February 2019 English Transcript

Greetings fellow Federationists. Today is Friday, February 1, 2019, and this is presidential release number 480. Welcome to a very chilly February. The polar vortex has taken over a big swath of the country. It's pretty cold in Baltimore, but not as cold as other places so I'm glad that you're warm inside at your chapter meeting and I hope that the cold has not impacted you or your family too much. 

Maybe it's a little warmer here in Baltimore because members of the National Federation of the Blind heated up Washington, DC right down the road here earlier this week. We had our annual Washington Seminar where our members let the members of Congress know that we are the National Federation of the Blind and we cannot be shut down. We had a fantastic Washington Seminar and it wasn't just the activities on the Hill itself. We had the meeting of state affiliate presidents. 

We had a parent leadership meeting. Our students had leadership meeting during the course of the weekend before the Washington Seminar. Our blind merchants – many other things happened leading up to the Washington Seminar and of course our Great Gathering In meeting at 5:00 on Monday. We also had a wonderful Congressional reception on Tuesday at the Holiday Inn. The State of the Union did not happen so we had some members of Congress who were then able to come join us at the Congressional reception. We had Senator Van Hollen from Maryland and Congressman John Sarbanes from Maryland as well as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas. We had some other staffers in and among the members of the Federation at the Congressional reception. It was a great time. You'll be able to read more about it in the Braille Monitor coming up I'm sure.

I do want to let you know a couple of items though, very exciting. At the Gathering In a couple of important announcements happened, many important announcements, but one at least that was not planned. Scott LaBarre, our president in Colorado, called during the course of the Gathering In meeting. He was off on assignment at the American Bar Association meeting and he has been monitoring our work on the Marrakesh Treaty and he called during the Gathering In to report to the crowd that the President of the United States had earlier that day signed the Instrument of Ratification for the Marrakesh Treaty which is the nearly final step before it gets transmitted to Geneva and the United States becomes an official party to the Marrakesh Treaty.

There's one more administrative thing that needs to happen at the State Department before it gets sent to Geneva, but the President signing it is really the most significant last step that happens before it goes to Geneva so congratulations to the members of the Federation. It was really neat to receive that in and among the Gathering In unexpectedly. Also we announced at the Gathering In — we got special permission to announce that friends of ours in the United States Congress were going to drop on Tuesday the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act. This act looks much like work that we've done on the Time Act before, but it's a little different. 

On Wednesday of this week, HR 873 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Chairman Bobby Scott and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. And congratulations to both our Virginia and Washington affiliates for getting these very high profile members to lead on this bill. And on Tuesday of this week S 260 was introduced by Senator Bob Casey and Senator Chris Van Hollen. And we were pleased to have Senator Van Hollen at the Congressional reception to talk to us about this new bill that he helped to introduce with Senator Casey, which phases out and sunsets permanently Section 14-C of the Fair Labor Standards Act, permitting unequal pay to workers with disabilities. It phases it out over a six-year period. 

We believe this bill is going to have a lot of momentum in this Congress and so we're very excited about it. It was not one of our top three Washington Seminar issues because we work on many more than three issues. So we wanted to introduce our new issues but we believe that these bills are going to move and we're very excited about the momentum that members of the Federation have created. And again, thank you to our affiliates that have helped get these key members of the United States Congress on board with these big bills. This is really in some ways the most momentum we've had at the beginning of a Congressional session on this issue. So congratulations.

We did also announce at the Gathering In that we have now launched our new website. So I encourage you if you have not already, go to nfb.org, the link's the same. The URL is the same. Check on all the new stuff. We've put a bunch of new features into the new website. We've redesigned it. We have more direct paths to programs and services. We have a mobile friendly and modern design. We have multiple ways to reach certain pieces of popular content. We have a new calendar of events that will be dynamic and helpful to us going forward. There's a bunch of other things that you'll find at the new nfb.org. And more importantly there's a bunch of things we're planning for the future. I do encourage you to check it out. 

I guarantee you will probably find some bugs because that's what happens when you launch new technologies. We've been as director of technology, Rachel Olivero says, squashing the bugs as quickly as we can, but if you find them, please send us at note at [email protected]. Let us know. Also let us know what you think of your new website. We're excited that we can have this new front face to our organization on the web that represents the spirit and determination and love and hope of our organization. I'm proud of it and I'm looking forward to what more we're going to do with it. So please check it out and share your feedback.

We have a number of summer programs that are part of the National Federation of the Blind. These are typically programs for youth. There's a number of summer programs popping up around the country because they've noticed the success that we have working with blind youth and empowering them through the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. But as you well know, not every summer program is a Federation program, and that means it doesn't meet the quality standards that we set for the work that we do in the National Federation of the Blind. 

And so in order to bundle together all of the summer programs affiliated officially with the National Federation of the Blind including those through our training centers in Minnesota, Colorado, and Louisiana, we have created a summer program flyer that you can distribute to teachers and parents, families in your affiliate. If you go to our website, nfb.org/summer, you'll find information about our summer programs and you'll find the flyer that you can download and distribute. Please promote the summer programs of the National Federation of the Blind above those that just don't meet the quality standards of our organization.

