An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
July 12, 2017
During the past year, the heartbeat of our organization has grown in strength and intensity. Our heartbeat is a rhythm created from bringing the diverse stories of blind people together with a unifying belief that blindness is not the characteristic that defines our future. As more blind people hear our message and join our march, the rhythm grows stronger. The rhythm carries us through times of challenge and refuels us in times of celebration. As the tempo of society changes, we adjust to keep pace, and often our rhythm sets the standard of excellence. Steady, determined, and full of optimism for our future, we contribute to the heartbeat through local chapters, state affiliates, and our national organization. Individually we seek to live the lives we want, and collectively we transform our dreams into reality. We are the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
As the primary organization of blind people in the United States of America, we express an authenticity that can be hard to find elsewhere. Although our primary work is within the borders of our own country, the impact of our heartbeat—our sharing spirit—is felt around the world. In August 2016, the National Federation of the Blind hosted the quadrennial general assembly of the World Blind Union in Orlando, Florida—the first time this meeting has been in the United States. Our involvement in international matters impacting the blind goes back more than fifty years, and we have been active in the World Blind Union since its beginning in 1984. However, our hosting the world meeting was a unique opportunity to share the Federation spirit around the world.
The WBU General Assembly was held jointly with the meeting of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments. The joint assemblies spanned eight full days of conference activities and included 857 registered participants from 124 countries. Although this gathering was smaller than our own convention, there were more complexities in the logistical arrangements. However, the complexities were successfully managed by the Federation leaders who volunteered their time to serve as greeters, marshals, information workers, and general problem solvers during the assemblies. Encountering blind volunteers was a new experience for most of the assembly delegates, but they will never forget the rhythm of the Federation heartbeat. By the end of the assemblies, blind delegates from around the world were joining Federationists in marshalling—especially in languages our members do not speak—and were providing their own mentoring in the “each-one-teach-one” style of the National Federation of the Blind. Our heartbeat is carried in the ideas and actions those delegates now bring to their home countries. Essential to the success of this undertaking was the skilled leadership of our host committee chairman Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind, and the dynamic coordination of the volunteer team director Pam Allen, the Federation’s first vice president. What will happen when all 285 million blind people around the world come to share the Federation heartbeat? For the first time, the World Blind Union has elected a president who lives the Federation philosophy every day and whose leadership has grown out of the Federation experience. The work of the National Federation of the Blind is expertly represented by the president of the World Blind Union, Dr. Fred Schroeder.
Blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future, but that is not how some see it. Stacy Cervenka is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Stacy and her husband Greg are both blind parents who seek to be active in their community as they raise their family—blindness is not what holds them back. Last summer Stacy came across a campaign by the Foundation Fighting Blindness that was perpetuating misunderstanding about the capacity of blind people in order to raise money for medical research. The campaign challenged sighted people to capture themselves in a video performing an ordinary task while wearing a blindfold. While the suggested tasks ranged from boring to ridiculous, they all sent a harmful message. The most offensive suggestion asked blindfolded participants to attempt to supervise their children. The fearful message that effective parenting is not possible without sight was further emphasized by a video entitled, “What Would You Do If You Could Not See Your Children?” Stacy attempted to raise concerns about the campaign in social media, but her posts were ignored by the foundation. When others rallied to support Stacy, she was blocked from commenting on posts to the foundation’s Facebook page. The heartbeat of the Federation, however, cannot be blocked. Members of the Federation mobilized in social media and quickly took over the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign. After ten days of concentrated action, sharing the truth about blindness, the foundation closed phase one of their campaign early and well short of their funding goal. More importantly, they publicly acknowledged the concerns of the National Federation of the Blind. We support funding for research on blindness but not at the expense of the lives we live today. We will not tolerate low expectations creating obstacles between blind people and our dreams—that is how we see it.
The misunderstanding that exists about blind people does real harm to families. Blind people face discrimination that interferes with their ability to be parents, grandparents, and caregivers for other family members. We have continued to advance model parental-rights legislation to protect blind people from discriminatory actions of former spouses, judges, and departments of social services. We have strengthened the laws in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Legislation has been introduced in other states, and we will not rest until equality is the standard for blind parents and caregivers in every state in our nation.
We continue to provide support to blind parents through the family network that is the National Federation of the Blind. Through our technical assistance, sharing of resources, mentoring efforts, and public education, we are supporting the bonds of love that make families thrive. Sometimes blind people do not come to know us before the discrimination happens. In the worst cases we need to involve our legal team to help. This year we have provided legal support to blind parents in California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and New York.
