History and Governance

The National Federation of the Blind was founded November 16, 1940, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Everybody who came wanted to have a national organization. It wasn’t a matter of some people having the idea and converting others. The only discussion really was over the mechanics of it and how to implement it, set it up. But everybody was agreed, apparently, before arriving, that the time had come to set up a national organization. — Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, 1955

Jacobus tenBroek portrait in black and white.Blind people from seven states—California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—attended that first meeting, which was held at the Redington Hotel in Wilkes-Barre, and successfully drafted a constitution for what would become the first national organization of the blind. 

The original constitution stated that the purpose of the NFB would be to "promote the economic and social welfare of the blind." Additionally, a major emphasis of the organization would be to influence national policy in Washington, DC. 

The NFB was founded on the guiding principles that blind people have an inalienable right to independence, that blind people have equal capacity, and that only blind people themselves can legitimately speak for the blind community. These principles have continually permeated the membership and structure of our ever-growing organization.

Today, the NFB is the largest organization of blind people in the United States. 

National, state, and local officers are elected by our members to ensure a representative form of government. This ensures that, as blind people, we can drive our own collective action and determine our own future, rather than relying on others to advocate for us. 

The main components of our structure are listed in our constitution (i.e., "Article V. Powers and Duties of the Convention, the Board of Directors, and the President"). In short, the national Convention is the central and foundational element of our organization. It is the Convention that elects our board of directors and our President

This structure at the national level is reflected in our state affiliates, where conventions of blind people set state policies and elect state leaders, including presidents. While the state affiliates must follow the policies and practices of the national organization, blind people in each state make independent decisions about the programmatic priorities and concerns in their local area.

Since 1940, we have worked collectively in a unified national organization, improving the lives of blind people throughout the country, and in some cases, the world. Along with high expectations and strong values, our structure continues to empower members of the National Federation of the Blind to live the lives we want.

For more information, we invite you to read Building the Lives We Want, a comprehensive ebook that was published as part of our seventy-fifth anniversary. You can also review our extensive timeline of the organized blind movement.