An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 4, 2013
This year our progress has been astonishingly good, even though there have been a number of challenges. We continue to be the most forceful leader in matters dealing with blindness in the United States, and we are joining with others in lands beyond our borders to create a climate of opportunity for the blind.
Perhaps the most famous blind person from China is Chen Guangcheng, a man who was imprisoned for challenging the repressive patterns of government in his own country. He came to the United States seeking asylum and an education in law. With the help of the State Department and others, he has been studying law in New York.
I was invited to visit with him along with Dan Goldstein, who has served as counsel for the Federation for more than a quarter of a century, and Dan’s partner Andy Levy, who is himself disabled. During the meeting, we talked about the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind, the methods we use for challenging the status quo, the techniques we employ for changing the law to recognize human rights for blind people, technology that offers access to information for the blind, and the urgent need in our country as well as others for self-organization by the blind. Freedom is gained not because somebody else gives it to us. Freedom is gained because we demand that it be our own. This was the spirit of the meeting that took place not quite a year ago in New York City with the blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng.
The Google Books Project, which began almost ten years ago, seeks to create digitized versions of books. It is estimated that more than ten million books have been digitized. The library collections from many universities have been scanned. The digital versions of books from this effort are being maintained by Google, but digital copies along with the print editions have been returned to the universities. Many of the universities have placed digital versions of their books into an entity named the HathiTrust, which is charged by the universities with the task of managing this collection.
The Authors Guild sued Google and the HathiTrust demanding that the digitized books be destroyed. However, the potential value of this collection was great enough that we felt an urgent need to protect it. The National Federation of the Blind intervened in the lawsuit as a defendant to assert the right of blind people to equal access to this information.
Last October the federal district court in New York issued a decision in our favor. Although this decision is currently on appeal in the 2nd Circuit (an appeal in which we are defending our opinion vigorously), current law states that blind students and professors at the universities holding this material have a right to equal access to the information. Furthermore, those holding material may distribute it to other blind people in the United States without violating copyright. Both we and the HathiTrust want all blind Americans to have equal access to this collection of material. We believe that we can create a mechanism to distribute the books. Blio, the accessible book reader, manages digital content very well. When we complete the plans for this joint project, every blind student in the United States, every blind professor in the United States, and every other blind person in the United States will have full access to an academic library containing the books and reference materials of the finest academic and research institutions in the world.
We may also be able to obtain books from sources around the world other than the Google Books project. We have been collaborating with others to promote a treaty proposed in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a part of the United Nations, that would authorize the distribution of books in specialized formats to the blind and print disabled across country borders. A full report of our work with WIPO will occur later during this convention, but it is worthy of note that we have met with many individuals to urge support for this treaty. The president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Senator Christopher Dodd, has crafted a joint statement with us in support of the treaty. This joint statement has been circulated widely, and it has generated substantial support for our cause. Fred Schroeder and Scott LaBarre have been managing this part of our effort, and they will appear on the agenda later this week.
With respect to books from some other sources, we have been less successful. A number of years ago we indicated to senior personnel at Amazon that incorporating voice output in the Kindle would enhance its usability for everybody and would offer auditory reading for the blind. Amazon took our advice in part. It created a text-to-speech program in the Kindle, but it neglected to make the controls operable by blind people. When we urged that changes be made, Amazon first promised, then complained, then stopped responding in any way. When Amazon introduced the Kindle onto college campuses, we filed complaints and stopped it. When Amazon made a deal with the State Department to sell the government thirty-five thousand Kindles, we filed a complaint and stopped it. Amazon has now established a digital book distribution system for grade school and high school. This distribution system cuts blind students out of education. Our protests to Amazon have met with complete silence. Amazon officials think that if they will just ignore us long enough, we will go away.
