March 2020 English Transcript (2 of 2)

Greetings fellow Federationists. Today is Friday, March 13, 2020. And we’re going to call this Presidential Release number 492.5. This is kind of a special emergency release to talk to you about the evolving situation related to the coronavirus and the work of the National Federation of the Blind. I considered making a recording earlier this week when we were putting together some guidance for affiliates and chapters related to our meetings and the ongoing situations. Instead, we just decided to put out a document which we distributed via email on March 11. It turned out that the 48 hours following our completing that document and circulating it have been quite eventful. So the Board of Directors met this afternoon and considered all of the details and all of the work and what’s mission critical for us. And we have adopted a policy to not hold public meetings of the Federation of any sort for the next 30 days, basically through April 12, which happens to be Easter.

This is not a decision that we came to lightly. We considered all of the work that we need to do, all of the situations that are happening which is quite varied across the country, the various states of public emergency, and we felt it was best for us to take the stance that meetings of the Federation should be postponed until after April 12. We will be evaluating the situation up unto that point and it’s possible we’ll extend that date. But right now we don’t need to make that decision.

The work of the Federation will continue. There’s plenty of advocacy work that can be done without having our local chapter meetings and without having a number of affiliate conventions that now have to be postponed a number of months out. And of course there are still blind people that need to be outreached to, and we can do that via phone and email and other means. And we need to continue to be the watchdog organization to make sure that this in this particular time of uncertainty that blind people are not being disadvantaged in the healthcare system or in accessing other services. So using our network and making sure our advocacy work continues is even more important. Also, this is a good time, especially if you’re going to have an altered work schedule or maybe going to be at home because the schools are closed, here in Maryland the schools are all closed for two weeks coming up. Might be a great time to get on the phone to congress or to write some emails to support our many bills in congress. We’re doing a great job moving our policy agenda in Washington DC, but this is a great opportunity for us to use this time to remind congress that there are still policy issues that are important especially once they get through passing a bill to deal with the current situation.

These are unusual times. And the Board of Directors has considered all of the factors, and we continue to look at what’s happening and evaluate it. Our national office is open at the moment. We’ve made some contingency plans for some things that might happen, but we’re continuing to monitor this really on a daily basis because as you know the story continues to change.

I invite you to share information that you have that might be helpful to what we should be doing in the National Federation of the Blind. I mostly wanted you to know that the safety and wellbeing of the members of the Federation is of utmost importance. We should look out for each other and Federation members who may be at high risk, we should help them out the best we can, especially accessing resources where they need it. But checking up on them, this idea of social distancing is going to make it difficult for a number of our members who are in need of support because they’re newly blind or for some other reason. So we should make sure to check up on each other. The work of the organization will continue as best it can and we are moving a number of things forward.

I do want to let you know that we have taken some steps to make sure that blind people have the best information possible in this situation. We’ve created a breaking news section on the NFB news line system to bring together all of the information that can be found there about the coronavirus. So you should look for that on NEWSLINE. And if you’re not an NFB news line subscriber, now is a great time to get signed up. Also, a lot of the universities are going to online courses only for the rest of the semester. We know that that means blind students are going to face significant access to information barriers and discrimination. We’re putting together the resources we’ve already had, our higher education self-advocacy toolkit and some other accessibility information so that we can empower those students to advocate but also help the professors know best practices for accessibility. So we are leveraging the work of the organization even in this time. And as we come across issues that blind people are facing related to dealing with this situation, we should find ways to help. Please communicate with me at the national office about what you’re finding and where the needs might be.

I’m extremely grateful that we have the network of people, experts, thoughtfulness that we have in the National Federation of the Blind. It makes it easier to deal with a situation like this which none of us have experience dealing with ever before in our lifetimes. I am looking forward to us having a national convention. We’re planning on the national convention. There’s no indication that we will need to change the national convention. So please plan on that. Of course, if circumstances evolve in such a way that we need to look at changing the convention we will do that. But there are no indications at this point that that’s going to be the case and really, it’s too far out for us to fully judge. So you should continue to make your hotel reservations, make your flight arrangements. Our online convention registration system will be back available soon. We’ve had some technical difficulties. We should continue to move forward with our movement as best we can despite what’s happening around us and continue to find ways to make sure we’re helping all blind people in our communities deal with the current evolving situation.

I send my best wishes to each and every one of you for your health and well-being and safety. I look forward to hearing from you. I certainly look forward to being in a Federation meeting again real soon. I look forward to those on a monthly basis to give me that inspiration shot in the arm information about what’s happening. But we’ll do some things a little differently for the next month and we’ll continue to find ways to advance the organized blind movement.

That’s what I wanted to share with you today in addition to our public statement from the Board of Directors. Be well and let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.