PAM ALLEN: Good evening, Federation family. Welcome, everyone, to our June presidential release. Thank you so much for being here with us tonight as we are counting down to our national convention in just 34 days, and we are so excited that you joined us for the presidential release. It is now my pleasure to introduce our President, Mark Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Hey, Pam, how are you?
PAM ALLEN: Good. How are you? 34 days counting down!
MARK RICCOBONO: Are you ready?
PAM ALLEN: We are ready. We can't wait.
MARK RICCOBONO: Oh, my gosh. I'm jealous. I'm not ready.
PAM ALLEN: We've got a lot of work to do, but we are ready.
MARK RICCOBONO: It's going to be exciting. Where did May go?
PAM ALLEN: I wish I had the answer to that question. It flew by, that's for sure. It does not seem like it's been a month since our last presidential release.
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, I'm looking forward to. Shall we get started? Do we need to make an announcement about Spanish interpretation? I know we haven't been able to get Danny connected.
DANIEL: Hi, President Riccobono. I'm here.
MARK RICCOBONO: Go for it. Do your thing.
DANIEL: Unfortunately, we are not set up for interpreting. (Speaking in Spanish).
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you, Danny. And apologize for that technical hiccup there. You know, that's the disadvantage of trying to juggle all these pieces and click all the right boxes. So thank you, Danny, for spearheading that and making sure that happens for our listeners and members that require Spanish.
Greetings, fellow Federationists, today is Wednesday, June 1st, 2022, and this is presidential release 517. Hard to believe that June is already here. It does seem like the May presidential release just happened yesterday, and we are in the final moments, the final sprint to our national convention. It really is still hard to believe that it's been 3 years since we've been in person together, but I know we're all looking forward to that.
Glad also that there are more and more Federation meetings coming back together in person. I'm hearing more and more from members across the country how important it is to be able to get back together and get to the new sense of normal. And looking forward to ways that our chapters continue to find leverage the technologies to pull more people in to the organization in many dynamic ways.
So really glad that our chapters also are continuing to be thoughtful and responsible about how to have in-person meetings and keep everybody safe. So thank you for that.
We have just gotten past Memorial Day of course, so thank you to all of our members, friends, family members who have served our nation and certainly anticipate being together in New Orleans for our celebration of freedom which has been good in the virtual convention but it's really going to be great to be back together to honor our veterans in that way.
Many things happening this month, but I want to extend and say happy pride month to everybody, and also to my fellow dads out there, Happy Father's Day. Looking forward to celebrating the honor that it is to be a dad, and hats off to all of the dads out there.
Okay. A lot to talk about on this presidential release, and first thing I want to share is that the National Federation of the Blind is always evaluating its priorities. Now, our priorities are set first and foremost by the national convention, which directs the actions of the organization and elects the board which has responsibility between conventions.
Now, coming out of the COVID time period, the intense period of isolation that we've been in, our board has determined that we really need to reset, refocus our strategic priorities for our movement so that we can truly move our organization to the next phase of where we want to go, including working on building our membership capacity, improving our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and so many other things.
So we have engaged in the process of developing an extensive strategic plan, and that work is going to be underway starting this month through really much of the next year leading up to our 2023 convention.
In the months to come, Federation members will have many opportunities to provide feedback and help steer that process. And so this is my call to you, members of the Federation, to be listening for those opportunities. And please engage in giving your feedback. The board really values the fact that this is our organization together. Yours, ours, it's all of ours. So we need your feedback about what we need to do to take our movement to the next level.
Now, the board will be working closely with the steering committee of leaders across the Federation as well as our consultant, Mission Minded, and you may have heard of Mission Minded. A number of years ago, they were the organization that helped us with our branding in 2013. They're helping us with our strategic planning process. And so you will get an opportunity if you take advantage of it to engage with some of the Mission Minded team.
This process is going to help us set the next level of commitments, investments we need to make to build our organization for the future.
Our strategic plan will be something that we talk about at our 2023 convention when it's done. We'll certainly be talking about everybody getting involved in the strategic plan at our convention coming up in New Orleans.
Part of that is the opportunity that our board has decided to pursue to investigate the feasibility of putting together a museum of the blind people's movement. And we are getting to the end of a feasibility study here leading up to the convention. So we'll be talking more about the idea of a museum at the convention. As we finish this feasibility study, the prospects for our organization, establishing a museum to highlight the triumphs of blind people, elevate the voices and individual stories of blind people, is really looking positive.
Each and every one of you can today start contributing and help to contribute to that effort by redoubling our efforts to make sure we're archiving the records of the organization. Plan to do oral histories with key people in your chapters and affiliates that we don't want to miss capturing their story. Make sure you're gathering documents and highlighting the achievements of blind people in your local community, and get those in to our archive here in Baltimore.
