2022 Washington Seminar Great Gathering-In Transcript

February 7, 2022
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. ET

(Music fades in)

I see clear just like a picture on the wall, and now I know how to steer, I'm not afraid if I should fall, yeah.
It took some tears, but together we were strong, and now I feel a burning beat inside my heart.
And I feel like for the first time in my life, maybe, I feel alive tonight.
You lift me up!
Before I fall too far.
You lift me up.
You help me see the stars.
You pick me up.
When all my hope is gone.
You lift me up.
You lift me up.
You lift me...
Whoa oh, oh, oh,.
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
Living in fear, I couldn't see the rising sun.
Just felt the weight of the world every time I tried to run.
But you helped remind me of who I am and where I'm from and now I feel a burning beat in my heart.
I feel like for the first time in my life, maybe, I feel alive tonight.
You lift me up.
Before I fall too far.
You lift me up.
You help me see the stars.
You pick me up.
When all my hope is gone.
You lift me up.
You lift me up.
You lift me...
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh,.
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh.
You lift me up.
You lift me...
Into the fire, but we walked off the way.
You lift me higher, you were with me all the way.
No turning back now, we're so alive tonight, tonight, tonight.
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,.
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
You lift me up.
Before I fall too far.
You lift me up.
You help me see the stars.
You pick me up.
When all my hope is gone.
You lift me up.
You lift me up.
You lift me...
Whoa oh, oh, oh.
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.
You lift me...
You lift me up.
Whoa oh, oh, oh, oh.
You lift me up...
(Guitar solo).
(Gavel banging).

MARK RICCOBONO: The 2022 gathering of the National Federation of the Blind is now in order! Welcome to our Federation family across the country joining us on Zoom for our second and hopefully final virtual Washington Seminar, our 50th consecutive time, coming, bringing the voice of the nation's blind to Washington, DC.

We gather in for this '22 Washington Seminar of the National Federation of the Blind to make America better. We gather because we want to put our hands to the building. We want full participation in both the rights and responsibilities of our democracy.

This is not our first, our fifth, or our 25th time coming back. Since 1940, we have been bringing the voice of the nation's blind to our nation's capital, seeking employment, equal opportunity, and equal access. We have come by the hundreds to meet with our representatives and senators with our priorities and it is a certainty that as long as the blind are forced to overcome inequality and misunderstanding to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of this nation, we will be back again.

While the American society continues to hold us back with artificial barriers, the blind continue to push back with hope and determination to overcome those obstacles and live the lives we want.

While our nation's leaders speak of building back better, the blind respond with a chant of "build back better with the blind". While our nation has enjoyed many accomplishments, one of them has not been eliminating the systemic discrimination, low expectations, and harmful barriers that actively hold us back from building with the rest of America.

There is a deep need and a great opportunity to build back better with the blind.

We are tired of being told that once it is built, someone will make accommodations to include the blind. We are tired of being apologized to because our nation's leaders just did not think about the blind. We are tired of fighting for the basic protections, benefits, freedoms, and quality of life that many Americans enjoy without struggle or waiting for the second, third, or 14th phase of implementation.

But while we are tired, we have not been broken! We come to this Washington Seminar ready to build back America better than ever before, because the blind intend to be part of the solution. The blind are committed to meeting our responsibilities within this nation, to build communities that are equitable and inclusive as long as they do not leave us behind. The blind are prepared to dedicate our energy and imagination to the innovative capacity of this nation. The blind seek to contribute to the American economy through meaningful work and to provide leadership in local communities through our volunteer service. The blind also expect the protection of our equal rights under the law. In order to fulfill these commitments, America must build back better with the blind.

We come with solutions to some of the pressing problems we face, and we demand action over nice words. Nonvisual technologies are required to give blind people meaningful access to information in the digital age.
While some technologies include a measure of built in accessibility features, frequently the most effective accessibility tools require the blind to pay a premium above the cost charged to the average nonblind user.
We do not seek for the government to supply all of this technology. We do seek a limited refundable tax credit when blind people utilize their own financial resources to acquire the technology needed to access the tremendous resources and capacities available through digital interfaces.

We have crafted our proposal, and it has support from both political parties. The Access Technology Affordability Act will allow blind people to improve our participation in building America through employment, education, civic engagement and commerce. Will this be the year that America commits to including our participation by passing the ATAA? We say yes, and we demand that America build back better with the blind.

Access to technology is not simply a luxury. Americans continue to benefit from increased telehealth options and innovative in-home medical devices that allow convenient monitoring and management of personal health.

These devices also assist parents and other caregivers in supporting their loved ones. That is, unless you are a blind American today. The vast majority of these critical medical devices do not include the proven features that facilitate independent nonvisual access.

Improving the health of all Americans is essential to a better America. Yet the law does not require in-home medical devices to be accessible to the blind. We will not compromise our health. The time has come for the medical device industry to offer equal access to the blind, or to have the government pull the plug on their ability to profit from their discrimination against us.

The Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act calls on the Food and Drug Administration to promulgate nonvisual accessibility standards for Class II and Class III medical devices to require that all of these devices be accessible to the blind. A healthy America must include all of us, and we demand that America build medical devices better with the blind.

Even if we have accessible technology in our homes and offices, many other related artificial barriers exist. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the inequality that exists with nonvisual access to websites and applications. This is a concern that the blind have been raising for more than 25 years. We were hopeful that the United States Department of Justice would establish regulations to support our work in the courts to make it clear that the protections of existing accessibility laws extend to the digital environment. But the government continues to physically distance from action on this issue. Meanwhile,  the expansion of inaccessible websites and applications has been exponential. There are those who say we should not take our concerns to Congress, because our elected leaders may use this as an opportunity to water down our  existing rights under the law. Who were they elected by anyway? The members of the Federation say we are not afraid. We have come to Congress to ask America to build 21st century websites and applications better with the blind. Every blind person experiences these barriers any day that they attempt to access critical websites and applications. We are going to educate Congress about this every day until we gain the support we deserve. We will not wait any longer. We expect America to build back better with the blind. Our nation is experiencing a historic shift in pay for American workers. With wages heading upwards in many sectors of the economy, the potential to build back better is giving some Americans a lot of hope. Yet what is the expectation for people with disabilities? We continue to be held down by the crushing history of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which even in 2022 endorses the payment of pennies per hour to people with disabilities. We no longer believe that America can be built back better as long as people with disabilities are granted only second-class status under the law. 2022 is the year to build back better with the blind, and other workers with disabilities, by enacting the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act. We commend those government and private agencies who have done their part to build America without the use of the 14c provision of the FLSA, but much more must be done, and we demand it be accomplished in the second session of the 117th Congress.

These are only?-- these are only some of our priorities. As the government continues to invest in building back America and protecting its people from the coronavirus, we say build back better with the blind. The government has failed to provide any nonvisual access in its initial distribution of COVID-19 at home test kits. However, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, future efforts will be built with the blind.

From government to commerce, in work and in play, the blind seek to benefit and participate in this nation on terms of equality. When America commits to building back better with the blind, all of its people will be better.

This is the petition we make to our elected officials. This is the hopeful future we intend to build. This is the determination of the organized blind movement. This is the significance of our Washington Seminar!

(Cheering and applause).
(Intro music of Live the Life you Want playing).
(Piano and harmonica).
Live the life you want, nobody can stop you.
Shoot for the sun and break on through.
So you're blind, you'll be fine. We've got good news.
You can live the life you want, yes, we know the truth.
Grab a cane, get trained. Gotta get moving.
Make a change and a wage, that's what we're doing.
Come with me... yes!
And live the life you want, nobody can stop you.
Shoot for the sun and break on through.
So you're blind, you'll be fine. We've got good news.
You can live the life you want, yes, we know the truth.
You and me, NFB, let's dream together.
NFB, you and me lives on forever.
You will see... yeah!
Live the life you want, nobody can stop you.
Shoot for the sun and break on through.
(Grab a cane, get trained).
So you're blind, you'll be fine, we've got good news.
You can live the life you want, yes, we know the truth.
(We know the truth!)
You can live the life you want, yes, we know the truth.
(Instrumental interlude as song comes to close).
You know the truth!!!
(Song ends).

MARK RICCOBONO: Okay, again, I welcome everybody to this Washington Seminar. I want to acknowledge that as part of our virtual audience here, we have the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. I know we have many, if not all of our affiliate president s, many leaders, grassroots leaders across the organization, and I'd like to also welcome any friends and supporters of ours who have come to participate in this Washington Seminar to learn about the priorities of blind people.

