# Presidential Release #509, October 2021 (English Transcript)

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

PAM ALLEN: Hello, everyone, and welcome. We are so happy that you are here for us for this very special Presidential Release at a new time. Thank you so much for being here with us.

We will be starting at noon Eastern. Thank you for joining us early. Just a couple reminders. Everyone is muted. If you would like to send in questions, please do so. You can still send those to [email protected], use our Q&A feature, or any of our social media channels. We also have closed captioning in Zoom as well as using the captioning feature of 1CapApp.

We're celebrating employment in the very special panel we have today. We have some poll questions, so please participate in our poll. The first question asks about, when do you disclose that you are blind for employment? And our second poll asks about your employment status. Again, thank you so much for being here. We will be starting shortly. Welcome!

PAM ALLEN: Hello, everyone, we'll be starting here just momentarily. We are so excited that you're here with us for our October Presidential Release, as we celebrate Blind Equality Achievement Month, we are so thrilled to have you with us. Thank you for being here with us at this special time. We have many exciting things in store today for our Presidential Release, and we will be starting momentarily. Thank you so much for your patience. We have an outstanding panel ready to present, and we are just excited that you're here with us today. We will be starting shortly.

Again, thank you so much. We are working on some technical glitches, but we are going to be starting here momentarily. Thank you so much for being with us today as we are kicking off our Blind Equality Achievement Month. We have many exciting things happening this month in the National Federation of the Blind. And we will be getting started shortly. Thank you so much for your patience. We'll be starting momentarily.

PAM ALLEN: Again, for those of you who are just joining us, we're working out a few technical glitches, but we'll be starting here shortly. Thank you so much for being part of our Presidential Release as we're kicking off Blind Equality Achievement Month, as we are preparing to get started, if you haven't had a chance to do so yet, please make sure to take part in our poll. Our questions are for employment, when do you disclose that you are blind? And we have a series of choices. And then our next poll question, we're asking if you could share your employment status with us. We expect employment, and we are going to be hearing from some outstanding presenters today in our Presidential Release celebrating employment and all the different options and all the mentoring opportunities available in the National Federation of the Blind. So we will be starting shortly. Thank you so much.

MARK RICCOBONO: Ready when you are, Pam.

PAM ALLEN: Hi, President Riccobono, welcome! We're so glad to start our October Presidential Release, and delighted to get started. I'm going to turn it over to you.

MARK RICCOBONO: Oh, it's great to be back together, Pam. It was so awesome to be with you in person in the month of September.

PAM ALLEN: Yes, it was great to be at our National Center.

MARK RICCOBONO: Yup, things are coming together.

So, I wanted to highlight from the intro music, a song, new song by Kayleigh Brendle, 2001 NFB scholarship winner. Badge of Honor, from her new album released today. Did you like it, Pam?

PAM ALLEN: Outstanding.

MARK RICCOBONO: Yes, outstanding, Badge of Honor from the album Karma, out today on Apple, and Spotify. Definitely amplify the work by this blind artist that she continues to do. Pretty cool. Pam, a big day for the Louisiana Center as well.

PAM ALLEN: We're excited, our 36th anniversary. We salute John Wilson our founder, and our students and alumni from all around the country. So we're very excited to celebrate this anniversary.

MARK RICCOBONO: All right, well, congratulations to the Center, to all the graduates, to the tremendous staff there, and here's to 36 more years of building opportunities moving forward. So, sorry I'm not there to celebrate today, but next time.

PAM ALLEN: We know, you're with us in spirit!

(Laughter.)

MARK RICCOBONO: Also some, you know, it's the fall convention season, so quick shoutout to our affiliates in Florida and Iowa who will be having conventions this week, and I know a number of other conventions coming up this fall. You can check them out at NFB.org. Should we get started?

PAM ALLEN: We should. I know our sister centers in Minnesota and Colorado are listening too, and are all about employment at our training centers, so let's kick it off!