I have an announcement from Anil Lewis who is executive director of Blindness Initiatives about the Hathi Trust Collection. Anil says that we are seeking a limited number of researchers to participate in a pilot project to test our Hathi Trust Portal. The Hathi Trust is a consortium of institutions offering a collection of more than 13 million digital books from libraries around the world. Our goal in working with the Hathi Trust Digital Library is to provide exclusive access to blind people or other people with print disabilities to this digital collection regardless of their affiliation with one of these institutions of higher education. 

We're currently finalizing the technical details that will allow blind people to use our portal to get access to the Hathi Trust Collection. Thus we need members to spend some time testing and giving written feedback about the accessibility and usability of the portal. Keep in mind there's 13 million books, but they're from university libraries mostly. They have been digitized and recognized with technology out there, but they have not been cleaned up. They have not been formatted. And again, these are mostly research-type books that you would find in a university library not probably the most popular collection that the average, everyday blind person would want. 

So if you are a blind person who is interested in helping with the testing, especially if you are a blind student or a researcher or someone really interested in conducting research, we would like you to sign up to be a tester. The testing is going to begin in February, so quite quickly. So don't sit on it and you will have to do a few things when you sign up. You'll need to set up an account and you'll need to use the portal to do some research on a couple of topics. We might suggest some topics for you if you want us to and then we need your written feedback and comments about what worked, what didn't; what was your experience like. And we'll probably ask you also to participate in some focus groups via telephone I imagine. This information we're going to gather quickly so that we can launch the service officially later this summer. So if you are interested in participating, please send an email to Jernigan Institute at nfb.org. And in case you don't know, that's J-E-R-N-I-G-A-N Institute at nfb.org.

Our Dream Makers Circle is one way that we make a contribution at the National Federation of the Blind by making a commitment that we are going to give to the organization upon our passing. So it's a commitment while we're alive to make a future gift. I know that many signed up during the Washington Seminar so I'll look forward to celebrating that in next month's release, but this month I'd like to welcome Susan Jones of Indianapolis, Indiana, to our Dream Makers Circle. 

Also I'd like to acknowledge another group of chapters contributing to our pre-authorized contribution program from the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi, our Hazel Hurst chapter. From the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, thank you to our Columbia chapter, Jefferson City chapter, Kansas City chapter. From the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, thank you to our Lincoln chapter, Omaha chapter, and our seniors division. And from the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, thank you to the at large chapter, the Capital chapter, the Central Jersey chapter, the Garden State chapter, the Northeast chapter, the Northern chapter, the seniors division, the South Jersey Shore chapter, and the technology division. Thank you to each and every one of you contributing to our pre-authorized contribution program. If you're not already contributing I would encourage you to do so.

I do have a handful of Federation family notes for you on this release. I am sorry to report that from Minnesota, on January 9, 2019, we lost Bryce Samuelson. Bryce had served as both our president of our Rochester chapter and a member of the board of directors. Please keep Bryce's family in your thoughts and prayers and his colleagues in our Minnesota affiliate. 

From our West Virginia chapter, I regret to inform you of the passing of Bradley Hodges, who passed away peacefully on January 16, 2019, after a sudden battle with cancer. Brad was chapter president in West Virginia. He had served in many capacities throughout the Federation of the last thirty-plus years or more. He touched the lives of many blind people especially in his work as a rehabilitation specialist dealing with technology. I had the honor of getting to know Brad during my first national convention in 1996 when he was my roommate or probably I was his roommate is the better way to look at it. And he taught me a lot about the Federation philosophy. So I'd encourage you to keep Brad and his family, his husband Joe as well, in your thoughts and prayers.

I do have some joyous Federation family news to share with you on this release. Our Cambridge chapter sends a huge congratulations to Fernanda Silva and Jose Olivera on the birth of Gabriel Silva Olivera, who was born on January 3, 2019, at 7:48 p.m. He was born at a healthy seven pounds, nine ounces and measured nineteen and a half inches long. Fernanda and Gabriel are both doing well and I would like to extend my welcome to the newest member of the Federation family. Congratulations. 

We'd also like to extend congratulations to Nicole Finchum Sheehan and James Sheehan on the birth of their daughter. Cassia Nicole Sheehan was born January 29, 2019 at 10:55 AM, weighing six pounds and thirteen ounces and measuring twenty inches long. Congratulations again to what probably is the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind just three days ago, and congratulations to all of the new parents. Welcome again to the National Federation of the Blind.

I know it's chilly outside, but we got some great work inside to do for the National Federation of the Blind. We have a lot of things coming up in February for our organization. We're currently doing some work to outfit one of our conference rooms with some new technology so we can do distance learning activities, teleconference, and video activities. So there's a lot happening here, and we're getting ready to start construction very soon on our new sleeping rooms in addition to getting ready for the national convention. So to get us ready for the summer we thought we'd offer some very cold customary endings. Thank you for all you do. And let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.