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.