We have also come to the aid of a mom in Nevada. In the spring of 2016, we learned about a blind mother on the eve of a hearing to terminate her parental rights. This young single mother had her one-month-old child removed from her custody by protective services based upon claims of health and safety concerns arising from her blindness. When the claims arose, the mom did not know any blind parents, she was not connected with the National Federation of the Blind, and she had all of the same doubts that every new parent faces—blind or sighted. When we learned about the case, we secured local counsel, and our local affiliate swung into action. Under the leadership of Terri Rupp—a blind mother and president of the NFB of Nevada—we established a local support network for the mom, paired her with other blind parents, helped her get training at the Colorado Center for the Blind, and began educating the court about the techniques blind parents use. The daughter is now two years old, and the mom is still fighting to overcome the challenges caused by low expectations for the blind. Our heart beats with hers and we will not let the bonds of love be broken—we will not quit until mom and child are reunited.
When we seek careers working with children, discrimination also occurs. In 2015 I shared with you the story of Jeanine Rockwell Owens, a member of ours from California who worked providing direct care to children. She had over thirty years of experience as a childcare provider and educator when suddenly her blindness became an issue. A parent’s complaint about a blind woman taking care of her child caused Jeanine’s employer to send her to a doctor who knew nothing about blindness. The doctor opined that a blind person could not safely take care of a child in a childcare-type setting, and Jeanine was fired. We filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge against both the doctor for aiding and abetting discrimination based on disability and against the employer for terminating Jeanine in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the fight has taken some time, I am pleased to report that this matter has been settled in favor of Jeanine, granting her a substantial amount of lost wages and recovering our attorney fees in full. The doctor has received training on how to properly assess the effect of blindness in the workplace, and the employer will develop policies to ensure that employees with disabilities are evaluated on their ability rather than their perceived limitations. The discriminatory tag team of doctor and employer are no match for the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
Safety concerns about blind people in the workplace are not limited to childcare situations. Jacob Struiksma is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. Through the Apollo employment agency, he applied for an information technology position with Zones Inc.—a contractor for Microsoft. He was immediately hired. He reported to work for two days before being fired without any notice. He later received an email indicating that his termination was due to the safety risk of his being inside the busy warehouse environment and his inability to read small labels on wires. Zones did not ask Jacob about these concerns, what techniques he might use, or what accommodations they might offer. Zones took the risk of running into the National Federation of the Blind, and in return we did not ask Zones before filing a charge of employment discrimination. We know the law is on Jacob’s side, and soon Apollo and Zones will learn this too. They will be held accountable for violating the law.
As we work to raise expectations for blind employees, we also seek to improve opportunities to apply for work. Many state and local governments use Governmentjobs.com—a private employment website—as the exclusive means to post and accept applications for open positions. Governmentjobs.com is a goldmine of public sector jobs, unless you are blind. We wrote to Governmentjobs.com to share our experience with accessibility barriers on their site, and they initially refused to engage with us. Maybe they believed that there were not blind people who wanted to work. Maybe they believed equal access was a standard that did not apply to them. Whatever the reason, they now know the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind. We spoke to government officials in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington, and we filed an EEOC complaint. We are now engaged in meaningful negotiation with Governmentjobs.com. We will continue to pursue equal access to job applications, equal treatment in the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and to knock down the other barriers that stand between blind people and their employment dreams.
Effective movement around our communities and from city to city is critical as we pursue our goals. Our organization is providing leadership to the growing community of automobile manufacturers, technology companies, and policy makers discussing the revolution that autonomous vehicles will bring to our nation. In 2011 we built a car that blind people could drive before some of these companies even began to work on their cars of the future. In recognition of our leadership, earlier this year I presented the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. We are a founding partner in the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, where our goal is to ensure autonomous vehicles are available to the blind at the same time they are available to everyone else. Our authentic leadership in this new area of transportation will innovate solutions that will benefit all riders.
Ridesharing services are the fastest growing segment of the transportation industry—Uber and Lyft being the most well known. We have received hundreds of complaints of discrimination about these two companies from blind people who use a dog guide. In response, the National Federation of the Blind secured long-term, nationwide agreements with both Uber and Lyft to protect the rights of blind riders with service animals. Our case against Uber is the first successful application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the sharing economy. While we should celebrate the establishment of these agreements, our work is not done until we have fully eliminated the patterns of discrimination. In May we launched a nationwide, rideshare testing program to monitor the progress of Uber and Lyft in implementing new policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination. We are aggressively monitoring these agreements and enforcing penalties for compliance failures. The active participation of Federation members across the country will be critical in this effort over the next five years.
