April 2024 Presidential Release #537 Transcript

PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everyone! Thank you so much for joining us tonight for our April presidential release. We are thrilled that you have joined us tonight to learn about all of the exciting things that are happening in the National Federation of the Blind and how we are live the lives we want because of the work and dedication that's taking place across the country. We're very excited to be broadcasting live from Louisiana. 

(Cheering from the crowd). And we are very happy to be with you tonight! President Riccobono? 

MARK RICCOBONO: Hey, how are you? 

PAM ALLEN: Good, how are you? 

MARK RICCOBONO: Good, it's great to be live from Louisiana! 


It sounds like there's a crowd! 

PAM ALLEN: There is a crowd. I think it's so loud that we just deafened out the Zoom capabilities! 

(Muffled cheers). 

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, the Zoom effect. 


PAM ALLEN: Yeah, the Zoom effect. We have all the staff members from our Center for the blind, and members from our chapters, and we are thrilled to be with everyone tonight 

MARK RICCOBONO: And hopefully the NFB cookies made it. 

PAM ALLEN: I was just going to note, Stephanie arrived, and she had the precious cargo with her. 

So we are truly grateful for that to have the cookies. They will be thoroughly enjoyed 

MARK RICCOBONO: Excellent, very on brand. I'm sorry I couldn't be there in person, but there will be another time. 

PAM ALLEN: There will. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Looking forward to be at the Center soon. But it will be good to talk about Louisiana Center training tonight. We'll have a panelist later talking about that. 

PAM ALLEN: I'm excited about that. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah! So should we get started? 

PAM ALLEN: Let's do it. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Okay. Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Wednesday, April 3, 2024, and this is presidential release number 537, mostly live from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. 

(Cheering from the Louisiana crowd). 

MARK RICCOBONO: There you go! 

We got a little bit of them, I stepped on them accidentally. I could not make it to the Louisiana Center for this release, I'm going to talk about that a little later, but it is great to have Federationists gather ed at our Louisiana Center for the Blind. You know our training centers have, since the middle of the 1980s, been a key part of the ecosystem that we have to raise expectations for blind people in this country. So, looking forward to that continued conversation. 

I do want to start this release by thanking Federationists all over the country for reaching out to our national office here in Baltimore about the recent collapse of the Key Bridge, which is, you know, about 9 miles or so from our building. Fortunately, none of our staff members were directly impacted by this tragedy, but a huge impact on the Baltimore community. Certainly has an impact on our members and transportation in the area and many other aspects of our day-to-day life here in Baltimore. So thank you to all of you who reached out. We are glad that at least our Federation community, everybody is safe, but obviously some tragic loss here in our Baltimore community that we're continuing to work through, and will be working through for a number of years to come. 

We did have a busy March, and one of the activities was to hold our 16th annual Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, another great success. We're bringing together disability rights advocates, the legal scholars, to talk about how we drive as people with disabilities, how we drive the direction of disability law in this country. A lot of great conversations, another successful event. And so I would encourage all of you who are interested in disability rights law to think about being present for our next law symposium next year. When we're thinking about events, though, the event on our mind right now is our national convention, and I want to remind you again, nfb.org/convention for any and all things related to the 2024 National Convention that will be in Orlando, Florida. 

Now, this month, I want to talk to you about some new activities being undertaken by our Deafblind Division. The president of that division is Maurice Mines, and he's asked me to share with you that our Deafblind Division is coordinating volunteers at the convention to assist with ensuring that deafblind members requiring some additional support to fully participate in the convention can do so. And so if you're interested, I would add to Maurice's urging and urge you to volunteer as well. Maurice says that volunteers are needed to serve as special service support providers during the convention. Interested individuals who would like to fill this role during the convention, want to help out, should fill out the questionnaire, the survey form that's on our website. It includes four simple questions, in addition to basic contact information. That form can be found at, no surprise, nfb.org/convention, under the "SSP volunteer" link on that page. SSP Volunteer. If you just do your "jump to link", you'll find it. 

The division will be working to match volunteers with deafblind individuals, preferably from the same affiliate -- that's the goal. And those who have experience with tactile sign are even more strongly encouraged to volunteer their time so that we can make sure to support those deafblind individuals that require tactile sign. 

All volunteers, as you would expect, are expected to adhere to the Federation's code of conduct, and all volunteers will be asked to participate in a training at the convention on July 3rd at 10:00 a.m. Of course, location is not determined yet. I'm sure if for some reason you can't be at the training, they'll be able to work some alternatives out, but I definitely would encourage you to be at the training if you're going to volunteer. The deadline to express interest in volunteering is May 31st, coincidentally the same deadline that we cut off online registration for the convention. 

