blind actress, back to our convention as the teacher of our acting workshop. She led a beginning-level, professional quality acting class on the second evening of convention. Approximately eighteen people of varying ages and backgrounds participated in a series of exercises to engage their bodies, focus their minds, and increase their awareness of their presence in their physical space. If you had walked in the room at a critical point in the workshop, you would have been met with the sound of twenty people vigorously tapping the backs of their hips as they sought connection with their inner physical centers of energy. After the exercises, the participants partnered up and tackled a script. Each pairing was instructed to come up with a scenario that would prompt the dialogue in the script to occur, but they were not allowed to tell the class their story or anything about the characters they were portraying. Acting gets deep. Each set of partners worked together to develop a story for the script and then, after performing the script once in front of the class, they specified their character’s motivations and dug deeper into their emotions. There were tears; there was laughter, and most importantly, there was much learning of the work it takes to connect with a character and a script.

The next evening we held our annual business meeting. Our meeting agenda centered on discussions of the Let Us Play Us campaign. We are grateful that President Riccobono took the time to open the discussion. He motivated us with a rousing speech encouraging us to hold the industry accountable in our pursuit of acting opportunities. Everette Bacon continued the discussion by speaking on his experience as a performer and advocate in the entertainment realm. Our discussion remained lively and will be continued in the coming months. If you are interested in working on the Let Us Play Us campaign with us, please email us at [email protected]. The time is now for blind performers to stand up and fight for representation in the entertainment industry. 

In the business portion of our meeting, we welcomed Christina Jones, a professional opera singer from California, to our board. I will add here that you need not be a member of the board of the Performing Arts Division to aid us in our programming. Our work is truly ground-breaking and exciting, and we always invite the involvement of members. 

This year we held our dance lesson after the close of the business meeting. Katelyn MacIntyre, a competitive ballroom dancer and our vice president, led the participants in a bachata lesson. Usually, I cannot speak to these lessons because I tend to stay outside the room collecting the fee for the event. But this year I danced with the rest of the class and enjoyed Katelyn’s descriptive teaching. If you have not checked out one of our dance workshops, I urge you to attend next year. Katelyn uses words to describe the steps of the dance and provides useful direction that includes methods of orienting to the room without sight. If you’ve ever been told that dance wouldn’t be appropriate to learn as a blind person, this experience will break down that misconception.

Our nineteenth annual Showcase of Talent featured a dynamic and entertaining lineup of performers. If you’ve never attended a Showcase of Talent, you’ve truly missed out on a convention staple and highlight. Our MC, Briley O’Connor, kept the audience energized, and our resident audio tech, Sam Claussen, gave us timely and expert sound throughout the evening. Our appreciation for their work cannot be measured. In recent years we have turned the showcase into a talent competition. At the end of the evening, our judges chose three winners of cash prizes. This year our judges, James Brown, Darian Smith, and Lesley Hamrick, chose the following three winners: first place, Rachel Grider, an opera singer from California; second place, Tara Briggs, a flutist from Utah; and third place, Wilkins Eugene, a saxophonist from Georgia. These winners gave spectacular performances and impressed the audience with their skill. Please watch our Facebook for a recording of the Showcase of Talent to be available on our YouTube channel. 

Whether you are an aspiring or professional performer, wish to take up performing as a hobby, or are simply interested in the issues surrounding blind people in entertainment and the performing arts, we have much to offer you. We thank those of you who took part in our activities and look forward to hearing any ideas or input you have for us as we start a new year of exciting work. If you would like to become a member, please email us at [email protected]. If you would like to email me directly, please do so at [email protected]. Let’s continue working together to turn blind performers’ dreams into reality!

The Plan, the Road Map, and the Courage:

From the Editor: Elizabeth Rouse is a senior at Central College in Pella, Iowa, where she is majoring in English and theatre. Currently, she serves as a board member for the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). She is also the vice president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students. I hope this is the first of many contributions from her:

The national convention has come and gone, but our student love is even stronger. As Earl Nightingale once said: "All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination." As students, we constantly focus on the future: the looming assignment due date; the upcoming break from classes; the next step toward the real world.  Most of these steppingstones become overwhelming. As blind students we also encounter the challenge of proving ourselves each day. This means blind students must raise the bar even higher in proving ourselves in different ways than our sighted counterparts.  Oftentimes, our peers and instructors doubt our abilities because of our blindness. This hesitancy that we face on a daily basis makes our national convention of the National Federation of the Blind even more rejuvenating and refreshing.