MARK RICCOBONO: Okay, great, thanks, Pam.

Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Friday, October 1, 2021, and this is Presidential Release Number 509. We are definitely in the fall season, and our fall conventions are well underway at this point. There's a great lineup of virtual, and some in-person convention events coming up this fall, so I hope that you will be able to participate in one or more of our Federation affiliate conventions coming up here in the fall. And we're kicking off Blind Equality Achievement Month on this Presidential Release. And, you know, September was hosted the Paralympics, and the Paralympic Games included Team USA, which competed in a total of 241 events across 19 different sports,. I want to kick off Blind Equality Achievement Month by congratulating the 37 blind athletes that were part of Team USA. On your participation and accomplishments in the 2021 Paralympics. I look forward to celebrating or having the opportunity to celebrate those achievements maybe later in the year across the Federation, and hope that some of these athletes will be at our fall conventions.
Also want to begin this release by giving a big congratulations to our affiliate in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island has signed legislation to protect families with blind parents. Of course, this is an ongoing effort for us across the nation to protect the right of blind parents. So, congratulations to Rhode Island.

Also want to congratulate our California affiliate. California has become the most recent state to start to phase out sub minimum wage payments to people with disabilities. Governor Gavin Newsom signed S-639 into law on September 27th. So, just Monday of this week.

California joins a list of other states who have phased out the use of 14(c) certificates or who have passed legislation to begin the phase-out process. These states, California joins these states: Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington. You can find information about our model legislation, both for eliminating subminimum wages as well as protecting the rights of blind parents, at our website, NFB.org, on our advocacy page. You can find all of our model legislation. I encourage our affiliates and chapters to work hard on getting bills like these passed in our affiliates.

So we're here to kick off Blind Equality Achievement Month, and to do that, I have written a blog post that we have posted this morning, which is entitled On Blindness, Equality, and Achievement: Who Defines Us?
And this blog post is meant to revisit the question of how we identify as being blind, what it has meant to me, why it's important, and why we use the word "blind" in the National Federation of the Blind. I believe our notion of the definition of blindness ties together important aspects of our philosophy, and I encourage our chapters to discuss the definition of blindness and why we use the word "blind", and how we take ownership for defining blind in our own lives, in our movement, in our nation, and in the world through the National Federation of the Blind. So I call that blog to your attention, and I look forward to the discussions that might be sparked in our chapters and affiliates about how we define the word "blind".

So, Blind Equality Achievement Month, October. This year, we're celebrating in a new way and taking our public message out there in a new way, and part of our theme this year is to expect employment. We know in the National Federation of the Blind that blind people can compete on terms of equality, and we expect blind people to be part of the workforce.

The Federation is the best employment network that I know for blind people to achieve in all areas of employment, and that's part of what we want to celebrate here on this Presidential Release and in the month of October.

Before I talk more about that, I do want to announce that there's an important opportunity this month that has been given to us by an anonymous supporter of the National Federation of the Blind. Because of the generosity of this anonymous supporter, and you know who you are, thank you very much for your generosity —when you make a donation to the National Federation of the Blind in the month of October, to celebrate Blind Equality Achievement Month, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar up to a total amount of $50,000. So we've been offered a$50,000 matching opportunity from this donor during Blind Equality Achievement Month. So if you're in a position to make a donation to the National Federation of the Blind during the month of October, or to encourage others to do so, please do so. Because your dollars are—can go twice as far because of the generosity of our anonymous donor. There are three ways for you to contribute. You can give online at NFB.org/donate. You can mail a check to the National Federation of the Blind at 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21230.

Or you can contribute by phone by using a credit card by calling 410-659-9314 and dialing extension 2282.

We want to thank you in advance for contributing to our mission to expect employment and raise expectations in employment for blind people, and your contributions will help us do that here in the month of October.

