PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everybody. We'll begin promptly at 8:00 p.m. eastern.
A few quick reminders, everyone is on mute this evening. You can send in questions to the Q&A session or send them to [email protected]
If you want to turn off announcements, on a Windows computer, you can use alt plus Windows plus S, or on the app, move the screen reader away from the top of the screen.
Closed captioning is included again tonight, and if you want to turn it on, go to the phone app, the "more" button, and select meeting settings and switched closed captions to on. And if using the desktop, go to closed caption button after the record button, and then select "show transcript" from the context menu.
Another quick thing before the release gets started, we want to ask everyone to join in our poll that lets us know how long you've been a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Or again, if you're on the phone after or the desktop, that is available.
Welcome. We'll be starting soon.
Just a couple more minutes before we get started with our presidential release. Please join in the poll and let us know how long you've been a member of our organization or if you're new to our organization.
We'll just be getting started in a couple of minutes. Welcome. Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much. We are going to be starting in just about one minute. And if you haven't done the poll, please make sure to do so.
I'm going to go over a couple things before we get started.
First of all, I welcome everybody. We're so excited you're here with us tonight for our June presidential release.
I want to remind everybody that everyone is on mute and cannot unmute yourselves.
You can send questions to the Q&A section or send an email to [email protected] NFB.org.
I also wanted to mention that you may be getting notifications when someone joins or leaves a meeting. If you want to turn those off, on a Windows computer, the key command for that, you just use alt plus windows plus S. If you're using the Zoom app, move the screen reader away from the top of the screen.
Also, we have closed captioning this evening. To turn that on, select more, meeting settings, closed captionings on. If you're using the desktop app, go to the closed caption button located after the record button and select show transcript from the context menu that pops up.
I also want to let everyone know, there will be a text, an audio transcript available after the release is over. So just to let everybody know that.
And we will be sharing the results of our poll a little later this evening.
So now we will be starting our presidential release. Again, welcome to our June presidential release.
And I know that all of us, it has been a very difficult and painful week, and I know that we draw great strength from the diversity in our Federation family as we come together tonight as one.
I want to thank President Riccobono for his incredible wisdom, courage, the solidarity that he shows, the love that he shows in all that he does. And we know that as an organization, we stand for and believe fully that love conquers hate. So President Riccobono, it is my honor to turn the release over to you.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Pam.
And greetings fellow Federationists. Today is Thursday, June 4, 2020, and this is presidential release number 495. And the Federation is alive with activity. Like, gosh, almost like no other time in our organization's history. I am so proud of the activities going on. We do have a lot going on tonight and to reflect upon, so I want to jump right in, but I'm so proud of the work that's happening in the organization right now. We've had some great victories for the last month making sure that we continue to connect and protect blind people across the country.
I'm sure you've seen many of our press releases. I'm quite proud of our work with blind students across the country to get access to the advanced placement exams available from the College Board. Working with some blind students across the country, we were able to get an agreement not too long ago, about a week ago, to make sure that these students can get Braille and tactile graphics, hard copy Braille and tactile graphics, so very exciting.
Also, we are working actively on access to voting in so many places. We've had some interim victories in New York, a great victory in Michigan, some great work getting a ballot in the mail-in efforts in Pennsylvania in very short order. We are working very hard, not just to promote equal access to voting but making it happen in so many places. And we're working in a number of other states very actively with our Federation affiliates to make sure that we protect the sacred right of voting for blind people.
And this week, I'm really excited that our National Federation of the Blind Braille enrichment for literacy and learning in home edition is happening for the first time ever. It is incredible. We have 45 young people who are participating. Hopefully some of them are on this call this evening. So a shoutout to our BELL ringers out there. We sent them a huge box of stuff. I thought about going through the box here on the release, but it would have taken, well, an hour. I have just one thing here. The Monza game which we have provided with tactile, accessible materials right inside the box. That's just one thing in a huge box. Honestly, I couldn't get it on camera, it was too big.
So very excited about the work happening with our families. And if you know of families, they have not missed out yet. We have two more sessions available this summer that are coming right up, so please encourage families to go to NFB.org/bell to register for one of our upcoming two-week in-home edition programs.
Also, you know that the board of directors previously put a stay on in-person Federation meetings through May 31 or as local conditions call for. We have sent a communication now to all of our affiliate Presidents, advising our affiliates to make that decision based on the local conditions and to continue to coordinate with the national organization. I do expect that we're going to continue to have virtual meetings for a while in some places, and I would think all places continue to have virtual participation along with our in-person meetings, but I am excited that in some places we might be able to continue to open up or start to open up to having some in-person gatherings, even of small gatherings. And I would encourage everybody are to continue to follow the best practices in terms of wearing masks and keeping yourselves and all of our members safe.
