January 2019 English Transcript

Greetings fellow Federationists.  Today is Friday, January 4, 2019, and this is presidential release 479.  Happy New Year to the National Federation of the Blind. And on this January 4, happy World Braille Day, the first official World Braille Day.  It's a designation that has been used informally in the past.  We have sometimes called it Louie Braille's birthday, which it is.  Happy 210th birthday to Louie Braille. But in the last couple of years we've sometimes used the designation World Braille Day and on December 17th – so just a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations officially adopted a resolution which formally names January 4 as World Braille Day for the entire globe.

Dr. Maurer was on hand as our representative. I was at a meeting in California and could not be there so Dr. Maurer represented the Federation at the moment when the United Nations declared World Braille Day, and on hand also was Dr. Fred Schroeder, who as you know serves as president of the World Blind Union and the World Blind Union was a primary sponsor for the World Braille Day resolutions. 

So welcome to the very first World Braille Day.  I hope you'll be celebrating it where you are.  We are celebrating it here at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute with some activities.  And this weekend we have the first meeting in the building of the year, weekend meeting that is of our BELL Academy trainers who will be here to do some planning for 2019 BELL Academies.

I have a number of things to talk about here on the presidential release and once I have done that I'm getting ready to go off to the consumer electronics show in Law Vegas. I happen to be going to an event for a coalition that we have joined that's working on public education around autonomous vehicles.  We have a press conference. Our press conference on Monday is going to be at the Mandalay Bay, which very conveniently happens to also be the site of the 2019 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.  

And as you know this year like all other years our room rates are the envy of all who plan conventions.  This year unlike some other years our room rate applies for all styles of rooms, singles, doubles, triples and quads.  It's all the same price, $99.00 a night, and you can make your reservations now.  And I think you will want to make your reservations early. I know a number of people have already reserved their rooms.  I predict the rooms at the Mandalay Bay are going to go quickly and this could be a record setting convention for the National Federation of the Blind.  Ninety nine dollars a night for a room regardless of how many people you can stack into it.  

And the hotel typically has a resort fee which is $37.00 a night.  They are not charging that to our group.  You will however have to pay hotel and sales tax which are currently 13.38 percent and 8.25 percent respectively.  But you will not have the resort fee.  You will if you want internet or other certain amenities have to buy those ala carte from the Mandalay Bay, but this is a tremendous room rate for what will be our best convention yet at a wonderful facility.  I was just there actually two weeks ago on a site visit and they're very much looking forward to having us.  They have a tremendous amount of food outlets.  Of course Las Vegas is full of entertainment. 

There's lots of entertainment there in the hotel or connected to the hotel.  There's the House of Blues right there in the Mandalay Bay so you can enjoy some music. John Berggren and I did that while we were there visiting the hotel. So please get your room reservations in soon. You can make your reservations by calling the hotel at 877-632-9001.  That number again, 877-632-9001.  This information of course has been in the Braille Monitor.  

You should know that the hotel will take a deposit of the first room night for each room that you reserve and they will require a credit card or a personal check to do that. If you use a credit card they will take that deposit at the time of bookings.  So you should be aware of that.  If you have a need to cancel your reservation, if you cancel it before Friday, June 1st, you will get 50 percent of your money back. After that you can get nothing from the deposit back from the hotel.  I encourage you to get your room reservations and if for some unfortunate reason you have to cancel I know there will be many people looking for rooms so plan to be with us in Las Vegas at our 2019 national convention.

I have here in my hand a coin that is the new National Federation of the Blind membership medallion. These medallions are going to be presented to all members of the National Federation of the Blind going forward. A lot of members say well hey, I've been a member; I want one of those membership medallions and you can get one. Your chapter will be submitting a membership list to the affiliate and when the affiliate sends to the national organization your information that you're a member, you will receive one of these medallions in some sort of presentation from your affiliate president.

