Braille Monitor                         August/September 2020

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The 2020 Convention Roundup

by Gary Wunder

Gary WunderEighty years ago sixteen people from seven states journeyed across the country to talk about their state organizations. Beyond that, they came to grapple with the growing role of the federal government in programs for the blind and the need to speak with one voice rather than many smaller voices to that ever-growing body that was coming to dominate programs of financial support and rehabilitation. The concept of blind people speaking for themselves and exercising influence was radical. As one agency director remarked about the thought of blind people exercising influence in the programs that served them: “It is like turning over the keys of the asylum to the inmates housed there.”

Many of the organizations created to help the blind rejected the idea that we could become a force for change. The things we wanted—to get an education, get a job, have a family, and play a meaningful role in our communities—that was clearly impossible. But when the blind came together to meet and share their stories nationally, they found that some of the things they dreamed about were actually reflected in the lives of people they had not known before. We wanted to be teachers, and when we searched the nation we found a teacher here and there. Some of us wanted to be college professors, and the man heading this new national organization was himself a professor. So those who were charged with seeing to the welfare for the blind gave up saying that what the blind wanted was impossible; instead they said it was virtually impossible. The goal of these blind radicals might ring true for a very few: the lucky, the talented, the intelligent, the very motivated, but the message of those whose job it was to be keepers of the blind said that we would forever be dependent and that we should be grateful that charities and government even gave us what little we got.

Interestingly, eight decades later we found ourselves once again trying to figure out what was possible. We wanted to hold a national convention, but the coronavirus made travel far too risky, and the crowds our convention generates would make social distancing impossible. Should we cancel the convention? During a couple of lean years in World War II, this is what we had done, but we were not ready to cancel if there was an alternative. The task might seem virtually impossible, but this time the word virtual would serve rather than hamper us. We could meet through the miracle of modern telecommunications. We could propose policies, discuss them, and decide whether they should be the action plan for blind people in America. This we did through the organizing of the eightieth anniversary convention using the Zoom platform to conduct our business using audio and video. An application called AttendeeHub was useful in letting us visit the exhibit hall, read the agenda, mark items we wanted to attend, and attend that meeting by activating a link. Almost all of the meetings we would have had in person were held virtually, and the numbers who attended them were remarkable. Many of us found that we could easily move from meeting to meeting and actually learned more about the workings of groups, committees, and divisions than we would have at our traditional in-person event. So that we could cast votes with either a conventional telephone, a smartphone, or a computer, we purchased the services of Swift Polling by ExciteM.

A week before the convention was to start, many of us met in our first large virtual gathering to participate in the Rookie Roundup. Though it is normally for first-time attendees, this Rookie Roundup was special, because all of us were attending our first virtual national convention, and being veterans did not mean that we would understand details about how to connect, how to move from meeting to meeting, and how to vote.

Beginning with the Rookie Roundup and continuing throughout the convention, we made it clear that our code of conduct would be enforced as rigorously in the cloud as it is in person. We would use this opportunity to help grow our organization with continued emphasis on diversity and inclusion. In physical conventions, the times reflected in the agenda are understood to be the time zone in which we are meeting. With this virtual convention, we had to agree on what convention time would be. We decided that in all cases convention events would be referenced in eastern daylight time, and all who participated would quickly learn and make adjustments for their time zone. This took the ambiguity out of when events would be held, but scheduling was another matter. Could we really start the convention at 8 a.m. eastern time? If we did, it would be 2 a.m. in Hawaii, and many from California would still be waiting to be roused from bed by their alarm clocks.

Registration was another process that had to undergo some change. In 2020 it was free, but there were no waiting lines and no differentiation between those who wished to register at the event and those who had saved money by pre-registering. Our cutoff for registration was June 15, but just as in our in-person events, we welcomed all to come and participate. Registration made one eligible for a door prize and eligible to vote. All of us were very proud when President Riccobono announced that we registered 7,252 members and that certain program items featured at the convention saw us exceed 8,200 participants.

On Tuesday, July 14, we engaged in this great experiment to see whether all of the technology we were trying to harness could really let us meet and transact business. Our first victory was the opening of the presidential suite. Though we were a little light on food and drink, the hospitality was second to none. While some visited, others explored contemporary issues in rehabilitation and education, and, as they so often do, they furthered the process of influencing the programs designed to serve us. The mammoth retailer, Target, talked about its successes in making friendly webpages and applications so that blind people can enjoy browsing and shopping from the convenience of their homes. Shopping takes money, and most of us find that employment is the greatest source of that money. So it is that the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee met to discuss getting, keeping, and advancing in the job.

When most of us think of Microsoft, we think of the Windows operating system, and although Microsoft is working hard to make its operating system and all that runs on it accessible, it also has other projects. One of these is Seeing AI, and it offered a session on the product and recent improvements made to it. It has also developed and is continuing to refine a product called Microsoft Soundscape, which uses innovative audio-based technology to aid in mobility.

Our friends at Vispero were also present to talk about three of its major products: JAWS for Windows, Fusion, and ZoomText. Google is best known for its powerful search engine, but it has made major investments in other software and hardware. In several sessions throughout the convention the company conveyed its commitment to accessibility in both its hardware and software and discussed improved automatic image descriptions that will be most helpful to blind people.

Members who are American Arab, North African, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Sikh met to discuss difficulties they face as blind people in the post-9/11 America in which we live. JPMorgan Chase held an interactive discussion on digital accessibility and banking in the time of the coronavirus.

In almost everything he writes or says, President Riccobono concludes by saying, “Let’s go build the Federation!” The Membership Committee is a crucial component in coordinating our work to build, and all affiliate membership chairpersons and guests were warmly welcomed to the session.

Living through this pandemic has created an urgent need to figure out how to do virtually what previously has been done physically. Accessible learning activities that are done virtually must be meaningful for blind people, so the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children division sponsored a workshop on this topic.

Mujeres [Women] of the Federation was a group meeting featuring a bilingual celebration of blind Latinx excellence. The Braille Monitor understands that there were some rather moving speeches made in this group, and we hope they will find their way to the editor for inclusion later in the fall.

HumanWare is always a prominent presenter, and this year it sponsored a number of sessions discussing new features in the BrailleNote, in the Victor Trek, and in its projects for low-vision users. Amazon came to tell us what is new in terms of accessibility including Fire TV, tablets, Prime, Video, Echo, and Kindle. Facebook hosted a presentation in which it talked about making its service more accessible and extending its efforts for accessibility throughout the industry.
One of the most important services we provide is NFB-NEWSLINE®, and convention is always a good time to advertise it and provide some much-needed training given the number of access methods that now exist.

