Below is the full transcript of the February presidential release and the Q&A session.
PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to our February presidential release. We're so happy to have all of you here with us tonight as we kick off Black history month and welcome all of you.
It is now my pleasure to introduce the President of the National Federation of the Blind for his remarks, Mark Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Hey, Pam. How you doing?
PAM ALLEN: I'm doing well. How about you?
MARK RICCOBONO: 14 days until pitchers and catchers report for baseball.
PAM ALLEN: I heard that.
MARK RICCOBONO: Football season is over, right?
PAM ALLEN: That's right. I'm with you on that one.
MARK RICCOBONO: I didn't vote in the poll today, but I would have went with "did not care." My condolences on your Bills and your Saints.
PAM ALLEN: Thank you. It was a good season nonetheless. And the Packers too.
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, we've got a lot to do, so should we get underway?
PAM ALLEN: Let's get started.
MARK RICCOBONO: All right. Thanks, Pam.
Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Monday, February 1, 2021. And this is presidential release number 502. I'm pleased to be speaking to you today from the National Federation of the Blind of Utah auditorium at the Jernigan Institute. It's a new location for the presidential release live, getting ready for our Washington Seminar. This is where we're going to host the Great Gathering-In, which will be over a week from now. So I hope you'll tune in next Monday for that.
I want to echo -- first let me tell you that here in the auditorium, behind me we have the American flag over my right shoulder and the Federation flag over my left shoulder here in the auditorium. It's an empty room, so there's plenty of virtual spots for you to pull up a chair and enjoy this presidential release.
I want to echo Pam's sentiments and say happy Black history month and give a special shoutout to our Black leaders, especially our board members who I'm learning from on a daily basis and who are guiding so much of our diversity and inclusion work in the National Federation of the Blind. It's an important month for us to reflect on the work that has been done and the history that has been made, much like we have Meet the Blind Month and we certainly don't want discussions about blindness to be limited to the month of October, we certainly don't want the contributions of Black Americans and certainly our leaders to be limited to this month, but we should celebrate this month and the tremendous work of those leaders. So thank you to all of our Black leaders out there for the work that you're doing. And I look forward to many discussions about that topic this month.
Before we talk about going forward, I do want to pause and reflect that just a couple of days ago, June 29, we had the tenth anniversary of our blind driver challenge. It was nice to have a little audio clip in the prerelease session. We announced on Friday as part of the tenth anniversary that we are accelerating our accessibility work with the blind driver challenge. Our continued efforts to shatter misconceptions, pushing the boundaries of what is deemed possible. And for us, we're accelerating that blind driver challenge by applying it to so many more areas of technology. Not just automated vehicles, but we're really encouraging people to step up and take the challenge to include nonvisual access in so many aspects of the technology that we encounter every day.
We also, as part of our rebrand of the blind driver challenge we announced on Friday that we will be collaborating with Dan Parker, a graduate from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. We're collaborating with him on our blind driver challenge and especially on Dan's effort to build and operate a car to attempt to break the Guinness world record for the fastest speed for a car driven blindfolded. This in fact is not a record for blind people. In fact, I think the Guinness world record folks never expected a blind person to set the record, which is why it's the fastest speed for a car driven blindfolded. Well, the blindfold for Dan Parker will mostly be ceremonial because he's a blind person. And in the fall of this year, we'll be working with Dan and Elba tempting to set the record by driving independently at a speed above 200 miles per hour. You can read more about our refreshed blind driver challenge efforts at blinddriverchallenge.org.
Also it's the tenth anniversary of the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research. This is our peer-reviewed, open-source journal. 10 years ago we determined that we would reframe what happens with research in the blindness field by opening it up to all people, not just those privileged enough to be able to afford a subscription, not just those who are deemed professional enough to submit manuscripts. We have brought now for 10 years blind people in to the center of blindness research through JBIR. You can go to NFB.org and check out our tenth anniversary issue of the journal. And I would encourage you to write for this journal and express interest in research that you would like to see done from the perspective of blind people. And of course we have a number of great things in the Braille Monitor also this month that I would like to call your attention to. So our publications continue to be an important vehicle for us to have discussions. Some very interesting things in the monitor this movement and I hope if you feel compelled you'll write for the Monitor. I often get asked the question of who is allowed to write for the Monitor. This is your publication. Submit an article. Work with Gary Wonder, our editor. I know he would love to have your contributions, your reactions to things that are published there.