You can attend a number of activities around our Blind Equality Achievement Month, but I want to call to your attention our Where the Blind Work webinar that will happen, it will be a panel with blind professionals. This will be taking place on Thursday, October 14th, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. You can hear about what a typical day looks like for a blind professional, discover tips and tricks that blind people have used, and learn how the Federation, again, serves as an important employment network for blind people. Again, go to NFB.org/blind-month. That's NFB.org slash blind dash month. To get more information on that and all activities this month.

Having said that, I want to transition now into a special portion of today's Presidential Release, live, a little panel to talk about employment just as an example of how we act as an employment network, I'd now like to turn this portion over to Anil Lewis, the executive director of the blindness initiatives for the Federation, to talk about the network and about some resources that may be helpful for conversation in our chapters. Are you out there?

ANIL LEWIS: Yes, sir, and I agree with you. Well, kind of opposite. I knew the power of the Federation as a network for employment long before I realized the benefit that I could personally receive as a member, an active member of the organization. Because I was doing job placement early on in my blindness, hadn't found out about the Federation yet, but I heard about this organization that had all these job entries for the blind, resources, all the others that you just named, and I thought it would help me be a better professional. I went to the convention thinking I would learn to help others in my capacity as a job placement specialist, and man oh, man , it was the beginning of a new life for me. So I agree, the National Federation of the Blind is the best network for employment.

It's my pleasure to facilitate this panel, and as Will cues up one of the videos, I'll mention that we're hearing from the president of our accessibility trainers division, and unfortunately, she works at the library and she can't participate live, because she's supposed to be (whispering) quiet in the library!

We're also talking to someone from our mentoring program.

So I thought I would give a sample of what we offer. There's no way we could do it all during the presidential release. So we are covering three major topics in this discussion: One, access technology. It's important because access technology is an equalizer as technology becomes more instrumental in the work that we do. When we expect employment, we also expect accessibility, and our individuals who are blind going out to work have an understanding of how to use the technology.

Another aspect is networking. That's a bigger message, but in the context of networking, there's a lot of ways that blind individuals can capitalize on existing resources and also learn the skills to be effective networkers.
Then we'll talk really briefly about the issue of disclosure. When do I disclose that I'm a blind person? And I'm interested to see whether our poll results from our Zoom poll support what we're going to be talking about during this particular panel. So, again, let's start with the video from Chancey Fleet.

ANIL LEWIS: All right, during October we're celebrating Blind Equality Achievement Month, and our theme is expecting employment, because we at the National Federation of the Blind expect employment for blind people, and that's on the side of blind people, employers, etc. But we recognize that a key component of that employment equation is access technology. So many jobs require access tech in order for people to be competitively employed, and we as the NFB are making sure that we are doing what we need to do to create accessible technologies to make sure blind people can perform those job tasks. There's no better person to speak to that than Chancey fleet, president of the access technology trainers division. Thank you for joining us.

Tell us a little bit about your perception of the importance of access tech, and especially the training that's necessary.

CHANCEY FLEET: When we're thinking about people being in the world, having a full right to live in the world, we have a hard time enacting that right without having some grasp of assistive technology or access technology. I think one of the most important things we can do as blind people, whether  newly blind, newly ambitious, is to pool the research to get information and express ourselves, to let people know when things are not going according to plan, and pull those together before employment and being a full contributor in the workplace itself. And that means having a fluency with the ways in which we interact with technology. Whether that means inputting, having a good typing speed, having a good command of the keyboard, having a good command of braille so we can read and write in digital braille. Knowing the pros and cons of different operating systems and screen readers, knowing, frankly, how to use more than one screen reader so we can jump from tool to tool when one isn't doing what we need, being conversant in mobile, knowing our gesturing, knowing our commands. But at the root of all that is knowing how to find out. People think sometimes as an assistive technology trainer and leader of the division, I must know everything about technology. But nothing could be further from the truth!

(Laughter.)

ANIL LEWIS: Well, don't you?