The National Association of Guide Dog Users held two meetings at the convention, and we have every reason to believe that a report will be forthcoming to discuss the advocacy efforts of the division, its concern about training programs, and practical issues surrounding veterinarian care, exercise, and other issues important when having a healthy, happy guide dog.

“Transforming Lives for Transgender People” gave members a chance to discuss shared experiences in accessing mental and medical health services, learning useful practices for interacting with healthcare professionals, advice about managing medications, and learning how to navigate daily social interactions.

Once again we held a session entitled “SSI and SSDI 101: What You Need to Know.” This session is always helpful for recipients and advocates. What’s happening with the National Library Service is always important, and Director Karen Keninger was on hand to bring updates and answer questions.

With significant elections soon at hand, the topic of electronic ballot delivery and how it works was a well-attended meeting, and so too was the meeting held on the following day to discuss how to privately and independently vote by mail. The need for creative and accessible solutions has always been important, but the need has increased significantly as a result of COVID-19.

The National Association of Blind Students held its annual meeting, the advocacy and policy group did a recap of the Washington Seminar and provided a rundown of the priorities the Federation is pursuing legislatively. “Cultivating Asian/ Pacific Islander Identities” generated some wonderful presentations and discussion, as did “Black Leaders Advancing the Federation.”

“We’re Blind, But Not Color-blind” was a topic presented by sociologist Angela Frederick, and what she discussed would appear in a slightly different form in one of the general sessions. The National Association of Blind Students hosted a session entitled “Oh Yes, I Made Mistakes–and Lived to Tell the Tale”, a meeting focusing on learning the soft skills of socialization. This is just a sample of the activities that took place on seminar and division day. To truly understand the diversity of the people, professions, and interests represented at the convention, one must go right to the agenda. It can be found by searching the NFB website.

The gavel for the board meeting fell promptly at 2 p.m., and all seventeen members were present. As usual, a substantial number of convention attendees also were in attendance, many regarding this as one of our formal convention sessions.

The President began with a moment of silence recognizing those marchers in our movement who have passed in the last year. Sixty-six people were on his list, but our prayerful moment of remembrance extended to all who died between our last convention and the present one.

Daniel Martinez was in charge of our Spanish translation initiative, and he reported that his twelve volunteers would significantly expand the sessions that were translated and had worked to see that our agenda was also available in Spanish. At the conclusion of Daniel’s remarks, President Riccobono asked whether he would like to say the same thing in Spanish. Daniel gently assured him that his remarks had already been translated in real time. Quickly we established that spontaneous humor was not inhibited by our virtual convention or the Zoom platform.

We then said the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the Federation pledge. This was followed by a recitation of members of the Board of Directors up for election and a list of those whose terms will expire next year. Those who were up for election in 2020 were: President Mark Riccobono, Maryland; First 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. Holdover board positions are filled by Denise Avant, Illinois; Everette Bacon, Utah; Norma Crosby, Texas; Ever Lee Hairston, California; Terri Rupp, Nevada; and Joe Ruffalo, New Jersey.

As the president of our convention host, Norma Crosby began by welcoming all of us virtually to Texas. She expressed regret at all of the things we could not do, one of the most important being the sharing of barbecue. But the essence of her message focused on what we could do and would do virtually. She encouraged us to be present for the opening session on Thursday and promised that the greeting from Texas would be all we expected from this grand state.

President Riccobono explained that the convention sessions were being captioned and that those using the Zoom platform could take advantage of this service. A written transcript of what was being said could be viewed on screen or in Braille using a refreshable Braille display.

The President took a moment to discuss our code of conduct and observed that we follow it not only for in-person meetings but for virtual meetings and on social media. Anyone who believes there has been a violation of the code should report it either by telephoning our Jernigan Institute and using extension 2475 or by emailing [email protected].

Hand-in-hand with our insistence that people be treated with respect is our commitment to diversity and inclusion. We want to welcome all people who are blind or who are interested in our work. This means celebrating our differences as well as our similarities. It means fighting the age-old human urge to give in to tribalism, making a commitment to fight the desire to feel superior because of one’s characteristics, and refusing to pretend superiority on the supposed inferiority of another. We will be conducting active programs to encourage diversity and inclusion, and this training will begin with our board of directors, our affiliate presidents, and our chapter presidents. Working with them and through them, the training will be available to every member of every chapter. We will all benefit by the sharing of the diversity we enjoy, and we should use the pages of our Braille Monitor to express this diversity and the challenges that blindness may pose.

Shawn Callaway is the co-chair of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He talked about the progress made in the past year, meetings planned for the convention, and what he hopes to accomplish in the coming year. He made sure that the convention understood the crucial role that Rosy Carranza plays as his co-chair and acknowledged that the work of the committee is substantial enough that it requires the work of all who serve on it.

Given that this convention was virtual, we had to deal with the changes that not meeting physically would require. We did this by creating a Principles of Engagement document. It will be found elsewhere in this issue.

Since we would be voting electronically, two votes were scheduled for practice. Neither had anything to do with an official Federation vote. The first issue we were asked to decide was whether the sixty-game baseball season was a good idea or not. We could vote using a regular telephone and pressing one for yes or two for no, or we could use a smart device and text the words yes or no.

Jeannie Massay is our Membership Committee co-chairperson and the treasurer of our national organization. She took the opportunity to invite those listening who may not be members to consider joining our movement. We need them, and she noted that this convention would give them a good opportunity to hear about what we do and decide whether they would like to join with us in this most noble of causes. She talked about the ongoing work of the Membership Committee, the calls where potential members can speak to leaders, and the efforts we are making to ensure that once a person is a member, he or she continues to be nurtured and encouraged to contribute energy and ideas to the process.

Our next presenter was the much loved John Berggren. President Riccobono noted that it was John’s birthday, and there is no doubt that the room would’ve been filled with song if we had been meeting in person. This gentle, firm, patient, and organized man has been in charge of convention organization and activities for a number of years, and as challenging as his work normally is, it was even more challenging for the 2020 Convention. He and his colleagues were responsible for learning about the capacity of Zoom, how to obtain different licenses for meetings that would range widely in their number of attendees, and then figuring out how to get most of us the training we would need to be active convention participants. John talked about the challenge of moving from a physical to a virtual convention. He and his team have configured Zoom rooms for more than two hundred meetings that will take place at the convention. We tested out and selected the most accessible meeting planner we could find, and though none was perfect, the one we selected did a good job in meeting our needs. The product is called AttendeeHub, and the company we hired will get a full report on how it can make its quality services even more accessible.

