Presidential Release #503, March 2021 (English Transcript)

Please note: the following is the full transcript of the Presidential Release on March 1, 2021.

PAM ALLEN:  Good evening, everybody.  We are so glad you're with us.  We will be starting promptly at 8:00 p.m. eastern.  Just a reminder that everyone is muted.  Just a reminder that you can send questions through our social media channel and also our Q&A feature.
We are using the 1CapApp for closed captioning, so you can read at your own pace.
Also we will add that link to our chat.
We are also using Zoom interpretation for Spanish interpretation tonight.
Please take part in our poll questions.  
(Music playing:  "Smile" by Uncle Kracker)
(Music playing:  "I can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash)
PAM ALLEN:  Good evening, everybody.  We are so glad you joined us tonight.  We will be getting started promptly at 8:00 p.m. eastern.  Please take part in our poll questions that will be going on until 7:59.
Remember, along with closed captioning in our Zoom app, we are also using the 1CapApp feature.
Again, just a reminder that you can submit questions through the Q&A feature.
I want to now introduce Danny Martinez, who will share with us information about Spanish translation.
DANNY:  Announcement regarding Spanish interpreting service.  (Speaking Spanish).
(Music playing:  "A Million Dreams" by Pink")
(Music playing:  "Live the Life You Want" by Rhythm of the Movement)
PAM ALLEN:  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to our March presidential release.  We are so glad to welcome you this evening to share in the exciting things that are happening in the National Federation of the Blind.  And it is now my pleasure to introduce to everyone for his remarks, our President, Mark Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Hey, Pam.  How are you this evening?
PAM ALLEN:  I'm well.  How about you, sir?
MARK RICCOBONO:  I'm great.  Thinking about one year ago was the last time I was in person with you.  One year ago today.
PAM ALLEN:  It's true.
MARK RICCOBONO:  It's been a long year, hasn't it?
PAM ALLEN:  It has.  It's crazy.  A year ago since I was on a plane.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Is that right?  That was the last time?
PAM ALLEN:  Yep.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Oh, man.  Well, I'm looking forward to being together again soon hopefully, and certainly in New Orleans one of these times.
PAM ALLEN:  That's right.  We are counting the days until 2022.
MARK RICCOBONO:  That's right.  Coming up on the one-year anniversary of the presidential release live too.  So a lot of anniversaries coming up.
But as always, it's great to hear your voice.
PAM ALLEN:  Great to be with you and our Federation family.
MARK RICCOBONO:  All right.  Should we get started?
PAM ALLEN:  That sounds like a plan.  Let's do it.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Okay.
Greetings, fellow Federationists.  Today is Monday, March 1, 2021, and this is presidential release number 503.  I'm going to officially pronounce today as pedestrian safety awareness day thanks to all blind people, because today is the day that the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act goes into full effect as of today.  So thank you to the members of the National Federation of the Blind who made that a reality.  This goes back now, gosh, almost two decades.  And it was truly a grassroots, member-driven initiative started by Debbie Kent Stein of Illinois and ultimately culminating in a bill that was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama into law on January 4, 2011.  And as of today, 100% of all hybrid electric vehicles manufactured today or in the future must make a safe level of sound while stationary, in reverse, and up to speeds of 30 kilometers per hour.  And that's because of the tremendous work and leadership of the National Federation of the Blind.  If you're new to the movement, if you want to learn more about the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, I would refer you to an article titled "Progress on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act" that was published in the April 2017 issue of the Braille Monitor.
What a great day to have a presidential release and to reflect on the work that we've done.
Closely related, I want to celebrate our recent great work on our first virtual Washington Seminar.  We did tremendous work, especially on our cosponsors for the Access Technology Affordability Act, where we doubled our support in both the House and the Senate.  We gained 29 new House cosponsors for ATAA and gained 7 new Senate cosponsors for the bill.
We also received tremendous support for our other legislative initiatives, so I want to thank each and every one of you for your hard work on advancing our advocacy agenda during the month of February.  Don't forget, we're not done yet.  We still have a lot of work to do.  So keep the pressure on Congress.  Keep working on getting those cosponsors.  And stay tuned for those alerts as they come out when we need immediate action, but keep holding those members of Congress accountable for supporting the priorities of blind Americans.