We have a full agenda, and by long-standing tradition, we're going to work to keep it to two hours. And so that's what we're working towards this evening. It's so great to be together. I should also acknowledge, we have a modest in-person audience here in the NFB of Utah auditorium at the National Federation of the Blind.

(Cheering and applause).

So thank you for being here, it's great to have some folks in the room, so thank you. And I know many people who are not on Zoom are listening on our  stream and other devices, so it's great to have such a large audience. I'd like to welcome to the microphone, on social media -- which is especially important during this virtual Washington Seminar to use the social media tools to communicate the messages we have, so to talk about the communications for the Washington Seminar of 2022, coming to the podium is Danielle McCann!

(Only the Young playing).
Only the young, only the young, only the young... can run! Can run!
(Music fades out).

DANIELLE: Good afternoon, everybody, happy Washington Seminar, woo hoo! (Laughter.)

I want to share that our hashtag this  year is hashtag #NFBinDC, that's capital N, capital F, Capital B, lowercase i, lowercase n, Capital D capital C, so to share information about the meetings you've been having and just keep engagement, you can use that hashtag to Twitter or Facebook. We ask you to say not that any member of Congress has committed to anything, we ask you not to say that. And we ask that if you take screenshots of your meetings or pictures of people you're gathered with, people in your group and affiliate, we ask that you please share them with a description, there are tools in social media apps that you can use to put in descriptions. And also, if you know that your Congressman or senator is going to be taking pictures while you're meeting with them, please ask them to caption, right, because we want them to include us if they're going to be talking about us, so ask them to describe and caption their pictures as well.

Lastly, something exciting: John Pare has actually been on our TikTok! There was a video that Freedom Scientific did, and it actually talks about ATAA, so John Pare did a stitch, which I'll explain super quickly, a stitch is just us adding our thoughts to the original video. So TikTok is our newest social media platform, if you're looking for it in the app store, it's spelled TikTok, and we did one earlier with President Riccobono dancing. So we are nation's underscore blind on TikTok, and now we'll play the picked featuring John Pare

Video: The ATAA is a video that makes access technology more affordable to blind Americans.

JOHN PARE: It's true. The Access Technology Affordability Act will put more technology in the hands of blind Americans. I know this because I'm a blind person, and I use access technology, specialized access technology for blind people. And the National Federation of the Blind supports this legislation.

My name is John Pare, and I'm the executive director for advocacy and policy at the National Federation of the Blind.
(End of TikTok).

DANIELLE: Thank you, President Riccobono, that's all I had.

MARK RICCOBONO: Great!

(Applause.)

MARK RICCOBONO: And thank you, Danielle, and thank you to our friends at Vispero for supporting our advocacy initiatives, that's always really great, and we certainly appreciate the fact that more and more of our business and other supporters are coming to support various aspects of our legislative initiative.

I want to take a moment -- I should have done this -- related to the dignitaries -- to thank first of all those working behind the scenes to make the Zoom happen. Our NFB staff, we'd like to thank our folks that are handling captioning and certainly our Spanish translators from our Spanish Committee, Daniel Martinez and maybe others who are helping out. A lot of the work that we do happens because of volunteers, and we really appreciate making these things happen.

This evening, we're going to have a number of things to talk about, including a number of program announcements. We will be covering our legislative agenda, and we will be hearing about some of the things that are upcoming in 2022 as well.

I do note that we do have a national convention coming up, and I do hope everybody's making plans to be with us in person at our National Convention. I'm pretty excited that that's going to happen, and I'm hopeful that it's going to happen.

We -- our next presentation will be from a member of Congress, and I'm going to confirm with our team that we have that individual before I introduce them. But I want to talk to you about the champions that we have in Congress. You know, when we get co-sponsors, that's a really great thing. But when someone steps up to introduce a bill and to be an original co-sponsor of a bill, it makes a big difference. They're making a big commitment to be a champion for our legislation. And as we know from following Congress, maybe all too often, people aren't willing to make that upfront commitment. So, especially on certain issues where we get pushback, it's really important that we acknowledge those individuals who do make a commitment to co-sponsor our bills. And we're going to hear from and celebrate one of those individuals this evening. Since we don't have that person with us yet, I'm going to suggest that we have a door prize! No, just kidding. We don't have any door prizes.

(Laughter.)

So, I'll just talk for another minute, how about that?

So, we had a great meeting of our affiliate presidents this weekend and national division presidents, and what is very clear is that the Federation is alive and well and growing in so many ways. We are putting together some initiatives to help connect our leadership and share information across our affiliates in new ways, and I'm really excited about that. I'm sure we will talk more about that at the National Convention. And let me take this opportunity, if you are tuned in to this Gathering-In meeting and you are not yet a member of the National Federation of the Blind, let me take this opportunity to invite you to join with us. We need you! We need you to be a member, because we know from our experience it will benefit you. And we need your work. We need your commitment. We need your ideas about where we should go as blind people to build the future better together.

And so the way to join -- you can visit nfb.org and you can find our list of affiliates, and we do encourage you to find your affiliate, state affiliate, including DC or Puerto Rico, and get connected with the affiliate and hopefully join a local chapter. Many of our affiliates -- well, all of our affiliates -- allow you to join at large if you're not close to a chapter. And you can also join one of our special interest divisions, including the students or Parents of Blind Children, the Blind Merchants or the lawyers, we have many special interest divisions. So I encourage you to join the organization and help out, and you will get a lot of benefit from it. I can tell you that I am still trying to repay every day what the Federation has given to me, because on a daily basis, it continues to enrich my life, being part of this network.

I think what I'm going to do is move to talk about our Belotin awards briefly, so to do that, I want to introduce a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. Here is Everette Bacon.

(Song playing).
Doctor, doctor, give me the news, I've got a bad case of loving you!
No pill's gonna cure my ills, I got a bad case of loving you!
(Song fades out).

EVERETTE BACON: Thank you, President Riccobono, and I appreciate the walkup song, it was fun. Greetings, Federationists, it's a pleasure to be with you all the way from Salt Lake City, Utah, and I'm here to talk to you about the Dr. Jacob Bolotin award, and this is one of the most prestigious and well-received awards that can be given out to individuals and/or organizations that are doing  outstanding things or are doing outstanding things to promote the achievement of blind individuals across the across the United States. The application process is open. You can go to nfb.org/jacobbolotin, and you can find that information on awards and scholarships part of our page. It's an application process that we want you to fill out. This award is in honor of Dr. Jacob Boloton, who died in 1928 and was in his short life became a medical doctor, which was unheard of for a blind individual at that time. He achieved great things, so we honor him with this award, and we give it to individuals and organizations who are doing great things on behalf of blind individuals, or blind individuals that are doing great things to help the blind community to achieve and further the things that they're doing. So thank you for this opportunity to talk about the Bolotin Award. The application, again, is at nfb.org. You can fill out that application. We do need a letter of recommendation as well. So if you have -- if you're filling out and application for yourself or on behalf of an organization, or other individual, we also need a letter of recommendation. So please note that.

The application is open until April 15th. So it will be open until then. We'll take those applications from you. And then the nominating committee will -- the Bolotin Award nominating committee will make their decisions over the next month, and hopefully you'll find out by May 15th if you're an award recipient. Many individuals and organizes have won this award, entrepreneurs, scientists, nonprofit organizations, individuals who are teaching blind individuals, or all kinds of other outstanding fields. So please go to nfb.org and spread the word about the Bolotin Award. And hope to see you in New Orleans! Thank you, Mr. President.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, Everette, and I want to echo the sentiment of encouraging applications and nominations for the Bolotin Award. It's an important program. And our Bolotin Award winners, now well over a decade, continue to make a big difference in raising the expectations for blind people across this country.
So, moments ago, I talked to you about champions in the Congress. And I'd like now to move to the opportunity, the honor of introducing one of those champions. This is Senator Steve Daines of Montana. He's the lead co-sponsor for the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act in the Senate, S-3238.
A fifth-generation Montanan, Steve Daines brings 28 years of private-sector business experience to Washington, DC, as he serves the people of Montana in the United States Congress. Steve is a lifelong sportsman and grew up in Boseman Montana, a management role with Proctor and Gamble took him away from the state for a time. But he returned to Boseman in 1997 to work in a family construction business. In 2000, Steve took the role of vice president at Right Now Technologies, a Boseman-based cloud computing startup company. The company grew rapidly and became a publicly traded software company with 17 offices around the world and products in over 30 languages. The corporation was acquired by Oracle in 2012 and remains one of Montana's largest commercial employers. Senator Daines was elected in 2012 as Montana's United States representative to the House, and he now serves, as I've said, in the Senate. When he was in the House, he was ranked as the most effective first-term House member in 2013 and again in 2014.