The AttendeeHub had an agenda containing the time of every meeting, a link that would take you to the Zoom room, and a way to mark whether or not you wanted that meeting on your calendar of events to attend. If attendees weren’t comfortable with this kind of convention agenda, it could be found on our website in EPUB, HTML, Microsoft Word, and even as a Braille-formatted file that could easily be embossed or used with a refreshable Braille display. John went over the high points of the agenda, cautioning all of us to remember that every time listed in the agenda was eastern daylight time or, as we came to call it, convention time.

The convention was available on many platforms. We have already mentioned Zoom, but many joined us through ShoutCast, YouTube, and NFB-NEWSLINE®. We could even be heard using Alexa by enabling our special skill, and many people have observed that they liked this option because of the audio quality that has been designed into the Amazon home devices.

Since a small part of John’s usual report involves pointing out the guide dog relief areas, he said that they were in the same place that they were yesterday, and this is where they would continue to be found throughout the convention.

President Riccobono quickly reviewed the number of people who registered for our convention, and that number was an impressive 7,252. It may be that some of the people in this count are not members, so we issue to them a cordial invitation to be a part of who we are and what we do.

Meeting virtually required that we make some adjustments to our normal door prize system. Those winning a prize would receive it by mail from the Jernigan Institute. Each time we drew, we would select five people, and to ensure that they were in the convention session, we provided a code word to go along with their prize. Door prize winners could either raise their hand using the Zoom platform or could send an email to [email protected] sending their first name, last name, state, and their special code word. We tried this first in the board meeting, and the first codeword was the last name of our founder and first president, tenBroek. As a final note about door prizes, they were handled by Diane McGeorge, who has been doing this since 1977, and Bennett Prows, who has been doing it since 2010.

Even with a virtual convention, we managed to open the presidential suite. Members and nonmembers alike were encouraged to come by and enjoy the virtual hospitality. All throughout the board meeting and the convention, we were active on social media using the hashtag #NFB20. This was a wonderful opportunity for people to engage in discussions about what they had observed, what was currently happening, and what would happen in the not-so-distant future.

Carla McQuillan was called on in her capacity as the chairperson of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. Her presentation and the one given by the winner will appear elsewhere in this issue.

Divisions of the National Federation of the Blind play an important part in our work. The President asked that changes in division officers be sent to him immediately and that a report from each division was due by August 15. He also discussed the importance of committees in the work that we do. Committees are appointed by the President, and those who are interested in serving on them should write to the President at [email protected].

Last year at the convention we helped the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults celebrate its 100th anniversary. The Action Fund is a valued partner, and even in this time of the coronavirus, it continues to produce Braille books for blind children. This year it has distributed more than four thousand books. It also operates the Share Braille program, which lets those wanting hardcopy Braille have books chosen from the online library. We gratefully acknowledge the help of the Action Fund with our free white cane program, our program to give a slate and stylus to any blind person who wants one, and the calendars that the Action Fund provides free to anyone wanting a calendar in Braille. Our partner has taken up a program we once ran, that being Braille Readers Are Leaders, and we in turn help our partner by sponsoring an annual Braille book fair.

Sandy Halverson is the chairperson of our rainy day fund. Interestingly, the fund’s name is Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind, so its acronym is SUN. Currently forty-six states are giving to our fund that is to be used in times of dire financial need. Like every family with a rainy day fund, we hope we’ll never need it, but we know that we must have it.

One of our most successful fundraisers is our Preauthorized Contribution Program (PAC). For many years our effort to raise money has been chaired by Scott LaBarre. This year he introduced a co-chair, Ryan Strunk, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. Those who want to help the National Federation of the Blind financially give a monthly contribution, and this program is consistently one of the most successful we operate. A monthly contribution can be made from one’s checking account, savings account, or credit card. Giving in this way is painless, and it provides the organization with a very predictable source of revenue. Without tools, a builder cannot build; without money, we don’t have the tools to build.

At the beginning of 2020 the program was generating $471,000. With the pandemic we have seen a drop, but it is not nearly as severe as we feared. Coming into the 2020 Convention the Preauthorized Contribution Program was at $466,000, a very modest drop given the economic consequences many of us have faced. Even so, we had a tremendous opportunity for PAC to expand, and the goal of our chairperson was to reach $500,000 by convention’s end. Contributions can be initiated or increased by going to www.nfb.org/pac or by calling 877-NFB2PAC. On the numeric keypad that equates to 877-632-2722.

Patti Chang is our director of outreach, and she coordinates a number of programs that are essential in bringing money to the organization. She began her presentation by thanking the wonderful people at UPS. Normally they provide us with hundreds of volunteer hours, but this year they couldn’t do that in a virtual environment. What they were able to do was make a generous contribution to our convention, and for this we are most appreciative. Giving Tuesday was the best one-day giving event we have ever had, and again we are even more thankful given that this happened in the midst of the pandemic. Patti reminded us about our Vehicle Donation Program for getting rid of unwanted vehicles and of the GreenDrop program that takes gently used household items and turns them into funding for our programs.

Patti concluded by talking about our Dream Makers Circle for those wishing to see to the future of blind people when they are no longer around to do it themselves. Signing up to provide a contribution on your death is easy, and you can talk with Patti and others about it by calling our Jernigan Institute and dialing extension 2422 or by writing Patti at [email protected]

Every year we help first-timers attend the national convention through our Jernigan Fund. Part of that convention experience is to be paired with mentors, and this year we had forty-two people who took advantage of the program. Meeting virtually means that there was no need for us to help with funding, but the mentoring continues to be invaluable.

The scholarship class of 2020 was introduced, and each one was given about thirty seconds to introduce themselves to the board and others who were in the session. What they said can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Kathryn Webster chairs the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund. She reminded us that the Jacobus tenBroek Fund owns the building that houses the Jernigan Institute and other organizations that do work along with the National Federation of the Blind. Donations from chapters, affiliates, and individuals who are moved to do so are very much needed and appreciated.

One of the agreements between state affiliates in the national body is that half of all bequests come to the national treasury. In this spirit, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland has presented in the name of Carolyn Kutilek a check in the amount of $445,889. In this time when expenses are up and it is harder for donors, the value of this gift is extraordinary.

Sheltered workshops in this country play games with the blind people who come to them. When it is to the advantage of the sheltered workshop, it calls itself a training center or a rehabilitation facility. When its major function is hiring blind people to fulfill contracts, it refers to itself as an employer. Eve Hill, a lawyer at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, took the stage to address some of the pressing legal issues in which we are involved, and she started with this very topic. Many workshops are taking advantage of the law that allows them to avoid providing unemployment compensation. This has been particularly problematic during the pandemic, and the Federation is attempting to do something about it. A resolution dealing with this issue can be found later in these pages.