CHANCEY FLEET: No! Every system has new releases, websites come and go, platforms come and go, the web is growing every day. The one skill that's fundamental that you need for all the others is being able to pose the right questions. When you're having technical trouble, being able to explain what you expected would happen, and what happened instead. Knowing how to  formulate a question, and knowing when there is inaccessibility that is happening versus something you just don't understand.

Just like learning to travel or cook, you realize that assistive technology is not rote, it's an art, it's a practice, it's improvisational. And what I hope for everybody in the Federation is that they will avail themselves of quality training that doesn't just teach keyboard commands, that doesn't just give you five lessons and tell you, congratulations, you can Type 20 words a minute and you're done. No. We all deserve comprehensive, high-quality, long-term assistive technology training.

ANIL LEWIS: And I remember you framing it in the context of our structured discovery model, and the ability to problem-solve. I love the way you focused on the individual acquiring that skill set. As an organization, the advocacy, the work that we do, especially with the big four—Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, isn't it about holding them accountable as well?

CHANCEY FLEET: Yes, and we do hold them accountable day in and day out. But I want to take this to a more basic, fundamental place, because some people might tune out when we talk about assistive technology, they might say, I'm not a nerd, come on, I'm not using this day in and day out. Whether you're going to work in tech or whether you are going to have a job that's tech heavy, technology touches all our new lives, whether we want to learn a new cooking technique, or whether we want to apply for a job or look for jobs that are available. And when we're thinking about voc rehab cases for people trying to get into the workforce or school, and when you open your voc rehab case, a lot of information is coming at you so fast, and if you don't have basic information literacy, if you don't have a way to track what's going on in your case, and if you can't track your handbook and what people are writing about you, you are just afloat at water. Where is your shore? Where is your destination?

I think what we all need to do as an organization is reach out to users who are just getting started on their technology journey and realize that for those who are new to VR or just considering whether VR is the right path for them, everybody needs a hand up. Getting them online enough and information-literate enough that they can take their own notes, they can read what is being written about them, and they can correspond with the professionals in their life who are in a position to help them succeed or to sort of let them flounder. And I think at the chapter level, the state level, and the division level, pairing folks up with mentors so that they can get that basic information literacy, even before they go to formal classes, that's one of the biggest gifts we can give to another Federation member.

ANIL LEWIS: I love that as a formal charge to our membership, so I hope people will take up arms and really meet that challenge. Speaking of challenges, what are our major challenges?

CHANCEY FLEET: I think the road blocks between us and high-quality training, what people need to be quote-unquote ready, that's a huge barrier. And that links in with class and background and community and a lot of other things.

And then the other thing is, like, real talk, when things are accessible, they're still often much more—there's still more that we need to remember and sort of life-hack around, and we have to be really tolerant of bugs and resilient and happy to code-switch between operating systems, and it is overwhelming sometimes. That's why we need to advocate with companies so that the future of accessibility works for us, for all of us, maybe those who have average tech skills. We need a future where the average blind person can do something with the same... frictionless-ness and the same number of steps and the same background knowledge as the average sighted person. And we're not there yet.

ANIL LEWIS: I think you've done a good job in the short time that we have to cover the major topics around access tech. Thank you for sharing with us, and how can people reach you if they want to have some follow up?

CHANCEY FLEET: You can follow me on Twitter at Chancey-Fleet, and I'm [email protected], that's NYPL for New York Public Library.

ANIL LEWIS: Thank you, take care.

I always enjoy interacting with Chancey, she has a lot of information and a wonderful personality. We as an organization are pleased and proud to have her as a very active member. Let's flip quickly. We talked about the skill set around access technology. There's another skill that a lot of people don't recognize is really a skill that needs to be learned and developed and improved on, and I thought there was no one better to speak to that than Suzanne Turner. Are you there? Thank you for joining us the presidential Release. You've done a lot for the Federation, and let's talk first about your work with the employment committee. Dick Davis is the current chair of the committee, and he awards you with the medal of career fair innovator. That was kind of your idea. Can you speak to what the catalyst was and how that applies to networking?

