Presidential Report 2015

An Address Delivered by
Mark Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
Orlando, Florida
July 8, 2015

The last year of our movement has been marked by transition, growth, determination, exploration, and accomplishment. While an anniversary is often used as a time for reflection, we have used our seventy-fifth year as an opportunity to strengthen our organization at the local level, reinvest in the next generation of leaders at the state level, and expand our reach at the national level. We continue to be a strong organization powered by the collective action of individuals of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and talents. Our stories are unique but they carry the common threads of hope, determination, and high expectations that bond us together in this family that is the National Federation of the Blind.

On July 17, 2014, I attended the organizing meeting for the Towson, Lutherville, and Cockeysville (the TLC) chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. This was the first of many gatherings I personally had the opportunity to participate in as part of our renewed membership engagement efforts during the past year. Whether the activities were in Maryland, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, or Texas, the events all carried the same energy and forward-looking spirit that characterizes the Federation. While some organizations face declining membership, we enjoy steady growth because we continue to build an organization that offers the blind of this nation an authentic and effective vehicle for collective action. And together, with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality.

Jeanine Owens is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of California, and she has been living the life she wants as a worker in the childcare industry for nearly thirty years. In 2010, she began work at Brighter Beginnings, where she provided both care to children and education to parents. In 2013, a parent complained to management that it was unsafe for a blind woman to be watching her child. Management responded by instructing Jeanine to submit herself to a medical exam, and the doctor opined that it was unsafe for Jeanine Owens to watch children due to her blindness. Although the company knew of Jeanine’s blindness when they hired her and there had been no unsafe incident involving her, the company agreed with the expert evaluation of the doctor and fired Jeanine. We filed charges of employment discrimination with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for the violation of Jeanine’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the EEOC investigation found probable cause to believe that both Brighter Beginnings and the doctor discriminated against Jeanine Owens on the basis of her disability. We are now working toward a suitable resolution. However, make no mistake, if we do not receive just relief for Jeanine Owens, we will take this case to the highest courts in the land and we will not stop until justice is done!

You will recall that several years ago, we filed suit on behalf of Yasmin Reyazuddin, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and an employee of Montgomery County. When she learned that the county would be investing in new technologies to operate countywide information systems that were used in her work at a local call center, she urged the county to plan for accessibility and offered to help provide early user testing. Montgomery County ignored her, installed inaccessible systems, and proceeded to move her around to different jobs to hide their failure. In March 2014, the trial court decided that Ms. Reyazuddin was not entitled to a trial on her claim of discrimination. Knowing that the judges, like the doctors, are not always well-informed, we appealed the decision. A couple of weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an opinion reversing the original decision. Among other things, the Fourth Circuit opinion states that employers cannot duck their obligation to provide accessibility through budgeting tricks—in this case, by budgeting only $15,000 for accessibility from a $3.7 billion budgetand the employer must look at the savings it gains when implementing new technology, not just its costs. Although the fight is not over, we are one more significant step closer to eliminating the misconception that technology and accessibility are in opposition to each other. We want to use our talents in the workplace, and we will continue to defend our right to equal access.

Equal access in the workplace also means equal pay for equal work, and we are providing the leadership required to significantly advance competitive integrated employment for the blind. On July 22, 2014, I was honored to represent the National Federation of the Blind at the White House ceremony where President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. Due to our considerable advocacy efforts, Section 511 of WIOA will reduce the number of youth with disabilities who are tracked into subminimum-wage employment by requiring that these youth receive the training and services that will maximize their talents in meaningful employment placements through the vocational rehabilitation system. Additionally, a new advisory committee to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities was established under the United States Department of Labor. Dr. Fred Schroeder, a long-time leader in the National Federation of the Blind and former commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation Services Administration is serving on this committee, and the many years of foundation we have laid in our fight for fair wages is paying off.