On December 12, 2012, we held an informational picketing, regarding the distribution of inaccessible Kindle e-books. We held it outside of Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Stories about our protest appeared in Education Week, the Seattle Times, and on Seattle television stations. Amazon remains uncommunicative, but apparently it got at least part of the message. In April 2013, I received a letter from a lawyer for Amazon telling me that Amazon’s practices do not violate nondiscrimination law and that Amazon is in the process of fixing the problems. Shortly thereafter, Amazon released an application that runs on a number of Apple products that incorporates some accessibility for blind and print disabled people. However, the Kindle remains inaccessible, and Amazon’s program to distribute the Kindle in public schools continues. Amazon may not believe us when we say these things, but we hereby make them a promise. We will find a way to challenge the discrimination—we will find a way to guarantee that blind kids in school have the same opportunity to get the same book that other people get at the same time and at the same cost.
We have also initiated talks with Barnes & Noble, and they seem to be somewhat productive. Last year we filed complaints against the Sacramento Public Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia. They were distributing books on inaccessible NOOKs to their patrons. We resolved both of those complaints with commitments from the libraries to phase out their inaccessible e-book reading machines and to replace them with reading machines that everybody can use. Because of these complaints and other efforts by the Federation, Barnes & Noble has begun working on accessibility for the blind. NOOK Books are accessible on at least one Apple application. We will be working with officials of Barnes & Noble in the upcoming months to expand accessibility of their products.
Google has several million books. At one time senior personnel of the Google Books Project responded positively to demands from the National Federation of the Blind that these books be usable by blind people. However, the Google page to get at the books no longer has accessibility built into it. Furthermore, a number of other Google applications remain inaccessible to the blind. Google Docs is inaccessible, Google Calendar is inaccessible, elements of Gmail are inaccessible, and now Google is planning to release a product for elementary and secondary school called Google Play, which remains inaccessible.
Last year, the State of Colorado announced that it would be fully implementing Google Apps for Government to handle the vast majority of the information technology tasks performed by state employees. Google Apps for Government is not fully accessible. We wrote to Colorado Governor Hickenlooper. I am happy to report that Google Apps for Government has not been fully implemented, and blind employees of the State of Colorado are still able to perform their jobs independently. But it was a close shave, and in many other places Google is being used to create barriers for the blind to employment, to education, and to full participation in other activities of life. Will we be obliged because of Google to sue every state government, every school district, and every university? If Google achieves accessibility in a product, is there any assurance that the product will remain accessible?
We have been talking with Google officials for more than two years. Last fall we welcomed a Google engineer at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute for more than a week of collaboration. Last December Ray Kurzweil became a senior Google employee with the title director of engineering. The people at Google tell us that accessibility for the blind is a priority for Google. They tell us that they create interesting products and release them to the public even though they know their products are not perfect. They tell us that when they find bugs, they fix them.
Ray Kurzweil is enormously committed to the accessibility of products for blind people, and I believe that he will have a positive influence at Google. However, I believe that Google must change its policy regarding accessibility, and I call upon the company to do so. Inaccessibility for blind people of products created by Google is not a bug; it is a systemic failure. The promises to incorporate accessibility for the blind into Google products must be kept. We have exercised considerable patience with Google, but patience can run out. We cannot permit Google to take our jobs, take our opportunities for an equal education, and take our participation in other activities in society. I think the new team of experts at Google will do better than the ones that we have met with in the past, but the time for action is right now.
In 2003 we initiated a project with Ray Kurzweil to build what has become the K-NFB Reader Mobile. The company we founded together later created a reading program to serve not just the blind but all populations. This technology, the Blio, is an accessible digital reading system consisting of software running on many platforms that provides books in print, in auditory form, in Braille on a refreshable Braille display, or in all these forms. In March the K-NFB Reading Technology company merged with eMusic to form a digital content provider called Media Arc. The objective of Media Arc is to distribute books, music, magazines, and perhaps other digital content such as applications or movies to individuals throughout the world. Already this company has hundreds of thousands of books and millions of tracks of music for sale. Accessibility of the content and the distribution process is a commitment of this company, and it will remain one. Ray Kurzweil is chairman of the board, and Jim Gashel is the person with the responsibility for testing accessibility of all products at Media Arc. I serve as a member of the board of directors.