In the United States Senate, Steve is working on issues of critical importance to growing good-paying Montana jobs. Developing Montana's energy resources, managing and protecting our public lands, and supporting the needs of Montana's veterans and tribes. He serves and the Senate Committee on Finance, Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Energy and Natural Resources, and Indian Affairs. We can now add to his list of credentials supporting equal pay for people with disabilities.

Senator Daines has been married to his wife Cindy for 34 years, they are parents of four children and proud grandparents of two, and in the National Federation of the Blind, we know that balance is important, so we appreciate those who have robust family lives but give themselves to the service of our nation. So it's my honor now to give to you Senator Steve Daines.

(Music playing).
Get lost in Montana, where your heart can finally roam!
Get lost in Montana...
(Music fades out).

SENATOR DAINES: Mr. President, thank you, I'm chuckling about the song, getting lost in Montana, I'm an outdoorsman and definitely have gotten lost a few times, but technology helps!

(Laughter.)

I'm thankful to be here today to talk about an injustice in our society, and thankful that when there's challenges here, certainly, in a polarized nation, where there's not enough bipartisan cooperation in enough areas, we have a bipartisan bill, and I want to tip my hat and give gratitude to Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, working with me, a Republican, to fight on behalf of those with disabilities. Because the truth is, there are thousands of Americans with disabilities that are paid less than minimum wage, in fact, sometimes even as little as a few cents an hour to work. And it is my belief, and the belief of so many, that treating Americans differently based on their ability status isn't right. It's not what we stand for as a nation. And that's why we have this bipartisan bill to ensure that people with disabilities are never paid below the minimum wage. I do not think that is too much to ask. Because there is dignity and there's hope in work. In fact, when you meet somebody, the first thing you ask them is "what is your name?" But the second question you ask is "what do you do?"

Our work defines who we are, and there's great dignity and great hope in waking up in the morning and having a job, in going to work. So I believe we should be doing all that we can to support not just Montanans, but all Americans, who have disabilities, to support them in the workforce, that they be treated fairly, not treated unfairly.

So this bill will ensure that employers are able to get the resources that they need to close that gap between paying minimum wage and below minimum wage so that all Americans with disabilities are fairly compensated.

So, Mr. President, thank you for allowing me to share a few words about this important legislation. Thank you for your advocacy. We're going to need that here on the Hill, to be talking with your members of Congress that you support this, and I look forward to standing with you all shoulder to shoulder to get this done.

(Applause.)

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, Mr. Senator, and we appreciate you being here. We look forward to celebrating with you a great victory for 2022, we think this is the year to get this done. And we should also have a celebration in Montana, it's a great place. I've spent some great times in Montana with our National Federation of the Blind of Montana, and I know many of them are on this evening with us. So thank you for your time and for appearing with us. And mostly for being a champion for all people with disabilities.

SENATOR DAINES: Mr. President, thank you, and a shoutout to all Montanans on this Zoom call, keep up the good work back home.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, good night, and God bless.

SENATOR DAINES: God bless you!

MARK RICCOBONO: And thank you to Everette Bacon for jumping in there when he expected me to call on him later. It's up to National Federation of the Blind members in the communities like Boseman, Montana, that we can secure the support of people like Senator Daines in championing the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, and I think the push this year around pay, I think it's time for Congress to pass this legislation for equal pay and equal expectations.

Okay, I'm going to move on to things for us to discuss, and that is first to introduce to you a gentleman who continues to provide leadership in so many ways around the Federation. He has served as a chapter president, an affiliate president, he's served on our national board, he has now worked on our national staff for over 10 years. He serves as executive director of our Blindness Initiatives, overseeing the implementation of our demonstration projects, programs, and research to help build capacity to build the Federation. Here's Anil Lewis!

(Music playing).
I'm not afraid to take a stand.
Everybody, everybody come take my hand.
We walk this road together, through the storm...
(Music fading).

ANIL LEWIS: I'm not afraid, that's awesome.

Good evening, fellow Federationist. I want to say that I've been hearing lately, for too many reasons, that "this is not the Federation that I joined". I guess that may be true, right, because I'm sure that people who, under Dr. TenBroek's leadership when Dr. Jernigan became president, felt that this Federation was not the Federation they joined. And those who joined under Mauer, myself included, may have been told that it wasn't the Federation that they joined under Dr. Jernigan's leadership. And I hear people say that this Federation led by Mark Riccobono is not the same Federation that they joined.

To some degree, I say, thank God for that. Because each and every one of those gentlemen, thanks to their dedication and leadership to this organization, help us evolve to stay contemporary. If we were the same Federation as we were under Dr. tenBroek, we no -- would not be as effective we are now, nor the same as we were under Dr. Jernigan or Dr. Maurer. Is it the same Federation? Of course not. It's the Federation that responds to the hearts and the minds of blind throughout the nation. It responds to the desire of blind people to be fully participating members of society. It is the same Federation as Dr. Maurer told me, we change and evolve because the Federation demands it of us. We started to our core as an advocacy organization, and still that is our core. And when we celebrate here at Washington Seminar, that's what we're focusing on. The energy that we bring to affect public policy in a way that allows us to be fully participating citizens. I stand proud as the executive director of Blindness Initiatives, because I recognize, and all of you recognize that the legislative efforts that we pursue go hand in hand with the projects and programs that we incubate through our blindness initiatives at our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. But it takes all of us. It's not just the staff -- and you'll hear this being my reoccurring mantra every time I speak to the membership that this is the case. Really quickly let me go through how the Federation has demanded us to evolve and be responsive to the needs of the blind through the blindness initiatives programs. You've heard about the BELL Academies, making sure that students who are not taught braille in the school system to pursue learning braille over the summer in a real way. And I would be remiss in not going down this list, that one of the ways we've volved as an organization through President Riccobono's leadership has not been through his design, it's been by him stepping up to the challenges that society has placed, and rather than running to them, he has run toward them and allowed us as an organization to continue working toward what we're working for. So in a period of racial unrest in this country, we continue our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Through COVID, delta, omicron, and come whatever, we've done everything we can to continue to meet and make sure that people are still healthy and safe. And amidst controversy about sexual assault and molestation, we've altered our policy in a way to make sure that every member of the Federation has our full commitment that every environment will be safe, protected, and allowing people to learn and grow. That takes strength and courage and leadership. The Federation demands us to do this. So the BELL program wasn't enough. In the COVID environment, we had to change it so that we could reach students because we couldn't be in place with them. So we created the BELL at home edition, which will be an ongoing initiative even after a return to in-person. We have the Teachers of Tomorrow program where we're developing teachers of blind students, and have a relationship with the state of Maryland to create Maryland teachers of the blind. We have four individuals going through that program right now in collaboration with the Louisiana Tech Program. 14 ? What did I say? It's 14, that's a big difference! I was just checking to see who was paying attention.

Our SAVER program around science and engineering, and we're developing some other programs on that front, some robotics and other STEM programming, we're pursuing all of those to bring opportunities to blind students. Our program for transition age youth allows them the knowledge they need to have skills in the workplace, and building the network around where the blind work so we can show each and every employer out there to show that the opportunities for blind people are as unlimited as work opportunities themselves. Our career fair, which we had this morning, continues to grow and expand and we'll be using innovative ways to ensure that blind people can talk face to face with employers continues to grow.

In the access technology area, our Blind Innovators Leading Together program allows users and designers to work together on the forefront, not after the fact, but during the design process, building together with the blind. That BILT program is taking off, turning into something really formidable. But we have to build on the development of these programs through the cooperation of our membership. So we're going to be hosting quarterly meetings of all our technology divisions -- access technology trainers, computer engineers, developers, and if computer engineering people want to get in on this, they can as well. But in order to maintain the partnerships with the Microsofts, Apples, Googles, and Amazons of the world, we can't just have staff involved, we need every member involved in the process. We want to conform to what you demand of the Federation. Our research efforts continue to grow, we have our research council of blind individuals that understand at heart what we need and can encourage the right type of research. And we're publishing our journal of innovation in blindness research so that our peers know that the Federation knows what's going on. There's validity to what we do. The Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium continues to be the top place for people to learn how to represent individuals can disabilities better.

