_______________________________________________________________________________

Braille Monitor

Vol. 66, No. 11               December 2023

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

telephone: 410-659-9314
email address: [email protected]
website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFBnet.org: http://www.nfbnet.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: 866-504-7300
Like us on Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
Follow us on Twitter: @NFB_Voice
Watch and share our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind

Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.

ISSN 0006-8829


Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.


Contents

Vol. 66, No. 11                      December 2023

Illustration: Karla Gilbride Confirmed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Convention Bulletin 2024

Convention Location Update and Planning
by Mark Riccobono

Innovation Rocks: Positive Progress Centered on the Blind “We Will Rock You”
An Address Delivered by Mark A. Riccobono, President

Securing Equal Protection under the Law: The Essential Role of the Organized Blind Movement
by Eve Hill

The 2024 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by Robin House

Shattering Injustice and Raising Expectations: Dedication to Equality by a Blind Attorney
by Karla Gilbride

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Updates for 2024
by Jesse Shirek

From California to Illinois—Powered by Braille
by Rachel Held

O’Rourke Completes 6-week Fundraising Bike Ride for Blind
by Amalie Benjamin

Pit Stop Party at Kirkwood Library: NHL Referee Dan O’Rourke Bikes Route 66 for Braille Literacy Fundraising
by Julie Brown Patton

The 2024 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by Everette Bacon

It Matters What We Do, Not Who We Are
by Geerat J. Vermeij

Announcing the NFB 2024 Scholarship Program
by Cayte Mendez

My Experiences as a Deafblind Participant in our 2023 National Convention
by Maurice Mines

We Have Work to Do: Reflections on Changing the Blind Employment Paradigm
by Mary Fernandez

We Need Your Help

Braille Books and Contest Cash
by Sandy Halverson

The 2024 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award
by Carla McQuillan

Veteran finishes the Half-Marathon at the Cleveland Marathon, while serving as an Inspiration for Blind Athletes
by Irie Harris, Cleveland.com

Eleven Seasonal Acts of Kindness
by LaShawna Fant

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2023 by the National Federation of the Blind

Karla Gilbride Confirmed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Karla Gilbride exemplifies the best of the American ideal of progress. She has crafted her own tough, smart, and effective brand of fighting injustice without forgetting both that she has inherited benefits won by those who came before her and that there are those in our society who still do not enjoy those benefits. As impressive as her presence is in the court room, it is surpassed by her humility—her deep commitment to the fact that each victory is merely another milestone on the journey to equality not a place to settle. While we recognize her unique characteristics as being an asset to her legal work, we also must recognize that they put additional obstacles in her way because of the persistent misconceptions that exist deep in our society. What is impressive is not that she overcomes those misconceptions but that she shatters them with the power of her work and the strength of her convictions. She could have used her talents for any number of life pursuits, fortunately she has chosen to open doors of equal opportunity in society. Our nation is stronger because of her willingness to serve. On a personal note, as a blind person and a as a father of two blind girls, I am grateful for the example of excellence that Karla Gilbride sets for all Americans seeking the ideal of progress and a more perfect union.

PHOTO/CAPTION: Charlotte Burrows, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, administers Karla's oath of office. Karla's hand rests on a Braille copy of the Constitution her mother, Janet Gilbride, is holding.

Convention Bulletin 2024

As difficult as it may be to believe that 2023 has slipped by us in the blink of an eye, we can be assured that a shiny new 2024 will follow on its heels. As we flip the calendar to January, it will again be time to plan for the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention. We were last at the beautiful Rosen Centre in Orlando, at 9840 International Drive, in 2015 for our 75th anniversary convention. The outstanding Rosen staff will be rolling out the red carpet to welcome us back this July 3 through 8.

Book Your Hotel

Our 2024 convention room rate for singles and doubles is $129; for triples and quads, the rate is $139. Occupancy taxes and surcharges are an additional 13.5 percent. There is no charge for children under eighteen as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.

For 2024 convention room reservations you should call the hotel at (800) 204-7234 after January 1. Ask for the “NFB Convention” block. At the time you make a reservation, a $146 deposit is required for each room reserved. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $146 check. If a reservation is cancelled before Saturday, June 1, 2024, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

Guest room amenities include a wall-mounted 50” HDTV with a multi-outlet connectivity bar beneath to keep your devices charged and ready for the complimentary in-room Wi-Fi. Each room also offers an in-room safe, coffeemaker, mini-fridge, and hairdryer. Guests can enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. Those of you who have attended past conventions at the Rosen Centre may remember Café Gaugin buffet and the award-winning Everglades Restaurant. In addition to these favorites, we will have an array of dining options from sushi and tapas to Caribbean-Cuban poolside dining to a 24-hour deli.

Convention Schedule

The 2024 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement.

To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you should make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call beginning January 1.

Request for Door Prizes

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. If you have a prize that must be shipped in advance of the convention, please email affiliate president Paul Martinez at [email protected] to make arrangements.

Countdown to Orlando

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2024 National Convention. We can’t wait to be with you in Orlando in July.

Convention Location Update and Planning

by Mark Riccobono

The 2024 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind is scheduled for July 3 through July 8, 2024, at the Rosen Centre in Orlando, Florida. This letter is an important update to our members and supporters about our deliberations and plans for our upcoming convention. This letter is also an invitation for you to continue to share your feedback, ideas, and resources as we prepare for 2024 and beyond.

In order to secure the best possible convention conditions for our members, we must sign our convention contracts many years in advance. After signing our contract for 2024, the enactment of new laws in the state of Florida resulted in serious concerns within our community. As with everything we do, we rely on our members and our supporters to help steer us through unexpected circumstances that are out of our control.

Our Board of Directors released an initial statement regarding the location of the 2024 National Convention (https://nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/statement-board-directors-federation-community-regarding-location), and since that time our leaders have been listening to our members and considering additional actions. This letter is intended to brief you on the factors which impact our decision for 2024, the critical factors that go into selecting a national convention location, and the additional measures we are securing for NFB24.

Our Decision to Go to Florida

As America’s transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind people, our only purpose in visiting Florida is to further the work of our organization through our annual Convention, which is our supreme governing authority. Our work is centered on defending the rights of blind people to live the lives they want. As our code of conduct affirms, the National Federation of the Blind does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, political affiliation, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics.

As shared at the September Presidential Release to our members, the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors discussed in depth the concerns from some members about Florida and reviewed recent travel advisories. The board specifically noted that the travel advisories from other civil rights organizations do not call for boycotts of or travel bans to the state of Florida.

The goal of the advisories was to ensure everyone had complete information about the state policies so individuals could make decisions for themselves. We also considered the:

While we made the decision to go to Florida in 2024, we have also committed to actions to make the upcoming convention a meaningful demonstration of the power and diversity of our community. Furthermore, we remain fully committed to the future by digging deeper with the following priority from our current strategic plan: Evaluate and enhance the national convention and other events to ensure they are inclusive and welcoming and continue to add value to our community.

Selecting Convention Locations

There are many factors considered when identifying, evaluating, and ultimately selecting a future convention location. These issues can be complicated when factors out of our control change after we sign a contract. Critical factors for convention location selection are:

As we evaluate potential convention destinations against our selection criteria, we will closely consider all factors that affect the members of our community and our organization. We believe we have a strong track record of balancing all of the factors and putting on a quality, safe, and empowering convention for all attendees. However, we welcome partners that may be able to further improve the unique experience that is a Federation convention in the future.

Doing More in 2024

We have several months before we meet in Orlando for the largest gathering of blind people in the world, and we are working diligently to remain vigilant, innovative, and inclusive in our convention planning as we anticipate bringing thousands of people together. Our aim is to roll out specifics with the launch of our convention registration expected to open on March 1, 2024.
Here is our current action plan:

The National Federation of the Blind deeply appreciates all the members and supporters who are committed to helping the organized blind movement work through these difficult issues as we continue to build a twenty-first-century movement that represents all blind people and does the best to make sure that we set an example for the rest of society about how people should be included.

We hope that you will be a part of our 2024 National Convention, and we invite your feedback, ideas, and resources in making this our most dynamic convention ever. Thank you for all you do to center blind people and amplify our voice in society.

Innovation Rocks: Positive Progress Centered on the Blind “We Will Rock You”

An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
Presented to the American Printing House for the Blind
155th Annual Meeting
Louisville, Kentucky
October 5, 2023

From the Editor: President Riccobono was introduced by Anne Lancaster, the vice president/chief officer, Innovation and Strategy at the American Printing House for the Blind. The change in attitude that can come through real relationships is no better exemplified than by her remarks. I hope readers enjoy both and feel as though we were a part of the audience:

Anne Lancaster: Our keynote speaker today needs no introduction, but somehow I've been tasked with the challenge and also the honor of doing such an introduction, but I'm going to be absolutely honest and transparent here, which I've learned is a trait President Riccobono appreciates. Before I ever even met Mark, I was terrified of him. I had heard the stories—sure you’ve heard them too—how dangerous it was to make him angry, and just about anything could make him angry apparently and how awful the revenge would be—hellfire and brimstone stuff. There seem to be a trepidation throughout the field to even associate with NFB, and as a newcomer to this work at that time trying to figure out all the politics, I felt like it was a good idea just to keep my distance.

But as I watched his work at NFB conventions and listen to his speeches and learn more about him in this huge organization representing the voices of blind people, I became intrigued and curious. I found that often his ideals were in opposition to the current thinking in the field, but there were good reasons for that. I saw heart, passion, and dedication to breaking the barriers that stand in the way of blind people living the lives they want.

After coming to APH, I supported Dr. Meador’s desire to strengthen the relationship between APH and NFB, a relationship that had admittedly become distant and fragmented. President Riccobono welcomed this opportunity for renewed partnership with the willingness to let bygones be bygones. This led to a number of collaborations around the Connect Center, Code Jumper, the Mantis, the Chameleon, Lego Braille Bricks and more. Of course there is our partnership with Monarch and the EBRF, which has been absolutely essential to ensuring that the needs and voices of blind people are at the forefront of development. Working closely with Mark and seeing him in action has taught me a lot personally about leadership and partnership, and as for those rumors—well, don't believe everything you hear. Although I think Mark kind of enjoys that reputation at least a little bit.

He eats, breathes, and sleeps the mission of his organization and he is unapologetic for that. And when he does get terrifying, and he has with me more than once, I've learned it's for good reason. Mark will tell it to you like it is, and as a sighted person inflicted with sighted biases working in this field, I absolutely need his blunt candor to keep me focused on this one unequivocal, unmovable truth: absolutely nothing, nothing about them without them at any level.

The influence of our partnership with NFB has led to many positive changes at APH. We are listening better. We are including more, and granted, we have a long way to go, and we should and we will do better. But we can trust that, if we begin to lose our way, our friends and NFB will check us and patiently work with us to get us back on the straight and narrow. That's what good friends do! So today, we are honored and privileged—and not terrified at all—to welcome President Mark Riccobono from the National Federation of the Blind as our annual keynote speaker.

NFB elected Mark to serve as its president in July of 2014. He has been reelected by the membership every two years since that time. He has a long list of achievements and experiences that led him to this role and that defined his current presidency. But more than I appreciate his resume, I am truly grateful for his character, his commitment, and his honesty. Please join me in giving another warm welcome to our partner and friend, Mark Riccobono.

Mark Riccobono: Innovation: while it makes a great theme for this annual meeting, we have to admit it is an overused and highly misunderstood buzz word—no pun intended to the APH Hive. This morning my goal is not to wow you with innovations, nor is it to tell you that we have been getting it all wrong. Today, I want to riff on the idea of bringing together a community of dedicated individuals who are prepared to rock the field of blindness. Each of you have the choice of being in that community and contributing to the music. As you contemplate that choice this morning—I notice some of you were a little reluctant to play along—keep in mind that innovation rocks, and together we will rock you.

The great philosopher John Lennon said, “there's nothing you can know that isn't known.” This is the first really simple opening power chord to rocking in the blindness field: what can be known about blindness can be found within blind people themselves. It’s not found in the research journals, in the university classes, or even in the concurrent sessions on APH products—not even in the Monarch session coming up next that I do encourage you to attend. It’s found in the lived experience of blind people—not just one, two, or even ten blind people but hundreds of us. We cannot talk about innovation without recognizing that it begins with blind people. It has to be centered on blind people. We have to take our lead from what blind people know. To innovate, however, we need more than an opening chord.

American innovator Henry Ford said, “I am looking for a lot of people who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.” For our purposes I would add “by blind people.” We need a lot of people with an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done by blind people. If that is you, you can be part of the innovation community here today. Does your internal rhythm begin with a core belief in the capacity of blind people? That rhythm is essential to innovating in ways that cultivate that capacity. It’s not enough to center our work on blind people; we truly have to believe in blind people to the point where we do not know where the limits are for blind people. When we do that, innovation can happen and innovation rocks. This was something even I, as a blind person, had to learn over time. You can join me in that rhythm. You have to be daring enough to be led by blind people and humble enough to innovate in your own life, and you, too, can get to a place where you can rock a confident belief in blind people.

To say that someone rocks means that they do their work with enthusiasm, skill, and confidence. This is a level of professional growth we should all be pursuing. In order to do that, we need a community of support around us—a community that challenges us to be better and to support our growth. So when I say, “we will rock you,” it is my way of expressing that with our collective confidence in blind people, our shared focus on the wisdom in the lived experience of blind people, that we will make a difference together. It is also to say that when you have the backs of blind people because you believe in us, we will have your back too. We will rock you.

What about innovation? What does that really mean? At its basic level, innovation is thought to be about the creation of a new idea, method, or device. Sometimes innovation means to improve or to replace something. I believe these definitions are far too limiting for this audience. True innovation is more than the outcome—it’s the process, it’s the pattern of thought, it’s the journey.

I prefer this definition: Innovation is the process of creating value by applying fresh solutions to meaningful problems. Let me break that down, and let me use the Monarch as our example. Do we have a meaningful problem? Let me pause to say that there is a graveyard of hundreds of attempted innovations for the blind that were solutions chasing false problems. Examples include everything from yoga mats, toothbrushes, and even a toilet designed with the blind in mind. It is not enough that something is new—just because no one else invented a toilet for the blind does not make it innovative—it has to solve a real and not a perceived, meaningful problem. In order to know meaningful problems, you have to be centered on the experience and wisdom of blind people themselves.

We know that a significant problem, despite the many great strides we have made, is having access to text and graphical information in real time, in integrated classrooms, and in ways that can be easily manipulated and edited. We know that Braille—a foundational innovation that solved a very real problem—could be even better if it was presented in more lines and with more capabilities.

Do we have a fresh solution? With the Monarch, I say yes. There are many aspects that allow the Monarch to meet this criteria. One of these is the combination of partners working on the product itself: the fresh approach of combining the unique skillsets of the teams at APH and Humanware, and the members of the National Federation of the Blind. This also brings in our power chord of being centered on the real experience, the known wisdom of blind people. When the technical team working on the Monarch took on a new approach, they tested it against the real experience of blind people. The innovative approaches are the ones that have made it through the testing because they achieve the final element of the innovation definition: the process of creating value.

