Presidential Release #475: September 2018 (English Transcript)

Greetings, Fellow Federationists. Today is Wednesday, September 5, 2018 and this is Presidential Release Number 475. Yesterday was back to school day in Baltimore and so we’re in the back to school time, getting used to the new routines, kids being back in school, the traffic increasing, things like that, and it also indicates the coming of fall, our fall convention season, and lots of great activity in the National Federation of the Blind. Of course, we’re now just less than a month away from Meet the Blind Month, which I’ll be talking about later on this release. We have a number of interesting things coming up this fall for the National Federation of the Blind. It is worth noting we are now celebrating our 40th year in Baltimore and the Baltimore Orioles are acknowledging the fact that the National Federation of the Blind has had its headquarters in Baltimore for 40 years on September 18th. They’re dedicating the game to us and they’ll have a number of special things going on, including the Orioles players will be wearing Braille jerseys and we’ll be handing out Braille alphabet cards, and I am supposed to represent the Federation by throwing out the first pitch, so I’ll be warming up my arm over the next couple of weeks, hopefully to represent the National Federation of the Blind in true Federation style; a number of interesting things coming up to recognize the National Federation of the Blind.

Speaking of dates though, I did want to remind you that through our partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults we help to make available Braille calendars and you can get a Braille calendar for 2019 or a number of them from the American Action Fund. You can find the information online and order it online at ActionFund.org/Braillecalendar, ActionFund.org/Braillecalendar, if you would like one of the fine 2019 Braille calendars that we’re helping to promote. You can also call our Independence Market and get Braille calendars from there. As you already know, our e-commerce for the Independence Market is currently down while we’re rebuilding our website, but you can call (410) 659-9314 and dial the Independence Market to order your Braille calendars there as well.

I wanted to discuss our ride sharing program as there has been a lot of discussion about it lately and I wanted to talk a little bit about our progress. First of all, you will remember that we have agreements with both Lyft and Uber to hold them accountable for not discriminating against blind people using guide dogs and upholding their responsibilities to transport all blind people. As part of those agreements we have been doing a number of monitoring pieces to make sure that the companies are doing what they need to do, and at the same time, we’re engaging with them on other pieces of the conversation, like the accessibility of their mobile applications, their website, and all of these things take time and effort, but your active engagement in giving us feedback on the process is really important, so I want to talk about a few of the high level things that have been going on so that everybody is in the loop.

First of all, with Lyft we are very aware that there are some accessibility issues, especially with a Captcha technology that has been implemented for individuals submitting service animal complaints to Lyft. We are talking with them about that. That is a specific issue that impacts users of the IOS platform and we expect them to improve that technology and make it fully accessible in the time to come. In the meantime, Lyft does accept service animal complaints directly by telephone. You can call (844) 250-3174; that’s (844) 250-3174.

We have raised several concerns with Lyft about the manner in which complaints are being processed at Lyft and the outcomes of cases where drivers have discriminated against blind people. We do continue to follow up with the complaints that we get through our attorneys, our para-legals, or the online forms, so please continue to submit those instances of discrimination to us and we will continue to follow up and hold Lyft accountable for those service denials.

Let me talk about our systemic findings with relation to Lyft through our testing program. We have found that service animal denials in Lyft rides are fluctuating at an average of 18 percent, sometimes as low as 14 percent, and sometimes as high as 25 percent during our testing period. That number needs to be considered in the context of Lyft’s overall ridership, which has been in what they call hyper-growth for some time. Lyft does not disclose their actual growth numbers to us, so that’s where the ride share forms become increasingly important, because we can use that data to test against the data that Lyft is giving us in terms of drivers that are dismissed, complaints that they’re receiving. If we get fewer complaints through our ride share form then we may actually see a trend that is not true in our data. So it’s a little hard to track the overall trajectory with Lyft, but the more reports that we get in every quarter, the better we can hold Lyft accountable.