Well, when we're thinking about virtual meetings, we're thinking about the National Federation of the Blind 2020 convention! There are 11 days left to register for our convention. You do not want to be left out of the registration group, so please go to www.NFB.org/convention and register before June 15. That's when it closes, and you're going to want to get in before that.
Affiliates should be reaching out to members to make sure that everybody has access, and if for some reason people don't have access to be able to register, we should help them get access to register.
We want to make sure we don't register multiple individuals on the same email address. To do that, there are a couple things you can do. First of all, on the website, www.NFB.org/convention, there is an accessible, fillable PDF that can be filled out and sent in via email or could be mailed in. You can fill that out for every individual that is registering. That does not require an email address.
The second way is you can reach out to the team here, and we can send you a spreadsheet if you want to log multiple registrations on a single spreadsheet. Reach out to Susan Skaarer to get that. Again, keep in mind the June 15 deadline. Susan's email address is [email protected]
If you don't get any of this, you can look back at the transcript later.
Let me give you some interesting numbers, just to spur on our affiliates a little bit more. This is unusual that we would release these numbers in advance. The total number of individuals registered to date. Well, let me skip that for a second. Let me give you the top tens first. To be in the top ten, you've got to have at least 100 people registered. At 99 people registered is Pennsylvania. Number nine, South Carolina with 105. Number eight, Pam, Louisiana with -- oh, I'm sorry. I said South Carolina had 108. 105. Pam, Louisiana is eight with 107. Number 7, New Jersey, with 118 registered. Number six, Colorado with 123. In the top five, number five, Ohio with 147. Great work, Ohio. You've got a shot maybe of catching up to number four, which is California. 183 folks. That's pretty good for a small state like California. Number three is Arizona, though, ahead of the small California, 191. Number two, number two, Maryland. Come on, Maryland! 254 people registered. And number one at the home, number one is Texas with 264. So Maryland is 10 behind Texas. Come on, Maryland, you can do it. Congratulations, Texas, to leading at the moment the registration numbers.
Total registered to date as of earlier today, 3,214 individuals.
Now, keep in mind last year in Las Vegas, we registered in person 3,284 people. And just letting you know, Pam, our biggest convention ever in person, 3,347, New Orleans. So I have a feeling that by the end of the week, New Orleans might be blown out of the water.
But what states will be in the top ten? You know, there are some missing states. I understand small ones like New York not making it into the top ten, but some of the other states out there might be able to get into the top ten before it's all said and done. I would encourage everybody to register and get people to register.
Few facts about convention real quick. You know that our convention is happening July 14-18. We have decided our primary platform will be the Zoom webinar. We have checked out a lot of things and settled on Zoom as our best-case scenario with the circumstances as they are.
You're going to want to be registered to make sure you can take advantage of special announcements and deals and especially door prizes and other benefits. So get registered to be plugged in to that.
Our general sessions will also be streamed via the web in a variety of ways, and as we can plug in different ways to make that internet stream available, we will in the five weeks that we have leading up to it.
Now, when I say general sessions, these are the traditional general sessions that we have streamed in the past. That's the NFB board meeting. That's all of the general plenary sessions. And of course the banquet. So you don't have to get on Zoom or the telephone to do that for the general sessions. You'll be able to get on board with just listening to the internet stream if you want to do that.
We should help all of our members get connected to these activities.
We are planning to offer options for voting amongst registered members of the convention. So you want to be registered. You want to be a member of the organization. We're still working out the exact details, but if you're not registered, it will be more difficult to have you participate during the voting process during the convention.
We do need door prizes, and we want you to send them in advance or we have provided affiliates with instructions about what to do if you prefer to ship them from where you are. Please coordinate with your affiliate President. They have all the info about that. We do need door prizes, and we do have a secure way of providing cash and gift card door prizes to winners. You're going to want to be logged on, though, to make sure that you can get those door prizes.
We're going to be promoting the PAC plan at the convention, our preauthorized contribution program, a way to support the organization on a monthly basis. So be thinking about what you can do related to the PAC plan. Scott LaBarre will be sending out information soon about that.
I do want to welcome the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut association of blind students as well as the NFB of Indiana circle city chapter and the NFB of Ohio, Cuyahoga County chapter all recently got on the PAC plan. Thank you for your support.
I want to remind you about our give 20 campaign. That's give $20 campaign. In lieu of our traditional convention Ralphs, if you give a $20 donation between now -- actually it started some time ago -- and noon on July 18 Eastern Time, you will be entered into the Kenneth Jernigan convention drawing, which will make you eligible for a great prize. You could win an opportunity to go to our 2021 convention somewhere in the country. You will get round trip transportation for two to the 2021 NFB convention as well as hotel at the convention, convention registration, banquet tickets for two, and $1,000 in walking around money. So it's a great benefit just for giving a charitable contribution to the Federation. Imagine if everybody listening right now just gave $20. It would help the Federation a great deal. So gone on, give $20, get your friends to contribute $20, or more, there's no upper limit as long as it's in your bank account and you can be eligible for this great prize that's acknowledgment really, a gift to our donors. And we look forward to awarding that.