Many of the big box stores that want us to make purchases from them have a practice of hiring blind people and then immediately dismissing them using the unsafe nature of their warehouses and distribution centers for blind people as their excuse. Still other employees are dismissed when the employer realizes that screen reading technology must be employed in order for them to do the job. It is shameful that SourceAmerica is one such employer given that its sole mission is to create and contract for jobs on behalf of blind people. Many of the contracts SourceAmerica is getting are federal contracts, which makes it even more difficult to conceive of blind people being left out.

What is interesting is that sometimes blind people lose jobs because of software upgrades by their employer. This is outrageous given that new software should be designed to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and technology standards that exist in the world. The proliferation of inaccessible websites also contributes to this problem since many jobs require proficiency with web applications that they may or may not have contracted for or support. Anyone who has suffered discrimination in any of these categories should contact Valerie Yingling at our national office using extension 2440.

Eve concluded her report by briefly addressing the options available for blind people to vote. Absentee voting has always been an option for blind people in every state, but in far too many cases one cannot cast a vote privately and independently if voting absentee. This is an issue we must address, for it is every bit as important as being able to vote privately and independently on-site.

Valerie Yingling addressed the group and started by discussing access to virtual healthcare and how frequently that access is not accessible for the blind. During this pandemic, we have seen our share of inaccessible information related to the COVID-19 outbreak and up-to-date information about how the virus is spreading. We continue to press for accessible kiosks and the self-checkout possibilities they enable. We will continue our work with Uber and Lyft, so please report incidents of ride denials or cleaning fees that drivers attempt to impose. Our work with Redbox continues, and our testing has been extended by three months because of the virus. Valerie encourages us to complete NFB's educational technology survey and unemployment benefits survey. Both are available on the NFB's legal webpage. The information we can provide is critical as we pursue equal access to education and employment and its related benefits.

To wrap up the board meeting, President Riccobono introduced the chairperson of the board for any comments she might like to make. Pam Allen greeted all in attendance and suggested that there was one item that we needed to discuss. The President opined that we had finished everything on his agenda, but the chairman was insistent. What she wanted to talk about was the 2021 convention, and the great reveal was that it will be in New Orleans. Anyone wanting to hear the enthusiasm of the New Orleans sports personality known as the Cajun Cannon should review the convention highlights. Chairperson Allen made remarks that were perfect for closing the board meeting. She said:

I am so grateful and so proud to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind. I want to thank our host affiliate in the great state of Texas, our incredibly dedicated affiliate leaders, our phenomenal team at our national center, and most importantly everyone who is taking part this week and contributing to our convention. The work that we are doing is life-changing, and it would not happen without your leadership and your example, President Riccobono. Thank you to you and to Melissa for inspiring all of us, always, to push the boundaries and work together to increase opportunities for blind people, anywhere and everywhere. Some people wondered if we would gather this year, and not only did we gather, but we set a record--the largest gathering of blind people in the world. That's the way we work in the National Federation of the Blind. Kudos to our members, and if you're not yet a member, we invite you to join our family.

Roland and I are wishing everyone an incredible week. We can't wait to connect with all of you. Our whole Louisiana family can't wait to welcome you in person to New Orleans in 2021. Happy convention to all. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!

President Riccobono had promised that we would have two opportunities to vote during the meeting. The question on the floor was whether we liked New Orleans as the location for our 2021 National Convention. The overwhelming vote reflected the excitement about our upcoming location, and with that, the board meeting was adjourned.

There was work aplenty to do following the board meeting, and the Research and Development Committee discussed what the blind should do when we face products we are excluded from using and what we might develop to meet needs that have not otherwise been met by technology. Although the federal government has committed to making itself a model employer for blind people, there are many issues we face in working for it, and the Blind Federal Employment Committee addressed some of these.

Dockless electric scooters provide another way for the public to travel, but more and more they are becoming a problem for blind travelers. The Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety discussed this issue, and those who are interested in learning about the problem and the solutions we are proposing should contact chairperson Maurice Peret.

On Thursday, July 16, activities began at 10 a.m. convention time with the meeting of the Committee for Advancement and Promotion of Braille. The Committee on Autonomous Vehicles and Innovations in Transportation set its hand to collecting information in emerging technology which may present opportunities for the blind to move around independently and ensuring that the NFB plays a prominent role in the future of transportation. Wells Fargo conducted a workshop to discuss financial resilience and managing one’s finances during a crisis, and the Community Service Division encouraged convention attendees to learn how to become everyday heroes in their community without a cape. We reiterate that anyone wishing to learn more about the diversity and involvement of the National Federation of the Blind and all aspects of life should do their own review of the convention agenda, for this brief summary of activities between sessions in no way begins to encompass all that this organization is doing.

An important touch to the convention experience was having Melissa Riccobono and Anil Lewis—our Nation’s Blind Podcast personalities—do a session thirty minutes before every general session. These sessions attempted to bring some of the feeling of being at an in-person convention including background noise from previous conventions. These were informative and entertaining, and comments from social media were used to influence the conversation. While some content was planned, these were organic conversations based on what was happening in real time at the convention. Members of the board of directors participated in these warmup sessions, and Chris Danielsen was helpful in making it all happen, demonstrating why we are so fortunate to have him as our director of public relations.

The first general session of the convention began at 6:30 p.m. with the falling of the gavel and an invocation by our devout Muslim brother Syed Rizvi. Syed is one of our major leaders in the student division, and his profound love of God, country, and his fellow Federationists is second to none.

Norma Crosby took the floor to welcome all of us to our eightieth anniversary convention. It was supposed to be in Houston but turned out being everywhere. To begin the welcome, she introduced Mayor Sylvester Turner, who expressed his regret that we could not be in Houston but complimented us on getting together virtually to do the work that is so badly needed in our country. He is excited, as are we, that we will be going to Houston in 2023, and traveling to Texas already sounds mighty fine.

Norma then introduced three dynamic members of the Texas affiliate: Kimberly Aguillard, Jose Marquez, and Adriana Mendez. Their remarks were quite inspirational. Then Astronaut Anna Fisher, the first mother in space, delivered her own message about the parallels between the National Federation of the Blind and our nation’s desire to explore the boundaries of space.

There is no way to capture in writing the enthusiasm of the Texas welcome we received, and those who want to share in the spirit all of us felt should go to https://www.nfb.org/images/ nfb/audio/2020-convention-highlights/welcoming%20ceremonies%20from%20houston%20 to%20everywhere.mp3 and enjoy this tremendous experience. Those who receive this magazine on a flash drive will find the ceremony as the last item.