We have tried to reason with the employers but they sometimes ignore us. Source America, formerly known as NISH, is a central nonprofit agency that coordinates the distribution of government service contracts to agencies that hire people with disabilities. More than 80 percent of the five hundred agencies that receive contracts through Source America are holders of subminimum wage certificates. Source America lives up to its name—it is the source of America’s institutionalized discrimination against workers with disabilities. In August 2014, members of the National Federation of the Blind were joined by five other disability-run advocacy groups in an informational protest in front of the Virginia headquarters of Source America. Our protest received considerable exposure through traditional and social media. Sadly, Source America continues to postpone meeting with us face-to-face, but we are not going away.

In contrast, the leadership of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has been making a good-faith effort to understand our perspective and change their patterns. In October 2014, I was invited to provide a keynote address to a general session of NIB’s national conference in Alexandria, Virginia. In January, I met with Kevin Lynch, president of National Industries for the Blind, who shared his organization’s commitment that all contracts facilitated by NIB now require that all workers paid under the contract receive at least the minimum wage. In addition, the NIB Board of Directors has established a policy that an administrator from an agency that pays anyone less than the minimum wage will be ineligible to serve on their board. National Industries for the Blind is not doing all of the things that we believe they need to do, and they have not yet committed to actively supporting the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment legislation that Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi has sponsored on our behalf. However, NIB is here at this convention, they are committed to actively engaging with us, and they appear sincerely interested in changing their practices. We are making great progress and more friends are joining this effort every day. The justice of our cause and our unwavering determination will continue to raise expectations for workers with disabilities.

A critical component in our pursuit of the careers we want is our access to high quality education. The infusion of new technologies into higher education should have brought greater access to information for blind students. However, the failure of technology companies to design their systems to include nonvisual access, and the shortsighted behavior of universities that did not require equal access in the purchase of educational technologies, has left blind students frustrated, and in many cases shut out. The National Federation of the Blind is not prepared to settle for second-class work and we are not prepared to settle for second-class education.

When Anthony Lanzilotti, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, sought to improve his opportunities through education at Atlantic Cape Community College (ACCC), he learned that even the teachers can be wrong. Anthony faced barriers in every aspect of his experience at ACCC. The technologies that Anthony was required to use were inaccessible. The curriculum materials that Anthony needed in order to compete were inferior. And the custodial restrictions that Anthony was forced to tolerate were insulting. Among these insults, he was told that while on campus he would need to be accompanied by a sighted guide at all times. Although Anthony has suffered, we have been able to turn his experience into a lesson for the higher education community. On June 1, 2015, we secured a consent decree from the court that directs Atlantic Cape Community College to eliminate the artificial barriers they place in front of blind students. This is the most detailed and comprehensive resolution of its kind. The consent decree requires specific training of ACCC personnel, comprehensive audits of ACCC technology, implementation of corrective action plans, provisions for students with disabilities while corrective action is in process, and other benchmarks that ACCC must meet in order to reach the expected standard of equal access that is the right of all students in our country. In September 2014, we entered into a similar settlement agreement with Maricopa Community College District of Arizona, and we are actively pursuing action at other universities. We will keep the pressure on as long as the campuses prevent our full participation.

The barriers do not only exist in the universities. Last fall, we secured a settlement agreement with the United States Department of Education regarding its oversight of the Direct Loan program. As a result, the Department of Education will now require all student loan servicers to have and maintain accessible websites; make all publications, notices, statements, and other information fully accessible in a variety of formats; and make all forms accessibly fillable, reviewable, signable, savable, and sendable. All of this will happen over the next two years, and the National Federation of the Blind recovered a quarter of a million dollars in attorneys’ fees. The bad news for students is that inaccessibility will no longer be an available excuse for not paying those student loans.

