Presidential Release #470: March 2018 Transcript

Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, March 1, 2018, and this is Presidential Release Number 470. Today being March 1st, this is the first day of pre-registration for the National Federation of the Blind 2018 Annual Convention, which will be in Orlando, Florida from July 3 to July 8.  You can register online by going to NFB.org/convention, NFB.org/convention. That’s our National Convention page. You can get all of the information about the convention, our information about our guide for first timers, our sponsors, our sponsor information packet, our exhibitor information, and you can find the link to register for the convention. I urge you to pre-register so that you don’t have to wait in lines at the convention. You can just come and enjoy the convention, pick up your packet, and go. The pre-registration cost this year is $25.00, and the banquet cost is $65.00.  Each of those will be $5.00 more after May 31st, actually, after May 31st you can only then register at the convention.  I urge you to be with the Federation family at our 2018 Convention and I urge you to pre-register.  It helps the operation run more smoothly.  It saves you some time, saves you some dollars, and it allows us to do adequate planning for the Convention. I'm looking forward to the Convention this summer and I invite you, again, to share with me ideas about speakers, or items we should have for the general sessions.  I know a lot of requests are already rolling in for meetings and exciting things happening at the 2018 Convention, our last year in Orlando for some time to come probably, so please, pre-register. Be with us in Orlando.

The last month has been quite busy in the Federation. One of the things we’ve been working on – we talked about it on the last release and at our Washington Seminars, the fact that Delta Airlines came out, announced a policy that they were going to require individuals traveling with guide dogs to give 48 hours’ notice that they were traveling with a guide dog and other things, really burdensome policies that were going to make it difficult for members of the Federation who use guide dogs. We engaged with Delta to get the real story before we urged people to go to the Department of Transportation or anything else and we had a meeting with Delta. That meeting had not yet happened when we had the last Presidential Release. That meeting has now happened. We have worked with them in some follow-up meetings and Delta has changed its policy that is now in effect as of March 1st, stripping away the burdensome requirements that they had said they were going to put on blind people who use guide dogs.  We are continuing to work with Delta around some of the issues that arise from the airlines having to deal with this area of emotional support animals. Our goal, of course, is to protect the rights of guide dog users, to not step on the rights of others, but to make sure that the rights of blind people are protected and that artificial barriers aren’t put in our way, especially as it comes to travel.

This is a definite victory for the work of the National Federation of the Blind in partnership with our National Division, the National Association of Guide Dog Users. We’ve gotten to a good place with Delta. We’re going to be having more meetings to help guide them on what their policies should be going forward, and this will be an opportunity also for us to make sure that other airlines continue to do right by travelers who are blind, as it relates to their service animals. As every blind person knows who has traveled through an airport, it’s an uncertain experience the kind of treatment you’re going to get from TSA or the particular airline you’re dealing with, or personnel at the airport, so we continue to work to raise expectations and make sure that the policies that are implemented to protect passengers do not diminish the rights, and responsibilities for that matter, of blind people whether they use guide dogs or travel with their cane and that sort of thing. So congratulations to us on the Delta victory. You can get more information about that at the Delta website and I'm sure we’ll be talking more about it.

During the Washington Seminar the AIRA Corporation, who sells a service to give people a pair of glasses that can connect you to an agent and get you access to other information announced that there is a special exclusive pricing for members of the National Federation of the Blind.  AIRA exclusive plan for NFB members is available to new AIRA subscribers or current subscribers, so if you already have a plan with AIRA you can switch to the NFB plan. The NFB plan gives you 140 minutes of service per month for $99.00, plus 60 additional free minutes to be used at home or at your place of work.  The 60 additional minutes will run for 6 months, so you essentially get 6 months of free 60-minute service. Also, AIRA has announced that for job seeking activities, if you’re dealing with an inaccessible job application and you need assistance you can use the AIRA service and those minutes will be free, so free use for job seeking activities. Also, as part of this arrangement all NFB state conventions will be free AIRA site access points, so if you are an AIRA user you can use the service at the state convention for free, and also at the National Convention.  I encourage you to visit the AIRA website if you want to learn more about the service and this exclusive offer for NFB members. You just need to tell them that you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind. The web address to learn more about this is http://go.AIRA.io/NFB, so that’s go.AIRA.io/NFB.  I’d encourage you to check that out if it’s of interest exclusive to the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