Vernon Humphrey is the president of our National Association of Blind Veterans. He said that in military service his mission was to safeguard and improve the lives of others. His mission and the mission of all of the veterans in the National Federation of the Blind remains the same. The convention heard directly from those who recorded a message and got it to President Humphrey, and he read from a list of equally deserving veterans who could not contribute a recording. Father John Sheehan serves as the chaplain for the National Association of Blind Veterans, and he made us all swell with pride by singing the National Anthem.

President Humphrey concluded the ceremony with these words: “Just as we in the NFB could not give 100 percent without the support of family and friends, today we can achieve anything. As a proud member of the NFB and a proud veteran, I would like to thank you for your support. God bless America. Thank you, President Riccobono.”

After hearing from our PAC chairperson and taking a fit break, we moved to the roll call of states. All of those who answered the roll call expressed tremendous pride in their affiliates and the places from which they hail. We cannot cover all of the remarks made, but some states offered tidbits that must appear here: Arizona boasted 201 first-timers; Maryland boasted 593 in attendance, and 194 of those were new. When we reached the state of Illinois in the roll call, we had a surprise visit from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. She is the sponsor of our Greater Access and Independence through Nonvisual Access Technology (GAIN) Act, and in her brief remarks she made it clear that social justice means creating and marketing technology that is usable by blind people. She said that the disruption caused by COVID-19 has made progress on many pieces of legislation more difficult, but her commitment is unshakable, that she will get Republican and Democratic support, and this bill will become law.

The NFB of Minnesota reminded us that it was celebrating its 100th year as an organization and suggested we visit its website to hear the tribute its members wrote and produced. Texas humbly announced that 482 people were proud, loud, and present. West Virginia is proud of the fact that it was able to bring about accessible online voting in the state, but at the time of the roll call there was no way to make the request for such an accommodation. At the end of the roll call, President Riccobono reported that all fifty-two affiliates were present, and so were 7,252 registrants.

The Principles of Engagement read at the meeting of the Board of Directors was presented to the convention and was ratified. While the voting was taking place, President Riccobono took time to acknowledge and express appreciation to our convention sponsors. Those stepping forward to support our 2020 Convention are: Platinum sponsors: Google, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Microsoft Corporation, Oracle, UPS, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, and Vispero. Gold sponsors: Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, Target, and Waymo. Silver sponsors: Adobe, Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Lyft, Market Development Group Inc., Pearson, and Sprint Accessibility. Bronze sponsors: ACT Inc., Aira, American Printing House, Charter Communications, Democracy Live, HumanWare, Learning Ally, Verizon Media, VitalSource Technologies, and Wells Fargo. White Cane sponsors: Duxbury Systems Inc, En-Vision America, Envision Inc, LCI, McGraw-Hill Education, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, C&P - Chris Park Design, Five Cedars Group Inc, and VotingWorks.

When the vote was tallied, the convention approved the rules of engagement by an overwhelming margin. The President thanked members of the board for discussing, drafting, and putting forward the rules that the convention had just approved.

President Riccobono reported that one of the resolutions read during the resolutions committee meeting was an old version. The new one was read, and the correct version was posted to our website. It, like all of the other resolutions, would be voted on during our Saturday session identified on the agenda.

The first general session of the convention was adjourned, and perhaps for the first time in Federation history, many of us went directly to bed.

At 1:30 p.m. on Friday the gavel dropped, a few door prizes were drawn, and David Stayer of Young Israel of Merrick, a modern orthodox synagogue, delivered the kind of invocation we have come to expect from him.

Mark Riccobono delivered the much anticipated presidential report which will appear elsewhere in this issue. A few sentences that capture the theme of his report are:

In the wake of a worldwide pandemic, economic collapse, and the social disruption driven by centuries of racial injustice, the blind have once again demonstrated the qualities that make success possible. We have strengthened connections among blind people and protected our fundamental right to live the lives we want. By focusing on connecting and protecting, we have sustained our ability to build our movement, and we have been building with the love, hope, and determination that makes us unstoppable! Although we gather together today from a distance, we remain undivided. We are the National Federation of the Blind!

At the conclusion of his report, we were given a rendition of “Live the Life You Want”we had not heard before. It was beautiful, and what made it even better was that it was performed by a virtual choir comprised of eighty people. This meant that each person made a recording of the song from his or her homes, and all of these recordings were mixed and blended into one wonderful piece. It is worth going to the convention highlights page to hear this performance. It is a testament not only to the talent of the choir but to all of the people involved in gathering and putting together these diverse performers in one recording.

The presentation that followed was very special indeed. Certainly it was one of the highlights of our convention. It was an interview President Riccobono conducted with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. In the politically charged times in which we live, it is not surprising that some people wondered why she was featured so prominently on our agenda. Several answers come to mind, none of which are very complex. Very few organizations can draw the attention of the Speaker of the House, and very few organizations are able to draw on the knowledge of powerful people about the National Federation of the Blind. Speaker Pelosi demonstrated a good working knowledge of our current legislative activity as well as a good bit of our history. She was responsive to the questions that were asked and, unlike so many presenters, did not use the time we gave her simply to promote her own agenda, politically or otherwise.

It should go without saying that we issued invitations to the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, Senator Mitch McConnell, and other ranking Republicans. Although only one Republican representative appeared on our agenda during the advocacy and policy report, Republicans have been very good about appearing on our agendas. Vice President Bush attended one of our rallies. High cabinet officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations have been featured not only in our agenda but in the pages of this magazine. Each and every political person who has appeared before us has been treated with courtesy and respect, and we take seriously our role as a people’s movement, one which has members who feel great passion and concern on every issue in which it is conceivable that there can be government involvement.

When we ask officials to talk, we give them titles that strongly suggest they address issues about blindness and the issues we support. The fact that they sometimes exercise their own autonomy and speak to other issues shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who watches the political talk shows in which every politician comes with talking points important to them. As you read Speaker Pelosi’s remarks later in this issue, keep in mind how many times she references the Federation and observe that while she makes it quite clear that she is a Democrat and hopes that the Democrats will advance in the election, she also said that all of us should vote, regardless of our party affiliation. President Riccobono’s interview with her will appear elsewhere in this magazine.

The next presentation to keep the excitement flowing was “A Commitment to Progress through Accessibility: Answering the Call of the Nation’s Blind to Provide Educational Products and Services.” Its presenter was Tim Bozik, the president of Global Product & North America Courseware at Pearson; Hoboken, New Jersey. He began his presentation by commending the students who have been forced to deal with virtual education on platforms that have not always been conducive to learning. He said that Pearson has often had advances and setbacks and that the National Federation of the Blind has been in the forefront of offering criticism and assistance. The Federation has now been engaged as a formal consultant with the hope that this will result in better and more consistent accessibility to Pearson software.

Pearson and the National Federation of the Blind will also participate in a mentoring program. A full report of the comments made by Tim Bozik will appear later in the fall. 