High-stakes testing is ubiquitous—most people seeking entry into graduate school or work in a professional field find there is a test to pass, and most of those tests are taken online. We continue to hear from blind test-takers, such as Mary Chappell, Sherry Pablo, and Justin Schmeltz, who face barriers to taking entrance or professional certification exams in social work, professional counseling, teaching, medicine, psychology, or computer programming. Frequently the barriers are the result of testing platforms that are not fully usable with nonvisual access technology, and often testing entities do not understand the need for nonvisual accommodations—like tactile graphics. In every instance where we intervened, we were successful in getting a positive resolution and eliminating barriers. We will continue to aggressively work with the leading testing companies, Pearson VUE and Prometric, to change the unacceptable pattern of discrimination, and we will continue to assert the rights of blind people who seek to enter programs where testing presents a barrier.

One method we have been using to stimulate accessibility in higher education is advancing legislation that would create guidelines for educational technologies. Our bill was introduced in the last Congress with bipartisan support and broad endorsements. In the early development of our legislation we reached out to the American Council on Education. First they dismissed us, then they ignored us, but once our bill gained momentum they came out against us. They offered no justification for their statements and no alternative proposal—blind students were expected to wait. We were not prepared to wait and a public debate ensued with eleven different blog posts, op-eds, and articles on this topic. Kyle Shachmut, one of our members from Massachusetts and an expert in educational technology, is one of the courageous leaders who spoke truth to power about his own experience with inaccessible technology in education. And we released a YouTube video, “A Lesson on the TEACH Act,” that received thousands of views.

We were finally able to get the higher education lobby to come to the table, and for the past eight months we have negotiated in good faith. We have often been frustrated by their misunderstanding and they have often been upset that we continue to sue their constituent schools. They have told us they know how to run their institutions and we have told them that we know how to run our lives. Despite the friction, I am pleased to report that we have very recently come to an agreement. The major points of our agreement, once made into law, will bring us significantly closer to the promise of equality of opportunity in our universities. I am hopeful the process of developing actual legislative language will be less frustrating, and more rapid. If it is not, and there is no other way, we will continue to take our cases to the courts, we will continue to march on their campuses, and we will continue to use all of the tools in our toolbox to defend the rights of blind students.

The National Federation of the Blind is also providing leadership in equal access to transportation systems. The vast majority of taxi cabs that travel through our nation’s streets now include touch-screen terminals that allow passengers to monitor their trip fare, to pay when they reach their destination, to determine the vehicle’s location with GPS, and to access other meaningful information. These devices are often completely unusable by blind passengers. We have worked with the device manufacturers who have been eager to build in accessibility, and we have engaged in legal advocacy with those who have not.

During the past year, we have secured significant agreements with two of the major players in this industry—Verifone Systems Inc. and RideCharge. After a complaint against Verifone was filed in Massachusetts, they immediately engaged us in discussions to understand accessibility, and this has led to a broad and inclusive agreement in which Verifone has agreed to provide all information on its units in a manner accessible to the blind. Over the next few years, Verifone and NFB will be working cooperatively to ensure that Verifone’s touch screens are accessible to the blind wherever they are found.

Similarly, our original attempts to engage with RideCharge regarding accessibility failed. In April 2014, we filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and our members, Rick Boggs, Geraldine Croom, Rochelle Houston, and Tina Thomas in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Just last month, we finalized the terms of a comprehensive settlement that promises that all RideCharge units in the nation will soon be accessible to blind passengers. The agreements with Verifone and RideCharge, along with our previous partnership with Creative Mobile Technologies, represent a commitment to accessibility for nearly all of the touch screens being used in taxis across the country.

The emergence of new transportation alternatives brings a promise of more customer control and greater affordability. Uber and Lyft are the most well-known of these new alternatives, but like many of our previous travel options, they have sometimes presented blind riders with discriminatory barriers to full participation. We have recently entered into an agreement with Uber to establish a collaborative partnership to ensure the accessibility of Uber’s mobile applications, to increase awareness among Uber drivers and managers regarding the rights of blind passengers, including the use of service animals, and to work toward the implementation of fair and effective public policies that require accessibility. We are also working to design a similar agreement with Lyft. Although we have an interest in exploring the possibilities for the blind to drive—as we have through our Blind Driver Challenge—as long as others are in the driver’s seat we will not settle for being treated like second-class passengers.