I want to go back to our diversity and inclusion efforts to talk about a couple of things we have going on this month especially and into March. First of all, in 2 weeks, on February 15, so right after our Washington Seminar, we'll be launching a diversity and inclusion survey to gather some baseline information about how we're doing in the National Federation of the Blind, what the perceptions are. And that will be our baseline for measuring progress that we make in diversity and inclusion. I would encourage you to complete that survey, teen all of our chapters, we know that there are folks that don't have access to the internet. This is going to be a survey offered through SurveyMonkey. Our affiliates and chapters, please, please, reach out to those folks that don't have internet access, don't have computers, and assist them to fill out the survey on SurveyMonkey. We need as many members as possible to complete this diversity and inclusion survey. That survey is going to inform an initial training session we're going to do for the national board and for affiliate Presidents in March. This is anti-bias training that is going to be offered through our staff here at the national office to leaders of the Federation. This was requested by our diversity and inclusion committee, and that group has helped to shape this training. This is an initial set of trainings that we think will be important for our leaders but then also help to guide and shape what we do going forward for Federation leaders. I should have said that training will also be offered initially to the national staff of the organization.
Our diversity and inclusion committee does want you to know that on March 8, so a month from now, March 8, at 8:00 p.m. eastern, the diversity and inclusion committee will be holding an open diversity forum. Information for that gathering will be sent out by the committee and its chairs Sean Callaway and Colin Wong. Regarding this meeting, I encourage you to participate. Look for information on that in the next couple of weeks.
I mentioned on the last release that this year our Independence Market is going to be launching a number of sales every month. And this month the market reports that you can get your hands on the Kenneth Jernigan cornbread kit for just $15. What is the cornbread kit? Well, if you haven't been around very long, maybe you don't know. Kenneth Jernigan, our long-time leader, was a big fan of cornbread. So he played with various methods to make it, at least from his perspective, what was the right way. And we sell a cast iron muffin pan and some other materials as well as distribute the recipe in print and Braille as part of the kit. You can get it for $15 in the Independence Market.
We've also been going through our old stock of canes and we'll be offering them on special coming up. We currently have a carbon fiber rigid long white cane with a metal glide continue that we'll be offering while supplies last in the market for $15. You can get that in sizes 49 to 69. Feel free to call the market and get more information about that.
And also we have a couple of games, a solitaire and a Fox and Goose board game that you can get in the market this month for $10. Check out our Independence Market items. Call up the market here at our national office to get more information.
We continue to collect a lot of information about accessibility barriers. And I want to remind you that we are investigating barriers and denials related to unemployment benefits across the states. If you were terminated or laid off from your job within the past 2 years, we would like you to take time to complete our survey. You can find it at NFB.org/legal. This survey relates to unemployment websites and accessibility. Again, if you know of people in your chapter or affiliate who have been laid off in the past 2 years and might need assistance filling out this survey, please help them with that. This data is very important, especially as we consider our priorities in accessibility and making sure that government programs uphold their responsibilities to be accessible.
Now, I said we're a week away from the Great Gathering-In. I'll be in this room on Monday, a week from today, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time to kick off our Great Gathering-In which is the official kind of start to our Washington Seminar 2021. It's unfortunate we can't be together in person, but you know what? We still have a lot of great work to do.
I want to give some time on this release to talk about our Washington Seminar 2021 and especially our legislative priorities for the Washington Seminar, which we're not going to get done next week. We're going to need to be working on these issues and others throughout the year.
So here to talk to us about the Washington Seminar is our executive director for advocacy and policy, John Pare!
JOHN PARE: Thank you, President Riccobono, and good evening Federation family.