Another call for affiliates to assign affiliate historians. You don't have to be an expert in how to preserve records; you simply have to be a champion to want to preserve the stories of blind people.
I'm really excited about this because the stories of the people of this movement provide such rich content for learning but also for educating the general public about the capacity of blind people. So that will be certainly part of our strategic direction, and again, we'll be urging Federation members to participate in that. Please, please, continue to maintain, store, archive the history and records at the local level and make sure they get into our National Archives here in Baltimore.
The board of directors in May passed a recommendation to the national convention to amend the constitution of the National Federation of the Blind. The recommendation of the board has been published in the June issue of the Braille Monitor, in plenty of time for members to review it before it gets voted on at the national convention. This amendment is to the membership section of the constitution, and it helps to clarify the process for having the board manage the responsibility of taking action, disciplinary action, against individual members as well as it codifies our Code of Conduct as a requirement within the constitution, and it specifies the process for appealing decisions of the board to the national convention. And in the last year, one of the questions we've dealt with in our constitution is if someone has an individual matter that gets brought to the convention, how do we protect especially the sensitive details for survivors that might have been impacted in those cases.
The board believes that the amendment that is being proposed strikes the right balances for the organization, clarifies the responsibility of the board and what the process is, and provides a clear mechanism for members to continue to contribute to that.
So I encourage chapters to review that constitutional amendment, talk about it in advance of the national convention, and our board unanimously urges members of the Federation attending the convention to support this important amendment to our constitution.
We have a number of advocacy things going on, and one of our continuous efforts has been to document ride denials by individuals who are using the Uber ridesharing service. We are investigating denials of blind individuals who travel with a service animal or white cane. If you use Uber or for that matter if you use Uber through one of the third-party services such as Go Go Grandparent or via paratransit or some other third-party provider or if you use somebody else's Uber account to take rides and you've had a denial, we need to hear from you, continue to hear from you, about your individual stories so we can document them and continue our accountability work with Uber.
So the NFB would like to hear from you, and you can contact Valerie Yingling at our legal email address, which is [email protected], or you can reach Valerie at extension 2440 here at our national office, which if you don't know that number, (410)659-9314.
Our advocacy efforts in D.C. are continuing at a strong pace. Since our last presidential release, we've picked up 16 cosponsors on our suite of bills that we have in Congress. The Access Technology Affordability Act, HR431 in the House has gained five new cosponsors. Congratulations to the affiliates in Tennessee, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota for gaining cosponsors there.
Our Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act, HR4853, has picked up six new cosponsors. Congratulations to the affiliates of California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Florida, and Maryland. Maryland picking up two cosponsors on that bill. So thank you for the efforts there.
And Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, HR2373, we have picked up five new cosponsors, and thank you to the states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kansas, and California, as well as Washington for picking up new cosponsors.
The House and Senate will be back in session next week. So the week of June 6th. And they will remain in session through our national convention. So there is plenty of time to pour on the steam and get even more cosponsors going in to our national convention. We are already at a total record number of cosponsors across our bills. And by the time we get to convention, if we can pick up at the same pace, we will be in a really good position to move some of our bills before we get to the midterm elections in November. So keep up the great work. Congratulations on the latest cosponsors, but don't let the rest of the members of Congress off the hook. If you need support on pitching these bills, visit our website legislative page, and also reach out to our advocacy team.
I want to give you one more reminder before we get to the convention about our Give 20 campaign. This is our spring in the summer fundraising effort, where for every $20 that you give in our Give 20 campaign, you get entered to win an important drawing for an opportunity to come to our 2023 national convention. Or if for some reason you want to take the alternate prize, the less important prize, you can take a cash prize. But more importantly, your $20, every $20, supports the continued work of the National Federation of the Blind for blind people in this country to live the life they want.
Our Give 20 campaign this year has added some additional opportunities for you to get chances to win. Well, first of all, you gotta give 20. Or 40. Or 100 or more. For every 20 you give, you get an entry into the drawing. Once you've given, if you're also going to the national convention in person and you send your COVID test in in advance of the convention, you will get one additional entry into the drawing. Now, in addition to that, if you take the opportunity to make a video and post it to social media, what we call a movement moment video, you will get one additional chance to win. So once you give, you can continue to get a couple of other chances to win based on those activities. So you do encourage you first and foremost to go to www.NFB.org/give20 and provide the funding that the Federation needs. And also you certainly should encourage your friends and family to give 20 as well. So when you give, post it in social media.
I have an announcement from our Code of Conduct feedback committee, which was established this year as part of the revision of our Code of Conduct. The committee is asking to hear from Federation members feedback on the Code of Conduct specifically on both how well the process works for those who have participated in the process, and about the provisions of the code, the training that's provided, how clear the information is. The committee wants to hear all of those things.