SUZANNE TURNER: First, let me thank you for having me speak today about one of my passions and my blessings.

So the Employment Committee is dear to my heart, because I am one of the individuals that ended up in sheltered workshop but knew I wanted to do something different. And when I came into the National Federation of the Blind, it was all these avenues that was in front of me, and employment seems to be my bit. And we know you can network anywhere you go!

So networking in the employment arena has propelled me to do other things as well in the organization, like mentorship and networking.

But I do believe that the Employment Committee as evolved as one of the premier entities of the National Federation of the Blind. And Dick Davis has some wonderful and innovative members who have invested time and brought about some wonderful presentations and seminars, and knowledge-based training.
So each year, the presentations get bigger and larger and better!

And for the last six years, the content has been improved upon, incorporating employers as well. So having that network system between employers and employees has been a win-win for the Employment Committee and the National Federation of the Blind.

ANIL LEWIS: Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about some of the other kind of networking opportunities within the Employment Committee. I know there's an upward mobility seminar, instances where individuals are able to do—well, the career fair provides a network with employers. Any other highlights from the committee itself?

SUZANNE TURNER: Well, these speakers that Dick brings in along with the incredible membership, they talk about what employers are looking for. That's key. To be able to fit into the arena and have that model of you being the exact person that that employer wants. Also, the elevator pitch is very important, because you may have just one moment to talk about your talents and skills.

Resume writing. We know that resume writing has changed over the course of time, so having that resume, you know, reflect your expertise, your objectives, your goals, is quite important. And then once you get a job, if you think about that upward mobility as well, when you're in a job, you might want to move to a different department or change your career. Well, that's available to you inside the National Federation of the Blind as well, where we have expertise to talk about these different things.

But now, when you think about networking, as I said, you can network anywhere you want to. And it's just exchanging ideas and develop that business relationship or job search tool that actually comes with you.

ANIL LEWIS: I just wanted to, I know in our discussion, one of the things I really loved about what you told me is that in working with the Employment Committee and doing the things you're doing, you recognize that you can even better use your talents by working with young people to really start teaching them these skills. So I know that Chancey mentioned and gave a charge for mentoring, but can you talk about your drive to mentor young kids around employment?

SUZANNE TURNER: As you know, mentors are amazing people that falls on a list of individuals to help evolve skills, talents, and upward mobility. So mentors bring about a world of knowledge and experiences, some of which I have. So I have directed my attention now, as I say, from employment to mentorship. Because I believe that the Employment Committee is well on its way to be one of the best networking tools outside the organization and inside the organization!

But what I like about being a mentor is that you can have that life experience to talk about different things. I'm a proponent of socialization skills, which sometimes people do not have when they are employed, or they're looking for employment, or even in an interview.

And so sometimes if you don't have the answer, those mentors can help you make smart decisions, be a sounding board as well, and help you search resources as well.

And so, mentorship, because we are in the National Federation of the Blind, we're already in an organization where we can find and take advantage of seminars, presentations, and the Presidential Release!

ANIL LEWIS: (Laughing) very well done! I do appreciate you taking time to join us and your dedication to the organization, to share your talent. And I think mentoring is key because it's core to who we are as an organization. It's through our lived experience that we can help individuals learn and overcome hurdles and challenges as they go through them.

But I'm looking forward to what we do to continue to expect employment in the coming years and working on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to demonstrate to everybody that you can live the life you want and that blindness is not what holds you back.

That's what I have, President Riccobono.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Anil, for being here, and to Suzanne and Chancey for participating in this Presidential Release live. It's good to try new things, and that's why we tried this particular Presidential Release at noon today, to see if we might capture some new different people as part of these conversations. So, I look forward to the work that we're going to do together under our Center for Employment Opportunities. Thank you, Anil.

In the preamble with Pam, I think I said that Kayleigh was a 2001 scholarship winner. If that's what I said, I meant to say 2021 NFB scholarship winner!

