Presidential Release 523, January 2023 Chapter Version (English Transcript)

This following is the transcript for the Chapter version of the presidential release. Please note: communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.

PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Greetings, fellow Federationists.  Today is Wednesday, January 4, 2023, and this is presidential release 523, nice to have synergy in the 23's here as we start the new year.  Happy new year and happy World Braille Day.

Here in 2023, we are going to make it be for NFB.

And we have many great plans ahead for our organization, and I know those things are going to happen because of each and every one of you.  It is World Braille Day so we've been enjoying celebrating Braille and the work of the National Federation of the Blind.  And this is actually the first year that we've officially been able to use the web domain Braille.Day on January 4.  We launched it last year, but it was later in January, so check out Braille.Day.

It's a platform we're going to use going forward to promote Braille literacy on World Braille Day and beyond.  Check it out.  Braille.Day.  Let us know what you think.  Send a note to our communications group and share your ideas about how we can build that Braille presence online.  I do want to go back to 2022 real quickly before we talk about going forward with this year to let each and every one of you know that we far out-exceeded our end of year goal for the generous match by Vispero of $50,000.  So thank you to everyone for boosting our matching program at the end of the year.
And to those of you who contributed, we did a great job bringing in new donations in the final couple of months of the year, so congratulations and thank you.

Now as we get into 2023, we have launched the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Program for this year.  The Jacob Bolotin Award Program honors individuals and organizations that are a positive force in the lives of blind people.  Jacob Bolotin, who lived from 1888 to 1924, was the world's first physician who was blind from birth.  He achieved that goal, despite many challenges that he faced in society, and not only did he achieve his dreams, but he helped many others and inspired many others to achieve theirs.

He would have been a member of the National Federation of the Blind, but he died far too young, and we are honored to have the opportunity to offer awards in his name.  Winners of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards break down barriers faced by blind people in society, create innovative pathways to break down those barriers, they also change negative perceptions of blindness in society, and push past the existing expectations to raise expectations even further for blind people.
Now winners of the Jacob Bolotin Award receive cash prizes, but more importantly, they receive recognition by the organized blind movement at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind.  

Now it's great to have award recipients, but we won't have any if we don't get nominations and that's where each and every one of you come in. As blind people, you're in the best position to know what projects people, individuals, organizations, are out there that are worthy of the Jacob Bolotin Awards.  You can go to NFB.org/Bolotin to learn more about the program and read about past winners to get an idea of the type of projects and the quality of individuals that are suitable for these awards.
I do encourage you to nominate individuals or organizations, and if you've nominated in the past and your nominee hasn't been selected, renominate them.  It's a very competitive program.

The committee is chaired by Everette Bacon of Utah, and if you have questions about the program or about potential nominees, you can reach Everette at 801-631-8108, or by sending an e-mail to [email protected]  That's B-O-L-O-T-I-N, [email protected]  We do have a number of other award programs in the Federation and we've written about them also in the Braille Monitor, so I want to call your attention to our Blind educator of blind students award, all of this information can be found in the Braille Monitor or on the NFB website.  We need nominations in the winter and early spring here so that we can potentially award some of these awards at the convention and, of course, our dynamic scholarship program where we will give away 30 scholarships to deserving individuals pursuing postsecondary education.

There's much more ahead for the Federation in 2023, and that includes appropriate for World Braille Day, once again we're hosting the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program.  I think exceeding now 15 years.  Hard to believe.  Applications are now available for the 2023 NFB BELL Academy, and exciting that many of our affiliates are now planning to be back in person for the BELL Academy.

The BELL Academy is appropriate for blind person ages 4-12 who could benefit from Braille instruction.  Well, that's probably any blind kid you could think of.

And as I say, many of the state affiliates are planning to do in-person programs, but if your affiliate is not doing an in-person program, we will once again be offering a three-week session of NFB BELL in-home edition.  This is our virtual instruction program, combined with tactile materials and mentoring that's run from the national organization.

The in-home edition will run from July 24 to August 11 this summer.  You can get more information about the in-home edition or the in-person BELL Academy at NFB.org/BELL, and I do encourage you to spread the word and get families in your affiliate to apply and I would also encourage you to be mentors and role models in our BELL Academy.  It's a great way to celebrate Braille, to help raise the next generation of dynamic blind leaders in our community.  We know that Braille readers are leaders.

