Braille Monitor                          August/September 2019

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Convention Miniatures

Honoring and Strengthening our Diversity:

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

Mujeres of the Federation
Black Leaders Advancing the Federation
Empowerment Seminar (conducted jointly with other Federation leaders)
Asian Membership Development
Diversity and Inclusion Committee Meeting
Presidential Diversity Morning Mixer
Masculinity, Blindness, and Latino Culture
Blindness and Interracial Relationships
Dating in the Asian/South Asian Community

These sessions provided an opportunity to learn about the unique ways in which blindness exists across various dimensions of identity, with the communities that are at the center of these experiences leading the conversation. Aside from providing platforms to build community and capacity, the sessions also served as vital sources of knowledge to bring increased visibility to issues of social justice and equity across our Federation work. 

Performing Arts Division Activities at Convention:

The National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division presented an exciting program of activities at this year’s convention. Every year we set a program that includes as much interactive performing as possible so that blind would-be performers have opportunities they may be discouraged from pursuing in their communities. This year we provided these opportunities through our acting workshop, dance lesson, and our annual Showcase of Talent.

We were honored to welcome Marilee Talkington, a professional blind actress, back to our convention as the teacher of our acting workshop. She led a beginning-level, professional quality acting class on the second evening of convention. Approximately eighteen people of varying ages and backgrounds participated in a series of exercises to engage their bodies, focus their minds, and increase their awareness of their presence in their physical space. If you had walked in the room at a critical point in the workshop, you would have been met with the sound of twenty people vigorously tapping the backs of their hips as they sought connection with their inner physical centers of energy. After the exercises, the participants partnered up and tackled a script. Each pairing was instructed to come up with a scenario that would prompt the dialogue in the script to occur, but they were not allowed to tell the class their story or anything about the characters they were portraying. Acting gets deep. Each set of partners worked together to develop a story for the script and then, after performing the script once in front of the class, they specified their character’s motivations and dug deeper into their emotions. There were tears; there was laughter, and most importantly, there was much learning of the work it takes to connect with a character and a script.

The next evening we held our annual business meeting. Our meeting agenda centered on discussions of the Let Us Play Us campaign. We are grateful that President Riccobono took the time to open the discussion. He motivated us with a rousing speech encouraging us to hold the industry accountable in our pursuit of acting opportunities. Everette Bacon continued the discussion by speaking on his experience as a performer and advocate in the entertainment realm. Our discussion remained lively and will be continued in the coming months. If you are interested in working on the Let Us Play Us campaign with us, please email us at [email protected]. The time is now for blind performers to stand up and fight for representation in the entertainment industry. 

In the business portion of our meeting, we welcomed Christina Jones, a professional opera singer from California, to our board. I will add here that you need not be a member of the board of the Performing Arts Division to aid us in our programming. Our work is truly ground-breaking and exciting, and we always invite the involvement of members. 

This year we held our dance lesson after the close of the business meeting. Katelyn MacIntyre, a competitive ballroom dancer and our vice president, led the participants in a bachata lesson. Usually, I cannot speak to these lessons because I tend to stay outside the room collecting the fee for the event. But this year I danced with the rest of the class and enjoyed Katelyn’s descriptive teaching. If you have not checked out one of our dance workshops, I urge you to attend next year. Katelyn uses words to describe the steps of the dance and provides useful direction that includes methods of orienting to the room without sight. If you’ve ever been told that dance wouldn’t be appropriate to learn as a blind person, this experience will break down that misconception.

Our nineteenth annual Showcase of Talent featured a dynamic and entertaining lineup of performers. If you’ve never attended a Showcase of Talent, you’ve truly missed out on a convention staple and highlight. Our MC, Briley O’Connor, kept the audience energized, and our resident audio tech, Sam Claussen, gave us timely and expert sound throughout the evening. Our appreciation for their work cannot be measured. In recent years we have turned the showcase into a talent competition. At the end of the evening, our judges chose three winners of cash prizes. This year our judges, James Brown, Darian Smith, and Lesley Hamrick, chose the following three winners: first place, Rachel Grider, an opera singer from California; second place, Tara Briggs, a flutist from Utah; and third place, Wilkins Eugene, a saxophonist from Georgia. These winners gave spectacular performances and impressed the audience with their skill. Please watch our Facebook for a recording of the Showcase of Talent to be available on our YouTube channel. 