I also want to call your attention to the fact that I recently sent a couple of letters, important letters, to the members of Congress.  One had to do with voting accessibility, and the other had to do with the elimination of section 14C of the Fair Labor Standards Act and our work to get rid of subminimum wages for people with disabilities.
Both of these letters can be found on the advocacy portion of our website at www.NFB.org.
Also, very recently I wrote to all of the governors regarding the urgent need to ensure that access for individuals with disabilities to COVID-19 vaccines and testing is being fairly implemented and done without barriers.  And of course one of the problems that we're hearing a lot about is vaccination sign up websites that are completely inaccessible to blind people.
There's a copy of this letter, again, on our advocacy page at www.NFB.org.  It's gone to every state, and we're encouraging our affiliates to follow up with local municipalities and testing agencies.  We're going to be providing affiliates with a template to do that, but our letter to governors should give you a great basis for following up with those local administering agencies.
Also, very soon we will be putting up a survey to gather data at www.NFB.org about COVID vaccine access and the barriers that you might be facing in local communities.  And so please, when that page comes out on our website, I would ask you to post your experiences so that we can collect that data and hold governmental agencies accountable.
There's probably not too much we can do on the legal front, because as you know, the legal cases take a long time and of course time is not of the essence when it comes to the COVID vaccine.  We want people to get the vaccine now.  So that's not probably our best advocacy strategy, but we need the data to determine what our best strategy is.  So please give that survey attention, and I urge our affiliates and chapters to be doing outreach to help overcome those barriers, especially to testing and access to the vaccine.
Also recently we've become aware of outreach by some serial plaintiffs' attorneys who are inviting NFB members to join in website compliance testing initiative and asking NFB members and chapters to be plaintiffs in serial filings of website accessibility cases.
I want to remind our affiliates and chapters that we have a policy in the Federation to coordinate our legal work.  We want to make sure especially that we're putting NFB's name on credible efforts and that we're not using our organizational capacity and especially mobilizing our members to work with attorneys who, well, let's just say aren't out ultimately for accessibility but might be out for a quick dollar.
So I would encourage and urge our chapters to continue to coordinate our legal efforts.  If you get outreach from attorneys looking to mobilize NFB members to test website compliance and to sign on as plaintiffs to cases, I would urge you to notify our legal program team here at the national office.  Call our main number (410)659-9314 and dial extension 2440.  If anybody has reached to attorney to you, if you have information you would like to coordinate, call our office.  We're not saying all the outreach may be bad.  We play even find partners.  But we should coordinate that work to make sure it's something we want to do as an organization at the local level.
We've been talking this year about products of the month in our Independence Market and also some sale items.  I'm not going to go through all the sale items this month.  You can find them on our website and other places.  But I do want to call to your attention the Independence Market product of the month, which is the Kenneth Jernigan map of the United States, one of my favorite interesting products that we carry.  If you're not familiar with this large puzzle map which is fun and encourages tactile learning, especially about the various shapes and geographic features of the United States.
The map includes each state which is a puzzle piece, and the major geographic features are all tactilely discernible.
Underneath the puzzle pieces, the map shows the borders of each of the states.
This map is a pretty unique piece and can be had in our Independence Market for $250.  It's our product of the month.  You should check it out if you're interested.  Call us up here at the Independence Market.
One of the things that signifies summer to the NFB is our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy.  This year we're offering the in-home edition again after a successful launch of that program last year.  We've made a very conscious decision to offer three virtual programs of NFB BELL Academy this summer for students across the country.  Options will be available for beginners, intermediate, and advanced students.  And as always, we are finding innovative ways to engage students in Braille literacy even at a distance.
Our BELL sessions will run, three of them, this summer.  The first session is June 7-18.  Session two, July 19-30.  And session three will run from August 9-20.