President Riccobono says building back better with the blind, and I like that, but it takes all of us. It takes all of us, a and we have to make sure we commit to providing the skills and training for individuals to grow to build back better with the blind. So we're going to be re-initiating our summer internship program. You'll be having more information coming about this soon. So we're looking for the best and brightest, and we're reframing it in a way to get more outputs from that person, so they'll get the quality interaction that they can only get at the Jernigan Institute, but we want to build on the ideas that you have to make the Federation better. So in addition to just submitting a resume and cover letter, we want to hear what your proposal is. What do you want to do over this 10-week period over the summer to change the lives of blind people? How can we support and grow that? And at the end of it, we'll support it in a real way. Who knows? We might come out with the next generation of blindness initiative programming that we incubate throughout our chapters, affiliates, and divisions. But we need each and every member of a chapter, affiliate, or division, but more specifically, each and every member of the Federation to be committed to what we're doing if we're really going to make a positive difference in the way that we need.

So let's build back better with the blind. Right?

But in order for us to do that, we have to go forth and build the National Federation of the Blind.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

Sir, the mic is yours.

MARK RICCOBONO: All right, great. Thank you, Anil. I'm going to lower the mic... ha!

Thank you very much, Anil. Appreciate it, and appreciate the work that you're doing to up the expectations on engaging the members, which is what we want to do in our organization.

That's just one aspect of the work that we do, or maybe that's many facets of the work that we do. Another component of our advocacy work that we're not talking too much about here on our Washington Seminar, but we want members to have an update on, is our legal strategy, and that's just one of the strategies we use. Obviously educating the Congress is a very important one. But sometimes we need to use the legal tools at our disposal. So I want to introduce to talk about our legal program and make some announcements two important people who are part of this. The first is Valerie Yingling, who serves to coordinate some of our legal work, our program work. If you have confronted an issue, undoubtedly you have talked to Valerie. She's done the intake with you. To see how we can help.

And the other is Scott LaBarre, who serves as our general counsel for the National Federation of the Blind. So here's Scott and Valerie!

(Intro music playing).

SCOTT LABARRE: (Laughing) if I were as good of a litigator as Perry Mason, we'd win even more cases, but I've done okay!

(Laughter.)

Are you there, Valerie?

VALERIE YINGLING:  I'm here, Scott.

SCOTT LABARRE: So we wanted to talk about the legal program, which we invest a significant amount of time and money in because, as Mark said, it's an important avenue for us, and I'm going to take a few minutes to talk about some of our recent cases and what's going on. But I recommend that everybody go to our website and check out the full breadth and scope of what we are doing in our legal program, nfb.org/legal.
Some of you have undoubtedly heard about a recent case that we've been involved with against the Los Angeles Community College District, LACCD. We've been handling this case for a number of years, and we've won some important victories in the law. Both the lower court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that LACCD is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by not providing accessible materials to blind students and accessible websites to those same students.
So, where we are in the case is we've won on the law, but we will be heading to trial ultimately to win on the facts of the case. Now, there is a wrinkle. The wrinkle is, the LACCD is thinking about appealing their decision to the Supreme Court on an issue that's been going on for a couple years. Some are arguing that neither Section 504 or the ADA for that matter allows plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief. In other words, you're not able to get any kind of systematic change or reform. All you can do is go into court and argue about your individual facts and your individual violations, and you cannot achieve systematic change.

Now, this would be a huge blow to the disability rights community, because we would no longer be able to use our laws to effect systematic change. We could only get change person by person. And LACCD is thinking about bringing this to the Supreme Court, and we are very concerned that if the current court looks at this, they might side with the position that LACCD has taken. Consequently, there's been a petition going around asking people to tell LACCD not to appeal this to the Supreme Court, and stand up for the rights of students and people with disabilities. Many of you have signed that petition. I urge you to sign that petition. So that is our case. The petition doesn't necessarily tell you it's the NFB that brought that case. But that is an example of the legal work that we do.

Another example is our work with Amazon. We entered into a settlement with Amazon, which requires that they make many jobs accessible in their warehouse facilities. They call them job paths. And we've been working with Amazon closely to implement the settlement, and overall it's going pretty well. However, there are some hiccups. So if you are interested in working at Amazon or have applied to Amazon and they haven't provided accommodations to you in a timely way and have placed you on leave, we want to hear from you.
Let me talk just for a second about voting. We've had some recent settlements with the state of New Hampshire and the state of Maryland making voting more accessible and available to blind people. In New Hampshire, for example, New Hampshire will continue using its accessible ballot-marking tool for absentee voting. That is injunctive relief we won on early in the case, but they have also agreed to make their website and other voter registration aspects accessible. In Maryland, we have entered into a settlement to make sure that there are more accessible machines at polling places -- ballot-marking devices as they are called. These are all examples of the great work we do in the legal program. But in order to do that work, we need your help and your input, and to discuss how you can help, here's Valerie.

VALERIE YINGLING: Thanks, Scott. I'm happy to announce a new resource on the NFB Legal Webpage. We've recently introduced template letters that blind parents, blind students, and parents of blind students can use when they encounter inaccessible technology at their or their children's schools. As they recommend, please copy NFB on any of the letters you send via the e-mail address advocacy at nfb.org. Please also continue to report information about inaccessible and accessible education technology software, through NFB's Education Technology Survey. The template letters are available in the resource section of NFB's Legal webpage, and the survey is available on the survey section of NFB Legal's webpage. Also, the National Federation of the Blind continues to investigate access barriers with LabCorp patient check-in kiosks. If you have been to an LabCorp location in the last year and were directed to use an inaccessible kiosk, and there was no employee available to assist you or had to rely on a customer to help you, please call the national number extension 2004 to report to me in your experience. If you have been discriminated against by either Uber or Lyft because of a disability, including but not limited to using a service animal or cane, report to NFB's ride share discrimination survey, which is available on NFB's Legal webpage. And last, we want to remind everyone that we maintain a contact us form on our legal webpage for anyone needing to discuss blindness related concerns and questions. Thank you.

SCOTT LABARRE: Thank you. And the last thing I'll do is give you our contact information again: 410-659-9314, Valerie is at extension 2440, I'm at extension 2424. Her email is [email protected], and I'm [email protected]. Thank you, Mr. President.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Valerie and Scott, for the work that you do to help steward our legal program, and I encourage all members to actively participate in providing data and helping to move our agenda forward. The LACCD case is a really important one. It's a big one for us. So please do what you can to help put on the pressure. It's great to see other disability organizations jumping into that. And I'm sure that's one of the things we will be talking about this summer when we go to the great state of Louisiana, so it seems fitting to hear from the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. She's also the executive director of our Louisiana Center for the Blind. Here's Pam Allen!

(Intro music playing -- New Orleans jazz).

PAM ALLEN: Good evening, my Federation family, and I hope everybody is getting ready to second line in New Orleans down Canal as we prepare to arrive at the New Orleans Marriott to kick off our 2022 Convention. We are so excited to welcome all of you, and our affiliate is working so diligently to plan some exciting things. I know this will be such an important time for us to gather. I know that we're all working hard to create an environment that everybody feels welcomed and comfortable and safe, and we are so excited to extend our hospitality to all of you, to welcome you to the great city of New Orleans!

Now, just a few facts. I know that many of you have already made your reservations. I know, but I just want to share with everybody, you definitely want to make plans to be in New Orleans July 5th Through 10. We are going to be using two hotels. Our main hotel is the New Orleans Marriott, and we will also be using our sister hotel, the Sheraton, right across Canal Boulevard from the Marriott. You can make reservations at 800-654-3990 at the Marriott, and the Sheraton can be reached at 855-516-1090. And we have ever changing and update information at NFB.org about our convention. Preregistration will be starting soon, beginning March 1st. So I know you'll want to get preregistered for an awesome convention that we have planned. I just want to mention to everybody, it is 148 days, just 148 days, but not that we're counting down or anything! We will be gathering in New Orleans. So please make your plans. For those of you who may be new to our organization, it's important to note that our biggest in-person convention was in 1997 in the great city of New Orleans. With 3,346 people.

So we're hoping to set some other records this year, and we're counting on all of you to be there. I know we're all looking forward to opening session, when President Riccobono gavels us to order. So please make sure to make your plans and be with us. We can't wait to welcome you and see you all in New Orleans. Laissez les bon temps rouler! President, Riccobono.

MARK RICCOBONO: Didn't you have an announcement for us?

PAM ALLEN: Thank you for that. I know there was a lot of suspense about this announcement. We had a little contest, thanks to Shawn Callaway. I know all of us who have been to the Washington Seminar like our Krispy Kreme donuts thanks to National. Thank you for that.

MARK RICCOBONO: Homer's been asking me about those.

(Laughter.)

