Welcome, Introductions, and Opening Remarks

LOU ANN BLAKE:  Good morning, everyone.  And welcome to the 2022 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium:  The right of people with disabilities to live in a world of pandemics, political polarization, and natural disasters.

My name is Lou Ann Blake, director of research programs for the National Federation of the Blind, and I am very pleased to welcome you all to this year's symposium.

Before we get underway, I have just a few Zoom housekeeping items to go over with you all.  If you are not actively speaking, please do not have your videocameras on, so that the ASL interpreter can be easily seen.  And also, if you are not actively speaking, please be sure that you are muted. And I think that's all the housekeeping items we have at the moment.  We'll get underway in about 1 minute.

All right.  To kick off this year's symposium, I am pleased and honored to introduce to you the man who has successfully guided the National Federation of the Blind through the COVID-19 pandemic with strength and compassion, who has assisted our affiliates with aiding our members who have been impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters, and who is currently working with the World Blind Union to assist blind Ukrainians.  It is my pleasure to welcome to you the President of the National Federation of the Blind, Mark Riccobono.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you very much, Lou Ann.  Appreciate the introduction.  And it's great to be together with everybody again for this law symposium.  It's always a great honor to gather together with everybody to kick this event off.

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future, and that every day we raise the expectations of blind people because we recognize that low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams, that you can live the life you want, and that blindness is not what holds you back.

The title for our symposium this year has some obvious implications, and the fact that the essential struggle to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are maintained and our dignity is not diminished is really at the core of what you all work on on a daily basis.  While the difficulties and the circumstances that we've faced have impacted all Americans today, we recognize that the impact on people with disabilities has been even more significant because of the low expectations that exist.  And because of those struggles, the potential for diminishing resources that are targeted at the work of this community has been a real threat.  And your continued work to ensure that people with disabilities continue to be recognized and receive the support they need to live the lives they want is really important, and I want to thank you for the work that you all are doing in that regard.

My screen reader is telling me everybody who has joined.  It's great to hear the crowd that's come in.
There is an even stronger bond implied in the title of our symposium this year.  Like all good movements, disability rights is a movement of ordinary people coming together to overcome extraordinary barriers.  And despite the pandemic, political polarization, natural disasters, among other things that we could certainly add to this list, including as Lou Ann alluded to, war, this community here is contributing and continues to contribute to persist in advocating for the rights, respect, understanding, and achievements of a significant class of people who would otherwise be left behind if not completely forgotten in certain corners of our society.  And this movement seeks not to stand simply outside of other movements, but this movement works to demonstrate that disability very uniquely amongst all other movements really touches all of the civil rights movements that are recognized in society.

This morning I'm compelled to imagine how poorly equipped our nation and really the global community would have been to navigate the difficult times that we have been through without the meaningful contributions of people with disabilities as amplified by the work that happens in the disability rights movement.  This symposium is designed to bring together those seeking to make the movement even stronger, and through collective action, amplify the everyday voices, hopes, dreams, and struggle of people with disabilities in a way that improves society for all of us.

With the past couple years of difficult circumstances, it's hard sometimes to be optimistic about where we are and what the future might hold.  But I for one -- and I hope you share this sentiment -- I am filled with hope.  Why?  Well, because our community of activists continue to come together in our Disability Law Symposium to keep marching forward, to keep the focus on where we want to go and what we want to do.  And to keep disability at the center of these conversations.

I want to thank you for continuing to give me and so many others hope through the work that you do on a daily basis to strengthen and build the movement that we all have the honor of participating in.  Your commitment and persistence makes a real difference.  And you're building this space that we share.  It makes such a difference to the work that we can do in the disability rights space and to many people with disabilities who haven't otherwise found support and the value they bring has not been recognized in those corners where they live.  But you and your work helps them to know that their life, their contributions, make a difference and inspires them to pursue their dreams.  So thank you for the work that you do.

I want to extend a couple other thanks here before we move on this morning.  I want to thank our steering committee.  If you have suggestions of people who should be considered for the future for our steering committee, please send those to us.  Thank you to this year's steering committee, including Zainab Alkebsi from the National Association of the Deaf; Selene Almazan from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates; Tim Elder from TRE Legal; Deepa Goraya from the Delaware Department of Justice; Jasmine Harris from the University of Pennsylvania Law School; Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum from Brown, Goldstein & Levy; Cathy Kudlick from San Francisco State University; Scott LaBarre from the National Federation of the Blind, Kathy Martinez from the AAPD; Silvia Yee from Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
And thank you also to our presenters and those who are contributing by doing work behind the scenes as Zoom hosts or working on the captioning or other aspects of our meeting.

This symposium has been made possible by our generous sponsors, who I would like to thank for contributing to this law symposium.  At the gold level, Brown, Goldstein & Levy.  At the silver level, Rosen, Bien, Galvan & Grunfeld.  At the bronze level, we have the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; also the Burton Blatt Institute.  Derby, McGuinness & Goldsmith, LLP.  LaBarre Law Offices.  And also Rosenberg, Martin, Greenberg LLP and Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP.

At the white cane level, finally, we would like to thank the Law School Admissions Council for your support.  Thank you to all of our sponsors for helping to make this gathering possible.

Finally, before we get underway, I wanted to acknowledge the work that we're doing in the National Federation of the Blind as part of the global community of blind people to bring together individuals to support blind people who have been displaced by the horrific actions happening in the Ukraine.  We are participating in a concert called We're With You, with funds by the World Blind Union in what has been designated as the Ukrainian unity fund.  So I want to raise up to you that on April 16th there will be a global benefit concert with the blind communities coming together to raise funds for this unity fund.  You can learn more about the activities, how you can get involved as a performer, how you can contribute by going to our website at www.NFB.org/blindwithu.  That's the letter U.  You can also follow the hashtag #blindwithu on social media.  I encourage you to join these or other organizations helping those impacted by the activities in the Ukraine.  I know that's just one of the many things we'll be talking about at this symposium, so thank you for your time.  Looking forward to our first presentation.

Have a great week, and thank you for contributing to this community.

LOU ANN BLAKE:  Thank you so much, President Riccobono.  We appreciate your words.
I would like to echo the thanks that President Riccobono gave to our sponsors, as well as to our steering committee.  We have a fantastic steering committee, and appreciate the guidance and the work that they've done with us to put this symposium together.