Presidential Release #469: February 2018 Transcript

Greetings, fellow federationists. Today is Thursday, February 1st, 2018, and this is presidential release number 469. We are right at the tail end of our 2018 Washington seminar. A few more Hill appointments happening today, and then we’ll be wrapping up our first phase of our legislative activity for this year. And what a great week it has been from the pre-meetings with affiliate presidents, and students, and merchants, and others, parents, our parent leadership program, providing leadership training and preparing to go on the Hill to the gathering in meeting at 5:00 on Monday, where we heard from Congressman Bill Arockus, and a number of federation programs were discussed.

To the great work we were able to do on the Hill this week, we’ve gotten a wonderful response in the first couple of days. We’ve gotten a number of co-sponsors, great support for our issues, and I want to extend my appreciation to all the members of the federation who were able to be with us in Washington to bring the power diversity of the federation, and the energy of our organization to Capitol Hill. It was a magnificent couple of days. The key, now, is for us to follow up in our local communities, and make sure the members of congress follow through on their commitments, or maybe they make a decision if they have not committed, so please be sure to do that.

Of course, we covered the issues last month on the release, and you can still find the fact sheets on the website. So there’s plenty of opportunity to discuss them in the chapter, and keep moving forward. I want to say a thing about our student division. Our student division has a great turnout at the Washington seminar. It was the highest attendance the students have had in a number of years. It’s a signal of growth within our student division, and within the federation. So I was very excited to notice the energy, growth, imagination of our student division.

We had a fantastic congressional reception at the Newseum in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, where we unveiled an exhibit, The Marines and Tet, an exhibit that's been put together by 3D PhotoWorks, and sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind’s Stars & Stripes magazine, which you can find on the National Federation of the Blind’s Newsline, and the Nikon camera company. This is a photo exhibit of 20 photos from the Vietnam War, specifically the Battle of Hue City, which happened right at this time 50 years ago in 1968. And the exhibit includes tactical renderings of the photographs, along with oral history descriptions that are really moving and powerful.

It's a great credit to the work of the National Federation of the Blind that we’ve been part of bringing this exhibit to the site. This is the most extensive exhibit anywhere in the United States on the Battle of Hue City from 1968. If you make it to Washington D.C., I encourage you to go the Newseum, to visit this exhibit. It’s only going to be there for six months. So if you find yourself there in the next six months, go to the Newseum. And it’s a wonderful museum, overall. They have a great commitment to accessibility and continuing to work with us.

All of their exhibits have Braille descriptions, a little book that describes the exhibit. And of course because it’s media-rich, it is very accessible in other ways. I am particularly impressed with their commitment to Braille. A lot of museums say, yeah, it’s nice that you say Braille is important, we’re just not gonna do that. And the Newseum is doing it. So great credit to the federation. If you get a chance to experience it, I highly encourage you to go. And I’m sure that we’ll be talking more about it at the national convention, and we’ll see if we can figure out a way to get this exhibit to be in other places across the country.

Since we’ve been working on Capitol Hill this week, I thought I’d talk on this release about the legal program of the National Federation of the Blind. We do extensive work in the legal area, demand letters and lawsuits of many kinds to help advance the mission of our organization. The goals of our legal program are to strategically use our legal experience to protect the rights of blind people, and to expand the rights of blind people. We don’t ask that blind people have greater rights than everyone else. We just want equality.

And in many places, we simple don’t have equality, whether it’s access to employment, or access to public services, or in our parental rights. And so we use our legal expertise to protect our rights, and gain back the rights that we should have as a matter of being a citizen of this great country. Another goal of our legal program is to have a systemic impact on areas where blind people are involved. So certainly this means impacting more than one blind person whenever possible, impacting a system, whether it’s a whole industry, a whole suite of technology, a particular job function.

We want to look for strategic opportunities so that when we take on a case, it has broad impact, even though there is often one or two blind people that kind of become the front face for those cases. We look for opportunities amongst the membership, where it’s going to have an impact for blind people all across the nation. Part of our legal program also is to give tools to members of the federation so that each and every one of us can be strong self-advocates. We get a lot done without using the legal tools we have because we empower members to understand the law, and understand how to advocate as individuals with the companies, or government agencies that we’re dealing with.