PAM ALLEN: But Shawn was very gracious, and our DC affiliate had a contest among state presidents. So I am very excited to announce the winner. So this affiliate gets Krispy Kreme  donuts on opening day in New Orleans. The lucky winners are the great affiliate of Georgia. So congratulations Georgia! And all of us at Louisiana Center for the Blind are having a great time watching the Great Gathering In. We're here with our students and staff and Louisiana State Tech University.

So thank you!

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, Pam, and I was at the '97 convention, it was a great convention, and I'm expecting this one to be just as memorable. And, I don't know, I'm an ex officio Georgia member, so maybe I can stop by, maybe just lick some glazing off the box or something.

(Laughter.)

So now moving on because I'm getting hungry, we need to talk about leadership. We have people to talk about the work of the membership committee, from the great state of Illinois, here is Denise Avant.

(Music playing -- We Are Family).
We are family.
I got all my sisters with me.
We are family. Get up everybody, sing!

DENISE AVANT: Yes, we are family! Thank you so much, President Riccobono.

Good evening, everybody, I'm Denise Avant, and I'm one of the co-chairs of the membership committee, and the other co-chair is Tariq Williams. We are in the business of building the National Federation of the Blind. What we want to do is bring new members to the largest consumer advocacy organization in the United States, and even the world. And we want to make sure that they feel welcomed and that they understand our organization. So we have an onboarding process, and it takes all of us, affiliate presidents, chapter presidents, and members toe onboard the new member. And so we have developed several items for this year to help all of you bring in new members to our Federation. We will have a video that's going to come out pretty soon that's going to deal with some frequently asked questions about the onboarding process, we want to streamline the new membership form, and we will show you how to do that. We have the chapter presidents list for the chapter presidents to trade ideas on how to build your chapter and keep your meetings interesting. And we have the open house, which we have quarterly for new people to come in and ask questions about the National Federation of the Blind. We have the chapter presidents' calls, and we've even done some things with that. This year, we'll be having various themes that we will cover during those calls. So just this past January, we talked a lot about the Washington Seminar and the scholarship program. Because we know that when new members come in, that those are things that really get them excited. Because the Washington Seminar really shows blind people that we can really take an active role in determining what lives we want to lead, that we do have power, and that we can go to Capitol Hill and ask our representatives for what we need as blind people.

So these are some of the things that we have. If you as a chapter president, as an affiliate president, or just a member, have questions of us, please feel free to e-mail us at membership at NFB.org, and we will be happy to address any of your questions or concerns or ideas. And as our president puts it, let's go build the National Federation of the Blind! Thank you, Mr. President.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Denise, appreciate that. And let me take this opportunity to note that we do have a position available as a membership coordinator here on staff. Also a number of other positions. I know some people were at the virtual career fair today, and submitted interest in some of our positions. But you can find our open positions at NFB.org under "career opportunities". We'd love to have you apply to be part of the staff team at the National Federation of the Blind.

Okay, I'd like to move to a presentation about our PAC program. This is the preauthorized contribution program. Here to talk to us is one of the co-chairs of the PAC plan committee from the great state of Minnesota, here's the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Ryan Strunk!

(Pac Man theme song).

RYAN STRUNK: Good afternoon, and good evening, fellow Federationists.  I'm delighted to be with you, and I have to get through this quickly because I have some audio I want to share with you. This year, we raised $504,000 a year through the PAC plan, so everybody give yourself a pat on the back. Thank you so much for that. I also want to say, if you have on the PAC plan and have the ability right now, I would encourage you to increase your PAC plan contribution, because the work that we need to do continues, as you've heard about today. Now, if you're new to the PAC plan, and you're going, what is this PAC plan, and how can I be a part of it? I want to show you. And if you're on the PAC plan, and you want another way to help the organization, I have to show you about a phone call that I had earlier today. Here you go.

(Recording -- phone ringing).
Hello?

Hey, mom.

I hate to bother you at work, but I'm wondering if I could trouble you for a favor.

MOM: Okay...

RYAN: We have a thing in the National Federation of the Blind called the PAC plan, and it's a way to give to the organization on a monthly basis, basically, you can go to the website, fill out some information, and pick a date and then we will take the money out of your account on that specific date every month. It just disappears automatically, you don't even have to give it much thought. And it helps us to continue to do our work. So, I was calling to see if you would be interested in getting on the PAC plan.

MOM: Sure, I can do that.

RYAN: Well, thank you, I really appreciate it. Are you at a computer now?

MOM: I am.

RYAN: Okay, so all you have to do is go to NFB.org/pac.

MOM: Okay, that was easy.

RYAN: Then all you got to do is fill out that form.

MOM: Preauthorized... individual... individual name, that would be me. New enrollment. I want to donate this amount each month to the NFB program. Okay... I can put any amount in here I want, right?

RYAN: Any amount. We start from $5 and go up from there.

MOM: So, what date? That's a very good question.

(Ryan laughs).

Okay, address 1, address 2, city, state... this is easy!

(Ryan laughs again).

I'll put in my home number... credit card... select your credit card... credit card number... expiration. Oh, I have to remember to -- that's good that they do that.

RYAN: Uh-huh.

MOM: (Humming to herself). Select an affiliate to receive credit.

RYAN: Now, you live in Nebraska, so you could give Nebraska credit. Your son lives in Minnesota, so you could give Minnesota credit. It's up to you.

MOM: Now, since you reached out to me, I'll put Minnesota. If someone from Nebraska wants to reach out to me, I'll give to them.

RYAN: (Laughing) fair enough.

MOM: Thank you for your support, a confirmation e-mail will be sent to you for your records.

RYAN: Okay, thank you!

MOM: You're welcome!

RYAN: I appreciate it. Thank you for helping us continue our work.

MOM: Absolutely, keep up the good job.

RYAN: Talk to you soon! Love you, bye.

MOM: Love you.

RYAN: Thank you to my mom, who I called later and asked if I could share that recording and she said yes. If you don't want to give on the computer, I want to encourage you two other ways you can do it. You can call 1-877-632-2722, or you can email [email protected]. And you can sign up for the PAC plan that way. Now, normally, at this time, we'd all sing the PAC song together. I'm not going to do that for you. Instead I'm going to turn it over to somebody who can.

So, here to take us out this evening and to sing the PAC song for us is Massachusetts' own Selena Sang, and encourage you to join us at home. Everybody get on the PAC plan.

(Music playing -- Don't Stop Believing).
Get on the PAC plan, right away.
Funding our movement must be done.
So all our battles can be won!

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Ryan and mom. Sorry for getting flooded with calls from Nebraska now --

(Laughter.)

Well, you know, I guess you can have as many PAC contributions as you want, but, you know, one is enough.
So thank you very much for the work on the PAC plan. Really appreciate it. And appreciate all of our contributors to this program, which gives us discretionary dollars to do the things we need to do, especially on Capitol Hill. Funnily enough, the government doesn't want to give us money to advocate on Capitol Hill! So those discretionary dollars are really important.

Speaking of Capitol Hill, I now want to move to the issues that we're going to be covering during Washington Seminar. And here to lead us through this along with a fantastic team, a department that works on the staff side to mobilize the membership around advocacy and policy, is our most loud, proud, and effective advocate in Washington, DC. He's the executive director for advocacy and policy. Here's John Pare!

(Music playing).
Hey, come on now, got a revolution, got the revolution!
We are volunteers of America!
Volunteers of America...
(Music fades).

JOHN PARE: Thank you, President Riccobono, and good evening Federation family. It's so great to be here. There are three reasons that the National Federation of the Blind is so successful and effective at Washington Seminar. The first is teamwork. It reminds me of an old fable, Aesop fable from about 2,000 years ago, where the father gave a small stick to each of his children and asked them to break it. They easily broke it. He then bundled a large number of sticks, tied them up, and gave the bundle to the first child, who could not break it, the second and the third. None of them could break it. He said, when you stand alone, you can be broken. But when you stand together, you are unbreakable. And it's that teamwork that we demonstrate every, really, throughout the year, especially from at Washington Seminar. And we demonstrate it really at two levels. One, the teamwork in the individual meetings -- how we move effectively and  smoothly from presenter to presenter because we've practiced and we understand the issues, and we really demonstrate great teamwork in the meetings.

But keep in mind when you're doing the individual meeting, there may be 10, 20, 30 other meetings happening at the same time. There's all these other Federationists sitting on Zoom this year, hopefully in person next, and they're doing exactly the same thing. Their small team is going through issues. So we have this individual teamwork that you can see in the meeting. But we also have a big team doing the same thing throughout the same days. And it's that aggregate teamwork that makes us successful.