A major provider of intercity bus transportation—and in some places the only option—is Greyhound, which uses a website and mobile app to provide riders with scheduling and booking services. Greyhound has failed to make its website accessible and has taken the position that mobile apps are not required to be accessible under the law. We disagree and believe that systemic discrimination against the blind should never get a green light. We have filed a class-action suit in California that seeks to compel Greyhound to make its online services fully and equally accessible and to recover monetary damages.
In sharp contrast, one major travel-related website is not only putting a stop to accessibility barriers, they are trying to exceed expectations in access to online travel. A number of years ago Travelocity—who had previously agreed to work with us on accessibility—was bought by Expedia. When we raised questions about our existing agreement, Expedia eagerly welcomed a new collaborative agreement to make the extensive, online Expedia platform accessible and to subject the site to testing by the National Federation of the Blind. In April of this year, Expedia held a lunch to discuss the importance of accessibility with technology companies in Seattle and broadcast a lecture and discussion on accessibility to the entire Expedia Worldwide engineering group. The featured presenter for these important gatherings was the President of the National Federation of the Blind. We will hear more about Expedia’s accessibility journey and commitments later in this convention.
Beyond websites, we are aggressively pursuing equal access to the use of touchscreen kiosks, which can be found in government offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants, stores, and even on street corners. Many of these touchscreen devices are built upon the Apple iOS or Google Android operating system, both of which have screen-reading applications to provide nonvisual access to the blind. Yet frequently kiosk developers do not enable this important functionality for equal access.
The Social Security Administration, for example, has check-in kiosks at nearly all of its offices. They tell us that these kiosks have been designed to provide access to the blind, but our experience is that they only provide frustration and disappointment. We reported the extent of the inaccessibility to Social Security, but rather than recognizing that a systemic problem existed, they chose a second-class fix hoping that we would go away. We intend to file suit against the agency shortly, and we will have first-class access to the kiosks.
In most Walmart stores, you will find a kiosk near the pharmacy that provides basic information about your health: your weight, blood pressure, body mass index, and other important data points. These kiosks, manufactured by Pursuant Health, were not designed to be used by blind people. The Massachusetts attorney general and the National Federation of the Blind joined together to gain equal access to the kiosks. To Walmart’s credit, they indicated that if the kiosks were not made accessible to our satisfaction, it would remove them. Pursuant Health, to its credit, recognized the importance of making these kiosks accessible and available to everyone. In August of last year, Pursuant Health entered into an agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Federation of the Blind, and they are making progress in fulfilling their commitment to make the kiosks fully accessible by the fourth quarter of 2018.
New York City is the largest municipality in our nation. Recently, city officials have undertaken a project to replace New York’s thousands of payphone booths with kiosks featuring Wi-Fi, battery charging, access to police and fire departments, map information, and other services. As these kiosks were deployed to street corners, they did not include accessibility for the blind. Shortly after last year’s convention, we filed suit against the city and the kiosk manufacturer, and by January of this year we had an agreement to ensure equal access. Most of the functions of the kiosks are now accessible, and at this time next year, all of the functions must be accessible. New York sets the pace, and other cities will be seeking to find innovative applications for these kiosks. Thanks to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, all cities should know that accessibility must be included from the beginning.
Our goal is to make accessibility the standard of our nation, and we are actively working on technology in many other places of public accommodation. This includes touchscreen devices used in retail chains such as Applebee’s, Chili’s, and Panera. Additionally, we have worked with the Avanti company whose kiosk is used in micro-market facilities that are replacing many traditional vending machines. This work benefits not just blind people seeking a quick snack but also the blind entrepreneurs who wish to grow their business opportunities. Similarly, we continue to provide leadership in ensuring equal access at retail checkout counters where inaccessible point-of-sale devices have prevented blind customers from privately and independently entering their financial information. In the last two years, we have reached agreements with several large corporations, such as Children's Place, J. Crew, and Williams-Sonoma, among others, resulting in a significant increase in the availability of accessible point-of-sale machines.
