June 2024

President’s Letter

Dear Friends,

Let me start this newsletter by wishing you a happy Pride month. This is a good time to celebrate the diversity within our movement. It is our diversity that helps us to advocate for all blind people in the United States. It is especially appropriate as we head into our national convention—the most diverse gathering of blind people. We just hosted our first IEP Advocacy Academy here at the Jernigan institute so I thought I might share thoughts on advocacy with you this month. 

What makes someone a good advocate? Primarily, a good self-advocate makes a more effective advocate for others. Someone must be willing to advocate for themselves and to become the best that they can be to excel when advocating for others.

An advocate must believe in the people they support. For example, an IEP advocate must believe in the ability of blind students and the parents they assist. A deep understanding of how low expectations of blind people create obstacles between blind people and their dreams is essential. Another important skill is the ability to read a room: know when to say thanks, recognize allies, and understand when a persuasive nudge or even a polite yet persistent push will help achieve our goals. 

These are skills that we must develop as blind people because we are constantly confronted with situations in which we need to decide how hard to push against the low expectations we encounter. Travel through airports is one of those areas. I learned this on my way to my very first convention of the Federation in 1996. Although I was days away from my 20th birthday, I was treated like an unaccompanied minor simply because I was blind. That is a story for another day.

I hope that you will join us at our 2024 National Convention in Orlando. If you cannot be with us in-person, please join our 2024 National Convention virtual experience. Safe travels this summer and keep advocating for equality. 

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind

Advocating for Equal Rights in the Air

The National Federation of the Blind advocates on many fronts. One of the most long-standing and vexing arenas we enter involves air travel. For decades the Federation has worked to champion issues like the right for blind people to travel together on the same flight, seating assignments, the right to travel with a long white cane or a guide dog, and more. We seek dignity and equal treatment. Recently guide dog handlers have been denied travel because of a sometimes-confusing initiative requiring registration of service animals before each flight--often by using inaccessible forms. Last month the FAA Reauthorization Act passed, and, because of our work, it includes provisions which should benefit blind and other disabled passengers including:

  • Training requirements for assisting passengers with disabilities.
  • Better access standards for the accessibility of in-flight entertainment.
  • Improved access to airline websites.
  • A pilot program for air passengers to register their service animal, eliminating the need to complete the service animal forms for each flight.

Blind people frequently share stories about frustrating travel experiences:

“My recent experience with American Airlines shows some of the issues that blind passengers encounter. My girlfriend and I were travelling together, both using long-white canes. When I approached the gate at DFW to get a seat assignment, a gate agent insisted that I was on standby and would be assisted after others. I explained that I was a ticketed passenger with no seat assigned yet which is not the same as standby. She relented and gave me a seat assignment, but when I asked her what that assignment was, she appeared aggravated and told me to look at my boarding pass. When I again asked, she simply pointed, ‘it’s right there. Just look.’

I wore glasses which may have confused her, but this is a good example of why personnel need training. Our white canes should indicate that reading a printed boarding pass visually might pose a barrier, and gate agents will respond better if they understand that blind people sometimes have some residual vision.” - Justin

Search the Braille Monitor archives to learn more about air travel and the blind and for a more historical perspective, pay special attention to the August-September 1985 issue of the Braille Monitor, which includes reprints of speeches delivered at the 1985 National Convention.

Latest News at the NFB

Blind Patient, National Federation of the Blind, and MinuteClinic Enter into Agreement

MinuteClinic, the retail medical clinic located inside CVS Pharmacy, will work with the Federation to implement an accessible self-check-in process. After voluntarily participating in a structured negotiations process, MinuteClinic proposed that it would phase out existing devices with an accessible alternative. MinuteClinic may decide to replace the kiosks at some locations with a receptionist or a person in a similar administrative role to assist all patients, including the blind.

The agreement sets the kiosk phase-out and replacement period at eighteen months and stipulates that the accessible alternative shall “afford blind individuals an opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a sighted individual in an equally effective, equally private and independent, and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use.” MinuteClinic will collaborate with the Federation on the development and testing of the accessible alternative. Read more about the MinuteClinic agreement.

Scholarship Finalists Announced

Each year the Federation awards thirty merit-based scholarships based on academic excellence and leadership. The 2024 finalists were recently announced, each of whom will receive 8,000 dollars after actively participating in the 2024 National Convention where they will be mentored by blind leaders. Find out who our thirty 2024 scholarship finalists are

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Applauded for New Accessibility Rule

The National Federation of the Blind applauds the United States Department of Health and Human Services for finalizing its accessibility rule for programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This new rule will ensure that the blind and other Americans with disabilities have equal access to information, programs, and services.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance as well as in programs and activities conducted by any Federal agency. More about U.S. HHS final accessibility rule.

Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act Joint Letter Sent to Congressional Committees 

President Riccobono and Richard Belden, the president of SourceAmerica, sent a joint letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Labor Committees. The letter expressed support for the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (H.R. 1263/S. 533). The letter concluded: “It is long past the time for our nation to move beyond this outdated model of disability employment, and into a new era of competitive and integrated employment for all.”

NFB Comments on the Department of Transportation Air Travel Service Animal Attestation Form Renewal

We submitted comments to the Department of Transportation regarding the department’s renewal of the air travel service animal attestation forms. Our comments made it clear that we oppose these forms because they are not based in law, and they pose an undue burden. 

Take Action This Month

Throughout our local chapters and state affiliates to our national headquarters and diverse committees, the National Federation of the Blind is an organization of collective action. Here’s what you can do to get involved this month.

Important Dates

We certainly are a busy organization. Don’t miss these upcoming events, workshops, and deadlines.