May 2020 English Transcript

PAM ALLEN:  Good evening and welcome, everybody.  We will start promptly at 8:00 p.m.  Thank you for being here tonight.  Remember that everybody is muted right now and will not be able to unmute yourselves.  Remember that you can send questions and comments to our chat feature later on.

We're so excited that all of you are here this evening, and we look forward to being with our federation family.

We'll be getting started soon.

Good evening, everybody.  It's great to be with you all virtually.

Just a reminder that we will be getting started at 8:00 p.m.  And please, for those of you who are joining us with our desktop app and our phone app, remember, there is a poll being launched.  So please check out the poll to find out how many conventions you have attended or if you will be attending convention for the first time this year.

Also a reminder, we do have closed captioning available for this evening.  In order to access closed captioning, if you are on the phone app, please go to the "more" button and select meeting settings and turn on closed caption.

If you're using the desktop Zoom app, goes to the closed caption button which is after the record button, and select "show transcript" from the context menu.

We are airing tonight on our home page.  We'll be getting started shortly.  Welcome.

Good evening, everybody, and welcome to our May presidential release.  What a great way to kick off May.  Remember, we'll be starting at 8:00 p.m.  So everyone is on mute right now and you cannot unmute yourselves.  If you have questions or comments, you can email to [email protected].

Please answer our poll how many conventions you've attended or if you'll be attending this July for the first time.

Good evening, federation family.  We are so thrilled you are with us for our May release.

Please take advantage of the poll that is up if you're using the app or desktop app for Zoom.

Also, if you have questions or comments, you can send them in the chat feature to national federation of the blind, or send an email to cdanielsen@NFB

Also a reminder that we have closed captioning available this evening.  You can turn on closed captioning in the iPhone app, go to meeting settings and switch closed captions on.

If you're using the desktop Zoom app, the closed caption button is after the record button, select show transcript.

Also we're airing tonight on SHOUTcast.  Our link is on our, and we are, again, please make sure to check out the poll and take part in the poll that we're asking how many conventions you've attended or if this will be your first convention this July.  We will be starting shortly.

Good evening federation family!  And welcome to our May presidential release.  Welcome.  We are so glad that everybody could join us tonight.  I can't think of a better way to kick off the month of May.

Before we get started, I want to give the results of our poll.  Thank you so much for everybody who participated.  This was about how many conventions you've attended.  So 14% of our participants said that this convention, our 2020 convention, which we are all counting down to, will be their first convention.  35% of our poll respondents said that they have attended 1-5 conventions.  12% attended 6-10 conventions.  24% of participants who responded attended 11-19 conventions.  And 15 participants have attended more than 20 conventions!

That was a lot of fun.  Thank you, everybody, for participating tonight in this poll.  I know that we're all counting down to the convention this summer.  We're so glad that you are here with us this evening for our May presidential release.

Again, just a few housekeeping events before we start our release.

Everyone will be muted, and you cannot unmute yourself.  So just a reminder that everybody is muted this evening.

Also, if you would like to, you may send questions via email to [email protected] or you can send them to National Federation of the Blind in the chat feature in Zoom.

To turn on closed captioning in an iPhone app, go to the more button, select meetings, and switch on closed captioning.

If you're using the desktop app, go to the closed caption button after the record button and select "show transcript" from the context menu.

I also want to mention that this stream is being aired tonight on SHOUTcast so you can find us at as well.

We are thrilled that all of you have joined with us this evening.  I know how important it is for all of us to be together as a federation family and to talk about the work that we're doing.

It is now my pleasure this evening to introduce our President, our leader, who has given us, as always, but especially through this time of uncertainty, has shown strength, commitment, his integrity and has helped us as a federation family to really stretch ourselves and grow and empower ourselves as an organization to take action.

So it is my pleasure to introduce to all of you for his remarks this evening, President Riccobono.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you very much, Pam, and greetings, fellow federationists.  This is May 1, 2020, and this is presidential release number 494.  I am talking to you from the main conference room here at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.  I'm here at our board meeting table I guess you would call it, surrounded in this room if you've never been here, on three walls are all Braille books that were part of Dr. Jernigan's personal Braille book collection.

Also behind me over my right shoulder is the United States flag.  And over my left shoulder, the Federation flag.  Certainly federationists who have been in our building would be very familiar with this room.

So it's a pleasure to be with you this evening.  And as I was preparing, I realized, man, there is a lot to talk about.  And even just since we were together for the presidential release on April 2nd, so much has happened.

First and foremost, I hope that each and every one of you are doing well, and I know that on a daily basis, I am strengthened by the hope and determination that I feel from talking to other federationists around the country.  In the face of many challenges, our organization is stronger and more together than maybe at any other time in our coming up on 80-year history.

So let me jump right in so we can have as much time as questions as possible.

First of all, I know that everybody wants to talk about the national convention.  At our last presidential release, we said we were still analyzing looking at what we were going to do.

You now know that we have decided the board of directors after looking at this has decided to take our convention online.  First and foremost, tough, tough decision.  But the board decided there was clearly too many unknowns, and that we needed to begin planning to have our biggest and best convention ever.

Let's get through some logistics.  If you registered at the hotel in Houston, made a room reservation, either at the Hilton or the Marriott, you will get a full refund of your deposit.  We have talked with the reservation staff at both hotels, and they are working on canceling the reservations at the Hilton and Marriott and issuing full refunds to the credit cards that were used.