If the new ideas built into the Monarch are truly innovative, they have to demonstrate value to the end users—to blind people. More importantly, true innovation occurs alongside a collaborative process and a determination of real value. As blind users test concepts, they articulate things they would like to push the technology to do. If the Monarch team believes in blind people—which they do, they start with the idea that the challenge is the technology, not the people involved. They have that belief because they have challenged themselves and their own ideas within the known wisdom of the blind community. This has helped them raise their own expectations, but, in turn, they have helped to raise our expectations. The process of innovation sometimes rocks a lot more than the outcomes themselves.

I use this example because it resonates with my own experience of coming to understand innovation. Remember, I told you I did not always know what could not be done.

I was first declared legally blind at age five. Growing up with a progressive eye condition that slowly took away my remaining vision, I got a lot of implicit and explicit messages about how critical eyesight was to success. I believed those messages, and I limited my own thinking and opportunities because of those messages. It was not until I found a community of blind people who believed in me more than I believed in myself and who shared their collective wisdom with me that I began to understand that the meaningful problem was not blindness but the lack of innovative approaches that would eliminate the artificial barriers in society. That put me on a journey of discovering that there are no limits—a journey I am still on today. It’s never too late to learn that innovation rocks.

Twenty years ago, I attended my last annual meeting as a trustee of the American Printing House. I wish I knew then what I know today about the wisdom of centering blind people, the power of innovation, and the strength of working together around that shared belief. I share that because some of you may still be wondering if there really is a place for you in our innovative community of people who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done. I assure you that your journey is not over, we need your talents in our work, and if you let us, we will rock you.

Twenty years ago I took a position coordinating educational programs for the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore just before we opened our research and training center—the NFB Jernigan Institute. At the grand opening of that facility, we had an exhibit of how a tactile interface could one day provide a blind person with access to real-time environmental information that would allow them to respond accordingly in order to drive a car independently. At that time, I thought the exhibit was a great marketing gimmick to get engineers interested in innovating for blind people. I did not believe the outcome was possible because I was not sure blind people, mostly myself, would be capable of performing the tasks required. I had no evidence. I had not tested the concepts. What I knew came from decades of internalizing misconceptions about what blind people could not do.

In 2007, I became executive director for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and our Blind Driver Challenge, as it is known, came to be part of my program responsibilities. One day engineers from Virginia Tech University called and asked if I would come speak with them about their interest in a project to develop a blind-drivable car. I made the long trip from Baltimore, Maryland, to Blacksburg, Virginia, where I learned about the work happening there to build self-driving cars. They told me that they could easily put a blind person in one of their cars, have the blind person hit a button to initiate the self-driving mode, and achieve the goal of having a blind person drive a car. That was not consistent with what I knew about the level of independence and active participation blind people desired. That was not innovation. We already faced too many situations where we were asked to simply sit and do nothing. Although I did not believe it was possible myself, I got up and told the engineers that we wanted to be able to drive; we wanted to get the information, analyze it ourselves, and then make our own driving decisions. I told them we wanted to be able to crash the car—innovation rocks right? It was not truly that we wanted to crash the car, but if there was nothing real for the blind person to do, if it was not possible to crash the car, then we already believed it was not possible for blind people to drive the car.

The team at Virginia Tech said we needed to start with something smaller than a car to prove the concept. In collaboration with members of the Federation, we built nonvisual interfaces into a little red dune buggy and took it to a large-scale program we had for blind youth at the University of Maryland. For a week we taught blind youth about engineering, and at the end, they got to test this first blind-drivable vehicle. These blind students are the ones that opened my mind to this idea. They had not been taught that it was not possible, and they were eager to understand the patterns of information conveyed by the technology. I had a fresh solution, but it meant nothing until I believed that humans were capable of utilizing the solution.

It was at this time that I started telling people that, when you start with the prospect that little is possible, it is impossible to get more than little accomplished.

The next year I was tasked with developing a plan to build nonvisual-interface technology into a real, street-legal vehicle and testing the interfaces with blind people. I was project managing the effort and making sure our Virginia Tech engineers were actually engaging with blind people to test their ideas. One day I was asked if I wanted to be one of the test drivers. By this time, I knew there was more possible than I originally thought, but I still was a little unsure about whether I, as a blind person, could do it. The question was not the technology; it was completely whether I believed in myself.

After weeks of testing and refining technology, giving the engineers feedback about the nonvisual interfaces, and spending as much time driving off the road as on the road, the moment of truth came. We had boldly declared seven months earlier that we would do our first public demonstration at the Daytona International Speedway at the end of January 2011. We had tested the technology for weeks, but there had always been a sighted engineer in the car. We told the engineers it was time to get out of the car—we had to determine if this was real. Did I believe in what was possible or what was not possible?

When you are going to drive for the first time, even in January, what do you do? I jumped into the driver’s seat, rolled down the window, and turned on the radio. “Roxanne,” by The Police, pumped out of the speakers. I had made literally a hundred or more trips in that car using that technology, but the first time I did so without a nonblind person in the car, I was overwhelmed by the power of the experience. When I did so on the Daytona International Speedway, it transformed my understanding of what is possible. I no longer knew where the limits were for blind people, and I have lived that way every day since.

It took me some time to truly understand why the experience was transformational. When my perspective was changed, when I challenged myself not to simply accept the well-accepted idea, innovation happened within me. I can tell you innovation rocks.

I find this to be the critical element in the blindness field today between those who are rocking innovation and those who are disheartened with the field. We need to challenge ourselves every day to have confidence in centering blind people. We need to live in the world as both John Lennon and Henry Ford describe it: knowing we do not know what can’t be done by blind people. For you nonblind people out there, this takes a leap of faith because society does not teach you to have confidence in the blind. However, blind people should not think just because we are blind that we are immune from internalizing that same limiting misunderstanding. From personal experience, I can tell you it is much more fun rocking innovation.

I have had the opportunity to explore what blind people would do in outer space by taking a zero-gravity ride with the associate administrator of NASA, building nonvisual interfaces for driving, been part of engineering the first mobile application giving blind people instant access to printed information, organizing a rally of young future blind leaders at the Lincoln Memorial, creating partnerships across the field that helped raise expectations for emerging professionals, and even helping set two different Guinness World Records with thousands of other blind people. I could spend more time sharing my experience, but what you need to know is that every big innovative moment came about from hundreds of little personal interactions and commitments in rooms just like this. Rocking innovation is about the process, the journey, not always the outcome. It is about how much we change in the process of innovating that matters. You have a choice. You can be part of the innovation, or you can be part of the archives.

I am Mark Riccobono, a blind person living the life I want every day. My lived experience drives my dedication to rocking innovation with you every day because I know there is too much to be lost if we fail to keep the beat alive. In closing, let’s see who is ready to rock innovation with me. If you are ready to make that commitment to blind people, join in.

Securing Equal Protection under the Law: The Essential Role of the Organized Blind Movement

by Eve Hill

Introduction by Mark Riccobono: Our next speaker is not blind, but she is one of those allies that we recognize as truly being blind at heart. She has built a very accomplished career of advocacy in legal work, impacting people with disabilities and many others. She brings to life in the law the lived experience of people with disabilities. At the end of last year, when our general counsel, Scott LaBarre, passed away, I asked her if she would take up work as our general counsel. I knew that she not only had the technical expertise, but she had the deep understanding within herself about who we are, why our movement exists, and what is needed to advance our cause. Law 360 recently named her one of the Titans of the Plaintiffs' Bar for 2023. In that article, they asked her why she is interested in civil rights. She answered the question by saying, "Injustice makes me mad!" Here from Brown, Goldstein and Levy is Eve Hill.

I want to start off by talking about how honored I am to try to follow in the footsteps of the great Scott LaBarre. I knew Scott and I loved Scott, and I am not Scott LaBarre, but I will try my best every single day to follow in his footsteps.

President Riccobono suggested I let you get to know me a little bit today. I hate talking about myself, but I agreed to talk about why I'm a disability-rights lawyer working for the National Federation of the Blind. My husband uses a wheelchair, and that is not why I'm a disability-rights lawyer. I met my husband some twenty years after I became a disability-rights lawyer. But the fact that my husband has a disability helps shape my approach to disability rights and the fact that I believe people with disabilities are their own experts, are their own best representatives.

In addition, I have my own disability. I have bipolar disorder—and that is not why I'm a disability-rights lawyer. I was diagnosed ten years after I became a disability-rights lawyer. But my own lived experience helps frame the way I approach disability rights and how I know that your disability doesn't define you, just as my disability does not define me.

I grew up poor in rural Maine. Like many kids, I would often stomp my foot and complain that something wasn't fair. My mother would sigh and say, "Life is not fair." And I would scream, "Fix it!" Most of us grow out of that kind of tantrum, but not me. Righteous outrage is still my favorite emotion. I still stomp my foot and complain that it's not fair. I'm trying to spend some of my time on this planet trying to fix some of that unfairness. And that is why I'm a disability-rights lawyer. That's why the National Federation of the Blind is the best partner imaginable in that effort.

I have done a lot of things in the disability-rights movement. I have worked for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division twice, both as a line attorney and as a member of the Obama administration. I ran the Disability Rights Legal Center at Loyola Law School, where I did high-impact disability-rights litigation and taught law students to be disability-rights lawyers. I started the District of Columbia Government's Office of Disability Rights, working to make the District a model of inclusion for people with disabilities in government services. And I worked for the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. And in all of these positions I worked to implement disability rights laws, whether by taking on impact litigation, writing a casebook, teaching law students, making city agencies comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or helping states support employment of people with disabilities in competitive, integrated employment and not in sheltered workshops.

For the past six and a half years I have been in private program practice at the fantastic law firm of Brown, Goldstein and Levy, where I also run the inclusivity strategic consulting practice. I'm incredibly honored to serve as general counsel for the National Federation of the Blind. I wanted to talk about why no other organization is as powerful in securing equal protection under the laws as the NFB, and why working for the NFB is the culmination of my career as a disability-rights lawyer.

The NFB has a long history of using and shaping the law to support the equal rights of blind people. The founder, Jacobus tenBroek, was a leading lawyer and constitutional scholar who helped shape the interpretation of the United States Constitution to protect the rights of the blind. He used the law to demand the full range of rights and responsibilities of citizenship for blind people, and NFB has been doing the same thing for more than eighty years. Dr. tenBroek and the NFB envisioned the principles that eventually would become the federal disability civil-rights laws we work under today. They incorporated those principles into their work long before the ADA was even a dream. Once the law began to reflect an equal-rights framework for the blind, the NFB developed a legal program to implement it, shape it, and lead its development in the courts.

In the 1980s, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and Dr. Marc Maurer developed what is now the NFB's robust legal program. At first, the legal program was primarily a defense against attacks on the organized blind movement, on the NFB itself, and on its leadership. Then Dr. Maurer hired the great Dan Goldstein, my predecessor, mentor, and friend, to take on affirmative challenges to the rights of blind people. This included their rights under the Randolph Sheppard Act, their rights to be parents, and their equal right to employment.

Now, bear in mind that for the first few years of this program there was no ADA. The NFB's legal program had to be creative, using state law, federal law, and constitutional law. They used the expertise of blind people who spoke up for themselves and each other and served as models to teach lawyers, judges, juries, and defendants about blind people. It took chutzpah to support equal rights for blind people before the law was set up in our favor.

The legal program in its current form really began around 1999, when Dr. Maurer recognized that the emergence of digital technology offered a tremendous opportunity but also a huge potential risk for blind people. My friend Dan Goldstein remembers the conversation in which Dr. Maurer noted that in his house he was able to access his thermostat and kitchen appliances and everything else he needed to control his environment independently, because everything had a tactile element. But if he moved to a new house, all those devices would be digital, controlled by touch screens, and they would be inaccessible to him. Technology that should make life easier and better for blind people was being rolled out without any consideration of the blind. As a result it was making life harder and less accessible. So Dr. Maurer asked Dan to get the attention of the folks developing these emerging technologies.

As a result, the National Federation of the Blind sued America Online, at the time the biggest player on the Internet, challenging their inaccessibility. The NFB followed that suit with a suit against Diebold, challenging its inaccessible ATMs, and a suit against Target for its inaccessible website. The NFB has led the fight for digital accessibility for nearly twenty-five years now.

The NFB has brought suits challenging Amazon's inaccessible Kindle e-readers, Travelocity and monster.com, and H&R Block. It has called for the application of the ADA to business websites, educational technology, employment technology, digital books, and other forms of technology. It's fair to say that without the NFB the technologies that are everywhere in our world would be completely inaccessible to this day.

In one of the most significant victories, the NFB in the HathiTrust case established that making materials accessible for blind people is a fair use under the copyright law. There is no excuse for the law to stand in the way of digital literacy for the blind. As other disability-rights advocates say to me all the time, "Thank goodness for the NFB."

The NFB understood how the ADA should apply to the Internet, even though no one had thought about it before. It understood how the ADA should apply to digital technology. The NFB's legal program developed the legal framework for applying the ADA to that technology across contexts of employment, education, government services, and public accommodations, and the NFB and its lawyers and members persuaded courts across the country to adopt that legal framework.

Under the leadership of President Riccobono, the NFB’s legal program has grown. The legal program today takes a strategic approach to making systemic change. It has established priorities of access to digital technology, employment, education, civic participation, healthcare, and the Randolph Shepherd Program. The NFB’s legal program takes on some of the most important issues facing blind people today, from challenging employment discrimination, to ensuring blind people are not separated from their children, to making electronic books and the Internet accessible, to challenging sheltered workshops and subminimum wage, to ensuring that new transportation mechanisms work for the blind.

The NFB legal program takes cases that have a systemic impact and bring results that create precedents that apply far beyond any individual case. The power of the organized blind to make change through legal action has been evident to me in the years I have worked alongside the NFB, including the six-and-a-half years I have been at BGL. We've advocated successfully for accessible electronic absentee voting in over a dozen states. As a direct result of NFB's work, blind people in Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Virginia, North Dakota, Tennessee, Illinois, and very soon Bexar County, Texas, can vote absentee privately and independently.

The NFB has established the right to accessible websites for everything from retail stores to fast food to tax preparation to travel to voting and federal government services. We have established the right of blind federal employees to enforce their rights under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. And we've established the right to have other technologies accessible as well, including ATMs, kiosks, voting machines, eBook devices, and restaurant ordering devices. We will keep insisting on the accessibility of all emerging technologies, including those that use artificial intelligence. We also have fought for the right to have important information communicated in accessible formats, such as Braille, large print, and accessible electronic formats. We required the IRS to make tax information available to blind people in accessible formats. And right now we are challenging the University of North Carolina healthcare system to make important healthcare information and medical billing information accessible. We're waiting for an order from the court.

The NFB has stood up and continues to stand up for the employment rights of blind people, challenging inaccessible workplace technology at Amazon, Comcast, Williams Sonoma, and federal agencies, just to name a few ongoing cases. We challenged the discriminatory attitudes and policies of employers who refuse to hire blind people because of their misconceptions about blindness, such as employers who believe blind people can't be childcare providers or teachers. We have challenged the prejudices that lead government agencies and employers to relegate blind people to segregated subminimum-wage sheltered workshops.

The NFB has stood up over and over again for the rights of blind parents. We take on these cases in the face of state agencies acting on prejudices and stereotypes to try to terminate parental rights. We stand up to public agencies that make uninformed decisions about blind foster and adoptive parents. We stand up to spouses and courts that rely on prejudice to decide child custody.