Whether you are an aspiring or professional performer, wish to take up performing as a hobby, or are simply interested in the issues surrounding blind people in entertainment and the performing arts, we have much to offer you. We thank those of you who took part in our activities and look forward to hearing any ideas or input you have for us as we start a new year of exciting work. If you would like to become a member, please email us at [email protected]. If you would like to email me directly, please do so at [email protected]. Let’s continue working together to turn blind performers’ dreams into reality!

The Plan, the Road Map, and the Courage:

From the Editor: Elizabeth Rouse is a senior at Central College in Pella, Iowa, where she is majoring in English and theatre. Currently, she serves as a board member for the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). She is also the vice president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students. I hope this is the first of many contributions from her:

The national convention has come and gone, but our student love is even stronger. As Earl Nightingale once said: "All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination." As students, we constantly focus on the future: the looming assignment due date; the upcoming break from classes; the next step toward the real world.  Most of these steppingstones become overwhelming. As blind students we also encounter the challenge of proving ourselves each day. This means blind students must raise the bar even higher in proving ourselves in different ways than our sighted counterparts.  Oftentimes, our peers and instructors doubt our abilities because of our blindness. This hesitancy that we face on a daily basis makes our national convention of the National Federation of the Blind even more rejuvenating and refreshing.

Once a year, nearly five hundred blind students mingle with peers who experience our unique obstacles. We are filled with love and welcoming vibes as we leverage our own backgrounds and identities to learn from one another. During the first evening of convention, NABS hosted a student networking event, where we empower one another to overcome the inconveniences interfering with our paths. This gathering is the perfect opportunity for each of us to devise a unique plan that will lead each of us to our final destination: self-defined success.

Once we have a plan, we need some guidelines to follow. Perhaps another student's past experience can serve as a road map, advising us on which paths we may wish to take on our journey. During our ground-breaking annual business meeting, our national student division president Kathryn Webster shares stories from her past experiences to motivate and encourage our membership, emphasizing the idea that blindness bonds us together as a community as we strive to achieve full recognition and equality within society. Along with passionate speakers such as First Lady Melissa Riccobono, who welcomes conversations around self-care that are essential to our success, the annual NABS business meeting serves as a fueling station to ignite us with energy for the year ahead. We elected a board of dynamic and ambitious leaders whose goals are to support students in navigating the roadblocks that life presents, as well as serve as role models to the upcoming blind leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. Congratulations to our newly elected board members: Trisha Kulkarni of California, Johna Wright of Georgia, Elizabeth Rouse of Iowa, and Justin Salisbury of Hawaii. A huge shout out to our continuing officers: President Kathryn Webster of Virginia, First Vice President Syed Rizvi of Texas, Second Vice President Kenia Flores of North Carolina, Treasurer Dustin Cather of Illinois, and Secretary Mausam Mehta of Virginia. Thank you to our national president, Mark Riccobono, for demonstrating what true support and belief in students looks like.

The love, compassion, and mentorship that we receive from our fellow NABS members enables us to pass those feelings along to future Federation leaders in all of our affiliates. This year NABS helped coordinate the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the American Action Fund by manning tables at the Braille Carnival. This allowed our volunteers to network with authentic national leaders in all stages of life.  Playing games and spending time with new friends was a perfect way to see a direct result of what the Federation's work has the power to achieve.  Whether through exercising in our annual walk-a-thon, selling NABS swag at the exhibit hall, helping out with marshaling the convention, or simply participating in our national mentor program, the National Association of Blind Students was alive, proud, and welcoming at the 2019 National Convention. As we embark on the next year of success, our hearts are full of strength, empathy, courage, and love; and we want every blind student to be embraced by this beauty.
Another Successful Rookie Roundup from its Chairman, Pamela Allen:

I am proud to let readers of the Braille Monitor know that we had a successful Rookie Roundup. Those who participate are always grateful to the many veterans who welcome our first-timers to our family! We gave out over 350 ribbons that night.