As you might imagine, those hotels both have very slim staffs right now, so it might take up to two weeks for all of those reservations to get processed and refunded.

If you do not hear anything by May 8, we ask you to send an email to Susan Skaarer here at our national office.  Her email address is [email protected].

Include your reservation number, and we'll follow up on it for you.  There's no need to call the hotel.  They will be working on the refunds.

If you registered for the convention and maybe bought some banquet tickets, you should have had one of our team reach out to you already about your registration and banquet fees.

And thank you to many of you who are tuned in who asked to donate those directly to the Federation to support the work that we're doing during COVID-19 and recognizing that we are going to have expenses related to the convention.

Let's talk a little bit about the plans for our 2020 convention, our biggest convention ever, I do believe!

I'm going to give you as many details as I can this evening.  You should know, and it's maybe obvious, that this is an evolving situation.  We're working very quickly to reengineer what we're going to do.  We're doing a lot of research to make sure we can make this the best convention ever.

First and foremost, what are the dates of the convention?  You probably said July 14-19.  And you would have been right.  Except you're no longer right.

It's now July 14-18.  14-18.  We took a hard look at the convention and decided that we would shave a day off, knowing that it's going to be a lot to be online for five days.

We want all of our members to treat this convention like a convention.  We know some people are going to dip in and dip out, but we know that true federationists, if they at all can, want this to be a real convention and to dedicate the time and make the commitment to have this be a true cohesive convention.

So we want people to dedicate the time to be at the convention, engaged in the activities, and we're having a lot of careful conversations about how to do that, recognizing that some of us are already getting burned out on being online all the time.

But we want you to treat it like a real convention.  So we shaved a day off.  That also allows us to put the banquet on Sunday evening.

Now, I know Pam especially is concerned about rookie round up.  We are going to have a rookie round up.  It will probably be the day before the convention or maybe a week before the convention.  Many of us have all said, we're all going to be rookies for our first online convention, so we will have a rookie round up scheduled in advance of the convention so people can prepare for what the convention will be.

We want to be very accommodating for all of the Federation across the country, recognizing our Hawaii affiliate is many hours behind the east coast.  We're committing that none of our activities will start before 9:00 a.m. eastern time.  That's still pretty early in Hawaii, but of course there won't be too many activities that early, and if you've been to one of our conventions, you know they start early and end late.  We're going to try not to have activities, official meetings, end past 10:00 p.m. eastern.  That's our current parameters we're working on.

The structure of the convention is a little bit different.  Tuesday, July 14, would have been seminar day.  And it still is seminar day.  Our parents' division, rehab meetings, technology meetings, we're envisioning most of that will be very similar to what you've known.

Changes start to come on day two, Wednesday, July 15, which you would have known as registration day will now be board meeting and resolutions day.  It's always been resolutions day, but you note that we've moved the board meeting at least at this time to that Wednesday.

On Thursday, July 16, that's still division day.  But that's also going to feature our opening ceremonies in the evening.  So our opening ceremonies will be kicking off on Thursday, July 16th, in the evening.

Friday, July 17, if you know the normal pattern, you would have recognized this as the opening session day, including the presidential report.  And we're still calling that presidential report day, but we'll have a full day of general sessions on that day.

Also, each one of our affiliates will be holding an affiliate caucus that day between some specified hours.  So we're expecting every affiliate to have a caucus on Friday of the convention.

And then Saturday of course is our business meeting, our resolutions, and the banquet.  So we have repackaged things just a little bit, hoping that where we can have in-person meetings and gatherings to listen and participate in the convention, that might be able to happen Thursday evening, Friday, Saturday, some combination thereof.  We are hoping we can get people together by that time at least to some degree in some places.

A lot of people want to know what platform are we going to use.  We're doing a lot of Zoom.  Are we going to do Zoom or something else.  We're still evaluating that question.  We're not fully committed to the exact platform.  We're being very careful about what's out there.

Accessibility of course is a primary question for us.  And we want to make sure we can include everybody, not just the folks who have access to a computer, an internet connection.  We want to connect with people via telephone.

We are working to have a high level of engagement in the convention.  This is kind of a challenge considering, again, the fact that we have people on the telephone, we have people with smartphones or without smartphones, some people have internet, some don't, but we want a high level of engagement in the convention, including voting if we can work that out.

As an aside to affiliates on voting, this is where your membership lists being submitted is going to be critical.

If you have not registered for the convention, you need to do so.  Registration is open and the board has made the commitment that registration is free. web/convention to register to be eligible to participate in certain things at the convention, including door prizes.

Registration is going to close on June 15.  That will give us time to work out details that we need to and communicate with folks.  We do currently envision there may be a way to register during the convention, but don't wait.  Get your registration in by June 15 so you can get ready, do the planning, have everything you need to be ready for our convention.

We are going to have door prizes at the convention.  What would a convention be without door prizes.  It's going to be interesting to figure out how, if you're tuned in or not.  But we're going to work on that.

We do need door prizes for the convention.  So please send in door prizes.  It would be great to have major door prize, a basket or something, from each of our 52 affiliates and other nifty things.

You can send them to the National Federation of the Blind, and you should mark them "Attention:  Convention - FS" for fiscal services.  Our address is 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21230.  Please get your door prizes in to us as soon as possible.