Our influence in matters involving disability has been recognized not only in the United States but in other nations as well. I was invited to deliver an address at an Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University conference entitled the “First International Conference on Technology for Helping People with Special Needs” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The topic was technology that helps disabled people. Although tools are useful, the people who use them are more important than the tools themselves. Consequently, my inability to build technology did not inhibit the presentation significantly. If the people who use the tools will make dramatic contributions to a society, it is important to assure that those people have the best tools. Blind people are participants in our society, and we expect our tools to be top notch. This is the message delivered at Imam University.
Once again this year the National Federation of the Blind participated in the quadrennial convention of the World Blind Union. Held in Bangkok, Thailand, this meeting elected one of our own, Fred Schroeder, to serve as first vice president of the world organization. Dr. Schroeder, who has served as the highest government official in the United States dealing with rehabilitation of disabled people, had already been representing the National Federation of the Blind (and sometimes the World Blind Union) in international negotiations. Dr. Schroeder brings the spirit of independence that we know in the National Federation of the Blind to blind people around the world.
The National Federation of the Blind successfully fought for the passage of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. On January 15, 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its proposed regulations to implement this law, which requires that new vehicle technologies, such as hybrid and electric engines, will be audibly detectable by pedestrians. We have been working closely with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to support the proposed regulations. The manufacturers are resisting the proposal that the emission of sound remain active while a vehicle is stationary and that the sound continue until a vehicle reaches a speed of eighteen miles an hour. We believe that these regulations will remain in substantially the form they currently exist when they are finally adopted. The significance of these regulations is enhanced because they will serve as a model for similar regulations adopted worldwide when the United Nations creates a world standard governing vehicle sound to protect pedestrians. Fred Schroeder and John Paré are serving as our primary negotiators in Geneva and other parts of the world.
Several years ago, while I was planning the national convention, I asked several of my colleagues to tell me who was providing leadership in education of blind students in the United States. My question met a profound silence. Although many dramatically-committed well-educated teachers can be found, school districts where systematic top-quality education of blind students occurs are not numerous. Consequently, the National Federation of the Blind began to address topics in the area of education for the blind. We have created many programs and stimulated a lot of education since that conversation took place.
In July 2012, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute hosted a new program, NFB Project Innovation. The program served twenty junior innovators from grades 3-6 and ten senior innovators from high school. Each of the thirty students designed a science project to answer a question intriguing to the student. As a result, at NFB Project Innovation we had thirty unique scientific inquiries taking place. It's not often that blind students get to tell the teachers what they are going to learn on a given day, and it's not often that blind students get to teach others. Both things happened at our program, and the students left knowing not only that they can do science but that they have the ability to teach others to know that they (and people like them) can also do science.
Our BELL program, Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning, began in Maryland six years ago as a project of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. It has now expanded to nineteen states. We noticed that Braille is sometimes hard to get and Braille instruction is even more difficult to find than Braille. After years of demanding that the educational system give blind children Braille, we decided to undertake programs of our own. Some Braille instructors in public schools believe that learning the Braille code should require a desultory teaching schedule of two years or longer. We are not limited by the disadvantages of low expectations that some of these teachers have. We know that Braille can be learned much more quickly than some of them believe possible, and we also know that reading it can be a lot of fun. As we have said more than once, if the schools will not teach our children, we will do it ourselves, and we will do it in Braille.
Integrating Print and Braille: A Recipe for Literacy is a free electronic book for parents and teachers. Edited by Sharon Maneki, it shares practical wisdom about techniques and strategies for teaching and learning print and Braille together to achieve literacy. Two examples of chapter topics are “Enhancing Vision Through Touch” and “Creating the Dual Media Integration Plan.” We give these books away. You can get a downloadable version on our Web site.