The NFB recognizes the crucial importance of education. Its legal program fights discrimination in public education, higher education, testing, and credentialing. Recently you all heard about the case against the Los Angeles Community College District, which went to trial, twice, and culminated in a verdict finding that LACCD discriminated against students Roy Payon and Portia Mason by failing to purchase and use accessible technology. The plaintiffs were awarded over $240,000 in damages.

The NFB has also reached comprehensive accessibility outcomes with schools such as Florida State University and Miami University, but the fight continues. Now the NFB and three brilliant blind students are challenging Oregon State University's failure to make course materials accessible. We're challenging discrimination against blind students by the Harvard Kennedy School and the Berklee College of Music.

So what makes the NFB special and especially effective in advocating for equal rights? I talked to several advocates about this, and it's a combination of factors. One is that the NFB is the voice of the nation's blind. The NFB speaks for you as real blind people and reflects your priorities and principles. It has legitimacy when it sets priorities and takes on cases. Anyone who misunderstands that the NFB is advocating for anything less than justice for the blind does so at their peril.

And the NFB is brave. It is willing to take on the biggest companies and the biggest government agencies, including scary ones like the FBI. We will even challenge entities that are supposed to be our allies when they fail to do their jobs, as we did with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The NFB is willing to use litigation as a tool and to take cases all the way to judgment and even appeal in order to reach binding and precedential decisions.

The NFB will not accept halfway settlements that don't actually fix the problem, even if the other side offers cash. And the NFB is not afraid of losing a case. It recognizes, as Dr. Maurer often has said, "We may lose the battle, but we don't lose the war, because we don't stop fighting until we win."

The NFB is creative. It will color outside the lines when necessary, as it did when it intervened as a defendant when the Authors Guild sued the HathiTrust to prevent digital books from being made accessible to the blind. The NFB takes cases for the right reasons and insists on resolutions that further those reasons. Justice for the individual plaintiff is important, but the NFB's insistence on public settlements is one of the most important aspects of its legal program. Each decision, settlement, or other outcome is available for others to learn from and acts as a precedent and a deterrent for other entities.

The NFB is bold. The organized blind movement is not going to wait around for somebody else to take on its battles. The blind stand up for themselves and for each other.

While the NFB compromises when it makes sense, it doesn't compromise its principles. As President Riccobono often reminds me, the NFB will not pull its punches.

Speaking of President Riccobono, the NFB leadership is another reason the legal program here is so incredibly powerful. Judges and defendants often push you to accept half measures or to let go of your legal principles, but President Riccobono and the Board of Directors of the NFB never lose sight of the point of every case. They hold tight to the principles of NFB's mission.

Finally, the reason the NFB is such a powerful force is that the NFB is you. You are the real experts on blindness. You are the best clients in existence. You are willing to be plaintiffs and stand up for principles. You're willing to stick it out all the way to get the right result, and you don't give up halfway through. You are outstanding representatives of the blind community. Your actions and your credibility educate defendants and judges and juries better than any lawyer can. In short, the NFB is extraordinary!

I will also note that that NFB has some pretty great lawyers. Working with Tim Elder, Al Alia, Lauren McLarney, Jesse Weber, Sharon Krevor-Weissbaum, Andy Freeman, and others is an amazing privilege.

I want to leave you with a thought from President Obama that embodies the NFB for me. “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Thank you to the NFB for everything you do!

The 2024 Blind Educator of the Year Award

by Robin House

From the Editor: Robin House has many initials after her name for her educational credentials: MEd, LPC, RPT.  In other words, she holds a Master of Education, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and a Registered Play Therapist.  Selected as our Blind Educator of the Year in 2018, Robin now chairs the NFB’s 2024 Blind Educator of the Year Award Selection Committee. What is harder to convey is that, for the tremendous admiration we have for her accomplishments, the thing that makes us blessed is that Robin is Robin and that she chooses to be an active part of us. This is what she says:

A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators’ division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. This change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the effect an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.

This award is presented in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Dr. Marc Maurer, and our current President, Mark Riccobono, that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance, advocacy, and love. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000.

Nominations should be sent to Ms. Robin House by email to [email protected] or by mail to Stix ECC, 647 Tower Grove Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee’s current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairperson by May 1, 2024, to be considered for this year’s award. For further information contact Robin House at 314-265-6852, or [email protected].

Shattering Injustice and Raising Expectations: Dedication to Equality by a Blind Attorney

by Karla Gilbride

From the Editor: At the time of this presentation, Karla Gilbride was being considered for a position on the United States Court of Appeals. She now holds that position. Here is what President Riccobono said prior to her introduction at the 2022 National Convention:

Our next speaker is another outstanding champion of equal rights, and she's not afraid of taking on the biggest of the corporations or government bad actors to address injustice. She also happens to be a blind woman, simply striving to live the life she wants. She graduated with honors from Georgetown Law in 2007 and has, in a very short time, made a difference. She's a member of the bar in New York, California, and the District of Columbia, as well as several federal district courts, the United States Supreme Court, and several courts of appeal. Most recently, she was the codirector for the Access to Justice Project at Public Justice, where she worked for nearly a decade. This will resonate with Federation members—her work is described as "focusing on dismantling structural barriers that make it more difficult for people harmed by corporations or government abuse to use the civil courts to get redress." In May 2022 she won a significant victory in a fight against forced arbitration in a case that she argued before the United States Supreme Court. I am not aware of another blind attorney who has argued and won a case in front of the Supreme Court, so she has done her work in a way that has set precedent in a very motivating way.

She's worked closely on a number of Federation matters, but most recently she led the arguments in the Court of Appeals on behalf of Joe Orozco.

I could talk for a long time about the many achievements that she's made in what is still quite a young career. I want you to know, however, that she has been nominated by the President of the United States to serve as the general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is a nomination that the Federation has enthusiastically supported. I just went over to her and asked if she was confirmed yet. She said not yet. We'll see at the end of her speech if you all feel she should be confirmed by the Senate.

I should also share with you that she is described as an avid baseball fan and a fantasy baseball nerd. She enjoys hiking, cycling, and goalball. Here is a true champion for equal rights and equal responsibility who is driven by her lived experience. Here is Karla Gilbride!

Karla Gilbride: Thank you, President Riccobono, for inviting me here to speak with you all today.
 
As a young child I was convinced that I wanted to be a lawyer. Now, mind you, I didn't have a very good idea of what it was that lawyers did, but I knew that I loved words and I loved using words to get my way. My dad used to make a joke about this. He would say, "She's going to be a great lawyer someday, because the judge will be so tired of hearing her argue that they'll let her win just to shut her up."

But even though my aspirations to be a lawyer went all the way back to childhood, I couldn't have imagined as a law student, or even as recently as three years ago, that I would have the opportunity to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court. Making an argument there is very rare. Most lawyers never get the chance to do it. And I'm not aware of a totally blind lawyer who has ever argued there before I did last year.

In preparing to speak to you about that experience, I had occasion to reflect on what brought me to that juncture and what traits and tools made it possible for me to seize that opportunity when it came my way. I decided it boiled down to three things: I have a stubborn streak, I have strong blindness skills, and I have a passion to fight against injustice.

So, going back to the stubborn streak. It also dates back to early childhood. When I was young it was nothing more complex than that rebellious instinct a lot of little kids have, the desire to do the opposite of whatever the adults around them tell them to do. As a general matter, I wouldn't recommend it, because usually the adults in our lives are telling us things that are good for us. I've been totally blind since I was two years old. Many of us in this room may have had similar experiences—that sometimes the adults around you are telling you things that are not good for your development. They might say things such as, "You can skip that assignment, it would probably be too hard for you anyway," or, "It would be dangerous for you to do that phys ed activity; why don't you sit on the sidelines?" When the adults in my life said those things to me, my stubborn streak flared up, and I wanted to find a way to do the things they said I shouldn't do. As the child me would have put it, "Oh, yeah? I'll show you!"

Fortunately for me, I had parents who were fierce advocates. If they ever witnessed or heard from me about these sorts of incidents, they made clear to that gym teacher or that extracurricular activity leader that low expectations were not acceptable. I would be included in whatever the other kids were doing. I was fortunate that the administration in my public school also provided me with the supports and services that I needed.

Another thing I'm very grateful to my parents for is that they exposed me to a lot of positive, successful adult blind role models, including members of the National Federation of the Blind. Those blind adults impressed upon me the importance of gaining a strong foundation in blindness skills such as Braille and technology. I had the good sense to listen to what those adults told me. I became a proficient Braille user, and I learned to use the computer and the internet early in my educational career. With those skills in hand, I went off to college, after receiving a scholarship from the NFB in 1998.

When I came to the National Convention to receive that scholarship, I had the opportunity to observe a mock trial and watch blind lawyers like Scott LaBarre in action. That reinforced for me that this club of blind lawyers was one I definitely wanted to belong to.

Throughout college and law school, as I gained more experience, I was exposed to many people from different backgrounds and different life experiences than my own, including people with different disabilities. Through getting to know those people and learning more about their stories, I gained a more sophisticated understanding of the different identities that we all carry and the different forms of discrimination that we all face. I also came to appreciate that growing up as a white person in an affluent town on Long Island in a well-funded school district had afforded me a lot of advantages that many of my peers hadn't had. I learned that the history of injustice and access to opportunity in this country is far more complicated and far more painful than just my gym teacher telling me to sit on the sidelines.

Even as my understanding of discrimination deepened and became more expansive, I never forgot what it felt like viscerally to be held apart, to be treated as less than others. As I became a practicing lawyer, I tapped into those personal experiences and the feelings that they evoked in me. They still evoke those feelings in me when I experience discrimination to this day, for example, when I'm denied service from a rideshare driver because of my guide dog, which happens all the time.

I tapped into those experiences and those feelings to better relate to my clients who had experienced different but equally unjust mistreatment, whether it was being sexually harassed by a coworker or being passed over for a promotion because they were Black. That ability to empathize and have solidarity with others who experience mistreatment has made me a better lawyer. It has fueled my passion to fight against injustice. I agree with what Dr. King said in his letter from a Birmingham jail, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I spent three years working as a lawyer with Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, California, working on disability discrimination cases. Then I decided to move back east, where my family is from, to take a job at a law firm in DC that handles all sorts of employment and housing discrimination cases. Ever since 2011 I've been practicing law in DC, either in plaintiffs' firms or public interest organizations with a focus on workers' rights, both around discrimination and around people not being paid properly for their work. In 2021 that workers' rights practice led me to meet Robyn Morgan.

Robyn was working at a Taco Bell franchise in Iowa, and she realized that she and her coworkers were not being paid overtime when they worked more than forty hours in a week as the law required. She filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and her coworkers. Initially she was successful, but on appeal, the decision was reversed. It had to do with some complex legal stuff that I won't get into, involving forced arbitration and such. She couldn't be in court at all. She needed to go to a private arbitrator.

The lawyers who had handled her case in the district court came to Public Justice, which is where I was working at the time. We have a lot of experience working on these issues. They said, "Because we lost at the Court of Appeals, the only step left for Robyn's case is to take it to the United States Supreme Court. We would like you to handle the case."

My boss at Public Justice said, "Well, Karla, you have a lot of experience working on these particular legal issues. If we decide to go forward in the Supreme Court, I think you should handle the case."

I sat there for a minute, and there was a little voice inside my head that said, "Whoa!"
Now, I know the law in this area, I thought we had a good chance of winning. But it's the Supreme Court! And as I said before, not a lot of people ever get a chance to argue there. They only take about eighty cases a year, and those eighty cases tend to be handled by a very few repeat-player Supreme Court advocates who appear there over and over again.

But my passion to fight against injustice prevailed over my doubts. I thought that what had happened to Robyn wasn't right, and there was something we could do about it. So I said, "Yes, let's take the case." We filed our petition. The Supreme Court didn't have to take it. But a couple months later, we found out that they had taken it, and we were off to the races.

That was in November of 2021. A few weeks later I found out that Taco Bell had hired one of those repeat-player Supreme Court advocates to argue the case on their side, someone who has been up there over and over again. For those who know the law, you might recognize his name. Paul Clement. At that time he had argued over one hundred cases before the United States Supreme Court.

That little voice inside my head, that voice that had said, "Whoa!" got a little bit louder. And it got some company. There were a lot of little voices suddenly asking a lot of questions. What if you're not ready for this ... what if you're not smart enough ... what if you can't think on your feet as well as someone who has argued up there a hundred times?

Then it took a really toxic turn. These other thoughts came to the forefront. What if you go up there on that big stage and it doesn't go well and people think, Well, after all, what do you expect? She's blind ...

Luckily, just as that spiral of self-doubt started to take hold, that old stubborn streak flared up again. And it had something to say to all of those nagging negative thoughts swirling around in my head. It said, Oh, yeah? I'll show you!

So I buckled down, and I got back to preparing the case. That preparation meant reading lots and lots of previous cases, which I did using JAWS. That preparation also involved listening to lots and lots of archival audio of past Supreme Court arguments. Luckily Paul Clement had a large body of work, so I had a lot I could listen to.

And the other thing that was helpful, the reason I wanted to listen to all of these arguments, was to try to memorize the voices of the different justices. Since each of them has their own legal philosophy and way of approaching cases, it was very instructive for me to know who was asking me a question so I could know how best to respond.

Another thing I did to prepare was to put together a list of important cases and quotes that I wanted to have literally at my fingertips at the lectern. I could refer to my list in Braille as I was making my argument or as I was responding to questions.

Having two or three pages of Braille notes is something I've made a common practice whenever I do a court argument, whether in a trial or appellate court. But at the Supreme Court I also wanted to have a way to take notes when Mr. Clement was arguing. Since we were the petitioner, we would go first. We had brought the case to the court, so we would begin. Then Mr. Clement would have his argument time, and I would get the last word in rebuttal. I wanted to have a reliable way of taking notes so that I could make that rebuttal. I thought about bringing a Braille display, but I worried that the technology could fail at a really inopportune moment. So I dug back into my old bag of tricks, blindness skills I hadn't worked on since high school, and I brushed up on my slate and stylus skills.

A couple of weeks before the argument was scheduled, I called the Supreme Court to let them know I was bringing a slate and stylus into the building. I figured they wouldn't know what it was, and I didn't want to have a problem with security. I also asked them what accommodation they could make for their clock, which has a couple of different lights that come on. You get a yellow light when you have a couple minutes left, and then a red light comes on when you're out of time. I asked them could they provide some sort of audible tone? Did they have a nonvisual component to their system for people who can't see those colored lights?

They said, "Huh! We haven't thought about that. This hasn't come up before, but we'll come up with something." And they did. They had a court employee sit at a table and physically ring a bell when the light came on for yellow and when the light came on for red.

The day of the argument came, and it really went by in a blur. It lasted about an hour, but it felt much shorter than that because of all the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins. It was actually surprisingly enjoyable to be engaging back and forth with the justices. Before I knew it, the bell rang, and it was time to sit down. I just sat there in disbelief, thinking, Did I just really do that?