And if you're a deafblind individual and you would like to benefit from this support, you are certainly encouraged to do that. You should send an email, and the email should have this subject line, or something close to it. Subject line "I am requesting volunteer SSP assistance at the 2024 national convention", and you should send that email directly to Maurice Mines at this email address. Hold on, it's a long one! All one word: Presidentdeafblindnfb -- all one word -- [email protected]

I want to take a moment to thank our Deafblind Division. You know, we're an organization that believes that as blind people, we should speak for ourselves and define for ourselves what's needed, and the fact that the Deafblind Division has taken ownership of defining what enhancements would be needed and charging forward with that, you know, working with our national leaders to make that happen, is truly in the spirit of what we do in the National Federation of the Blind. 

So I encourage you to volunteer if you're in a position to do so. There are a number of other convention things to talk about. I'm just going to talk about a few. One of them is from our partner, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adult. The Action Fund will again be sponsoring the Braille Book Fair at this year's convention in Orlando. This is a great opportunity for individuals to come by and get their hands on braille books that others have donated. The book fair is scheduled for July 5th, traditional time, and the Action Fund would like to encourage those who have books that they would like to donate to the book fair to keep a few things in mind. The first is that those books should be GENTLY used -- they should still be good enough for someone to put on their bookshelf. 

The book fair is seeking books for readers at all levels, and in most genres. The book fair does not accept these types of materials: Bibles, magazines, or textbooks. Sorry if you have an old calculus book you wanted to give to the book fair! The Action Fund notes that it is especially seeking Twin Vision titles, or braille-print titles if you want to think about them that way. Also kindergarten and first grade level books, and cook books. If you have more than five books that you want to send, reach out and have a dialogue before sending, that way you can make sure your books will actually be used in the book fair. You can send the list of books you intend to send want to vet with the Action Fund, or just send any questions to [email protected]

I should also mention that donations should be mailed to the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, attention Braille Book Fair, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21230. I would also like to say that volunteers are always needed to help get the books kids want and get boxes set out. If you are looking to volunteer or have books that you want to find a home for, this is a wonderful program for that. Now, the next convention announcement comes from our National Association of Guide Dog Users, and that is that NAGDU is excited to announce that the division will again be offering national convention support sponsorship for two guide dog user teams in the amount of $500.  You do not have to be a NAGDU member to apply for this support to attend the 2024 national convention. NAGDU does ask that you please read over the sponsorship details, including the application requirements, carefully before you apply. The links to the sponsorship information page and online application can be found at NAGDU.org/sponsorship. Again, that's nagdu.org/sponsorship.
Thanks to NAGDU for supporting getting people to the convention. 

Also, application s for our 2024 Teachers of Tomorrow program are now open and available. I want to encourage Federation members to promote our Teachers of Tomorrow program. This is an immersive professional development program connecting teachers of blind students to the lived experience of blind people themselves. This program is aimed at individuals who are studying to be teachers of blind students or who have been teachers in the field of blindness for 5 years or less. The deadline for our next cohort of the Teachers of Tomorrow program is May 3rd, so it's coming up, and I just want to note, especially this program is open to everybody, but I would note that one interesting thing is that we do need more blind people working and seeking careers in teaching blind students. So I would just call that out here on this release, but this program of course is open to anybody in the teaching area working with blind students. 

You can find information about the Teachers of Tomorrow program and the application for this cohort by going to nfb.org. 
Now, I have a couple of advocacy notes here on this release, and the first comes from the group working in our Center for Excellence in Nonvisual Access, or CENA, where we have established a new toolkit for leveraging the experience of blind people with inaccessible technologies. This is our self-advocacy toolkit and tracking form for nonvisual accessibility. 

This is a new toolkit that's now available at our website, and you can find it by going to nfb.org/cena. This toolkit is intended to give Federation members tools, tips, and resources for effectively addressing and engaging with companies regarding accessibility issues. I think we all know that we've run into those, well, multiple times in a day. 

Besides the toolkit, you can also find a webinar there providing further resources and demonstrating some of the features of the toolkit as well as an inaccessibility tracking form. This is a new tool that we've put together to encourage recommends to report in accessible websites to us at the national level, and we can use that data to track trends and to follow up with companies and also in our advocacy and legal work. Many of you know that we have done this specifically in the past  with educational technologies along with our National Association of Parents of Blind Children, so this one is geared more broadly toward inaccessibility. This data will be important as we move forward to urge Congress to address this with a bill. So we are looking to leverage the experience that we have and create new opportunities for us to follow up on inaccessibility. So I encourage you to look at the toolkit resources, check them out. If you can think of ways we can make them even better, please share that. But also, please use the inaccessibility tracking form so we can gather some new data toward our mission of making America a fully inclusive place for blind people. 