We will be disseminating more information about how to actively participate in the convention as those details come together.  We do expect that our delegates will do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of receiving communications and sharing information across the delegation for the affiliate.

Also I welcome your ideas about what the convention can/should look like.  We recognize we won't be able to do everything we might want to do, considering we now have only 2 and a half months left to plan the details.  But your ideas are welcome.

What speakers should we have?  What topics?  What would be most interesting?  How can we keep it engaging even at a distance?  How can we bring the spirit of the Federation to it?

Please send your ideas to me at [email protected].

Some of you have signed up for convention scholarships.  Since we don't have a destination to send people to, our Jernigan convention scholarship fund committee is thinking about how to manage convention participation and how to do some new and dynamic things going forward.  So our committee is putting together a first-time convention experience video contest that you're going to see some more information about.

But we're going to be asking everyone who is willing to participate in this contest to create a one-minute video.  Not more than one minute.  Or an audio file.  Talking about your first convention and what it meant to you.  We all know that that first convention is something very special.  It helps us understand the power, influence, the family that we have in the National Federation of the Blind.

So you're going to want to participate in this contest.  To give us some great content to promote our 2020 convention and also tell people why participating in our convention is important.  And you could win some cash prizes and whatever else our Kenneth Jernigan scholarship fund committee thinks up.

Now, I know I'm not eligible to win a prize in this contest, so, you know, if I was going to do a video, I might have talked about my first experience at my convention, how powerful it was, especially at the end of the convention, really putting it all together when my friends that I had made who were all graduates from the Louisiana center for the blind, I tagged along with them to Disneyland, thinking this has to be crazy, a bunch of blind people walking through Disneyland without help.

Well, it cemented for me not only the techniques that I heard about all week but the philosophy and the value of what we do in the National Federation of the Blind.  Or maybe I would tell a story about some of the people that I met at my first convention, like Boona Dehall, who wouldn't leave me alone until I bought a candy bar that she was selling.

She's been my friend now for more than 24 years.  That was more than a minute, so I'm already ineligible.

But there will be more information coming out about the convention and our video contest.

In addition to the convention, we have been busy in our advocacy work.  COVID-19 has made some of our legislative priorities even more pressing with respect to economic and independent living.  You know, our Access Technology Affordability Act continues to get interest in Congress and get very relevant in the conversation about how to get blind people back into employment and how to get access to information.  That's HR-2086 and S-815.

Continue to promote that.

With respect to social security disability, we are continuing to request that in the next bill that Congress considers, sometimes it's called C4 or the mini CARES bill, we're pursuing to get a waiver of the 5-month waiting period for SSDI benefits or the 24-month waiting period for Medicare.  We're getting interest on that in Congress as well.  So stay tuned because I'm sure there will be a need for some further advocacy in those areas.

The Department of Education released their much-anticipated report on Monday of this week, and the report was intended to give recommendations to Congress about any waivers that should happen with regard to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act, or other laws.

And I am very pleased to report that no objectional waivers were requested by the Department of Education, and I believe that is a direct result of the strong advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind sending a very clear message to the Secretary of Education that at this time, blind students need as much support and education as everyone else.  And I think the fact that the report not only doesn't ask for waivers but, in fact, asks for waivers that are good for blind students, in fact, one of the waivers requested extends eligibility for toddlers who are getting services, whose services would have ended when they turn 3 years old.

So we didn't get anything bad.  In fact, we got some good stuff, and that's because of the network of the National Federation of the Blind and our advocacy.

In addition, a shout out to our National Association of Blind Merchants who were able to instigate the Secretary of Education recommending for a waiver that would allocate vocational rehabilitation funds to replace spoiled food and expired supplies for Randolph-Sheppard business owners.  Our merchants have been very active in making sure we protect blind small businesses through that.  So hats off to our blind merchants for that work.

It's a pleasure to continue to coordinate on those efforts.

All of this and other victories we've had demonstrate the power of our collective action, of our individual actions collectively focused.  So thank you to each of you for making those calls, sending those emails, and continue to watch because there will be more to do.

Now, many of you should have received your economic impact payment from the government.  Most blind people who are currently receiving SSDI should have received their economic impact payments earlier this week.

If you are receiving SSI, we understand that you should be receiving your economic impact payment before the end of this month.

Keep in mind that if you're an SSI recipient and you have dependents, you have until May 5 to add your dependent information to make sure you receive the additional funds for dependents under that program.

To do so, you'll need to fill out the IRS non-filer interpayment info tool.  That information and the link to that can be found on our COVID-19 page.  If you have questions about the economic impact payments and the details around them, especially for getting SSDI or SSI, you can go to, we have a ton of information there that's changing almost daily.

If you have questions, you can also email John Pare at [email protected].

A couple legal items and also relating to SSDI.  We are seeking individuals who are currently in the process of applying for SSDI benefits, maybe because of lost employment.  So if you're in the process of applying, we would like to talk to you.  Especially if you've had to sign with a physical signature various Social Security Administration forms.

We also wish to speak with blind persons who have recently filled out SSA Form 1696.  This is the form that is used to appoint someone to represent you in front of the Social Security Administration.