Because of the COVID protocols that were in place at the time, early in 2022, there was no public admitted into the court. It was just the lawyers, the justices, and a very few court staff. One of the people there was the official court sketch artist, who draws pictures of the people arguing each case. Because photographers aren't allowed in the court, those sketches will accompany any media account or article that's ever published about the case later. I was so proud and so moved when, the day after my argument, the official sketch appeared. It showed me standing at the lectern speaking with my hands on my Braille notes, and there was a little explanatory caption arrow pointing to my fingers with a note reading, "Braille." So now, in the official archives of the Supreme Court, there will always be that documentation that in March of 2022, a blind person argued at the Supreme Court and they used Braille to do it.

As proud as I am of that, I was equally proud two months later in May. In a unanimous 9-0 opinion, the court ruled for Robyn Morgan. I was able to do my part to help her get the justice she deserves.

As proud as I am of all that, I will be even more proud when I get to hear the next blind lawyer argue a case at the United States Supreme Court. What I really hope is that after two and three and four and five blind lawyers walk that path, the Supreme Court will decide to invest in some technological solution, such as a tone or a tactile buzzer for their visible light system, because they realize there are so many of us blind people arguing that just having a person ring the bell each time is not a good solution.

But this isn't just a story about the Supreme Court. And I certainly didn't say yes to come speak today just to congratulate myself. I came here and I'm sharing this story with you because I know that many, if not all of you, will in the future experience a situation where you will have voices of self-doubt inside your head like the ones I described earlier. And sometimes those voices aren't just coming from inside our heads. Sometimes they're coming from out there in the world, telling us we shouldn't do this, we can't do that, no blind person has ever done this before so what makes you think you can be the first?

When those voices come into your lives, whether external or internal or both, I hope that by sharing my story with you today, I will have given more strength and more conviction and more force to your own voice when you answer back, "Oh, yeah? I'll show you!"

We can all do more than other people think we're capable of doing. We can all do more than we might believe we're capable of ourselves. And we can do even more when we support and lift up one another. That spirit of mutual support and solidarity is one of the things that I admire most about this organization, especially when it's directed to those who are newly blind or to the next generation coming up.

I am so grateful to everyone who has supported and encouraged me along my journey, including people who are here in the room today and others who are no longer with us. I am honored to do what I can to pay it forward in the years ahead. Thank you all so much.

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Updates for 2024

by Jesse Shirek

On October 12, 2023, the Social Security Administration announced a 3.2 percent cost of living increase for 2024. Before we dig into the details of how these changes will affect beneficiaries, let me take you down a side road, back to the glorious summer of 1996. If you are young enough that you were not yet alive in 1996, I am sorry, you missed out! We all rushed out to watch Independence Day to see if Will Smith had the courage to save us all from being destroyed by an alien invasion. We could not control our urges to dance the Macarena at every wedding reception and graduation party. And most importantly, we could not stop the Spice Girls from telling us what they really, really want. Simultaneously, I became old enough to vote. This important moment in my life was sandwiched between graduating from high school and a less than successful effort at attending the University of North Dakota. Being eighteen also meant that I was no longer legally dependent on my parents and would qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Doing some quick Googling helped me remember that the SSI payment amount in 1996 was $470 per month. In my eighteen-year-old brain, this meant that I was now rich beyond measure, because I could live out my rock star dreams and afford my new dream electric guitar. A sparkling new lime green Ibanez with a maple neck and a 15-watt Marshall practice amplifier, with all of the knobs turned to eleven. My ears are still ringing from the glorious sounds produced by that superb instrument.

Let us get out of the proverbial wheat field and back on the path towards discussing SSI. Most of the regulations that I had to follow were logical; you can read the highlights further down in this article. There is one aspect to receiving SSI that I did not yet understand. The Social Security Administration (SSA) required me to pay 30 percent of my SSI check to my parents to cover rent, because the government stated that my parents’ house would be my permanent address and my university address would be temporary. This error was discovered after I had been receiving payments for one year, resulting in an $1,800 overpayment. The Social Security Administration took the position that, because I did not pay my parents $150 a month in rent for twelve months, I must return the $1,800 to the SSA, even if I did not know this was a requirement.
It is easy to grasp the importance of following the requirements, but far less easy to be aware of and stay current on the law and rules you really need to know. That's where the National Federation of the Blind benefits advocacy strategy can help.

Meet Our Group

Our advocacy work in this area is coordinated through our national office and includes a number of key experts.

Jesse Shirek, author of this article, is a governmental affairs specialist in our advocacy and policy department. Jesse has served as the North Dakota affiliate president, on the National Scholarship Committee, and in a variety of roles in the New Mexico, North Dakota, and Maryland affiliates. He has spent the majority of his career working in rehabilitation, before coming to work for the National Federation of the Blind in 2021. Jesse transitioned to Government Affairs in May 2023, where he is the primary point of contact for key advocacy priorities including SSI, SSDI, ABLE Accounts, Veterans Administration issues, and Autonomous Vehicles.

James Gashel led the Federation’s government relations efforts for thirty-three years, then served thirteen more years on the board of directors. In retirement, he is our Hawaii state affiliate's secretary, state legislative chair, and NFB Honolulu Chapter president. We are fortunate that he continues to keep up with important Social Security matters and volunteers his expertise in Federation benefits appeals when needed.

Andrew Sindler is an attorney in private practice and the newest contributor to our advocacy group. From his law office near Annapolis, Maryland, he handles claims at all levels from initial application filing all the way through federal court appeals when necessary. For nearly twenty years, Andrew has successfully and passionately represented local and national claimants in a wide variety of Social Security Disability and SSI claims. These include childhood claims, disabled adult child claims, continuing disability reviews, and cessation of benefits cases, overpayments, and re-computation of benefits using the blindness disability freeze.

If you have questions related to your SSI and SSDI benefits or if you are seeking help, contact Jesse Shirek by phone at 410-659-9314, extension 2348, or by email at [email protected]. Our group will do its best to help with emphasis on prioritizing assistance to active members of the National Federation of the Blind.

Annual Adjustments to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs

In 2024, approximately seventy million Americans will see a 3.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in their benefit amounts. Thus, come January, monthly checks will be higher. The 2024 amounts are below, along with some general concepts pertaining to the Social Security and Medicare programs, in case you want to better understand or refresh yourself about your rights. The COLA is based on the consumer price index (CPI-W), which measures the rate of inflation against the wages earned by the approximately 173 million workers across the nation over the previous four quarters starting with the third quarter of the previous year.

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: If you are employed, you know that you do not bring home everything you earn. For example, 7.65 percent of your pay is deducted to cover your contribution to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds and the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Funds, 6.2 percent covers OASDI, and 1.45 percent is contributed to the HI Trust Funds. Additionally, your employer is required to match this 7.65 percent for a grand total of 15.3 percent.

For those who are self-employed, there is no “employer” to match the 7.65 percent, which means a self-employed individual pays the entire 15.3 percent of their income. These numbers will not change in 2024 regardless of whether an individual is employed or self-employed. As of January 2024, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes; this does not include the above amounts.

Maximum Taxable Earnings

There is a ceiling on taxable earnings for the OASDI Trust Fund, which was $160,200 in 2023 and will increase to $168,600 in 2024. Thus, for earnings above $168,600, there is no 6.2 percent deducted for OASDI. As for Medicare, there is no limit on taxable earnings for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Quarters of Coverage

The OASDI Trust Fund is kind of like an insurance policy. You have to pay a premium to participate. Therefore, to qualify for Retirement, Survivors, or Disability Insurance benefits, an individual must pay a minimum amount of FICA taxes into the OASDI Trust Fund by earning a sufficient number of calendar quarters to become fully insured for Social Security benefits.
In 2023, credit for one quarter of coverage was awarded for any individual who earned at least $1,640 during the year, which means that an individual would need to earn at least $6,560 to be credited with four quarters of coverage. In 2024, the amount increases to $1,730 for one calendar quarter or $6,920 to earn four quarters of coverage for the year.

A maximum of four quarters can be awarded for any calendar year, and it makes no difference when the income is earned during that year. Basically, the taxes you pay into the OASDI and HI Trust Funds are your premiums to take part in the Social Security and Medicare programs. The total number of quarters required to be eligible for benefits depends on the individual’s age. The older the individual, the more quarters are required. Furthermore, a higher average income during an individual’s lifetime means a higher Social Security or SSDI check when benefits start. Remember the above quoted numbers for quarters of coverage to become fully insured are only minimum amounts.

Trial Work Period (TWP)

This concept is often misunderstood. The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is not based on the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries but instead on the national average wage index. In 2023, the amount required to use a TWP month was only $1,050, and this amount will increase to $1,110 in 2024. 

If you are self-employed, you can also use a trial work month if you work more than eighty hours in your business, and this limitation will not change unless expressly adjusted.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The earnings limit for a blind beneficiary in 2023 was $2,460 per month and will increase to $2,590 in 2024. Again, it’s important to remember this is not the amount of money an individual makes to use a trial month. This is to say that the TWP can be exhausted even if your income is well below $2,590 per month. See the above information about the TWP.
In 2024 a blind SSDI beneficiary who earns $2,590 or more in a month (before taxes but after subtracting un-incurred business expenses for the self-employed, subsidized income for the employed, and impairment-related work expenses) will be deemed to have exceeded SGA and will likely no longer be eligible for SSDI benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The standard federal monthly payment amount for individuals receiving SSI was $914 in 2023 and will increase to $943 in 2024. For married couples, the standard federal monthly payment amount of SSI will increase from $1,371 to $1,415.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

In 2023, the monthly amount was $2,220 and will increase to $2,290 in 2024. The annual amount was $8,950 in 2023 and will be $9,230 in 2024. The asset limits under the SSI program will remain unchanged at $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per married couple. If you find yourself approaching the SSI asset limit, I urge you to continue reading the next section regarding ABLE Accounts.

ABLE Act

We are coming up on the nine-year anniversary of the signing of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which was enacted on December 19, 2014. The ABLE Act has a significant impact on resource limits associated with the SSI and Medicaid programs for people who became blind or disabled by the age of twenty-six. Traditionally, SSI beneficiaries have been required to adhere to strict resource limits: such as a maximum of $2,000 in the bank for an individual receiving SSI benefits. Under the ABLE Act, however, the amount held in an ABLE Account can be much higher than the $2,000 resource limit. ABLE Account contributions must be designated specifically for purposes such as education, housing, employment training and support, assistive technology, health, prevention and wellness, financial management, legal fees, and funeral and burial expenses. Check with your financial institution of choice for a status of ABLE Act regulations in a specific state and to see if an ABLE Account is right for you.

It is important to note that SSI beneficiaries should consider the many other purposes not subject to the traditional resource limits when making ABLE Account contributions, since there are also tax advantages associated with ABLE Accounts. If you are seeking more information about the topic of ABLE Accounts, you can reach out to Government Affairs Specialist Jesse Shirek, at 410-659-9314, extension 2348; Alternatively, visit: https://www.ablenrc.org/.

From California to Illinois–Powered by Braille

by Rachel Held

From the Editor: Rachel Held is the coordinator of outreach in the office of the President. Here she gives us another beautiful view of Dan O’Rourke’s ride for literacy.

This summer the National Federation of the Blind partnered with longtime NHL referee Dan O’Rourke to spread the word about Braille literacy across Route 66. Dan traded in his skates for some pedals, and biked over 2,700 miles from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois, over the span of six weeks. His wife April and their dog Beiley followed behind in an RV. With his family in tow, we’re reminded that Dan’s motivation started at home. His father, Tom, never let his declining vision get in the way of his independence, and that dedication to our mission inspired Dan to take up this challenge and bike for Braille literacy.

Along the way, Dan stopped in six different cities to gather with NFB members and their communities. They participated in everything from spray paint art at Cadillac Ranch in Texas, to tandem bike-riding in Arizona. Bringing out members old and new, Dan’s ride was an exciting motivator for chapters and affiliates to get together and build new connections.

The goal of this partnership and ride was to raise funds for and increase awareness around Braille literacy, especially for young blind students. Helping us to further the reach of our Braille literacy programs, such as the NFB BELL® Academy, the Ride for Literacy raised over $50,000. We are so thankful to Dan and our NFB family and friends for achieving this goal. Dan even inspired his father to start learning Braille!

When asked about her husband’s incredible commitment to this ride, April O’Rourke said, “You never know what can happen each day, and I’m so proud of Dan for keeping our days interesting for such a great reason.”

Dan attributes his success to the kids he met at our NFB BELL® Academy programs. He was inspired particularly by the words of encouragement from one young student who said, “I think you’re going to come up against some big hills, and there’s going to be some hard days, but every time you pedal, that’s progress. And progress is progress.”

We at the NFB know what progress means. Since 1940 we have led the organized blind movement courageously and never tired of the fight for inclusion. With increased rates of Braille literacy at our fingertips, we will inspire the next generation of blind leaders. Like Dan, we will never stop moving forward in our goals to raise expectations and achieve equity for blind people in schools, the workforce, and communities.

O'Rourke Completes 6-week Fundraising Bike Ride for Blind

by Amalie Benjamin

Reprinted with permission from NHL.com, September 08, 2023

Through all the weeks that Dan O’Rourke spent on his bike—six, to be exact—all the road rash and flat tires, the broken fan belt on his RV, the searing temperatures and the early mornings, the longer-than-planned stopover in Joplin, Missouri, there have been so many victories: the people he has met along the way, the stories he has heard, the word he has spread, the money he has raised.

But it’s possible that nothing compares to the news the longtime NHL referee received recently from his dad, the reason he got on his bike in the first place for a 2,500-mile ride along Route 66 from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, raising money for the National Federation of the Blind.

“He’s decided to take the challenge on of learning Braille, at 75 years old,” said O’Rourke, who has been an official in the NHL since 1999 and who will report to officials training camp Sunday. “If that’s all that came of this, then it was worth it.”

O’Rourke’s father, Tom, and his grandfather both suffered vision loss, with his father diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that affects the retina, breaking it down slowly over time and causing blindness. The belief is that his grandfather also had the same disease, though O’Rourke never met him.

Part of the reason that O’Rourke, fifty, set out on his journey on July 27 was to raise money for the NFB’s BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) Academy, a summer program of Braille and nonvisual skills that helps low-vision children with the skills and confidence to live independent lives. At last tally, a week or so ago, O’Rourke had raised $46,000 and was hoping for more to continue coming in to support an organization that is near and dear to his heart.

Because he knows what it’s like to try to live without some of those skills. His father never learned Braille and never wanted to use a cane, denial taking hold of him. Tom was injured just before O’Rourke set out July 27, falling down the stairs, shattering his elbow, breaking his shoulder, and sustaining a concussion.

That, plus the ride, may have been the push Tom needed to take the next step.

“I may even talk him into trying to get certified in it, so he can help other people,” O’Rourke said. “It’s just kind of a neat part of the story—a huge reason behind this is the fact that he never did learn Braille or learn how to use his cane properly. Now he reached out to the CNIB [Foundation] in Canada, and he’s trying to get the starter kit for Braille.”

“That, to me, has been one of the real silver linings of it is that he’s decided to do that.”
Tom has told everyone he can find about the ride, about what his son is doing, struggling to get through the story without tearing up, bursting with pride.

It’s how O’Rourke has felt too.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, that me and my wife have done, aside from our kids,” he said.

Along the way from California to Illinois were meet-and-greets, a “Dan O’Rourke Day” in Springfield, Missouri, that came as a complete surprise, social media check-ins, and a few missteps, including a fall outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that shredded his shorts enough that “my left butt cheek is hanging out,” O’Rourke said, laughing. “I kind of crashed and burned there.”