And that’s a very effective method for us because we simply can’t afford to take on every case that might be out there. And the stronger our advocates are at the grassroots level, the easier it is for us to make change using our legal tools. So if you have ideas about other self-advocacy tools, we can create or strengthen, please let me know. Also, the self-advocacy efforts help us to grow our network of friends who help us with the law. We can pull in folks that are experts on rehabilitation or other topics in local communities, and combine that with our advocacy expertise, and that just amplifies the work of our legal program.

Another component and goal in our legal program is to coordinate our legal efforts across the organization, so at all levels, chapters, affiliates in the national organization, and to coordinate with the other tools that we have to use as an organization. So relationship-building, how we organize at the local level. All of these things complement what we do with our legal program. And we spend a lot of time making sure that we’re using the right tool at the right time. Because our legal program has been so strong, we now have more credibility when we come into to try to build a relationship with a major corporation, or a government agency because they know that we have those legal tools in our back pocket, and we know how to use them. So, increasingly, people come to find more opportunities to work with us rather than avoid us.

We also coordinate across the federation in many other ways. There are areas of the law that the national organization coordinates, but doesn’t handle from the national office. Our National Association of Blind Merchants, for example, helps to manage a lot of the legal work we do around the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and protecting local business enterprise programs, and doing work on behalf of blind entrepreneurs across the country. We coordinate that work to make sure that is consistent, that we’re really serving NFB members. But the day-to-day is done through the leadership of our division, which gives us more capacity to make change across the country.

And, of course, one of the other areas where we have a lot of impact is that we coordinate with other lawyers who are out there on their work to make sure that they don’t make bad law, which – or bad legal precedent, which can really have a negative impact on our efforts. And to make sure that they’re using the expertise that we have, especially in cases, for example, with blind parents. A local lawyer might be the one working on it, but they’ve never met another blind person, so they – besides their client. So they don’t know what’s possible for blind parents, and what some of the pitfalls are in the law, and we can give them that technical expertise.

All of this is coordinated at the national level, and I have responsibility for the many dimensions of our legal program. We simply can’t take on every case out there, so we try to first empower our members to be self-advocates, and then look for cases that might have systemic impact, and that are in strategic areas of concern. If you have legal issues you’re running into, you should continue to raise them with us at the national level.

Valerie Yingling helps me coordinate our legal work, and I’m gonna give you her contact information in a moment. If you want to call with a legal concern, we can point you to the right resources, or potentially see if there’s someone else we can refer you to. And if it fits into one of our strategic priorities, we may be able to help at the national level. I do want to give another thumbs up to the members of the federation for the great work we did on our Uber and LYFT monitoring last year, as well as monitoring our Cardtronics ATMs.

The Uber and LYFT monitoring continues, so please continue to fill out the ride share form when you take an Uber or LYFT with someone who has a guide dog, or if you have a guide dog. Whether it was a good experience or bad experience, we need to continue to gather that data so we can hold Uber Abd LYFT accountable. That is also a part of our legal program. Very soon, we’ll be also monitoring Redbox. We have a nationwide class settlement with Redbox regarding accessibility of their kiosks that you often find in grocery stores.

This is an expansion of an agreement that already existed in California that benefited blind people. Some made an effort to take nationwide, and we got involved to avoid a very bad class deal being made. And we have now steered it to a place where real accessibility will happen; equal access will happen, and the members of the federation are going to need to monitor that. I don’t have time to go through all of our legal priorities, and certainly don’t have time to go through all the legal cases that we’re pursuing now.

There is one thing I do want to ask you to bring to our attention. And, by the way, one reason to call or email Valerie with a concern you’re dealing with is we gather a lot of data on the barriers that blind people are facing, even if we don’t take on those cases, so that we have some information when we strategically plan our legal priorities for the year, which we’ve just recently done for 2018. We’ve been working a lot with the Amazon company, and we’ve been talking to them recently about some employment situations that we’ve come across.