The BELL Academy is appropriate for blind and low vision children ages 4-12 who fall into one of the following categories.  And I would venture to say probably every blind child does:
Children that do not receive enough Braille and nonvisual skills instruction in school; children who could benefit from more Braille exposure over the summer; children who would enjoy connecting with blind role models.  I know I would have fit all those categories when I was in that age group.
You can apply starting today, and space is limited so we should encourage families to apply as soon as possible.  Applications are available in Spanish and English.  You can go to www.NFB.org/bell to receive more information and find access to the applications.  Please sign up as soon as possible.
Speaking of signing up, today is our traditional day to launch registration for our national convention.  We are doing that right now during the presidential release.  You can go to our website to register for our convention July 6-10.  It will be held once again anywhere and everywhere.  And our theme for this convention is "Stronger Together:  Transforming and Unifying our Future."
Registration opens tonight and will be open for the next few months.  You can go to www.NFB.org/convention to get all of the convention-related updates.  If you want to jump directly to the registration, you can visit NFB.org/registration.  But you can also get there from the www.NFB.org/convention page where it has the details as they become available.
The board of directors has again decided that registration will be available free of charge to all participants.  So this is really tremendous.  It allows an opportunity for everybody and anybody across the nation to participate in our convention, and as you know, we registered over 7,000 people last year for our convention with less time.  I think we can register more this year.  You will be offered an opportunity to provide a donation along with your registration.  Keep in mind that the convention does have associated costs, but you're not required to donate.  It's available free to everybody.
Now, registration is available to everybody, and that registering makes you eligible for door prizes, for special announcements, as well as perks that might come along exclusive to convention registrants.  And if you want to vote at the national convention, you do have to be registered.
Now, in order to vote, you will also have to be a dues-paying member in 2021, and you will have to have paid your dues by May 31, 2021.  So register.  And if you're a member and want to vote, you'll have an opportunity within the registration process to provide the phone number from which you will vote with.  So there won't be a separate process this year.  If you want to vote, you can do one registration and as long as you're a member in our database, you'll be able to vote as long as you've registered by May 31.
I would encourage chapters who might have members who might not be able to access the online registration to help them register.  There will be a form in the Braille Monitor.  We do still have some members who like to second in their paper registration form, and you can do that as well.  I imagine we'll probably have the downloadable form also on the website.  But the easiest way really is to fill out the online form.  You can find more information in the upcoming Braille Monitor I think April and forward.  There will be a lot more information about the emerging national convention which I'm really excited about what we're going to do this year.  And we announced at the Great Gathering-In that the NFB of Maryland is hosting the convention this year for us.
This is our convention, and so we should make it all that we want it to be.  I am certainly thinking about program items for the convention, but I need your help.  It's always a challenge to think up interesting program items, what presentations people might like to hear.  Please send me an email at [email protected]  If you have any convention ideas, send them along and I'll make sure they get to the right team members but definitely send along ideas for the general sessions.  I need them.  I know it will be another exciting convention, bigger and better than last year.
Speaking of bigger and better than last year, we spun up very quickly last year a virtual choir.  And this idea was headed by Rachel Grider, a member of ours from the great state of California, who wrote and said, hey, I would love to do this, can we do this.
So we did last year, and thank you to those who participated.  But we want to do it bigger and better this year.
So here to talk about our 2021 virtual choir is our virtual choir director from California, Rachel Grider!  
RACHEL GRIDER:  Thank you so much, President Riccobono.
So as President Riccobono said, I am so excited that we will again be having a virtual choir at convention this year.  We will be preparing up to three songs, to be announced.  Stay tuned for that.  Rehearsals will be held at 8:00 p.m. eastern every Friday in April with the exception of April 2nd because that is Good Friday.  And they will be recorded for those who can't attend.
Also materials will be available for singers to learn their voice parts on their own.  Singers will record themselves while listening to a counting track with headphones, and their tracks will be combined to create the virtual choir.  All tracks will need to be submitted and recorded by May 15th.  So we have a little over two months.
If you would like to participate, registration will be for a month starting today.  It can be found at NFB-PAD.org.  The deadline to submit the participation form is April 5.  And I am so excited to hear from many of you and to sing together again this year.