Speaking of fully inclusive and advocacy, Federationists working with the EEOC, we are encouraged to document as many cases of discrimination as possible, including requiring a driver's license even though it is not required as a essential function of the job. If you believe you have experienced this, reach out to our legal department coordinator, Sanho Steele-Louchart, and he will help you begin that process. Sanho can be reached at [email protected], or calling our national office number, 410-659-9314, extension 2440.  

Now, as long as we're talking about advocacy, it's not too early to at least put something on our calendar for 2025, and that is our Washington Seminar, which will take place from Monday, February 3rd, through Thursday, February 6th, 2025. Please put it on your calendar. We will again be headquartered at the Holiday Inn, Washington Capitol, I think you know the address, 550 C Street Southwest, and this means our Great Gathering-In will be Monday, February 3rd. It's a little way off, but make sure you put it in your calendar now so you can plan to be with us for the next Congressional session. 

Now, I do have a couple of other notes here before we get to some Federation family business. The first is, of course we've been having many discussions with rideshare companies of many aspects of what they do. It's been discussed over and over again here on the release. I wanted to let you know that in a discussion with the global vice president of Uber, and I had the opportunity to raise a number of concerns with them, and one of the things that they shared was that they have a new users form where you can submit issues related to VoiceOver or TalkBack accessibility issues in the mobile app for Uber. 

Now, the link for this is quite complicated. It's -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7... 7 lines of braille or something? It's quite a lengthy -- ha -- link. So we're gonna post it in the chat. I won't read it to you because you won't remember it. I wouldn't remember it. And we will distribute it in other places. 

But I do encourage you, I think this is a positive step that Uber has taken to take direct feedback from users and to make this link available so that you can post to it problems that you find in the app. Usually we find these problems when there's an update. I told them what an annoyance, and in fact sometimes it's a blocker for us. So they are, at least, taking it seriously. I do encourage you to post to this link, and I would also encourage you to maybe cross-post those bugs to our tracking form so that we can measure whether Uber is actually moving on those things. But I think that's one step, one positive step on Uber's part. So I would encourage you to use that. 

Also on advocacy, I wanted you to know that on March 14th, the National Federation of the Blind submitted public comments on the AbilityOne Commission's draft policy, 51.401, which regulates the process for nonprofit agencies to become eligible to operate federal contracts under the AbilityOne program. 

We specifically commended the AbilityOne Commission for banning the discriminatory practice of paying blind people less than the minimum or prevailing wage through 14(c) certificates. This is a powerful message to blind Americans about our contributions and our role in employment programs. But we believe that the AbilityOne Commission can and should do more, in fact, should take the final step to prohibit nonprofit agencies that hold a 14(c) certificate for any purpose from becoming an AbilityOne qualified nonprofit agency at all. We also encourage the AbilityOne Commission to establish a firm deadline for the complete disqualification of any qualified nonprofit agency holding a 14(c) certificate. If you're interested in reading the comments, you can find them at nfb.org on the policy statements page. Any time we post comments or regulatory letters, we post them on our website so our members are fully informed about the work that we've done. If you have questions about our work on AbilityOne or our recent comments, you can reach out to Jessie Shirek, our governmental affairs specialist. Jessie can be reached at our main number here, extension 2348, or [email protected]

Our NEWSLINE group would like me to remind you that NFB NEWSLINE offers a number of ways to customize ways that you can enhance your reading experience on the NEWSLINE system. Some key features that you may or may not be using is that you can create a favorites list, you can use article navigation, so that's the ability to skip articles or sections of the paper to move quickly through it, to find content you want. You can use the continuous reading mode. You have various voice options for changing the voice, the speed, and the pitch of the voice. There's also a global search feature that allows you to easily find content of interest. And of course, in 2024, a lot of times when we find something interesting, we want to share it, and so there are social media sharing options within the NFB NEWSLINE system. These customization options are all designed to provide users with the flexibility that is desired. 

If you have other ideas about ways that you would like to better access and manipulate the NEWSLINE content, I KNOW our NEWSLINE group would love to hear about them. 

Now, I do want to welcome the NFB of Idaho as the newest contributor to our pre-authorized contribution program, the PAC plan. You too can help support financially the work of the Federation by getting on the PAC plan. If you would like to do so, please visit nfb.org/pac, and we'll get you signed up today! 

I do have a number of Federation family notes to share with you here on this release, and the first is to let you know about our Dream Makers Circle. That's an opportunity for people to declare an end-of-life gift to the National Federation of the Blind. And many have and continue to sign up, and thank you to our Dream Makers Circle participants. I do want to acknowledge this month, Madeline and Jerry Marino of Matthews, North Carolina, for being the newest members of the Dream Makers Circle. 