Earlier this week, we’ve signed an agreement with an NFB member from Massachusetts, who was discriminated against in an employment situation with Amazon. We know there are other people who have faced barriers in applying for jobs at Amazon. We would like to collect some more data. If you have applied for a job at Amazon, and faced barriers. If you’re thinking about applying for Amazon, go ahead and apply, and let us know what your experience is, good or bad.

We want to know what the employment experience is with the Amazon company amongst more people to understand how we can help guide Amazon in terms of making sure all of their employment procedures are fully and equally accessible to blind people. So if you’ve always wanted to apply, go apply because Amazon’s got lots of jobs out there. And, of course, it’s not just Amazon, it’s others. But we’re particularly focusing on Amazon right now based on some recent experiences. Please reach out to Valerie Yingling in our office here. Her last name is spelled Y-I-N-G-L-I-N-G. So her email address is V-Y-I-N-G-L-I-N-G, at NFB.org, or you can reach here at our main number, 410-659-9314 ext. 2440.

Last thing to mention on our legal program is we do have a new webpage for all of our legal activities, cases we’ve filed, amicus briefs that we’ve supported. We’re putting all this on the web at NFB.org/legal. This is a tremendous amount of information that could be beneficial to you in your local work, in your self-advocacy work, and in understanding the strategy of our legal program. So I’d refer you to that webpage. NFB.org/legal. Our legal program is something we should all be very proud of. It’s very effective, and it is an important part of our fulfillment of our mission of raising expectations and eliminating the obstacles between blind people and our dreams.

I guess one more legal note, we do have our 2018 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium coming up in March. This year’s theme is “50 years after tenBroek, the right to live in the world today and tomorrow.” Dr. tenBroek did pass away in the spring of 1968, so we’re coming up on 50 years. And the federation is continuing his legacy through our legal program. The law symposium this year will happen at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on March 22nd and 23rd. You can get more information online and you can register by visiting NFB.org/law-symposium.

If you have questions, please email LouAnn Blake at LBlake@NFB.org, or you can reach her at extension 2221, if you’re interested in the law. If you have lawyers in your local communities who you know are interested in disability rights, refer them to this one of a kind leading conference on disability rights happening right here at the National Federation of the Blind. The more people we get to know us in this space, the stronger our legal network is. I do have a few federation family notes this month.

Unfortunately, I have information about a number of federationists that have passed away in the last month. So I’m going to go through this list kind of quickly, and ask you to keep all of these individuals and their families in your thoughts and prayers. The first couple come from our Washington affiliate, where on January 18th, we lost Josie Armintrout. And on December 1st, we lost Duane Smith. Josie Armintrout was a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind when I was a student there. And Duane was a longtime chapter president, and member in Washington.

In Indiana, we lost James Hunt. James Hunt was only 42 years old. He was a member of the federation, and once served as an intern here at our national office. In our Maryland affiliate, we lost Ken Canninberry, a former chapter president in our Baltimore County chapter, and very involved with a number of projects here in Maryland. In Colorado, we lost Jan Triplet. And in Florida, we lost Tom Ryan, who also served as a chapter president for many years of our Broward County chapter in Florida, and we lost Dr. Bob Lessnee, who was a cited member of our organization, and orientation and mobility instructor. Finally, in New Mexico, Kate Ellis, who is president of our New Mexico student division reports that we lost Patrick Lopez.

I urge you to keep all of these federation members in your thoughts and prayers, and their families. Many of these individuals, I had the great fortune to know. Some of them, I did not know directly. I recognize that each and every one of them were helping to build our movement, and contributing to the work that we do. So I remember them on this presidential release. There’s a number of other things that I could have shared on this release. I encourage you to keep up with the Braille Monitor, and our e-newsletter, and what’s happening in our other communication streams.

We are still looking, of course, for scholarship applicants, and we’ve just released the information for our 2018 summer internship program, and we need ballot and award nominations. So there’s a lot more happening as we move through the remainder of the winter here in the National Federation of the Blind. As we come to the end of this release, I would remind each and every one of you that you’re welcome to send in contributions to the end of the presidential release, especially if they’re recorded by kids. I would appreciate them.

But if you just want to send in some of the customary endings, I have some kids that would be pleased to consider reading them. So here are some of the customary endings for February 2018. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.