I'm so excited that we're just one week away from our 2021 Washington Seminar. Let me jump right in to the issues. We have four issues planned for this year, as President Riccobono said. We work on a lot more, but the four that we're going to particular focus on at Washington Seminar. First, the Access Technology Affordability Act. The purpose of this bill is to help solve the problem of the high cost of access technology, whether screen reading software, Braille displays, Braille notetakers, Braille embossers. These things are all very expensive, and this bill would help defer some of the cost. It provides for a $2,000 refundable tax credit, meaning you would get a tax credit even if you didn't owe any taxes, $2,000 refundable tax credit for use over a 3-year period. It's HR431 in the House. We're hoping to have the Senate companion introduced before Washington Seminar. On the House side, the sponsor is chairman Mike Thompson, the chairman of the tax policy subcommittee on ways and means. And our cosponsor, Mike Kelly, a powerful republican from Pennsylvania. So that is something that we came very close to doing in the 116th Congress and I really think we can get it passed in the 117th.
The next is the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act. The problem that this bill tries to solve or will solve is with the large amount of inaccessible home-based medical devices. This is something that I bet you encounter as much as I do. You probably have encountered it even more during the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether we have a pandemic or not, this is an ongoing problem that must be resolved. We must -- the lack of accessibility impacts safety and efficacy of these home-based medical devices. This bill would authorize the FDA to develop regulations and would ask them to put out a notice of proposed rulemaking in 12 months, final rulemaking in 24 months, and 36 months for companies to comply. And enforcement of the regulations would be with the FDA.
Our third issue has to do with the large number of inaccessible mobile apps and websites. Again, this is probably, like you probably encounter like I do, inaccessible apps almost every day and the same with websites.
So what's the problem? The law requires websites and mobile apps to be accessible, but there are no regulations and there's no clear-cut statute about just what accessibility means. This bill would solve that problem. It would create a clear-cut statutory definition, and it would authorize the Access Board, who has a lot of experience developing these types of regulations, to create this nonvisual accessibility regulations for mobile apps and websites. similar time line for this one, 12 months for a NPRN, 24 months for a final rule, and 36 months for companies to comply. So we expect support for this bill from the business community. Currently on these two bills on the medical devices and the 21st century mobile apps, we're still looking for bill sponsors but we have a lot of good leads on people who are interested in doing this work with us.
The fourth issue is something that I hope you did not experience but many did, and that is problems with the voting in the recent election or in previous elections. The so this bill, the Americans with Disabilities Voting Rights Act would help with voting. First of all, there is a tremendous increase in vote by mail or vote from home, and it would help mandate an accessible electronic ballot delivery. That's when the Board of Elections sends the ballot to you electronically, and would heaven mandate electronic ballot return, when you can return your ballot electronically when it's time to vote. But not everybody has equipment at home to do that. So we would continue to mandate that the equipment, when you vote in person, is also nonvisually accessible. In many cases that already is the law today, but not enough of the machines are nonvisually accessible. And in many cases the ballot they create is distinguishable from other ballots. This bill would eliminate that inequity that results in the lack of a secret ballot.
It also would extend back to registration, when you're registering to vote, making sure that that is accessible.
So these four bills together would dramatically improve accessibility and privacy and would improve the lives of all Americans.
Another bill I want to mention, just to give you an idea that we keep working on other things, this past week Bobby Scott did introduce the raise the wage bill, HR603, which has a section, section 6, which would phase out and eliminate 14C. This is over a 5-year period. We support this portion of the bill and there's a very good chance it would get passed. Bobby Scott was our featured speaker one year ago at our Great Gathering-In, and I know that we influenced his desire to really move this issue forward.
If you want more information on these issues, the fact sheets for each of the four issues can be found on our website if you go to NFB.org/washington-seminar. You can go to our home page and find the link there, or go to NFB.org/washington-seminar. The fact sheets are available in Word, audio, Braille, and so forth. We also have sample mock meeting where you can hear us talk about the issues with the overall agenda and Zoom links available in HTML and Word.
So I hope to see you next week. Back to you, President Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks, John, and thanks to our advocacy team for the great work putting together the Washington Seminar. It's going to be a great week. I do encourage you to be with us Monday at 5:00 p.m. eastern. It will be streaming live and on YouTube. It will be a great gathering as usual even though we can't all be together. Seems like so long ago that we were last together in Washington Seminar.
