Presidential Release #474: August 2018 (English Transcript)

Greetings, Fellow Federationists. Today is Friday, August 3, 2018 and this is Presidential Release Number 474. It is raining in Baltimore. Well, it might not be raining right at this second, but pretty much it feels like it’s been raining for the last two weeks or more, but we have continued to carry on the great work of the National Federation of the Blind, but mostly indoors during the last couple of weeks. I am here at the office very early on Friday morning, having returned from a visit to the American Printing House for the Blind yesterday. It was a very good visit, but I didn’t get home until 3:30 in the morning, because of the rain. So the rain has been quite disruptive around Baltimore in the last little while.

You’ll observe that I'm recording this on August 3rd, but we will not be putting this release out in the public until August 7th and there’s a reason for that that I'm going to come to in a little while.

Today at our national office we’re closing the National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient Program, and we’re closing out the first week of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Braille Enrichment Program, so there’s a lot of great energy around the building, even if it is raining outside. The building is abuzz with youthful activities, both engineering, design work on the west side of our building in the Member’s Hall, and Braille. It's all about that Braille on the east side of the building in what we know as East Mall, so there’s a lot of great things happening around the building. We do have one more week of the Bell Program. One of the neat things, both the Engineering Quotient students and our Bell students did was make all sorts of innovative creations out of cardboard, so what used to be our records center, where we had thousands of filing cabinets, which we’ve now moved to our archive space, has been a cardboard museum you might say during the last week. A lot of fun, educational, confidence building stuff going on here at our national headquarters because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind during the last week or so.

Speaking of the last week, we had the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act last week and we announced some of the legal work that we’re undertaking. I’ve talked about it in the Presidential Report over the last couple of years. We also participated in the Annual Conference of the Association for the Education of Blind and Visually Impaired Persons, AER, specifically from July 26 to July 28 we undertook what we called an AER strike or air strike, if you will. The National Federation of the Blind showed up at the AER Conference in order to let the professionals know and share the continued message that we’re prepared to collaborate with professionals to make opportunities for the blind the best that they can be, but we are 100 percent against the idea of professionals continuing to dust off and prop up accreditation programs that have no substantive involvement from elected leaders of blind people. You will remember that AER announced a year ago that it was taking over the National Accreditation Counsel and we invited AER to have a meeting at the end of October last year at which time they told us, “Look, the AER Board decided to do this. We’re doing it. You’ll have to live with it and you can play in our sandbox if you want, but it doesn’t matter what the history is. We’re doing it.” That was essentially the message and you can read the correspondence in the January Braille Monitor.

We will be publishing Chapter Two of the story, which significantly played out at the AER Conference here at the end of July. A number of Federation leaders were on the ground to invite professionals to come talk with us about our common interests and how we can work together, and also, the concerns that we have about another attempt to revive an accreditation program that has never worked, has never included blind people, and continues to send a very negative message about the role of professionals and blind people in the field. We urged AER to stop building walls between us and to start figuring out ways for us to have bridges to work together. We were very well received by the majority of the professionals at the AER Conference. One of our members from Colorado, Brent Batron, offered a resolution at the AER Business Meeting. Brent is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. He works at our Colorado Center, but he’s also a member of AER, has been for some time. In fact, he just finished a term serving as President of the Colorado Chapter of AER. He offered a resolution to AER that AER leadership should reach out to the National Federation of the Blind to work collaboratively around questions of accreditation.

The short version of how that story ends is that his resolution was ambushed by a few people and a substitute resolution was offered that watered down the message. The message was watered down and the manner in which the ambush happened was really very unprofessional. We can feel good though about a resolution passing that gave a nod and a significant nod, not as significant as we would have liked and as Brent was asking for, but a significant nod to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, an acknowledgement of our role in the field and, I think, a win for the collaboration we hoped to create by being at the AER Conference. We were in the exhibit hall. We hosted a reception. Our members were in and around the various meetings. A number of AER members came up to Brent after the meeting and have reached out since to say, “Look, the way this went down is not a reflection of the professionalism and the expectations that we have for AER as a professional organization, and we appreciate the work of the National Federation of the Blind.” So this is a tremendous victory for our organization and the inroads we want to make in working with professionals in the field who are interested in high expectations. We’re going to publish a more detailed version of the story in the October Braille Monitor, so please be on the watch for that and be up to speed about that, because undoubtedly, people will be talking about it in the field. It is an important victory for us.

Also, on July 26 the Ability One Program made a significant announcement. The Ability One Program is a federal program that creates priorities for government contracts for non-profit organizations as it relates to blind people. These are agencies for the blind under the National Industries for the Blind umbrella. National Industries for the Blind is what is called a central non-profit under the Ability One Law. National Industries for the Blind has been the central non-profit in blindness for the history of this program. On July 26 without any public notice, or discussion, or any real public evidence that this was coming, the Ability One Commission announced a new central non-profit dealing with programs, and employment for blind people under the Ability One Program and they named the American Foundation for the Blind as the central non-profit. We have significant difficulty understanding why the Ability One Commission took this action and why they did it under complete darkness, without any transparency, or discussion with the organized blind movement. So I have sent a letter to the administrator of the Ability One Program asking questions and we’ve filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get information about this. We’re seeing if we can challenge this being done in complete secrecy without consulting blind people about the impact.