Okay. A few other announcements before we get to the questions. I know that many are interested in what's going to happen with the NFB Washington Seminar next February. Well, the answer is, we don't know yet. So we are monitoring Congress very closely and what's happening at the moment, and we're still planning to have an in-person presence for the 2022 Washington Seminar. We're really not going to make that official call probably for another couple of months. Probably we'll make the official call on that in early December, so that we have the best information possible. So stay tuned. We will have a presence on Capitol Hill of some sort in 2022. But we want to make sure we do it in the best way possible.

Also, in the last Presidential Release, I announced the hope that we would have the Independence Market e-commerce up and running by today, based on a question that was asked. We're still doing some QA testing, and we found a couple of bugs that need to be addressed. So it's not up today. It is coming soon. You can still find the catalog at NFB.org, and you will be able to very soon buy your products online, but in the meantime, you can still call up and get things from the Independence Market, and we're sorry for the delay in getting the e-commerce up and running. But our team would love to talk to you about what you'd like to buy.

A few legislative updates, especially about the Access Technology Affordability Act, HR-431 is now up to 114 co-sponsors in the House of  Representatives. A special thank you to Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, and New... York for recently adding co-sponsors to the bill. In the Senate, S-212 is up to 27 co-sponsors. Our two most recent co-sponsors are Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, and we have also gotten on board Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee. So two very important adds in the Senate! I encourage you to continue to get co-sponsors for the NTAA. It has been incorporated into the reconciliation package that is, I'd say sitting in Congress right now! But we're really happy that it's there. It's included in section 138519, starting on page 2319. But it is there. It's included. And we're very hopeful that it will be part of the final package.

So, continue to contact members of Congress. Let them know how important this bill is, and encourage them to keep it as part of that reconciliation package.

Also, the Medical Device Non Visual Accessibility Act, HR-4853, this bill would require all Class 2 and Class 3 medical devices with a digital display to be nonvisually accessible. We are up to 6 co-sponsors on this bill. So we're starting to move on getting co-sponsors, and I would encourage you to again put the pressure on as it relates to this bill.

A couple of legal-related items and things we're investigating. The National Federation of the Blind is currently investigating access barriers with  LabCorp patient check-in kiosks. If you have visited a LabCorp facility within the last year and were directed to use an inaccessible kiosk for check in and there was no employee immediately available to assist you with your check in, or if you had to navigate the system by relying on another customer or something like that to assist you, please contact Valerie Yingling to share your story with Valerie.

I want to remind you that last year we signed a working agreement with Pearson, and part of the working agreement was to help share issues that blind students experience so we can better communicate them, respond to them, and track them.

If you have any experiences with inaccessible Pearson products, please also share that information with Valerie Yingling at the national office. For both of these items, you can reach Valerie via email at [email protected]. You can also reach her at our main number here.

I want to share a few pieces of Federation family news here.

From Colorado, I regret to inform you of the passing of Doris Willoughby in early September. Although she has been in declining health over the last couple of years, Doris has had a long history of impacting positively the work of the National Federation of the Blind. Especially in her lifetime contributing to helping to raise expectations for the education of blind children. I know that I first came to know her name through the writings that she helped to compile in the area of educating blind children. I would encourage you to keep her husband, Curtis, and their family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

From Maryland, in early September, I have to share the news of the passing of Don Morris, who passed away after a long illness. Don was a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter for many years, and amongst other distinctions, served at one time as first vice president of our Maryland affiliate. Many have gotten to know him around the Federation over the years, and you definitely want to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
Also from Maryland, I regret to inform you of the passing of Lloyd Rassmussen on September 13th.

Many of you will know that Lloyd was one of the first blind people to become an engineer and work prominently in his field. He served at the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled for nearly 46 years. He helped to develop and implement many of the library's programs that so many of us have experienced. Lloyd loved music and his fingerprints and life energy is preserved in many of the Federation's songs that we continue to share that were developed by the Cane and Raisers.