I do want to let you know that our students continue to be very active. The students have a lot of activities traditionally during the Washington Seminar, and they continue to bring the fun of their annual auction to the Washington Seminar this year, except you can participate from the comfort of your open home. And I do encourage you to support our students and their fundraising efforts for the great work they're doing.
You can visit 32auctions.com/2021blindstudents. You can view all of the items and bid on items up until February 10 at 11:59 Eastern Time. Go to 32auctions.com/2021blindstudents and support the work of our National Association of Blind Students. They're having their winter meeting on February 8 from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. eastern, and after the Great Gathering-In, the students will be having a social available to everybody, called NABS Unmuted February 8 from 8:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. More on the Washington Seminar web page about those events, but I do encourage you to support our students, who are truly our future leaders, innovating a lot of great work for us in so many areas. So hats off to our students.
Last month I talked about the National Federation of the Blind being a safe and more welcoming environment, supporting survivors of sexual misconduct within our organization. I want to give you a few updates especially as it relates to our survivor-led efforts in the National Federation of the Blind, and again encourage you to get involved. First of all, we announced last month that we're going to be launching training, and that training is going to launch in late March starting with NFB staff and training center staff, and will continue throughout the month of April. Through 10 different sessions, we will be training all national staff and contractors, all training center staff and students, all national board members and affiliate board members, and all national division board members.
This training will be happening over a course of many weeks, and obviously there are other people that we need to train. But this is going to be close to 1,000 people that we'll be training over a 5-week period to level set expectations on how to prevent sexual misconduct within our organization. Very excited about the training being put together in collaboration with RAINN. All of those individuals will be sent a training survey link later this week and we're asking people to fill it out. It is an anonymous voluntary survey. We're asking those leaders who will be trained to fill out the survey so we can get some baseline information that will inform the level setting training we're doing with RAINN as our first step in this safety and improvement process.
I also want to give you an update on our code of conduct. As you know, our code of conduct asks that we receive reports of incidents within a year of their happening. We do that to try to encourage timely reporting so we can deal with matters. But we're in a period right now where we really want to contribute to our understanding of what has happened in the past and to find ways to improve the work that we're going to be doing going forward and to create greater healing within our organization. So the board of directors has asked that we put this one-year on hold and we are asking individuals to submit information that may have happened in the organization regardless of time frame. We're going to ask for this through August 1, 2021, six months from today, and then we'll revisit this decision and see what other changes we make. But by the time we get to August 1, we will have gone through a significant process with RAINN and especially attuning it to sexual misconduct and abuse and appropriate response to those situations. And so I do want to encourage you as part of our ongoing commitment to transformational change within our organization to submit past incidents through our code of conduct. Again, you can find the information on every single page of our web page at the bottom. You can find the link to the code of conduct.
I also want to let you know that all of these incidents that are reported through our code of conduct process, especially the online form and by calling the number here at the national office are going to an external party that will be reviewing these matters on behalf of the organization.
Those two things are a direct result of our listening to survivors, and I want to thank those who have been vulnerable enough to share their experiences, their pain with us and their real suggestions for what we can do as an organization going forward, and I hope that these two things that we've done over the last month in addition to the ones that we've already announced make a difference in creating healing.
I want to remind everybody that no survivor should be forced to tell their story without their consent. And so it's really important that we work with survivors to make sure they feel comfortable reporting their story through our code process or of course by talking to our survivor-led task force by sending an email to [email protected] or visiting the survivors web page.
This month we'll also be working to publish on our code web pages some initial frequently asked questions about the code of conduct process as it currently exists. Obviously we're revamping it as we speak, so the FAQs are shortly going to be out of date and need to be updated, but we promised in our December 16 letter of apology that we would do this, so we're finalizing those FAQs. They will be up later this month.
Also on behalf of our survivor-led task force, they wanted know let you know that they have created three branches to the work that they are doing, and these are divided into training and culture, communications and engagement, and procedures and oversight. And you can get more information about those branches and how you can get involved by, again, going to NFB.org/survivors. The survivor-led task force will be holding a number of open meetings during the month of February to talk about each of those branches and how you can get involved. And we do need everybody, as many people as possible, to be involved in these efforts. Not just survivors, but allies, experienced Federation members from many different areas. We need everybody's help to do the big lifting that we've been talking about making over the past month or so.