I also bring it up here because I learned just yesterday that Madeline, on a trip to Chicago, broke her hip. So Madeline, if you're listening, live or later on, we hope that you are recovering well, and I know we send Federation warm wishes from across the nation. I do have a number of unfortunate passings to talk to you about. And the first is from Louisiana, where Pam Allen shares the passing of Maddie Dixon, long-time NFB of Louisiana member and mother of Jerrall Dixon. And Maddie passed away on March 30th. Jerrall is a dedicated president of our Northeast Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana, and Maddie was a long-time friend and supporter of the blind of Louisiana and the nation. 

From Montana, I regret to tell you of the passing of Dar Aldrich on February 15, 2024. She was an active member of the affiliate since she moved there from Colorado in the beginning of the century. She and her husband of almost 20 years, who is also an affiliate board member. 

From New Mexico, Adelmo Vigil shares with us that Joe Cordova passed away on March 20, 2024. Adelmo notes that Joe was a long-time leader in the New Mexico affiliate and had an impact by mentoring people from all over the United States. Adelmo also says that Joe was one of the people who encouraged Adelmo to get involved in the National Federation of the Blind, and Adelmo says he expresses his great sadness that Joe is no longer with us. 

Also from New Mexico, I want to share the passing of Jack Munston early in the morning of Saturday, March 9, 2024. You should keep Pat Munston, a long-time Federation leader, in your thoughts and prayers. 

Also from Georgia, I regret to share the passing of Rafael Lewis, who passed away on Thursday, March 28, 2024. You should especially keep Rafael's siblings, Patrice Lewis and Anil Lewis, who are also leaders in our Georgia affiliate, in your thoughts and prayers. 
And as we're talking about losses in the Federation, I do want to share my appreciation for the Federation community reaching out to me just today. I learned earlier today that my father, Sebastian Riccobono, passed away. He was not active in the Federation, but he did support the work that we did and do, and as an individual who served in the United States military, he had a great appreciation for our disabled veteran community. So I'm here today at this release wearing my Blinded Veterans Navy dog tag in honor of my dad, and I appreciate the great sympathies that have been sent from great Federationists all over the country. 

Now, I do have a joyous piece of news to share with you on this release that comes from Norma Crosby of Texas, and that is that on March 8th, Arya Christiliana Rose Franks came into the world, weighing 6 pounds and 9 ounces, and measuring 18 inches long!  Arya is the daughter of our Austin chapter president, Jonathan Franks, and his wife Ashley, who is a leader in her own right. 

Norma notes that she is so proud to share this information with the Federation family, and she says that everybody's doing fine, and so I'd like to welcome the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind. Congratulations to the Franks family. Pam, I think that's what I have for this part of the release. And so I think we should talk a little bit about the Louisiana Center! What do you think? 

PAM ALLEN: I think that sounds great, President Riccobono. Before we do that, we just want to share with you some Louisiana, and I know I speak on behalf of everyone around the country, we know how proud of you your dad is and what an important part of your family he was, and we're just sending our love to you from all around the country, and our support to you, and to Melissa and the kids in your family at this time 

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that, and as you know, Pam, who has been through some of these experiences, the fact that we have this Federation family makes it just a huge difference in our lives. So we do appreciate that. 

PAM ALLEN: Yes, definitely for sure. 

MARK RICCOBONO: So that's why I'm not in Louisiana. It's a legitimate reason! (Chuckling). But I'm looking forward to coming another time. But we did want to highlight the great work of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. And to note that, you know, today, we don't think about the early struggles of creating something like the Louisiana Center for the Blind, because for many in the organized blind movement today, it's just always been there! Right? We didn't know -- you might not have known a time before it wasn't there. 

And so I thought it was appropriate, and want to welcome now, to the release, Joanne Wilson, who was the founder and first director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She has served in many capacities across the Federation. She's served as one of our national officers. But we've invited her to the release today to talk about the founding of the Louisiana Center in 1985, and some of the core values that led to it. So Joanne, really great to have you with us! 
JOANNE WILSON: Glad to be here! 

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, go ahead, Joanne, just jump right in! 


JOANNE WILSON: All right, you know me! Okay. 


First of all, I want to thank everybody that's listening to this presidential release, and that's everyone that's involved in the National Federation of the Blind, because you are absolutely, ABSOLUTELY essential in the development of our centers over many, many decades. And Mark, I want to say to you that being here tonight has to be a huge source of pride for your father. He had to be very, very proud of your leadership and to know what you're accomplishing and helping blind people all over this country. And so I share your sorrow with him, but I also share his pride with you. 