In September of 2012, blind people, university faculty, teachers, and others interested in Braille instruction gathered for the NFB Braille Symposium to discuss the most innovative work being done to provide high-quality Braille instruction to blind children and adults. One of the presentations, delivered by Emily Wharton, an instructor at BLIND Inc., of Minneapolis, Minnesota, indicated extraordinary success in teaching Braille by combining Braille itself with additional instruction in technology. The techniques developed for classes directed by Emily Wharton have won an award from National Braille Press. Braille is, of course, a tactile form of reading. Other presentations during the symposium indicated that it can be incorporated into tactile instruction with three-dimensional printing. Instruction in science, in geography, or in other classes that require illustrations can be enhanced by Braille, by modified tactile forms that incorporate Braille, or by three-dimensional structures that stimulate learning in connection with Braille. As the medium of tactile instruction expands, methods for creating additional symbol sets that can be incorporated into Braille are needed. This also was a subtext for the Braille Symposium.
In April of 2013 the Federation hosted its first-ever tactile graphics conference. With thirty-four sessions and 120 participants from fourteen countries, the conference covered expanding education through tactile learning. Numerous methods for creating high-quality graphic presentations were described from three-dimensional printing systems to creating artifacts with milling machines. How do blind people appreciate shadows, the difference in perceived shades of color, and perspective—the change in the perceived size of an object with distance? All of these elements are important in appreciating visual illustration, and tactile graphics must find a way to reflect this knowledge. All of this was part of our tactile graphics conference. We are using what we learned in this conference to create models of claws from the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex that we will be using in science classes later this summer.
Congressman Gregg Harper, who will be with us later during this convention, introduced the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act of 2013, HR 831, on February 27, 2013. This legislation, once enacted, will immediately discontinue the issuance of new Special “Subminimum” Wage Certificates; phase out the use of existing certificates over a three-year period; and repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the legal provision that authorizes subminimum wages for disabled Americans. The special wage certificate is a document issued by the Department of Labor authorizing a particular employer to pay disabled Americans wages below the federally-guaranteed minimum. We have made significant progress toward the passage of this legislation. More than three dozen members of Congress have cosponsored it. Over fifty organizations of people with disabilities support the passage of this legislation. A number of employers that formerly paid subminimum wages to workers with disabilities have also indicated their support.
Goodwill Industries is one of the largest entities that pays disabled workers less than the minimum wage. We conducted protests against this unconscionable practice in front of ninety-two Goodwill thrift stores across the country, and we called upon the public to boycott Goodwill Industries. We distributed press releases about our support for the fair wages bill to the media. We distributed press releases about the unfair working conditions at Goodwill to the media. We distributed press releases about our public protests regarding the unconscionable wage practices at Goodwill to the media. Reporters at NBC read them. NBC’s Rock Center interviewed me, other Federationists, and dozens of other people for a major story about subminimum wage payments at Goodwill in the United States. A major nationwide news story, which was also carried by numerous NBC affiliates on the nightly news, appeared on Rock Center Friday, June 21, 2013. NBC reported that workers at Goodwill are receiving as little as 22 cents an hour.
The Goodwill CEO, who was also interviewed, offered the opinion of Goodwill that wages are not the important part of employment for workers with disabilities. He said, "It's typically not about their livelihood. It's about their fulfillment. It's about being a part of something, and it's probably a small part of their overall program."
At 22 cents an hour, it must be admitted that this assessment is correct. It is a small part of whatever program these disabled workers have. A full year’s employment at this rate comes to $457.60. A story released by NBC that is associated with the broadcast reveals that the most recent public statistics indicate that the CEO received annual compensation of $729,000. This particular CEO is a blind person, but of course, wages are not the important part of employment of disabled workers.