MARK RICCOBONO:  I do encourage people to participate in our performing arts division virtual choir.
We'll be talking much more about this in the next couple of months.  I know our affiliates will be thinking of things to do and I know we'll be encouraging many more and better banquet parties than we had in 2020, and hopefully with more and more people having access to the vaccine and some restrictions being lifted, more and more can happen.
We've also been planning to put some additional things in to our convention, and so we built them in to registration to make sure that we're all affirming our commitments to each other.  And so you'll find some required check boxes in the registration process that we'll be asking you to affirm to when you register, to make sure that we're all holding to our commitments of diversity and safety within the National Federation of the Blind.
Here to talk about some of the work we're doing in the convention as well as any brief updates she would like to provide from our survivor-led task force, from the great state of New Mexico, I would like to now give the floor to Daphne Mitchell!
DAPHNE MITCHELL:  Thank you so much, President Riccobono, and good evening, Federation family.
The survivors task force and those volunteering with our three branches have begun to carry out the mission that President Riccobono charged us with roughly two months ago.
The national board of directors adopted our organization's code of conduct in 2018 and have diligently worked to improve upon its scope and the process of investigating complaints every year.
One of the steps we are taking to support the intentional culture shift towards full accountability is including a process to acknowledge and verify that those who register for convention will abide by the Code of Conduct.
As President Riccobono mentioned, the convention registration form goes live tonight, following the presidential release, and as you go through the registration process, at the end of the form you will find two paragraphs which briefly outline the Code of Conduct, a link to the code itself, how to file a complaint under the Code of Conduct, consequences for violators, and information about how to contact the survivors task force.
Anyone who registers for convention will need to check a box to acknowledge and verify that they have read the information.  There will also be a second check box for registrants to acknowledge that they have read the code and agree to abide by the code at the national convention here now 2021.
The language of the acknowledgment and verification will be included in April's Braille Monitor.  For those who President Riccobono mentioned utilize postal mail or even those who may lean on one of their Federation family members to help them assist in completing the convention registration form.
So I want to take a pause here to extend our deepest gratitude to survivors and allies who contributed their thoughts, time, and energy to creating the acknowledgment and verification system.
If you too desire to lend your talents and voice to help further support our organization's culture shift, please visit the survivors website at www.NFB.org/survivors to sign up for one of the branches, and we have training in culture, communications, and engagement, and procedures and oversight.
And you can also learn about other initiatives that we are currently carrying out.
Lastly, I just want to reemphasize that everyone who finds themselves at a situation where they need to access the Code of Conduct complaint process should feel empowered to do so, using either the methods outlined in the code.
You do not need to file a complaint through a specific leader, and you may have a trusted friend to help you to submit a complaint.
We hope, again, that you don't find yourself in that situation, but if you do, please access the system, and we are working every day to make it better for all of us.
Thank you so much for your time.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you very much, Daphne, and I appreciate your work and the continued work of our survivor-led task force.  I have the pleasure of meeting with them at least on a weekly basis, sometimes more, and I continue to learn a lot from them.  So thank you for that.
I'm sure you're going to hear from our task force at the national convention, and I'm sure there will be a number of program items that they're going to help us put together.  So I'm looking forward to an awesome 2021 convention, where we're going to show what stronger together means, even in the virtual environment.  So send those ideas along.
Okay.  Just a couple more notes before we get to some questions this evening.  Our pre-authorized contribution program chairs, the PACmen as we like to call them, Scott LaBarre and Ryan Strunk, have given me some notes for this evening.  We're doing well on the PAC program sitting at about $495,000 analyzed, but we need to do better.  You can go to the PAC form at www.NFB.org/PAC, and you can find the PAC form there and you can increase your PAC, you can sign up to make a monthly contribution to our organization there, or you can call (877)632-2722.  Or email [email protected] to express your interest for wanting to sign up for the program and our team will get back in touch with you.