One of the most dynamic ways that we live the lives we want is by providing the love and commitment that is needed to parent young children. Blind parents continue to get unfairly questioned by social workers, attorneys, and judges about their capacity to take care of their children simply because the parents happen to be blind. This year we have continued to reject those questions by assisting many blind parents who faced discriminatory actions in custody disputes. One case is that of a New York father, Pedro Martinez, who fought to have full custody of his young daughter. The social worker initially applauded his skills as a blind parent, but the social worker went on to conclude that the child was just too young to live with her father because he was blind and she would not have the ability to tell someone if she was being harmed. The report from the social service agency was described by our attorneys as one of the most shockingly discriminatory reports they had ever read. We were successful in convincing the government officials and the court that blindness was not the characteristic that defined the ability to be a good parent, and the little girl is now happily living with her dad. Mr. Martinez is with us at this convention. We are currently taking action on behalf of parents in New York, California, and Washington State who are each facing hostile and discriminatory presumptions about their ability to parent due to their blindness. Together we work with love to protect the rights of blind parents and we are not afraid to use our parenting skills forcefully and loudly when our blindness is used to artificially limit us. We will continue to say “no” to that behavior.

One of the most important responsibilities we have in our society is directing our democracy. In 2002, the Help America Vote Act was signed into law and, due to our work, it included specific language to ensure that nonvisual access to electronic voting machines was the rule, not the exception. Since the enactment of the law, the National Federation of the Blind has provided expert testing of nonvisual access to voting machines, facilitated discussions among industry leaders and consumers about the future of voting, and performed monitoring of voting patterns, especially during major elections. When the Maryland legislature directed the State Board of Elections to develop an online ballot-marking tool that could be made available for absentee participation in elections by any voter, we offered our assistance to the state. The final product was an online ballot-marking tool that was secure, reliable, and fully accessible to voters with disabilities. However, the Maryland State Board of Elections failed to certify the online ballot system and they held no public meetings to discuss the reasons why. On behalf of Melissa Riccobono, who was serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland; Janice Toothman, a member of ours who is deaf-blind; and Kenneth Capone, a gentleman with cerebral palsy who uses a headstick and an iPad to communicate; we sued the state of Maryland. Bizarrely, a group of blind people clearly acting against their own interest attempted to support the state in blocking equal access to voting. The judge rebuffed the state’s reasoning that the disabled should be shut out of absentee voting, and we secured a permanent injunction that required use of the absentee ballot-marking tool in the November 2014 election and use of an accessible tool going forward. Although the state has appealed and the matter awaits argument in the court, we can be proud that we have secured a ruling that raises expectations for our participation in our democracy.

Our voting case emphasizes just how central the internet is to full participation in society in 2015. We have a clear history of demanding equal access to ebooks and demanding equal access to websites. Thus, it should have come as no surprise to Scribd, Inc. that we wanted equal access to their web- and mobile app-based ebook subscription service. After all, who would not want the ability to pick and choose from more than sixty million works made readily available through the Scribd subscriber’s “personal digital library?” NFB member and proud mother Heidi Viens wanted this resource and she was excited to use Scribd to read to her young daughter, but Scribd’s website and mobile apps are not accessible to the blind. Scribd heard our demand for equality and they responded by saying they had no obligation to allow us to participate. Scribd has offered a fight but we are equal to the challenge; and we welcome the opportunity to create more good legal precedent that enforces the message that websites like Scribd must make their services accessible to the blind. I am proud to report that the federal court in Vermont recently agreed with us and rejected Scribd’s argument that, as a web-only business, it is not required to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Scribd is seeking to appeal that ruling, but we are pressing for the case to go forward. We want the court to hear the facts and to hold Scribd accountable for its persistent exclusion of blind patrons from its digital library.