The committee will be putting forth a number of opportunities for Federation members to provide feedback on the code, and some of those opportunities will be coming up at the national convention.
The committee will be having office hours during the national convention, and the office hours will be an opportunity for you to come and meet with a member of the committee to provide your feedback and share your experiences if you are interested in doing so.
Those interested in meeting during the office hours of the convention are asked to schedule their appointment by emailing codefeedba[email protected], or calling (410)659-9314 and dialing extension 2284.
Now, when you leave a message or send an email, please request an appointment, and you should do that by June 30th so that they can be scheduled in time for the convention.
Now, if you're not coming to the convention, you can still share your feedback at that phone number and email address any time. If something occurs to you, if you come across something that's not clear, share your feedback with the committee. The committee is charged with making recommendations to the board of directors about how to best implement the Code of Conduct, socialize it, and improvements that need to be made on an ongoing basis based on the feedback of Federation members. So please participate in that at any time when you have feedback on the organization's Code of Conduct.
Now, we are having a national convention, and most of you have already registered for the convention. It's too late now to register online. So if you're thinking of registering in person for the convention, you will have to do that in New Orleans. However, if you have already decided for whatever reason you cannot be at the convention in person, I do encourage you to sign up for the NFB '22 virtual experience. This is the way that we will be delivering online streaming content of the convention, and if you register for the virtual experience, you will be eligible, for example, for special door prizes for our virtual convention experience attendees.
Now, while the online registration for the in-person convention is closed, the virtual experience registration will remain open up to and through the convention until on-site registration closes. But don't wait till then. If you go on now, NFB.org/convention, to sign up for the virtual experience, you'll get emails and information updating you on the virtual sessions for the convention.
Now, I want to be clear: We are not having a hybrid convention. We are having an in-person convention. But we are providing streaming of certain activities at the convention. Every day there will be some virtual component available to those participating in the virtual experience, and of course as we have done in the past, all of the general sessions of the convention. So please register. It will make you eligible for door prizes and other benefits of the convention. Again, www.NFB.org/convention to find that information, and I should say that the registration for the virtual experience is free. So if you're going to listen in any way, please participate in the registration process.
Now, thank you to our NFB blind Muslims group, because our group is again providing Zoom training for individuals during this month. This is something that happened last year, and really appreciate the blind Muslims group taking on offering their time to provide Zoom training drop-in hours for the convention. Of course you don't have to use it to get ready for the convention, but if you're learning to get some Zoom experience, the convention is a great way to get ready for using those skills.
The training, the drop-in hours will be offered on June 18 from 1:00-4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. To participate in that, you do have to get on Zoom, and the meeting ID for the training is 867 7955 6646. Thank you again to our group for the generosity of providing this training.
If you need to find those details later, you can also find it at www.NFB.org/convention.
Now, many of you are wondering about the convention agenda. It will be available in the middle of the month. Don't worry, it's coming. We have a lot of information to still pack into it. It will also be available on the crowd compass app which if you register will be available to you. Our group and NFB-NEWSLINE will also like do you know that the convention agenda will be available on NFB-NEWSLINE once it is publicly released, and you can read the agenda in all of the ways that you can get NEWSLINE. If you're on the telephone, you'll want to go press 5 on the main menu. And then press 5 again. And then follow the prompts from there. You can also get it in the mobile app of course. So look for that information. And please participate fully in the hundreds of meetings at the convention. So you really need the agenda as your guide to know where to be at what time.
And for those coming to the convention, of course the agenda will be available in all the traditional formats.
Now, one aspect of convention, you know, some things change but some things stay the same. And one thing that stays the same is we will be having door prizes. And so I want to encourage chapters and affiliates to send in door prizes. However, the last 2 years we've been collecting door prizes differently. So I want to remind you that while we're requesting door prizes for this year's national convention, we're going to ask you to bring those to New Orleans, or to send them ahead of time depending on what they are. So all cash door prizes and gift cards should be brought directly to the convention and should be given to our door prize master, Bennett Prous. Cash or gift cards, please bring those directly to New Orleans and give them to the door prize team.
For those that because we're in person are seeking again to donate products or baskets or other cool things, you can send those items ahead of time to Louisiana, and you can send those to Tami Green at the NFB of Louisiana at this address: 4401 Kennon Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70122. So please send your door prizes in.
If you want to reach out with questions, you can contact Bennett, our door prize master, by writing to [email protected] with any questions you may have. Thank you for contributing door prizes. It's an exciting part of the convention. And again, there will be door prizes for our virtual attendees who are registered.
