Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Monday, October 1, 2018, and this is Presidential Release 476. Happy Meet the Blind Month to all of the members of the National Federation of the Blind, and it is a happy month indeed. We have a lot to be proud of in the work that we are accomplishing across the country. I am doing this release a little bit earlier than sometimes because I'm headed off to a number of places around the world this month, so I wanted to get the release out as early as possible.
I’ll talk about that in a little while, but for now, I want to begin by congratulating each and every member of the Federation on the great work we have done to get the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act through the United States House of Representatives. This happened last week on Tuesday at about 7:19PM. The United States House of Representatives passed by unanimous consent the Marrakesh Implementation Act, which is the implementing legislation for the Marrakesh Treaty, which was previously ratified by the Senate. It will now go to the desk of the President of the United States for signature and then for implementation by the State Department and confirmation to the World Intellectual Property Organization, saying that the United States of America is part of the Marrakesh Treaty to share accessible books around the world. This is a tremendous moment for blind people all around the world and a shining moment for the members of the National Federation of the Blind. Our organization has worked at all levels, behind the scenes, front of the stage, in all places to make this happen over the last five years since the Treaty was officially enacted in Morocco in 2013. There has been a tremendous amount of work and we are now just a couple of steps away, but all of the biggest barriers are done, so it shows the united power of the organized blind movement and what we can do together. It's a tremendous moment for us and because of this action we are going to have access to accessible books around the world. There will be a lot of work to make that happen, but it’s a huge step and a huge move forward for accessibility, so congratulations. Let’s pat each other on the back and celebrate, especially once the president of the United States signs this, but remember that we have a lot more work to do and especially in programs dealing with the blind. We continue to need to be a watch dog for what’s happening. A great example of that comes from last week as well.
Last Wednesday, the September 26th, we filed a lawsuit against the United States Ability One Commission for failure to adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act when on July 26th it named the American Foundation for the Blind as a central, non-profit agency under the Ability One Program. The Ability One Program distributes government contracts to non-profit entities through CNAs, or Central Non-Profit Agencies. There have been two of them, one being National Industries for the Blind, and another, Source America. Source America deals with people with disabilities who are not blind. The National Industries for the Blind has been the primary coordinating entity for government contracts that got to community rehabilitation programs that set up employment efforts to employ blind people. You know the associated National Industries program probably in your local community. NIB has been the only central entity coordinating contracts that employ blind people and benefit blind employees across the country. The Ability One Commission, without any public notice, without any suggestion they were going to do it, without even telling National Industries for the Blind, they came out of nowhere and announced that the American Foundation for the Blind will be a second central agency with the ability to deal with government contracts to impact the employment of blind people. We think this is a slap in the face to every blind person that is employed under the National Industries for the Blind program. It is a thumbing your nose at the organized blind movement to say that no input is needed from any of you; we’re going to do whatever we want with programs that impact blind people, and it’s offensive to the existing agencies, serving employment programs to blind people under the National Industries for the Blind, even if those programs need improvements, and of course, our organization has led the way in getting those agencies to raise their standards. Without any notice, without any input to change the program in this dramatic way we believe is against the law and it certainly is against the principle of nothing about us without us and we have filed this lawsuit to block this action and to make the government do what it needs to do to be accountable to the organized blind of this nation, and to stand up for the thousands of blind people, who are employed in NIB agencies. This is an unusual action for us and one since, of course, we have worked for decades to get National Industries for the Blind to raise their standards across the county and they have done that in some places.
A number of agencies have come to see the value of working with their blind employees to raise standards and with the National Federation of the Blind, and we’ve been having discussions with NIB over the last five years or so about how we can more proactively work together to help them raise their standards. You likely have noticed that National Industries for the Blind more recently has supported our Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment Act, the TIME Act, to say that they agree with the idea of eliminating unequal wages for blind people across the country. So although you may think it’s unusual that we’re doing something that would support National Industries for the Blind, this action is really about the individual blind people in the NIB system, who need an organization to stand up for them.
The other reality is that our organization has been the most progressive on employment matters dealing with blind people. We have the top three training centers anywhere in the country for blind people. We may have wanted to bid on this project, but there was no public information, so how would we know? So we’ll see what the courts have to say about it, but we’re quite certain that when it comes to a discussion of jobs of the future for blind people the courts will not permit the agencies for the blind, and more importantly, the Ability One Commission to make the decision without asking and getting substantive feedback from the blind people who are impacted. So stay tuned; we’ll see what’s going to happen with that, but we in the National Federation of the Blind at all levels, national and local, will continue to be the watchdog against actions that have the potential to harm us, especially when we have not been invited to give public comment.