I also want to congratulate the winner of our drawing at the Washington Seminar.  The drawing was for individuals who either increased their PAC or started a new contribution during the Washington Seminar, and the winner of the drawing is Steve Lindsay of Washington, D.C., who will be receiving a $100 gift card to the Independence Market.  Thank you, Steve, and to the other contributors to our PAC program.
I want to welcome a number of new chapters to the PAC program, including from the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, the capital region chapter and the Michigan association of blind students.
From the NFB of Colorado, we have the mountains and plains chapter as well as the Colorado Springs chapter and the Greeley chapter.  Welcome to all of you.
And from our South Carolina affiliate, welcome to the at large chapter as well as the Lancaster chapter.
Thank you to all of our chapters and affiliates that contribute on an ongoing basis to the PAC program.
I also want to remind that you we do have our Dream Maker Circle which is a way to make an end-of-life commitment to the National Federation of the Blind.  We did have one new individual join the circle this month, but they elected to remain anonymous.  So thank you to our anonymous new member of the Dream Maker Circle.  And if you want to learn more, please reach out to Patty Chang here at our national office.
In closing this portion of the presidential release, I do have a few Federation family news to share with you.
Marcus Soulsby reports that Andy Baughman unfortunately succumbed to COVID-19.  Andy is described as a pillar of the affiliate of NFB of west Virginia.
Also from NFB Alaska, Bonnie Lucas reports the passing of Al Waldron, a longtime member who passed away.  He served on the board and was very active with the Alaska blind veterans division.  She tells me that Al was known and loved for his culinary skills and he taught cooking at the Alaska center for the blind and visually impaired.
And Pam Allen of Louisiana reports the passing of Sharon Thomas, an active member of our New Orleans chapter.  Although Sharon had struggled with some health issues, her death was very unexpected.  She was only 58.
I encourage you to keep all of these members, their families, and our Federation family who are mourning their loss in your thoughts and prayers as well as those I may not know about.
I do have one joyful item here to close out this portion of the release.  Everette Bacon of Utah reports that David Carillo, President of the Utah association of blind students and his wife Sadie welcomed a new daughter to their family and our Federation family.  Elora Ann Carrillo was born on February 4, 2021, at 11:37 a.m. weighing 6 pounds 10 ounces and measuring 18 inches long.
So welcome, Elora, being the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Pam, I think that's what I have for this portion of the release.  I'm going to throw it back to you.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.  Thank you, President Riccobono.  And I want to share with everybody our results from our poll questions tonight.  Thanks to everybody for participating.
The first poll was related to our pedestrian safety enhance men act that we are celebrating.  So 48% of our participants said that they helped advocate for the act.  I know that I did.
34% of our participants said they did not help advocate.
And 19% wondered what the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act is.  So that's a little update and a little information.
MARK RICCOBONO:  I helped out too.
PAM ALLEN:  I'm sure you did.  We're definitely glad to be celebrating that and I know that those who didn't know now do from your remarks.  So that's awesome.
And our poll about Dr. Seuss in celebration of his upcoming birthday.  Hard choice.  A lot of great Dr. Seuss books.  
21% listed Cat in the Hat as their top choice.
Horton Hears a Who 4%.
The Lorax 5%.
Oh, the Places You'll Go, 22%.
Green Eggs and Ham, 30%.  Definitely our top.
And 1 Fish, 2 Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish 9%.
And 10% said that their favorite was not listed.  So I know Dr. Seuss had so many --
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yeah.  No Fox in Socks.
PAM ALLEN:  Exactly.
So now we'll be starting our Q&A session.  I want to thank everybody again for submitting questions through our various channels.  We really appreciate everybody's comments and participation in the chat tonight.  And remember, if we do not have a chance to get to questions tonight, our fabulous communications team will be following up with these.
So our first question comes to us from Holly McKnight from the great state of Texas.  And Holly has some questions about leadership seminars.  Holly said she has heard a great deal about leadership seminars and wonders what's happening in relation to COVID restrictions with our leadership seminars, and also how does a person get nominated or selected to attend a leadership seminar.
MARK RICCOBONO:  That's a great question.