There is additional information and rules that can be found on our website at www.NFB.org/convention.
I do want to really, again, encourage you to plan to set aside these five days of the convention as convention days. We want you to participate actively in all the convention, not just dip in and dip out. Plan to make it a five-day convention, like you would normally.
We are anticipating that the agenda will be out in about three weeks. That's June 25th or so. It's possible. It could be out earlier. But we're planning on that. That's about two weeks from the convention, so you'll have some time to check out the agenda, what's on it, and map out how you're going to spend those five days. And you should talk about how you're going to spend them on your social media channels by using the hashtag #NFB20.
I also want to let you know that there is going to be an NFB choir that's doing some virtual rehearsing in advance of the convention. Pretty cool project. And rehearsals for that start, well, tomorrow. So if you want to be part of the NFB choir for convention, you've got to get ahold of Rachel Grider, a member of ours in California. For more information, you can reach Rachel at her email address, [email protected]
Finally, I know if I forget this, Pam will virtually kick me under the table. We will have the rookie round up meeting, and get this, the rookie round up meeting, because we're all virtual convention rookies, will happen on Tuesday, July 7, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Be there. Pam has promised interesting things if you want to preview and make sure you're in tune to know what to do for our five-day convention.
To transition here, I do want to give a shoutout to the National Federation of the Blind Missouri. That's going to be our first virtual state affiliate convention which kicks off tomorrow. So congratulations to Missouri on leading the way.
Now, we need your help with our National Federation of the Blind Newsline program. We're undertaking a major project to look at Newsline, what we do with it, what the future of it is going to be, and we need you to participate in some surveys and focus groups about it.
Now, we want you to do so if you're a subscriber to Newsline, but also, if you don't subscribe to Newsline, we really need you to fill out our survey and let us know why you don't participate, what would help you participate, what kind of information do you want, where do you get your news sources, how can we build the Newsline program for the next 25 years of our organization through our 100th anniversary.
The surveys will be open through June 10, so just another week, so we really need you to get on this and do this. You can find them at http://sgiz.mobi/s3/nfbnewsline. I know, it's a horrible address. Again, you can find it in the notes, but also it's been on our listservs and it's circulating. Please go on and fill out the surveys. And we still need 20 individuals who are not currently subscribed to Newsline to join our focus groups. If you're interested in participating, we anticipate it will take about 90 minutes of your time. We really need your feedback in the focus group format, not just the kind of status survey.
We need to hear from you quite quickly, though. So if you could reach out to John Pare, if you're not a subscriber of Newsline, by tomorrow, Friday, June 5, by noon Eastern Time. John can be reached at our main number here, (410)659-9314, extension 2218, or at [email protected] Give him your name and contact information, and he will be happy to get you into consideration for our focus groups, and thank you for your feedback on our NFB Newsline program.
I'm happy to announce that our partners at Lyft are continuing to provide support to blind people in this critical time. They have offered us, in the National Federation of the Blind, another coupon worth $25 per user to assist blind people during the month of June. Affiliate Presidents have the code available and can work with you to make sure that these codes get to blind people to be used to support activities during the month of June. We want to make sure we use them before July 1. So speak with your affiliate President if you know someone who needs that support or if you need that support to undertake activities during the month of June, especially related to COVID or building the organization, or really getting the assistance that you need to continue as we bring life into whatever the new normal is. There are a limited quantity of these available, so please work with your affiliate President on this.
Now, just because we're working with Lyft on this, don't think that we have stopped monitoring both Uber and Lyft in terms of their discrimination against blind people who use service animals. We have not. We need you to continue to fill out our ride share survey so that we can collect data about discrimination against blind people with service animals in ride share. We need you to go to www.NFB.org/rideshare-test, or you can also find the information very easily in our NAGDU app from our national division. But please continue to fill out surveys about your experiences with both Lyft and Uber in terms of service animals and potential discrimination. Good or bad, we want to hear from you.
The work of our membership committee continues, and we have another open house gathering coming up on June 10 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. If you or someone you know is not yet a member of the Federation, wants to learn more about membership, what it means, what the truth is about the National Federation of the Blind and what we do, you should send an email to [email protected] to register for the June 10 open house, and you will be sent information. I know Pam Allen will be hosting that and it will be a great event. Go demystify what the Federation is about and encourage everyone to consider being a member of the organization if you are not already.
I want to tell you real quickly about a new partnership we have with an entity called Pinna. Pinna is an on-demand audio streaming service that provides hundreds of hours of content targeted at children 3-12. This is great for families, parents of blind children. This is a great resource, and they've started a partnership with the Federation. Their programming includes podcasts, audio books, and music.