I want to take just a moment to talk about the convention and our COVID protocols. You know, it's been some time since we've been together in person, and the board of directors has considered carefully what we need to do as a community, a family, to make sure that everyone who wants to attend the convention can do so safely. Now, we know that there's many variations across the country about what's asked of people going into public places and opinions about what it's going to take to keep people safe. Our board has set one priority, and that is, it is the responsibility of all of us attending the convention to make sure that each and every one of our Federation family members can have a safe and meaningful convention experience. And so we have set some COVID protocols to try to align first and foremost to that priority. So at our convention, two things are really important: We're asking that all attendees participate. The first is that we are going to observe masking in all of the convention public areas, in the meetings, in the general sessions. We're going to ask all attendees to wear masks, to make sure that we maximize the safety for all attendees.
Secondly, we're asking that every single person attending the convention gets a COVID test and produces to us a COVID test that is negative. Now, you can get the details about our COVID protocols and all the details at www.NFB.org/convention. I encourage you to study them closely. The board has thought this through extensively to try to make the convention environment as safe and welcoming for everyone as we know the COVID numbers have been going up. We consulted with experts out there, including talking to companies that do COVID testing. We believe the protocols that we've set are going to maximize safety for everyone at the convention.
Now, let me give you a little more detail about the COVID protocols, because I know we've already gotten a lot of questions in advance of this release about that. So masking. We will be providing masks. Of course we encourage people to bring their own, and we will respectfully ask that people mask in the exhibit hall and in public areas of the hotel when not eating and drinking, and in the meetings. And again, this is something that each and every one of us can do to make sure that we're all safe. I personally had the opportunity to talk with some of the leading companies providing COVID tests, and they really reiterated to me in terms of our convention that masking is one of the best things that we can do to encourage the safety and health of all of our attendees.
Of course we do encourage vaccinations, but also hand washing and good practices in that regard. Our hotels have plenty of hand sanitizer stations available. We encourage you to bring your own and make wise decisions about helping to reduce the germs in the convention environment.
Now, if you're coming to convention, we do and will require from you a negative COVID test before you will be permitted to participate in convention meetings in the hotel. So I do encourage as many people as possible to get a COVID test in advance of coming to New Orleans. First of all, always a good idea before you travel anyway, just to be sure. You can take that COVID test up to 72 hours before your check in at the hotel. You don't have to take a test in advance of the convention, but we do encourage you to because there will be some incentives for those who test in advance, plus you won't have to wait in line for that component at the convention.
So a lot of questions about the specifics of testing. We do strongly encourage you to test in advance. We will accept both a laboratory test, a PCR test, or a rapid antigen test. We will accept an at-home test. We ask you to send your test results in advance via email to [email protected]. And again, I'm sharing this with you. All of this is available in detail on our convention page. So if you're sending your results in advance, or if you're taking a test in advance, you can send your results to [email protected], including your full name as you are registered because we're going to match that to your registration record.
Now, you can also bring your proof of negative test directly to the convention. If you're taking an at-home test, of course you'll need to take a picture of that test because they tend to expire after 15 minutes or something. So you'll need to take a picture and send that time-stamped picture to [email protected].
Now, as part of this effort, our friends at IRA have agreed to assist convention attendees with testing and submitting their test results. So you will be able to use IRA in that window, 72 hours before coming to the convention, to take your test, get the results, and have it submitted to us in the proper form.
So photos, screen shots, electronic documents, as well as paper documents are all acceptable.
And you will need to of course produce an individual test for each person that is registered.
Let's see. A couple other details. You don't have to test in advance. You can come to the convention, and we will provide you with an opportunity to test. We are onboarding a third-party provider to do the testing at the convention. And that testing will first be available on the afternoon of Monday, July 4th, and that detail we will disseminate more details about that as we get closer to the convention. But starting July 4th in the afternoon you'll be able to come to the convention and take a test. Those tests will take 20 minutes. And again, until you have tested and we've gotten a negative test, you will not be able to participate in convention meetings.
How is that going to happen, you may wonder? Well, once you produce a negative COVID test, you will get an orange wristband that has Braille on it, and that indicates to convention, anyone in the convention, that you have taken the COVID test and have tested negative.
Now, you will need that wristband to pick up your convention registration materials. And don't miss this fact: You will be able to pick up your convention registration materials on July 5th. I know, get back in your seat, that's a change. Convention registration will be open on July 5th. So if you haven't picked up your registration materials yet, you can go to meetings as long as you have the wristband. Attendees will have to wear the wristband or their name badge, which you can't get without the wristband, during all convention meetings. Of course you can wear both if you want. The wristband is pretty cool. And I'm pretty excited that we're extending registration this year to open on July 5th. But remember, if you test at the convention, you're going to have to wait in line, so please consider testing in advance. We are providing some incentives for those who test in advance will be eligible for possibly winning some gift cards, of course not waiting in line as long, and if you also give 20, you'll get a bonus there. So you can really help out in all ways by testing in advance. But if you can't, it's okay, we're prepared to test you at the convention. And if you should need a test later in the convention, we will have resources to be able to guide you to where to get a COVID test.