Once a year, nearly five hundred blind students mingle with peers who experience our unique obstacles. We are filled with love and welcoming vibes as we leverage our own backgrounds and identities to learn from one another. During the first evening of convention, NABS hosted a student networking event, where we empower one another to overcome the inconveniences interfering with our paths. This gathering is the perfect opportunity for each of us to devise a unique plan that will lead each of us to our final destination: self-defined success.

Once we have a plan, we need some guidelines to follow. Perhaps another student's past experience can serve as a road map, advising us on which paths we may wish to take on our journey. During our ground-breaking annual business meeting, our national student division president Kathryn Webster shares stories from her past experiences to motivate and encourage our membership, emphasizing the idea that blindness bonds us together as a community as we strive to achieve full recognition and equality within society. Along with passionate speakers such as First Lady Melissa Riccobono, who welcomes conversations around self-care that are essential to our success, the annual NABS business meeting serves as a fueling station to ignite us with energy for the year ahead. We elected a board of dynamic and ambitious leaders whose goals are to support students in navigating the roadblocks that life presents, as well as serve as role models to the upcoming blind leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. Congratulations to our newly elected board members: Trisha Kulkarni of California, Johna Wright of Georgia, Elizabeth Rouse of Iowa, and Justin Salisbury of Hawaii. A huge shout out to our continuing officers: President Kathryn Webster of Virginia, First Vice President Syed Rizvi of Texas, Second Vice President Kenia Flores of North Carolina, Treasurer Dustin Cather of Illinois, and Secretary Mausam Mehta of Virginia. Thank you to our national president, Mark Riccobono, for demonstrating what true support and belief in students looks like.

The love, compassion, and mentorship that we receive from our fellow NABS members enables us to pass those feelings along to future Federation leaders in all of our affiliates. This year NABS helped coordinate the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the American Action Fund by manning tables at the Braille Carnival. This allowed our volunteers to network with authentic national leaders in all stages of life.  Playing games and spending time with new friends was a perfect way to see a direct result of what the Federation's work has the power to achieve.  Whether through exercising in our annual walk-a-thon, selling NABS swag at the exhibit hall, helping out with marshaling the convention, or simply participating in our national mentor program, the National Association of Blind Students was alive, proud, and welcoming at the 2019 National Convention. As we embark on the next year of success, our hearts are full of strength, empathy, courage, and love; and we want every blind student to be embraced by this beauty.
Another Successful Rookie Roundup from its Chairman, Pamela Allen:

I am proud to let readers of the Braille Monitor know that we had a successful Rookie Roundup. Those who participate are always grateful to the many veterans who welcome our first-timers to our family! We gave out over 350 ribbons that night.

In addition to welcoming our Jernigan Fund winners, we had first-timers from many states and several countries. The energy in the room was high as President Riccobono and First Lady Melissa shared their warm greetings. Rookies were also treated to remarks by Dr. and Mrs. Maurer, who encouraged all to get involved and become part of our family. We had a special welcome for our Spanish-speaking attendees and discussed Spanish translation at convention. Tracy Soforenko gave a special welcome to our Jernigan Fund recipients! Kathryn Webster highlighted student activities throughout the week. All ages were represented that evening in our audience. Joe Ruffalo demonstrated the proper way to acknowledge receipt of a door prize with vigor and enthusiasm! I also want to thank all those who served as marshals to help our first-time attendees find the room as well as the wonderful staff from our Center who helped hand out ribbons and tote bags.

It is always such a powerful experience to feel the excitement of those coming to their first convention, confident it will not be their last.

It Stems from You: Membership Builds Our Family

From the Editor: Kathryn Webster is a rare find—a dynamic, intelligent, friendly, outgoing, and approachable young person whose decision to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind bodes well for the future of the organization and the advancement of the blind. She is the current president of the National Association of Blind Students, but she writes this article in her capacity as the co-chairman of the National Federation of the Blind Membership Committee. She conducted the meeting at the 2019 National Convention, and this is her report:

During the 2019 National Convention banquet address, we learned from President Riccobono that “While progress offers choices, we must not forget that our most important choice is to continue our march together—that will make all the difference in our freedom. We choose to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.” Certainly, that choice is each and every one of ours to make, but it is also our choice to welcome others with open arms and Federation love as new members join our movement. Most importantly, it is on the shoulders of each of us to extend our reach by spreading our mission further and wider than ever before.