First of all, we haven't had the traditional type of leadership seminar in about a year.  Typically folks who have been to the leadership seminar or other leaders in the organization tend to put names forward.  You can always talk to your affiliate President, who can help advance your name.
The problem we have with the leadership seminar is we can only get so many people in to each seminar, and the other problem is we try to get some degree of diversity from different parts of the country and other characteristics.  So it's hard to get people in and we usually only have 25 people at a time.
I have been thinking about what more we can do to provide some virtual leadership opportunities:  Of course we're always providing leadership training.  It is something we're constantly working on.  We never have enough leaders, so it's something we've been thinking a lot about.  So I would encourage you to talk to your affiliate President about those opportunities and what opportunities for leadership training we can create locally.  There's always more to do in leadership development, and so that's the best way to do it.
Feel free to send me an email and express your interest.  I'll probably talk to folks in your affiliate to get a sense of who you are so that way when I select folks to come to a leadership seminar within the office of the President, I want to make sure we have that spread of diversity and different states represented.  So I wish we could train more people faster.  That's always a challenge.  But we are thinking about some virtual things we can do to bring cohorts together which might help future training.  So great question.
PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.
Now we will be introducing to ask a question a wonderful leader from our Ohio affiliate and our Black leaders serving for advancement committee.  I'll turn it over to Suzanne Turner.
SPEAKER:  Good afternoon, President Riccobono.  Thank you for taking my question.  My question to you is your viewpoint on potential members and members joining chapters that are not in their back door.  For instance, if you had a new member join a chapter 100 or 200 miles away when there are several in the pathway.  I wanted to get your viewpoint on that.  Now that we're in COVID, there are members joining chapters with friends, chapters that they seem to have a feel-good emotion with.  So I wanted to get your viewpoint on that.
Thank you.
MARK RICCOBONO:  It's a great question.  Obviously our goal is to build membership and to build local units to work for our organization.  You may say it doesn't matter if I'm in Baltimore or Ohio, I can participate.  In some ways that's true at the moment, but our chapters really are meant to be geographically focused and hope it bring that local effort.  So I think it's up to the chapter to decide which members it's going to vote in, and I would encourage you to be a little bit liberal with distance requirements because there are many legitimate reasons that someone might join a local chapter.
One thing does happen sometimes is that people just don't find a fit in a chapter near them, for whatever reason, and sometimes it's helpful if someone has the option of joining another chapter.
But I think, again, engaging that member when they come to your chapter, finding out why are they looking to join the chapter.  Are they just looking to have another vote somewhere else?  Or do they have a real legitimate reason for joining that chapter?
We should allow for exceptions that might be needed.  Sometimes there's conflicts, personality conflicts are bound to happen in a people's movement.  As long as it's not being done to stack the vote in a certain chapter or that sort of thing, I think our goal should be to find ways to get people to participate.
Now, once we're back in person, I think those personal meetings will be important for connections.  But there will always be reasons why virtual participation will be important.  And these are things I think we get to work through now as we think about what the next evolution of our organization is.  So it's a great question and I think we should find ways to innovate but I think the local chapter should decide what the criteria might be.  But I would encourage that we keep an open membership policy and we try to welcome people into our chapters.
SPEAKER:  Thank you.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  We've got several questions related to membership this evening, which is great.  We're all about increasing our membership and welcoming members in to our organization.  We have somebody with us tonight for the first time, and they're curious about how can they join and be part of our organization and help with our advocacy effort.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Ah.  Excellent.  Well, welcome to the release and we hope you do join.
The fastest way to learn about joining is to go to www.NFB.org, and you'll find a "join us" link, and you'll find information about becoming a member there.
Most people join the organization by contacting their state affiliate.  That's really the best way to be involved because that local engagement is really what makes our organization unique and powerful.  But you can join at the national level as well.
There are lots and lots of places to jump in to the work of the organization.
We do have a new member open house coming up.  I think that's at the end of this month.  Isn't that, Pam?  I'm pretty sure.  The 28th maybe?
You can find information on that on the website as well.  If you need help figuring out how to sign up, the last thing you can do is send an email to [email protected], and someone will help you out and get you signed up ASAP.
PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.  And another membership-related question.  This is from an individual who is wondering if there is a vision requirement to join the National Federation of the Blind.
MARK RICCOBONO:  No vision required here!
[Laughter]
No, we have no vision requirement.  We are primarily an organization of blind people.  And when we say blind, we use the functional definition of blindness.  Certainly if you identify as a blind person, if you need to use the techniques that blind people use, you consider yourself a blind person, great.
We also of course welcome many people who are only blind at heart.  There are sighted individuals who are great participants in our movement.  Our requirements are that a majority of our membership be blind.  Parents of blind children often join.  Lots of opportunities, but there's no test for how much you can see or not to get in the door.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Excellent.
And we have a couple questions about what is the reasoning behind voting in a member as opposed to someone just joining.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, there's a couple of things.  First of all, voting in a member is away to welcome people in to the organization.  It's partly ceremonial.  It's also a way for the chapter to welcome someone and accept their membership.
In the case of the question we had, sometimes a chapter may wish to vote people in to make sure that they're really going to be participating in the chapter from the local area.  Sometimes we have this with people who want to join a chapter from another state, and the chapter says, well, sure, you can participate in the chapter but you don't live here and the chapter is intended to represent the people who live in this state.  So we don't accept members from other states.  Again, there may be good reasons to do that.  If you live in Florida half the year and Wisconsin the other half of the year, that might be a perfectly appropriate thing to do.
So it's partly ceremonial.  It's also partly to make sure that the membership of the chapter is really aware of who is coming in and welcoming them in and affirming that they meet the membership standards.  We don't want to make membership difficult, but we do want to make sure that we all know who is part of our chapter community and our Federation family.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.
And then we have a question about, you talked earlier about only dues-paying member characterize vote at national.  This person wonders what processes are in place between our national office and affiliates to verify those who can vote and also how will voting work at national convention this year.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Okay.  So we are going to be voting via telephone, the same way we did last year.  Really the vote by phone is the most equitable across the board method we could find for having as many people participate equally in the voting as possible.
Now, we rely on local chapters and affiliates to report their membership rolls to the national organization.  Most affiliates are in that process now.  If you're in a chapter and you haven't heard from your affiliate asking for the member rolls for this year, you should contact them ASAP because they should be gathering that data now.  Some affiliates have already submitted it.
Now, if you have members who join after the membership data is collected, again, if they're new members, you should actually submit them through the new member form on our website so that they can get the new member information.  But if you have members who hadn't paid their dues in 2021 until April or May, you can send information to [email protected] to update that.
Now, we're going to compare those who register and say they want to vote against those rolls.  When we have questions, we will go back to the state affiliate to verify membership.  So that is our credentialing system is to go to back to the affiliates.
Now, if we don't see that you're a member, there will be a couple of weeks for you to reach out and tell us where you believe you are a member.  Sometimes people think they're a member.  Oh, I paid dues in 2018 so I'm still a member.  They don't recognize that you have to pay dues on a yearly basis.
So that's our process, and we'll have members of the national board who are not up for election this year will be helping to verify the voting process and the rolls.
This worked fairly well this year.  I think because it's a one-step system.  You can do it all in the same registration process.  And remember, when you register, you'll have to give us the telephone number that you want to vote from, either by calling with that telephone number or by texting with that telephone number, but you'll need to give us that number when you register.
So that's our process, and we're hopeful that it will work well.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  I know we'll all be getting preregistered and we're looking forward to a great convention hosted by Maryland.
Our next question wants to compliment the survivor-led task force for all of the efforts and outreach and communication and has a question concerning when the RAINN trainings will be available to the membership at large.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, that's a great question.  And we don't know the answer to that question yet.  Right now we've established this initial training and we're having 10 training sessions.  It's going to be close to 1,000 people.  And that's really what's going to drive the next step.  We wanted to get that under our belt and then decide how we're going to get this out to more and more people and by what mechanism.