If you fit that category or know someone who does, please reach out to Valerie Yingling in our office.  I'm going to give you her info in a minute.  But we're also requesting information about the inaccessibility of state unemployment websites.  We've heard a number of stories of blind people running into inaccessibility on unemployment websites.

If you've had that trouble, please share your experience with that with Valerie Yingling as well so we can see if we can help and we can gather data.

You can reach Valerie at our office via email by sending an email to [email protected] or (410)659-9314 extension 2440.

We are coming up on global accessibility awareness day.  It's a good opportunity to talk about the web accessibility work we will be doing.

We will be hosting a Twitter chat on May 15 at 2:00 p.m. eastern time.  I would encourage you to get involved with that to help push our accessibility efforts and web accessibility and especially our accessible now effort that we've been undertaking during COVID-19.  The hashtag we're using is #AccessibleNOW for our Twitter chat on the 15th of this month.

Another thing we're doing and have been doing for a long time but it is intense right now is making sure that we're tracking and protecting the rights of blind voters.  We've had some great victories in Maryland and a number of other states.  We're continuing to track what's happening in the states.

If you're running into voting problems, please reach out to Lou Ann Blake in our office.  She coordinates our Help America Vote Act activities.  You can reach her at [email protected] or find her at extension 2221 at our national office.

We've had a partnership with Lyft during the last two months to provide some support for transportation for those who might need emergency transportation or have trouble getting out to get medicine or supplies because of transportation issues.

Our work in April, we got confirmation that we could continue issuing travel credits to folks very late in the month.  So Lyft has extended our exclusive National Federation of the Blind Lyft credit program through the end of May.  So additional coupons for Lyft riders are available in the amount of $25 that can be used for emergency purposes related to helping blind people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are a limited quantity of these available, but if you know of a blind person who could benefit or you are a blind person who is in need, please reach out to your affiliate President.  Affiliate Presidents have more information.  They can issue the code to you.  And we do need to collect some data to make sure we can report back to Lyft on the impact, but I think it's really exciting that Lyft continues to work with us on this.

I want to remind you about our Braille Monitor.  That's our flagship publication.  There are a number of articles this month about issues related to COVID-19 that may be of interest.  The Braille Monitor is our flagship publication.  You can get it almost any way imaginable.

Quick apology to our Braille readers who get the hard copy Braille of the Monitor.  Right now that is delayed because the producer that does the hard copy Braille for us is closed at the moment.  But you will get your back issues in hard copy Braille very soon, and we are making the VRF files available.

There are a number of great articles in this month's issue.  There's an article about counseling and the coronavirus, a perspective on well-being, authored by Candace Chapman and Jeannie Massay.  That's one of the great articles.  I encourage you to read it and submit articles.

The COVID-19 situation has created some opportunities for us to really stretch beyond where we thought we might want to this summer.  And one of those is our National Federation of the Blind Braille enrichment for literacy and learning program, two-week summer programs to provide Braille instruction to blind students.

We've decided to reformat that for this summer for obvious reasons.  So we're launching NFB BELL in-home edition.  There will be three two-week sessions.  June 1-12; June 23-July 3; and my favorite session, July 27-august 7, which kicks off my birthday week, July 27.

Students will be receiving a box of materials.  So the goal is that we're going to be sending families all the materials they need for their child to participate in our NFB BELL in-home edition.  So we want to get families registered for this as soon as possible.  There will be a limited number of opportunities.  Families will have the opportunity to connect each day with an experienced teacher and also to get their child connected with a blind role model.

So some of this will be self-directed instruction, but also supported with lessons, YouTube videos, things like that.  We need families to register, and we need to get the word out obviously if the first program starts June 1.  That's one month from today.

The registration form is available at, but please spread the word.  Get families to sign up.  And we need to reach out to families, this is a great resource, and it's going to push us into trying something with Braille literacy that really nobody else in the nation is trying.

Here's something I also need your help on.  Next Tuesday is giving Tuesday now.  This is a global giving campaign to support nonprofits in the work that they're doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.  So May 5, we need your help to get critical dollars into this organization to support the programs that we're innovating really, like the NFB BELL in-home edition.

Imagine if everyone tuned in this evening gave $20 or got someone else to give $20 or better yet did both, that would be a tremendous influx of resources to support these new programs that we're launching.

But it's even better because of our partnership and friends at the Gibney Family Foundation, all of our donations for giving Tuesday now will be matched by the Gibney Family Foundation, so a shout out to our friends there for that support for our giving Tuesday donation efforts.

So we need you to give.  We also need you to spread the word and message over the next few days so that we can get as much reach on this as possible and get donations into the organization.

You can give online.  You can send us a check to our national headquarters.  You can even call our office and our main number and hit 4.  If you called right now you would get a voice mail, but we'll call you back and we can take your donation via phone.

If you donate online or send a check, please write GT for giving Tuesday so we know we can designate it to that campaign and we can multiply your contribution through the generosity of the Gibney Family Foundation.

Besides giving and promoting the program, we will have a Facebook event.  Please promote that, share it widely.

There's something else I need each and every federationist to do, and it's easy.  I need you to write a thank you note to the Gibney Family Foundation from you to let them know how important it is that their support of our efforts at this time and with giving Tuesday, what that means to you.

The best notes would tell how the NFB has been helpful to you, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also more broadly tell a little piece of your story about how the Federation has made a difference.

