August 2019 English Transcript

Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, August 1, 2019, and this is Presidential Release 485. We have just come off of an outstanding 2019 National Convention. If you were not there, I hope that you had the opportunity to tune in to as much of the convention as you could online. If you were there, I am confident you had a great time at our big, bold, fun, and rejuvenating family reunion in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I want to take this opportunity to extend our thank you to our host affiliates, both Nevada and Idaho, for putting on an outstanding convention and making us feel at home there in the desert with all of the interesting things that we encountered, including feeling the earthquake from California, at least for those of us who were there early enough to do so.

We had a great convention, and it really emphasizes the growth and energy that we're finding in the National Federation of the Blind. It was our second largest convention ever, and I thought I would share with you just for fun our top ten conventions of all time because a lot of people have asked about that.

At number ten was my very first national convention in Anaheim, California, in 1996 where we had 2,708 people registered. Number nine was our 1991 New Orleans convention where we had 2,756 people registered. Number eight was our 2009 Detroit convention, 2,800 people registered. Number seven, our 2015 Orlando convention, our 75th anniversary convention, 2,813 people registered.

At number six was our 2006 Dallas convention, where we had 2,880 people registered. Number five was our first convention in Orlando, 2011. We had 2,970 people registered. Number four was our 1999 Atlanta convention. That's the first one in the top ten that's more than 3,000; 3,008 people registered 1999 in Atlanta.

We have then our number three now top ten convention was Philadelphia 2001 where we had 3,109 people registered. Number two of course is this year's convention in Las Vegas, where we had 3,284 people registered, just short of our number one convention, which was also the 1997 New Orleans convention, which had 3,347 people registered.

Whether you were with us at our convention in Las Vegas or not, I hope that you are making our plans for our 2020 convention, which will be at the Hilton Americas in Houston, Texas, from June 30 to July 5, 2020. Rates will be $105.00 across the board. There will be many, many other details coming out about this convention, where we hope we will break the convention record for our largest convention ever.

It will be a great convention, and if you missed the announcement because you were not able to tune into the board meeting or were not able to be at the convention, it is at the very end after this presidential release. So you can revisit our official convention announcement.

This year's convention had a number of highlights for me, and I look forward to hearing what the highlights were for you. We will be sharing a number of the presentations of course in the Braille Monitor. The audio of those presentations can be found on our website, and we'll be putting out a number of the videos on the NFB YouTube channel.

The depth of programming at the convention this year was amongst the best that we've ever had. We had a number of great gatherings talking about how to build membership in the Federation, how to improve and enhance our diversity and inclusion throughout our movement, which sparked many great conversations, and I thank each of you who participated in those. I encourage us to continue those conversations at the local level.

Throughout the convention, there were many conversations and meetings about our philosophy, discussions about how it continues to evolve, and how we implement it in our lives day to day. Some of those presentations were at the general sessions, but throughout many meetings in the convention.

I encourage our chapters to pull those conversations through to the local chapter meetings as well because our philosophy is what makes us unique. It's what makes us powerful. It's what makes our organization meaningful in the lives of blind people. So we should continue that effort at our local chapter meetings every month.

I would also invite feedback regarding the convention and ideas of what we can do differently or do in the future. We do face the problem that we have six days of activities and there's only so many hours in the day. We can only have so many meetings. We can only pursue so many things in any given year.

But we should continue to look for opportunities to enhance the convention. So if you have ideas, reflections on the convention, what we might do differently, please send them to [email protected]. I'll be collecting them, and we'll be discussing them with the board of directors.

One of the things you know we do at the national convention is we consider resolutions, which are policy statements of the organization. This year the convention passed twenty-one resolutions. You can find them on our website, and I would encourage our chapters to talk about each of those resolutions and why they're important and what they mean.

They are now policy of the organization, and that means they apply to every level of our organization, not just the national level but state and chapters, members. These are policy statements that we're asking members to pursue and undertake program to make happen.

I mentioned the convention audio. You can also find that on our website, and by the time this release comes out I'm sure it will be available. You can find it on our national convention homepage. When you go to Past Conventions, you'll find the highlights there, or if you search our website for "2019 convention highlights," you will find it there as well.

A lot of great reflections on this convention, one of the most energetic and meaningful conventions I have participated in in terms of the depth of exploration of what we want our organization to be going forward. That's really exciting, and so thank you to each and every one of you that participated in making it what it was.