Much of our work is about vigorously protecting our rights, but we are increasingly successful in turning those fights into friendships. Relationships take time to build trust and understanding, and we want to invest that effort with those who sincerely seek to integrate our perspective. On May 7, 2015, Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President and director of legal policy for the National Federation of the Blind, and I traveled to the federal court in Boston where we joined with our partners from the Office of the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a class action fairness hearing. In that hearing, the judge approved the outstanding settlement that has resulted from a brutal marathon of litigation with Cardtronics over the accessibility of their ATMs. When we started this case in 2003, we were arguing about less than ten thousand ATMs. Today, Cardtronics controls almost one hundred thousand ATMs throughout the country and, under our agreement, virtually the entire fleet will be fully accessible with state-of-the-art voice guidance. Most significantly, I am proud to say that Cardtronics is now a willing and eager partner of the blind, and this milestone marks the beginning of an active relationship that I expect to live long beyond the terms of the current agreement. Cardtronics is participating actively in this convention, they will be installing a new state-of-the-art, accessible ATM at our headquarters in Baltimore, and Cardtronics will be making a seven-figure financial contribution to the accessibility work of the National Federation of the Blind.

Many years ago we settled a significant class action case against Target for the inaccessibility of their website. Although Target has faced challenges, it has worked proactively and creatively to address the issues and it has included guidance from the Federation. Target is now taking the initiative to go further by seeking to make its stores more accessible and to make itself a model employer of blind people. Target is here at this conventionwe will hear from one of their executives later this weekand they are providing leadership that is likely to hit the bullseye for high expectations and full participation.

Accessibility needs to be baked into the culture of corporations in order to be effectively maintained over time, and a new partner of ours, Expedia, has made that commitment. Earlier this week we announced an agreement with Expedia, which also operates, that will provide the key elements to make their website and mobile apps accessible and that will help them remain accessible into the future. The blind want to travel and we want access to the tools that allow us to pursue our dreams—Expedia is prepared to help us go to the places we want to live our lives.

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, is our world-class headquarters from which our national activities are coordinated. During the past year, we have hosted 3,607 members, friends, and guests from nearly every state in the nation and eight foreign countries. Although our work is serious, it is also fun. For example, educators are sometimes found playing Braille Twister or constructing Lego creations while sharing their expertise, overnight visitors frequently enjoy musical selections that help to start the day with a laugh, and the most popular choice of cookie among visitors remains chocolate chip. We have invested heavily in our communication and data management systems at our headquarters. We have recently upgraded our phone system. In addition to providing better call quality and stability, the new phone system incorporates accessibility features including audible caller ID and the ability to manage calls using the computer keyboard. We have upgraded more than one hundred handsets in our building and have installed phones in our conference rooms that are suitable for large meetings. We have also installed a new accessible copy machine for use in our office operations. We have converted our recording studio to enhance our production of video content to share our stories with the world. We have completed the first phase of a massive project to unify our internal databases in order to more effectively serve our members and share information among the blind of the nation. We have also launched the NFB Connect mobile app for iOS in order to share information in new ways, and we have significantly increased our presence in social media.

Access to information continues to be a central part of our mission. This is our fortieth year of partnership with inventor Ray Kurzweil. Early in this century, we joined forces to establish the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reading Technology company, to innovate the technologies needed for the twenty-first century reading machines. On April 22, 2015, we made a significant move related to our work in this area by securing the transfer of the reader technologies, including more than two dozen patents, to a new entity: KNFB Reader LLC. KNFB Reader LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Federation of the Blind, and I serve as managing director for the corporation. Now that the Federation is the sole owner of the technology, we are aggressively building the plans to secure the business, to further the existing mobile application, and to develop new elements of the technology. And, Ray Kurzweil has pledged his continued partnership in our innovative endeavors.

This is our twentieth year for the NFB-NEWSLINE® program—our expanding work to deliver timely, free, and accessible information to the blind that includes newspapers, breaking news, magazines, television listings, holiday shopping ads, and job listings. In the past year, over one hundred thousand blind individuals have received more than thirty-eight million minutes of service along with many millions of additional interactions through the web and mobile applications.

