Presidential Release 519, September 2022 (English Transcript) - Chapter Version

This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings
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MARK RICCOBONO:  Greetings, fellow Federationists.  Today is Thursday, September 1, 2022, and this is presidential release number 519.  Here from our national headquarters with our 91st leadership seminar in attendance.  

That was a cue.


Many of us are dealing with back to school, but also the Federation is back to building across the country.  Just got back from our first set of fall conventions last week and a little ahead of fall.  And a lot of great things are happening.  Of course we had a great summer in the National Federation of the Blind, but we are ready for fall, where we will be accelerating the pace of progress through in-person meetings and many other activities to build our movement.

I have a number of things to share on this release.  First I want to acknowledge that September is national guide dog month.  This really is an opportunity for us to kick off our promotion of independent travel and freedom for the blind that's going to lead us right into blind equality achievement month in October.  Wanted to really elevate on this release our National Association of Guide Dog Users, also known as NAGDU to some.  And our division has a great wealth of information and resources on the NAGDU website.  That's

Also, our President of NAGDU, Raul from Texas, reminds us of the great things they talk about on the listserv.

Now, back to school time is always an interesting one.  As a blind parent of three children, two of whom are blind, I know well the difficulties that come with back to school and trying to navigate all of the access to information issues that come up.  And of course that's really on top of all of the normal adjustments that any parent has to make during the back to school process.

I want to remind Federation members, whether you're dealing with the back to school or whether you're supporting folks in your chapter who are dealing with it, the Federation has a number of important resources that can be helpful in this process on our website at  There's a bunch of them on our home page elevated for this back to school time.  One of them is a blind parent's essential guide to effective communication from public and private schools.  You can find that in both English and Spanish.

Also we have the self-advocacy in higher education tool kit for our blind students that are navigating colleges and universities.

And whether you're a parent or a blind student, you can participate in our ongoing efforts to gather information about nonvisual access barriers to educational technology.  This is our educational technology accessibility survey which is always available on our website.  We try to gather information about educational technologies from kindergarten through graduate school.  It's there all the time.  We want you to go there every semester or really anytime you're encountering a new educational technology.  It's part of our monitoring effort.  Let us know what's working and what's not working.  We want to know both so that we can track the trends and know who to talk to, know who to hold up as good examples.  We use this in our advocacy work, in our education work, and also sometimes in our legal work.  So please go to, find that educational tech survey, and complete it.

I want to let you know on this release, the free standard COVID tests provided to Americans is coming to an end on September 2nd.  Which is tomorrow.  The number of tests that have been made available for blind people will remain available after September 2nd, assuming that supplies still last.  So don't assume just because you've heard that the government program is ended that there aren't still tests available for blind people.

Now, online ordering for the government-sponsored tests for blind people was shut down for a short time because, get this, nonblind people were taking the tests.  Yeah.  But the government fixed that.  So the online ordering is now up, and you can order by calling 1-800-232-0233 or find the online form for the coved tests that are available to blind people.  You can find details about the online website at  And we'll continue to promote that as long as we know that those tests are available to blind people.

We will be working with industry partners and others to find ways to continue to make accessible COVID tests available to blind people across the country.  We continue to encourage insurance companies to sponsor accessible COVID testing, and there will certainly be more on this topic from the Federation in the time going forward.

Also want to call out that on our COVID test page, you can find a survey there that you can give us feedback and information about your experience with at home COVID testing.  Again, very helpful with our advocacy efforts.

The Federation, as part of our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives has launched a new web page to centralize some of the resources, articles, and things that our organization is working on in the DEI initiative. This includes the 5-year diversity calendar that we made available earlier this year to help chapters and affiliates with planning and avoiding conflicts on certain important holidays.

You can get to the new diversity page by going to the "get involved" section of our website at, or you can navigate directly to, and I would certainly encourage you to give feedback to our diversity, equity, and inclusion committee about other resources that we should post there to help build the Federation.

You've heard me say a number of times that the Federation is engaging in a strategic planning process during the next year.  We are currently in what's called the SCAN phase of our strategic planning work.  Our consultants at Mission Minded are gathering information about the state of affairs across the nation for blind people and the conditions for blind people conducting a number of telephone interviews and talking with members across the Federation.  Mission Minded is our consultant and they're working with the steering committee of Federation members that the board has put together that will advise the process and make recommendations to the board.

As part of that process, the SCAN process, or what you might think of in traditional strategic planning is the SWOT analysis, we are going to be conducting a survey.  I'm letting you know this now because there's a very tight window on the survey.  The survey is going to be running from September 19th through the end of that week, the 25th.  So I really am asking you to carve out 15 minutes during that week.  And even if you're hearing this release at your chapter meeting during the fourth Saturday of the month, you still have a day or so to fill out the survey.  Carve out 15 minutes to go online, and we will be disseminating the survey widely across the NFB listservs.  Or you can call in on our telephone survey system.  Your feedback, your voice is really so valuable in this process, and it would make a big difference if you would take the time to fill this survey out.  So please, plan to do that.  Plan to be part of it.  And plan to socialize it with your chapter members.  Help others in the Federation fill it out who made need assistance.

Again, you'll be able to find the link at our website and through email over the coming weeks, but if you need to take it via the telephone, it will be available to everybody at our telephone survey number which you've heard: (229)632-7878.  If for some reason you do need a toll free option, that's (833)632-7878.  Please fill out the survey and be part of our strategic planning process.