With creativity, charm, and intentionality, recruitment can be executed in several ways. Over 100 members joined together during the 2019 national membership committee meeting to converse about our greatest asset: our members. We were fortunate enough to commence the two-hour meeting with energetic remarks from our national president, as President Riccobono emphasized the significance and true value in growing our people by expanding our reach. We then discussed the formalized onboarding process. Our expectation is that each chapter appoints a membership coordinator to submit the new member forms via the online platform. Our committee also elaborated on the membership coins, something each of our members should hold in high regard as we exemplify the power of our voices across the country. Finally, we deeply missed our incredible chairwoman, Jeannie Massay, during the 2019 National Convention, but recognize health concerns should take priority. Our 2019 membership committee sends a huge heartfelt thank you to Jeannie’s intentional and authentic leadership as she guides our national membership efforts forward, no matter the circumstance.

We spent a great deal of time in break-out discussions, where we gathered recruitment ideas and tools that could be replicated at the local level. While this list is by no means exhaustive or the full list of innovative and imaginative ways by which we can build our membership, we wanted to share some excellent ideas that could spark thoughtful actions across all of our chapters.

1. Word of Mouth Goes Far

You’ve got to friend raise, before you fundraise. If you encounter a cane user on the street, introduce yourself. There is nothing more powerful than one-on-one conversations about our work and how they can be a part of changing what it means to be blind. Reading a Facebook post or Twitter hashtag will appease some, but greater impact comes from personal experiences and stories. When I talk about the Federation, there is a huge smile on my face. Those feelings of pride and vibrance radiate onto others, encouraging them to be interested in learning more. Let’s challenge each of our members to bring a friend to the next meeting. In doing so, we must push ourselves to be bolder and more vocal when sharing information about the National Federation of the Blind. Don’t fear walking up to a total stranger who happens to be blind. Approach him or her with high energy and a poised attitude. It will make all the difference.

2. Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up

Easier said than done, but the warmth and sincerity that accompanies a follow-up call is a game changer. For newcomers, that single appreciation telephone message could be that ah-hah moment that clicks in someone’s mind in choosing to be a part of our Federation family. In following up, you are offered the ideal opportunity to get to know the new member at a more personal level. Take advantage of that conversation. Learn about what they enjoy, don’t enjoy; ask questions about their passions and what makes them most energized. Turn that conversation into tangible ways they can get involved and assert their strengths at the local level. Do keep in mind, they may not be fully sold from the get-go. That’s okay. Never give up. There is a fine balance between being too pushy and witnessing our mission sink in as folks learn more. Finding that balance is key, but our leaders are here to guide you through that approach. Finally, introduce potential new members to others in the chapter. Find them a mentor, a peer, and a comfortable project where they may shine. And remember, always thank them for their valuable contributions.

3. Leverage Existing Resources

Oftentimes, we overlook what’s right in front of us. Our local, state, and national resources offer immense information for our leaders and members to outreach with blind people in your area. The white cane list, scholarship applicant information, and Future Reflections subscribers just to name a few, offer perfect opportunities to capture information on potential members. Keep track of these individuals, routinely reaching out to share information and invite them to upcoming events. Beyond our Federation resources, there are several options to distribute information through state and local agencies and programs as a means of advertising Federation-related business. Build as many relationships as possible. Simply by presenting your authentic and genuine self, I guarantee you will open several doors in an effort to strengthen our membership.

4. Meet People Where They Are

We are all human, shaped by different experiences and backgrounds. Each and every one of us has something unique to offer and bring to the table. We learn from the best leaders that diverse teams create the greatest success. In order to build a strong and authentic membership base, we must be intentional about meeting people where they are. Our blindness skills vary in so many ways. The National Federation of the Blind welcomes all skill levels, without question. In order to live and act on this statement, our local efforts should include coordinating events that allow our members to see that we are an organization that excels by sharing resources. I encourage chapters to host an activity that allows members to share personal experiences, teach others tips and tricks, and truly encourages knowledge broadening. We enhance the lives of all blind people, not just our members. Let’s lead by example by embracing non-members into our initiatives, illustrating the importance of being an integral part of the action.