I want to talk for a moment about our local chapter meetings and about the National Federation of the Blind Pledge. I want to urge each of our chapters to use the pledge in our local chapter meetings. If you are not familiar with the pledge, I encourage the chapter to get familiar with it. If you are familiar with it, you can say it with me now. I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind, to support the policies and programs of the Federation, and to abide by its constitution. Now, this pledge is very important, because it talks about what we as individuals commit to do in our local chapters and state affiliates as part of the national organization. I pledge to participate actively; and that’s why we come to the National Federation of the Blind is not just to be a passenger in the organization, but to help propel it forward, to participate actively, to be part of the mechanism that makes change in society. I think it’s important to incorporate the pledge into our meetings, to get members of the Federation to know it and understand it, and to have members think about the meaning of the pledge and what it signifies in terms of our commitment to working together through local communities to have a national coordinated movement. So I wanted to present the pledge here on the release and urge each and every chapter to incorporate it into our monthly programs.
In the National Federation of the Blind, as you know, we have supported braille literacy and we have had a number of programs to do that over the years. One of them is the Braille Readers are Leaders contest, which we ran at the national level for a number of decades. We stopped running the program at the national level about five or six years ago or so and for many reasons. Some of our affiliates noticed that there was still a need out there for a contest and decided to pick up the efforts. The primary affiliate that’s taking this on is the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois and the affiliate has sponsored a contest first in Illinois, and then in the Great Lakes Region, and then last year made it again a national program. I appreciate the leadership and commitment of our Illinois affiliate in supporting the Braille Readers are Leaders contest. This year the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois is again administering the Braille Readers are Leaders contest in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.
I want to talk to you a little bit about the contest and then I want to talk to you about how the affiliate can get involved. This is a nationwide braille reading contest for blind children in Kindergarten through 12th grade, and anybody in a state that has registered to participate in the contest can participate. So an affiliate can register and as an unlimited number of blind children from that state can participate. The contest is mean to encourage braille reading by reading the most number of pages over a seven-week period. The contest is divided into five different age groups and there are prizes for those who read the most pages, and there are participation prizes, and other benefits. The reading period of the contest goes from December 1, 2018 to January 19, 2019, that seven-week period. You can find more information about the contest itself at www.nfbofillinois.org/nationwide-bral-contest; however, the immediate need is to get affiliates that want blind students in their state to be eligible to participate to register. You can register your affiliate, the entire state, every blind student in your state can participate by having the affiliate submit $100.00 to the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. The National Federation of the Blind of Illinois will manage all of the administrative details of the contest. The affiliates’ job, beyond paying the $100.00 is to promote the contest and get blind students involved in it. Reach out to teachers of blind students, and parents, and get as many young blind people involved as possible. This is a great way to promote Braille. It's also a great way to do outreach on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. You can register your affiliate at any time and I would encourage our chapters to make sure to coordinate with the affiliate president. There is no need for every chapter to register. We just need the state affiliate to, but I would encourage chapters to support the Braille Readers are Leaders contest by putting some of the $100.00 registration fee into the affiliate treasury so the affiliate can register the entire state. So coordinate with your affiliate president if you’re interested in getting your state involved in this. You can register any time, but of course, if you register after December 1st the blind students in your state are going to be at a disadvantage, so the NFB of Illinois urges that you register no later than November 15, 2018, and I would encourage you, if you know you want to promote this, to register as soon as possible so you can get the word out and get students ready to read on December 1st. There are things that the students will need to do along with a parent or teacher; to keep a reading log and so you’ll want to be prepared to get the materials out to folks as soon as possible.
If you have questions about the logistics to get the affiliate registered to be eligible to participate in the Braille Readers are Leaders contest for 2018/2019, please send an e-mail to Patti Chang. Her e-mail address is [email protected], that’s [email protected]. Get involved in our Braille Readers are Leaders contest. We should have all 52 affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind involved in our contest this year. Thank you again for the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois for your leadership to administer this program this year and for the support also of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.
We’ve had many great things going on in the last month and one of the activities we’ve done to promote braille was partner with the Baltimore Orioles to have the Orioles be the first professional sports team in the United States to put braille on their jerseys, and they did so for a special celebration on September 18th honoring the 40-years that the National Federation of the Blind has had its headquarters here in Baltimore. I was honored to have the opportunity to represent the Federation in throwing out the first pitch at the game. I was presented with a National Federation of the Blind Orioles braille jersey, which we’re going to hang up here in our national office. You can check it out on your next visit to our headquarters. I thought I would share with you the first pitch as called by Orioles announcer, Jim Hunter. Here’s the first pitch.
“It is a big night here at Camden Yards as the Orioles honor the National Federation of the Blind and the Federation’s President, Mark Riccobono about to throw out the first pitch. He goes into the wind just in front of the mound, throws a strike to Evan Phillips. He hits the glove. Nicely done by Mark Riccobono, as the Orioles recognize the National Federation of the Blind on its 40th anniversary of calling Baltimore its home.”