“A Test of Strength and Equality: Blind Students Organize against the College Board” was the next presentation, and its charismatic presenter was Kaleigh Brendle from Freehold, New Jersey. Kaleigh graduated from high school in 2020 and found that the advanced placement tests she wanted to take were not being made available in hard-copy Braille. She found this unacceptable, so she found and united others who were facing the same situation, got in contact with the National Federation of the Blind, and saw to it that the policy was reversed. Her comments will appear later in this issue.

Our next presenter was Craig Meador, the president of the American Printing House for the Blind. The title of his presentation was, “From Chameleon to Mantis and Beyond: A Partnership of Shared Value with the Organized Blind Movement.” He talked a bit about the history of APH, the culture that he found when he came, and the changes that he has pushed and that the staff has embraced. He said,

We need to be intentional with our relationships. So again, what do I mean about that? When we partner and choose to partner with someone, our values and our interests must align. We must have shared common ground there. There must be shared values, because if you don't have that, you end up getting a very dysfunctional relationship, and the people that suffer from that are the people who are on the receiving end of that product or that service.

If we've learned nothing else from COVID-19, and we've learned a lot, it's this: In this day and age, in the 21st century, especially in a time of a pandemic, or a time of inconvenience, you cannot go it alone. There is no room anymore for lone rangers, especially if you are a company charged with the idea of producing product. You need to find solid partners. Not only manufacturing partners, but you need to find like minds and like hearts that can help you carry out your mission. I'm happy to say that we have that partnership with the NFB. And we have been working that and cultivating a strong relationship with Mark and the team there.

President Meador concluded his presentation by talking about two new refreshable Braille displays that the Printing House brought to market. One has been designed for students, and the other for adults. His presentation can be found in the convention highlights on our website, and anyone who has not listened to his presentation will benefit from the enthusiasm, commitment, and heartfelt love for what he does.

Many who will read this are familiar with the name Cynthia Bennett. We are the beneficiaries of her choice to be involved in the organization, and she is the beneficiary of many who have helped mentor and encourage her. Her presentation to the 2020 Convention was “Authentic Intelligence: A Blind Researcher Bringing Wisdom to the Future of Technology Innovations.” Her message was thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing. What she said will appear elsewhere in this issue.

Tom Tiernan is the president and chief executive officer for Vispero. He believes that product development should stem from the needs that blind people have, that a significant number of his employees at all levels should be blind, and the products that his company sells should be ones that not only serve the consumer market but serve the people who make his company what it is. His remarks will appear in full in an upcoming issue.

Suman Kanuganti was the founder of Aira and its chief executive officer. He has now moved on to other things, and he was called on to talk about “Starting Up with the Blind: Remarks from a Partner and an Introduction to Luther Primes.” Suman has long been an advocate for artificial intelligence and harnessing it to enhance the information available to the human mind. He is now working on a system that uses artificial intelligence to help us retain memories that would otherwise be discarded as a result of the passage of time or our inability to recognize their importance when we undergo the experience that creates them. Those interested may go to the new company by writing to [email protected].

The afternoon session was adjourned, but promptly at 6:30 p.m. the evening session began. Our first presenter was Congressman Dick Durbin of Illinois. In his presentation he evidenced a firm working knowledge of the National Federation of the Blind and its founder, Jacobus tenBroek. He talked about the need to advance the Accessible Technology Affordability Act and other legislation to improve opportunities for blind people. His remarks will appear in full later in the fall.

Our next presenter is well known to Federationists. She is one of those courageous souls who works in the foreign service, exemplifies the highest values of the United States of America, and does all of this as a blind person. She is a dedicated member of the National Federation of the Blind, was a significant leader in our student division, and continues to represent Federation values in all that she does. Mariyam Cementwala’s remarks will appear in full in this issue.

This was definitely a convention of firsts. Our next presenter was the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. The title of her presentation was “Using Knowledge to Inform, Inspire, and Engage: Perspectives on Equal Access from the Largest Library in The World.” She spoke eloquently about the importance of libraries in our country and the role they play in the sharing of information so necessary to maintaining a functioning democracy. Her remarks will appear later in the fall.

“Movie Enjoyment Made Easy: Innovations to Include All Subscribers at Netflix” was the title of our next presentation, and it was delivered by Greg Peters, the chief product officer at Netflix. We know of no television provider that has done more than Netflix not only to ensure that what it creates is audio described but also to ensure that what it runs from other sources also has the description we need. The presentation given by Greg Peters will appear later in the fall.

In an evening filled with informative and inspirational speeches, it is hard to know how to introduce “Equal Justice Under Law: A Blind Clerk Blazes a Trail Behind the Scenes at the Supreme Court.” This outstanding presentation was delivered by Laura Wolk who worked for the Honorable Clarence Thomas as a law clerk in 2019. Many will recognize Laura as a former scholarship winner, and there can be absolutely no question about the good we were able to do in helping Laura help herself. Laura’s remarks will appear elsewhere in this issue, so get ready for a wonderful read.

After all the impressive presentations that preceded it, we moved to a discussion of the Americans with Disabilities Act entitled “Leveraging the Power of the ADA to Secure Our Right to Live in the World for Thirty Years.” The panel was chaired by Scott LaBarre, and its members included Immediate Past President Maurer, Daniel Goldstein, Eve Hill, and Tim Elder. In my time as a Federationist, I’ve seen a number of tremendous panels, but this presentation was second to none in discussing the opportunities presented by the ADA and the significant holes in it that make progress difficult, expensive, and risky. The discussion by this outstanding panel will appear later in the fall.

“From the Heart to the Hand: A Blind Artist Advancing Touch for Over Forty Years” as we transitioned from law to art. Michael Naranjo is the talented artist who made this presentation. Michael was blinded during his service in Vietnam, but he learned that blindness would not keep him from pursuing his lifelong passion of being an artist. His remarks will appear sometime later in the fall.

“Broadcasting the Authentic Perspective of Blindness: A Conversation with a Blind YouTuber Who is Advancing a Positive Image” was presented by Molly Burke, and her conversation partner was Mary Fernandez. The exchange was extremely interesting because it highlighted the tension between wanting to educate people about blindness while conveying the message that we are not all about blindness but about living in the world. This conversation will appear later in the fall.

Our next formal session began at 1 p.m. on Saturday with an invocation provided by Tom Anderson who is the minister of music at the chapel at Lecompton Pentecostal Church in Kansas. He's also president of the NFB in Communities of Faith, a longtime member and leader in the National Federation of the Blind.