Now we're coming up on the 2023 Washington Seminar and Congress, the new Congress, started working yesterday, and our advocacy and policy staff who have been working got right down there to greet the new Congress.
We had a number of meetings with members of Congress yesterday, and we're really happy to report that not only is Congress open for business; they've made it easier to come visit the halls of Congress.

Now hopefully, you've made plans to be with us at our Washington Seminar, but even if you haven't, you should study, get familiar with our 2023 Washington Seminar fact sheets which are available on our Washington Seminar page.  And as you hopefully know, that's NFB.org/Washington-Seminar.

The fact sheets are currently available in Word format and HTML.  More formats will be added soon.  Please check back to those pages for updates, but I do encourage everybody, whether you're going to D.C. or not, to study the issues for our 2023 Washington Seminar so you can help with the advocacy efforts.

Now I said that Congress is opening up and one of the primary things we learned yesterday is that the rules that Congress has had for escorting people who come to have meetings with members of Congress, those rules have been relaxed.
In recent months, we've been hoping that that would be the case, but we were able to confirm that yesterday, and what this means is I guess we can say going back to the old days.  You don't need an escort now to go into the halls of Congress and have meetings in the office buildings, so like we used to do, you'll be able to set your appointments and go into the congressional office buildings and meet with the members and staff there.  You, of course, should check with offices.  It's possible that they might have different policies, but we believe that the logistics are going to be much easier than we were expecting for the 2023 Washington Seminar.

And I'm really excited because we've got a great turnout planned.  We've heard from so many people and so many first-timers coming to D.C. to help move the legislative agenda of blind Americans.

Now, we get to celebrate some victories and one of them happened right at the end of the year.  We have been supportive of the ABLE Act, which allows blind individuals and others with disabilities to save more resources than have been allowed in the past, and we were supporting a bill to expand the ABLE Act, and on December 29 of 2022, President Biden signed an omnibus bill which included the change in the ABLE Act legislation.
This is called ABLE Age Adjustment Act, and the Act increases the eligibility for establishing an ABLE account to age 46.  It was previously age 26.  This means that if your blindness occurred before the age of 46 years old, regardless of how old you are today, you can now establish an ABLE account.

So this is good news for individuals that previously were not eligible and could benefit from establishing an ABLE account.

You can find ABLE account information in your states.  If you go online, you'll easily find.  There are experts in a lot of places and I'm sure if you're not sure where to look, our affiliate can help you get connected with local resources.
I know that many ABLE presentations have been given at affiliate conventions.
Now, of course, one of the things we have to look forward to in 2023 is our national convention from July 1 to July 6 in Houston, Texas.  We've been waiting for a number of years to make it to Houston.  We were supposed to be there in 2020, but unfortunately had to kick it back here to 2023 in Texas.  Our affiliate is looking forward to hosting us this summer.
The hotel is ready to receive your reservations for either the Hilton, which is our main hotel, or the Marriott, which is our overflow hotel.

Now we've published the hotel information in the Braille Monitor and on our website at NFB.org/convention.  So you can always refer back to those.

Now the room rates for our 2023 convention are as follows.  $119 a night for singles, doubles, triples, and quads.  Now, this room rate is good at the Hilton or at the Marriott, and that includes also an additional sales tax of 8.25% and an occupancy tax, which is 17%.

The Hilton Americas Houston is our main hotel.  And what we call our headquarters hotel.  That's going to be really our one-stop shop for everything:  Meeting rooms, banquet, exhibit hall, all under one roof.  You can make your reservations at the Hilton by calling 800-236-2905.  Again, 800-236-2905.
Now if you prefer to stay at the Marriott, which is about half a mile down the street, but you can get there by cutting through the Convention Center, it's a very nice property, as well.  It is our overflow hotel.  There will be no meetings in that hotel, but they do boast having the largest lazy river in Texas and it is in the shape of Texas, kind of interesting.  You can make your reservation at the Marriott by dialing 877-622-3056.

And calling either hotel, make sure to ask for NFB convention, so that you get the correct rate when calling to book your room.  I do invite you also to share your ideas about what should be on the agenda for the national convention.  It's always a challenge to put together another exciting convention, and I need your help for what should be on the program.
So please send your ideas along.

I do have a number of Federation family notes to share with you on this release.  From Minnesota, we've learned of the death of David Bates who passed away on November 18th, unexpectedly at the age of 58.
From Illinois, Maryland Green reports the death of Maurice Tanter who was a member of our at-large chapter who died on November 12th, 2022.  Maurice had only been a member of the Federation for two years but was an enthusiastic marcher in our movement.