It took almost two days to get all the asphalt out of the cuts.
But he made it, ahead of schedule.

O’Rourke crossed the finish line Wednesday, pulling up to a little street sign in downtown Chicago that marks the end of Route 66 around 3 p.m., enjoying a moment alone and taking some pictures.

There will be a more formal event on Friday with some vendors and an appearance by the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, given to the Western Conference champion, which will be available to be touched by low-vision and blind people, “where they can put their hands on it and experience it that way,” O’Rourke said.

And this may not be the last time O’Rourke gets on his bike for a cause. He and his wife, April, are already kicking around ideas for the next time.

“It’s just been an amazing journey,” O’Rourke said. “It was very weird today to get up and not have to get on my bike and get going."

Pit Stop Party at Kirkwood Library: NHL Referee Dan O’Rourke Bikes Route 66 for Braille Literacy Fundraising

by Julie Brown Patton

Originally published in Webster Kirkwood Times on September 11, 2023, and used with their kind permission.

Kirkwood Public Library staffers co-hosted a cycling pit-stop party with National Federation of the Blind representatives and guest speaker National Hockey League referee Dan O’Rourke on August 31.

Roughly forty pit-stop attendees met O’Rourke to hear about his current forty-five-day bicycle ride from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois, along the iconic Route 66 to raise awareness for Braille literacy.

“There’s only about 20 percent literacy in the blind community. Kids don’t have chances to be successful if they can’t read. The earlier you start, the easier it is to learn and use Braille,” explained O’Rourke, who witnessed his own blind father defeat many obstacles in his path. “It floored me that so many people who have blindness in their families don’t know about the National Federation of the Blind as a community that can help them thrive.”

“I wanted to give back to the National Federation of the Blind because the group empowers blind people to live the lives they want,” he added.

Kirkwood was O’Rourke’s only stop in the St. Louis region. On August 27, he paused in Springfield, Missouri, the declared birthplace of Route 66. He is scheduled to arrive in Chicago by Friday, September 8.

O’Rourke, fifty-one, who’s worked as an NHL on-ice official since 1999 and is a self-described CrossFit junkie, will have pedaled 2,700 miles when his ride is complete.

He is raising funds specifically for the National Federation of the Blind’s Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning® Academy (BELL), a summer program of Braille and nonvisual skills that helps low-vision children with the abilities and confidence to live independent lives.

Those at the Kirkwood pit-stop party had an opportunity to have their names typed in Braille, enter to win an official autographed NHL game puck, and meet members of the St. Louis Blues Blind Hockey Club.

“This was our first-ever pit-stop party. I love that everyone got to come by the library as an awesome, supportive community,” said Mel Lambert, manager of reference and adult services for the Kirkwood Public Library.

Also present, and in partnership with the Kirkwood Public Library on an ongoing basis, was Jami Livingston, adult services librarian for the Wolfner Talking Books and Braille Library in Jefferson City, Missouri. That library loans free materials through an application and certification program to those who are navigating blindness, print disabilities, reading disabilities, and physical or hearing impairments.

Jenny Carmack, National Federation of the Blind first vice president and president of the Lewis and Clark National Federation of the Blind Chapter for St. Louis, is an Affton resident who said she learned Braille as an adult.

“I use Braille daily for activities such as my microwave and washer. I wish I would’ve learned it when I was younger, due to how important it is to anyone who has limited or no sight,” she said.

Carmack said the National Federation of the Blind chapter has twenty-five members who meet from 2 to 5 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 8770 Manchester Road.

“We also have STEM events and Braille enrichment camps for youths to places such as the Missouri Transportation Museum,” she explained, sharing that the state has seven other chapters of the National Federation of the Blind.

At the meet-and-greet in Kirkwood, Gary Wunder, National Federation of the Blind president emeritus of Columbia, Missouri, dispelled myths about Braille.

“Braille isn’t slow, especially if learned early in life and used daily. I believe there’s a bit of Braille denial in public schools because teachers don’t have the training or materials,” he said.

Wunder added that Braille isn’t that hard to learn.

“With 187 contractions, we see words with our fingers, several words at a time. Going fast becomes second nature,” he said.

While some people think Braille is bulky, Wunder said there are optical programs for Word documents and refreshable Braille displays.

“It’s also not true that there aren’t enough uses for Braille. Anyone who can type can send each other messages. Braille is well worth the investment, and audio cannot supplant Braille,” Wunder said.

A handful of athletes representing the St. Louis Blues Blind Hockey Club described how they play with an adapted 5.5-inch metal puck so they can hear it moving. Blind hockey is the same fast-paced sport as ice hockey, except all of the players are legally blind.

Players must be classified as eligible in one of the three International Blind Sports Federation classifications. Established in 2017, this St. Louis club is one of seventeen U.S. blind hockey teams.

O’Rourke, whose grandfather also was blind, left attendees with inspiring sentiments about his seventy-five-year-old father, who he said never utters words about “not being able to do something.” He said the ride is also meant to honor his father, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that breaks down the retina over time and causes blindness.

“My dad just never accepted that he was legally blind. The belief is that my grandfather had the same condition,” he said.

O’Rourke said his cycling journey along Route 66 has been an “unbelievable experience.”

“Everybody tries to thank me, but the pride I feel is that I owe it to you guys,” he said. “I appreciate everyone who’s come out and donated. Every dollar counts, and we can help more kids get started with Braille and get in the right frame of mind with this tool that will help them their entire lives.”

For more details about O’Rourke’s journey, visit NFB.org/Route66. Donations can be made at NFB.org/Contribute/Ride4Literacy, by calling (410) 659-9314, ext. 2430, or sending a check to National Federation of the Blind, Attention: Outreach, 200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230. Write “Ride for Literacy” in the memo.

The 2024 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

by Everette Bacon

From the Editor: Everette Bacon is a member of the national board of directors and the affiliate president in Utah. He also chairs the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. Here is his announcement about the 2024 Bolotin Awards program:

The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These prestigious awards, granted each year as funds permit, seek to honor initiatives, innovations, and individuals that are an exemplary positive force in the lives of blind people and advance the ultimate goal of helping them to live the lives they want. Award winners will be publicly recognized during the 2024 Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida. Each recipient will receive a cash award determined by the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee and will also be honored with an engraved medallion and plaque.

Dr. Jacob W. Bolotin (1888-1924) was a pioneering blind physician, the first in history who achieved that goal despite the tremendous challenges faced by blind people in his time. Not only did he realize his own dream; he went on to support and inspire many others in making their own dreams a reality. The awards which bear his name are supported in part by the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, left as a bequest by Dr. Bolotin’s late nephew and niece to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind to present the annual cash awards.

As chronicled in his biography, The Blind Doctor by Rosalind Perlman, Dr. Bolotin fought ignorance and prejudice to gain entrance to medical school and the medical profession. He became one of the most respected physicians in Chicago during his career, which spanned the period from 1912 until his death in 1924. He was particularly known for his expertise in diseases of the heart and lungs. During his successful career, Dr. Bolotin used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for employment of the blind and the full integration of the blind into society. Interested in young people in general and blind youth in particular, Dr. Bolotin established the first Boy Scout troop consisting entirely of blind boys and served as its leader. Jacob Bolotin’s wife Helen had a sister whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise a son, Alfred Perlman. The Perlmans moved in with the Bolotins when Alfred was eleven, and for four years (until Jacob Bolotin’s untimely death at age thirty-six), “Uncle Jake” became Alfred’s surrogate father. Alfred later married Rosalind, and the couple worked on a book about Dr. Bolotin’s life. After Alfred’s death in 2001, Rosalind dedicated the rest of her life to completing and publishing the book, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, published by Blue Point Books, http://www.west.net/~bpbooks/mhp.html, with standard inkprint and large type editions available, and also available in digital audio format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) program.

Past award winners have:

  1. Broken down barriers facing blind people in innovative ways.
  2. Changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people.
  3. Pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights.

Award Description

In 2024 the National Federation of the Blind will again recognize individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves in accordance with the criteria established to receive a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. The committee will determine both the number of awards and the value of each cash award presented. The Federation determines the total amount to be distributed each year based on income received from the trust supporting the award program. The award categories for each year are blind individuals, sighted individuals, and organizations, corporations, or other entities. Individuals may apply on their own behalf or may submit a third-party nomination, or the committee may also consider other individual or organizational candidates.

Who Should Apply?

Individuals: Only individuals over eighteen years of age may be considered for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. Applicants must demonstrate that they have shown substantial initiative and leadership in improving the lives of the blind. Examples of such initiative include but are not limited to developing products, technologies, or techniques that increase the independence of the blind; directing quality programs or agencies for the blind; or mentoring other blind people. All individual applicants or third-party applicants nominating other individuals must demonstrate that the work to be recognized has been conducted within the twelve months preceding the application and/or that the work is continuing. Applications by or on behalf of individuals must include at least one letter of recommendation from a person familiar with or directly affected by the work to be recognized.

Organizations: Organizations may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in order to further programs, services, technology, or techniques of unique and outstanding merit that have assisted and will continue to assist the blind. Applications from third parties nominating an organization will also be considered. The organization category includes for-profit or nonprofit corporations or organizations or other entities, such as a specific division within an organization. Organizations or third-party applicants must demonstrate that the programs or services to be recognized include substantial participation by blind people as developers, mentors, administrators, or executives and not merely as clients, consumers, or beneficiaries. For example, an organization operating a program for blind youth might demonstrate that a substantial number of the counselors, teachers, or mentors involved in the program are blind. The organization or third-party applicant must demonstrate that it has substantially aided blind people within the twelve months prior to application and that an award would support efforts to build on previous successes. The application must also include at least one testimonial from a blind person who has benefited substantially from the programs or services.

To qualify for an award, both individuals and organizations must provide programs, services, or benefits to blind people in the United States of America.

Procedures

More information, including an online application, can be found on the National Federation of the Blind website at https://nfb.org/bolotin.

Online submission of nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials is strongly encouraged, but applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. The 2024 deadline for application submission is April 15, and recipients chosen by the committee will be individually notified of their selection no later than May 15. Receipt of all complete applications will be acknowledged, but only those applicants chosen to receive an award will be notified of their selection. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee are final.

The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to confirm attendance for the award presentation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.

Ineligible Persons

Those employed full-time by the National Federation of the Blind may not apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for work performed within the scope of their employment. Students may not apply for both a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the same year.

It Matters What We Do, Not Who We Are

by Geerat J. Vermeij

From the Editor: Geerat J. Vermeij is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at UC Davis. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2022. He has published seven books and remains scientifically active. I understand the upcoming book he refers to in his article now means he has published eight of them. Luckily for us, he still finds time to be both a reader and contributor. Here is what he writes:

Modern society seems obsessed with identity. Race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability—they all take center stage in defining us as individuals. At every turn we are asked to identify ourselves according to society’s currently fashionable categories regardless of whether those categories can be unambiguously circumscribed. Thousands of sociological studies, government mandates, and policies at every level of society are founded on heterogeneous, ill-defined, and often highly fluid categories. Worse, these categories reinforce existing prejudices and biases. Those of us who are blind know all of this very well, yet even we often fall prey to this preoccupation with identity.

In his 1963 speech, “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic,” (reprinted in The Braille Monitor, Vol. 66, No. 6, June, 2023), Kenneth Jernigan correctly asserted that blindness is a characteristic, one of many traits that affect a person’s life. With great clarity he argued that blindness can be mitigated, so that it need not and should not be considered a sign of inability or inferiority. Indeed, a core mission of the National Federation of the Blind is to ensure that blind individuals have the tools as well as the positive attitudes to overcome the physical and social disadvantages that come with blindness. This necessary work continues, as it should.

But I would go a step further. Our characteristics, including blindness, do influence what we do and how others perceive us, but they do not define us. What matters, it seems to me, is what we do, not who we are.

Society’s preoccupation with identity is destructive. It reinforces stereotypes and prematurely determines the potential (or lack of potential) for individual accomplishments and diminishes the fairness of how the actions and contributions of individuals are judged.

My perspective on this issue derives not from social activism or advocacy, but from my life-long study of the economic history of the world of living things, including our own species. Life-forms today and in the past have managed to persevere—and in the long run to improve—in a world full of changing challenges and opportunities. In my forthcoming book The Evolution of Power: a new understanding of the history of life (Princeton University Press, 2023), I explore the premise that, like humans, all other forms of life have the ability to change and adapt to their surroundings to the extent that their power (the rate at which energy and material resources are acquired and deployed) allows. Although their station in the web of life is strongly affected by this power, it is the actions of living things that matter. By itself, power or energy, like money, means nothing. They become useful only when they are deployed to do something. In other words, characteristics in the abstract tell us nothing about what we do.

A shift in emphasis away from identity toward accomplishment would represent a healthy and refreshing reorientation in how we and others see ourselves. What can we do with the appropriate physical and educational tools? Isn’t it better to be evaluated on what we have done or are doing than to be classified according to preconceived, often socially loaded, categories based on characteristics in isolation? Our accomplishments and actions are far more diverse than our socially prescribed characteristics, and it is this diversity of doing that describes the richness of the human enterprise.

Announcing the NFB 2024 Scholarship Program

by Cayte Mendez

From the Editor: Many volunteer jobs in the NFB are as taxing and as demanding of time as fulltime employment. One of them is chairing our Scholarship Committee, and Cayte does a wonderful job of remaining calm, cool, and compassionate in the performance of her duties. Here is her announcement about the 2024 Scholarship Program with the promise of a longer article to come early next year:

The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to announce our 2024 scholarship program. We offer thirty $8,000 scholarships to blind students who will be at least eighteen years of age by July 1, 2024. Students may apply if they reside in the fifty states, the District of Colombia, or Puerto Rico and will be enrolled in a full-time accredited post-secondary degree program during the 2023-2024 school year. All scholarships will be awarded at our 2024 National Convention, which will take place in Orlando, Florida, from July 3 to 8, 2024.

The application period begins December 1, 2023, and closes at midnight EST on March 31, 2024. Go to www.nfb.org/scholarships. To apply during the four-month open period: read the rules and the submission checklist, complete the official 2024 scholarship application form (online or in print), supply all required documents, and request and complete an interview with an NFB affiliate president. Remember, the only way to win is to apply!

My Experiences as a Deafblind Participant in our 2023 National Convention

by Maurice Mines

From the Editor: Most of us who attend convention know that it takes planning, perseverance, and dealing with the unexpected. Maurice shows us that this is a daily challenge that is a bit more difficult when one must coordinate with several others and some flawed technology to get the information most of us get so easily. Here is a good part of his convention week in Houston at our 2023 National Convention:

These are my 2023 National Convention experiences. For the first time, I found myself having to cope with going to convention with hearing aids that weren’t up to the task. Thank goodness for tactile sign language interpreters. This year’s convention would’ve been much more difficult to attend and participate in without them.

Before things started, I of course had to deal with convention headquarters hotel staff. A brief comment: They did a great job considering the circumstances. When it became apparent that I couldn’t hear, one of the hotel staff members took it upon themselves to text me questions that I was able to answer. We had a texting conversation about the things that any other guest has after checking in.