Pinna is providing a 60-day free trial to members of the National Federation of the Blind, using promo code NFBGET60. This is only available to new folks who haven't used Pinna before. You make an account on their website, pinna.fm/promo. And when you go there, you'll need to put in the promo code NFBGET60 in step two of the account creation process. This is a great new partnership.
One of the reasons this partnership comes about is because Pinna offers a broadcast known as Opal Watson Private Eye. It says here about it: She is curious, brave, and persistent. And she happens to be blind. At age 11, she already has her own thriving mystery-solving business. Quite intriguing.
The lead character is blind. That's Opal. And Opal is voiced also by a blind person, Maya Graves. So pretty cool to have a blind character leading a podcast, voiced by a blind person. A number of our members have provided feedback on this podcast and the reflection of blindness in it. I haven't listened to it myself, but some people I love and trust have, and they say you should check it out. I look forward to listening, and I'll probably do so after the convention.
I do want to acknowledge those who participate in our dream maker circle. This month we want to welcome Jean Rauschenbach of Moline, Illinois. The dream maker circle is a commitment to make an end of life gift to the Federation, put us in a will, put us in as a beneficiary. It helps us to preserve the longevity and sustain the organization by knowing that we can rely on gifts in the future. So thank you to Jean and to all of our dream maker circle participants.
I want to talk to you a little bit about our efforts on this day, the national day of mourning, to support members of the Federation who are black. A few days ago, I put out a letter, an open letter to members under the title of "Love conquers hate." And if you haven't read that letter, I encourage you to do so.
It speaks to my own reflections on racial justice, what's happening in the country, and the work of the National Federation of the Blind, and what each and every one of us in this organization can do within our movement to make sure that we give love to our members who most need it, especially at this time.
I've been spending time talking to our black leaders in the Federation, our national board has been engaged in these discussions, working with our diversity and inclusion committee to talk about what we do at this time in our nation's history and with this movement to make a difference in what, at least in the last week for me has seemed like a very insurmountable barrier in our nation. So I encourage you to look at the open letter, reflect on it. It shares a lot of my thoughts of what we can personally do in this organization. It speaks to the members of the organization and the commitment that we make to each other. But tonight on this release, we are releasing a public statement from the National Federation of the Blind which I'm going to share with you in a moment that reflects the real commitment of this organization to work internally, but also to be champions externally in the organization by demonstrating what we do to be inclusive, to weed out racism, to make sure that we're not just talking about what we need to do, but we're putting real action behind it.
Our board of directors has unanimously adopted this statement. We're sharing it on social media, and I will share it with you now as a reflection of the solidarity we have with our black members.
NFB stands in solidarity with all those impacted by racial injustice. Baltimore, Maryland, June 4, 2020.
For 80 years the National Federation of the Blind has viewed addressing discrimination and promoting equality as essential elements of our work. Today we stand in solidarity with the black community in their fight for justice and in their pursuit of equal treatment under the law. We condemn the continued murders of black Americans, including those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Further, we acknowledge that these horrific deaths represent a vile and longstanding pattern of institutionalized racism that permeates the criminal justice system. While there are police officers who are doing good work, the fact remains that black and brown individuals are disproportionately impacted by police brutality, unfairly condemning people of color to prison cells and graveyards.
As a civil rights organization with a diverse membership, we strive to grow in our understanding of conditions that affect us. Throughout our history, we have participated in civil disobedience and honor the value that it holds to bring about social change. We are firmly committed to enacting our organizational diversity statement which, in part, expresses, "We recognize that our views and convictions will be challenged, and we expect this challenge to take place in a climate of tolerance and mutual respect in order to maintain a unified organization."
Recognizing that this is a time of intense grief, a time of learning, a time of reflection, we stand with our members who are in pain, and we pray not only for peace but for justice. We stand in solidarity with our black members and publicly commit to do anti-racist work within our organization. We ask our non-black members to take the time to self-reflect in ways we can participate to create an anti-racist world. With you in love, with you in justice, we affirm that Black Lives Matter.
This important statement, in an important movement, is important for our organization. We work for blind people, and in this moment, we recognize that we're also not blind to color. We recognize with this statement the systemic discrimination that does exist. And we make a pledge to do more about it, by starting right here within our organization, being thoughtful, having hard conversations, finding ways to heal each other in this movement as a starting point for the rest of the nation.
I'm sure if you're like me, you've been wrestling with what's happening in our nation. You've also been cheering on, maybe even actively participating in actions across the country to vocalize that pain and help demonstrate that real peaceful uprising. It is necessary for us to make change.
This statement is an important one not only for our members but to tell the rest of the nation that we as a civil rights organization realize, recognize, and are committed to the fact that racism does not have a place in our organization or in our nation, and that's consistent with the code of conduct that we have adopted and have been advancing in our organization now for some time.