This will have an impact on National Industries for the Blind and as you know, National Industries for the Blind has not been our best friend over the time that they have existed and we have existed. However, we have been working closely to create understanding and to move NIB in progressive directions. You’ll recall that Kevin Lynch was at our convention recently and we’ve been having very positive discussions. They’ve moved aggressively to eliminate the use of 14C in the NIB agencies, unlike other agencies under the Ability One Program and they’ve been taking other steps. If the Ability One Commission expects other progressive steps to be taken they haven’t shared those with the Organize Blind movement and they haven’t asked our opinion about it. So we’re going to be pushing back on this. I urge you to stay tuned. There may be other action that we need to take, including visiting an Ability One Commission meeting or other action. We’re still gathering information, but you should know that this is, in some ways, a real smack in the face for blind people to say we’re really not interested in what you think. We’re just going to do what we want to do with programs that impact blind people. So be on the watch for more information on that as well.

A couple of other things: One is I do want to let you know, as always, we continue to seek talent to work at the National Federation of the Blind. We’re looking for individuals who are not just looking for a job, but who are looking for an inspiring, motivating, highly impactful career in the Organized Blind movement. We want people who are prepared to work hard, who are prepared to uphold the brand of the National Federation of the Blind and the values of the Organized Blind movement, who have the heart, and imagination, and high energy required to work with our central staff team. We’re looking for folks in all areas; our events team, our front desk, our Access Technology Team, advocacy, membership. Many of these positions are posted online, but you’re also welcome to send in a generic interest letter. I invite you to visit NFB.org and find our careers page to see some of the open positions we have and if you’re interested in being considered for employment, I urge you to send an e-mail to OfficeofthePresident@nfb.org with a cover letter and resume, and we’ll be happy to look at your materials and see if we have a fit on the staff team of the National Federation of the Blind.

Now, for the big news and why we are holding this release until August 7th: You’ll remember that at the national convention we had a representative from Kellogg’s speak very briefly at the convention and we passed out some Rice Krispy Treats and we alluded to some things coming and August 7th is the day. I have an announcement here from Chris Danielson, our Director of Public Relations, about it and I will make some comments about it afterward. Chris says, “The National Federation of the Blind is partnering with Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats to create Braille and audio Love Notes so parents can share messages of love and encouragement with blind children. The Love Notes are an accessible version of the Writable Wrapper on Rice Krispy Treats, which allows parents to include messages in their children’s lunchboxes. The new accessible Love Notes are available in two forms, Braille stickers and re-recordable audio boxes. The Braille stickers are heart shaped to match the space on the Rice Krispy Treats’ Writable Wrapper for written notes. Each Braille sticker sheet includes eight uplifting messages for parents to share with their children, such as, “You’ve got this,” and, “Love you lots.” The re-recordable audio box holds a Rice Krispy Treat and when opened plays a ten-second pre-recorded message. The audio box messages can be re-recorded over 1,000 times. A video has been produced to promote this partnership and that video features our members, Emmi and Tabitha Mitchell. The plan is to distribute over 6,000 sheets of Braille stickers and co-branded NFB, Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Treats alphabet cards. If you were able to get your hands on the new National Federation of the Blind Braille alphabet card at the National Convention, this one is very much the same except that the Braille message at the bottom is different and it also includes, in addition to the NFB logo, the Rice Krispy Treats’ logo.

With those materials also will be distributed over 1,500 re-recordable audio boxes, a print and Braille welcome letter will be sent in every packet so that parents, blind or sighted, have full access to all of the materials. The National Federation of the Blind will be prominently featured on the website and social media for this program and a link to our website and to subscribe to our e-newsletter will be included in materials and on the website. This is a very exciting partnership and I urge you to check out the website for this project to order your Love Notes. Let’s promote this quickly and get them snatched up as quickly as possible before back to school. This will also communicate to Kellogg’s how significant this program is and help them know that they should invest in it. We should promote this in social media through our chapters, to our Bell Academies, find other interesting and creative ways to make this happen.

To check this out you can go to the website and order your Love Notes for your child, or grandchildren. The website is RiceKrispies.com/LoveNotes. Go check it out. Get your hands on some Love Notes. Let’s promote Braille literacy in a new and dynamic way and build our relationship with Kellogg’s. This is a great way to go into back to school. I'm excited about it and, in fact, as soon as I'm done with this release I'm going to go order my Love Notes, so please do the same.

I do have one Federation Family Note that I'm sorry I have to share with you this month on the release. It comes from our President in the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico. Alpedio Rolan reports that Angel Cruze, who is the NFB of Puerto Rico’s Treasurer, passed away on July 20th. She was at the National Convention, served as Alternate Delegate. I urge you to keep her and the members of our Federation and family in Puerto Rico in your thoughts and prayers.

Those are the notes that I have for you, both Love Notes and other notes on the Presidential Release for August. I know there’s a lot of great Federation activity going on. There’s a lot of great excitement coming out of our national convention. And in just a week we’re going to start the fall convention season with the NFB of South Carolina and a whole slew of conventions coming after that. We have a busy fall here at our national office, so there’s a lot of great work to be done. I look forward to the stories of what’s happening in our chapters and affiliates across the country and the ways that we’re empowering blind people to live the life they want.

Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind. But before we do, here are some customary endings.