So when you think of those songs, definitely think of Lloyd. He served many capacities in the organization, many leadership roles, including in Maryland since moving to the affiliate in 1975. Lloyd is survived by his wife Judy, so you should keep her and those who got to know Lloyd in your thoughts and prayers.

From Mississippi, Patrina Pendarvis informs us of the passing of two members. Pastor James Lockett, and Mr. James Beard, who both passed away recently, were long time members of ours and both gentlemen contributed to the organization locally in Mississippi.

I encourage you to keep all of these Federation members and those who I might not know about in your thoughts and prayers as we move forward in Blind Equality Achievement Month.

Pam, I think those are the announcements I have for the moment and I'll turn it back to you.

PAM ALLEN: Thanks so much, President Riccobono, and thanks to our panelists, that generated a lot of discussion. I want to share our poll results as it relates to employment. So our first poll question was, when do you disclose? We touched on this a little in the panel, when do you disclose that you're blind? And our top vote-getter said during the interview, 52%. Twenty-six percent before the interview, and the others—including first day and never, each got about 5 or 6%.

The next question, our top, 33% of listeners are employed full-time, and 13% are currently unemployed but looking for work, 24% retired, and we're really excited, 8% of our listeners today are students. So, thank you so much, it's always great to hear the poll results, and appreciate everybody participating. We are going to turn it over to our Q&A. We've had a lot of great questions, so thank you everybody for submitting your questions ahead of time and also during our Q&A session today. I'm going to share some of those questions, many of them centering on employment.

So, our first question, President Riccobono, for you, ask about what companies are committed to hiring blind people? What companies is the National Federation of the Blind—what companies are we working with, and how are we creating those partnerships out there in corporate America?

MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. I'm going to answer quickly because I know we want to get to as many questions as we can.

In terms of what companies are kind of great places for blind people to work. I would say, talk to other blind people. Because the thing is, it's a little bit subjective. But what you want to look for are, you know, those companies that clearly welcome diversity and are open to having those conversations. It's hard to say which companies are truly open to it. Because the experience varies. Now, a lot of the larger employers, take, for example, Microsoft, who we have a great relationship with, you know, they work very hard to, and value finding people with disabilities. But there are a lot of other companies who we've had the opportunity to talk with, who, although they may not express it that way, blind people are employed there, and have great experiences, because of their own advocacy, but because of the support they've found from management.
So I would say, talk to other blind people to find out what their experience is in the workplace.

Now, the National Federation of the Blind, we're establishing an employment leadership network to engage with employers and to create stronger relationships with corporate America. This is a new initiative that we're launching. Obviously we have some long standing relationships with UPS and the tech companies, Microsoft, Google, Amazon. There's others we could mention. Obviously the AT companies. But we want to expand that network as part of what we're doing this month. So stay tuned for more on that. That's what I would say about it at the moment. It's a great question. We have a number of employers who are looking to the Federation to connect with skilled blind talent, and we want to be the conduit for getting blind people into those companies.

PAM ALLEN: Okay, great. And our next question, we have a couple questions related to this. So the question is, why are NFB training centers located in three states, and how can training be made accessible to people across the country?

MARK RICCOBONO: Well! To answer the question simply, it's because those three affiliates in particular have spearheaded the development of NFB training centers. You know, creating a high-quality training center and sustaining it for 36 years, not an easy job!

And we would love to have NFB-style training everywhere in the country. But it takes real resource commitment, it takes talent, it takes energy, imagination. So our training centers have been intended to be models for other training centers in the nation. If we could figure out a formula to make NFB training, our philosophy, structured discovery, work in every state as the fabric of all state agencies, certainly we would do that. But that's why we have the National Federation of the Blind. We're still working on that mission. Sustaining a training center is a very difficult thing to do. I'm sure if you talk to our affiliates in Colorado, Minnesota, or Louisiana, it's a big part of what they do on a regular basis. And it's an important part of their outreach program.