I encourage our chapters to discuss this statement, discuss the open letter that I wrote, and what we can do as an organization of blind people in advancing our mission to make sure we are reflecting the diversity of blind people across the country. Blindness does not select for race or any other characteristic, and so we get to set the example. We have the opportunity to set the example for the rest of the nation. And I'm proud of our organization taking on this statement. Today, on this national day of mourning. And I want all of us to remember it's rooted in what we said in our open letter. It's been on the top of our building, on our rooftop sign for the last week or so: Love conquers hate. And this is our opportunity to contribute to that in a significant way.
I do have a few Federation family notes that I need to share with you before we get into some questions and answers, which I'm looking forward to. We do have two strong contributors to the Federation who passed away in our Georgia affiliate in the last month. I want to acknowledge Max Parker, who was 75, of Albany, Georgia, who passed away on Saturday, May 9.
Also Barbara King was a long time Federationist of our Decatur area chapter of NFB Georgia passed away Sunday evening after a long illness.
I also want to acknowledge David and Sadie Carillo, members in Utah, who lost their son Lucian, who was just three years old.
I encourage you to keep these members and the ones we may not know of in your thoughts and prayers, and certainly all of our members who are feeling very painful experiences at this time. And I do, again, take a moment to acknowledge our members who have been impacted by COVID-19.
I get to end with a couple of celebratory notes, though, before we go into questions. Faith and David Waybright, right here from our Baltimore chapter, welcomed Elizabeth Rose, born on Tuesday, May 26, at 9:50 a.m. She weighed in at 7 pounds 6 ounces, 20.5 inches long. She and her parents are doing well. Congratulations to the Waybrights, and welcome to Elizabeth.
Also want to note that Danielle and Cameron Frampton of Salt Lake City, Utah, are proud to announce the birth of Kada, who was born on May 21st, weighing in at 7 pounds 12 ounces, just eked out Elizabeth there by 6 ounces, weighing in at 7 pounds 12 ounces, and 20.5 inches long, just like Elizabeth.
So congratulations to both of these families, and I would like to welcome Kada and Elizabeth as the newest members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Pam, I think that's what I had to offer at the moment. I'm looking forward to the questions that you might have for me. So I'm turning it back to you.
PAM ALLEN: Thank you so much, President Riccobono. I couldn't be more proud than I am tonight to be a Federationist as we stand together in solidarity with our black members. And thank you for your commitment at all levels.
So speaking of new members, and welcoming people to our family, I want to give everybody the results of our poll. And thanks to everyone who participated.
Here are the results. First of all, for those who have been a member for 1-5 years, that was 22%. 6-10 years, 19% of those who responded. 11-15 years as a member, 11%. And more than 15 years as a member, 42%!
We also, those who are new, and those not yet a member of our organization, we're so glad that you're joining with us tonight. That's 3%. So thanks so much for participating in our poll this evening.
And I want to thank everybody for the questions that have been submitted prior to this presidential release this evening. Just a reminder quickly that everyone is on mute and cannot unmute themselves, so if you are called upon to ask a question, you will be unmuted to ask the question and then muted again after you ask it.
Just another reminder that if you want to submit a question, you can go to the Q&A feature if you're using the desktop app or the phone app. And if you do not have access to the Q&A section in that way, you can email [email protected]
So we have been talking about the importance of having our voices heard. So President Riccobono, we have a question about voting and what we in the Federation are doing to address vote by mail issues that might come up making sure that we have access during this time when voting is so widely discussed so that we can make sure that we can have options for voting. How are we dealing with that as an organization?
MARK RICCOBONO: Great. Thanks, Pam, for that question.
Voting has long been a priority of ours, and the Federation now for, oh, gosh, the last two decades, almost since the Help America Vote Act was enacted about 18 years ago, we've been operating a protection and advocacy program to work on expanding access to voting for blind voters. We have been leading the way in pushing the edges of what access to voting means. We've brought a number of cases in Maryland and Ohio and New York and Michigan, and we're threatening cases elsewhere right now to work on the mail-in ballot issue. We're pushing for potentially electronic signatures so you don't have to physically sign the document. You can sign it another way. We're pushing for electronic submission of mail-in ballots, so not just mailing it back.
We're also making sure that we're protecting blind people that don't have access to a computer to fill their ballot out online, that there are polling places that are open. If you have watched the Sunday shows, the Governor here in Maryland specifically called out blind voters as speaking very loudly about needing a public polling place to go to. That wasn't just blind voters; that was the National Federation of the Blind. Lou Ann Blake is our primary staff member that deals with voting issues, monitoring them and giving technical assistance to our affiliates, guiding those discussions. So if you are looking for resources, you can find them on our website. You can reach Lou Ann Blake here at our national office. She would love to talk to you. I know that pretty much every affiliate is working actively on this, and it's tricky situation as states are rushing to figure out what they're going to do to make sure that people can vote and with the uncertainty in the fall, so I would continue to follow the activities in your state, work with your state affiliate, and the state affiliates will coordinate with our national organization.