And I again want to extend my very personal and sincere apology to anybody that has been harmed by programs, activities, things that have happened within our movement. I've been blessed to have the opportunity to listen to a number of survivors over the last month who have reached out to me directly, and I will continue to engage with survivors who reach out to me. It's been an important part of my learning process, and I believe that our survivor-led task force is doing a great job in organizing and informing our work forward.
So thank you for all your work that's happening here in the NFB in 2021.
I do have two new members to welcome and thank for joining our Dream Makers Circle, which is how you can make an end-of-life commitment to the legacy of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you very much to Douglas Miller of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and to Gabe Cazares of Houston, Texas, for being the newest members. Reach out to Patty Chang here at our national office if you want information about how to get involved.
I have just a few Federation family news items here to give you at the end of this release. I do have a correction actually from last month. I told you last month of the passing of Monica Meadows and the information I had said that she passed away from COVID-19. That, in fact, was not the case. Monica passed away from pneumonia, and her family especially wanted you to know that COVID did not take Monica from us. It was important to them. So I apologize for the error, and I continue to urge you to keep Monica and her family in your thoughts and prayers.
Also from our Tulsa chapter President, who is Brooke Nichole Anderson reports Felicia Jones died on December 17 after a 2-week bat well COVID-19. Felicia was 52.
Our Maryland affiliate reports Maryland affiliate reports the passing of Dana Diaz, a member of the greater Baltimore chapter, who passed away on January 19 after a long illness.
Keep them in your prayers as well as those I may not have known about at the time of this release.
Pam, I think those are the things I have for the first part of the release. I'll give it back to you for the next portion.
PAM ALLEN: Thank you very much, President Riccobono. I have the results of our two polls, so thank you, everybody, for participating.
We will start with our poll concerning the Super Bowl. I will say that 23% of people said is that a game, so that's just one of our answers to our poll. The Kansas City Chiefs are definitely the favorite. 41%. And 35% for the Buccaneers. Those are the results of our first poll.
Related to our upcoming Washington Seminar, just an update on our poll, we have our results about what issue is most important. So 28% of participants, we had a tie for medical devices and access technology. 23% would be our Mobile Apps and Website Accessibility Act. And then 16% of participants said that the Americans with Disabilities Voting Rights Act was the most important issue for them. So I know I'll be working hard next week on our issues.
One of our questions, President Riccobono, related to whether National Federation of the Blind was requesting any funding in any capacity through President Biden's stimulus relief proposal.
MARK RICCOBONO: Ah, it's a great question. The Federation is not specifically seeking relief under the bills that are coming up. We continue to seek ways to support our training center programs in their efforts. The obviously have been significantly impacted by COVID and we're looking for opportunities to do that. I told you last month about the success of getting relief for blind merchants, but the Federation has not been seeking specific relief. We did get a PPP loan last year, and we elected to not apply for PPP funding during this second round. So that's the status on those proposals. Obviously we look for ways to help benefit all blind people in the stimulus discussions.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. Thank you. And also related to our Washington Seminar, we had some questions concerning we know that our Great Gathering-In will be via Zoom at 5:00 p.m. eastern. Will there be other ways to access it for those who may be in other time zones?
MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, so obviously if you can't tune in on Monday at 5:00 p.m., we do stream as we do the presidential release here on YouTube. And as soon as we close down the meeting, you'll be able to get the archived content on the nation's blind YouTube channel. We'll figure out if we put that link somewhere else. We'll probably put it on our Washington Seminar page. I don't think we have other plans to put the content elsewhere because it's really quite timely to the Washington Seminar. So if you miss it, go to the nation's blind YouTube channel or visit the Washington Seminar page sometime after 7:00 p.m. eastern on Monday.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. Thank you so much.
We heard of all the exciting initiatives that we are working on and the great leadership of our diversity and inclusion committee. We had a couple questions related to how people can get involved in helping support our diversity and inclusion effort.
