Braille Monitor               February 2024

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The 2023 End of Year Board Meeting

by Gary Wunder

One of the wonderful Federation events the week after Thanksgiving is the in-person meeting of the Board of Directors. This is an intense time of information gathering, shared deliberation, and making the tough decisions that go hand-in-hand with an organization that thrives on risks, choices, speculation, and faith in one another.

One inspiring part of being with the Board is watching as frustration and difficulty is transformed into resolve and an even greater commitment. We've been working at this for eighty years with what may be the foolish idea that we will work ourselves out of a job. What is transformative is to see how our leaders energetically and creatively convert frustration into resolve and shared problems into a bond of faith that we will be here for as long as it takes. It is affirming to watch as the promise that we will not sell out those who have worked for eight decades is made real, and the actions we take during these meetings will make the decades we have to offer meaningful in a way that does honor to our founders as well as love and respect for the blind people of today and tomorrow.

What is presented here is by no means a comprehensive list of things the Board discussed and addressed. Rather, it is an attempt to share the diversity of issues our leaders must confront, and, at the suggestion of the President, this is the editor’s best attempt to do this without violating the many confidential issues that were on the floor. The Board also considered and passed a number of policies to strengthen support for and guidance to state affiliates. These policies have not been covered here, but they will be rolled out to affiliate presidents at their annual retreat held immediately before the 2024 Washington Seminar.

The NFB Board of Directors. Left to Right, back row: Adelmo Vigil, Marilyn Green, Ron Brown, Shawn Callaway, Donald Porterfield, Tracy Soforenko, Everette Bacon, Carla McQuillan. Front row: Shelia Wright, Norma Crosby, Jessica Beecham, Pam Allen, Mark Riccobono, Barbara Manuel, Grace Pires, Marci Carpenter. (Tom Page not present.)

One of our biggest challenges this year, and likely in the next, has been financing. We have enjoyed great public support by asking for it through the mail, but this form of fundraising is dying as postal costs go up, the price of creating and doing the mailings continues to rise, and fewer people choose to give using the postal service. When people believe growth in the economy is unpredictable, a reduction in giving follows. The drop is usually not immediate, and often it is cyclical. But new times will require the kind of innovation in fundraising that we demonstrate in our programs year after year. The idea that as members we must worry about our chapters and affiliates and that the national treasury will find its own way has no relationship to reality, if in fact it ever did.

To thank those who have made substantial contributions, the Board again held a supporter celebration both to say thank you to our donors and to share a bit with them about what their donations have made happen. We also shared a video message about the work that remains for all of us to do.

There was tremendous excitement when we talked about the Museum of the Blind People’s Movement. Our initial fundraising is encouraging, but we have a long way to go to meet our goal. Most certainly the amount to do this right will definitely increase because of inflation and the passage of time.

It is hard to believe, but even our new building is now two decades old. Many of the warranties that came with the new product have now expired, so we encounter the maintenance obligations that anyone with a building must address: heat, air-conditioning, repairs to the roof, plumbing, and the list is very familiar to all of us who own houses.

The Board is very proud of the work we do in contracting with the Library of Congress for Braille certification. Through our work, we continue to bring new transcribers into the field, and this is completely consistent with our goal of making more Braille available on more subjects and to more people.

STEM2U continues to be a groundbreaking program and one that has expanded to our affiliates. We continue to teach the teachers so that students have quality training closer to where they live.

Our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL®) program was a success again in 2023. We had both virtual and in-person programs, and of those, ten were conducted locally.

In keeping with tradition, the Board decided the issues we would take to the Washington Seminar. In 2024 these will be the Website Software Applications Accessibility Act, the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act, and the Blind Americans Return to Work Act. The fact sheets and more information about the Washington Seminar can be found at https://nfb.org/washington-seminar, and a full report will appear in the March issue.

We continue to view with real excitement our Teacher of Tomorrow Program, because it gives us the opportunity to influence the education of many more students than we can gather for the seminars we provide and lets our influence be felt on a daily basis. Our motto: “If they will not teach the teachers, we will do it.”

Our early childhood initiatives are always a source of inspiration. These initiatives include giving parents print and Braille materials to work with their preschoolers, along with some advice for instruction. We also provide children with their first cane and again provide parents with some instruction they can use in being their child’s first cane travel instructor.

The Board continues to discuss the future of the International Braille and Technology Center, admiring what it has done while taking on the challenge of figuring out what it should do in the future. Our role may evolve from maintaining a physical location to a dynamic online presence, leveraging web, podcasts, and local technology vendors to maximize our effect on blind people wanting to know more about the alternatives they may employ. The Board welcomes thoughts from all Federationists about what our constantly evolving International Braille and Technology Center should become.

We continue to participate in the accessible cities project, not only to enhance the freedom of blind people to function independently, but to work against those trends that threaten our independent mobility as we try to navigate in the places where we live and visit.
We continue to be involved with the developers of autonomous vehicles, our emphasis being on their usability by blind people. It will do us little good to have a vehicle that can drive itself if the interface to tell it where to go and to find out where we are on the route requires vision.

We continue to be involved in the area of accessible COVID testing, which leads, of course, to all of the other in-home testing that is becoming a reality. As it is with every other aspect of emerging technology, keeping tabs on all that is ongoing is a significant challenge.

The Board is very excited about the membership initiatives and the technology that has been developed to support them. Members having access to their profile and chapter presidents being able to onboard new members are significant contributions to recruiting blind people into our movement.

The Board continues to discuss the role of divisions. Sometimes divisions enhance the advancement of a cause, but sometimes a committee or a group might better address the issue with less fuss and maintenance. Work on the Monarch, a joint project of the National Federation of the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, and HumanWare, continues to fascinate the Board. It is clear that getting this technology in the hands of blind students will significantly enhance their ability to deal with graphics and to enjoy the benefits of Braille being displayed in multiple lines.

After ten years we are now reviewing our branding and seeing that our key messaging continues to represent the kind of organization we are, the kind we aspire to be, and the message we want to send to the public about the authentic experience of blind people. More information will follow in later issues of this magazine.

In wrapping up this report, it is important for all of us to remember that member input is absolutely critical for the Board to do the best job it can. All of us who have suggestions, opinions, or questions should remember that each of us can write to the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors at [email protected]

At the end of what was essentially a three-day session, everyone left with a sense of pride and enthusiasm at the work we have done, the strong realization that there is much work remaining, and the clear conclusion that being leaders in the National Federation of the Blind is not a ceremonial honor but a real commitment to enhancing the life opportunities of blind people. Although this is certainly no game we play by being leaders in the National Federation of the Blind, what we do or fail to do has real consequences. It is clear to any observer that we will embrace the challenges, meet them with innovative solutions, and do everything we can to keep the promise of a future that is brighter tomorrow because of the work we will do today.

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