The medallion has on one side the symbol that is the logo of the National Federation of the Blind.  It is an image that has six figures that are blind people striding out confidently in it. You probably know the logo by now. We've been enjoying it for these four or five years. And on the other side of the coin the words National Federation of the Blind appear around the circumference of the coin and in the middle of the coin the word member.  

Those words are all in print. They're raised. You can feel them.  Above the word member are three Braille symbols, Braille characters, the letter T, the letter G and the letter R.  So for those of you who know Braille you probably know what that means and if you don't, it's a good motivation to find one of your friends in the Federation to figure out what those letters signify.  I think this is a really nifty way for us to demonstrate that we are members of the National Federation of the Blind.  You have to be a member to get one.

Now if you weren't a member at the beginning of the year and your name doesn't get submitted with your affiliate you can always join of course as a new member and new members will get a packet.  New members join the chapter and chapters are being asked to fill out the new membership form.  This coin also is part of our launching a new membership onboarding process that chapters and affiliates will be hearing more about as we get into 2019.  

One of the things we're encouraging, actually asking each chapter to do is hold a membership new member ceremony where we vote new members into the organization, welcome them in formally and help them understand how important membership is and what it means to be a member of this organization.  I think this is a great step. It signifies the real meaning that there is in being a member of this organization and I encourage our chapters to find innovative ways to make the membership ceremony something special. I also encourage you to carry your membership medallion because you never know when someone might ask you if you have yours. I'm going to have mine in my pocket and you're welcome to challenge me on it anytime.

The board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind has approved a strategic plan for the organization. This is a plan that we are mostly using to articulate our work and the work that we're doing to grow the organization to potential funders of our movement.  The strategic plan sets forth some key priorities for the organization and for our growth.  It does not represent everything we do because there are some things that are well established.  They don't require focus and energy like new initiatives or areas to build capacity do.  

The plan emphasizes areas where we are planning to build capacity for the organization.  By no surprise one of those key areas is membership. We're always working on membership, but we're really spending some time working on how we strengthen the membership process and growing leadership in our organization.  We've been doing that over the last three or four years.  We had the 75 days of action and we've had greater efforts to strengthen our chapters.  This is a continuation of that work. 

We're also doing some work in employment and education to build on what we have done through our research and training programs to try to bring new employment initiatives across the nation for blind people led by blind people.  And it will be no surprise to you that the plan includes a number of advocacy-related initiatives and strengthening our advocacy work.  And of course fund raising continues to be key for us and so the plan talks about our efforts to strengthen our fundraising.

 The plan will be in the February Braille Monitor.  I encourage you to get familiar with it.  See what areas excite you. Give me feedback about what you're particularly excited about in terms of our new initiatives in the National Federation of the Blind. Speaking of the Braille Monitor, Gary Wonder, our editor of the Braille Monitor has recently given me a note about our newly revised plans with the AIRA Corporation.  We have two exclusive plans with AIRA. They're exclusive for members of the National Federation of the Blind so again you have to be a member to take advantage of this service from AIRA, these special plans.  

AIRA is a service that allows a blind person to connect with an agent to receive access to visual information that they might need at any instant notice.  You can use your smart phone or your smart phone with a pair of glasses that they've developed to connect with an agent and get information when you need it, where you need it and how you need it. There's a new introductory plan that offers 30 minutes of service for just $20.00 a month.  This is the lowest plan that AIRA offers anywhere and it's exclusive for members of the National Federation of the Blind because of the strength of our organization.  

The regular NFB plan is the same one that has been in place for a year now. This plan is a $99.00 a month plan and it offers 140 minutes per month of service and it allows you the opportunity to get certain advantages.  You can get bonuses for referring people to the service. You can upgrade to the horizon glasses which are the newer form of the wearable glasses that AIRA offers. You have to pay extra for those, but you are eligible to upgrade to the glasses.  You do get the original pair of AIRA glasses with this plan.  You can read about all of these plans by going to AIRA, that's AAIRA.IO/NFB.  So AIRA.IO/NFB and learn about these plans.  