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. I would encourage you to email [email protected]. That goes to our committee chairs. And express your interest. Obviously you don't have to be part of the national committee. We're all part of the diversity team in the National Federation of the Blind. And I would encourage you to plan to join that open forum meeting on March 8 at 8:00 p.m. eastern that I mentioned. Again, information will be coming through the listservs in the coming weeks. I think that will be a great way to learn more about what we all can be doing to help continue to push forward and bring people in, pull people in to the organization from diverse community that's may be currently underrepresented.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. Thank you.
And we have a question from George Batiste who is asking about ways that the National Federation of the Blind can help support our members, our blind and visually impaired questions, who have questions and need help with financial literacy and how to make sure that they are making wise choices.
MARK RICCOBONO: This is a great question, George. We've had some sessions at our national convention over the past few years, especially sponsored by Wells Fargo on financial literacy.
We continue to talk to a number of people about the tools that might be out there to support financial literacy, and, in fact, I think you'll see some information coming out very soon. It got preempted by some other things we've been doing over the last month or so, but some partnerships that we've been engaged with to get some financial literacy, educational programs to be accessible, we'll be sending information to our listservs about that.
And you know, we continue to talk with folks about investment tools and making sure they're accessible. If you have ideas, George, or I guess really anybody about what more we can do in this space, obviously the ability to access bank accounts, to access educational efforts on financial literacy is critical. ABLE accounts are something that some in our organization can take advantage of, and state affiliates I know in many places have been providing training on those. So I would also reach out to your affiliate about that. And if there are ideas that anybody has about what more we can do in this area, I would encourage you to share them. And let's figure out what we can do as an organization.
PAM ALLEN: Another question wondering about how the impeachment trial next week will impact our meetings.
MARK RICCOBONO: There's something happening besides our Washington Seminar?
[Laughter] The Federation shows up regardless of what's happening. It's been snowing here the last day and some of us were recounting 5-6 years ago when a lot of snow got dumped on our Washington Seminar and more of us showed up than members of Congress.
Look, our work is not going to stop. I know it's going to be a little hard to get at the senators next week. And maybe even at some of their staffs. But we should continue to try. And again, our issues don't stop next week. We're going to push forward.
Continue to push for those meetings. Impeachment. These are important discussions. But our stuff is important too. And if we just throw up our hands and decide that there's other more important things happening, then those other things will be more important. We need to continue to bring our voice to Congress and to the Senate. They may not meet with us next week, but they will meet with us eventually. And that will happen if we're persistent. So keep pushing on them. We'll get those meetings eventually, and hopefully we'll be part of the conversation moving forward once the country deals with some of these other things.
I like to say Congress is smart enough to do all of these things at the same time. We want to keep our issues in front of the decision makers in D.C.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. And we have a question from Ruth Sager, the President of our senior division, concerning the payment of division dues for national divisions and we know that many members paid dues this past summer in 2020 and how will 2021 and 2022 dues work for divisions?
MARK RICCOBONO: It's a good question. The national board developed some technical assistance documents on membership in conjunction with our membership committee last fall. And one of the things that we've been doing over the last 2-3 years -- I guess it's 3 years now -- has been trying to centralize our membership database. Most of our affiliates now are tracking membership on a calendar year. Obviously our national divisions haven't typically done that. So we are encouraging, asking, requesting, and to some extent requiring our national divisions to go to the calendar year system starting in 2022.
I think it's up to divisions to decide how they handle the second half of 2021. I would recommend that divisions just give that extra 6 months much membership to national division members, and if people pay dues this summer to the division, just count that all the way through the end of 2022 for the national division. It's really up to the division how you want to handle that, but it's going to be easier for all of us to track the work that we're doing by going to this calendar year due process. So divisions should be preparing for that and planning for it. So if you need more technical assistance, reach out to our membership committee for support.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great.
And then our final question for tonight is from Brook and it relates to our survivor task force. Brook asks in regards to our task force, what safeguards are in place to protect confidentiality of people who share stories? What are the proper channels for addressing concerns about the task force? And what actions will be taken if a task force member is found to have violated the trust that was given to them?
