by Melissa Riccobono
From the Editor: One of my favorite places to visit is always the Presidential Suite. Cool people gravitate there. Snacks are there as well as coffee and sometimes NFB Tea. How can it get any better? How we will make our suite a remarkable place this year is the subject of this article, and here is what our First Lady says:
The Presidential Suite has long been a favorite of President Riccobono and me. We greatly enjoyed being able to open a suite to all convention attendees—a place they can come to meet and talk with others, have questions answered, and even eat a few cherries, M&Ms, or popcorn! Last year we decided very late in the convention planning process that we should and could host a virtual Presidential Suite. Those who visited seemed to enjoy themselves, but we are sure many convention attendees did not take advantage of the Presidential Suite because they had no idea what it was or what to expect.
This year, since we are beginning the process of planning a virtual convention much earlier, it is important to him and me to do a more thorough job of communicating the purpose of the Presidential Suite, how it will be run virtually, what to expect, and how you can help make the Presidential Suite a welcoming and safe place for all!
The Presidential Suite should definitely be on your agenda at this year’s convention. It is a place to talk with other convention attendees about a variety of topics. It is a place you can go in order to get questions answered. President Riccobono and I drop into the Presidential Suite when we can, and President Riccobono also holds private meetings with as many people who request appointments as possible.
This year the Presidential Suite will be open at the following times: Tuesday, July 6, 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Wednesday, July 7, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.; Thursday, July 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.; Friday, July 9, from 8:00 to 9:45 a.m.; and Saturday, July 10, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Everyone who enters the Presidential Suite will be muted. This is to allow conversations which may be taking place to continue without interruption. An NFB staff member will greet and welcome you. If you want to be unmuted for any reason, feel free to raise your hand, and someone will call on you. Otherwise, if you’re just visiting the suite in order to talk with others, you will be randomly assigned to a breakout room. You will receive an invitation to the breakout room on your smartphone or computer. This you will need to accept in order to be moved. If you are calling in on a landline phone, you will be automatically transferred to the breakout room. Please be patient because, depending on how busy the suite is at any given time, it may take a few minutes for a staff member to be able to call on you or even assign you to a breakout room.
Each breakout room will feature a leader in the National Federation of the Blind. These leaders are volunteering their time in order to make visitors to each breakout room feel welcome. They will answer questions about the convention, the National Federation of the Blind, and other blindness resources. They will also gladly participate in any other discussions which might occur. These breakout rooms are meant to be friendly, safe, informational, yet informal. They are meant to be places where convention attendees from around the country and world can interact and connect with one another.
We did hear from some convention attendees last year that they enjoyed participating in breakout rooms where discussions of specific topics were taking place. As a result of this feedback, this year we are also hoping to have breakout rooms which will offer specific discussion topics at specific times—please stay tuned for more information! If you have a discussion topic you would like to suggest, please email Melissa Riccobono at [email protected].
As a visitor to the Presidential Suite, please do your part to keep this a friendly, welcoming, and safe place for all. As is true in all convention events, the Code of Conduct will need to be followed in the Presidential Suite. Please keep conversations respectful to all participants. Don’t be afraid to chime into a conversation. You have a lot to offer, even if you may be new to the convention and feel as if you have a lot to learn. You have still had experiences in your life which may be extremely relevant to a conversation and very helpful to others. At the same time, please be mindful that we want all people in the breakout room to have a chance to be heard, so feel free to ask if someone has anything to add, particularly if you know there is someone in the breakout room who hasn’t said anything for a while.
If you have any concerns about your experience in the Presidential Suite, please leave the breakout room immediately. Then log back into the main Presidential Suite link, raise your hand, and let the staff member who calls on you know you have a concern you need to share. The staff member will work with you to come up with the best way to share your concern privately and quickly.
As stated above, the Presidential Suite is also a place where President Riccobono meets with individuals and groups who request appointments. If you would like to request an appointment to meet with him privately or in a group, please email Beth Braun at [email protected]. Make sure to put “Presidential Suite” in the subject line of your message. In your email, please give Beth your name, the state you are from, your telephone number, and a brief reason for the purpose of your appointment. Beth will begin accepting appointment requests on June 1. She will not begin to respond to requests until July 1 or a bit later, since she will need to make sure of President Riccobono’s schedule in order to give you a good date and time for your appointment. If you want to schedule an appointment but do not have access to email, please call Beth at 410-659-9314, Extension 2369 beginning on June 1. If you cannot reach Beth, please leave her a message, and she will get back to you.
If you have other questions about the Presidential Suite, please send an email to [email protected], or call 410-659-9314, extension 2466. President Riccobono and I look forward to your participation in the Presidential Suite this year. We hope to speak with you in the suite, and we also hope we will be in person next year so we can offer you refreshments as well as fellowship.