The primary topic I wish to discuss on this month’s release is the new National Federation of the Blind Code of Conduct. Leadership is something that the Federation has taken seriously for the entire history of the organization.  Leadership has certainly been a central discussion of the organization in the 22 years that I’ve been part of it, and based on what I’ve read and talked with folks about, the history of the organization, the writings of Dr. tenBroek and Dr. Jernigan, leadership is a central component to our organization and we have always had a high standard for our leaders.  We expect them to set the pace, be the ones that up hold the policies of the organization, that set the standard for how we deal with each other in a people’s movement. Leadership is expected to deal with problems that come up, especially problems of harassment, or inappropriate conduct amongst members in the organization, and the leaders of the organization are expected to meet the highest level of appropriate conduct. That has been true for the time that I’ve been in the Federation, I'm sure before that time, and as we have grown in our scope, in our diversity, in our complexity, we continue to think about how do we continue that standard, how do we make sure everybody understands the standard, and how do we socialize it to as many people so everybody knows what the expectations are?

The National Board of Directors has been discussing this topic.  Leadership is often a topic of conversation amongst the National Board and the Board recently decided that we’ve had expectations. We want to make sure that everybody knows what the expectations are and how to deal with problems that come up, and so we’ve undertaken to craft a written Code of Conduct, which is intended to outline those expectations, and a process for reporting significant incidents of misconduct within the organization.

The Code of Conduct includes topics such as non-discrimination.  Our organization doesn’t discriminate against people on the basis of any characteristics, blindness of course, but we don’t discriminate on other aspects of characteristics and so we’ve included our non-discrimination statement and information about that. We’ve included information about the diversity statement that we adopted last fall and how we value diversity, information about how harassment of any type is not tolerated within the organization, that leaders and members should avoid conflicts of interest.  We’ve given, in some places, guidelines for best practices, especially today with social media, where people feel very comfortable putting a lot of things out in the social media and sometimes don’t always give thought to what the implications might be. We’ve given some guidelines to leaders to think about things that, although they may not intend it to reflect poorly on the Federation or the Federation’s leaders, putting it out there in a way that is informal and maybe uses inappropriate language will hurt our overall organization, especially if you are an elected leader within our organization. We have carefully put this together and the Board has agreed to periodically review the Code of Conduct to make sure that it includes the points that are important, it sets out a process for dealing with complaints, and it reflects the contemporary concerns of the time.

As I say, this Code of Conduct is not new to our organization. We have had a Standard of Conduct amongst the leadership, but we’ve now written it down. We are asking all affiliates now to adopt this Code of Conduct as policy. The National Board has adopted it as policy of the national organization and it’s time now for affiliates to adopt the Code of Conduct at the affiliate level and we’ve given affiliates a template for that. All of the National Board members have signed the Code of Conduct and I’ve asked each and every affiliate president to sign the National Code of Conduct, which the affiliate version is very much the same as the national version, expect for the dispute component and the language. Obviously, National Federation of the Blind is replaced with National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and that sort of thing.

I bring this up because it should be a topic of conversation in your affiliate and your chapter.  We’re asking leaders of the Federation to sign this document as an acknowledgement of what our standard of leadership is; however, the Code of Conduct makes it clear that this is also an expectation of members in general.  We certainly expect our leaders to uphold our non-discrimination practices, but that’s true of members as well. We wouldn’t want to tolerate members discriminating in our activities against individuals based on certain characteristics. We come together as blind people, but we are a diverse, dynamic organization, and as we grow it’s important that we have the honest conversations to make sure that we’re upholding a standard of engagement with each other that’s appropriate, that is of the welcoming and friendly nature that I have come to know of Federation gatherings, but that also respects differences that people have, and that we don’t take actions to harm members of the organization by harassing them or by using verbal attacks that might be inappropriate, and that we set for an atmosphere with each other where we can talk honestly about what might be problematic in our organization as we go forward, expectations in society change, language changes, and we need to continue to make sure, as leaders and members of the organization that we’re contemporary with that. If you think about it, there was a time when the word handicapped was used quite widely to describe blind people, other people with disabilities, and you just wouldn’t use that term today. It implies something different than what we have come to know as disability, and certainly as blindness as a characteristic.

So the Code of Conduct is meant to set forth the expectations. Leaders are expected to sign it, and I would encourage every member to get familiar with it. I want to acknowledge the great work of Pam Allen, our First Vice-President, who led the Committee that put our Code of Conduct together. We had a number of other board members as part of that Committee and some consultants to the Committee, who are not board members, but Pam was the primary driving force for developing our Code of Conduct.