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, it's a great question, Brook. I think that there are a couple of things I would like to say regarding that topic. The first is, some people have asked me over the last month or so, well, how did the task force get selected. And I will tell you that I selected the members of the task force, talking with Federation leaders, talking with survivors. We needed a core of folks to work on this, and I identified these six individuals as being diverse, fully committed to the work that we wanted to do going forward.
I've been impressed. I meet with them every week. Their energy, imagination, dedication I think is solid. And I have full faith in what they're doing.
Having said that, we're a membership organization. And we're expected to police each other. I hope and I believe that none of these individuals on the task force will break confidence, will use people's stories appropriately. I know the task force is talking amongst each other about how they hold each other accountable. But at the end of the day, they're not elected to do what they do. I'm elected to do what I do. And so if you have concerns about what's happening with the task force, you can bring those concerns to me or to Pam or frankly to any member of the national board and we will work to resolve it.
If you're uncomfortable with that and if you think it's a serious violation, I encourage you to file a complaint under our code of conduct, and our external party will look at it.
These are difficult topics, and in terms of what actions might be taken, obviously if we find evidence that people's stories are being used inappropriately, that confidence is being broken, we're going to take that very seriously. I hesitate to say what the actions are without knowing what the violations are, but this is serious work. And these six individuals have agreed to be out in front on these issues. I have confidence in what they're doing, but if they're doing something wrong, we need to know. We need to be able to deal with that as elected leaders in this organization.
I hope that's not the case, but we're prepared to investigate if it is the case. I don't want any survivor's story to be used in a way that's inappropriate. And these are painful stories. I've spent many, many hours over the last 2 months listening to very painful stories that I really appreciate that they've been shared with me because they have helped my perspective and understanding so much. But they're painful.
That's a sacred trust, those stories. And we want to have those stories and that information to create healing, not pain. And if others are using that information inappropriately, I think we need to deal with that as an organization.
I guess the last thing I would say is, these are painful topics. We're all stepping out on faith with each other in the work that we're doing. There are all sorts of reasons to believe that we're going to get it wrong, because it's difficult. I would ask that we all show a little bit of grace and willingness to trust each other in this process. This is going to be a process that's going to take time. And the healing is going to take time. And I can assure you that these task force members, they're holding me accountable. They're asking me hard questions and they're expecting answers. And we're going to do the same for them if we find that there are problems.
So that's what I would encourage you to do. If you feel that's not adequate, we can talk about other mechanisms that we might put in place for accountability. But I know the task force is also talking about the accountability amongst each other, and I know that any one of these six individuals will be prepared to hold the others accountable. And so I would encourage us to continue to have faith in each other. I hope that we can. And I hope that none of us will break that trust.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Thank you, President Riccobono. And I want to thank everybody for submitting questions and our very dedicated communications team will follow up on any questions that we didn't have a chance to answer tonight on the release or via the chat.
So thank you again, everybody.
Thank you, Danny, for Spanish translation.
And thank you, Natalie, for your captioning.
And thanks to all of our team for all of their hard work tonight.
I'll turn it over to you, President Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Great. Thank you, Pam.
We'll be back together on March 1 for our next presidential release, but we have a month ahead of us. Looking forward to some Black history month activities around the Federation. Looking forward to our Washington Seminar. Maybe to the snow melting. I know there's some great and interesting affiliate activities in various places happening later this month, and our first spring convention will be popping up later this month. So many great activities to enjoy. I wish everybody will stay safe, continue to build the organization in the positive and safe direction we want it. And I want to thank you all for the work that you do every day to make America a better place for blind people.
We'll see you a week from today on this very same stage, 5:00 p.m. for our Great Gathering-In. Until then, we're going to leave you with some of the customary endings and say let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
SPEAKER: Hello. My name is Austin Riccobono, and I have a joke for you. What do you call a pig pen in the middle of winter? A pigloo!
SPEAKER: Hi, I have a joke for you. This is because of the Super Bowl. What football team carries the most luggage? The Green Bay Packers.
SPEAKER: Hi, I'm Oriana, and I'll be telling you a joke. Where did Mr. and Mrs. Snowman go for their last anniversary? Hawaii.
SPEAKER: The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, [email protected] 410-619-9314, www.NFB.org.
Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
(Webinar ended at 8:55 p.m.)