We prepared a digital news release for a satellite tour to be presented in conjunction with the NBC story. Now it is up to us to ensure that each member of Congress is aware of this unfair, discriminatory, and unconscionable practice, so that they vote to pass the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions is preparing to introduce legislation to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which includes the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act. Proposed new Section 511 of this act delineates the mechanism required for rehabilitation counselors to shove their clients into subminimum wage jobs. The last time this legislation was proposed, members of the committee refused to discuss Section 511 with us. Because they would not discuss it with us, we conducted protests at the district offices of Senate Committee members to express our vehement opposition to the language in Section 511. As I was preparing for our 2013 convention, this bill was again being circulated with precisely the same language included in it. This outrageous proposal was unfair the last time, and it is just as unfair today. We are not prepared to tolerate added legal authority to discriminate against disabled Americans. We will stand in the streets if we must; we will block the corridors of power if no other way exists to get this message across; we will talk if we can, but we will fight if no other avenue exists for us to challenge a declaration in law that disabled Americans are a subclass with subnormal rights—not entitled to the same protection available to everybody else.
The United States military currently operates a program known as Space Available, which allows military personnel to fly on military aircraft if there is room. Although retired military personnel are entitled to fly on these planes, individuals who became disabled in the service but were mustered out without being eligible for retirement cannot. The National Federation of the Blind has proposed legislation to permit men and women disabled in the service to gain access to the program. The House of Representatives has adopted our proposal, and fourteen Senators are co-sponsoring it. We expect this legislation, which has been incorporated within the National Defense Authorization Act, to reach the desk of the President of the United States within the next few weeks.
In September of 2012, Federation leaders met at our headquarters to discuss education reform. One of the action items that came from this meeting was ensuring that e-books, digital libraries, Web sites, and other electronic instructional materials would become fully accessible to blind students. Working with the Association of American Publishers, we drafted the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education (TEACH) Act. We have reason to believe that sponsors of this legislation will introduce it in the House of Representatives within the next few weeks. The president of the Association of American Publishers will be with us at this convention to talk about the work we are doing together to increase opportunities for the blind and print disabled.
On April 18, 2013, we welcomed to the Jernigan Institute 176 participants for the sixth Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. Over ninety academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations were represented. The keynote speaker, Rebecca Bond, chief of the United States Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, indicated that equal opportunity for disabled Americans is a commitment of the Department of Justice. In interpreting the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court has stated that segregation is evidence of discrimination. The decision of the court had been applied to housing, but presentations at the Symposium indicated that it also applies to sheltered employment. Another important topic presented by Dan Goldstein, counsel for the National Federation of the Blind, and Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, concerned Web sites as places of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation may not be constructed in a fashion that will discriminate against disabled individuals. The first case to address the topic was brought by the National Federation of the Blind against the Target Corporation. As you know, that lawsuit was successful. All of this represents the work we are doing with our Law Symposium to expand recognition of civil rights for disabled Americans.
This year we reached an historical agreement with Monster to make its Web site, phone apps, and mobile apps accessible. We were assisted in our negotiations by the attorney general of the state of Massachusetts, who is most understanding of the need for equal access to information. However, I want to be clear that when the problem was brought to the attention of Monster, officials at the company wanted very much to find ways of solving the problems we had identified. You will hear the details about this agreement from Monster itself, the title sponsor of this year’s convention.
Last year I reported to you about our victory for Hank Miller. Preventing him from receiving instruction in Braille denied him a free and appropriate public education. The school district is responsible for its bias against Braille, but officials in the district were aided and abetted in their unlawful behavior by officials of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. I am glad to say that we who funded the Hank Miller case will be reimbursed for our lawyer costs and expert witness fees. The first check for $175,000 arrived earlier this year, and the total will be $300,000.