These should not be long notes.  They can be relatively short.  In fact, 100-200 words would be fine.  Obviously the goal is to thank them, let them know something personal from you about the impact of the National Federation of the Blind, why these dollars matter to us now.

Write your note, and please send it to [email protected].  And if we have chapter members without email, please help them write their notes and get them into a form and get them into the email so that we can share all of these notes with the Gibney Family Foundation.

It will make a big difference in addition to the dollars, so please take a moment to do that.

Okay, before I turn this back over to Pam, I do have a number of federation family notes to share with you this month.

First and foremost, we do know that a number of our members have been directly impacted by the coronavirus.  Thank goodness we've had a number of members who have had the virus and recovered.

Some very prominently have not.  I'm sure you have already heard about Dr. Brian Miller, long time member of ours from Virginia, has participated in many activities, including our scholarship committee, fought a battle with the virus but passed away in April.

Also Loretta bun, a longtime member of our Wayne County chapter passed away on Thursday, April 23.

And in addition, Rubie Wertz, a member and the wife of our Detroit chapter member Johnny Wertz, passed away earlier in April from the virus.

I am also aware of a number of federationists who have had family members pass away, friends, because of the virus, and I'm sure there are others I don't know about but I would urge you to keep these individuals and their families and all of our members grappling with the virus in your thoughts and prayers as I'm sure you already do.

We've had a number of other members who have passed away.  The Charlie Brown of Virginia reports the passing of Amy Barnes at the age of 95.  She was a founding member and longtime President of our Winchester, Virginia, chapter of the NFB.  Please keep her husband Stanley and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Also Scott Van Gorpe of Iowa reports the passing of Doug Wolff, a member of the at large chapter in Iowa.  Keep his wife JD in your thoughts and prayers.

We also learned of the passing of Ron Atchison, a member of the north metro chapter of the NFB of Colorado and an active participant in our senior programs at the Colorado center for the blind.

Joe Ruffalo shares the passing of John Ferry at age 34, who died of liver cancer.  John was from New Jersey, but was living in Denver at the time that he passed.

The NFB of West Virginia reports the passing of Travis Cain, the son of affiliate treasurer Sandy Streets on April 29, so just a few days ago.  He was only 40 years old, and Travis was an active member of the Harrison county chapter of the Federation.

Barbara Briggs, who had been an active member of the Kansas City chapter of the NFB of Missouri for 25 years passed away on Thursday, April 23.

Michael Hingson of California reports the passing of John Bates, a longtime member of ours in Orange County, California.

And Grace Pyers of Rhode Island says that she regrets to report the passing of Richard Gaffney in the middle of April.  Richard was a founding member of our affiliate and a longtime leader and our immediate past President there.

Pam Allen reports the passing of Susan Clark earlier this week.  Susan, if you've been around the organization, you know she was a 25-year staff member at the Louisiana center for the blind and loved by many.

And finally, I need to tell you of the passing of Rami Rabby who passed away on April 17 in Israel.  Rami was one of our charter members of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois and its first affiliate President.  He was a pioneer in getting blind people into the Foreign Service and was a hard fighter in that regard.  So we have a lot to be thankful to Rami about.

I last got to be with Rami in Israel on a visit that I did there with Dr. Maurer and some others, got to have dinner with Rami and others, and he made it clear how much he wished that the organizations in Israel operated like the National Federation of the Blind.

I would urge you to keep all of these individuals, their families, their friends in the Federation, in your thoughts and prayers and give thanks for the tremendous contributions they've made to our movement.

Now, it seems to be a busy month for federation news.  I have some joyous news to share with you before I turn this back over to Pam.

Denise Brown invites us to congratulate two members of the greater Philadelphia chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania.  Gloria Nathan and Larry Cherry were married on April 15 in a ceremony that took place in their church.  So congratulations to the Cherrys.

Emily Gibbs, director of youth and education services for NFB Texas reports that Emily and her husband Richard completed their family and adopted five kids on March 4: Adrian, 14; Oscar, 11; Kimberly, 9; Jasmine, 5; and James, 4.  Welcome to the newest members of the Federation and congratulations to the Gibbs 7 I guess we'll call them.

Norma Crossby also from Texas announces the birth of Sophia Regina Hernandez born on April 8, weighing in at 7 pounds 6 ounces and at 18.5 inches long.  Sofia is the daughter of Hilda and Rolando Hernandez.  Rolando serves as President of our Rio Grande Valley chapter, and both of them are very active in the programs to build the Federation in Texas.

And finally, bringing it back to Louisiana, Rosy and Marco Carranza of Louisiana welcomed Mateo Francisco Carranza on April 27 at 8:38 a.m.  Mateo weighed in at 5 pounds 10 ounces and 19.25 inches long.  All are doing great according to Pam Allen.  And big sister Camila and Sofia are very excited about Mateo's arrival.

So congratulations and welcome to our newest members of the NFB.  We look forward to getting to meet you soon.

Those are the meets that I had for this release.

At this point, Pam, I'm going to turn it back over to you.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Thank you so much, President Riccobono.  It's wonderful to hear all the happenings going on in our federation family.  I know that Mateo is listening.  I want to thank everybody too for the questions that have been submitted.  I just before we start with our questions, I want to go over a few housekeeping things.