I should also say that in November, well, we need everybody to vote. That's first and foremost. You've got to get registered. We need you to vote. We need as many people to vote as possible. To continue to advance opportunities for the blind, we need blind people participating in the process.
This November we'll be doing a survey. We've now done in presidential elections going back better than a decade, we're going to do a survey on the voting experience. We had the best longitudinal data set about blind voters, so we'll need you to participate in that too. So share your experiences with your affiliate and we'll coordinate and continue to expand voting everywhere for blind people. I'm pretty proud of the victories that we've had over just the last month alone on this issue.
PAM ALLEN: Definitely shows the power of us working together.
Our next question is related to a question about audio description and what are we doing at the National Federation of the Blind to encourage services like YouTube to enable audio description.
MARK RICCOBONO: So this is certainly a conversation we've had with various entities. We have a very good relationship of course with Netflix. I guess at this point, they're kind of leading the way in what they're doing around audio description.
Everett Bacon tracks this for us and helps to push forward on these issues, including working with the FCC on issues like this. I would encourage you to reach out to Everett Bacon to talk more in detail about this. If there's particular targets that we need to be concerned about that aren't doing audio description or aren't doing it well, we should keep those in mind and we should think about how we continue to innovate the industry around audio description, especially as it relates to essential information but also entertainment. So I would refer to you also a number of letters that we've written in support of audio description at the federal level. You can find those on our website, so it's a good question.
PAM ALLEN: Great. Thank you so much.
And I have another question from one of our leaders and members Louisiana who asks about internet accessibility. He asked this question and several others have asked the questions having difficulties making reservations or having trouble accessing different websites. So what are we doing in relation to internet accessibility?
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, it's a good question. We have been working on web accessibility now I think for more than 20 years.
PAM ALLEN: Yeah.
MARK RICCOBONO: So we're really working on all fronts of this issue. First of all, we've created the legal framework using the Americans with Disabilities Act. We've really led the way to make it clear that the internet is a place of public accommodations, and that goes back now many decades.
We're also working with web developers to try to raise the standards, promote the WCAG standards, promote training through our center of excellence and nonvisual access right here in Baltimore, doing distance training but also providing resources. And of course advocacy through our affiliates. The best way that we collectively can move web accessibility is for you to raise it when you come across it. Reach out to those companies. Let them know that you had the experience. Ask them why their services aren't accessible. Give them a chance to answer you. And if they don't, call them out on social media. The standards are well established. We continue to push to get them deeper into the fabric of our nation. I wrote a letter earlier this year on behalf of the Federation. We noticed that the government had adopted the 508 refresh but it hadn't been fully integrated into the federal standards documents as it should have been.
We pushed on that, and we noticed now that they are working on it. So we continue to work both in the advocacy level, the teaching and awareness level, we're working with a number of university partners on integrating it more into the teaching program so that the students that are getting computer science degrees today are getting an increasing exposure to web accessibility to know that it needs to be part of the design process.
The problem of course is there are millions of websites, and it's a big hill to climb. But we are making great progress. I think that web accessibility is being talked about more and more, and you see now other people starting to bring cases about this. That's been in the news quite a bit. The reason is, we've already established it as law. So we need companies to do it. We haven't supported the wide barrage of just suing people over web accessibility. Our approach is always to reach out first, let companies know they're getting it wrong, let them know what they've gotten wrong, and ask them to fix it on a time line that we ask them to give us.
Now, if you want to know more about web accessibility, I would refer you to our website and our legal page. We post every agreement that we have. We do not sign confidential agreements. We have given the roadmap to people about how to be accessible because all of our web accessibility case agreements are right on our website. You can find them. You can read them. The roadmap is there. Why people aren't doing it, it's a good question. But I think we are making good progress in this area. But I know as a blind person myself, I experience frustrations with this on a daily basis. Well, today, I wanted to go get a haircut, you know, it's the thing to seek out these days. And had some web accessibility trouble on the internet. But I worked through it, and I talked to the provider about it earlier today.
PAM ALLEN: Excellent. Thank you so much.
We have several questions that have come in about our independence market and when that will be open. We apparently have lots of people in need of cane tips. It's a great thing. Very good thing.
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. An important question. I need a cane tip myself.
So we're waiting to see what the mayor of Baltimore is going to say tomorrow. Maryland has gone into what they call phase 2 of reopening, so that's very good. We are hoping to bring back our independence market staff, and they're going to need some time to do some inventory work to get ready to open up the phones again and start taking orders. But I'm hopeful that before the month is out, we'll be open again for business in the independence market and can start shipping things out. We know it's an important need, and we're working on it.
So I'm going to be optimistic and say maybe around, let's see, I guess it would be around the 15th. So right as registration closes for the convention, we'll open up the independence market. That's our hope.