The Lyft agreement is a little bit different than Uber, which is why I'm handling them separately. With Uber we have evidence suggesting that Uber is letting significant numbers of drivers off the hook for discriminating against blind people. We believe that in many cases these are clear instances where under our agreement Uber should be automatically terminating these drivers. We have raised this concern with the third party monitor that’s involved in the settlement and we may be heading back to court if we cannot get a satisfactory resolution on enforcing the settlement that we have in place. This is, again, an example where we need you to continue to fill out those ride sharing forms online so that we can measure our data about Uber against what the third party monitor is getting from Uber so that we can show a pattern of discrimination and that Uber is, in fact, not living up to its obligations under the agreement.

I know that it continues to be frustrating to many people that there continue to be denials, both with Uber and Lyft, and that it sometimes makes it feel like our efforts are not being constructive or effective in making change. We recognize completely that one discrimination from either of these companies is one too many and our goal is to completely eliminate the discrimination. It is a complex problem and that’s where your reports are very, very necessary. We also need to find ways to engage non-NFB members in this effort to let them know that the only way we can be effective at holding these companies accountable is if they participate with us in the effort to eliminate discrimination and to have that third party data available so we can go to the folks that are helping us monitor, to Uber and Lyft and say your data is flat out wrong and you need to do something about this.

Don’t give up the monitoring. Keep up the effort, even if you’re having a good trip using a guide dog with Uber or Lyft, please file that with us as well, but definitely file all of the instances where discrimination happened so we can follow up. Our team does use all of this data, even if they might not always get back to you as quickly as you would like. Obviously, when you face a situation of discrimination it’s difficult. It's painful and sometimes it is hard for us to get back to you immediately on it, but we need those anecdotes. We need the fact pattern so that our lawyers can continue to hold these companies accountable for their practices and we can continue to make change in these ride sharing companies. It's a big part of where transportation is going in the future. If you have suggestions of how we can improve the process of monitoring, please send those ideas to us, Valerie Yingling here at the National Office helps to coordinate much of this. You can send her an e-mail at VYingling@NFB.org. I know that Tim Elder, our Primary Attorney on this, in California would be pleased to have your ideas about what we can do. Please know that we are pursuing this with vigor and we may end up back in court. We’re trying not to do that. We’re trying to hold these companies accountable on the agreement that we have, but if we have to go back to court we will, and we will not give up until we’ve eliminated discrimination in all of the places that it exists.

One more time, please visit NFB.org/rideshare to find the form, find information about the work that you can do to help file effective complaints. Thank you for the work that you’re doing to make our monitoring of ride share companies effective.

The pre-authorized contribution plan is a primary way that NFB members contribute to the organization on a monthly basis. Thank you to all of our pack plan contributors, who make a monthly contribution through your bank account, or debit card, or savings account, whatever the case may be. It's easy to sign up for the pre-authorized contribution plan and I would invite everybody to do it.

We do have a number of Federation chapters, in fact, about 100 of our chapters that also make a regular contribution, a monthly contribution to the pre-authorized contribution program. In fact, the chapter that I am in here in Baltimore does this every month. I also make my own monthly contribution. Chapters making a monthly contribution really helps promote the Pack Plan, emphasize its importance, get more people involved in the Pack Plan. So, since we have 100 chapters, I want to take a little time on this release to acknowledge some of our chapters and probably on the next few releases, maybe the next ten or so, so that we can acknowledge all of the chapters, who are contributing to the Pack Plan on a monthly basis, thank you very much to the chapters from the NFB of Alabama, who are contributing. That’s the Greater Rocket City Chapter, the Magic City Chapter, the Montgomery Chapter, and the Talladega Chapter. From the NFB of Arizona, contributing to the Pack Plan we have the East Valley Chapter, the Phoenix Chapter, and the Tucson Chapter. Thank you very much to our Chapters in Arizona contributing to the Pack Plan. And from the National Federation of the Blind of California we have the Bay Area Chapter, the Escondido Chapter, and the OCB Alumni Chapter all contributing monthly to the Pack Plan. Thank you to each of these chapters and I look forward to acknowledging chapters contributing to the Pack Plan on future releases. You can sign your chapter up using the same form that individual members can use to get on the Pack Plan. I’d encourage you to do it. Thank you and let’s get on the Pack Plan.