We're moving forward, though, past our convention into the fall convention season. Congratulations to our South Carolina affiliate, which will be celebrating its 75th anniversary at its upcoming convention this month, and many other fall conventions are happening.

One of the things we're doing this fall is opening up our doors to invite prospective members to talk to us and ask us questions about membership in the National Federation of the Blind. These are our Federation open houses, we call them.

These will be calls that will take place in order to answer questions, demystify what is the National Federation of the Blind, and what does membership in our organization mean. We're trying this out, we're gonna see how it works, and we'll continue to adjust it to make it effective in terms of onboarding new members.

These calls are for prospective members, people that are thinking about the Federation. Maybe they're a little tentative about coming to a chapter meeting to ask their questions. Maybe they just want to dip in and find out what we're about. I'd encourage you to promote these open houses.

The first one will be in August. They will be happening on the third Sunday of each even numbered month and on the third Wednesday of each odd numbered month. This is just to have some variety and consistency.

Our first two calls will take place on Sunday, August 18 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, and the second one Wednesday, September 18 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be sending out information about these calls, but I would encourage you to help promote them with those that are thinking about or we would like them to think about membership in the National Federation of the Blind.

You do have to RSVP to be part of these calls, and we want that to happen so we can both limit the number and track participation and do follow-up with people who participate in these calls if they wish to have us follow up with them. So we need people to RSVP for the calls, and they can do that by sending an email to [email protected] or calling our main number, 410-659-9314, and calling extension 2509. They could also ask questions about the calls through either of those methods.

Please help get the word out about these open houses. August is our first one. You'll see information coming out about them on a regular basis since we're gonna be committed to doing them through the end of the year to see how it goes. We hope it is just another way to invite people to learn about our organization and to come be part of it in the local chapter and state affiliate. So thank you for helping to promote those.

I do have a legislative update here. At the beginning of August, last Wednesday, which was just days short of the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, along with Reps. Mark DeSaulnier of California and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, introduced the Greater Access and Independence through Nonvisual Access Technology Bill, the GAIN Act, we call it, HR 3929.

This is now introduced in the House of Representatives. This is a great step. This was one of our priorities at the Washington seminar, and we have been working hard to secure a sponsor and cosponsors to introduce this bill. Now that we have bill number 3929, we need each and every one of you to get your local representatives in the House to be cosponsors.

This is a great opportunity while Congress is on summer recess to get them activated. Remind them that you're watching and that you want their help and that when they get back to Washington, DC, you want them to cosponsor the GAIN Act, HR 3929. If you need more information about the legislation, you can of course get that at our website,

This legislation authorizes the United States Access Board to develop a minimum nonvisual access standard for home use, medical devices, exercise equipment, and home appliances. These are things that impact the lives of, well, every blind person, and their accessibility, or not, has a significant impact on our life. The GAIN Act will ensure that we have equal access to these critical devices and equipment in the places where we need them, and the standards will be formulated consistent with other standards devised by the Access Board, which has a great deal of credibility.

We believe this is a strong bill. It has great potential to impact the lives of blind people. But we now need Congress to move it forward before we get into the real deep campaign time of next year when mostly everything in Congress will probably shut down. So please use this opportunity to gain cosponsors for the GAIN Act.

I don't want to jump too far past summer, but I do want to acknowledge that October is again Meet the Blind Month, and we should be planning in our chapters for our Meet the Blind Month activities. You can order literature to be distributed at Meet the Blind Month activities through our Independence Market.

We also want to coordinate promotion of local Meet the Blind Month activities. So as you plan your Meet the Blind Month work and you have details, please send an e-mail to [email protected], especially with the what, when, and where, and we will make sure to add your information to the Meet the Blind Month page at If you give us social media information, Facebook event pages, we'll be share to share all of that through our channels at the national level.

Meet the Blind Month is one of our strongest coordinated time periods when we work to educate the public about blindness and innovative ways and spread the word of the National Federation of the Blind. I did hint at the convention that we are going to have a major announcement in October that will put the name of the National Federation of the Blind and Braille into stores all around the world.

You'll want to be out in the local community in Meet the Blind Month 'cause our name will definitely be out there, and as soon as we can reveal the details of that exciting project to you we will do so. It's currently embargoed by the partner that we're working with, but you're gonna love it.