Negotiation has not always worked. We have sued the Container Store for their inaccessible devices. The Container Store has attempted to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that each blind customer has agreed to settle their complaint out of court through binding arbitration. Consider the fact that the only way one can agree to the arbitration clause is by reading and agreeing to it on the inaccessible flat screen that is the subject of our complaint. The federal district court in Massachusetts denied Container Store’s motion, but they have appealed the ruling. We will not be bound by inaccessibility, the law is on our side, and we urge the Container Store and other retailers to think outside the box of unequal access. Our heartbeat is strong and we plan to participate fully in society—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
We also seek equal access to American democracy with the goal of all blind people having a fair opportunity to participate in electing those who represent us in the halls of power. Last year we brought suits in Ohio and New York with the hope of preventing inaccessible websites from diminishing the ability of blind people to register and access voting. In Ohio, the trial judge ordered the secretary of state to make the secretary’s website accessible but declined to order the secretary to make an accessible absentee ballot-marking tool available. The website ruling was an important victory, but equal access does not yet exist, so we have appealed the ruling on the absentee ballot-marking tool to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In New York the state has dug in its heels and continues to fight our attempt to ensure that the websites for the New York State Board of Elections and the Department of Motor Vehicles are accessible. We expect positive results before the end of this year.
Despite the existing barriers, we continue to expand our outreach to blind voters. We have added a Spanish version of our "Blind Voter Experience" video to the online resources we already make available. On November 8, we operated a toll-free, nationwide Election Day hotline for blind voters, poll workers, and protection and advocacy personnel to assist with barriers faced by blind voters. In addition, we again conducted post-election surveys, and we presented the results to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Election Law. Our data reveals our progress as demonstrated by the positive trend in the number of blind voters who successfully cast their ballots at the polls with an accessible voting machine. However, the survey results also illuminate persistent barriers due to the attitudes and lack of accessibility knowledge among poll workers. There is still more work to be done in voting; and our desire for full participation in our democracy fuels our determination.
Consider also the participation of blind people as candidates for political office. Tim Nonn was running for one of five seats on a contentiously divided school board in Sonoma County, California, in the 2016 election. In the midst of the campaign, Tim suddenly became blind as a result of ocular surgery. Notwithstanding a lot of questions about how to function with blindness, Tim continued with the campaign and was elected to a school board position by a landslide of votes. In order to independently manage his responsibilities, Tim requested permission to bring his personal reader to public board meetings at no cost to the school district. One would think that attendance of a reader at a public meeting would not be controversial. However, three politically opposed school board members—representing the majority—voted to exclude Tim’s reader from public meetings. They did not stop there. They went as far as publicly mocking their political opponent and suggested he was faking blindness for his political advantage even after Tim provided a letter from his doctor. The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate the use of blindness and unequal treatment against the blind for political gain by any public official in the same way that we should not tolerate discriminatory politics based on other characteristics. We assisted Tim Nonn in filing a lawsuit in federal court. Today, school board member Tim Nonn has a reader during board meetings, our costs have been recovered, and Tim can be counted as another member in the strong heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
Our organization continues to provide leadership to our elected representatives in Washington, DC. While many disability advocates viewed the outcomes of the 2016 elections as something to fear, the National Federation of the Blind has sought opportunities to advance the understanding of blindness and strengthen the future for the blind. In the 115th Congress we are pursuing and monitoring more legislative issues than ever before. In all that we do we seek support—not from a specific party but from everyone in a position to make a difference. Blindness impacts all segments of our society, and we continue to find success in working with those interested in equality for the blind. This is best observed in our effort to eliminate the discriminatory practice of unequal pay for people with disabilities that is embedded in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Support for our position was included in both the Democratic and Republican platforms last summer, and our Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment legislation has support from members of both parties. Similarly, our efforts to provide tax credits to the blind to make it easier for those seeking work to secure critical access technologies, to establish accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education, and to knock down the barriers to sharing accessible works around the world are all gaining increasing support by leaders from both sides of the aisle. During our Washington Seminar we held our second Congressional Reception, where six members of the United States House of Representatives and four members of the United States Senate—representing both political parties—came to join with the blind of America in raising expectations for our participation in society. We will hear from members of Congress from both parties later in this convention. From local communities across the country we come together to speak for ourselves. Our voice, our heartbeat, carries an authenticity that is unmatched in the halls of power.