The Louisiana Center for the Blind was started, technically, October 1, 1985. And it started when a group of Federationists that belonged to the Louisiana affiliate went to see the governor of the state, Edwin Edwards, and he, and along with the help of Mary Lander, who was then a state senator, gave us our first chunk of money to start the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana. 

But the Center was actually... the idea of it was started much, much earlier! Back in 1940, when a group of blind people got together and said "we know what we need for blind people." And they started the National Federation of the Blind. And then in the '50s, they started thinking, okay, we've developed these techniques to make blind people independent. We've developed a belief, a new way of thinking about blindness. So now we've got to put it into practice. We've got to show them all our ideas, really really work. 

So in 1958, Kenneth Jernigan took over the worst agency for the blind in the country -- the Iowa Commission for the Blind. So he moved to Iowa, and one of the first things he did was start our first NFB training center. It so happens that I was a kid in Iowa, and in 1966, a scared teenager who would pray every day to get her eyesight back, and was spending most of my time trying to fake sight, and really didn't even want to say the word "blind", went to Dr. Jernigan's center. 

And there, I learned skills, which we still teach at all our centers, you know, but they weren't just taught in the normal way. We were PUSHED and SHOVED and expected to do things that we didn't BELIEVE we could do.  We did what we now call structured discovery. We did problem-solving. We were surrounded with blind role models. And we pushed ourselves and learned the skills. But more importantly than that, more importantly than that... we learned a new way of thinking about blindness. We learned the Federation philosophy! The ideas and notions that had been started back in 1940 by the collective blind. 

We learned that the real problem with blindness isn't the loss of eyesight, but it's rather the misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist about blindness. We learned that with the proper training and opportunity, we could become independent, normal blind people, and do what our sighted counterparts are doing. 

Now, I'm trying to tell you that you are part of all this because you are a part of the Federation. One of the big things that was taught to me by Dr. Jernigan, and which I taught, and which Pam and our other centers are now teaching students that go through our training programs, is the importance of belonging and getting involved with the National Federation of the Blind. 

By getting involved with the Federation, the students will have a continuing support group, a group of people that will tell them about the latest technology, what jobs are available, what's good in education, what can we do in education, when we get picked upon and don't get what we need, we learn how to advocate. By giving our students the Federation, we give them an ongoing support group. And you know what else we do for our students by giving them the Federation, is we give them something to give back to. 

You know, if you're going to be happy in life, if you're ever going to feel satisfaction or feel purpose, you need to give back to something. And the Federation, as a blind person, is the logical thing to give back to, so that we feel fulfilled and we feel that we can really accomplish things and that our life has some real purpose. And in giving back to the Federation, we get involved, and hopefully our students then become future leaders and push the work on, push our movement on, push the cause on, push the training on. You know, I'm getting to be an old lady now. 

(Mark laughing). 

And I look back at my life and think, what was it all about? I bet some of you do that too. The Federation gave me purpose! It gave me purpose as a blind person and as a human being. And it can do the same for you. It gives you purpose. And that's the secret that we need to pass on to our students. 

You know, we want to belong to something, and want to give to something that's beyond us. And, you know, after I left the Louisiana Center for the Blind in 2001, thank God Pam Allen and Roland Allen were there. And they took over the center. And it's the same with the other centers. The first leaders moved on and the next leaders took over. And I am thankful every day to Pam and Roland and the other heroes at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for keeping the dream going, the dream that started in 1940 and continued on in 1985 and continued on in 2001 and today, and it's continuing to change the lives of blind people. 

And I want to thank you. I want to thank you again for being there. You know, the Federation, you can be part of the movement, but I also want you to remember that you're part of changing individual lives of our blind students that have gone through our Federation centers. Because you are there, we have a new kind of training in this country. So thank you so much. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks, Joanne! You know, I -- a lot of questions come to mind that I should throw at you, but we are short on time. But one question, I guess, is, now, I think people don't appreciate how hard it is to go from nothing to something, right? I mean, you were part of building what today I think people take for granted as, you know, something really significant. But it had to start somewhere, and that took a lot of hard work and sacrifice by you and others, the first staff members at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. 

What would you say was -- I mean, you've already credited the movement as being, you know, kind of a rock for that. But what was the main motivation for you and the early staff members at the LCB to keep pushing forward, even though the rest of the blindness field really was just waiting for the effort to fail? 

JOANNE WILSON: You're right, they hated us! 


They were looking for things to shoot us down for. But that happened in 1940, too, and 1958, when Dr. Jernigan went there. You know, I think what motivated me personally, and when I look at the staff, my original staff, Jerry and Merilynn Whittle, Ruth Segel, Arlene Hill, Pam Allen, Suzanne Mitchell, what motivated them was that the Federation had changed their lives. It had personally touched them and changed their lives. And they had a deep-seated need to pass that on to other people, to pass that on to other people. 