PAM ALLEN: Excellent. And we do have some thanks for the free white canes that have been going out so thanks to everyone helping in that process during this time.
A couple of questions related to convention. First, and I'm very excited, I know everyone cannot wait, we're all counting down the days to that time, question concerning the agenda. I know you referenced this earlier, but the question is in respect to whether the agenda will be available in a nonelectronic format, in some other way.
MARK RICCOBONO: So great question. And, Pam, you got to get people from Louisiana registered. You're falling behind there.
PAM ALLEN: I'm not worried.
MARK RICCOBONO: Of course we'll make it available on NFB Newsline. So it will be available in that form. And it's a good reason to get registered for Newsline now if you're not already. That will probably be our primary nonelectronic way.
We are planning to put up a BRF file so that folks locally -- and I've encouraged our affiliates, if there are people who need help getting hard copy Braille, yes going to put the BRF files up to make that possible. So those I guess would be the two ways. We're not going to be shipping out Braille, but we will have the files available as soon as we can. And again, our hope is by the 25th or so.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. And we have several people who have asked about whether they need their membership coins with them to listen to the convention, how we're going to incorporate membership coins. A lot of people are excited about that.
MARK RICCOBONO: It's a good idea to have your membership coin. I wouldn't be caught without it.
Yes, of course your need your membership coin. I have no idea if we'll have everybody bang on their computer with it, but we haven't really thought about how to incorporate the membership coin, but I would encourage you to have it. It's a nice symbol. I carry it around with me. I encourage you to do so just in case we think something up.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. And several questions have come from around the country related to exhibit hall, any updates on the exhibit hall, and/or affiliates selling items as is tradition at convention.
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, exhibit hall. We are working hard on having an exhibit hall. And we want to do something more than just put an announcement up on a web page, right, because that's easy to do. But we want to make sure we're adding value to the convention, to the members, but also to our sponsors and exhibitors.
The challenge is accessible exhibit hall, virtual exhibit hall platforms out there and finding, identifying them, and making sure they work in the time that we've had. So we're still working on that. We're not exactly sure how it's going to look. We can always default to having a web page, but we want to do better than that and want it to be fully accessible. So still a challenge. We're hoping to have an answer to that soon and we'll push it out there.
We haven't devised another way for affiliates to sell things in and around the convention otherwise. But if we have an exhibit hall, that will certainly be part of the conversation. So stay tuned. I know it's coming close. But there's a lot of work for us to put this together. And we were just talking here in the conference room before we started that what we're trying to do with the virtual convention really not too many other organizations are attempting to do.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. And another convention question. Will our convention be able to be streamed on devices, Amazon devices or other means?
MARK RICCOBONO: Yes. So we do think that the stream will be available on devices like the Echo. Again, we don't have all of those details worked out, but that is our hope. And we also potentially will make it available to folks that have, for whatever reason, have trouble dialing in on Zoom, we are planning to have a means to make it available via telephone alternatively from dialing in to Zoom. So stay tuned for that information. Again, we're going to push it out as fast as possible and we're really going to rely on our affiliates to share that information and make sure the members get connected with it.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Excellent.
MARK RICCOBONO: Again, I just want to emphasize, the streaming is only going to be for the general sessions. So you've got to be registered and you've got to be able to get on Zoom or the telephone to participate in all of the other parts of the convention. You can imagine we have hundreds of meetings, so streaming every single meeting would be an even larger undertaking than the one we're undertaking.
PAM ALLEN: All right. Excellent. So much to look forward to for convention.
So this question relates to, I know that everyone has been working so diligently across our affiliates to provide such great contact via Zoom and other means. Dawn York asks, after the pandemic is over, will the NFB still sponsor virtual events. She shares that she's extremely grateful for all the Zoom events that she's attended because it's helped her so much in many, many different ways.
MARK RICCOBONO: Yes, I think the answer is clearly yes. You know, we didn't have any time to plan for our response to COVID-19. But the Federation has done what we have so often do, from the grassroots all the way across the organization, has responded with love and hope and determination, and has put together so many great activities. And substantive advocacy, philosophy, support, again, connecting and protecting.
So I think the virtual participation is going to be in the fabric of our organization. You know, there's no substitute for in-person meetings, but we also recognize, especially with the speculation about what happens in the next six months or really eighteen months with wave two or three and some pundits even talk about wave four of COVID, you know, a vaccine, all these questions are still hanging out there. We recognize that a number of our members will be more at risk than others.
So our goal is active participation. I envision a combination of in-person and virtual participation in our events, and we're going to be figuring that out like I mentioned earlier. Missouri will have the first virtual affiliate convention in another day. A number of affiliates are looking at that for the fall.
We still have a lot to learn and we're going to try some things that aren't going to work and we're going to adjust. But our goal in this is to broaden participation, strengthen participation in the organization, deepen participation in the organization. So I think our virtual presence events are here to stay.