On this day we acknowledged the passing of a great civil rights leader and a respected member of Congress, John Lewis. Congressman Lewis was a presenter at our first March for Independence held in 2007. We found a copy of his remarks in our outstanding archives, and we played his speech in honor for all he did for civil rights and for the man he was.

The financial report was presented by the President. Every number that he read can be found on our website, but a fair summary is that we did quite well in 2019, with income exceeding expenses. In 2020, given the coronavirus, we have not done quite as well, but income and expenses are roughly equivalent. It is very difficult to know how we will fare as COVID-19 continues to affect the income of so many in the nation. The good news is that people have continued to give generously to the support of our programs, and for this we are most grateful.

We moved to reading and voting on resolutions as the next order of business. Anyone wanting to speak for or against a resolution was previously asked to submit an email explaining the number of the resolution to be addressed and whether the comments would be for or against the resolution. In cases where a resolution had an opponent, the resolution was read in its entirety. In cases where there was no opposition noted, the chairperson and her assistant would read only the resolves. The convention ratified this procedure with the vote, and we then moved to the process of considering twenty-nine resolutions. Twenty-eight of them were passed, and elsewhere in this issue will appear a report from the chairperson of the resolutions committee and a copy of all of the resolutions that were adopted.

When our final session before the banquet convened, our first order of business was the election of officers and those board members whose term was expiring at the end of the convention. Pam Allen presented the report of the nominating committee, and it was accepted.

After a day of voting on resolutions and other procedural matters, as we attempted to move to elections we experienced a glitch. Because our voting system was not operational, we shifted the agenda and moved to the panel that was to follow elections. Its title was “Not Blind to Color in the Federation: A Panel on the Experience of Black and Blind in America.” The moderator was Ever Lee Hairston, and panelists serving with her were Denice Brown, Ron Brown, Bobbi Pompei, and Tarik Williams. There is no doubt that this was one of the most moving items on the agenda, and many who suggested they were tempted to take a break before elections and the banquet report that they were glad they didn’t. These remarks, made by accomplished men and women who choose to give some of their time to the National Federation of the Blind, were a real wake-up call for those of us who would like to believe that colorblindness is gaining ground in the country or that it should be something we strive for in the Federation. The remarks made by this panel will appear elsewhere in this issue.

The problem with the voting system being unresolved, we moved to elections and relied on delegates for the voting. Mark Riccobono of Maryland was nominated to be President, and he was elected unanimously. In accepting his position, he said:

Thank you very much, Pam, and thank you to the Federation. It is a distinct honor to serve this organization. I think I said yesterday in the presidential report most of what I would say. The last year has tested the best of what the Federation is, what it puts into us, and what we do together. It's really truly an honor to serve with each and every one of you—the Federationists who really support what we do. I want to acknowledge my family, Melissa and our three kids. Our children usually win more door prizes than Melissa or I do. (Laughter)

They [the family] are a tremendous source of inspiration and motivation as are all of the great colleagues we have in the Federation. It's truly an honor among other things that we have people in this organization who are doing incredible work behind the scenes at every moment to make sure our movement is the strongest it can be. Thank you all for the honor of continuing to serve, and I will continue to give everything that I have, including being open to the difficult questions and exploring them in a way that continues to improve what I do. I will lead with humility to recognize that we all can do better, including this organization, and it starts with me as your President. So thank you very much.

Pam Allen from Louisiana was nominated to be our first vice president, and she was elected unanimously. She said:

Thank you, President Riccobono and all my Federation family. I'm very humbled and very grateful to serve as your first vice president. I'm so thankful for your trust and your faith and the fact that every day, together in the National Federation of the Blind, I am constantly pushed out of my comfort zone. Michelle Obama said, “You may not always have a comfortable life, and you will not always be able to solve the world's problems at once. But don't underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”
 
For eighty years the National Federation of the Blind has challenged us as blind people and worked to change society at large to view blindness in a completely different way. We have taken this call to action with hope, courage, strength, and tenacity. We are not afraid to take risks or stand up against social injustice. The NFB is made up of people with diverse backgrounds and with many different life experiences. Together we share our life-changing message of empowerment and love for all blind people.

I also want to take a moment to thank my husband, with whom the work that I do wouldn't be possible, and all of you who have been so loving and supportive and so committed to the work that we do together. I look forward to learning and growing and serving and leading as we continue to build the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you. [Cheering and applause]
           
Ron Brown, who hails from Indiana, was nominated to fill the position of second vice president and was elected unanimously. He said,

Mr. President, and my Federation family: It is indeed an honor and a privilege to serve on this dream team of leadership. This team of leaders has given me and my family an opportunity to pave the way for other leaders coming the same way that we have come. Mr. President, I also am honored and privileged to serve on the executive team--one of the first African-American males to do so. It just goes to show you that Martin Luther King was right. If you cannot fly, then walk. If you cannot walk, then run. If you cannot run, then crawl. But keep moving forward. I thank you for your leadership and moving our organization forward. A true leader is a leader that doesn't create followers. A true leader is a leader that creates more leaders. I thank you so for your leadership. I thank you for the opportunity to serve in this organization. This is truly a dream team of leaders. I also want to say thank you for sharing the reflections of John Lewis's life today. It was truly inspirational to celebrate our eightieth anniversary and to celebrate his eighty years here on this earth. Thank you, sir. [Cheering and applause]

James Gashel from Hawaii was nominated to be the organization’s corporate secretary. His nomination was seconded, and he was elected unanimously. He said that in his fifty-five years of work with the National Federation of the Blind, one of the most significant things he ever did was vote for President Riccobono. In all of the work he has done from staff member to consultant to holding elective office, nothing is more meaningful to him than the trust that is shown through his election. He made a solemn vow to continue doing whatever he can to advance the cause of the organization and thanked all of those who honored him with this position.

Jeannie Massay from Oklahoma was nominated to fill the position of treasurer. Her nomination was seconded, and she was voted in unanimously. In her acceptance she talked about the honor in serving with President Riccobono and the rest of the fine men and women who make up the board of the National Federation of the Blind. She drew a beautiful parallel between two quotations—one by Theodore Roosevelt about the man in the arena, and the other by John Lewis about getting into good trouble. It was clear from her remarks that she will be the woman in the arena, and when she finds it, she will be in the vanguard of those getting into good trouble.

Amy Buresh of Nebraska was nominated to serve on the board, and she was elected unanimously. Giving what was unquestionably the shortest acceptance speech of the convention, she said, “Thank you, everybody. Jeannie, you're not alone in those goosebumps. They happen every year without fail. Lead bravely. Do that, and the future is yours. God bless you, God bless the Federation, and thank you.”