And now, you know, our centers are all, all are looking for other folks that have that same need, drive. Drive to be a part of something bigger in their life, to have purpose, and to give. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, there are a lot more questions we could throw at you, Joanne, but I wanted to say, you don't act like an old lady! 



MARK RICCOBONO: I wish we had more time, but I encourage folks, if you have any opportunity to spend time with Joanne, get to know her, please hunt her down at a national convention. I first got to know Joanne in North Dakota. That's a story for another time! 


MARK RICCOBONO: But thank you, Joanne, for your work, for joining us on this release, and for leaving a leg cy that, you know, Pam Allen has continued to build on, as you've noted. And we appreciate your continued efforts to build the National Federation of the Blind. 

JOANNE WILSON: Thank you! 

MARK RICCOBONO: All right. Pam, do we have -- well, Pam, did you want to add anything before Joanne runs away? 

PAM ALLEN: I just want to say thank you, Joanne. I'm ringing our freedom bell here that Joanne rang many a time. We have a tradition at the Center -- ring your freedom bell to celebrate successes. And we couldn't do the work that we do here without your encouragement and your example, Joanne, and all the people that have come before all of us, we have an awesome staff and an awesome group of students and alumni. And the future, you know, is bright because so many people want to be part of something bigger and to give back. So thank you so much. You know, we are just grateful. So grateful. So, great to hear your perspective tonight. Great to be with you, and thank you again. 

MARK RICCOBONO: All right. Well, we could throw the questions at Joanne, but probably she doesn't want us to do that. 


MARK RICCOBONO: Do you have any questions, Pam? 

JOANNE WILSON: Oh, I could get into a lot of detail! 
(Laughter.) It's tough work, but it's fun work. It gives you a lot. 

PAM ALLEN: That's right, for sure, for sure. So, and we have some great questions, as Joanne said, and as you mentioned, Mark, the community of the National Federation of the Blind are our members from all around the country who continue to give us support and strength, and we have some great questions tonight. Some that are sent in and we also have a live question 

MARK RICCOBONO: Cool, let's do it. 

PAM ALLEN: First, we hope our sound will cooperate and Zoom won't cancel us out, but we have a question related -- everyone is getting very excited for national convention in just a few months. So, question about any updates about the virtual experience and also how registration is coming along. 

MARK RICCOBONO: So, that's a great question. I'm not sure what the registration numbers look like. I didn't get a chance to check before the release. But I know in the month of March they were moving along strong. Of course, it's no surprise that the last week of May is always -- (chuckling) -- the crunch time when people register. It's not particularly an incentive for registering today as opposed to then, but I do encourage you to get it done early so you don't forget. 

The virtual convention experience, you will see information about that soon. Again, we wanted to promote coming to the convention and the convention registration. There will be plenty of time. And of course, the virtual convention experience, you can register even up to the convention, and last year, at least, during the convention 

This year, the registration for the virtual convention experience will be 10 dollars, and there will be information coming out. I'm sure we'll be talking about it also on the May release. But for now, I encourage you to make your plans to be with us in Orlando. 

PAM ALLEN: Excellent. And I know we talked about our self-advocacy earlier, and some resources earlier in the presidential release. We have a question about a person asking about an agency for the blind that is ending a program that serves blind college students and blind students, and they are wondering your thoughts about that or our thoughts as an organization, and how to help advocate. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, you know, this is where the organized blind movement's really important, and being involved in an affiliate of the Federation is really important. You know, agencies for the blind have boards, and they have staff, and unless they hear from the organized blind movement, they make decisions, often, in the absence of having a real strong consumer voice. Most agencies for the blind -- not all of them, but most -- have one, if that, maybe two blind people on their boards. There are hardly any agencies in the country that are majority run by blind people. 

And so our affiliates, our local chapters, play a really important role in advocacy and sharing the consumer perspective with agencies for the blind. And we should not be afraid to do that. You know, these agencies are raising money from donors with the pitch that they are helping blind people. If their program priorities are not helpful to blind people, we should tell them! And we should go to our chapter and get the support of our chapter, and go to the affiliate and get the affiliate on board. And so that's really the best way most agencies for the blind operate locally. Some operate in multiple states, so there's an opportunity to get a number of affiliates on board. But it's really that local community action, which we do so well in the National Federation of the Blind. 

PAM ALLEN: Excellent. Thank you. And speaking of that, we also had a question about advocating for training. If an individual wants to receive training, I know we certainly work on this a lot at the Center. How can the NFB help advocate? What should someone do if they're having difficulty with getting support for funding to attend at the NFB Training Center? 

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, that's a great question. Maybe you want to answer it, Pam, you deal with it every day! 

(Laughter.) You want to answer it? 