Getting my caffeine

The next morning there was the experience of trying to find the lobby Starbucks. This was a particular challenge because of how difficult it is to hear anything in the lobby. It was an extreme challenge, but fortunately I found two guests who were quite willing to assist. Apparently one of them knew some sign language, so that person was able to ask me what I wanted from Starbucks. After getting what I needed, I ask for some minor assistance to be pointed towards the elevators. They insisted upon accompanying me to my room. Of course I knew exactly where my room was located, so this wasn’t a big issue.

My roommate for convention had arrived, and it was time to figure out what we were going to have for dinner. Luckily I found a local pizza company. In ordering, using my hearing aid seemed to go well. We did get exactly what we ordered, but of course there’s the challenge of getting to the lobby. By this time the hotel staff figured out that I really can’t hear. Luckily I was able to get some assistance to find the pizza delivery driver.

The first day of convention

The first major hurdle was meeting up with the interpreters who were going to be helping me make sense of convention activities. Somehow our wires got crossed. I wound up on the first floor while they were waiting on the third floor. After some texting, it all got worked out. Attending meetings for the most part worked, more or less.

What to do for lunch on the first day

We decided that it was probably a good idea for me to visit the hotel restaurant, but I soon discovered it served absolutely huge tacos. I asked my interpreter why such large tacos, and the first reply I hear was one I’d get for the rest of the week: “You are in Texas,” meaning everything is much larger in Texas.

The afternoon seemed to go much smoother. I went to the multiple disabilities meeting and was still trying to get used to being signed to pretty much full-time. Needless to say, I had to remember my college sign language classes. I felt like I was in the world’s longest final exam. I really had to figure out whether I was ready to spend a week sinking as I asked, “Can you please repeat that again?” Or was I going to swim. So I stopped and tried to remember what I did when many moons ago attending an NFB center. Then, of course, there was my time at Helen Keller National Center for Deaf and Blind Youth and Adults. My conclusion was that I needed to problem solve in this situation. I decided that trying to swim made the most sense. Like any language, if you don’t use it, you tend to lose it. So I eventually began to pick out words and put them together in context. This eventually allowed me to figure out what was going on over the course of convention, though not always as rapidly as I wanted.

An unexpected crisis turns into a victory

Evening came, and one issue suddenly made itself quite clear: I suddenly realized that I did not purchase a new belt before convention. It was time to find a belt before mine gave up. Fortunately, the gift shop in the Hilton just so happened to have a suitable belt.

Managing the workload for my interpreters

In working with these interpreters, I had to figure out what interpreting they should be doing and when they could take a needed break. We eventually worked this out. In fact, when I had a brief conversation in the presidential suite with Pam Allen about needing to schedule a meeting with President Riccobono, she asked me something like “Why don’t we just call you and leave you a voicemail?” Unfortunately, due to the fact that I am deafblind, anyone who wishes to leave me a voicemail might want to think twice about attempting this. Long story short: I can’t hear traditional voicemail at all. This is true even with hearing aids. My suggestion was that I be sent a text message, and this accommodation worked beautifully. When we met, my interpreters were very impressed with our national President. Together we had a good meeting.

Day two

If this were a gymnastics competition, the degree of difficulty would’ve increased significantly. The first stop was to pick up my convention materials. My interpreters were surprised that I picked a Braille agenda, meaning hardcopy Braille. They were also impressed that the person handing it to me thanked me for reading Braille. I then explained to my interpreters that, sad though it is, too few blind people let alone deafblind people actually read Braille.

Then it was off to the exhibit hall, where the noise level was off the charts. I don’t think it would’ve made a difference in terms of which pair of hearing aids I wore. I brought two pairs, one that works great for conversations when there’s no background noise at all, and one more that works better to filter out background noise. The second pair is slightly better, but the amount of noise in the exhibit hall made either pair useless. Again it was time to sink or swim. The strategy I employed this time was to work out with my interpreters which tables I would visit and which I would bypass. This strategy seemed to work well.

My first stop was to the table that represented the state that I grew up in, Washington State. I think the person who sold me the two bags of chocolate covered espresso beans might have been a bit taken aback to have an interpreter talking to them. But, given the noise level, it was the only way to complete the purchase.

The next place I went was the HumanWare table. Trying to figure out the cost of a Braille embosser I was checking out was a little bit stressful. Remember that my understanding of ASL is a challenge because I haven’t used it much. I certainly felt like I was being tested. I did eventually figure out the price. The embosser certainly made me think about the cost of assistive technology.

The National Resolutions Committee Meeting

The next task for our little group was figuring out how to handle the Resolutions Committee meeting. One of the interpreter said, “Let’s see if you can hear the chair. If you can, we won’t step in. But if you really can’t, we’ll just stay in here and start signing as needed. Long story short: I was able to understand the chair’s questions but only because of the interpreters. I’m happy to report that the resolution I was the proponent for received a do pass recommendation. It was eventually passed by the entire convention later in the week.

The morning of the third day at national convention

It was time to go to the national Board of Directors meeting. The day before, the interpreters began to comment on just how many people they were seeing at meetings. I mentioned to them that the week would definitely grow in terms of the number of people attending meetings. I then explained how national Board of Directors meetings go so that they could get an idea of what I think might be important and what detail I thought might be okay to leave out. The first thing that the interpreters asked me was during the presentation from New Mexico. They asked me whether people generally leave that kind of money to the organization? I said yes and that some years the presentations involved larger amounts of money than others.

The lunch surprise

We decided that it might be a good idea to grab something outside the hotel. Again, I found myself asking my interpreters why the servings were so large once my lunch order arrived. I told them that there was no way I could eat all of this in one sitting. Their answer once again was that “You are in Texas.” The challenge was how to put all that food away so that I could have it for dinner. This involved dealing with elevators that during convention sometimes work and more often don’t. Let’s just say my interpreters and I plotted how we would make good use of the stairs during the course of convention week.

Off to the National Federation of the Blind Deafblind Division Reorganization Meeting

Remember when I mentioned earlier that I had to sink or swim? Again I was being put to the test. I had to concentrate on what was going on at the meeting and put what was being signed into context. This also involved keeping track of the pro-tactile cues being offered by the interpreters. The first part of the meeting going through the constitution went well, but only because I read it through several times to the meeting so everyone would know exactly what they would be approving. Once the draft constitution underwent a few changes, it was approved.

I worked so hard at figuring out what was being said and not being said that I almost missed the fact that I had been elected president of the division. So for the rest of the meeting, I did my best to read the sign language and make certain that I understood when other interpreters walked by and congratulated me. One minute you are feeling the signs from the person you’re working with, and the next minute there’s a different hand there to greet and sign.

Attending the Black Blind Leaders Meeting

This meeting turned out to be very interesting and inspiring, not only because of what was said but how it was said. Let’s just say that that meeting was one of the highlights of my convention experiences this year.

Some definitions

I think at this point I should explain some differences such as the difference between American Sign Language which is visual in nature, and tactile sign, which is of course done by touch. The next difference I want to explain is the difference between what the interpreters do and how they do it to assist deafblind persons at convention and other large NFB gatherings. I also want to address what they don’t do. Interpreters either repeat the proceedings through a personalized communication system, such as a wireless microphone, or sign the proceedings, which was the case for me this year. I will say that I did use a personal communication system at times.

A separate task from interpreting is performed by a special services support person. This person often assists with communication styles, such as talking to the hotel front desk, ordering food, interacting with hotel staff that don’t work at the front desk, or stopping off to just say hi to another state affiliate that you haven’t seen in three years. I mention the difference between interpreters and service providers because there is the need for us as a movement to discuss how and in what manner we hire and use special service support providers both at conventions and other Federation gatherings.

The first day of general session

My interpreters again were shocked with the amount of people. It really is true when we talk about ours being the largest annual gathering of the disabled held anywhere in the country. People who assist us at our conventions become overwhelmed just like first-time conventioneers do.

Finding my delegation

Now it’s time to figure out where the California affiliate is sitting in what is described to me as an absolutely huge room. While weaving in and out of state delegations, my interpreters introduce me to someone who, of course, I knew to be one of the California affiliate’s parent division board members.

The opening ceremonies began. One interpreter signed “older person.” I supplied the name of who I thought it was. Then they signed, “Oh, the person who spoke yesterday.” Again I supplied the name of our post affiliate president. The best description of the week of how things were proceeding was when the interpreters signed, “Person from your delegation dancing in the aisles.” I later told them that conventions are like that. You never know when the spirit is going to move you. I’m leaving out the person’s name, but she knows who she is.

In making it through the rollcall of states, I decided that the name of the state, the state president, and the delegate was enough. In a few cases, the state president was not the delegate, so this information was important to me.

The afternoon session went well. The interpreters traded off during the Presidential Report. They commented it was long but very detailed. I told them our Presidential Reports are like that.

After the session, I had a discussion with an old friend from Colorado. I ordered dinner to go because I had to get to the California caucus. In our conversation, my friend was astonished at how much hearing I’d lost. We both were able to communicate well because my interpreter was standing next to me to make sure that communications occurred appropriately. The friend and I reminisced about the friends who were most assuredly being missed but will never be forgotten.

The next day began with our financial report. Thank goodness there’s a Starbucks in the headquarters hotel. Receiving lots and lots of signed numbers can certainly put one to sleep just as if one could hear them. Needless to say, sitting through a signed financial report one needs lots of coffee.

For elections we decided that it was best to follow the same pattern that had been established the previous day by signing the state and candidate’s name. Sometimes my interpreters got the names correctly, and at other times I had to supply the name and have them confirm that I was right. It is worth saying that again my interpreters were surprised and impressed with how smoothly things went during the elections.

I had to have a chat with my chapter president, but, because of the noise, hearing each other was more than a challenge; it was impossible. For this reason, we used my interpreter. My chapter president was impressed because I don’t think she’d ever seen me work with interpreters before. By this point people were thinking I was a pro at this. Yes and no. It really does depend on the situation.

In the afternoon, of course, it was time to sit through approving the resolutions that have been sent to the floor of the convention by the Resolutions Committee. A combination of sign and pro-tactile sign was used to make certain I understood the progress of each resolution. The interpreters didn’t sign the entire resolution because they’d already done that during the Resolutions Committee. Besides that, I had a pretty good idea of what was being presented. I told them it was probably okay to leave minor details out unless they were critical to what was being presented. Luckily the resolution I sponsored passed.

The final day

At this time our little group was working smoothly. The interpreters were doing well with finding, and/or speaking the proceedings. That is until our international guest, Jonathan Mosen, delivered his speech. The interpreters were astounded by the way in which mean technology companies are discriminating. I said, “Yes, you haven’t seen me interact much with technology. What you don’t understand is that, when one is at home, it means pretty much making use of the technology to do whatever you need to do.” The examples offered by Mr. Mosen highlighted these frustrations.

The presentation that garnered most comments for the week was the one regarding service animals. My interpreters were astounded. But the most exciting information signed to me for the week was in the meeting where someone said, “Presenter vanished.” That pretty much told me that the person presented and ran. I explained to the interpreters this also sometimes happens at convention.

Wrapping it up

The final event was the 2023 banquet. One of the interpreters looked a little strange showing up to a black tie banquet in tennis shoes. I signed the word “unbelievable,” and the interpreter showed me that yes, she was indeed wearing tennis shoes.

Getting through the banquet and getting all the names right took teamwork, with my reading them and helping the interpreters get them right. The hardest part came when it got to the tenBroek award. My interpreters signed that the winner was “a Dell movie.” I explained to them that I knew who the person was and repeated the name. This highlighted something that occurred all week but was unavoidable—figuring out proper names. At times the agenda helped, but at times it was just their best guess. Fortunately I had been coming to conventions off and on for quite some time and could figure it out.

At the conclusion of the convention, one of my interpreters named Benedict expressed surprise at how well things had gone and said it was a pleasure working with me all week. He described what he called his transformation from wondering how we could begin to do all of these things and then figuring out that indeed we already had it figured out. I told him that it had been a great week and that now I must really think about the trip home. I also found myself thinking about the future in Orlando next year, and coming up with a way to fund the trip and perhaps the special service provider I will need.

I invite any comments and/or suggestions anyone might wish to make after reading this article. You can find my contact information under the division’s page on our national website.

We Have Work to Do: Reflections on Changing the Blind Employment Paradigm

by Mary Fernandez

From the Editor: Family, education, and the faith and hard work of my Federation family are all at the root of things I value in my life. No one has ever summed up how I feel better than Mary Fernandez. Enjoy her humor, charisma, enthusiasm, and wisdom:

Good afternoon, Federation Family!

It is an absolute honor and humbling experience to be standing in front of you today.
When I was a little girl, my mom used to tell me, “You have to eat your books!” This was her way of telling me that literacy and education would be the key to my future.

Yesterday’s agenda featured brilliant women including Susan Mazrui, Karla Gilbride, and Eve Hill, all of whom are my personal heroes, undeniable queens, and all of whom proudly mentioned that they were stubborn children. So, to you all I want to say: Hi, It’s me, I’m the stubborn one!

And so, as a stubborn child I was like “No, I will not read.” Thankfully my mother is a literal force of nature. So, one day after throwing another tantrum, my mom shut me in my bedroom with a Braille book, Judy Bloom’s Freckle Juice. But I would not go down without a fight. I screamed, I cried, I may even have thrown myself on the floor, and there was nothing but silence from the outside.

Finally, in an act of seven-year-old desperation, I did a thing: I very slowly and tentatively ran my fingers over the title. Freckle Juice? What is this Freckle Juice you speak of oh Ms. Bloom?
Then I did the unthinkable—I painstakingly and EVER so slowly opened to the first page—and then… I realized that there was a bunch of info on that first page about copyright and stuff, and I was like “what the heck?” It’s hard for a seven-year-old to understand the importance of an author’s intellectual property!

Finally: “Line up, boys and girls,” Miss Kelly said. “Time to go home now.”

I was hooked. I was hooked on books, I was hooked on literacy, and most importantly, I was hooked on Braille.

This stubborn child learned, and continues to learn, that my mother is always right. Thank you, Mommy. And this could not have been more right in that moment. She knew that education would unlock my ability to think critically and honed my ability to synthesize in the midst of complexity. My educational career taught me that stories move me, that curiosity drives me, and that connection feeds me. She knew the importance of Braille literacy for her blind child. “If one can read,” she would say, “one can do anything.” Hence, reading Braille made it possible for me to earn a well-rounded education. For me, education was also the first puzzle piece to what, in a disabled person’s life, can become the greatest and hardest undertaking: finding and keeping a job.

I acknowledge that to say that education leads one directly to a job and most important a fulfilling career would be an oversimplification. I argue that the skills necessary for the job market start at home, that they are supposed to be reinforced in school, and that they are supposed to be cultivated and nurtured as we become adults and are able to make substantive decisions around our careers. But when you introduce blindness into the equation, the oppressive forces of ableism often break the links in that process.

Today I want to answer three questions. Why is the unemployment gap still so significant? What can I do as an individual to be more successful in the job search? What can employers do to meaningfully move the needle?

Let’s look at the statistics. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, the unemployment rate of disabled people is almost 9 percent, vs 3.4 and dropping for non-disabled people. This means that disabled people are unemployed at almost three times the rate of non-disabled people. The statistics go on and on and can be broken into so many numbers, but at the end of the day the data tells us that disabled people are disproportionately under or unemployed, particularly if someone is both disabled and has other marginalized identities, such as a person of color.