Again, all of this is on our website.
A few other notes. Some have asked, well, if I'm bringing a young child to the convention, do they have to test. Well, yes, they can carry COVID just like anybody else. So anybody participating in the convention that's going to be in convention meetings will have to be tested, and especially if you're going to put your child into NFB Camp, they will have to take a test to be there.
I've already said you must be tested before participating in convention sessions. I think I've probably covered all of these other points. Anybody who is going to be participating in aspects of the convention will need to be tested.
Here's the most important thing. Together we can all make coming back together a great experience for each and every member of the Federation. For some of us, this will be the first time coming out, traveling anywhere in 2 years. For others of us, maybe we've been traveling quite a bit. We're much more comfortable with it. I would really ask every member of the organization to take very seriously our responsibility to each other. We all should have patience. We've been cooped up for a long time. We should remember that in-person conventions anywhere present challenges. The elevators are slow. The lines for food are long. The meeting rooms are hard to find. Whatever it is. I encourage each and every one of us to remember that we have the joy of being in person together, and each and every one of us can do a lot to make sure that the convention is a great experience. And just talking about the convention, I'm truly, truly excited about being together again.
Now, if you're tuned in now and you're thinking, oh, I made a mistake, I should have planned to come to New Orleans, I want to come. Well, you can still come. It's too late to do your online registration, but you can register on July 5th when you show up at the convention, or even after that. But you still need a room. And there are still some rooms available. And we have gotten the Sheraton to extend our room block for an extra week. The Marriott is full. But the Sheraton has rooms, and if you are thinking, man, I wish I would have gotten a room, now is your chance. You have just another week or so to get a room. In fact, you have until June 11th to get a room at our enviable convention rate of $109 per night. Rooms outside of our hotel block, we've been seeing prices anywhere from $199 to $289 per night. So if you want to still come to the convention, you can get a room at the Sheraton. It's a great hotel. It has some advantages. That is where our exhibit hall is going to be, right down from the elevators at the Sheraton. And for those coffee drinkers, the Starbucks is there in the lobby of the Sheraton. And I note that IRA provides free service there as well. So many advantages to staying at the Sheraton. But you want to call them soon before the block closes again. You can call (888)627-7033. That number again, (888)627-7033. And you can ask to book a room for the NFB convention. I do hope some of you make a last-minute decision to come to the convention. I'm really excited. I got a little peak at the registration numbers. It's going to be a great convention. And I'm just so excited about being back together.
A couple other convention notes since we're talking about it here on this live release. Registration for our NFB career fair will be ending on June 21st. Remember, if you want to participate in the career fair at the in-person convention, you do have a separate registration process and you will have to show that you've gone through that separate registration process. Again, www.NFB.org/convention to find information about the career fair. We have some great employers participating this year, so, you know, the story is there's lots of jobs out there and fewer people in the job market, so great opportunity for us to get more blind people employed with employers that are eager to hire blind people.
If you are registered for the convention and bringing children to the convention, reminder that NFB Camp is available. This is our childcare system and we do encourage you to register your kids for NFB camp. It is available for children 6 weeks to 12 years of age. It is provided during the preconvention meetings on the 5th as well as general sessions and the banquet. So if you're interested in that again, visit our convention page. None of the Riccobono kids are coming to the convention this year, boo hoo, but they have enjoyed NFB Camp over the years. And you can find details on our convention page.
Quick note to say that congratulations to our 30 scholarship finalists in the National Federation of the Blind. We put out a press release which you can see on our website, see the great aspirations of our 30 finalists, and we will look forward to meeting them at the convention during the board meeting and around the convention. If you want a preview of our finalists, always a great highlight, you can go to the NFB home page and read the press release. And looking forward also to having many of our 2020 and 2021 scholarship winners attending the convention in person for the first time this year. So remember to congratulate them in person because it will be our first opportunity for many of us to congratulate them.
Now, I want to talk to you real quickly about the PAC plan. Our Pre-Authorized Contribution program. This is an ongoing way that each of us can contribute to providing the Federation with discretionary funds to do the work that we need to do.
Now, each and every one of you, whether you're contributing to the pack program or not, can make a difference by participating in our PAC survey. The PAC committee is gathering information about the PAC program, and you can give feedback by taking the survey which is really important. I'm looking for the information here. You can complete the survey which the team says will only take you 5 minutes. And again, whether you're contributing currently to PAC or not, you can take this survey by this Friday, which is June 3rd, Elizabeth Riccobono's birthday. You can take the survey, and please share this notice with members. Get as many people as possible to give us feedback on the PAC program by Friday of this week. You can kind the survey at www.NFB.org/PAC or you can take it via telephone. If you take the survey via telephone, using our telephone survey system that we established last year, you will call this number: (229)632-7878. You can also reach that toll free at (833)632-7878. And please note that the phone number provides the survey in an automated system, and it will require you to go all the way through the survey to complete your answers. You can pause it if you need to do that for 5 minutes at a time, but you will want to go all the way through the telephone survey to make sure that your answers are recorded.