Travis Moses serves as president of the Montana affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. He was also a student at the University of Montana, where he faced numerous instances of discrimination because he did not have equal access to information. His textbooks and the learning management software used at the university were both inaccessible. Because he was not able to succeed at the university with these barriers as obstacles, Travis Moses came to us for help, and we secured an agreement with the University. He will have equal access to technology, access to digital content in all of his classes, access to course management software, reimbursement for expenses he paid for matriculation while the University was inaccessible to him, and a new advisor—one without a built-in bias against the blind. The National Federation of the Blind will receive 100 percent of the fees spent on behalf of Travis Moses. However, this is not the complete report. The University of Montana has recognized that it must be accessible to blind students. It is cooperating to complete a broad-scale agreement that addresses the systemic problems of inaccessible technology on campus. George Kerscher, a blind Montanan and member of the Federation, who was unable to get his texts at the University of Montana in 1988, has been hired by the University to offer guidance on how to remove technology barriers in Montana.
We were surprised to learn after last year’s convention that a company called Courseload, working with others, was conducting a pilot program of completely inaccessible textbooks on college campuses. The surprise came when we learned that Courseload claimed to be working with us and that officials of the company believed a pilot program is exempt from the law. We explained to Courseload, to its partners, and to the field of education that we had not been working with Courseload and that we did not believe pilot programs are exempt. Although Courseload did not seem impressed by our explanations, its partners understood what we were saying. Courseload has been replaced with a vendor whose books are accessible to the blind.
Getting a job, getting out of college and into graduate school, getting out of graduate school and into employment, all require testing. Last year, I reported to you about our lawsuits involving the bar exam. We won, the applicants were permitted to take the exams, and we received dramatic payments for our attorney’s fees and costs. The National Conference of Bar Examiners has recently announced that it will no longer oppose the practice of blind persons’ using screen readers to take its tests.
However, there are other tests. PearsonVue provides many of them. Over the last two years, we have received a number of complaints that PearsonVue’s software did not allow blind applicants easily to take its tests. Each one of those complaints has been resolved successfully. We have been working with PearsonVue to remove all of the barriers in their exams.
Today most job tests are administered online, and most are offered by two companies, Kenexa, now owned by IBM, and Taleo, now owned by Oracle. Both offer inaccessible tests. We have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for Eric Patterson against an employment agency using Kenexa’s inaccessible tests, and we will be filing more of them this summer.
Kathy Roskos is a totally blind Florida student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Argosy University. She planned to take several standardized college-level examinations to test out of certain classes. When she applied to take the first examination, she was told that the exam is not offered in Braille and that she could only choose between a human reader and large print. Keep in mind that she is totally blind. She took the first exam with a reader and managed to pass. The second exam contained complex equations and charts, which the sighted reader, who had less education than Ms. Roskos, could not read. Because the information in the testing documents was unavailable to her, Ms. Roskos failed. We have assisted with negotiations with the College Board, which offers the examinations. They have agreed to provide all of the examinations to Ms. Roskos in Braille. They have also cooperated with us to improve the accommodations process for blind test takers for all of the tests they offer.
Many cities are now requiring that taxi cabs have touch screens in the back seat so that passengers (at least passengers who can see) can pay for their rides. Some cities prohibit drivers from taking cash or credit cards from passengers. The blind passenger who enters a taxicab with cash and credit cards to pay for the trip arrives at a destination. The passenger cannot use the technology installed in the cab, and the driver is prohibited from taking the cash or managing the transaction using the credit card of the passenger. One of the largest developers of taxi touchscreen technology is CMT, which has worked with us to build an accessible solution. However, VeriFone, another developer of this technology, has refused to do so.
Last summer, the District of Columbia awarded a contract to VeriFone to install its passenger service units in every single taxi cab in the District of Columbia, some 6,500 vehicles. The contract VeriFone signed with the District stated that it would make the units accessible to the blind. However, VeriFone had no plans to achieve accessibility, and its machines failed the accessibility test. Consequently, we fought the implementation of this VeriFone contract. In November of 2012, the D.C. Contract Appeals Board threw out the VeriFone contract and ordered the District to seek another bid.
VeriFone has been installing thousands of inaccessible touch screen units in taxicabs in Boston. We have filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. Mika Pyyhkala is one of the complainants. He will be a star witness on the side of effective accessibility.