October is Meet the Blind Month, as I mentioned earlier and October 15, right in the middle of the month, is what we call now White Cane Awareness Day. There are many activities you might undertake as a Chapter for Meet the Blind Month, but this October is special, because we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of our Free White Cane Program, which has distributed thousands of free white canes to blind people on a yearly basis across each of our 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. To celebrate Meet the Blind Month and this great milestone that we have with our Free White Cane Program, we’d like to hear from you about your story, about that moment when you recognized what a powerful tool for independence and symbol of independence that your white cane represents. You can share your story, your moment with us on Twitter by tagging @NFB_Voice, or on Facebook. Just search for National Federation of the Blind. We would also encourage that you focus your Meet the Blind Month events on the White Cane, White Cane Awareness, our Free White Cane Program. There are many great things you can do. A lot of our Chapters already have White Cane Walks, or promote awareness about the White Cane Law in your state and what it means to blind people and how drivers should be aware of blind people walking around with white canes. There are other creative ideas that our Chapters have and we should share those with each other, both in social media, but also on our Chapter Presidents list serve. We should make this the most dynamic Meet the Blind Month when it comes to promoting White Cane Awareness Day and the work of the National Federation of the Blind, so I hope each and every one our chapters is planning for Meet the Blind Month and I encourage you to work in our Free White Cane Program to the Meet the Blind Month effort this month.

I have a few Federation family notes to share with you. Unfortunately, we have lost a number of members in the last month. I regret to have to let you know that Mark Robertson, who was a member of ours in West Virginia, and before that, North Carolina, passed away in August. Also, Laura McKinley, who was a member of the NFB of Virginia Tidewater Chapter, recently passed away. Two members of ours passed away in very unfortunate situations: Bonnie Shoyo, who was a long-time member of ours in Nebraska recently moved to Wyoming, was killed in a tragic car accident in the last month. And Tommy Craig, who had served for some time as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, a long-time leader of ours, was struck by a car a couple of weeks ago and indications were that he was going to get better, but he suddenly passed away in the last week. I would ask you to keep all of these fallen Federationists, their family members in your thoughts and prayers and remember the great work that they did to help advance our movement.

I do have some joyous news for this release. Stacia Cole, who is President of our Columbia Chapter in the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri reports that she gave birth to Victoria Rosamay Cole at 10:55PM Thursday, August 2, 2018. Victoria weighed in at 8 pounds 15.1 ounces at a length of 20 inches. Mom and also dad, Justin, Stacia and Justin, are doing well, as is Victoria, and we welcome Victoria as a member of the National Federation of the Blind.

We’re also pleased to report the birth of Logan Niedfeld, who joined the Federation and the world on August 15th at approximately 5:30AM, weighing 5 pounds 4 ounces, and measuring 18 inches long. Logan is the new son of Maureen and David Niedfeld. You might know Maureen a little bit better. She presented to the National Convention and was a National Scholarship winner a couple of years ago. Congratulations to Maureen, David, and to Logan, and welcome to the National Federation of the Blind.

It is going to be a busy fall, especially for me, undertaking Federation activities. In addition to a number of meetings and conferences here at our National Headquarters I'm attending a number of affiliate conventions. I'm also taking a brief trip to Canada and to Israel to visit companies that are working on technology in the blindness field and to talk about the nature of access technology for the blind and equal access to information. We’re getting ready to start our remodeling here at the National Headquarters. We have a number of strategic planning pieces that we’re working on for the organization. We have a meeting of the Board of Directors this fall, so there will not be much rest this fall and it is a joyous time in the National Federation of the Blind to pursue the work that we’re doing to protect the quality opportunity and security for the blind. Thank you for the work you’re doing at the local level. I look forward to hearing about it. I look forward to reporting about some of my travels on the next release, and until then, let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind, but before we do that, in a back to school fashion, here are some customary endings.