In addition to welcoming our Jernigan Fund winners, we had first-timers from many states and several countries. The energy in the room was high as President Riccobono and First Lady Melissa shared their warm greetings. Rookies were also treated to remarks by Dr. and Mrs. Maurer, who encouraged all to get involved and become part of our family. We had a special welcome for our Spanish-speaking attendees and discussed Spanish translation at convention. Tracy Soforenko gave a special welcome to our Jernigan Fund recipients! Kathryn Webster highlighted student activities throughout the week. All ages were represented that evening in our audience. Joe Ruffalo demonstrated the proper way to acknowledge receipt of a door prize with vigor and enthusiasm! I also want to thank all those who served as marshals to help our first-time attendees find the room as well as the wonderful staff from our Center who helped hand out ribbons and tote bags.

It is always such a powerful experience to feel the excitement of those coming to their first convention, confident it will not be their last.

It Stems from You: Membership Builds Our Family

From the Editor: Kathryn Webster is a rare find—a dynamic, intelligent, friendly, outgoing, and approachable young person whose decision to be a part of the National Federation of the Blind bodes well for the future of the organization and the advancement of the blind. She is the current president of the National Association of Blind Students, but she writes this article in her capacity as the co-chairman of the National Federation of the Blind Membership Committee. She conducted the meeting at the 2019 National Convention, and this is her report:

During the 2019 National Convention banquet address, we learned from President Riccobono that “While progress offers choices, we must not forget that our most important choice is to continue our march together—that will make all the difference in our freedom. We choose to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind.” Certainly, that choice is each and every one of ours to make, but it is also our choice to welcome others with open arms and Federation love as new members join our movement. Most importantly, it is on the shoulders of each of us to extend our reach by spreading our mission further and wider than ever before.

With creativity, charm, and intentionality, recruitment can be executed in several ways. Over 100 members joined together during the 2019 national membership committee meeting to converse about our greatest asset: our members. We were fortunate enough to commence the two-hour meeting with energetic remarks from our national president, as President Riccobono emphasized the significance and true value in growing our people by expanding our reach. We then discussed the formalized onboarding process. Our expectation is that each chapter appoints a membership coordinator to submit the new member forms via the online platform. Our committee also elaborated on the membership coins, something each of our members should hold in high regard as we exemplify the power of our voices across the country. Finally, we deeply missed our incredible chairwoman, Jeannie Massay, during the 2019 National Convention, but recognize health concerns should take priority. Our 2019 membership committee sends a huge heartfelt thank you to Jeannie’s intentional and authentic leadership as she guides our national membership efforts forward, no matter the circumstance.

We spent a great deal of time in break-out discussions, where we gathered recruitment ideas and tools that could be replicated at the local level. While this list is by no means exhaustive or the full list of innovative and imaginative ways by which we can build our membership, we wanted to share some excellent ideas that could spark thoughtful actions across all of our chapters.

1. Word of Mouth Goes Far

You’ve got to friend raise, before you fundraise. If you encounter a cane user on the street, introduce yourself. There is nothing more powerful than one-on-one conversations about our work and how they can be a part of changing what it means to be blind. Reading a Facebook post or Twitter hashtag will appease some, but greater impact comes from personal experiences and stories. When I talk about the Federation, there is a huge smile on my face. Those feelings of pride and vibrance radiate onto others, encouraging them to be interested in learning more. Let’s challenge each of our members to bring a friend to the next meeting. In doing so, we must push ourselves to be bolder and more vocal when sharing information about the National Federation of the Blind. Don’t fear walking up to a total stranger who happens to be blind. Approach him or her with high energy and a poised attitude. It will make all the difference.

2. Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up

Easier said than done, but the warmth and sincerity that accompanies a follow-up call is a game changer. For newcomers, that single appreciation telephone message could be that ah-hah moment that clicks in someone’s mind in choosing to be a part of our Federation family. In following up, you are offered the ideal opportunity to get to know the new member at a more personal level. Take advantage of that conversation. Learn about what they enjoy, don’t enjoy; ask questions about their passions and what makes them most energized. Turn that conversation into tangible ways they can get involved and assert their strengths at the local level. Do keep in mind, they may not be fully sold from the get-go. That’s okay. Never give up. There is a fine balance between being too pushy and witnessing our mission sink in as folks learn more. Finding that balance is key, but our leaders are here to guide you through that approach. Finally, introduce potential new members to others in the chapter. Find them a mentor, a peer, and a comfortable project where they may shine. And remember, always thank them for their valuable contributions.

3. Leverage Existing Resources

Oftentimes, we overlook what’s right in front of us. Our local, state, and national resources offer immense information for our leaders and members to outreach with blind people in your area. The white cane list, scholarship applicant information, and Future Reflections subscribers just to name a few, offer perfect opportunities to capture information on potential members. Keep track of these individuals, routinely reaching out to share information and invite them to upcoming events. Beyond our Federation resources, there are several options to distribute information through state and local agencies and programs as a means of advertising Federation-related business. Build as many relationships as possible. Simply by presenting your authentic and genuine self, I guarantee you will open several doors in an effort to strengthen our membership.

4. Meet People Where They Are

We are all human, shaped by different experiences and backgrounds. Each and every one of us has something unique to offer and bring to the table. We learn from the best leaders that diverse teams create the greatest success. In order to build a strong and authentic membership base, we must be intentional about meeting people where they are. Our blindness skills vary in so many ways. The National Federation of the Blind welcomes all skill levels, without question. In order to live and act on this statement, our local efforts should include coordinating events that allow our members to see that we are an organization that excels by sharing resources. I encourage chapters to host an activity that allows members to share personal experiences, teach others tips and tricks, and truly encourages knowledge broadening. We enhance the lives of all blind people, not just our members. Let’s lead by example by embracing non-members into our initiatives, illustrating the importance of being an integral part of the action.

It is my hope that the above ideas ignite motivation surrounding our membership efforts: the core of our movement. It stems from each and every one of you. Without you, our members, we would not be able to feel unified as a family. We would not be able to push our legislative priorities forward. We would not be able to bring Braille literacy to our youth. We would not be able to get a cane into the hands of a newly blinded adult. Without you, we would not be the National Federation of the Blind. The conversation starts here. I encourage each of you to share your ideas by emailing [email protected]. Let’s build our family; let’s build the National Federation of the Blind.

A Report from the Computer Science Division:

The goal of this year's meeting was to catch people up with the state of access technology with respect to the stuff they use every day, i.e. Windows, Narrator, and the other screen readers. In addition, our division wants to show that real blind folks are employed and doing interesting work in the field of computer science or technology-related subjects. To that end, we covered progress at Microsoft, how to set up and operate an Amazon cloud of servers and services, the state of accessibility laws in Colorado, how to learn to program for iOS from the Hadley School for the Blind, and an extended tutorial on how to use Google suite with a screen reader.

To become a part of our thriving and exciting division, go to Whether you are a professional in the field of computing or someone who uses a computer enough that you want to stay current and even learn more, this is the division for you.

National Association of Blind Veterans (NABV) Meeting Summary:

The NABV presented President Riccobono with a check for $22,574.83. We performed our traditional Celebration of Freedom at the opening session of the 2019 National Convention. In this ceremony, all the veterans and active service members were introduced to the Federation.

We met in our breakout session on Monday, July 8. Attending were approximately thirty-three members. We held biennial elections, and the following members were unanimously elected: president, Vernon Humphrey, PhD, US Army Retired Master Sergeant (Georgia); first vice president, Doug Ingram, US Navy, (Florida); second vice president, Roy Stinson, US Marine Corps (Arizona); treasurer, Dwight Sayer, US Air Force (Florida); secretary, David Hutchins (Missouri); and board members Mark Erickson, US Marine Corps (Minnesota); Wayne Field, US Navy (Massachusetts); Gustave (Jim) Jonas, US Marine Corps (New York); Brad Loos, US Navy (Nebraska); Nancy Hester, US Army (Florida); and Jeff Bradshaw, chaplain, US Air Force (Florida).

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