Please participate in the survey. It really helps our PAC committee at continuing to improve our program so that we can get more dollars into the organization.
I do want to take a moment also to welcome the newest contributors to the PAC program from the NFB of Colorado, our aurora chapter, and from the NFB of California, the Riverside San Bernardino chapter. Thank you for contributing to the Pre-Authorized Contribution program.
We also have a new individual who has committed to our Dream Makers Circle. The Dream Makers Circle is a way to make an end-of-life gift commitment to the National Federation of the Blind. It's really easy to do and it's a great way to help the Federation be part of your legacy going forward. Thank you very much to Austin Michael Colliers of Roanoke, Virginia, for being the newest member to commit to the Dream Makers Circle.
I do have a few Federation family notes to share with you here on this release. I do regret to inform you that the District of Columbia, Shawn Callaway, our President there, has let us know of the passing of two members: Jackie Kelly and Jaquita Patrick passed away during the last month.
Illinois informs us of the passing of Edwin Rodriguez, who has been a member in our Illinois affiliate going sometime back. He passed away on May 21st.
Now there's some hard passings to let you know -- they're all difficult, but some of these are more difficult than others. And I do need to let you know that in the last month we mourned the loss of Joe Ruffalo of New Jersey, who passed away quietly on May 3rd at his home surrounded by friends and family. Joe's passing came after a long struggle with cancer which was the result of exposure to agent orange during the Vietnam War. And so definitely on the heels of Memorial Day, thinking a lot about Joe Ruffalo. Joe was a long-time leader in the National Federation of the Blind, served as President for many years of our New Jersey affiliate as well as on our national board in many, many capacities, honored to have served with Joe on our national board. He had struggled the last couple of years. We were all hopeful that we would get to enjoy a national convention with him in person. Unfortunately that didn't happen. I had the honor of going with some of my colleagues from Baltimore to his funeral.
Also I need to let you know about the passing of Jeannie Massey of Oklahoma on May 21st. Jeannie was 52 years old. You may know that Jeannie was serving as President of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma, and as our treasurer on the national board. Jeannie has struggled for quite a while with a number of health concerns, but since very early this year has spent considerable time in the hospital. And in April she had a fall and broke her hip and was never really able to recover. This is a very hard loss. Again, all of them are hard, but especially losing one of our officers currently serving has touched a lot of people. I had the opportunity to attend Jeannie's funeral in Oklahoma along with other members of the board of directors and members of our affiliate there had the blessing of meeting Jeannie's family. And I did have the opportunity in April to go to Oklahoma to visit with Jeannie while she was in the hospital. She put up a very good fight, and she would want all of you to know how proud she is of this organization and how much she believes in each and every one of you and each and every one of us and wants us to continue the fight in her memory.
I should also share with you that she did join the Dream Makers Circle this year before she passed.
We're keeping all of these members in our thoughts and prayers. I have one more to share with you, and that is the loss of Don Banning from Louisiana. Don was a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. He served as second Vice President. He was a retired teacher of blind students, made significant contributions to the organization in so many ways. I know he was very much looking forward to being at the state convention which happened in person in April, and he didn't make it there and unfortunately won't be with us in New Orleans.
I do encourage you to keep all of these great Federation leaders and those I may not know about in your thoughts and prayers. We will also have the opportunity to remember them at our national convention.
I do have one joyous bit of Federation family news to share with you as we come close to the end of this release, and this comes from Kyle Keiper of Arkansas, who celebrates news from the central Arkansas chapter that our member there, Joshua Gillespie and his wife Emily were joined by the newest member of the NFB of Arkansas on May 5th. Madeline Ray Gillespie came into the world on that day weighing 6 pounds and 8 ounces. So I would welcome Madeline as the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind, and congratulations to the proud parents, outstanding members of our central Arkansas chapter.
Pam, I think that's what I have for the release right now. I'm throwing it back to you.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. Thank you, President Riccobono. A lot of great information tonight covered. So thank you so much, and I know you answered a lot of the questions already that we've been getting. As you mentioned, we had a lot of questions about convention logistics.
But before we get into our other questions this evening --
MARK RICCOBONO: More questions?
PAM ALLEN: I know! Believe it or not! Thank you, everyone, for submitting such wonderful questions for our release tonight. Just wanted to share our updates on our polls. Our first poll question was related to parental rights advocacy. I know it's an issue very important to all of us in the National Federation of the Blind, and 34% feel really positively about parental rights and have parental rights legislation in their state. And 28% say that it's a priority and something they're working on right now in their state. So really this is definitely an issue that is so critical to all of us. And so thanks for sharing your thoughts on that, and keep up the great work on our parental rights bills that we're all working so diligently to pass nationwide.