You know, the Federation, as a national movement, we don't fund our affiliated training centers. And so they —we love them, we help them where we can, but they have to go out and fend for themselves. We need to continue to find ways to build better training in more places and to get the rehabilitation system to support that. But that's why we have the movement that we have, because we're not done with that yet!

PAM ALLEN: Thank you so much. And another question related to employment. Sometimes there's difficulty finding assistance through vocational rehabilitation. Should consumers be provided with private assistance for job training and job placement?

MARK RICCOBONO: So, you know, navigating the rehabilitation system is something that's a constant, has been a constant struggle for blind people and it's something the Federation has worked on. I would encourage to you learn about your rights under the rehabilitation system. We don't have time to cover it here, but maybe that would be a good topic for us to cover in a Presidential Release Live, and certainly how to navigate the rehabilitation system is something we're going to cover in our employment efforts.

We have some resources at NFB.org about how you manage the development of your own individualized plan for employment under rehab, defining the resources that you need for employment, and how to get the most out of rehabilitation.

The fact of the matter is, your strongest network for navigating the rehabilitation system and getting into employment is the Federation. It's a better network than the rehab system is in many places. Now, not to discount. There are many places where rehab is doing well by blind people.

I'd also call to your attention the client assistant program in many states, which can help you if you're running into trouble getting the resources and support you need from the rehabilitation system.

PAM ALLEN: Okay, great. And I think we have time for another question. The question is, is it appropriate to ask your employer to purchase access technology?

MARK RICCOBONO: Definitely. Right? As an employee, you're providing value to your employer. And it's certainly appropriate to have conversations with them about the tools you need to be successful. And, you know, at the National Federation of the Blind, we provide our employees with visual displays. They wouldn't be able to do their jobs otherwise! These are folks that can use visual monitors. In the same way that we give blind people the tools they need. Now, I'm a blind person. I don't tend to use the visual display on my computer. So I need other tools.

So, make the case for the tools that you need, and have those honest conversations that those tools are going to assist you in being a productive employee. And there are some programs out there to assist employers with making those purchases. But you certainly have the right to have those conversations with your employer to get the tools you need to do the job you do.

PAM ALLEN: Thank you, President Riccobono, for your reflections. And if you didn't have the chance to get your question answered, a member of our communications team will follow up. Thank you, everyone, for submitting excellent questions for our discussion as we're expecting employment.

So I want to invite everybody to please join the next NFB Presidential Release Live, which will be on November 1st at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, using Zoom, the Nation's Blind YouTube channel, our internet stream, or by asking your Amazon device to open Nation's Blind. Contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9314, or via email at [email protected].

I will now turn it over to President Riccobono for our customary endings.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Pam, great to hear your voice, and great employment questions. Keep those questions coming. I think our team could use those to shape some of our employment programming going forward!

That's what I have to offer for our October Presidential Release, kicking off Blind Equality Achievement Month. I'm looking forward to visiting some affiliate conventions, hopefully in person, during the next month. It's really great that we've been able to have some more events opening up at our national office, and the Federation is definitely in full swing across the country. So many great things we have in front of us.

I wish everyone well. Best wishes on your activities for our Blind Equality Achievement Month, happy White Cane Awareness Day, and please, if you're in a position, make a contribution to the Federation in this pivotal month as we come to the end of the year.

I'm going to now turn it over to our customary endings, but before I do that, let me say, be well, and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

Hey girls! I have a question for you.

What kind of store sells bagels and donuts?

CHILD: A bakery!

MARK RICCOBONO: No! Hole foods!

What room do you hide in to protect yourself from a ghost?

MARK RICCOBONO: I don't know.

CHILD: The living room!

CHILD: What do you call a snail that works on a farm?

MARK RICCOBONO: I got nothing.

CHILD: (Singing) The farmer in the shell! Hi-ho, the derry-o, the farmer in the shell.

(The preceding message was bought to you by Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, [email protected], 410-659-9314, NFB.org. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!)