It is one thing to hear these numbers; it’s another to live them. I attended Emory University and graduated with a 3.8 GPA in 2012. I will never forget how for the last semester of my senior year I submitted an average of five applications a day, and the sinking feeling that came with every email saying what amounted to, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I will also never forget, how after five years of work experience as a paralegal at Brown, Goldstein and Levy, and starting up a transition program in NJ for blind and low vision high school youth, I was back on the job market. As I sought a more stable position, I wanted to at least have a parttime job. So I applied to be an English tutor for sixth graders. I did the online application process, I passed with flying colors, and I got the job. Then I mentioned that I was blind and wanted to test the collaborative software and have access to electronic version of the instructional materials. There was a long pause on the phone, and I was told I’d get a call back. Ten minutes later I was told there was no longer a position available.

Most of us in this room have been there, struggling with ourselves whether or not to disclose our disability before or after we get an offer, while knowing both choices offer no assurance of employment at the end of the long process.

Now, more than at any other time in history, we have unparalleled access to technology, laws that are supposed to protect us, and commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion from companies who say, “We really do want you here.” And yet… many digital tools we need to do our jobs are still not accessible, employment discrimination cases can take years to resolve, and the companies with bold DEI commitments published on their careers pages seem to miss that accessibility and accommodation are integral parts of true equity and inclusion. As a result, most of us are still waiting for the opportunity to even try.

At the heart of this is oppression. There are four aspects of oppression which add up to marginalization: They are ideological, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized. These four types of oppression come together to form a narrative that affects every aspect of our lives.
Though there isn’t time to dive into all these today, one important aspect of oppression I do want to share is internalized oppression or ableism. This is the most uncomfortable form of oppression to dismantle because it requires us to acknowledge the presence of all those little voices that add up to say, “You are not enough. If you keep asking for accommodations, you are not as good an employee.” This voice can even manifest as “If you ask for help, you are not a good enough blind person.” All of these voices feed on the previous dimensions and are the ultimate form of oppression because they make us in some form doubt our worth. They sound different for every single person and every group.

One of the most effective ways of countering internalized oppression is through community and collective action. It is the counter-narrative that we provide for each other, a narrative of strength, a narrative of resilience, a narrative that we do have control of our own future! It is the training, advocacy, and refusal to settle for second-class citizenship that is core to our organization.

In the face of oppression, what can we as individuals do to break down those barriers? How do we carry on when the systems that are supposed to support us continue to fail us?

The good news is that the NFB has always been a group made up of former stubborn children and has been dismantling oppression for over eighty years, and every one of us in this room has benefitted from that. When there was no useful orientation and mobility training, we invented it. Then we refined it, and now we teach each other how to travel confidently. If they will not teach our children Braille in school, we will teach them ourselves while simultaneously fighting for the rights of those children to be protected. The NFB has the largest scholarship program for the blind in the world, and the list goes on and on.

As an individual though, the community I have found here has been one of the most integral parts of my success. You see, when I arrived in the United States from Columbia, I was almost eight-years-old. When I was two my mother, at the age of twenty-six, took the risk to migrate to this country. She knew no one, did not know English, and didn’t know where she would go. But she got on a plane and landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. After working here for about a year, she got a call; I was diagnosed with glaucoma, and it would simply be a matter of time until I went blind. My mother used the pain of not being with her daughter during this pivotal moment and turned it into fuel to remain laser-focused on her mission—to bring me and my brother to the United States. She knew then that it would be my only chance at a fulfilling life.
 
So I came here, an awkward and stubborn child. I had no social skills, had never attended school, and I don’t think I even really understood what being blind meant. All I knew is that, when my O&M instructor put a short and stubby stick in my hand and told me I had to use it going forward, I promptly dropped it on the floor and refused to even look at him.

Though the uphill battle to get me to read was fairly quickly won, the battle to have me use my cane proved much harder. You see, I had deeply internalized beliefs about blindness and disabilities even if I didn’t know how to name them. It was a weakness; canes were a thing that old people used. Though by the time I was in high school I used it every day, I just did not feel comfortable in my skin. I felt like an outcast, like no matter what I did, I was either invisible to others or the most conspicuous person in the room.

It wasn’t until I was fourteen that my own feelings about myself began to shift. I started participating in the youth transition program in New Jersey called Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Determination (LEAD) and met one of my first mentors ever, Sherlock Washington. Toward the end of the school year, I met another mentor who would support me his whole life, Joe Ruffalo.

Joe gave me my first lesson in advocacy. We were at the NFB convention, and I had heard about the Rocket On program and how these cool teenagers would get to launch a NASA rocket. I wanted to go. So Joe said, “There’s Mr. Riccobono; ask him if you can participate.” So I did, and the rest is history.

Finding community equates to finding a place to belong. We know that blind people are not a monolith, but at the same time we have a shared lived experience that we all understand. And we also understand the false narratives around blindness. With the NFB I found my little tribe which has grown throughout the years and which has carried me through the most challenging parts of my life.

So all of us in this employment journey, listen: it’s hard. It’s brutal, it’s awful. But it is harder when we do it all alone. It is harder when we have no one to turn to in those moments that only other disabled people will understand. I encourage you all to find and stay in community. Not everyone in this room is your cup of tea; that’s ok. But maybe some of us are, and trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Participating in the Federation sparked my passion and gift for advocacy. As a little girl, I was always looking for injustices to correct. When I understood the reasons why I was made to feel like an outcast, the fact that not all children got Braille instruction, that babies were taken away from blind parents, I was like, this is it, this is what I have to fight for, and fight for every day.
The NFB also sharpened my leadership skills. From delivering my first speech in front of two hundred people at the NFB of New Jersey convention at age fourteen, to leading affiliate student divisions, those leadership skills quickly transferred to my life outside the NFB. I became involved in after-school programs, ran for school club leadership, and learned that true leadership does not spring from positional power, but rather from the actions we can take to influence change. And I learned that we can do it from wherever we sit.

As I have gotten older, I’ve identified the set of values that I carry with me everywhere: values that were instilled by my mother, nurtured by the Federation, and implemented by me. I value integrity, honesty, hard work, collaboration, and authenticity. I try to conduct myself with courage, including the courage to speak truth to power.

I say all that to bring several things to the forefront. First, instilling confidence, reliability, and resilience starts at home. Letting our children take risks, and letting them know that yes, they are wonderful, not just because they are blind but because they have a specific set of gifts and skills. Letting them explore those gifts and skills—all of these contribute to shaping future employees and leaders.

Second, that in the face of oppression we, as a collective are the best at developing each other’s gifts and talents. We provide a space where we support each other but also constantly challenge each other to grow. And when the world won’t provide, we fill in the opportunity gap to ensure that our youth have a full and well-rounded set of life experiences.

Are we perfect? No. And just because we are disabled does not mean we do not hold ableist beliefs. Even as we push each other, we must find ways to continually uplift each other and not fall into the trap of oppressing each other. We know that there isn’t one right way to do blindness, and we must provide space for that. We know that blindness is often accompanied by other disabilities, and we must find ways to be inclusive to those of us with multiple disabilities.

As I think about employment and the collective blindness movement, I keep coming back to the evolution we’ve experience since we began. Today we are having conversations around how all of our identities, taken together, form an intersection that is inseparable from how we experience the world. When I started in the NFB I embraced this idea that blindness was a characteristic like my hair. But as I’ve grown in my work and dived into my intersecting identities, I actually think that my disability is far more than that. My disability is actually part of my identity. You see, if I had this gorgeous curly hair but 20/20 vision, the way I experienced the world would have been very different. For instance, my hair or my eye color would not have affected the accessibility of my educational materials in graduate school. However, my disability did. So does my skin color and my gender identity. I no longer believe that asking for equal access for disabled people is enough. Rather, in my work, I advocate for equitable access. That is to provide the tools and resources that individuals need to be successful.

Equality is providing stairs for everyone. Equity is providing stairs, elevators, escalators, and ramps in equally convenient places so that all can choose their path upwards. It is being intentional about bringing in as many as possible, and because of the complexity of inequities that we experience at different moments in our lives, there really isn’t a right size fits all solution.

In his speech “The Nature of Independence,” Dr. Jernigan wrote: “Unless you make advances over what we have done, you will, in a very real sense, fail to keep faith with those who have gone before you and those who will follow. In this context, I would expect and hope that some of you will become better travelers (and, perhaps, better philosophers and teachers) than I, and if you do, I will take joy in it.”

So I challenge us all to stay on this path of seeking not just equality but equity. Because if freedom is the right to choose, then equity is the path to that freedom.

Employers, I want to spend a little bit of time talking to you, and here are three best practices: First, design with us and not for us. Often employers ask, “What are the right jobs for disabled people, and what programs do disabled people need?” Then, programs are launched with names that include the words “differently abled” and “special” and “uniquely gifted.” These programs are seldom designed with disabled people, but rather for disabled people. I invite you, today, to design with us. Here is the good news: you all are already in the room where it happens. Each blind person here is an expert in their experience, and collectively we have invaluable wisdom on what we need. So, go where the disabled people are, do not wait for them to just appear. Then engage with them, understanding that what we share has value and that it will financially benefit you. Then proceed accordingly.

Yes, it is going to be messy and difficult, and it is ok that businesses haven’t always gotten it right. But, when we work with each other, we create talent-based strategies which truly open up opportunities for economic freedom.

Second, let’s stop performative hiring. What do I mean by this? Last year I went to a disability-related conference attended by most of the Fortune One Hundred. A career/talent expo was part of this conference, and periodically companies would announce who was leading in hiring the most disabled people. So out of curiosity I went to the company with the most hires. I talked to them about my experience and asked, “So, what types of opportunities do you have for someone with twelve years of work experience? They said, “Well we are really just hiring interns and entry level.”

I’m a curious soul. I took it upon myself to walk around and see who was hiring experienced disabled professionals. The answer was no one.

Friends, it is not enough to hire entry level. Is it important? Yes, but it is simply not enough. First, when you do recruit and hire disabled talent at entry level positions, what strategies are you using to develop their leadership potential? Do you have processes in place to insure you are removing accessibility barriers?

Also, there is talent that is far beyond entry level. What are you doing to recruit them? Are you truly leveraging AI resume screening systems to include diverse talent or to exclude disable employees? We know that the only way we dismantle systems of oppression is when we change the demographics of the group in decision-making positions. This means that we fundamentally shift what we think of as an executive leader, for instance, in preference to what skills, talents, and experiences people bring to the table. I submit that executive leaders are blind, are deaf, are autistic, dyslexic, etc. It is not our job to be “good enough” to break your glass ceiling; it is your job to take your own roof off.

If you do those two things—design with us, and critically assess and revamp your recruitment and hiring pipelines—then we start slowly to reach for that higher fruit. That stretch will get you to just brush the tips of the branches of belonging.

Third, belonging is a sense that each of us is fundamentally valued and that our uniqueness is not only sought for but treasured. There is one week every year where I feel a real sense of belonging outside my circle of friends and family. That is at the NFB convention. I know that if I walk into a restaurant, I’ll be offered Braille, large print or regular menus; that there are talking signs for meetings; that no one will grab the end of my cane to guide me around. And these give me an energy I don’t feel any other time to be my truest and best self. When we remove barriers systemically and intentionally, we allow every person to be their most productive self. When we design for the margins, we include everyone in the middle.

I want to wrap up with an ask for everyone in this room. My ask is to always pay it forward. When you get that internship, pay it forward by mentoring another, perhaps younger student. When you sit in that room where no other blind person has sat, pay it forward and open up that door further. When your company outperforms predicted revenue, pay it forward and open up the door to economic freedom for disabled talent.

In my case, education has been the touchstone of my success, my mother the unwavering support, and the NFB the community that has held me and on whose shoulders I stand. To every person in this room and all disabled people who do not have community yet, you have my commitment that I will continue to pay it forward. And I hope each of you in this room will join me in paying it forward.

So I’ll leave you with this question: what will you do to pay it forward? In that spirit, I want to pay it forward today: for the stubborn child who refused to accept society’s narrative about her blindness, for every young person in this room who is just finding their community, and for every parent who fights every day to give their child a future without limits. In honor of the woman who raised me to be courageous, fearless, authentic, and a strong advocate, I’d like to pledge $3,300 to the NFB in honor of Clara Roman, my mother. I trust that no other organization will put this to better use in educating our youth and pushing the boundaries of what we’ve been told is possible. Thank you.

We Need Your Help

Very soon after I went blind, I went to my first convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Though as a six-year-old I was not scared about my future as a blind person, learning about the NFB and going to conventions showed me tons of independent blind people who I could look up to. Real life superheroes that I could aspire to be like. - Abigail

Blind children, students, and adults are making powerful strides in education and leadership every day across the United States, but we need to continue helping kids like Abigail. For more than eighty years, the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality. With support from individuals like you, we can continue to provide powerful programs and critical resources now and for decades to come. We hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by including the National Federation of the Blind in your charitable giving and in your estate planning. It is easier than you think.

With your help, the NFB will continue to:

Below are just a few of the many tax-deductible ways you can show your support of the National Federation of the Blind.

LYFT Round Up

By visiting the menu, choosing donate, and selecting the National Federation of the Blind, you commit to giving to the National Federation of the Blind with each ride.

Vehicle Donation Program

We accept donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call 855-659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation. We can also answer any questions you have.

General Donation

General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. You can call 410-659-9314, extension 2430, to give by phone. Give online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit our Ways to Give Page at: https://nfb.org/give.

Pre-Authorized Contributions

Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdrawal of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, call 877-NFB-2PAC, or fill out our PAC Donation Form https://www.nfb.org/pac.

Plan to Leave a Legacy

The National Federation of the Blind legacy society, our Dream Makers Circle, honors and recognizes the generosity and imagination of members and special friends who have chosen to leave a legacy through a will or other planned giving option. You can join the Dream Makers Circle in a myriad of ways.

Percentage or Fixed Sum of Assets

You can specify that a percentage or a fixed sum of your assets or property goes to the National Federation of the Blind in your will, trust, pension, IRA, life insurance policy, brokerage account, or other accounts.

Payable on Death (POD) Account

You can name the National Federation of the Blind as the beneficiary on a Payable on Death (POD) account through your bank. You can turn any checking or savings account into a POD account. This is one of the simplest ways to leave a legacy. The account is totally in your control during your lifetime, and you can change the beneficiary or percentage at any time with ease.

Will or Trust

If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary.

Visit our Planned Giving webpage (https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/ways-give/planned-giving) or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.

In 2022 our supporters helped the NFB:

Just imagine what we will do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

Braille Books and Contest Cash

by Sandy Halverson

From the Editor: It is hard to know of any way we could find a better partner than the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Many of us have taken advantage of the annual Braille calendar since we can remember; we grew up, were read to, and were fascinated by Twin Vision® books. How many of us thought that as children we would get to actually work with the fine people who made these things happen in our lives? Enjoy what one of our finest volunteers has to say about our Braille reading contest:

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and the National Federation of the Blind are excited to announce our 2023-2024 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest where you get to decide what Braille books you want to read—whether a few pages or the entire book, magazine, or article—and the only thing you have to do is keep track of when you start and stop each day you read. Contest registration is now open at www.actionfund.beanstack.org, and after completing the registration process and logging your first sixty minutes, a T-shirt will be sent to you as quickly as possible so you can wear it during the contest and tell your friends and family about Braille and the importance of literacy to blind people.