It is my hope that the above ideas ignite motivation surrounding our membership efforts: the core of our movement. It stems from each and every one of you. Without you, our members, we would not be able to feel unified as a family. We would not be able to push our legislative priorities forward. We would not be able to bring Braille literacy to our youth. We would not be able to get a cane into the hands of a newly blinded adult. Without you, we would not be the National Federation of the Blind. The conversation starts here. I encourage each of you to share your ideas by emailing [email protected]. Let’s build our family; let’s build the National Federation of the Blind.

A Report from the Computer Science Division:

The goal of this year's meeting was to catch people up with the state of access technology with respect to the stuff they use every day, i.e. Windows, Narrator, and the other screen readers. In addition, our division wants to show that real blind folks are employed and doing interesting work in the field of computer science or technology-related subjects. To that end, we covered progress at Microsoft, how to set up and operate an Amazon cloud of servers and services, the state of accessibility laws in Colorado, how to learn to program for iOS from the Hadley School for the Blind, and an extended tutorial on how to use Google suite with a screen reader.

To become a part of our thriving and exciting division, go to https://web.nfbcal.org/nfbcsreg. Whether you are a professional in the field of computing or someone who uses a computer enough that you want to stay current and even learn more, this is the division for you.

National Association of Blind Veterans (NABV) Meeting Summary:

The NABV presented President Riccobono with a check for $22,574.83. We performed our traditional Celebration of Freedom at the opening session of the 2019 National Convention. In this ceremony, all the veterans and active service members were introduced to the Federation.

We met in our breakout session on Monday, July 8. Attending were approximately thirty-three members. We held biennial elections, and the following members were unanimously elected: president, Vernon Humphrey, PhD, US Army Retired Master Sergeant (Georgia); first vice president, Doug Ingram, US Navy, (Florida); second vice president, Roy Stinson, US Marine Corps (Arizona); treasurer, Dwight Sayer, US Air Force (Florida); secretary, David Hutchins (Missouri); and board members Mark Erickson, US Marine Corps (Minnesota); Wayne Field, US Navy (Massachusetts); Gustave (Jim) Jonas, US Marine Corps (New York); Brad Loos, US Navy (Nebraska); Nancy Hester, US Army (Florida); and Jeff Bradshaw, chaplain, US Air Force (Florida).

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research:

The National Federation of the Blind published Volume 9, Number 1, of The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research (JBIR) on June 18, 2019. You can access the table of contents and articles in this issue of JBIR Vol. 9, No 2, at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/ jbir/jbir19/jbir0901tc.html.

Research manuscripts included in this issue are:

Professional practice articles included in this issue are:

JBIR is the NFB's free, open-access, online-only professional journal that publishes peer-reviewed, original research manuscripts, and professional practice articles that deal with all aspects of blindness other than the medical. Practice-based articles that share the author's expertise in how best-practices can improve education and rehabilitation outcomes are strongly encouraged. To learn more about JBIR and how to become an author or peer reviewer, please visit the JBIR Home Page at http://nfb-jbir.libraryhost.com/index.php/JBIR.

In Brief

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.

Seedlings publishes 500th book in UEB!

Seedlings Braille Books for Children just published its 500th book in Unified English Braille (UEB). That means Seedlings is a leader, if not the leader, among Braille publishers in the United States in the number of children's titles it offers in the new code. The 500th book is A to Z Mysteries: The Panda Puzzle, the story of three kids trying to find a panda kidnapped from the zoo.

Seedlings has been converting books in its catalog from the old Braille code since 2016 when the United States officially adopted UEB. All 314 of its print-and-Braille books for younger readers have been in UEB for a few years. Now 186 of its all-Braille books for older readers are in UEB, for a total of five hundred!

Other recently converted titles include A Little House Chapter Book: Laura's Ma; Magic Tree House #4: Pirates Past Noon; The Westing Game, a Newbery Medal winner; We'll Race You, Henry—A Story about Henry Ford; and My Book of Bible Stories.

Seedlings is continuing to add titles in UEB at the rate of about one a week, so check www.seedlings.org often for the latest offerings!

NFB Pledge

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.