PAM ALLEN: You first! 

(Laughter.) Well, the first thing is definitely reaching out to the leadership of your affiliate. Oftentimes, this is not a new process for our affiliate. We've dealt with this before. And this is where the leadership of the affiliate having those relationships with the rehab agency director is important. Because sometimes it might be a counselor that's never dealt with sending someone out of state, or has no idea why this training is important. 

So that is an important connect, is to talk to your affiliate president, find out who in your affiliate has that expertise or that relationship to help you. The second thing is working with our training centers to make sure you write your own justification for going to the center. A lot of times, what your rehab file needs is your justification for why NFB training is going to serve you well in your employment plan. And if you do the work of writing it up, it makes the counselor's job easy. Also, you know, every state rehab program has a client assistance program. They're there to help. They're there to help make sure that the rehab agency is following informed choice and other provisions in the law. 
And, of course, working with our center directors and those who do work to bring new students into the center, because they'll know the tips and tricks to help get you in. 

You know, the other thing I would say is, if you know you want to go get training, you know, there is a leadup process, right? It's hard in most places to flip a switch and go to training next week. And of course, our centers, it's a great program, a great problem to have, is that they're running pretty close to capacity! So you need to make sure that there's going to be a spot available for you. So planning ahead if you can is a really good idea. 

PAM ALLEN: Excellent. I agree 100% with everything you said, and I want to say a very special thank you to everybody. So many of our affiliate presidents and leaders and our members and alumni of our centers help in that process as people are advocating. 
So we thank you so much for that support. 

I know Joanne could tell, she helped get people to the center. We're still advocating today for our training centers, and again, that happened with great support from our members of the National Federation of the Blind around the country and our graduates. So, great advice, and we are, of course, as you said,, Mark, our centers are here to help in the process 

MARK RICCOBONO: One thing to add that I think you didn't, someone who has graduated from one of our centers is also a great advocacy tool, because, you know, they'll be able to articulate the outcomes in a really fresh way, especially if they're from your state. Because they're an example that the agency's done it before! A lot of times, rehab counselors will say "oh, we've NEVER done that before!" So, yeah. 

PAM ALLEN: Most definitely. And thank you, that happens all the time with our graduates. So we are really grateful for that, that network. 
And we also have a live question, so we're going to see if this -- this is a question from Chuy Baca, a technology instructor here at the Louisiana Center for the Blind and a proud member and a proud parent of Michaela. 

CHUY: Good evening, President Riccobono. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Good evening. 

CHUY: Thank you for taking my question. My question is, what are your thoughts on -- and this would be for new Federation people that might not know -- but what are your thoughts on either parents, blind parents or prospective blind parents who are, quite frankly, afraid that their child will be taken away simply because they're blind? 

MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question, and it's a fear that, you know, many of us have lived with, right? Because we've heard the stories. Some of us experienced the stories. So I think the theme tonight fits in really well, it's what Joanne articulated. You know, the fact that if you're a member of the National Federation of the Blind, you know who to call. You know that people have your back. And so that's first and foremost, to put your -- not that you won't still have the fear, but you should feel comforted that you have a group that's going to have your back. 

The second part of that is, talking with other blind parents, you know, we're fortunate that there's dozens and dozens of blind parents across the country, and Lisamaria Martinez of California heads our Blind Parents Group. If you're thinking about parenting, get to know these parents, and know the tips and tricks they've used to make sure that they can stay ahead of those questions. But know that you always have the Federation in your back pocket. 

The one thing I would add to this is to remember that nobody is born knowing how to parent, blind or not. When our first child was born in 2006, the doctor came by. Of course, Melissa and I are both blind, and the doctor came by and said "well, I looked all around. I did not find a manual". 

I thought, that's a really wonderful thing to say to new parents. Not because we're blind parents, but because we're new parents, right? 
And society often teaches us that if we run into a problem, it's because we're blind. And parenting helps you know -- it's one of the things that helps you know that that's not true! You know, there's a lot of parenting problems that every parent runs into, every parent experiences. You learn to work through it. You learn from doing it. And blindness doesn't impact that. You use different techniques, but you're going to have some of those same challenges that every parent has. 

And the last thing I would say that I feel is really important, whether you're in an all-blind relationship or whether you're with someone who is not blind, really important to talk about the techniques that you're going to use. Because in a lot of cases that we handle with blind parents -- where blind parents have trouble or where a relationship maybe does not work out between parents and a divorce comes about, the hierarchy of sight definitely comes into play, especially where, if someone is not blind or someone in the relationship has more usable vision, the techniques have defaulted to the visual techniques, and one of the arguments is, well, we've always used the visual techniques to do everything that we do. 

