American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2021      NOPBC CONFERENCE

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Kid Talk

by Mark Riccobono

Mark Riccobono answers questions from children at the 2019 NFB National Convention.From the Editor: By longstanding tradition the NFB President meets and talks with children at the opening of the NOPBC conference. When convention takes place face-to-face, the children form a circle around the president, with everyone seated on the floor at the front of the room. The NOPBC conference was virtual in 2021, but the tradition continued. This year President Mark Riccobono met with the children on Zoom.

Mark Riccobono: It's a pleasure to be with the Federation family this afternoon. The National Federation of the Blind is truly a family, and we take that very seriously. Yesterday one of our sponsors, who has been coming to Federation conventions for well over two decades, related the story of bringing his own children to convention in the late 1990s. He talked about the transformational experience of having his sighted children take part in NFB Camp and the difference it made in their understanding of the world and the barriers that people face.

Family is especially important in these times when we're still distant. We're coming out of social isolation, but it's going to take time for us all to reintegrate. I just booked a plane ticket for August. I haven't flown since February of last year! Hard to believe! Convention is one of the times we bring people together.

I'd love to take questions from any kids who might be listening. Are there any kiddos tuned in who would like to ask questions?

Raise your hand and one of our hosts will call on you.

Donna: Are there any fun educational ways to learn Braille?

Mark Riccobono: Sure. Do you know about our Bell® Academy? Some spots are still open in our Bell Academy In-Home Edition, which is a virtual program. Through our partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, we make lots of Braille books available for free. Visit to find these resources.

Another great way to work on Braille skills is by playing games. I'm partial to Uno; it's the only Braille game I myself helped to bring to the store shelves. Lots of games can be Brailled. In our household, if we want to play a game, we figure out how to Braille it.

Harley: Are there Braille books in public libraries?

Mark Riccobono: Great question! There aren't many yet. I'd encourage you to sign up at your local public library and tell them you want Braille books. They'll probably send you to the state library for the blind, and that's a great place to connect with. But libraries respond to the demands they get. I think we should tell our public libraries we want them to have Braille books.

The National Library Service (NLS) is starting to distribute refreshable Braille displays. You could use that device connected to an iPad to access electronic books from your public library and read them in refreshable Braille. A really cool thing about refreshable Braille displays is that we can now get content from public libraries, assuming they use one of the ebook providers that is accessible. The more you ask libraries about Braille books, the more they'll know there's a demand for them.

Donna: Are there any fun educational apps that can help kids learn Braille?

Mark Riccobono: I don't know that there are any kid-oriented Braille apps yet. We have certainly encouraged some to be made. There are some apps for teachers, but unfortunately they're visually based. We definitely need fun, kid-friendly apps to promote Braille.

Eric: Is there a link for getting the Braille display?

Mark Riccobono: It depends on your state. If you ask your state NLS library about the refreshable Braille display, you can find out whether your state is part of the pilot program. Even if your state isn't in the program yet, ask anyway. Tell your library that you've heard the government has these refreshable Braille devices and you really, really want one. Say you want them to create a waiting list. Tell them you're going to call every week about it. We want the libraries at the local level to tell the National Library Service that people want these devices.

Thank you for your questions. We've all lived through an interesting time with the pandemic. Experiences like what we've all lived through create opportunities to innovate. I encourage all blind youth to adopt that mindset. I'm sure that many or maybe all of you out there found opportunities to create new things out of the situation we faced. In difficult times those who thrive are those who adapt, create, and innovate out of the circumstances they're given.

I was used to traveling several times a month. Now that I can't do that, I've notched up making sure I get in my ten thousand steps a day. I've discovered new things in my back yard in South Baltimore because I decided to adapt and not be controlled by my circumstances. That's an important life lesson we all need to take to heart, and it's something every successful blind person will tell you. The power is within you to determine what your future is. No matter what circumstances you face, the power is within you to overcome them—and the National Federation of the Blind has your back.

I look forward to the time when we can get together in person again, sit on the floor and chat. Know we continue to work for all of our families of blind children to raise expectations, to change what it means to be blind, to fight the artificial barriers in our education system, and to make sure that all of us can move forward together. Thank you, Carlton, and to our parents, for the opportunity to be here with you!

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