And preparation helps us do what we do. Which reminds me, it's Abraham Lincoln's birthday on Saturday, and he once had to cut down a tree in six hours, and he said, if I have to cut down a tree in six hours, I would spend the first four hours sharpening my axe. That's an example of the kind of preparation that we do. For example, this afternoon, we had a preparation session for two hours, and now you're here learning more. We are going to be so prepared -- we had training sessions that occurred -- two in the evenings, and then the mock meetings. And then other preparation that you've done. All for your 20-minute meeting. But it's that preparation that shines through, and in fact, many staff and members of Congress say that we are some of the most prepared advocacy groups that they ever encounter in Washington, DC. So it's teamwork’s preparation, and it's passion.

As you heard President Riccobono in his opening talk, and the passion that came through in his voice, and the passion that we have, in our personal stories, because this is our lives. Our lives are being affected by these issues. And we want to go in and talk about how to solve the barriers that we're encountering. Because we have solutions. As President Riccobono said, we don't just have problems. We have solutions. Very detailed and really good solutions. So let's start to talk about those.

All right, so we're going  to march through the four issues with four presenters, let's start with the Access Technology Affordability Act with Jeff Kaloc.

JEFF KALOC: Good evening everyone. Hopefully next year we can be in person, but I think this is going to be a very effective Washington Seminar even though we're conducting it virtually. As John mentioned, Access Technology Affordability Act is a bill we've been working on for quite some time, but we've gained a significant amount of momentum. We currently have 118 co-sponsors in the House and 34 in the Senate. These co-sponsors are bipartisan. We have Ds and Rs that have co-sponsored the bill. And this legislation is well known now within the halls of Congress. To the extent that we have been trying to put it onto different vehicles in order to get it passed. And this is because of the efforts that you have been doing over the past few years -- getting your members of Congress to co-sponsor, getting your members of Congress to sponsor it, or even sharing your personal stories to b bring that enthusiasm to the bill. I thank you and commend you for your efforts. As you know, when you speak to the members of Congress about the bill, your personal story is going to make the most effective change and it's going to be the best tool in your toolbox to advocate for this bill. As I mentioned, members of Congress and senators, they can look up the bill number. They can read the bill text. They can go on the NFB website and see our Washington Seminar page and all the details about the bill. What they can't see, and what they can't view is your personal story. How this bill will make your live better and the lives of many other blind Americans better. So to share that personal story and say how it will make an impact in your life and the lives of others is really going to make the difference.

And when you're speaking with your members of Congress, you want to not only, you know, talk about how the bill -- its significance and how it will make your lives better and the lives of others, but how it will increase productivity, how it will make the federal government better, how it will make the system run more smoothly. These are the things that we really want to hone on as we're in those meetings and we're trying to describe the bill and advocate for it. So, I think we're going to be very successful this Washington Seminar, and I wish you all the best. And let's build the Federation.

(John on mute).
John, you're still on mute...

JOHN PARE: Oh, sorry about that.

All right, thank you, Jeff. And the next issue is the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act. We have a new team member to cover that, Justin Young has joined us as a staff member, government affairs specialist. He has been the legislative director for New York for quite some time. He's been to many Washington Seminars. So he has a lot of experience. Affiliate board member, Rochester board member, and very excited about this, so here to talk about the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act is Justin.

JUSTIN YOUNG: Greetings, all. I'm here to talk about the issue of the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act. Earlier in this Great Gathering In, Pam talked about convention. Well, at convention, we have resolutions, and one of last year's resolutions was on looking at this issue of medical devices being not accessible to us as blind people. In particular, those that use a digital interface. This interface may include the buttons, the controls, the prompts, the instructions. It's not being conveyed to us in an accessible format. These devices relate to either glucose monitors, blood pressure machines, in-home dialysis, chemo treatments, and even more along these same lines. Which, if we do not properly know what we're doing, can be very damaging to our health. And also, because of COVID, and the pandemic, many health care providers have been going via the telehealth model, and with -- may be interested in increasing that. So we need to make sure that these devices are accessible, that we can use them independently, and more importantly, safely, so make sure we're getting the necessary medical treatment that we need. So to solve this problem, we've come up with this piece of legislation called the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act. This piece of legislation would require the Food and Drug Administration to introduce a proposed rule which would give them one year to do this. It would then move on during that one year phase to finalize that rule. And then on the third year, it would be required to implement that finalized rule, where the manufacturers of these machines, these glucose monitors, blood pressure cuffs, etc., must comply with these mandates, and if they do not comply after the three year period, the penalties placed on them would be the same structure that it is on all the other ways the medical device industry does not comply with the law. Because we want to make sure that we live the lives that we want, this bill is currently pending in the House of  Representatives in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and it's HR 4853, and it has 10 co-sponsors, all Democrats, so we need your help encouraging co-sponsorship. And a motto of the Federation is collective action, so after the Washington Seminar, we need your help to keep moving the agenda, not just on this particular piece of legislation, but all the pieces of legislation we're going to talk about during this time period. So keep on moving up, and I hope you have a great week!

JOHN PARE: Thanks, Justin, and Justin, you make a great point. I want to say that our efforts to pass our legislation is a year-round effort, and I appreciate the year-round effort that all of you make and that we do as a group, but Washington Seminar is our time to surge. It's a time when we have the teamwork, where we get to meet with every member of Congress, and we get to do it all within one week, so we get this big surge. Last year, we did get a good surge on many of our issues, and we're hoping to continue this year getting more co-sponsors on the bill that Jeff talked about, ATAA, Access Technology Affordability Act, in both the House and the Senate. The Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act that you just heard from Justin in the House. And to find a Senate champion.

And next would be the 21st Century Websites and Applications Accessibility Act that you're about to hear from. Scott LaBarre is going to tell us all about that. Here's Scott.

SCOTT LABARRE: Thank you so much, John, and this is obviously a critical issue for us, but before I address it, I just want to shout out to my fellow co-chair of the PAC Committee, you did a great job, Ryan, great job. So let's keep it up on the PAC plan.

So, sitting in front of me right now as I speak to you is my laptop, which has JAWS on it, my iPhone, which of course has Voiceover, and my braille sense. These are all wonderful pieces of equipment that allow me to get access to the world... except when I run into an inaccessible website. Except when I run into an inaccessible application on my iPhone, or something that I can't use, some application I can't use on my Braille Sense.

Over 313 million Americans access the internet every day. At least once. And it is becoming absolutely critical that we have access to the internet for basically every area of our life -- education, employment, access to governmental programs. Heck, during the pandemic, it was critical that we had access to the web so that we could order groceries or order a test for COVID-19. Or schedule our vaccines.

And the problem is that even though the Americans with Disabilities Act has been around since 1990, and even though this has been a supposed priority area of concern for over 20  years, we still face great barriers in accessing websites and applications. In fact, a recent survey showed that 98% of the websites out there have at least one accessibility barrier.

So, as many of you know, about 12 years ago now, the Obama administration put forth a notice of proposed rulemaking, whereby the Department of Justice would have issued regulations making it clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to websites regardless of whether those websites are purely online and on the internet, or whether the website was connected in some way with a brick and mortar location. Well, that rulemaking process never went anywhere, either during the Obama administration or, of course, during the Trump administration. And so far, we see no signs of it in the Biden administration! Meanwhile, our reliance as a society on websites and applications that run on our smartphones or our computers grows and grows every day. And there's another problem. There have been a lot of, quote-unquote, click-by lawsuits out there where lawyers are bringing lawsuits against businesses for inaccessible websites, and not really doing it to effect change, but rather to get quick cash settlements. These so-called click-by lawsuits. So we have a crisis in our country in terms of accessing the internet and accessing websites and applications, and we've got to take this matter into our own hands. And this is exactly what our bill would do. It will do it a number of ways. First, we would have a very clear, functional definition of what accessibility means in this space. A definition that would survive the test of time. We want it to be functional, because we do not want to link our definition of accessibility to any one current standard of WCAG 2.1 -- well, someday we're going to have a WCAG 192.8. We want to be able to have a standard that lasts across time. We want to have a way to enforce the standard, so this bill would have a public and private right of action. What does this mean? The Department of Justice or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission could investigate inaccessible websites or applications and bring their own enforcement actions in a court of law. Or we can bring our own actions in a court of law as private citizens.

Now, the bill also calls for the Access Board to review the standard on an ongoing basis to ensure that we have that functional standard, to make sure we're reaching out and touching all versions of website and application technologies as they emerge.