First of all, remember that everyone is muted and unable to unmute yourselves.  So just to remind everybody about that.

If you are -- if I call upon you to ask a question, you will be unmuted.  Just to let you know about that.

Once you've finished asking the question, you will be muted again.

And if you have questions or comments, remember you can submit them through the chat feature directly to the National Federation of the Blind.  It is available in the app, the Zoom app, or through the Zoom desktop application.

And also you may email Chris Danielsen, [email protected].

So remember, we are going to do our best to answer all the questions.  We have some fabulous questions.  I know many were answered in your remarks tonight, President Riccobono, many centered around convention, everybody counting down.

And also a quick reminder too that our recording will be available of the presidential release at later on after the release.

First of all, related to convention, we had a question come in from Laura Vincent from Utah about Spanish translation for our national convention and how that will be handled this year for convention.

MARK RICCOBONO:  That is a great question, Laura.  Thank you.  There will be Spanish interpretation.  How it will be handled, we don't exactly know yet.  It is high on our requirements list for our convention platform and what we're planning to do.

We are expecting to continue as always to be able to leverage the great work of our Spanish translation committee.  I can't give you the particulars of it right now because we just don't know, but we are keeping it in mind.

We also plan to, again, make our convention agenda information available in Spanish as we have been for, I don't know, a number of years now.  So that is in the plan, and I'm sure we're going to need people's help in making that happen.

PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.  And also, Laura had a follow-up question concerning recording of the convention and the vision meetings, if they will be available later to access.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Again, we don't exactly know the answer to that.  Once we figure out what platform we're going to use and how we're going to deliver that, we'll figure that out.

Certainly our general sessions will be recorded and archived.  I don't necessarily anticipate we're going to record and archive every meeting.

We will do some of that, but you know, we do want people to show up and participate in the convention if they can, but we're simply not going to be able to record every single meeting and archive it.

You know, our convention has hundreds of different meetings, so the main ones will be recorded and archived, and where we can get to other ones, we will, but we do want people to participate live in they can.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Excellent.  Thank you.

And another, following up, we are about to introduce Chad Allen from California to ask another question related to convention.

>> Hi, everyone.  I'm curious about exhibit hall this year.  How are we going to experience the latest and greatest in regards to technology that's there?

MARK RICCOBONO:  Chad, great to hear your voice.  Thanks for your question.

This is an interesting question.  We're grappling with it as well.  How do we duplicate the convention experience of going around the exhibit hall, and certainly for blind people, we want to put our hands-on technology.  That's how we know what it is and experience it.  I certainly don't want to drop many thousands of dollars on a Braille device that I haven't gotten to put my hands on, right?

So we're thinking about that.  We're looking at what platforms are out there.  We're talking with some of our sponsors and exhibitors about what they've seen might work.  But we don't exactly know yet.  It's not going to be the full rich environment that being in the exhibit hall where you can actually touch stuff is, but we are hoping to connect vendors and blind people in a dynamic way, at least to provide information that might facilitate follow up.

So it's something we're spending a lot of time on.  We're talking to the exhibitors about it.  And certainly if we have members who are business owners that have seen things work, we would like to hear about it.  Shoot us an email.  Reach out to John, our director of convention arrangements.  His email is [email protected].  Thanks, Chad.  Great question.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Excellent.  Thank you so much.

And just to let everybody know, between our stream and listening via our Zoom app and on the phone, we have over 900 people currently.  So we're thrilled that all of you are spending your Friday night with us as our federation family.

Another question that we have has been sent in from Tony Sole from our Arizona affiliate.  Tony had a question concerning whether or not we will be able to meet in person again for conventions and chapter meetings.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, there will be a time.  There will be a time.  I know it doesn't feel like it some days.

There will be a time.  You know, and we don't know how long this is going to last.  Obviously we want to do our part to make sure that, as blind people, as an organization, we're contributing to making the situation better, and if you're following the news, which I'm sure all of you are, it's going to be a while before we have a vaccine.  So social distancing to some degree is going to happen.

That's going to challenge us to think about what our state conventions look like, what our chapter meetings look like.  I do anticipate, I have no reason to think otherwise, that we will have an in-person convention, national convention, in 2021.  A lot of our affiliates are planning for, thinking about in-person conventions for the fall, but, you know, it's a day-to-day situation that we continue to monitor and we'll continue to advise affiliates and chapters as best we can.

Of course there is a lot of variance in local communities now.  I've talked to affiliate Presidents just this week who their affiliates, their states are opening up so they're starting to think about it.

We want to be cautious because of course we want to protect our blind people while we keep them connected.  And I think Pam can be the first one to tell ya, as being the first state to postpone an affiliate convention, it's not an easy set of questions to work through.

PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.  And I know that in our federation family, we have definitely risen to the challenge and found very creative ways to maintain our connections and build our membership and get the work done that we need to do thanks to your leadership and thanks to all of us working together around the country.

Now we have a question, we will be hearing from Corbb O'Connor from Minnesota.

>> Hello.  I am fortunate to still be working from home, but I know that a lot of our members are not.  And I'm curious for those who are in situation where they've lost their job, if you have any guidance for them around earning both or applying for both unemployment and social security disability or SSDI.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Thanks, Corbb.  Great to hear your voice.  Nothing like a very complicated question to throw out.  I'm going to give you the simple answer and then refer you to a resource because it is a great question.

First of all, unemployment benefits do not count as earnings in terms of social security disability income.  So that's the main thing you should know.

And the second part of that is, oftentimes when applying for unemployment, the unemployment worker may tell you, well, because you are eligible for social security disability, that means you can't work and that means you're not eligible for unemployment benefits.  That's bologna.  Don't buy it.  If you get a ruling like that, you should appeal it.  That's not a social security decision; that's an unemployment decision in your state.

Fortunately because of the great resources we have in the Federation, we have published a lot of good information about this very topic, including some of the subtleties around both SSDI and SSI and unemployment benefits.  It's on our COVID-19 page.  So again,  In your case, Corbb, study it so you can help blind people you come across who are in that situation.  That's what we do.

But our team along with Jim, who knows more about this than most folks in social security, have written up some great guidance on it.  So it's a good question and we should help people get connected with that information.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.  Thank you so much, Corbb.

And our next question is related to, we talked a little bit on the last presidential release about the media and misconceptions that are sometimes shown in the media about blindness.  We've had several questions related to how can we respond to help share what we know to be the truth about blindness, that it doesn't stop us from living the lives that we want.  If someone says something negative or stereotypical about blindness.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, obviously the power of using our voice, both in writing and in calling.  You know, if you read a story in the newspaper or if you see something on television, there's an opportunity to write a letter and tell them why they're wrong.

Most importantly, write your authentic story and share it with them, and then share your story with us for the Braille Monitor, for our blog, for our social media so we can amplify that message as well.

You know, it's very easy sometimes to think, ah, they got it wrong again, sometime tired of them getting it wrong, there's nothing I can do about it.  But we have a tremendous amount of power when we write and push back on those negative images.

You know, we do want to stay positive.  And we do want to take the high road, but it's really important that we put out into the universe the positive experiences that we have and that we honestly grapple with, you know, what some of the new situations are going to mean for us.  People are going to assume that for us things are going to be harder, but we don't do that in the Federation.  We are innovative and we figure out solutions.  So we have to be part of that dialogue.

So, you know, use the power of the pen.  Use the power of your voice to help share the message, and then get other federationists to help with you it.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.  Thank you so much.

We have another question from Tara and Chris from New Mexico, a question about whether it's possible to purchase cane tips currently or canes currently.

MARK RICCOBONO:  So we are continuing to send out canes from our free white cane program.  The independence market is not open yet, so that's not quite available.

We are watching very closely the situation in Maryland and Governor Hogan has been a leader in the nation in terms of being very cautious and thoughtful about how to open up the economy.

So we're tracking that very closely, and the independence market is going to be one of our early operations that we will spin up when we can.

So apologize that we're not able to take orders and do that right now.  That's somewhat complicated by the difficulty that we've had with our e-commerce version of the store.  I guess the good news is, there aren't too many places we can go except on a walk which is a good thing.

So we're going to get on getting aids and appliances and cane tips and stuff going out as soon as we can.  And believe me, once the doors are open, we'll share it far and wide.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.

Another question related to how we can convince legislators that the ATAA is relevant to COVID-19.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, that's a good question.  You know, the Access Technology Affordability Act has come very close a number of times to being included in bills.  It has a lot of support.  So I think the important thing is to emphasize how expensive access technology is and to emphasize how wide the gap is just with the COVID-19 situation and accessibility.  Right?

The government edicts that are put out that are inaccessible, that we have to find a way to work around; local information about what the current rules are that are put up and scanned PDF images that are inaccessible.

Just those two things alone and to let legislators know that the ATAA will empower us to go out and get the technology we need to be successful and put those dollars back in our pockets so that we don't have to decide to have technology or food on the table.

I think those are the two best arguments.

And then the last thing I would say is, tell your story.  I mean, each of us has a story about struggling to get technology, not having access to the right technology.  Just the situation with COVID-19 has really underscored how many blind people just don't have good technology at home even if they're working in a job, the technology to have at home is expensive.

So there's a real opportunity there to enhance our quality of life by putting the control back in our hands to get the technology we need.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.

We have a couple other questions that we've gotten that are related to social distancing.  Chris Walker from Virginia is curious to know how we as blind people as the regulations are implemented in various states, how that impacts us as blind people and how, moving forward, we will proceed.

MARK RICCOBONO:  That's a great question, Chris, that I'm hoping you will give me the answer to. 

This is a good example of what we do in the Federation.  We're going to want to continue to live in the world.  And we have the right to live in the world and we have a decision in front of us.  It's obvious I think to many of us.  But we do.  We can either let others decide what the parameters are going to be for how we participate in the continued social distancing and what the expectations are, or we can be part of that conversation and own it and own how we're going to participate in it.

And I think that's going to challenge us to think creatively and differently, but it's also going to challenge are us to use the skills we already have.  When I go down to the grocery store down the street here from our national headquarters, they have a little line on the ground, it's not tactile in anyway, that's supposed to tell you where to queue up.  I have no idea where the line is.  I have to ask somebody.  And if they say, you're past the line, I say, my apologies, I didn't know.

They get it and I get it.  We have to feel comfortable saying that.

But I think we're going to have to define that and we're going to have to share the techniques with each other about what works and what doesn't.