You can read the Code of Conduct on our website at NFB.org/code-conduct, nfb.org/code-conduct. You can find the National Code of Conduct there.  It's also linked off the pages where you find our National Board on the NFB website. We’re encouraging affiliates to adopt this document at the local level and to place it on the affiliate website so that we can let every member of the organization, or for that matter, non-members, know what our standard of conduct and dealing with each other is within the National Federation of the Blind. I think this is a good step for us.  It helps us be more clear about what our expectations are. I encourage you to get familiar with the document and if you have questions, please let me know, or you can also send those to Pam Allen, who, again, helped with the drafting of this document.

Thank you to our national leaders, who have helped develop this Code of Conduct and the national leaders that we have now, and the ones in the past that have really set the very high standard of conduct that we have amongst leaders of the Federation and that gets modeled for members of our organization.

Those are the important business things that I wanted to present here on the Presidential Release. I do have some Federation Family notes to talk with you about this month. I'm sorry to let you know that Sharon Manecky of Maryland has shared with me that we’ve lost two members of our Maryland affiliate, Greg Miller and Sharon Haskins-Brown.

Denise Valkema, President of our Florida affiliate, reports that on February 22nd Peter Scorillo passed away. Peter was a member of the Board of Directors of the NFB of Florida and he also served for a time as the Daytona Chapter President.

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you information I received yesterday from Scott Labar, which is that Michelle Chacon of New Mexico recently of Colorado lost her oldest daughter, Carolyn, to cancer.  It's a very hard thing to lose a child and I know that our heart goes out to Michelle for the loss of her daughter. Carolyn grew up in the Federation.  She was an active part of our affiliate. She helped with great activities, like our Bell Academy. Her presence will definitely be lost and our thoughts and prayers go out to Michelle, her family, and to all of the families of those we have lost in the Federation this month.

March is a busy month in the National Federation of the Blind. We have a number of activities happening just this month here at our national office.  We have Bell Academy, individuals coming in from our affiliates in a couple of weeks. We have a number of chapters visiting our building. This month we have the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium and the meeting of the Disability Rights Bar Association happening here in addition to all of the day-to-day activities that happen.

Right now I am hosting the 86th Leadership Seminar of the National Federation of the Blind. They’re on tour in the building and last night we kicked the Seminar off with doing some grilling. We grilled some steaks, as we sometimes do at these seminars, a tradition started many years ago, and sometimes our grilling gets noticed because we grill outside on the deck outside of our dining room. I thought just for fun I would share with you how our grilling got noticed yesterday and we’ll note for you how important the work of the Federation is based on the number of individuals called to respond in this case. Let’s listen to this.

[Recording played.]

Box Alarm 26-70.  Units respond on Fire Ground One.  Squad 26, Engine 2.  Engine 23.  Engine 36.  Engine 55.  Truck 6.  Truck 23.  Rescue One.  Medic One.  Battalion Chief 2.  Battalion Chief 6 respond.  1800 Block of Byrd Street between East Barney Street and East Wells Street.  Report of a fire on the roof of the Confederation of the Blind building.  Box Alarm 26-70.  Units respond on Fire Ground One. 

10-6 to Truck 6.  We’ve got it. 

Nothing at this time.  Last time it was students grilling on the roof.  We’re going to try to confirm that. 

Copy. 

10-6, how was the call received? 

Via cell phone. 

Truck 6, Portable to command. 

Truck 6, we’ve got students cooking steaks on the outside grill. 

Truck 6.  1800 Byrd Street.  I'm going to mark this good intent.  Truck 6 will have the report. 

Okay.  Truck 6.  Good intent. 

[End of recording.]

It was kind of fun to have the fire department come by for our Leadership Seminar.  It's not the first time that it’s happened, as you can hear by the recording.  Sometimes we do things in big ways and people in the neighborhood notice and they want to protect our building, which is a great thing.

I'm sure you’re doing some interesting things in your chapter to get noticed in the community as well.  Thank you for that.  Thank you for your work and whatever project you’re undertaking in your chapter this month to build the Federation.

I should give a quick shout out to the Seattle Chapter that I had the opportunity to visit in February.  It was great to get out to a chapter outside of Maryland. Whatever you’re doing this month for the Federation, thank you and let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.  Here are some customary endings to March out to.