Membership in the National Federation of the Blind does have benefits. These exclusive offers are just one example of those benefits.  If you think this would be of use to you I encourage you to check out the site and sign up for the service.  You can subscribe on line or you can sign up by calling an agent at 800-835-1934, 800-835-1934.  I would also note that exclusive to the National Federation of the Blind our state conventions offer free AIRA site access.  So you can show up at one of our state conventions and use AIRA for free during 2019 as was true in 2018. So if you're not sure if you want to purchase you just want to try it out show up at the state convention and try it out.

We are coming to the time of our Washington seminar and we have a lot of work to do in the 116th Congress which was just sworn in yesterday.  Our Washington seminar is the major time that we kick off our legislative agenda during the year.  It represents the most significant push we make at the beginning of the Congressional session and the Congressional year and the members of congress and their staff they know we're going to show up regardless of snow or rain or other circumstances.  We're going to show up and present the issues that are important to the blind of American.  Here to talk about the issues for 2019 is our executive director for advocacy and policy, a day short of his birthday.  So happy birthday John Pare on January 5.  Here is John Pare.

John Pare:    Thank you, President Riccobono and hello fellow Federationists.  I am so looking forward to this year's Washington seminar and the beginning of the 116th Congress.  We have three very exciting issues to work on for the next two years. The first is the Access Technology Affordability Act.  This is a continuation of what we did last year but with two small changes.  We were going to change the amount of the refundable tax credit to $2,000.00, and we're going to sunset the bill after five years. Sun setting means that the bill will end even though of course we'll work to get it extended. 

By making these two changes we'll be able to lower the cost of the bill making it much more likely to get it passed.  Remember that this bill will help put more access technology in the hands of blinds Americans for use at home.  Our next issue, a new issue, is the greater accessibility and independence through non-visual access technology.  This bill addresses the problem of inaccessible medical devices for use at home, the inaccessibility of a lot of exercise equipment like treadmills and other things both at home and at hotels or at workout places and so forth. 

And third the inaccessibility of home appliances like the new microwaves and stoves and washers and dryers that incorporate visual technology that makes it hard or impossible for us to use.  So we're going to have a bill that will require the access board to analyze these three things from home-based medical equipment to exercise equipment and to home appliances to determine how to make them non-visually accessible to issue enforceable regulations and this should help us greatly in these areas.

The third issue is the Disability Employment Act or DEA.  This bill is going to help modernize the Ability One Program to bring it into the 21st century.  This is an outdated program that really has resulted in the segregation and payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities even though the program guarantees contracts to non-profit agencies.  Our bill, the Disability Employment Act will modernize this program and bring it into the 21st century making it possible to have real upward mobility, to be properly integrated with the Randolph-Sheppard program, to prohibit the payment of subminimum wages and to really promote integration and upward mobility.

These three issues as you can see will really help us with the employment and education and accessibility to help us live the lives we want. And I know that this is going to be a great Washington Seminar.  Let me talk a little bit about some of the logistics.  The Washington Seminar begins on Monday, January 28th and all legislative directors and state presidents are urged to attend a training session that will occur that morning from 9:00-12:00 on Monday the 28th.  Now that's for legislative directors and state presidents.  

Later that day from 2:00-4:00 we would like everyone who is at Washington Seminar to attend a more general training that will occur in the Capitol Ballroom.  This is all leading up to the real debut of the great gathering in that President Riccobono will kick off at 5:00 PM, 5:00-7:00. And I know that he has a lot planned and that this will be an incredibly exciting great gathering in and will really set the stage for this Washington Seminar.  

We'll have meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  Both the House and Senate are in session on that Tuesday so we know it should be a really productive day. And that evening, Tuesday the 29th, we'll have our Congressional Seminar in the Capitol Visitor Center in a room that's been secured by Congressman Sarbanes. And we've moved the time slightly. It will begin at 5:30 PM and last to 7:00 PM and we'll be working to invite every member of Congress to come speak to us at that event.  Wednesday at 6:00 PM we'll be having our traditional debrief to be the last formal meeting of the Washington Seminar.  I look forward to seeing you all there. Have a great day. Thanks.