Now, the United States Senate will be back in session beginning on September 6th and remaining in session for the rest of the month.  The U.S. House of Representatives will be back in session beginning September 13th through the end of the month.  This is a great opportunity for you to utilize September to help convince members of Congress to cosponsor our initiatives.  We do believe, we're optimistic that we will see some additional bill movement including introduction of some new bills for us during this month, but the most important thing is that you reach out to members of Congress to get support for our bills.  That momentum is going to be really important going into the election in the next Congress.  We believe that we have some good opportunities to get at least one of our bills passed before the end of the congressional session.  So please keep on the steam, keep holding them accountable, and get those cosponsors in.  It is not too late.  And if nothing else, we want a good momentum going in to the elections and into the next Congress.
And speaking of the midterm elections that are happening across the country this November, I want to encourage every member of the National Federation of the Blind to get out and vote!  In getting out to vote, I hope you will also raise concerns about any accessibility barriers you find with your boards of election, together with your chapters and affiliate, to help continue to raise expectations in voting in your local community.

I do have a number of Federation family notes to share with you on this release.

I'm sorry to announce the passing of Wiley Smith, known as Buck.  He passed away Wednesday, July 27th. It is reported that he was 88 years of age, and he describes Buck as the oldest continuous active member of the NFB of Pennsylvania.  He shares that Buck was a wealth of information about the earliest days of the NFB.  He actually did meet and spend time with the first President of the Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind, and he also attended the NFB national convention that was held in Philadelphia in the 1960s.  He was one of the founding members of the keystone chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, and I think a really important note, Jim says that Buck always did serve his part in any capacity he could find.  Though he did not serve in leadership role as an elected officer, he was the first to jump up to be on a picket line or stuff envelopes.  There was no job in the Federation that was beneath him, and he was a continuous member participating where he could up until the last 12 months of his life when his health prevented him from participating.

I would urge you to keep Buck's friends and family, especially Patricia, his partner of 35 years or so, in your thoughts and prayers.

From Utah, Everett Bacon reports the passing of Tracy MacDonald of our Red Rocks chapter who passed away on August 21.  She was only 50 years old.
Beverly Fulton passed away on July 5th.  She had served for several years as a board member for the Kansas City chapter.

From South Carolina, we received word of the passing of Dorothy Barksdale, otherwise known as Dot, who passed away on Tuesday, August 16th.  And I have to say, I had the opportunity to be at the South Carolina convention where Dot was memorialized and celebrated in so many ways.  It was a real honor to be there for that.

It's worth noting that Dot was the first African-American member to join the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina some 50 years ago.  Many knew her participating at the Federation center in South Carolina and in so many other ways.  So she will definitely be missed in our South Carolina affiliate and in other places.

And finally, this is a really hard one, but from Alabama or Michigan, depending on how you look at it, I am really sorry to inform you of the passing of Allen Harris on August 10.  Allen was a giant in our movement.  Allen was dynamic, warm, welcoming, firm but gentle.  He spent time and served as a mentor to me.  Of course Joy Harris passed in June.  The loss of Allen shortly afterward, really hard to take.  So I definitely encourage you to keep the Harris family and friends who knew and loved both Allen and Joy in your thoughts and prayers.  I know it's a big, big impact on our Alabama Federation family.

Well, I think that is all that I have for this presidential release except that before we get to the customary endings, we do need to tell you about our next presidential release and presidential release live event.  We got more than a dozen submissions from chapters and affiliates across the country, and it was a really hard set of proposals to go through, weighing many options.  Pam Allen and I looked at it along with members of our communications team really hard to decide where to go.

One thing that's clear is that we do need to take the presidential release live on the road more often because there really is a lot of excitement about continuing to build the Federation and taking advantage of these opportunities.

So we're going to find ways to do that.  And I encourage you as you find opportunities that might be good for the release hosting in the future, please write to us with those ideas with enough time for us to potentially plan for it.

So thank you to all the chapters and affiliates who did submit great proposals.  I'm sorry we can't be in all of the places at the same time.

I have invited, though, the chapter President at the location that will be hosting our presidential release live on October 1st, and so if our chapter President is there, I would turn it over to you to introduce yourself.
LASHAWNA FANT:  Hello, Federation family.  My name is Dr. LaShawna Fant.  I am the chapter President in Jackson, Mississippi.  We will host the October 1st live presidential release here in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi.  We are thrilled to kick off blindness equality achievement month here in the city of souls.  You can access the live presidential release through Zoom, the Nation's Blind YouTube channel, our internet stream, and by asking Amazon to open nation's blind.

You can contact President Riccobono at (410)659-9314 or email [email protected].
On behalf of this hospitality state, I say thank you.


MARK RICCOBONO:  Thank you, Dr. Fant.  And I know that our hearts do go out to you and all of our members in Jackson.  And I know that you'll let us know if there's something we can do to help.  But I'm looking forward to being there on October 1st.  Really exciting.  So thank you for being with us to make the announcement!  

I think with that announcement, that exciting announcement, that's what I have to offer for this presidential release.  I'm looking forward to the next one in October, but we got a lot of great work to do this month before we get there.

Again, please take the time the week of September 19th to fill out the strategic plan survey for the Federation.

And with that, I'll leave with you our customary endings by saying let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!

SPEAKER:  Hi, I'm Oriana Riccobono and I have two jokes for you:  Why did the new student steal a chair?


SPEAKER:  Because the teacher told him to take a seat.


SPEAKER:  What did one calculator say to the other?

SPEAKER:  You really press my buttons?

SPEAKER:  No.  You can always count on me.

SPEAKER:  I'm Elizabeth Riccobono and I'll be telling you one joke:  Why do ghosts make good school mascots?

SPEAKER:  I don't know.  Why?

SPEAKER:  Because they have a good school spirit.

SPEAKER:  Oh!  You know what?  I was in South Carolina this weekend at the NFB meeting, and you know what they told me?  You know what they told me they use downfall to polish their furniture?  NFB Pledge!

SPEAKER:  The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, [email protected]. (410)659-9314,  Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.