Our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind continues to be a central place for the evaluation and testing of specialized products for the blind and of the accessibility of mainstream technologies. Through our technology program, we also strategically invest in partnership projects that have significant potential to transform access for the blind. One such project is the Transforming Braille Group, which we began working on with other organizations around the world in 2012. Jim Gashel, secretary for the National Federation of the Blind, is serving as our representative in this effort and he is enthusiastic about the early prototypes. This project is on track to bring the cost of Braille display technology down by as much as 85 percent—imagine a twenty-cell Braille display for $500. We can expect to have a product for our convention next summer.

With support from the state of Maryland, we established an initiative known as the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. We kicked off this new initiative with a Web Accessibility Training Day in partnership with the Maryland Technology Assistance Program in September 2014. One of our primary goals is to provide training and best practices to information technology professionals who may not have experience with accessibility. In October we followed up with a Train-the-Trainer Conference that included access technology expertise and mainstream training on products from Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Technology training is critical to compete in the twenty-first century. Our other goal is to get more blind people to be part of the training and testing of technology and to raise expectations for our participation.

In the next year we will explore implementation of a new access to information portal under our Center of Excellence project. The HathiTrust represents a repository of more than thirteen million digital copies of books from university libraries. We have established a working relationship with the HathiTrust for the National Federation of the Blind to operate a secure mechanism for people with print disabilities to gain access to this collection, and we expect to build the portal for use in the coming year. This means more Braille, more books, more access to information, all because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind.

Shortly after the 2015 Washington Seminar, I traveled to Seattle to meet with Satya Nadella, chief executive officer for Microsoft. Microsoft products have presented significant accessibility barriers for the blind and I hoped that the new leadership at Microsoft would receive our concerns and make actionable plans. I received a commitment from Mr. Nadella that Microsoft would make accessibility a higher priority, that he understood the urgency of the problem, and that he was personally invested in observable progress. We will be holding Microsoft to this commitment and we will hear from the top executive over the Microsoft Office team later in the convention.

Google has also made commitments to us, and in the past they have not delivered on all of their promises. Over the past year, we have noticed real progress in the accessibility of Google products and, more importantly, in the understanding of accessibility within Google. In May, I was invited to participate in a presentation with the Google accessibility team at Google I/O—the annual developer conference that represents the cutting edge of innovation and inspiration at Google. It is clear that accessibility is beginning to be better understood within Google and among the developer community. Although there is still a lot of work for Google to do, I believe we will be pleased with the report from Google later this week and that our determination in working with Google is paying off.

Other activities through our research and training institute continue to expand possibilities. Our disability law symposium—named after Jacobus tenBroek, constitutional scholar and the first President of the National Federation of the Blind—continues to grow and is the premier event for advancing disability law in the nation. Our Jacobus tenBroek Library continues to preserve our history and help us tell the diversity of our stories. The inquiries we get come from a wide range of individuals who want to better understand our impact on the world. One such person is Allie Tubbs, a middle school student from Iowa, who made Dr. tenBroek the subject of her performance in the National History Day Contest. Allie is not blind, but she discovered Dr. tenBroek in a book and she wanted to learn more. Last month, Allie took second place in the Junior Individual Performance category in the national final round for her presentation called, "Jacobus tenBroek: A Leader with a Vision of Equality for the Blind and a Legacy of Constitutional Equality for All." Tens of thousands of lives are touched directly and indirectly through the programs of our Jernigan Institute. A more complete report of our research and training activities will be given later this week. Whether it is the 7,222 free white canes we distributed, the 405 free Braille slates we gave, the constant flow of general information requests, or the impact of our research and training, together, we change lives.