Mark Riccobono:    Thank you, John.  I'm looking forward to gathering in with everybody at 5:00 PM on January 28th. John mentioned our Congressional reception which will be happening on the 29th and we're still planning on the Congressional reception. We just moments ago got information that the state of the Union is now being planned for the evening of January 29th and so we're not quite sure what impact if any that will have on the Congressional reception.  Sometimes that does have an impact so that may change, but our plan at the moment is to have a congressional reception and to find ways to connect with all the members of congress during the Washington Seminar so stay tuned.  Make your plans to be here and please study our legislative priorities for the 116th Congress as we have some new, important ones where we need to get some bills introduced.

We’ve talked about the Dream Makers Circle on the Presidential release before. By the way if you're coming to the Washington Seminar, Patty Chang, our director of outreach will have a table in the lobby of the Holiday Inn where you can ask questions about the Dream Makers Circle or sign up or that sort of thing.  The Dream Makers Circle is a way for individuals to express their plan to give an end-of-life gift to the National Federation of the Blind. It's an important tool in our reaching out to potential funders and to bringing future dollars into the organization. 

I would like to thank these individuals for becoming members of the Dream Makers Circle; Michelle S. Clark from Springdale, Maryland, Valentino Harrigon and Karen Lewinsky from St. George, Utah, Mary and Craig Songson from Spartanburg, South Carolina.  And acknowledging more chapters that are contributing to our preauthorized contribution program where you can make a monthly contribution to the National Federation of the Blind. 

Thank you to these chapters from the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, the Baltimore County Chapter, the Central Maryland Chapter, the Del-Marva Chapter, the Greater Baltimore Chapter, the Greater Cumberland Chapter, the National Harbor Chapter, the parents of blind children, the Sligo Creek Chapter and the TLC Chapter.  From the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts thank you to our Cambridge Chapter and to our Greater Springfield Chapter. We appreciate everyone and each of our chapters and affiliates that put money into the National Federation of the Blind on a monthly basis.  If you have not yet added becoming a contributor to the PAC program as one of your 2019 resolutions, I would encourage you to do so.

I have one note from the Federation family to share with you at the beginning of 2019.  Unfortunately it is a sad one and that is that Betty Capps of Columbia, South Carolina passed away after battling a long illness. She passed away at her home on December 17, 2018.  Betty Capps was 87. She married Don Capps in 1949 and Betty and Don have worked together in the National Federation of the Blind for much of that time.  I first met Betty Capps in April of 1999 at a seminar that I was leading shortly after I became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin. 

Don and Betty Capps were assigned to come by the president of the Federation and it was clear to me from that first encounter with Betty Capps that her grace and her gentle approach made a huge difference in changing people's lives and helping them to understand the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind even though she was not a blind person herself.  She was really the first person that I got to know who really had all the qualities that we authentically think of as being blind at heart.  So I encourage you to keep Don Capps and all of Betty's family in your thoughts and prayers.  

I know Mrs. Jernigan was able to attend Betty's funeral along with other members and leaders in South Carolina. So I encourage you to keep the Capps family in your thoughts and prayers and take a moment to acknowledge the tremendous difference that Betty Capps has made in the lives of really all of us by helping to build a strong foundation for us during the past 60 or so years that she was a member of the National Federation of the Blind.  

I'm really excited about 2019. There is a lot of work to do. As I said I'm getting on the road right away on Monday to do work for the Federation in Las Vegas and I have plans to be in Louisiana the week after that and all sorts of other places. I'm looking forward to what we're going to do together this year, and I appreciate the work that each and every one of you does at the local level to change what it means to be blind, to build opportunities for blind people and to recommit yourselves in this new year to our organize to blind movement.  As we close, here are some of the customary endings and at least one in honor or World Braille Day. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.