Education is essential to our full participation and our ability to achieve our dreams. This year, our organization negotiated on behalf of several blind college students who faced horrendous accessibility barriers at their respective universities. The result was broad systemic agreements with Wichita State and Southern Oregon University. Additionally, after more than two years of battle, we resolved claims for Aleeha Dudley, who was a pre-veterinarian major at Miami University of Ohio. Our efforts were successful in expunging the low grades that she had received as a result of being denied equally effective communication, compensating her for the unequal treatment, and reimbursing part of the Federation’s expenses to assist in the case. The historic agreement between Aleeha, the United States Department of Justice, and the university is now the blueprint for ensuring accessibility for the blind at schools across the nation.
With some schools we have found opportunities to work collaboratively to implement best practices in accessibility. One significant partner is found in Harvard University, where we are supporting their efforts to make accessibility a priority. We initially approached Harvard about barriers faced by individual blind students, and we challenged the leaders at Harvard to set a high standard that other schools might strive to meet. Harvard has accepted the challenge and is now providing leadership in discussions about accessibility. Harvard opened the door for the National Federation of the Blind to provide featured presentations to the fall symposium of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the annual conference of the National Association of College and University Attorneys. We continue to collect resources and best practices from the schools seeking to be leaders in accessibility, and we share them through our Higher Education Accessibility Online Resource Center found at nfb.org.
Successful completion of high-stakes tests is often required to gain entry into educational programs or to advance in a career. We continue to knock down the barriers that threaten to bar our participation in these tests. One example of our work is found in the story of Iowa resident Kristen Steele, who was seeking a career as a massage therapist. In order for her to practice, she had to pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination. Kristen has been a Braille reader since age three, so she requested the use of refreshable Braille for the exam. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards denied her request and told her she had to use a human reader. Kristen could have elected to say nothing, attempted the exam with a reader, and only she would have known the difference. She understood in her heart that the denial was discriminatory and that if she did not stand up it would hurt the Braille readers that came after her. She heard the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind, and with our help she bravely filed suit to gain the equal access she deserved. Last month, Kristen Steele took the exam using refreshable Braille, she passed the exam, and today she is here at this convention as a certified therapist. We continue to reach out to testing companies to advance accessibility in high-stakes testing, and we will not stop until each of the testing companies receives an A for accessibility.
We create opportunities to ensure blind children have the best access to education as early as possible. We partner to distribute free Braille books, slate and stylus sets, child-sized white canes, and the Future Reflections magazine to thousands of families annually. Through our Braille Certification Training Program—which we operate for the Library of Congress—we maintain a high standard for individuals seeking to be transcribers and proofreaders of Braille, working with hundreds of trainees each year. Yet our network of skilled role models who serve as advocates for the next generation of blind youth and their families is what makes the real difference. Examples of our advocacy during the past year include securing relief for an eighth-grade student in the Chesterfield, Virginia school district who faced an inaccessible technology platform that made it impossible for a blind student to access any of the materials their sighted peers were using. We negotiated an agreement on behalf of a blind elementary student in Kansas whose mother’s requests for desperately needed Braille instruction and tactile graphics were being ignored by the school district. And we assisted a four-and-a-half-year-old child who was brutally beaten by his father, which resulted in his blindness. There are more families who do not yet know us. There are other blind children who are held down by low expectations. We must find imaginative ways to secure greater funding and build a more robust network so that no blind child lives without the National Federation of the Blind.
Through the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute we test the limits of blindness and develop innovative programs to create a future full of opportunities. Our research and training institute is a tool for sharing information and building programs throughout our fifty-two affiliates across the country. This will be our tenth summer offering independence and opportunity to blind youth through our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy. We expect thirty-five of our affiliates to offer fifty academies by the end of the summer with the theme of “Growing Readers. Growing Leaders.” The NFB BELL Academies feature blind mentors, a fun and engaging curriculum, and training for parents. Most importantly, the academies are sharing the Federation heartbeat with the teachers, children, and families who participate.
We continue to create opportunities for the blind in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Through our National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative we are developing the future innovators of our nation. Last summer we empowered forty blind youth by teaching them engineering design, and we extended the impact by providing forty educators with four days of professional development on access to STEM. This summer we will go even further through our tenth anniversary National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam on the campus of Towson University where blind students and blind mentors will explore some of the most cutting-edge aspects of STEM education. Additionally, we have applied our expertise to science museums across the country. Through our work, Baltimore’s Port Discovery implemented BlindSquare for indoor navigation; San Francisco’s Exploratorium created a tactile map of their building; COSI in Columbus implemented a fully accessible planetarium show; Boston’s Museum of Science enhanced accessibility of its theater of electricity; and the Science Museum of Minnesota hosted a webinar for museum educators about making learning activities and environments accessible to blind learners.