Now, we have been working very closely with one particular senate office, and we have a draft bill, and we're hoping to get that bill dropped soon. But this is where we need your help. We need to continue raising the profile on this issue. We need to continue making noise so this particular office understands that, yes, now is the time to drop this bill. We have heard some concerns people have about what we're doing, because they're afraid of opening up the ADA. Well, we're not opening up the ADA at all, ladies and gentlemen. We are creating our new stand-alone law that makes it clear that all websites that provide information and services and goods to us need to be accessible. And they need to be accessible when launched. This can no longer be a problem where people continually introduce websites and applications and go "oops! We forgot about the accessibility part! We'll get to that later." So we need your help. We need to raise the noise level on this.

We're already getting some attention. We're creating some buzz. But the buzz isn't loud enough yet. So please, get out there this week. Talk to your offices. Convince them. We all have stories. Every day we run into a website that's inaccessible. Every single day. So let's go out there and let's change the world by getting better access, full, meaningful, equal access to websites and applications. Thank you, John.

JOHN PARE: Thanks, Scott. Yeah, the timing of this year's Washington Seminar could not be better with respect to this particular issue. It's just come up recently that we need to raise the profile of this issue. And I didn't tell them that we're going to have 500 to 1,000 people in effect virtually, but coming to Washington to talk about this issue. And we're going to definitely raise the profile in the House and the Senate. Really excited about this. And let's jump to the next issue. All right, the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act. I'm going to go ahead and do that myself. You heard President Riccobono at the beginning talking about that it's time that we end the low expectations, the statutory low expectations contained in the law. You heard from Senator Steve Daines. He said that it's wrong, that it's unfair. It's great to have him as a champion. In fact, I want to digress slightly. You know, the four champions we've had now of this Bill -- the sponsor in the House, Bobby Scott, who is also the chair of the relevant committee, spoke to our Great Gathering In a couple years ago. You have the ranking member or lead co-sponsor, she's also a ranking member, but lead co-sponsor Kathy McMorris Rogers has also talked about this issue. Senator Casey spoke at our most recent in-person Congressional reception, very committed to this issue. And now you have Senator Steve Daines, the lead co-sponsor, come, and I believe this is probably the first time he's talk about this issue. And that's because the National Federation of the Blind is leading the charge to phase out and eliminate Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act. We've helped investigate people like the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the National Council on Disability, and other prominent federal agencies to study this issue and determine that it's time to phrase out and eliminate the ability to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

All right. Now, the bill introduced to do it is the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act. It's HR 2373 in the House, S 3238 in the Senate. This bill is divided into five titles. The other bills that we've talked about so far don't have separate titles. Think of titles as chapters.

All right, so, this bill has Title I, it's the longest title in the bill. And it creates a grant program so that states or entities that currently pay less than minimum wage can try to apply for a grant to get some money to help them smoothly transfer their business model from the subminimum wage business model to competitive integrated employment.

That's a good thing. Because we want it to go smoothly. So states or entities that think that they need this financial help, it's short-term, limited financial help, could help get it. And that's in Title I.

Title II is the core of the bill. It's the part that actually has the phase-out language. It does it over a five year period. After year 1, entities that currently pay subminimum wage would have to be paying at least 60% of the sub minimum wage. And then after year 2, they'd have to pay at least 70%. Year 3, 80%. Year 4, 90%. And year 5, 100%. So that's why we call it a five year phase-out. Each year, over five years, employers would have to come closer to paying the minimum wage in effect in that particular state. And then after the five years, they'd be at 100%. People with disabilities would be getting the same minimum wage in that state that other people get. And Section 14c would be sunset. Think of that as being stricken. But the proper term would be "sunset".

All right, that was Title II. Title III creates a technical assistance center. That's good because entities or states might need to be able to call to talk about how to implement some part of the phaseout, and being able to talk to experts who have done it -- remember, dozens of places that have paid sub minimum wages have already phased it out. They're doing it more and more. In fact, 10 states have passed legislation to either phase it out completely, or for some element in that state -- some states, for example, are phasing it out for their state contracts. But already we've got 10 states to start the process. Maryland is already fully phased out, and some other states have already completely phased it out. And the technical assistance center will help with that.

The fourth title is relatively small and short. It requires reporting to Congress so Congress can keep track about how this is going.

And then the fifth title has the definitions and the authorization of appropriation. This is the one difference between the two bills. Because the House authorization is for $300 million, and the Senate authorization is for $1 billion. This is over a five year period. That's not per year, but the total other the entire five years. We support either one. We think $300 million would be enough. So we support the House bill. But if it ended up at the larger amount, that would be fine too. Again, we know it can be done, because so many places have already effectively done it, especially at the urging of the National Federation of the Blind.

All right, so, that's our fourth issue, and next what I'd like to do is take a few minutes -- there's a number of logistical things that you should keep in mind. Even though we're virtual, we have certain ones that are unique to when we're in person, others that are sort of unique to the virtual environment, and a number of things that are going to overlap no matter what. Here to talk about some of those critically important logistical items is Kyle Walls.

KYLE WALLS: Thanks, John, and thank you, President Riccobono, for hosting us this evening. The first thing I want to talk about as far as logistics goes is the Washington Seminar portal. I'll try to do this in the order that you encounter things. So as far as the portal goes, make sure you put the Zoom meeting ID in the employment information. Also make sure that the NFB point of contact name and phone number is in the appointment information as well. We'll need both of those to make sure we can attend meetings or get in contact with you if we would like to attend a meeting.

Also, please keep the employment information up-to-date. I've noticed several updates have come in throughout the day for preexisting -- appointments that have existed already, so that's great, keep doing that. Make sure those stay up-to-date so we have the best information we possibly can have.

All right, so, if you have any problems with the portal, go ahead and email [email protected], or if it's something simple like a password reset, you can go ahead and email me at [email protected].

Now we're going to move into the meetings. For this, I would like you to go ahead and study the, what we call the cheat sheets or the state-by-states that we've sent out. Those are all the information that you're going to need for a successful meeting. They have the sponsor and co-sponsor history for every single member of Congress, and they've got the relevant committees that that particular member of Congress is on as far as our issues are concerned.

Study the fact sheets. Know the issues. You have all the tools you need to be successful. You just need to utilize them. The fact sheets and the issues are all available at nfb.org/washington-seminar, and they're available in HTML, Word, VRF, and audio formats. When the meeting is done, please remember to enter the portal and rate the meeting. Please do this as soon as you can, because we start to use this information very quickly, sometimes as early as next week, so we can do our research and know which members of Congress are supportive of our issues. For those ratings, you'll have four options. There's yes, if the member or their staff has enthusiastically said yes, we like this bill, we're going to support it, we're going to co-sponsor it. There's no, if they're a little less enthusiastic about it. There's undecided, if they maybe say they want to do a little more research and get back to us. Then there's not discussed. You would use this option if maybe, you know, you ran out of time or they had to run out for a specific reason.

Coming up, now we're going to move into after meetings, after the ratings. This will be tomorrow night and Wednesday night, both at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, these are our legislative debrief meetings, and we do these on Tuesday and Wednesday nights so that we can give you as the members an opportunity to come talk to us about some of the things you're hearing at the meetings. Some of the concerns, maybe questions that members of Congress or their staff are asking you.

And the last thing I'm going to talk about is the Washington Seminar webpage -- again, this is nfb.org/washington-seminar. In addition to the fact sheets, you can find there a full agenda for the Washington Seminar with all of the Zoom information, so that will be the Zoom information for tomorrow night and Wednesday night. It has an audio recording of the issues training that we did last month, as well as an audio recording of an example meeting that we did last month. And there are transcripts for both of those meetings. So that is all I have! Thanks, John.

JOHN PARE: Thanks, Kyle. Keep in mind a critical thing that Kyle mentioned -- it's all critical, but a critical thing he mentioned is the state by state list which is individual and customized for all 535 members of Congress. We've sent it to every affiliate president and legislative director. So then you can see when you go in to meet with that particular representative or senator, have they already co-sponsored something in the current or previous Congress? So you can thank them.

Also, an important element is then you can skip that issue, since they've already agreed to do it, and that will let you focus on the remaining three issues. And when you go to do that, you might put a little extra effort in one of the issues when that member of Congress -- or, I should say, a little extra time -- if that member of Congress is on the relevant committee. Because for our bills to get moved forward through Congress, they have to first get through committee. So if you're speaking to someone, say, for the Access Technology Affordability Act, they happen to be a member of Ways and Means in the House, or Finance in the Senate, and they have not yet co-sponsored it, you'd want to put a little extra time on that particular issue. So each meeting should take a little customization on how you do that.