Our second question was what is your favorite summer vacation spot.
MARK RICCOBONO: New Orleans!
PAM ALLEN: That's definitely ours. That's how we all would have answered that question. And we are not alone, because 30% of people said "wherever the convention is located that year."
And we also have a lot of beach lovers in our midst.
MARK RICCOBONO: Nice.
PAM ALLEN: You can't beat that for sure. A top vote getter as well.
So just a couple questions, President Riccobono. First question relates to just concerning COVID testing on site. If someone gets to convention and they have chosen to test on site and they have a positive test, what would happen?
MARK RICCOBONO: Ah, well, obviously a positive test, there are many things to consider. We do have the hotel has procedures for individuals who test positive and desire to quarantine at the hotel. They have procedures for, well, they have a special rate that they extend to people, especially if you have to extend your stay because of COVID. And they have a number of protocols.
Obviously once you've tested positive, you will want to quarantine and we will notify the hotel and they will help provide the resources there. That obviously is a risk we take in traveling. We hope that it doesn't happen to any of us, and we will do our best as an organization and I'm sure our host affiliate to connect you with local resources. It's one reason that we would encourage you to test in advance, because it's not sure proof, but if you test in advance and do you test positive, at least you can decide to stay in the comfort of your own home. So we hope that no one tests positive, but, you know, that's the nature of COVID and viruses. Somebody will somewhere. And so we will get you connected with the hotel and the resources there.
Now, if we learn of someone testing positive who is part of a delegation, we will let the delegation know that someone in that delegation has tested positive. We will not share anybody's name unless of course the person says sure, share my name. But we will let the delegate from an affiliate know if there's someone from that delegation who has tested positive during the convention.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great.
And another question we had was in respect to any updates on accessible at-home COVID tests.
MARK RICCOBONO: I wish I had good news. Well, I do have good news. And that is, they're working on it. The problem is, you can't get them right now. There are some tests out there that are more usable than others, but most of them require use of a smartphone. So they're not on the market yet. But the government has heard what we have said. In fact, we have a standing weekly meeting with the government research folks who are working on this, our team here at the Jernigan Institute meets with them on a weekly basis. So there are many options for you to get an at-home test. And again, if you have a smartphone, you will be able to use IRA to help you administer that at-home test. You can usually go to your local pharmacy or urgent care, and if you have insurance, they will usually cover it. Some people go to -- there are COVID testing sites in airports typically where you can get a test before you fly, and if you have the right insurance, your insurance may cover that. So there are options. But again, IRA is a great option and you still have time I think maybe you can get it in under the wire if you want to order a government-provided test. It might show up by the time of the convention. But again, if for some reason you can't get your hands on a test, can't figure it out, we will test you at the convention.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. And question, I know that you addressed this to a degree already, but we had a question about since mask mandates have been lifted throughout the country, what was the NFB board's thoughts concerning mandatory masking at convention?
MARK RICCOBONO: I know it's a common question we get. Again, the board had to consider all of our members coming to the convention, and all of the factors in terms of us having a diverse membership, where some of our members have higher risk factors. And still want the experience, the opportunity, and the joy of being at the convention. So in our work, we determined that the best thing that each of us can do to make the convention environment as safe as possible is masking. So we do encourage everybody to mask. And we hope that it's a sacrifice that everybody can make in order to protect each and every one of us. And again, in my personal conversations with testing entities and folks that build the test, masking is a really important factor. So I know it's hard sometimes to be masked all day. Trust me. I've been in many all-day situations wearing a mask. I encourage people to get good masks. And we will have disposable masks available. And if it's something that is uncomfortable for you, plan to take breaks.
For me, of course I've been in plenty of situations where I've been masking for long periods of time, but being at the convention, number one, it's worth it. Number two, helping to do my part to keep other members of the Federation safe makes it worth it. So I do encourage people to understand, this is something that we all feel as a board will help make our convention as safe as possible. The last thing we want is to have our convention get labeled as a super spreader event.
Now, maybe there's nothing that can prevent that, but the research that we've done, this is one of the most important things we can do. And we thought it was an important thing to do. We appreciate that for some people it's a sacrifice. We know there's a lot of opinions about masking and the issues with it. It's not a political issue for us. It's a family issue. And so I do thank each and every one of you for making that commitment and making our convention a good experience.
PAM ALLEN: For those members attending the virtual convention, we had a question if there will be a skill available to listen via an Amazon device.
MARK RICCOBONO: Some of you may have already encountered that our Amazon skill to listen to the presidential release has not been available. We are working on fixing that. The streaming service that we were using has changed that has impacted making the presidential release available for the last couple months. We will have the Amazon skill available for the convention, so you will be able to listen through that mechanism.