What a great experience for me personally, and an honor to represent the National Federation of the Blind at our night with the Orioles. We are now going to reach out to all of the other major league ball clubs and invite them to partner with the National Federation of the Blind to do something similar, as we did with the Orioles. We had braille jerseys. We passed out co-branded braille alphabet cards with the Orioles’ logo and our logo. We did some other fun stuff. We’re going to see if we can get some of the other major league clubs interested in this idea and then partner with the local affiliate to make it happen with support from our national office. So you never know; someone in your affiliate might get the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a major league ballpark representing the National Federation of the Blind very soon.
On the last Presidential Release I talked about the Pre-Authorized Contribution Plan and I acknowledged the first ten chapters in our list of chapters and divisions that are supporting the Pre-Authorized Contribution program of the National Federation of the Blind. I apologize if I created some confusion. California, our California affiliate, has a number of chapters and divisions providing support and I didn’t read the whole California list, because I only read the first ten, so I'm going to read maybe more than ten this month. I'm going to try not to cut off the list in the middle of a state, but I want to give you the next ten or so chapters that are supporting our Pre-Authorized Contribution Plan. It's an opportunity for Federation members and chapters to put money into the National treasury on a monthly basis to support all of the great work that we do.
So I also want to thank, from the National Federation of the Blind of California, in addition to those I talked about last month, our River City Chapter, the San Fernando Valley Chapter, the San Francisco Chapter, the Senior Division, and the Western Division, otherwise known at the Pathfinders Chapter. From the NFB of Colorado, thank you to our Denver Chapter, the Mile High Chapter, the North Metro Chapter, all supporting the PAC Plan; and from Connecticut we have the Southern Chapter. Thank you for your support. From our District of Columbia Affiliate, thank you to the Sports and Recreation Division. And from our Delaware Affiliate, thank you to the Northern Chapter for supporting the PAC Plan. We’ll talk more about the next group of chapters next month on the release.
I also want to welcome a few new members to our Dream Maker Circle. This is a legacy society where you can make a commitment to leave an end-of-life gift to the National Federation of the Blind. Some people think of it purely as putting the Federation in your will, but there are many other mechanisms you can use to leave a gift, a legacy to the Federation to make sure our great mission continues once you’ve passed on. You can do that by expressing your participation to our Dream Maker Circle to Patti Chang at our national office and she’ll get you signed up or talk about how to get signed up with you and can work you through what the options might be that would work best for you. You can, of course, decide to remain anonymous. We have three new people on the Dream Maker Circle this month. Thank you to Connie Schou of Eerie, Pennsylvania, and to Jack and Pat Munson of New Mexico for becoming the newest members of the Dream Maker Circle.
I do have a few Federation family notes to share with you this month. Barbara Manuel, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama reports the passing of Delores Smith, who was a long-time member of our affiliate there. She passed away on July 31st. Her entire family has been an active part of our affiliate; in fact, there is an award in the affiliate named after Delores’ mother, so you might keep the Smith family in your thoughts and prayers.
Also, I'm sorry to have to tell you of the passing of Sharon Gold, who passed away on September 10, 2018. Sharon was born on November 5, 1940, just 11 days before the founding of the National Federation of the Blind. Sharon was a long-time leader in our organization. She served in an important time as President of our California affiliate, maintaining important programs, and resources in California for the affiliate. She served for a period of time on our national board, was well known across the country by many. When she passed away she was living in Texas. I’d encourage you to keep Sharon Gold and her family also in your thoughts and prayers.
It is Meet the Blind month and I know that means our chapters are going to be active and out in the community. We’re also going to be celebrating White Cane Awareness day on October 15th and we’re celebrating the tenth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind’s Free White Cane Program. We’ve now shipped 64,000 or more white canes since the beginning of the program and the requests keep coming in, so it’s a great achievement. We want to continue to get the tools of independence out to blind people in all of the places, so I look forward to hearing about all of the great Meet the Blind moments in social media, and e-mails, and other places. I look forward to visiting many of the activities this month. I am in just a few hours going to head to Israel, along with Dr. Mower. We’re going to visit some tech companies working on access technology in Israel and also companies working on autonomous vehicles, so we’re going to be spreading the word about the work of the National Federation of the Blind and meeting some of our future technology partners in Israel.
I'm going to be coming back though before the week is out. It's going to be kind of a fast trip, because we have the NFB of Massachusetts coming in this weekend for a seminar, and then I'm off to visit a number of affiliate conventions in the next month, three or four affiliate conventions in various places. In the meantime we have a tractographic symposium here next week, so there are a lot of great things happening in the National Federation of the Blind at the national level, as well as the wonderful Meet the Blind month and chapter activities I know that are going to be going on this month.
Thank you for the work that you do to build our organization and before we go build the National Federation of the Blind, let me leave you with some customary endings. Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind.