The below is a list of questions and answers about the National Federation of the Blind Code of Conduct. This FAQ addresses the process that is in place as of January 2022. As the Code of Conduct and reporting process are reviewed and changed, these questions and answers will be updated as quickly as possible to reflect any revisions that are made. All NFB programs and activities are expected to be free of misconduct and all leaders and members must promote a safe and welcoming environment.
If you have additional questions that are not addressed here, please write to [email protected]. Direct questions about topics surrounding sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse to our Survivors Group at [email protected]. Questions and concerns regarding discrimination and inequities can be directed to our Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at [email protected]. Feedback can always be directed to our national President at [email protected].
History and Development of the Code of Conduct
The National Federation of the Blind has long had a set of principles and expectations established by the membership for appropriate behavior within the movement. Sometimes these understandings have been written but often they have been communicated through discussions at meetings and conventions. In 2017, the President initiated a committee to create a clear written code of conduct to provide greater consistency throughout the movement. The committee researched codes, policies, and procedures of other membership organizations, asked for feedback and suggestions from Federation members, and researched legal requirements for such a code. The Federation’s Code of Conduct was first adopted by the NFB Board of Directors on January 26, 2018. Based on feedback from members and third-party consultants, refinements to the Code have been made many times since its initial adoption. The most recent enhancement to the Code was published on January 1, 2022.
What is the NFB Code of Conduct?
What is the purpose of the complaint process?
What types of matters are investigated through the complaint process?
Does the Code of Conduct apply to the three NFB-affiliated training centers?
If a leader of the Federation becomes aware of an vilation of the code where the survivor or other people involved do not want their personally identifiable information to be revealed, what should the responsible leader do?
How is the Code of Conduct reviewed and updated?
What happens with the committee’s findings?
How can I provide feedback on the NFB Code of Conduct and complaint process?
How do I file a complaint reporting misconduct?
May I have another person assist me in filing a complaint?
How long after an incident will the Federation accept a report?
May I file a complaint if I am a witness to misconduct?
May I file a complaint anonymously?
Who receives a complaint when it is filed?
When a violation of sexual misconduct is filed about an individual, who is notified?
When should I expect to hear from someone after filing a complaint?
What determines how a complaint will be investigated?
What is a mediation or internal investigation and who is involved?
Who negotiates mediation or internal investigations?
Are mediations and internal investigations outcomes tracked and documented?
Who is the external reviewer and what types of complaints do they investigate?
Who notifies the subject of the complaint and that they are required to participate in the formal review process?
Are outcomes of similar complaints taken into consideration when determining penalties for a current complaint?
Who reviews the external investigators report/recommendations and determines the outcome?
What are the possible outcomes of a complaint?
Why might there be a finding that the individual did not violate the Code of Conduct or otherwise did not engage in misconduct?
After the President issues his decision, are others notified?
May victims/survivors share the outcomes of their investigations with others?
Will participants in the complaint investigation be told the outcome?
How long will it take to hear the outcome of my complaint?
Can a decision be appealed by either party?
How does an individual file an appeal?
Is retaliation for participation in the Code of Conduct complaint process prohibited?
A: The NFB Code of Conduct outlines the policies and standards that all Federation members, employees, program participants, event attendees, contractors, and volunteers are required to follow. The Code of Conduct establishes the minimum standard of behavior and outlines the process for reporting violations of the Code of Conduct.
A: The purpose of the reporting process is twofold: to investigate and document allegations of violations to the NFB Code of Conduct and to provide resolution, including taking appropriate action when misconduct has occurred. The Federation’s Board of Directors is granted authority to take necessary actions to protect members of the organization by the Federation’s Constitution. For more information, read the statement of the board of directors regarding its management of the Code of Conduct.
A: A report may be filed of a violation of the Code of Conduct or other misconduct or inappropriate behavior by a member, employee, program participant, event attendee, contractor, and/or volunteer. Reports may be filed in the following areas:
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the use of demeaning, derogatory, or discriminatory language, action, or any other form of expression that marginalizes an individual or group. All violations are measured against our definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion (Section III).
- Discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, background, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics (Section IV).
- Harassment and retaliation including verbal, written, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion towards an individual because of their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by law and a) that has the purpose and effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment; b) has the purpose and effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s performance or involvement in the organization; or c) otherwise adversely affects an individual’s opportunities for participation/advancement in the organization. (Section IV)
- Sexual misconduct including sexual violence, abuse, and harassment of both criminal and non-criminal offenses (Section V).
- Social media and web policy (Section VI).
- Conflict of interest, including financial responsibility, political activity, receiving payment, and other activities involving Federation leaders (Section VII).
- Interaction with minors (those under age eighteen) (Section VIII).
- Alcohol and drug policy (Section IX).
- Other general principles including professionalism, accountability, transparency, and other behaviors not addressed in other sections of the Code of Conduct (Section X).
A: Yes, the Code of Conduct applies and the same reporting and investigative procedures are used. Beyond the processes the NFB acts on for Code violations, each training center has individual sets of policies based on state and employment procedures, so additional measures may be taken depending on the violation in question. Students and staff of NFB-affiliated training centers should engage the established processes at those centers whenever possible. In investigating a complaint, the NFB will coordinate with the executive director and, as necessary, the board of directors of the training center in question. Where a complaint involves sexual allegations of misconduct or sexual abuse, the NFB will use an external investigator. There are only three NFB-affiliated training centers, and they are the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and BLIND, Incorporated.
Q: If a leader of the Federation becomes aware of a violation of the code where the survivor or other people involved do not want their personally identifiable information to be revealed, what should the responsible leader do?
A. The responsible leader of the Federation should consult the document detailing guidance for responsible leaders. A critical part of preventing incidents is sharing information that might help identify harmful patterns of violations of the Code of Conduct. Sometimes it will not be possible to reveal names of people who have been impacted to protect their wishes or to prevent potential retaliation. Getting the data into the Code of Conduct process will help even if that information does not include any personally identifying details about the victim of an incident. Whenever possible, leaders should remind people that an obligation to report information may exist before sensitive details are shared with the leader.
A: The board of directors maintains responsibility for reviewing and updating the Code and commits to perform a review of the Code on at least an annual basis. In addition, the President appoints a Code of Conduct Review Committee that will review data and procedures regarding reports filed under this Code. The committee will monitor actions under this Code, gather feedback from the Federation community about the Code, assist in educating the community about the Code and related procedures, and make recommendations to the national board as needed. The NFB Board of Directors has also established a Survivor Group where additional feedback is collected.
A: The committee makes recommendations to the NFB Board of Directors. They vote on whether to adopt recommended changes.
A: Please send feedback using one of these four avenues:
- The Federation’s President always appreciates hearing feedback directly. You can send feedback to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314 and request an appointment with the President.
- Send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2475.
- Contact the Survivor Group at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2238.
- Contact the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee chairs at [email protected].
A: You can do so in one of several ways:
- Use the online Code of Conduct reporting form.
- Send an email to [email protected].
- Call the NFB voicemail box dedicated to Code of Conduct reporting at 410-659-9314, extension 2475.
- Give a verbal or written report to a designated responsible leader of the Federation. Responsible leaders include national board members, affiliate board members, local chapter or division board members, national division board members, Federation employees, and staff/board members of NFB-affiliated training centers.
Note: Anyone can help file a report for you.
A: Yes. You may obtain assistance from others such as (but not limited to) family members, affiliate leaders, or friends to complete and submit the form or start the reporting process. If you are unable to secure an advocate and would like one, you can email [email protected].
A: Except under exceptional circumstances, the Federation will accept reports for a period of five years from the date of the incident of misconduct prior to the filing of the report. However, when the report involves a minor, the Federation will accept a report filed within five years of the minor acquiring the age of eighteen. Regardless, individuals are encouraged to file reports as soon as possible and when it is safe and secure for the individual to do so.
A: Yes. A violation filed by a first-hand witness should include details about the person who performed the misconduct or behavior, the person who was harmed (if they have consented to their name being disclosed), and the behavior that is in conflict with the NFB Code of Conduct or illustrates misconduct.
A: Yes. Anonymous reports may be filed by a survivor/victim, a first-hand witness, or an elected leader in the Federation who feels it is important that the incident be documented. The report should include details about the person who performed the misconduct or behavior, the person who was harmed (if they have consented to their name being disclosed), and the behavior that is in conflict with the NFB Code of Conduct or illustrates misconduct. If the survivor/victim does not want to be named, then investigators may not be able to effectively resolve the incident given existing information. Regardless, it will be investigated as much as possible based on the information provided.
A: When reports are filed, the information is received by NFB’s legal counsel. The legal counsel then determines if the violation is related to sexual misconduct or other sections within the Code of Conduct. If sexual misconduct, all reports will be reviewed and investigated by the external investigator. If other forms of misconduct, the President and legal counsel will review, unless there is a conflict of interest. If there is a conflict of interest, then two officers of the Federation will review.
A: All reports of sexual misconduct are reviewed and investigated by the external investigator. The external investigator notifies the reporting party that the investigator will be conducting the investigation. Ideally this happens within seventy-two hours.
A: Within two to three (2-3) business days.
A: If the violation involves sexual misconduct or abuse, then the external investigator will manage the investigation. Reports involving other types of misconduct outlined in the Code are reviewed, investigated, and resolved through mediation or internal investigation efforts.
A: Reports that do not require external investigation and recommendations are typically those that relate to the business of the organization. Once legal counsel determines that the violation should be handled by Federation leaders, it is discussed with the President. These are typically disputes that can be mediated or allegations of inappropriate use of organizational resources. Matters of sexual misconduct and abuse will never be investigated internally by the organization. A mediation may include appointment of a neutral Federation leader to settle a dispute or appointment of a panel of members to investigate an internal matter. In all cases, a determination will be made to ensure no conflicts of interest exist.
A: Mediations and internal investigations will be assigned to appropriate individuals as determined by the organization’s President in consultation with the legal counsel unless one or both of these individuals have a conflict of interest. Frequently these complaints may be handled by a state affiliate’s board or other governing board applicable to the incident.
A: Yes, all reports filed through the Code of Conduct process whether handled externally or internally are tracked and documented.
A: The external reviewer investigates any violation describing sexual abuse or misconduct. The current external review firm is Tonya Baña LLC, which is based out of Baltimore, Maryland.
Q: Who notifies the subject of a report that an investigation is being initiated and the consequences of refusing to participate?
A: The external investigator will handle all communications for matters that are being actively investigated outside of the Federation. For mediations and internal investigations, an officer of the organization (e.g., president) or legal counsel will manage correspondence with relevant individuals. If the subject of a report refuses to participate in the investigatory process it will be extremely difficult to clear them of the reported violations. In those cases, the most likely outcome is for the Federation to issue a Suspension for failure to participate—meaning the individual will not be permitted to be active in the organization until they participate in the investigation.
Q: Are outcomes of similar violations taken into consideration when determining penalties for a current complaint?
A: Yes. Recommended penalties for a current violation may be measured against previous outcomes in similar incidents when determining final recommendations.
A: The report and findings of the external investigator are delivered to external legal counsel as well as a review committee of three board members. The review committee finalizes recommendations to the President, or another Federation officer if a conflict exists. The review committee is expected to complete its review and recommendations within seventy-two hours. The President has forty-eight hours to report to the review committee any reason that the final outcome will be different than the recommendations of the review committee. It is anticipated that only in extreme circumstances would the actions taken by the President be different than the recommendations of the review committee. Outcomes will be communicated to each of the individuals directly involved in a report by the President of the organization or by the external investigator if an individual has asked to remain anonymous.
A: There are several possible outcomes including verbal and/or written reprimand, required training, counseling, probation, suspension/expulsion from membership, and suspension/expulsion from leadership. Individuals may be required to provide documentation to demonstrate that they have met certain conditions before they can rejoin the organization, resume leadership responsibilities, or participate in any Federation activities. If the violation relates to specific events, the individual may also be banned from future participation in those events even if membership is restored. The constitution does not limit the range of sanctions the board might utilize.
Q: Why might there be a finding that the individual did not violate the Code of Conduct or otherwise did not engage in misconduct?
A: This may occur if there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the allegations or if critical witnesses and parties fail to participate in the investigation.
A: Depending on the circumstances, there will be times when others, including those in NFB leadership positions, will be notified of a decision. The board maintains a policy to guide who should be notified. Some examples include:
- Notification to certification boards and entities who require NFB and others to report adverse information about known certification holders;
- Notification to an affiliate president and state board of directors that a member is prohibited from working with or being around minors;
- Notification to the NFB Board of Directors or the leadership of a particular affiliate, training center, or national division that an individual has been suspended or expelled from the organization or has otherwise been disciplined.
A: The victim/survivor’s story belongs solely to them. The NFB supports the victim/survivor’s right to seek healing, including respect for a victim/survivor exercising many approaches to process the trauma and pain resulting from an incident. This may involve sharing any part of their story with others. The NFB only asks that confidentiality is respected throughout the investigation, but that does not jeopardize the right of victims/survivors to eventually share their own story.
A: The victim and the subject of the report will be told the outcome of the investigation. Witnesses will not be told the outcome of the investigation, nor will another reporter, unless they have a need to know as outlined here. On a need-to-know basis, and especially when the safety of members is a concern, affiliate presidents and other leaders will be told the outcome of the investigation, without naming the survivor/victim involved. The survivor/victim may choose to share that information independently.
A: Ordinarily, findings are issued sixty (60) days after the date the report is filed. However, other factors, such as law enforcement or third-party reviewers, may lengthen the time to conduct an investigation.
A: Yes, both the survivor/victim and the subject of the report may appeal a decision if they are not satisfied with the outcome. Such appeals should be filed directly with the President or the NFB Board of Directors.
A: The individual may appeal a decision by notifying the President or a member of the NFB Board of Directors in writing. This can come from the advocate, survivor/victim, or subject. The individual should state what is being appealed (decision and/or penalty), state why the initial decision is clearly unjust, and provide any supporting information.
A: Yes. Retaliation for reporting a Code of Conduct violation or other misconduct, or for participating in anyway in the Code of Conduct process, is prohibited by the Code of Conduct.
Q: Can participants in the investigation share information about the issues in the report, the investigation, or the outcome with others?
A: Individuals in the process, including the investigatory committee, the victim, the subject of the report, and any witnesses, will be instructed to maintain confidentiality during the investigation so as not to influence the testimony of others and to preserve the privacy of all parties. In matters relating to sexual misconduct and abuse, it is up to the survivor/victim to share their own experiences as they choose, though the information shared throughout the investigation should be kept confidential until the process is completed in order to help the investigator obtain the best information. A survivor can be supported by an advocate of their choice at any time. The Federation will suggest an advocate if the survivor or victim may not have their own. To request an advocate, please email the Survivor Group at [email protected].
A: All individuals (volunteers, employees, and contractors) who work with minors in Federation programs are required to successfully complete background checks on an annual basis and be clear of Code of Conduct violations. All staff of the National Federation of the Blind and its three affiliated training centers are required to successfully complete background checks upon initial hiring and are typically rescreened periodically especially when working with youth. The frequency of the rescreening is dependent on local laws and policies.
If you have additional questions that are not addressed here, please write to [email protected]. Please send recommendations regarding how we can improve our processes or better support survivors of sexual misconduct and abuse to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2238. Questions and concerns regarding harassment and inequities can be directed to our Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at [email protected]. Feedback can always be directed to our national President at [email protected].