I'm really excited about the teamwork that everyone has demonstrated, that we, the National Federation of the Blind, constantly demonstrate, and you've heard throughout this meeting the preparation that we're doing, and the passion that we exude, and I can't wait to be in the meetings with you tomorrow. Back to you, President Riccobono!

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, John, and Jeff, and Justin, and Kyle, and to the rest of our advocacy and policy group that helps behind the scenes to make all these things happen along with the membership. So thank you all for your preparation and we look forward to charging up the virtual Capitol Hill to get all these appointments done this week.

Now, I have three more things for you, so please don't go away, because before we're done, I want to talk to you about our conversations with the White House around accessible at-home COVID tests. But first, before we get to that, for a short announcement, I want to introduce our director of outreach from the great state of Illinois, here is Patty Chang!

(Music playing).
You get higher, and higher, straight up you'll climb...

PATTI CHANG: Perfect song, since we love to dance. I have a few questions for anyone on this call, and you can write the answers down or think about the answers, but question number 1 is just very simply, why are you here? What have you gained from the National Federation of the Blind that motivates you to be a part of something like Washington Seminar? And then, would you like to pay that forward with a financial commitment?

We talked about the PAC plan, and that's very important for current funding. But what we haven't talked about yet is, what about the next generation? Is it important enough to you to make a commitment to give a legacy gift? Difficult topic, because people have to think about when they're not here. But we're want this movement to grow and to keep building, build better, for decades to come, and for our children. So there are lots of ways to do this. I won't get into the weeds on the ways to do it. I just want you all to think about doing it. If you are interested in more information about how to become a part of our legacy group, which is called the Dream Makers Circle, please contact me at extension 2422, or [email protected], and I'll tell you right up front, President Riccobono, Melissa, Francisco and I are all proud members of the Dream Makers Circle. Thank you, Mr. President.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks, Patti, and to all the members of the Dream Members Circle, because the more people who make this commitment, the easier it is to convince others, especially those who are not members, to make the commitment. Because when they see that those who are close to the organization feel so passionate about it that they make this commitment, it really makes a difference.

One of the things that does happen as part of our Washington Seminar is the midyear gathering of our student division, the National Association of Blind Students. I was proud to be with them this morning. And we have from our student division an important announcement you don't want to miss...

(Video: A montage of blind students conducting various activities is shown throughout).

NABS has shown me how to solve problems creatively and how to laugh when things don't go exactly as planned. How to become confident  with my disability. To be an advocate for myself. NABS has shown me how to find accessible note taking apps, to mentor and be mentored, what it means to be a leader, how to become a successful blind student, how to edit podcasts. How to effectively manage my time.

I would never have learned the skills of how to talk people, how to properly present myself, and much more.
Good evening, fellow Federationists, this is Trisha Kulkarni, and I am honored to serve as president of the National Association of Blind Students. Our vibrant student division here in the National Federation of the Blind. Although we're wishing we could all be in person this year, students are still loud and proud at the 2022 Washington Seminar. We're popping in to this Great Gathering In to tell you all about an important initiative we're working on and how you can support our work.

To raise money for blind students, NABS is holding a virtual Washington Seminar auction. Bid on one of our beautiful baskets, bountiful bundles, or interesting items. Whether you're wanting to power up in the kitchen with an air fryer, stay connected in style with an Apple watch, tour the coastlines of the Midwest with one of our region based baskets, or consume copious amounts of coffee with an Nespresso machine, you don't want to miss out on the opportunity to support opportunities. Visit 32auctions.com/blindstudents, and place your bids before February 9th, when it's going, going, gone.

NABS is all about building networks and bringing change for blind students all around the world. Each day we seek to empower blind students through organized activism, ongoing mentorship, leadership development, resource sharing, and so much more.

Your support for our division enables students to attend a life changing in-person seminar, challenge themselves to become better advocates through confidence bolstering activities, and ultimately grow as leaders, dreamers, and world changers through our initiatives. By supporting our tight network and family, you're empowering us to raise the expectations of and for blind students. Your support helps us live the lives we want.

(Upbeat electronic music playing).
(Many students voices: Thank you, thank you, thank you!)

TRISHA: And once again please participate in our auction by visiting 32auctions/2022blindstudents. Thank you!

MARK RICCOBONO: All right, I encourage everybody to go to the website. It is accessible. I know, I was there earlier today. Check it out, make a bid, support our blind students doing great work. And remember that this group of blind individuals is particularly challenged, because going back to website accessibility, they've had to push forward with universities and colleges that frankly just weren't ready, right, to be accessible in the virtual environment. Even though we've told them year after year after year! So it's a great reason to support their work and their advocacy. And thank you to the energy and imagination that our student division brings to the National Federation of the Blind.

Now, before we close, I know we're just a couple minutes over, but I do want to talk to you about our efforts to push the administration and frankly, the industry to make accessible at-home COVID-19 tests. And this is a real opportunity for us to push accessibility into the at-home testing space, where it has not existed before.
Federationists know that we reached out to the administration on January 3rd. We sent a letter to the White House. And over the past few weeks, we've been, well, frankly, sending letters to all the people we can think of and find that might be able to do something about this. We have been having some productive conversations with the White House on this issue, recognizing that they've made a commitment to a billion tests already without a plan for nonvisual access. So there needs to be both short and long term provisions made.

Our voice and our advocacy has been heard. We did invite the White House to be here at this Great Gathering In. They were not able to do that. However, they did give me a statement to offer you all this evening, and this is from the White House Office on the COVID-19 Response.

And it reads as follows:

The White House office on the COVID-19 Response is incredibly grateful for the advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind. Over the past month, we have had fruitful discussions with your president and executive director for advocacy and policy following up on the Federation's January 3rd letter regarding accessible testing.

We are glad that blind individuals have successfully been able to order at-home tests through the administration's recent distribution, and recognize the importance of ensuring that all people in the United States, including blind individuals, can efficiently use them and interpret the results on their own. We are working quickly across the agencies to develop short-term solutions for at-home tests currently on the market, and long-term solutions around the research and development of at-home tests and alternative solutions to get accessible COVID-19 testing to blind individuals. We look forward to our continued partnership with the National Federation of the Blind in this work.

I wish we had more specifics to share with you this evening -- this is my statement, not theirs! I wish that we did have more specifics. But I will say, this statement is a good step forward. For a number of weeks, we hadn't gotten a response from the White House on this issue. And we have very clearly now gotten information that we have been heard by government about this, and there is a great opportunity. I want to let you know that we at our national office are getting all of the FDA approved COVID-19 at-home tests. We're testing them for accessibility. We're writing reports on what the testing companies can do, especially not just to put a band aid on what they already have out there. But to really develop tests that could be inclusive and fully accessible from the beginning, going forward. We've written to some of the companies who have the most accessible tests and we've gotten some good responses. So I think the Federation's work on this has been critical, and we're going to see some real accessibility in at-home testing going forward. Obviously, being Federationists, we continue to push forward and live the lives we want. So I know that many of are you going out, getting your hands on those tests, and finding ways to get access to them. Also want to remind you that we have partnered with AIRA to make sure that if you have a smartphone and can access the AIRA app that you have access to a free visual interpreter who can help you with your COVID-19 at-home test. You do not need to have a paid sub scription to AIRA to do that, and that's because of the commitment of the National Federation of the Blind. We're going to continue to press the government, both on our disappointment that they did not include us from the beginning, on the opportunity to innovate in this space, and to make sure that the future is built better with the blind.

So, congratulations to all of you for your support on that. Keep pushing on social media. Keep pushing on the Hill this week. Keep building the network that we have that allows us to show the strength to the federal government, to our members of Congress, and to the public that we truly are the voice of the nation's blind.
So with that, I will close our 2022 Great Gathering In Meeting by saying let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!

(Banging gavel).
(Music playing).
Let's do this!
Oh, oh, oh, oh, hey!
Are you ready for a comeback? Are you ready to fly?
Are you ready to for the moment?
Get ready to ride.
Calling all the fighters.
Uh-huh.
Calling all survivors.
Are you up all-nighters?
Let's do this.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, hey.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, hey.
Let's do this!
Can you feel the fire running through your veins?
Now you're burning brighter, don't look away.
Shout out to the people running from the wreckage, counting down the seconds.
It's time to reach in... let's do this!
Oh, oh, oh, hey!
Let's do this.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, hey!
Let's do this.
Oh, oh, oh, oh.
I know we've got a long way to go.
I know we've got a long road home.
I know we've got a long way to go...
(Music intensifies).
Let's do this.
Oh, oh, oh,  oh, let's do this.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, let's do this!
(Music fades out).

(End of webinar.)