From Maryland, Ronza Othman reports the death of Raymond Sewell who passed away on November 26th, 2022.  Ray was a long-time member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter and a very active blind vendor.  Ray was 87 years old.  Don't want to short change him on that.  I would encourage you to keep all of these individuals and their friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Now on the last presidential release live, I invited you to keep Scott Labarre in your thoughts and prayers, and it's really hard to have to share the news on this release that Scott Labarre of Colorado passed away on December 10, 2022, due to complications from cancer.

Scott was a giant in our movement.  He did so very much in our legal program, in building the financial stability of the organization through our PAC program, in building our Colorado affiliate, and our Colorado center.  In providing mentoring to people, really all over the world in the legal profession, and we have gotten e-mails from literally people all over the world who have been impacted by Scott's work, whether it's in the legal profession through the Federation or through his work on our behalf on the treaty.

I had the honor of going to a memorial event for Scott that happened at the Colorado Center, and had the opportunity to spend some time with Scott's family, his wife Anahit and children Alex and Carter.  I encourage you to keep the Labarre Family in their thoughts and prayers.  This is a very hard loss for them personally, but for so many of us who had the joy of knowing Scott on a real personal level.  And I know that the '23 convention is not going to be the same without his booming voice.

But I also know that Scott wants us to continue the fight.  Anahit shared with me that in his moments of being very aware and cognizant of what was happening toward the end, he would constantly tell her, don't let people forget about disability rights!  And we're not going to forget about disability rights.  We're going to remember the legacy that Scott Labarre has left us.
I do want to let you know that there will be a celebration of life for Scott Labarre event that will happen in Denver, on January 21st.  So just a couple of weeks from now.  It will be streamed, but if you're compelled to come to Denver, I'll be there.
There will be an event that will kick off at 4:30 p.m. Mountain Time on the 21st of January.  You can find information about that on our home page.  We do ask you to RSVP if you're going to come in person, and we will disseminate information about the virtual participation very shortly.

Finally, I want to let you know that the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind has decided to establish the Scott C. Labarre Leadership and Justice Fund as a central point for collecting memorial donations being made in Scott's honor.  We don't know exactly how that fund will be used.  It has a very broad purpose:  To advance leadership and justice for blind people.  It may result in a scholarship or some other opportunities to advance blind people in the legal profession.
We don't know because we don't know what kind of contributions we will receive, but we have gotten people again all over the world looking to contribute to Scott's legacy.

Really hard to deliver that news to you, but that's what we do in our movement.  We're a family, we get close.  That's why we offer these moments on this release, because we could not do what we do without the tremendous personalities that have graced our movement.

And so I encourage you to keep these individuals, all of those that we lost in 2022, in your thoughts and prayers.  
That is what I have to present to you on this presidential release.  Despite the hard times that we've been through with the loss of our good friend Scott Labarre and others in our movement, I have a great deal of optimism for what 2023 will bring for the National Federation of the Blind.

And I'm privileged to continue to march forward with all of you, carrying these legacies forward and figuring out ways to build new ones.  I am looking forward to the Washington Seminar and being back in person for the great gathering in.  It feels like it has been such a long time and that's another important milestone in coming back into I guess what we call the new normal.
So please tune in to the Great Gathering in which will be live streamed at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on January 30th.
And we will have many things to talk about, and I know some great accomplishments going into the month of February and beyond.

Thank you for all you do to build our movement.  Happy new year, and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

In February instead of a live presidential release, please tune in to the Great Gathering on Monday, January 30th, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.  A recorded presidential release for chapter meetings will be shared later that same week.

You can contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9314 or via e-mail at [email protected]  Happy new year and I look forward to seeing everyone who will be with us at Washington Seminar and I'll turn it back over to you, President Riccobono.

>> Hello.
>> Hi, Elizabeth.
>> I have a joke.
>> You do?
>> How did Jack Frost go to work on New Year's?
>> I don't know, how?
>> By icicle.
>> I have two jokes for you.  Where can you go to practice math on New Year's Eve?
>> I don't know, where?
>> Times Square.
>> Of course.
>> On New Year's Eve, make sure you have your left leg in the air.
>> Why?
>> So you start the new year on the right foot.
>> Oh.
>> The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, president National Federation of the Blind, [email protected]  410-659-9314, www.NFB.org.  Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.