The next person to be nominated and elected unanimously to the board was Shawn Callaway who hails from the District of Columbia. One of the major roles he plays nationally is chairing our diversity and inclusion committee. In his acceptance speech he observed that some believe the emphasis on diversity and inclusion to be divisive. He does not. He asked us all to remember how important it is to find in the Federation people like ourselves and how off-putting it can be to feel unwelcome. He concluded his remarks by saying, “So again to all of you, I thank you for this opportunity, and I just say, let's hold arms, lock arms, march, and let's build the Federation. Thank you all so much.”

John Fritz of Wisconsin was nominated and unanimously elected to the board of directors. In his acceptance he thanked his fellow Federationists for teaching him and for entrusting him with the responsibility of carrying forward the programs of the Federation. He also gave special thanks to his family for making it possible for him to do the work that he does.

Carla McQuillan from Oregon was unanimously elected to the board, and in her acceptance speech she acknowledged being moved by the comments of those elected before her and said that the late Steve Benson once observed that the question wasn’t whether Carla was going to cry but win. She concluded her remarks by saying, “I appreciate your faith and confidence in me. I will do my very best to meet your expectations and hopefully exceed them. I love the diversity of this organization, and I love the support that I've received from all of my Federation family. Thank you so much. And I appreciate this honor more than you can know.”

Amy Ruell of Massachusetts was the next member to be nominated by the committee, and she was elected unanimously. In accepting the position she said:

Thank you, everyone. I always do cry whenever this happens. I've been struck this year, and particularly at this convention, about how far reaching this organization is, about the efforts under Mark Riccobono's leadership that we have made to become more inclusive and more diverse, and about the infinite capacity that we have as an organization to reach out to many, many people who are just learning to know us. I have been struck and humbled by the opportunity to meet some of the people for whom this is their first convention—some of the people who may have ventured perhaps a little warily into our midst. I want to pledge not only to work with my fellow board members and the national office, but also to embrace those people who may not understand everything about us yet, who may have questions and worries, and who may wonder whether they fit into our movement.

I want to be a voice for them as well. I appreciate and am humbled by this opportunity. I want to thank my husband Jim, without whom my work for the Federation would not be possible. And I want to pledge that I will do everything I can to move this organization forward. Thank you. [Applause]

Adelmo Vigil was unanimously elected to the board. He thanked his affiliate for supporting him in the work he does as a national board member, and he gave special thanks to his wife whose generous spirit is such a critical part of what he does in the Federation. He concluded his remarks by saying, “I love and appreciate each one of you today, and I thank you for your confidence in me. And I pledge to continue to build and to change what it means to be blind. Let's go build the Federation!”

Because of unanticipated logistical problems, two items from the agenda were not covered. Luckily they have been recorded and will be printed later in the fall. The first was the traditional advocacy and policy report. After the drawing of door prizes and a one-minute video from Conchita Hernandez Legorreta, the session was adjourned, and all were welcomed to the banquet soon to come. 

Anil Lewis was our master of ceremonies for the banquet. First Vice President Pam Allen was prepared to take on this responsibility, but a death of a loved one meant that we do what families do—we improvised and reacted with the love characteristic of our Federation. Anil handled this job with his characteristic charisma, warmth, and humor. He began by recognizing Ever Lee Hairston for the invocation. After thanking God for all the many blessings we enjoy, we also expressed our thanks to the generous donors who make our scholarship program possible, and this appreciation can be found elsewhere in this issue.

After the video, the banquet audience was treated once again to the miracle of a virtual choir singing the song “Make Them Hear You.”

Because of shelter in place and social distancing, most of us enjoyed the banquet from our homes. But some were fortunate enough to be able to observe social distancing and still get together in small groups. Throughout the banquet we heard from meetings held at BLIND Incorporated, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, from our members in Utah, and, of course, from some members of our host affiliate in Texas.

Vispero gave several prizes for those visiting its booth, and after acknowledging those products and the people who got them, we next moved to the Give Twenty Campaign and the convention memory minute chaired by Tracy Soforenko. The banquet was treated to the three top videos, and these can be heard by going to the convention highlights section of our webpage where the audio of the banquet can be found. Before chairman Soforenko gave up the floor, he announced that the winner of a trip to the 2021 National Convention is Ed McDonald. He will receive round-trip airfare for two, as well as a check for $1,000.

The banquet is the place where we review our progress in trying to get new people to join our Preauthorized Contribution Program and, to get those already giving to up their pledge. This year, even in the time of the pandemic, 367 people accepted the challenge of further helping our organization. Of these, 230 are new contributors to the program. If we maintain the numbers that we have coming out of this convention, our annual PAC giving will be $523,334! This is amazing, and we thank everyone who helps make our program the success that it is.

After introducing the virtual head table, the master of ceremonies invited President Riccobono to deliver the National Federation of the Blind’s annual banquet speech. In his remarks, the President made clear the importance of the words we use, the way they shape what we believe, and the way our beliefs lead to the actions we take. President Riccobono’s address will appear elsewhere in this issue. At the conclusion of the speech we were treated to an encore performance of our virtual choir, the song they sang being “This Is Me.”

Ray Kurzweil is a futurist and inventor, and he has been a part of the National Federation of the Blind since he came in contact with us when the Kurzweil reading machine was in its infancy. Just how meaningful his contribution has been to changing the world for the better can easily be overlooked, but the introduction he received from Anil Lewis helped put in perspective how much hope Ray Kurzweil has brought to blind people. His remarks and the remarks of Mr. Lewis will appear later in the fall.

James Gashel is the chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee, and he had the pleasure of announcing to two delighted winners that they each would receive a substantial amount of money. The remarks of Mr. Gashel and the winners of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award will appear elsewhere in this issue.

Nearing the end of our 2020 banquet, the name of Rod Holloway was drawn. The prize he won was $2,100. The Texas affiliate arrived at that number by following the tradition of offering in dollars the year of the presentation and then by adding the years that the National Federation of the Blind has been in existence. So that we could verify Ron was in attendance, he was asked to call a special number. Just when we concluded that he was not in attendance and called the name of Jennifer Stevens, the phone rang, and there was Rod. His excitement at being a winner was evident to all of us, and we promised Jennifer that there would be an alternate prize for her.

Our master of ceremonies handed the gavel to President Riccobono, and with his request that we all cheer and let our neighbors know they are living next to blind people, the convention was adjourned.

Eighty years is considered a long life for a human being, but not so for an organization such as the National Federation of the Blind. At eighty we are strong, creative, flexible, and focused on the future. There are challenges aplenty to overcome to see that blind people have all the rights and benefits of American citizenship, but this convention gave us every reason to believe that we are in a position to identify, address, and overcome any obstacle that stands between us and our dreams. When we work together, there is nothing that is impossible or even virtually impossible.

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