I don't necessarily want the store to put tactile markings on the ground just for me, but maybe it's a good idea.  Maybe we want them to do that.  Maybe it's a good idea universally.  I did notice others didn't know it was on the ground and they're not blind.

We get to be part of that conversation and we could speculate about it, but I think we're going to have to live in it and shape it together and then share that information like we always do in the Federation.  And we'll have to decide what's reasonable, what's not, based on our philosophy and our shared vision for what the future is going to be.

PAM ALLEN:  As a follow-up question to that from Jasmine related to reading Braille signage in public places as we move forward due COVID-19, how that may affect blind people.

MARK RICCOBONO:  It's something for us to think about.  The to some extent, it's maybe not different than reading Braille signage has been before.  This probably just heightens our awareness of what we're doing to make sure that we're following appropriate hygiene and that sort of thing.

It's possible that, you know, we want to think about advocating that Braille signs should be made out of certain materials that might be more resistant.  Maybe there's techniques to help those signs be disinfected more often.  Maybe that's something we need to raise the awareness of folks operating buildings, that they're probably not thinking about disinfecting their signs.  So I think there's an awareness piece that we can bring there.

You know, I don't think we necessarily want to have blind people encouraged to wear gloves every time they try to read a Braille sign, but, you know, that may be a reality and that may be something that blind people choose to do to keep themselves protected.  But I think there are things we can do, like working with building owners on just raising the awareness.  You know, this is a surface that's going to be touched just like a door handle, so you should be taking precautions to clean it.

But I would be interested in other people's ideas about that as well.

PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Thank you.

And a couple more questions.  We have related to convention.  I know this is a very important topic to everybody, and so I want to share this one relating to our access for deafblind members or people attending our convention for the first time.  How we'll be handling that this year.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, again, we don't exactly know because we don't know what the platform is going to look like.  But obviously the closed captioning aspect of Zoom has been working really well for our deafblind members.

And the other methods that we might do for access we're not exactly sure depending on what the platform is.  So obviously our deafblind members are an important constituency.  I know we've had some people reach out and say they would be willing and ready to help do captioning if necessary or do additional voicing if necessary.  So I think that's something to be determined.

And we're also going to be looking to our deafblind division to help define that.

PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.  And Alex Kaiser from New Jersey would like to know if there will be an announcement at convention about the 2021 convention's location.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, that's a great question.  What do you think, Pam, should we announce it at the convention this summer?

PAM ALLEN:  I think that's a fabulous idea.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Okay.  Great idea.  Thanks for bringing it up.  We'll put that in the mix.  It wouldn't have occurred to me to announce it maybe until December, so yeah, that's a good idea.  We'll announce it.

PAM ALLEN:  I'm sure Alex was speaking for many.

MARK RICCOBONO:  We do have a great convention location in 2021.  I'm very excited about it.  I'll be more excited frankly to get back in person with the Federation family.  I'm looking forward to this year's convention in a big way, but it's going to be different.  It's going to be hard to incidentally come across people in the hallway and I haven't figured out how we're going to greet people in the presidential suite but we're going to do it.

But it's not going to be the same.  So partly I'm looking forward to the 2020 convention as the launching point for getting ready for the next convention.

PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.  I know I'm looking forward to the rookie round up, so we have many great things planned.

So I want to say thank you to everybody who submitted questions.  We will definitely be following up with those.  I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of the questions tonight, but we will follow up with you.

And again, President Riccobono, thank you so much for this opportunity to come together.  I know that we are all refreshed and renewed and reenergized as we come together for our federation family.

Thank you again for your compassion and courage.  I'll turn it over to you for the customary endings.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you, Pam.  And thank you for managing our questions and for your continued leadership and stewardship of the work that we do in this organization.  It's a pleasure to work with you.

I do want to invite everybody to our next presidential release, which will be Thursday, June 4, at 8:00 p.m. eastern time.  So Thursday, June 4th, for our last presidential release before the 2020 national convention.  Please be sure that you register for the convention before June 4, just so you have that out of the way.

And please take a moment in addition to considering a contribution to the Federation for giving Tuesday, now, please take a moment, write a thank you note to the Gibney Family Foundation for supporting the Federation.  Send it to [email protected].  It will make a big difference.

If you are participating this evening and you are not a member of the Federation, I invite you to do so.  You can find information about how to join at  Go to join us.  You can find information about your local affiliate.  We would love to have you as a member of our organization.  We need your support.  We need you working with us.  And we believe we have something to offer.

Thank you very much, everybody, for the great work that's happening around the country to continue to sustain and build our movement.  It's going to be even stronger after all of this.

I encourage each and every one of you to stay well, stay connected, let us know if we need to do something to protect blind people in your local community, and with that, I will say here are the customary endings and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

>> Hello, I'm Austin Riccobono and I'm here to tell you a joke.  What does duct tape and the force have in common? 


It has a light side, a dark side, and it binds the galaxy together.

>> Hi, I'm Elizabeth Riccobono with a riddle for you.  If you give me a snack, I'll live.  If you give me water, I'll die.  What am I?

>> A hungry plant?

>> No.  Fire.

>> I'm Oriana and I will tell you a joke.  Hey, dad, do you know the difference between a pack of elephants and a pack of cookies?

>> I do not.  What?

>> I'm glad that mom does the grocery shopping.

>> Doh!

The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, office of the President at  (410)659-9314. let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.