So I think if you're going to be a parent, you should have the conversation about how are we going to do some of these things to make sure that the visual techniques aren't the default? Because there will certainly be a time -- ha -- where the visual model won't be available! And as blind people, we should always be in control and have the options to use the techniques that we want. And any blind parent will tell you, there are definitely cases where the nonvisual technique is better. I always liked to be on the playground because I always knew where my kids were. Now, other parents would have to get up and look around things to see where their kids were. I could track my kids all over the playground from one spot -- it's not what I did -- but because they had bells on their shoes. So I knew where they were going. If they were going to the entrance of the playground, I knew it, because I was tracking them auditorily. 

So, really important conversations that we should have, and this is where our affiliates creating spaces for blind parents to connect, especially with individuals who want to be blind parents someday, is a really great asset. And I know I was fortunate to know many wonderful blind parents before becoming a parent. 

PAM ALLEN: Thank you! Thank you, Chuy, and thank you so much, President Riccobono. We appreciate the comments and the great questions tonight. And, again, just so honored to be with you in spirit. We know that you're feeling the support all the way there. So thank you again, so much, to everyone who sent in questions tonight and shared comments. Also, talking about giving back in the future, we have some opportunities for professionals who are interested in working in the field of blindness at the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech, so please learn more about that. Great opportunities there. 

Thank you, again, Joanne, so much for your reflections and for your story, and for your sacrifice and your example and love and support. 
And President Riccobono, we appreciate your reflections this evening. If we did not get a chance to get to your question tonight, please know that our outstanding communications team will be following up, and thank you again to everyone who submitted questions. 

We're going to try one more cheer from the live here at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. As I said, our Zoom gremlin sometimes blocks out the sound. But we are definitely sending lots of cheering and lots of love to everybody around the country, and especially to President Riccobono. 

(Muffled cheering in the background). 

There we go! 

(Laughter.) It's incredibly loud. I know Zoom may not be cooperating for everyone to here, but I promise you, our family here in Louisiana is strong and proud. And happy to share with you 

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, we got a little taste. 

PAM ALLEN: Awesome. Thank you also for the cookies. We will definitely enjoy them. 


MARK RICCOBONO: We should say, Pam, because we haven't, that our current Teacher of Tomorrow cohort will be coming to the Louisiana Center. They're coming to the end of their time in the Teachers of Tomorrow program. This is one of the important things that they do. And so they'll be there starting tomorrow, and visiting the Center, and then the Institute on Blindness. So, really incredible opportunity for future teachers of blind students to get that grounding in high expectations. 
So thank you for hosting our teachers. 

PAM ALLEN: Yeah, and thanks to Karen Anderson for the great leading of that program, and we're very excited to welcome them tomorrow and spend the weekend together. And thank you, again, everyone for being with us tonight. And please join us for the next presidential release on Wednesday, May 1st, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern via Zoom, Nation as Blind YouTube channel, our internet stream, or asking your Amazon device to open Nations Blind. 

You can contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9314 or via email at [email protected]. Thank you again so much for being with us this evening, and President Riccobono, we'll turn it back over to, and we're really also excited to have Stephanie with us. So we'll be very excited to share with  her this weekend too. 

MARK RICCOBONO: Excellent. Thank you, Pam, and thank you to everybody at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, sorry to miss you this time around, but we will make an opportunity happen soon. That is what I have for this April presidential release, and we have kind of a different sort of customary ending. Our Louisiana Center for Blind hosted the Braille Challenge recently, and the Center submitted to me a little, well, I'd call it a monologue from one of the blind students that participated, and the audio's not, uh, Will Schwatka quality, exactly, but I thought it was pretty interesting (chuckling). 

So I'm going to offer it to you here as a customary ending. Also, as a tongue-in-cheek commentary about some of the problems that blind students face. This young student, you may see on the comedy circuit one of these times! Maybe we'll have a late night show hosted by a blind person in the future, I don't know! But here for our customary endings is Caroline Benoit from Louisiana. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind! 

CAROLINE: My school called me the "braille whiz" because I'm the only one who knows braille. 


My mom, before the IEP meeting at my school, she gets all stressed, and I wonder why. Because it's not like they're going to follow it anyway! 


The best thing about braille is that me and my mom can write in code, because I can say all types of things about my dad and he doesn't even know a thing! 


Another cool thing about braille is that my parents think they're all smart and all by turning off the lights at bed time. But what they don't know is that I can just grab a braille book and read it after bed time in the DARK! BOOOOM! 


Life is like an ice cream cone, and enjoy it before it melts! 


The preceding message was bought to you by Mark Riccobono, president, National Federation of the Blind, 410-659-9314, [email protected]. Follow President Riccobono on Mastodon. Just search for [email protected]

Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!