And so there's a lot to look forward to in Meet the Blind Month, and I encourage you to get your projects together and then write about them so we know the impact that they've had and we can share the innovative ideas with others across the Federation.

One of the things we do in the National Federation of the Blind is we coordinate our work at all levels of the organization. A good example are legal cases. We had a resolution about what we call "click-by" lawsuits. These are lawyers that are pursuing web accessibility, which in one sense is a good thing, but they're not really coordinating with the National Federation of the Blind.

Oftentimes they blanket lawsuits to an entire industry, and they look for quick fix agreements that are confidential and may get some plaintiff $5,000.00 or at least may get the lawyer $5,000.00 or $10,000.00.

Those aren't the kind of lawsuits we do. But we do recognize that our members are savvy, outspoken individuals, and therefore a lot of these click-by lawyers target our members as potential plaintiffs because they feel like they can also then leverage the name of the National Federation of the Blind.

So if you are approached to participate in lawsuits, especially around web accessibility but also other areas, and especially if someone tells you that they're coordinating in some way with the National Federation of the Blind or if they say, "Well, we realize you're a member of the National Federation of the Blind," of whatever state, you should be somewhat suspicious, and you should let us know at the national level.

Check with us first before engaging in that or check with your affiliate president so that the affiliate president can coordinate with us at the national level. We do have some instances where we know Federation members are being approached partly because an entity may have noticed that they were part of a Federation Facebook page and used that as a reason to approach them, subtly throwing in the name of the Federation as though it was a Federation-endorsed project.

Please coordinate with us so that we can make sure that we are pursuing legal targets that really make sense for blind people overall. Obviously Federation members have the freedom to get involved in what cases they might want to, but we want to make sure that we don't step on the broader efforts, and we don't want to get in the middle of signing confidential agreements.

If you'll notice, all Federation agreements are public agreements. We don't sign confidential agreements. We want people to know what the legal standards are so that we can help others get to that standard before we have to take legal action. Once in a great while, we may have some details of a settlement that are confidential, but the real meat of what accessibility is required, we do not sign confidential agreements. So please coordinate.

And it's not just legal work. There are a lot of people pursuing research in the blindness field, and they often approach members of the Federation. We have a Research Advisory Council, and we're very careful to vet the research projects that we engage with in the National Federation of the Blind to make sure that they're being conducted in a way that's consistent with the values of the National Federation of the Blind and to make sure that the research is in the priority areas that matter to the Federation.

We want to do that as a signal to our members to say, "This is something we think is important. We vetted it. You should participate." If someone approaches you about research that hasn't been vetted by the Federation, let us know about it so we can investigate and/or give you some guidance about that research. And if researchers approach your chapter or affiliate, please refer them to the national organization.

On legal cases, you should if you're calling the national office work through Valerie Yingling here on the staff and on the research side work through Lou Anne Blake. Again, I would encourage you to work through your affiliate president whenever possible because they're likely to know about many of the activities we're undertaking.

Or if you're getting a call, someone else in the affiliate is probably getting a call, and it's a very good idea to coordinate that with the affiliate president. The more that we coordinate our work across the nation, the stronger we are and the better we can respond effectively to the other work that's being done across the Federation.

So if I have any important message for you this month, it's coordinate the work across the Federation. Share information throughout the affiliate and up to the national organization so that we don't step on each other and so that we can effectively move our national movement forward to make progress for all blind people.

One of the great things that we enjoyed at the national convention is celebrating the 100th anniversary of a partner organization of the Federation. This is the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, which will be 100 years old later this year.

One of the things that the American Action Fund does is distribute Braille calendars. The Braille calendars for 2020 were available at our national convention. If you missed them or weren't there to get one, you can order a free Braille calendar from the American Action Fund by calling 410-659-9315, or you can send an e-mail to [email protected].

The maximum number of calendars that you can get in an individual order is three, but each individual who wants one can get three Braille calendars. So one to have at home, one to have on your desk at work, and one to carry around with you or however you decide to use them.

I'd encourage you to get a hold of these great free calendars from the American Action Fund. I think it's a great tool to have, and it's great that the Action Fund provides them.

Also at the convention the Action fund used our convention as an opportunity to release a Tactile Twin Vision one-of-a-kind book called Pedro and the Octopus. This is an innovative tactile picture book that has both print and Braille, so Twin Vision, as the Action Fund calls it.