Now, don't forget to register, though, because you won't be eligible for the virtual door prizes. So please register. The skill will be available. And we will publicize all of the other ways it will be available, YouTube and that sort of thing. So we will certainly publicize that information closer to the convention. But the best way to be up-to-date is to register for the virtual experience.
PAM ALLEN: Now, this question is not convention related, but it's related to sports, actually, and access. Question about how we can work with sports announcers and sports casters to announce what's happening, which team scored points. Are there any suggestions you have to help make sure those announcing sporting is events are descriptive in their announcing and broadcasting?
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, you know, I don't think there's an organized mechanism to do that. What I would encourage you to do is reach out to particular broadcasters or broadcast systems that aren't as good. I have my favorite baseball radio announcers who are really good at describing the play and I have some I think are horrible. So I think as a consumer, you can give feedback and input to that about what would make it better. Like any profession, some people are better at it than others. So that's I think the suggestion I would give in that regard.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Now, and this question, and again, we really appreciate everyone who has submitted questions in all a variety of ways. If we did not have a chance to get to your question directly, our outstanding communications team will be following up to get those answers. So thank you again so much, everyone.
Our final question tonight, President Riccobono, is related to our membership coin. I know you shared about wristbands and our name badges for attending events. And we had a question, if a membership coin would be needed to be presented for convention events and if you could share a little bit about the significance of our membership coin.
MARK RICCOBONO: Sure. So anyone who becomes a member of the National Federation of the Blind will receive our membership coin. I don't know if that was an official challenge, Pam, because I don't actually have -- maybe I do. I do have my coin! I thought I didn't have it, but I do have it. Good, I'm safe.
PAM ALLEN: That's right. We knew you would.
MARK RICCOBONO: I'm safe. So the membership coin is something that you get by becoming a member of the Federation, and it's something that's a token that you can carry to show not just that you're a member but your pride in being a member of the Federation.
Now, there's not a requirement to carry it. I do it as a matter of pride. And once in a while your colleagues may challenge you to show your coin, especially if you have some running wager that if you don't have your coin you have to give a candy bar or something. But I would encourage you to carry your coin at the convention. There's no place that it's required, but you never know when some activity might break out with the membership coin. So and people find creative things to do with the membership coin. I know that when I go around with Federation members and take a picture, I often pull my membership coin out and hold it up. So I would encourage you to carry it. It's a badge of pride to be a member, and especially when you come across people at the convention who are not yet members, you can show it to them and talk about the importance of it. And of course the letters TGR on it and what that means to us, the word "together." It's just a cool thing to do. So I would encourage you to carry your membership coin with you to convention. You never know what may happen. Some people use it as a way to cheer during the convention.
PAM ALLEN: I got mine right here too. I think that's a great note upon to end this evening. Speaking about being together.
Thank you so much, President Riccobono, for all the great info and the questions. And again, we are, Roland and I, and Louisiana, excited to welcome everybody in just a few weeks.
Thank you for being with us tonight, and we will not be having a July presidential release as we will all be heading to NFB '22. So mark your calendars for our next presidential release live on Tuesday, August 2, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You can contact President Riccobono at (410)659-9314 or via email at [email protected].
Thank you, and I'll toss it back to you, President Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Pam.
This brings me to the end of this presidential release, and I'm pretty excited because that means the next step is our national convention. I do encourage you to come by the presidential suite if you're going to be at the convention, say hello. I'm looking forward to shaking hands and being in the same space with thousands of Federation members.
I do want to acknowledge that in the Federation as we do our work and as we emerge back into local communities, we still have a lot of challenges around us in society. I know that a number of our communities have been dealing with significant trauma from mass shootings. I would encourage us as we go out into the world, that we use the spirit of love and imagination that we get from the National Federation of the Blind to spread that spirit in our local communities and to bring the sense of optimism and hope and determination and togetherness that we find in this movement to other places. So my heart goes out to those in local communities who are dealing with some of these tragedies, and I know it has had an impact on some of our Federation chapters. So I just wanted to acknowledge that here as we come to the end of our June release. Looking forward to a great month and to our national convention.
But before we get there, we have our customary endings.
Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!
SPEAKER: Hi, I'm going to tell you a joke. Why can't you tell an egg a joke?
SPEAKER: How come?
SPEAKER: It will crack up.
SPEAKER: Hi, I'm Oriana Riccobono and I have two jokes: Why can't pirates get past the alphabet? Because they're stuck at C.
How do you get a squirrel to like you?
SPEAKER: Act like a nut.
SPEAKER: Wow. You know it's summertime, right? Did you know there's a theory that mayonnaise makes everything taste better?
SPEAKER: I didn't hear about that one.
SPEAKER: Yeah, it's cold-slaw.
Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.