In the fall of last year we held a successful Seventy-Five Days of Action Campaign to build and strengthen NFB chapters. Although there are many reasons for us to undertake this work, I think the most significant reason is that we have a responsibility to the next generation. The barriers that still exist in the education system are a significant problem. The most powerful thing we can do to tackle those barriers is to build and strengthen the National Federation of the Blind. And building the Federation is what we are doing through our educational programs.

We continue to provide leadership to the nation in Braille education, Braille training, and Braille advocacy. During the summer of 2014, our NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program was in twenty-one of our affiliates, providing direct instruction in Braille to more than two hundred and fifty blind youth. We are also facilitating early connections to Braille and literacy through our Braille Reading Pals Club, and we are assisting with the distribution of Braille books across the country. In addition, we are the primary provider of training for Braille transcribers and proofreaders through our work with the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And we are moving that program into the future by developing the components necessary for training in the Unified English Braille code.

Two consortia exist to develop assessments for states to measure the progress of K-12 students in the common core standards—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced. During the past year we have aggressively monitored progress from our settlement agreement with PARCC, coordinated efforts to press Smarter Balanced to build accessibility into their assessments and eliminate significant discriminatory practices, and provided expert technical assistance to both entities. Our goal has been to ensure that the results of these assessments measure blind students’ actual achievement rather than measuring blind students’ ability to overcome the barriers in accessing the test content.

We continue to educate school districts when our blind students are not receiving the services they need. One example is our support of the Pearce family in California. We overcame the resistance of the school district to ensure that their son Nathan received the blindness skills and educational supports necessary to build and strengthen his talents. We continue to support individual families with information about their rights, understanding the truth about blindness, and connections to successful blind adults. We have distributed tens of thousands of copies of Future Reflections magazine and thousands of pages of other literature to parents and educators.

We are raising expectations for the blind in science, technology, engineering, and math, and improving the accessibility of museums and science centers. This year we held our NFB STEM2U programs in Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; and Columbus, Ohio. We trained a corps of young blind apprentices to serve as mentors to the younger students in our programs—we will hear from one of these young leaders later this week. We are raising the expectations for participation of the blind in the museums we are working with and this will serve to provide best practices to other museums throughout the nation. This summer, we will hold our first-ever week-long program focused entirely on teaching the engineering design process to blind high school students. I feel certain that these ambitious blind youth will be helping us engineer a brighter future for the blind very soon.

There is more to tell about our success in the past year. Our story—of determination, exploration, participation, collaboration, ambition, and optimism—is being told best by blind people who are living their lives with respect and confidence because of our work together in this Federation. I have been honored to serve as your President during this past year and I look forward to the time to come. The work has been challenging due to the barriers we still face, and I recognize the challenges ahead will require the same commitment from me. In every convention I attend, from each member I meet, with each report of new chapters I receive, and from every personal story I read, I find a renewed sense of energy and hope that is seventy-five times stronger than any obstacle we face. With the sense of history that has come to us from three-quarters of a century of Federation work, with the demands that will inevitably be our challenge in the years to come, I have done my best to keep faith with the bond we share and I want to take this moment to thank each of you for doing your part to make the accomplishment reflected in this report possible. You have shown me tremendous love, hope, and determination during this year and it is a true blessing that inspires me to give my all to this organization. I will never ask of you any more than I am prepared to demand of myself. But the stakes are too high, the opportunities are too at risk, and our lives are too valuable for us to do anything less than take the actions that must be made in order to reach the accomplishments that are within our grasp. We must commit to continuing our progress, and we must make the sacrifices required.

At one of this year’s membership events, I was asked what I would say to someone who had not been active in the organization for a number of years. With a firm handshake, I said, “Welcome back, we have been working hard while you have been gone and we are happy you are here to help.” This organization is all that it is because of us. And it will be all that we dream it will be because we continue to grow and cultivate our Federation for the next generation. I am pleased to report that our determination unites, our philosophy works, our imagination soars, our program blooms, and our membership grows, as our love flows. Let us celebrate the success of this year by making the next one even better. That is my commitment to you, and that is my report for the seventy-fifth year of the National Federation of the Blind.