We are building the capacity to ensure that accessibility is the rule rather than the exception in the design, development, and implementation of technology. We have concentrated our expertise into an initiative known as the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Information in Education, Public Information, and Commerce. Accomplishments from the past year include hosting more than three hundred visitors and responding to over 1,600 calls to our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind in Baltimore; facilitating training on everything from the accessibility of Google and Amazon products to wearable technologies and accessible gaming; providing accessibility expertise to major projects like the complete redesign of the web-based platforms used by the New York City Public Schools; and infusing more blind people into the testing and evaluation of technologies through our Blind Users Innovating and Leading Design pilot program. In addition, we have launched an online community of practice for industry practitioners, employees, and consumers to stimulate accessibility initiatives within organizations and corporations. The National Federation of the Blind Accessibility Switchboard—found at www.accessibilityswitchboard.org—creates an open forum for sharing of best practices and case studies in accessibility. The exchange of effective practices for building a culture of accessibility should not be a trade secret. Our switchboard will accelerate equal access to technology for all and ensure that the National Federation of the Blind is part of the innovations at every stage.
We continue to innovate technology solutions to solve the real problems of blindness. Earlier this year we brought our industry-leading KNFB Reader mobile application to the Windows platform, giving unprecedented access to this powerful technology on tablets, phones, and desktops for less than one hundred dollars. We also launched KNFB Reader Enterprise, which gives users the ability to utilize the application on multiple operating systems. KNFB Reader is also available to users of HumanWare's BrailleNote Touch. Giving blind people powerful access to information anywhere they need it is our goal. What is our next dream? To bring the power of KNFB Reader to wearable technology platforms. Today we are announcing our plan to bring KNFB Reader to the Aira platform, which uses smart glasses to equip blind people with powerful access to information tools. What if you could just look toward a printed sign and ask your glasses to read it? Through the power of KNFB Reader and the Aira platform, this dream will become a reality.
The NFB-NEWSLINE program is the longest running and most extensive technology project we have undertaken—now spanning more than twenty years. Available in 46 states and the District of Columbia, the service provides, at no charge to its 115,491 subscribers, access to 366 newspapers, 24 breaking news sources, 17 international newspapers, 60 magazines, television listings, weather alerts, job listings, shopping ads, information about candidates for political office, and resources from the National Federation of the Blind. Accessible via touchtone phone, web browser, mobile application, email, or Wi-Fi-enabled device, NFB-NEWSLINE equips blind people with timely information in the most suitable format to meet their needs. This year we have launched the availability of all available publications in downloadable Braille files. We want NFB-NEWSLINE, like KNFB Reader, to be in all of the places where it is needed and to be as easy to access as possible. At this convention, we are widely rolling out beta testing on a device that you do not have to touch in order to get access to all of the rich NFB-NEWSLINE content—you need only ask for it. We are now seeking NFB-NEWSLINE users to beta test our NFB-NEWSLINE skill for the Amazon Echo. This is the first time the service interface is enabled through the spoken word. We will need to learn what works, what does not, and what innovations blind people will imagine through this new interface. Our future is only limited by our ability to imagine and build the solutions we seek.
The stories in this report are only a representative sample of our accomplishments this year, and there is much more that we plan to achieve in the future. The scope of our work is impressive, the depth of our efforts is complex, and the spirit of our movement is unbreakable. I am proud of what we have done together, and I am moved by the difference it makes in the lives of blind people, including my own, every day. Without you, these accomplishments would not be possible. The energy, time, imagination, money, and heart you put into our movement at the local, state, and national levels power us forward to a future where we know anything is possible. Thank you for pledging to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, and accept my humble appreciation for the heart you share with our movement.
It has been my deepest honor to coordinate our work as President of this great organization. I am inspired and challenged to do even better by the love, hope, and determination you put into this family of ours. Despite our record of success, I am well aware that there are those we have not yet found, there are barriers that still cause us real pain, and there are dreams that we have not yet realized. You have my commitment to give to our movement all that is required, to make personal sacrifices so that tomorrow may be better for all of us, and to grow our organization in ways that we have not yet imagined. I will do these things and more, and I seek your help and support in those efforts. The next phase of our movement starts today, and it will require the heart of each of us to achieve all that we imagine.
As I come to the close of my report for 2017, I acknowledge the bond of faith we share and call us to action: Together with love, hope, and determination, let us transform our dreams into reality.