Kenneth Agni was a student at the State University of New York–Westchester Community College where he was pursuing his bachelor’s degree. He enrolled in an anatomy and physiology class, which included a lab that required use of a microscope. Mr. Agni requested as an accommodation a sighted lab assistant to describe the visual information displayed in the microscope. The college not only denied his request but told Mr. Agni that because he could not see the specimens in the microscope, he could not fulfill the course requirements. Officials at the college withdrew him from the class, without discussion and without his consent. Mr. Agni filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. The Office for Civil Rights agreed with the college. Blind students, they said, cannot study science because they are blind. When we heard this much, we became a part of the case. We filed an appeal. It is obvious that the Office for Civil Rights is wrong. The thousands of blind people practicing in scientific disciplines all over America demonstrate this. It is hard to imagine how the Office for Civil Rights could come to this conclusion. Did they not ask any questions about the other blind scientists working in our country? We will produce the evidence that we have the ability to be a part of this intellectual community, and we expect to win.
We continue to give free white canes to blind people in the United States—30,065 of them since the program began, and 7,226 in the last year. Many of the people who have received their canes came to our headquarters to get them. More than 3,500 visitors arrived at our Jernigan Institute during the last year.
We continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, in which we have added fifty-eight new products during the past year. The overhaul of this center is now complete, with all sixteen testing computers being replaced and the Brailling area refurbished. Our technology experts made dozens of presentations to entities as diverse as the Interactive Learning Forum sponsored by Tata Motors; the Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meeting; the California State University, Northridge, CSUN Conference; and the M-Enabling Summit.
Our bulletin board, NFBnet.org, hosts 172 public listservs and 35 Web sites for divisions, chapters, and affiliates of the Federation. We manage approximately twenty-five thousand e-mails a day. Our discussion lists now live in the “cloud.” Topics covered on our lists include classic cars, blind public employees, guide dogs, blind musicians, origami for blind people, blind student matters, and quiet cars.
During the last year we have had a diminution in the amount of our fundraising, which has required reconsideration of our programs, our management, and our fund generation projects. We are doing things differently from the way we did a year ago, but we are pursuing the same goals that we had in the past with the same vigor and the same spirit. We have also initiated new programs to attempt to address the revenue shortfall. Some of these are internal, including a committee of our staff members seeking to find ways to generate funds. Some of them are external. Car donations are being accepted by the Federation through an initiative recommended by our Colorado affiliate leadership and managed by Joanne Wilson. Although many people accept automobiles in their fundraising programs, we have the significant advantage that our chapter members cover the nation. Through our own friends and acquaintances, we can stimulate the donation of automobiles and other vehicles to support our work.
Another effort recently undertaken is our collaboration with a company named GreenDrop that solicits donations for 2nd Ave Value Stores. Currently being conducted in seven states and the District of Columbia, this program is also being supervised by Joanne Wilson.
More than seven decades ago a handful of blind people brought our Federation into being. At the beginning it was tiny, and although many plans were proposed, the resources to put them into effect did not exist. Our organization advanced primarily on hope and such meager contributions as those who participated in it could afford to make. Today the difference is startling. We have hundreds of programs and the capacity to create more of them.
When I come to the convention, I know that we must find a way to cause greater opportunity to come to individual blind people than has been true for us in the past, but I also know that we will do it. We have programs, financial resources, facilities, influential supporters, and technologies that we have built or caused others to create. But the most important thing we have is each other and the faith that we inspire in ourselves to use our strength for a common purpose and a shared goal. We have promised that we will believe in each other, and we always keep our promises. Our spirit makes us what we are, and our combined energy comes from the spirit that lives in the hearts of each of us. This spirit is unquenchable, and because it is, our future is assured. This is what you my friends in the Federation have told me; this is what I have come to know in the depth of my being from listening to you; and this is my report for 2013.