Besides, what would we do if we didn't have a Zoom meeting at least three times a week? You know?
PAM ALLEN: So true. And I've had the joy of popping in briefly to our virtual BELL academy. Kudos to all that are involved.
So another question concerning convention. People are asking specifically where they can find different events listed, when certain meetings will be. So just a reminder about when the agenda will be hopefully posted so everybody stay tuned. I know that's come up several times.
And just so you're aware, President Riccobono, we have lots of questions about door prizes.
MARK RICCOBONO: There will be door prizes. Send your door prizes. There is a method to plan to have it shipped from where you are. So affiliate Presidents have information about that. Stay tuned. You're going to want to be tuned in to make sure you can get a door prize. There's some pretty spectacular door prizes too.
PAM ALLEN: Got a lot of questions about fit breaks.
MARK RICCOBONO: Oh, yeah, there will be fit breaks. We're going to need them to get up and stretch from sitting at the computer.
PAM ALLEN: I will switch gears a moment. We have a question, several questions concerning our statement that you read. And question related to our diversity and inclusion committee and how the committee may help guide our members have those conversations that may be difficult but are very important, open, and honest conversations, and how will that be implemented moving forward.
MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah. So it's a really good question that we don't know all the answers to. But I should let you know that Sean Callaway, our President in the District of Columbia, and Rosie Caranza, a member of ours from Louisiana, are cochairs of the diversity and inclusion committee. You can find their contact information on www.NFB.org.
We're going to be -- the committee has already talked about some activities to undertake in relationship to this. Those are still developing. Certainly some things will happen at the national convention. But I would encourage you to reach out to Sean and Rosie to help guide those discussions and share resources.
The committee is made up of members from across the Federation. It's just a wealth of experience, knowledge, perspectives, and really great resources that they're tracking and gathering to help that. And I think it's going to depend on the local circumstances also. And frankly how much we've been engaged in these conversations previously. But I think it's important, and I definitely encourage you to call on the committee for that. And I'm continuing to rely on the committee and our black leaders to guide my own thinking about this.
PAM ALLEN: Thank you. And I want to thank everybody so much this evening. We've had such great participation and very thoughtful questions, those sent in before and throughout this evening. So we're incredibly grateful for everybody's participation and thoughtful reflections.
So our final question, and I just want to say before I pose this question to you, President Riccobono, that we know some questions, if we didn't have a chance to answer your question this evening, we will be following up. I want to thank our awesome communications team for all of the hard work and getting those questions answered. So be assured, you will be hearing from us. And again, the presidential release will be available in audio and text transcript later. So if there are things you need to review, it will be available.
So our final question tonight, President Riccobono, is what are you most looking forward to in the next year?
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. That's a tough question. I think the thing that I'm most looking forward to is being able to gather together in person with Federationists. We've had some great activities, some great connections have been made. We've done some great work over the last ten weeks. But there really is nothing like the opportunity to gather together and sit in the same space together. So I'm really looking forward to that. I don't know what that's going to look like.
Certainly hoping the Washington seminar is going to be one of the next opportunities, but maybe there will be others. I'm hoping that they'll potentially be conventions this fall, but you know, we have to see. So I'm looking forward to that.
Also, I have to say that I think that the energy across the Federation right now is really great. And the new people that are coming in to the organization and finding us because of our activities I think are going to help change, continue to change what we do. You know, that's -- we're driven by our members, and so we want more members. We want more diversity. And that continues to evolve our thinking and evolve our philosophy, and I'm looking forward to seeing what that brings. So of course to some extent I don't know what I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with it. So I'm looking forward to being together.
PAM ALLEN: Excellent. Thank you so much.
Thank you, again, everybody, for the great questions. And I know this is a very powerful presidential release this evening as we stand together in solidarity.
So thank you again, President Riccobono, for your leadership, for your love, for your unwavering faith.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, Pam. Appreciate it. And I appreciate your leadership and guidance and work on behalf of blind people across the country as well. And look forward to what we're going to do next.
I do want to say that we're going to take a break from the presidential release next month as we traditionally do because we don't want to scoop the national convention. We're going to be back in August with the release, and we're thinking a lot about what the release looks like. We still want the presidential release in some way to have a presence at our chapter meetings. But the live format also seems to have something to offer. So if you have feedback on that, please send me an email at [email protected]
Please register for convention by June 15.
With that, I will leave you with some of our customary endings and say, let's go build the National Federation of the Blind in solidarity.
>> It's Elizabeth and I'm going to tell you a joke. Where do sharks go on summer vacation?
>> I don't know. The feeding ground?
>> I took the shell off my racing snail hoping it would get faster. Just got more sluggish.
>> What's the difference between a cat and a comma?
A cat has claws at the end of their paws. A comma has a pause at the end of the clause.
>> The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President of National Federation of the Blind, [email protected] www.NFB.org. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.