It has interesting tactile pictures that are also visually appealing. This book details an adventure that two young kids have at the beach, and it allows young blind and sighted children to explore some tactile features. There's also a teaching guide at the Action Fund website that goes with this Twin Vision book.

The book was given away free to families at the convention who came to the Braille Carnival. You can now buy the book, though, in the Independence Market. Pedro and the Octopus is available for $35.00. When you buy it in the Independence Market, every book that is sold for $35.00 will also trigger the Action Fund giving a free copy away to a blind child in the United States. So you're actually getting two for one, which is really cool.

I'd encourage you to check out Pedro and the Octopus. You can read about it in the Future Reflections magazine, and you can find more information about the book at There will undoubtedly be more new things in our Independence Market in addition to Pedro and the Octopus, so stay tuned for that as we get into the fall.

A number of people signed up for our Dream Makers Circle during the National Convention. The Dream Makers Circle is a group of individuals who have committed to an end-of-the-life gift to the National Federation of the Blind. This could be in the form of writing the Federation into your will or any number of other gifts and methods of giving a gift upon your passing. It's a great way to leave a legacy and to help the National Federation of the Blind.

We want to welcome Harry and Janet Gawith, who joined the Dream Makers Circle most recently. They are from Boise, Idaho. We sent a shout-out to Harry, who was not able to be with us at the National Convention because of his health. But we appreciate all of Harry and Jan's work for our organization over these many decades, and we welcome them as the newest members to our Dream Makers Circle.

I do have a few Federation family notes to share with you. I have to let you know of the passing of a number of Federationists, and I'd encourage you to keep them, their families, and their Federation family in your thoughts and prayers this month.

Sheri Koch, who is president of the NFB of West Virginia, shared with us that her sister, Sheena Struble, passed away on June 19. Sheena was a leader in the affiliate, helped with many activities, and was well known in the Federation.

The San Joaquin County chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of California shares the sad news that we lost founding member and former chapter president Ken Volonte, who first joined the Federation in 1969.

Milton Ota from North Dakota shares that Duane Iverson passed away after a heart attack on Wednesday, July 17. Duane was a former president of our North Dakota affiliate and made many other contributions to the Federation.

From Illinois, we've received the sad news of the passing of Joe Monti, who was a member and leader in our Chicago chapter and also through the years a leader of our affiliate in Illinois.

Also, on July 20 Elvita Palmer passed away after a long battle with cancer. Elvita was a member of our National Harbor chapter and a leader in our Maryland Parents of Blind Children. Her daughter, Leah, has grown up in the Federation and continues to be active.

Finally, just a couple of days ago Ron Brown of Indiana reported the passing of Tami Jones of Indiana. She was a longtime treasurer of our Indiana affiliate and contributed throughout the Federation in so many ways, including being a board member of our Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund for many years.

I would encourage you to keep all of these individuals, and ones we may not know about, in your thoughts and prayers. Their contributions to our movement have made a great difference, and their legacy will continue to propel us forward.

As we move into August, it's hard to believe it's already been a couple of weeks since our National Convention. There's so much other stuff going on. Our building here is alive with energy as the Maryland Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Baltimore program is happening in the building. There's young Braille readers running around doing all sorts of interesting activities here.

We continue to progress with our construction project, which is going very well. The windows are gonna be put in in the next week, and we'll be conditioning our remodeled space. So it's really starting to feel like our new home away from home sleeping rooms. You're gonna be so proud to experience them next time you come to our national headquarters.

I want to say coming out of the convention that I am definitely rejuvenated and energized by the tremendous spirit and determination that I experienced from the members of the Federation during our convention.

There were a number of new and innovative ideas shared, great commitment expressed by Federation members to take up our priorities and get new things done, and not just sit on the sidelines but actually be part of devising new solutions. That just gives me a tremendous amount of hope for what we're going to do in the coming year and years ahead.

Our chapters are part of the lifeblood of this grassroots movement we have. I would encourage us to use the month of August to revisit what we've done at the National Convention and the priorities that we've set, and use it as an opportunity to have the chapter discuss what we want to accomplish at the local level in the next year and how we're going to help build the state affiliate through the chapter and therefore the national organization.

Thank you for the work that you do. I look forward to hearing the innovative things that are coming out of your discussions this summer, and I look forward to visiting a number of affiliates this fall. Before we close, we will of course have some of the customary endings. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.