This year has been full of growth. As a membership and civil rights organization, the National Federation of the Blind’s mission of connecting and protecting blind people is stronger and more urgent than ever.
In a time of social distancing, the networks and resources of the National Federation of the Blind became even more necessary. This year we have onboarded hundreds of new members across the country, amplified communications and means of sharing information, and increased virtual infrastructure to connect people to people, mentors to mentees, and friends to friends. We held our national convention virtually for the first time and participation exceeded more than 10,000 people.
Out of necessity, we ramped up emergency advocacy for blind people early in the pandemic. As a blind parent of blind children, I felt the acute need to advocate for blind students struggling with inaccessible virtual learning. This spring we transformed our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning® (BELL) Academy into our first-ever in-home edition, in which teachers connected with families virtually, and our local leaders mentored students and parents throughout the summer.
The NFB led a nationwide advocacy effort to ensure that all blind Americans were able to participate in the democratic process. We are continuing our work to ensure that all states implement accessible absentee and mail-in voting procedures to protect blind voters’ right to a secret ballot and fully enfranchise all of us going forward.
We could not have done any of this work without the support of our partners, volunteers, donors, and everyone who stepped up in big and small ways. In 2021, we will continue learning and growing. We will do even more, and we need your continued support to go ever forward.
Cheers to giving hope and love through our movement this year. Forward!
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
We know 2020 has certainly brought change, and the National Federation of the Blind embraced it. Our largest national convention ever was held in July and had more than 10,000 simultaneous logins during the annual banquet. Local chapter meetings and mentorship groups were held via Zoom and opened to anyone. We created our first NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition. We shifted much of our advocacy efforts to protecting the right to vote independently in private, and we worked hard to offer more virtual learning modules. Federationists thought creatively in so many different ways.
Probably the best example of thinking outside the box is offering presidential releases live. The presidential release is a monthly audio message from President Mark A. Riccobono that highlights the current activities of the National Federation of the Blind and is normally played at monthly chapter meetings around the country. Since April, it has been presented before a live virtual audience. President Riccobono reflected on the new release format recently:
“I of course grew up listening to the release and I heard people say that the presidential releases are too long. They're hard to make shorter because there's a lot to talk about. I actually think that the live format has advantages. We didn't think it up on purpose. When March of 2020 came around, and I thought, I need to record a release for April, what can I say and send out? And where are people going to play it? They're not getting together at chapter meetings.
We thought, well, why don't we do it live. We had no idea whether it would work, and I think it has actually turned out to be a positive. It has brought us back to the conversational piece, which in a static recording is hard to do.
The other thing that live releases allow is bringing in some of the audio from Federation events or interesting things that we've done. I think that's a neat thing that we can do beyond just sitting and talking as well.”
This is the spirit that embodies 2020. Locally and nationally we adapted when needed and many of those new innovations have positive features that we may want to hold on to going forward. Visit our homepage for the latest on the Federation’s inspirational and innovative endeavors.
Congratulations to Dr. Sachin D. Pavithran
Dr. Sachin Pavithran has just been appointed as the new executive director of the United States Access Board.
“Dr. Pavithran has distinguished himself as a practical, thoughtful, and passionate leader in disability policy for many years, as evidenced by his excellent advocacy for accessibility through his work as policy director of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, his membership on the Access Board, his participation in our own research and development committee, and more,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “I am glad to call him a friend and continue to draw on his expertise, knowing him to be an individual of considerable talent, vision, and integrity. We are proud that he will be the first blind person to lead the Access Board’s continuing work to promote equal access for all people with disabilities.”
Serving as Santa’s Honorary Elves
Nothing promotes reading like a letter from Santa! Last year's letter inspired Louise to Braille her own letter to Santa to leave with milk and cookies, since, as she put it, "Santa must be able to read Braille if he can write it!"
How did it start? Well, more than ten years ago, Santa asked us to be his honorary elves. Ever since, we've been helping him send letters in contracted Braille to blind children who are ten years old and younger in the United States. Along with the Braille letter, Santa includes a print letter so that those who might not read Braille can follow along. He also includes other fun holiday activities.
Submit your request for a Braille letter from Santa before December 16.
New Nation’s Blind Podcast Episode: “Deafblind and Living the Lives They Want”
In this episode of the Nation’s Blind Podcast, Anil Lewis and Chris Danielsen talk with Alice Eaddy, president of the Deafblind Division of the National Federation of the Blind, and Marsha Drenth, the division’s first vice-president. These two accomplished women discuss how they live the lives they want as deafblind individuals; explain concepts such as captioning, tactile signing, and support service providers (SSPs); and give tips for respectful and inclusive interactions with deafblind people. Access the Nation’s Blind Podcast now.
Special Themed Issue of the Braille Monitor, our flagship publication, celebrates Marc and Patricia Maurer
From 1986 until 2014 Dr. Marc Maurer served as the President of the National Federation of the Blind, and after he stepped down from that office he worked for the Federation on our legal matters and mentored our new President. Besides serving as our first lady for decades, Patricia Maurer served as Director of Community Relations from 1988 through 2020. Recently our beloved long-term leaders have decided to retire. They plan to stay active in the Federation, but it is time to celebrate all of their accomplishments. Our December issue of the Braille Monitor is dedicated to these very special people.
Throughout our local chapters and state affiliates to our national headquarters and diverse committees, the National Federation of the Blind is an organization of collective action. Here’s what you can do to get involved this month.
- This year we keep hearing “more than ever” and you can help the Federation meet our end of year More Than Ever Campaign goals by contributing and double your dollars. Freedom Scientific, a Vispero brand and the Maker of JAWS for Windows, has pledged to match donations until the end of 2020.
- Submit your request for a Braille letter from Santa before December 16.
- Read the December Braille Monitor which celebrates the life and work of Marc and Patricia Maurer.
We certainly are a busy organization. Don’t miss these upcoming events, workshops, and deadlines.
- December 15-17, 2020: Dare to Be Remarkable, 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. ET
- December 16, 2020: Braille Letters from Santa request deadline
- January 4, 2021: Presidential Release Live 8:00 p.m. ET
- January 18, 2020: Braille Readers Are Leaders registration (and page count) deadline
- January 28: Smart Cities Summit, 12:00-8:00 p.m. ET
- February 1, 2021: Presidential Release Live 8:00 p.m. ET
- February 8, 2021: Washington Seminar and Great Gathering-In, virtual