Each student in kindergarten through twelfth grade who registers and logs minutes spent daily reading books or magazines in Braille earns badges, access to leader boards for comparison with other peers across the country, and cash prizes for first, second, and third place winners in each category. Adult Braille readers earn cash prizes for first, second, and third place winners and a T-shirt but no additional prizes. For the past two years, the American Printing House for the Blind has provided two twenty-cell Braille notetakers as a grand prize for one adult and one student. We do not know yet what our grand prizes will be for our current contest participants, but the more you read, the more often your name is entered into the drawing.

We recognize there are times when technology is not your friend, no matter how many videos you may watch or what that email said, so if questions arise, email [email protected] and one of our volunteers will provide assistance.
Several members in the most recent NFB Teachers of Tomorrow Program expressed interest in contest participation, so this will be our first year for having a teachers-of-blind-students category.

We welcome all supporters of Braille literacy, and there is no better way to improve proficiency than taking advantage of those minutes spent reading Braille daily. Of course, winning is the goal, but every minute participating is a win as you improve your Braille and learn what so wonderfully comes to life under your fingers.

The 2024 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award

by Carla McQuillan

From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, a member of the national board of directors, and the owner and executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating two Montessori schools. She is the chairman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award Committee, and she has written this announcement seeking applications for the 2024 award:

The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind students at our 2024 National Convention, taking place in Orlando, Florida, from July 3rd through July 8th, 2024. The winner of this award will receive the following:

The education of blind children is one of the National Federation of the Blind's highest priorities. We are committed to offering and supporting programs that enhance educational opportunities for this group. Please help us recognize dedicated and innovative teachers who provide quality education and meaningful experiences and opportunities for their blind students.

Q: Who is eligible for this award?
A: Anyone who is currently a teacher, counselor, or the administrator of programs for blind students.

Q: Does an applicant have to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind?
A: No, but attending the 2024 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida, is required.

Q: Can I nominate someone else for this award?
A: Yes. Applicants can be nominated by colleagues, parents, supervisors, or friends who have first-hand knowledge of the individual’s work with blind students.

Q: How would I apply?
A: You can fill out the application at the end of this article or find it on our website at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/documents/pdf/distinguished-educator-of-blind-students-award-form-fillable.pdf

Q: What is the deadline to submit an application or make a nomination?
A: All applications must be received no later than May 1, 2024.

Please complete the application and attach the required documents specified in the application. If you are submitting a nomination for someone other than yourself, please answer the questions to the best of your ability. Your experience and observations of the nominee will assist the selection committee in their decision. Direct questions to Carla McQuillan at 541-653-9153, or by email at: [email protected].

National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award
2024 Application

Deadline: May 1, 2024

Name: _______________________________________________________
Home Address: _________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________
Phone: (H) ____________________ (W) ____________________________
Email: ______________________________________________________
School/Program: ______________________________________________________
Address: _____________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________

Please list any awards or commendations the applicant has received.

How long and in what programs have you worked with blind children?

In what setting do you currently work?

Briefly describe your current job and teaching responsibilities.

How would you describe your philosophy of blindness as it relates to the education of blind students?

What are your thoughts on teaching Braille and cane travel? When and at what age would you begin? How do you determine whether to teach print or Braille?

What was your most memorable experience working with blind students?

Why should you be selected to receive this award?

Email is strongly encouraged for transmitting nominations; letters of support and other relevant materials should be included as attachments. Applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. Send all material by May 1, 2023, to Carla McQuillan, chairperson, Teacher Award Committee, [email protected] or by mail to:

Carla McQuillan
2378 11th Street
Florence, OR 97439
Phone: 541-653-9153

Veteran finishes the Half-Marathon at the Cleveland Marathon, while serving as an Inspiration for Blind Athletes

by Irie Harris

Published May 21, 2023, on Cleveland.com©
All rights reserved. REPRINTED/USED with permission.

From the Editor: Part of our agreement to run this article was that it not be edited in the least. This means we have not applied Monitor style for the writing of numbers, worried about serial commas, or corrected in any way sentences in which we might have assisted in the flow. We believe that what is offered here is of value and appreciate the permission given to us to run it.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Throughout Sunday, the cheers from Cleveland Marathon spectators along the sidewalk were at a moderate volume. The only occasions where the cheers or music increased were when the marathon’s winners or a fan’s friend or family crossed the finish line.

But there was a moment of its own when two men and the cheers became quite loud. Was it their outfits? They were standard outfits for runners, yet a bit more colorful.

A marathon MC then stuck the microphone near the men and asked them about the race, in which one of them mentioned, “I’m blind.” And as they walked closer to receive their medals, the outfits made sense. The speaker, Jose Centeno, wore a baby blue-toned vest featuring the word, “blind” in large black letters.

Underneath the vest was a collared shirt with “National Federation of the Blind,” and on top of his was U.S. Marine Corps Veteran hat.

The audience of the 2023 Cleveland Marathon was recognizing that Centeno, a 67-year old blind man and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, completed the half-marathon. Beside him was his race guide and coach, Mike Stokes, who wore a shirt with, “Team RWB” (Red White and Blue).

“It was a wonderful 13.1 [miles], I really really enjoyed running this Cleveland Half Marathon with my friends,” Centeno said.

Centeno’s race could’ve came to an end toward the last stretch because of his arthritis, but he kept going. The Dayton native crossed the line with a finishing time of 2 hours, 41 minutes, and 4 seconds.

“Usually at the 10-mile marker, that’s when I start falling apart because of arthritis in my left knee, but he (Stokes) didn’t tell me that,” Centeno said. “We passed the 10-mile marker, then when we got to the 11th (marker), then that kind of motivated me more because with 2 miles to go, that just gave me the high.”

Add in a scraped and bloody knee due a fall during the race, and this was quite the battle won by Centeno.

“I kinda fell, but it was great,” Centeno said while smiling.

He was quick to cite all his supporters, including Stokes, his friend Keith, and Mickey, a dog sitting in a backpack on Keith’s back.

Centeno also pointed toward his collared shirt with “National Federation of the Blind” featured on it, and cited their support.

“The National Federation knows that it is not a characteristic that defines blind people and our future. It’s a great organization,” Centeno said.

And beside him was Stokes, a coach and member of Team Red, White and Blue, an organization focused on keeping former veterans active in life.

“Our mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans and we just like to keep veterans active and healthy,” Stokes said. “And the best thing you can do is get out there and move.”

They hadn’t known each other until introduced by the Cleveland Institute, and once meeting, their friendship took off.

“I didn’t know Jose until Team RWB introduced him to us, so the Cleveland Institute reached our organization, asking us if we can help him out and we were glad to,” Stokes said.

But there was a time when Centeno’s smile wasn’t as big as it was on Sunday.

After serving for 21 years, Centeno was hired by the U.S. Post Office in 1996. At some point he contracted glaucoma, but was on medication and could still see. In August of 2015, his vision took turn for worse due to the glaucoma. Centeno is blind in his right eye, and can only see shadows with his left eye.

“When I went blind, I got so depressed, that the doctor wanted to put me on medication, but I said, ‘No way,’ ” Centeno said. “I’m gonna do what I was doing before I was blind and that as running, and so I started to run again.”

By that point, he was back into running, connected with Team RWB, and he hasn’t stopped since.

“Even if you’re not a veteran, and you’re blind, go out there and do something,” he said. “Don’t let your blindness get you depressed.”

Eleven Seasonal Acts of Kindness

by LaShawna Fant

From the Editor: As blind people, we are often the takers, not so much of choice but sometimes for not knowing the ways in which we can give. LaShawna is a regular contributor to these pages, and it is with gratitude that we run her suggestions about how we can be givers in our communities.

There are endless good deeds we can do to give back, make a difference in our communities, and help deliver glad tidings to homes. These are a few examples:

1. Serve in a soup kitchen, food bank, or food pantry.

On all occasions, soup kitchens look for volunteers to help serve food and cook meals. A food bank is a warehouse that accumulates food to disperse to needy communities, and a food pantry directly delivers the food to individuals and families who are in need. For many people, a meal at a soup kitchen may be the only meal they eat that day. Volunteering at a food bank or local food pantry may include donating food, purchasing food with a budget, and distributing food to those in need. These are all fruitful ways to help and connect with people of various backgrounds. As a volunteer, you will help those in need with the food necessary to keep them healthy.

2. Assist your local animal rescue or humane society.

You can donate dog food and other wish list items, help pets find a forever home, and assist the animal shelter with educating about their different programs. These small things can make a big difference!

3. Tutor or mentor individuals.

Tutors help provide one-on-one assistance to students who need to hear the material differently. More often than not, a tutor will help find a simpler way for the student to make sense of and learn the material. Usually, this is beneficial in keeping an individual's mind sharp and learning a priority. In addition, a mentor is a person who can support, advise, and guide you. They typically take the time to get to know you and the challenges you are facing and then use their understanding and personal experience to help you improve. Mentorship, in general, gives kids who may not have a good role model a chance to experience a healthy relationship with an adult. These are great ways to spark your creativity and bring joy to the world while extending your hand to uplift.

4. Gather family and friends to sing songs.

Deck the halls of homes, shelters, and nursing homes by singing carols. While jingling your bells, encourage your loved ones to sing and perform in our local neighborhoods. This gesture does not involve decorating, gift-wrapping, or shopping; however, these wintery lyrics can make a person smile a little easier.

5. Donate money to a charity or nonprofit of your choice.

Motivate your children and loved ones to donate part of their earnings to a local cause or nonprofit and be an example by donating to the cause as well. Any monetary contribution will be of aid.

6. Make Braille greeting cards or arts and crafts.

Handmade cards and festive, artful designs are original pieces of creativity. Let your imagination flow as your thoughtful custom cards and glittery crafts bring cheer to someone's heart and home. 

7. Help out at a homeless shelter.

Annually, countless Americans are sleeping in homeless shelters, transitional housing, and public places like bus stops, bridges, and parks. Helping their lives to be merry and bright by volunteering is of great value. You and the children can dash through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, read silly joke books, or put together a puzzle set. With the older residents, you can clean the community common room and kitchen, help research housing or jobs, or assist in learning a new skill.

8. Call and check on people who are grieving, sick, or need to hear a pleasant voice.

While snuggled on your couch and without leaving your home, you can call and warmly connect with people. Sometimes, this expression is the very act of kindness a person needs.

9. Donate new or gingerly used items.

Everyone is not able to purchase items at full price. Typically, they scurry to shelters or thrift stores to pick up items necessary to survive. Donating items that are unwanted or no longer used is a great way to help out your community. The gently used coats, blankets, and shoes in your closet can make a big difference to others while cleaning up some of the clutter in your home. 

10. Visit the elderly.

Often, the residents of nursing homes, along with the patrons of senior centers, do not see the jolly faces of guests. Even if you don't have a family member who lives in the nursing home or goes to the senior center, you can volunteer at senior citizen events and read books, bring baked goods, play games, make birthday cards, and so much more. The residents will enjoy the company. You may also hear some great stories about years gone by.

11. Bake a cake or dessert to take to a family.

A sweet treat can add to a family's meal, whether it is a chocolate cake, banana pudding, or fresh brownies. Showing a child how to bake or design a gingerbread house or allowing them to help deliver the dessert to a family is also beneficial.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Santa and Winter Letters Available in Braille
Did you know that the National Federation of the Blind helps bring good cheer and fun to children all over the country during the winter season? The Santa/Winter Celebration Braille Letter Program does just that. Children from birth through age ten can receive a Braille letter from Santa or a Braille Winter Celebration letter in either English or Spanish. Along with the letters, children will receive a packet of activities that they can share with their siblings, parents, and grandparents because all the items in the packet are sent in Braille and print. The program doesn’t last long. This year’s celebration runs from November 6 through December 15. Request your letter soon!

Appreciating NFB-NEWSLINE®
This was received from a grateful reader in Kentucky.

“As someone who has been visually impaired all of her life, I really appreciate this service. NEWSLINE has provided me an opportunity to stay connected to my community as well as an opportunity to contribute to discussions with my sighted friends on current events. I could do that by listening to the news on the radio or TV, but listening to the story and getting all of the details of that story is something that is difficult to do if you aren’t actually reading it. If I miss something, I can hear the audio again just like my sighted friends can read the print again. I feel that I now have the same advantages that my sighted friends have with accessing information. I love to listen to my local newspapers and magazines in my “Pocket Favorites” on my brand-new Victor Reader Stream. I’m able to download “My Favorites” wirelessly. In just a matter of seconds, it’s on my player’s bookshelf. I really appreciate NFB-NEWSLINE.”

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Leader Dogs for the Blind Appoints Melissa Weisse as New President & CEO
Leader Dogs for the Blind announced the appointment of Melissa Weisse as its new president & chief executive officer, following an extensive, national search process. Weisse will replace Susan Daniels, who in May of 2023 announced her intention to retire.

Weisse is an industry-respected nonprofit executive with over twenty years of experience in fundraising and senior management, leading staff and services that support people who are blind or visually impaired. Weisse has served as the chief philanthropy officer at Leader Dog since 2008. During this time, Weisse has grown total philanthropic revenue at Leader Dog by 121 percent and estates revenue by 164 percent enabling greater client service provision. She also successfully led the largest capital campaign in Leader Dog’s history, raising $14.5 million for the renovation of its world-class canine development center. Weisse is one of just 117 people worldwide to hold the designation of Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive (ACFRE), the highest accreditation for professional fundraisers.

Prior to joining Leader Dog in 2003, Weisse worked for Christie’s London as a private client advisor managing an international portfolio of high-net-worth individuals. Weisse graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a master’s degree from the University of Glasgow. She is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Non-Profit Executive Leadership Program and sits on the American Foundation for the Blind board of trustees. Weisse is also a proud member of Lions Clubs International.

Leader Dog Chair Kathie Davis said, “After an extensive, national search process, we are delighted to welcome Weisse as our new president & CEO. Weisse is an inspired, results-driven and values-driven leader who has a diverse background of experience and an excellent reputation of leadership in the nonprofit sector and field of blind rehabilitation. She is an industry thought leader with a proven track record of revenue and program growth. The Board looks forward to Weisse realizing the future vision and potential for Leader Dogs for the Blind and the entire community we serve.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Susan Daniels for her leadership. The improvements she has made to the organization’s structure, strategy, and operations leave Leader Dog well positioned for success. Sue retires after an extremely successful twenty-year tenure with our organization.”

Weisse said, “Thank you to Sue Daniels for her longstanding dedication and tremendous service to the Leader Dog mission.

“I am honored to be selected as the organization’s next president and CEO and to work with our clients and community around the world to advance our important work. I am looking forward to advocating for the Leader Dog mission with our clients to promote greater inclusion and access for people who are blind or visually impaired.”

Weisse will commence her leadership role on December 12 with Daniels staying on in an advisory capacity until January 2024.

For additional information, visit www.leaderdog.org or contact Rachelle Kniffen, Director of Communications and Marketing at (248) 659-5013.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

(contents)