So whatever future training is offered will be post-convention, so we haven't made any real commitment to that yet because we want to get through April, get feedback on the training.  Was it helpful, was it not helpful, what more would people like to see, so that we know what our next steps are.  So there's a lot of things we want to do, but we also want to stack them carefully to make sure that we're really moving forward in a way that helps to build this movement in the way that we want.
So our intention certainly is to provide more training and on an ongoing basis every year.  We're just not sure how we're going to do that and frankly we'll be looking to our survivor-led task force to give us guidance on how to do that.  The best way to do that.
So I know it's a difficult answer because I know people are eager to participate.  We also want to make sure that what we're offering is not just ceremonial but it actually makes a difference, it's helpful, and it builds the organization.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.
Our next question is in relation to the upcoming open forum on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  And this individual is wondering how to find out information about accessing that forum on March 8.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Yeah.  So the diversity open meeting, the information has been circulated on the NFB listservs.  I think just in the last day or so I saw it hit the listservs.
The Zoom information is there.
If you did not receive it, you can send an email to [email protected]  I'm sure that the committee will be happy to send you the log on information for that meeting.
You could also reach out to your affiliate or chapter President, and they could get the information from our listservs.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  We have a question from an individual whose wife was denied transportation from a ridesharing service to a COVID test and they're wondering what they can do to address that or to whom they should speak.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, it's a good question.  Not sure if it's something we can help with.  But you can reach out to our legal program by, again, calling extension 2440 here at the national office and we'll take that information and see how we can guide you to the right resource.
You can also reach out to your affiliate.
We would encourage you to file complaints with the rideshare provider through their process that they have through the app.
And you can also fill out our rideshare form on our website, but depending on the details, we'll see how else we can help.  But definitely don't neglect filling out the form that the rideshare provider provides for that process.
PAM ALLEN:  Okay.  Great.
And we have another question.  We were talking about the exciting BELL Academy coming up this summer, and we had a question about our teacher of tomorrow program and what is happening with that.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Well, our teachers of tomorrow cohort has been getting together the last 2 months.  I know they just met this weekend and they have activities happening on a regular basis, and I know we'll be connecting them with mentors throughout the Federation.  Rosie Caranza of Louisiana is coordinating this program for the Federation, and I'm sure she would love to hear from folks about if you're interested in helping work with our teachers of tomorrow program.  There is an article in the Monitor also about the program.  So I would refer you to the Braille Monitor.  And I'm sure you'll be hearing from them more as the year goes on and as we get to know them.  I had the opportunity to spend time with them in January in their initial meeting and it's a great group of teachers and a really important effort for us to really shape the future of teachers dealing with blind children in this country.  So that's the status on that program.
PAM ALLEN:  All right.  Again, we appreciate everybody's questions tonight.  Again, we will follow up with those who didn't have a chance to get their questions asked.  A lot of great discussion and wonderful information.
I just want to share with everybody the date for our next three presidential releases so that you can make sure to be here live.  Our April presidential release will be on April 5th.  Following that will be May 3rd.  And then our June presidential release will be June 1st.  So April 5, May 3, and June 1 at 8:00 p.m. eastern.
And I will turn it back over to you.
MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you, Pam.  It's hard to believe that in 4 months we'll be getting ready for our national convention this year.
It's also hard to believe that it's been a year of virtual events all around the Federation.
I want to say that I continue to be inspired by the work that Federationists are doing to find ways to build the movement that we have in bigger and better ways even despite social distancing.  So thank you to everybody for your continued work.  Welcome to March.  Welcome to our new listeners to the presidential release, and we hope you will decide to join our organization.
That's what I have for the month of March.  I will leave you with our customary endings and say let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
SPEAKER:  Hi, I'm Oriana.  I have a joke.  What did Rosemary say when sage proposed?  It's about thyme.
SPEAKER:  Hello.  My name is Austin and I'm also here to tell you a joke.  When do you put a cow in an elevator?  When you want to raise the steaks.
SPEAKER:  Hello, I'm Elizabeth Riccobono and I'm also here to tell you a joke.  What does spring sound like?  Boing.
The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind, [email protected] (410)659-9314, www.NFB.org.
Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.