Presidential Release 525, March 2023 (English Transcript)

This following is the transcript of the full live event. 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.

[ Music playing: "This Is Me" by Kesha ]

SPEAKER: Good evening, everyone. We're so excited you're here for our March presidential release. Thank you for being here tonight with us. There will be a Q&A session. You can send questions for our Q&A feature on the web or mobile, or you can send questions to [email protected]. Tonight along with closed captioning in Zoom, we're using the captioning feature, the 1capapp that can be used for captions at your own pace we'll add the link to the chat. We do not have a poll tonight. So excited you're joining with us. We're broadcasting live from Baltimore and excited you are joining us tonight. We'll be starting promptly at 8:00 Eastern. Thank you for being here.

[ Music playing: "Drops of Jupiter" by Train ]

[ Music playing: "Everything" by Shakira ]

PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everyone. We're so excited you're joining us for the March Presidential Release and we'll be starting in just a couple minutes at 8:00 Eastern. We're so excited you're here with us tonight at the National Federation of the Blind. We know that you live the life you want. Blindness is not what holds you back. Thank you so much for being here!

[ Music playing: "I'm Still Standing" by Elton John ]

PAM ALLEN: Announcement regarding Spanish interpretation services.

[ Speaking non primary language ]

¶ Live the life you want ¶
¶ Nobody can stop you ¶
¶ So you're blind, you'll be fine ¶
¶ We've got good news ¶
¶ You can live the life you want ¶
¶ Yes, we know the truth ¶
¶ Grab a cane, get trained ¶
¶ Got to get moving ¶
¶ Make a change and a wage ¶
¶ That's what we're doing ¶
¶ Come with me ¶
¶ And live the life you want ¶
¶ Nobody can stop you ¶
¶ Shoot for the sun ¶
¶ And break on through ¶
¶ So you're blind ¶
¶ You'll be fine ¶
¶ We got good news ¶
¶ You can live the life you want ¶
¶ Yes, we know the truth ¶
¶ You and me NFB ¶
¶ Let's dream together ¶
¶ NFB you and me ¶
¶ Lives on forever ¶
¶ You will see ¶
¶ live the life you want ¶
¶ Nobody can stop you ¶
¶ Shoot for the sun and break on through ¶
¶ We've got good news ¶
¶ live the life you want ¶
¶ Yes, we know the truth ¶

PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our March Presidential Release.  We are thrilled that you are here with us tonight. There are so many exciting things happening in the National Federation of the Blind, and it is now my pleasure to introduce President Riccobono.

[ cheers ]


PAM ALLEN: You know, we have a very special group with us. We hear the excitement and enthusiasm.

MARK RICCOBONO: It's great to be with you, Pam.

PAM ALLEN: You too.

MARK RICCOBONO: Everybody is doing well. We're waiting for you. I told them you're still recovering from Mardi Gras.

PAM ALLEN: Yes, it was a great experience had by all.

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, right, first time back in person in three years.

PAM ALLEN: It was great. Beautiful weather and students, great staff. Great to be together. Hope everyone there is doing wonderful.

MARK RICCOBONO: We have a great seminar going on. In fact, the president of the United States flew in to greet the folks coming in for the seminar. Did a flyover just for this seminar. That was cool.

PAM ALLEN: Only the finest, that's how we do it, right?

MARK RICCOBONO: That's right. We'll see you tomorrow, right?

PAM ALLEN: Yes, looking forward to it. Thank you very much. Good to be with everybody.

MARK RICCOBONO: Should we get started

PAM ALLEN: Sounds great.

MARK RICCOBONO: Greetings fellow Federationists, today is Wednesday, March 1st, 2023, and this is Presidential Release Number 525 live from the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

It is great to be back together again, and we are exactly four months away, four months to the day until we start our 2023 National Convention. So, if you haven't made your plans yet, get them going, and I have a lot of work to do between now and then, so I need to get my plans going too. Spring is quickly upon us, although it doesn't feel that way, and a lot of parts of the country right now, but the spring conventions will be starting this weekend with Alabama and Massachusetts getting together, and I'm anticipating going to the Nebraska Convention later this month, a number of great affiliate conventions and other Federation activities coming up during the months leading up to our National Convention. I'm going to dive right in, because I have a lot of things to talk about. Some of them literally just happening today. A little update on our advocacy and policy work.  You know, we continue to see the great benefits from having our in person Washington Seminar. So many connections that were made, because we were in person. We did a great job on virtual, but the in person experience has really accelerated our work, and especially I want to talk about the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act. As you know, this bill will require all Class 2 and Class 3 medical devices with a digital interface to be accessible to blind people.

This bill will go into effect three years after it is signed into law, and it will make a great difference in allowing blind Americans to safely and independently operate medical equipment and manage—manage and monitor their own healthcare in the home setting.

Just today, March 1st, it was reintroduced into Congress, into the House of Representatives by representative Jan Schakowsky from Illinois. Jan Schakowsky has been a long time friend of the Federation. One of my favorite moments of our virtual conventions, Jan Schakowsky dropping into our Illinois delegation there during our virtual convention.

So, this bill is so new it doesn't even have a number yet. So all I can tell you it has been introduced, but this is really impressive to me. Not only has it been introduced by Representative Schakowsky, it has 32 original co sponsors. That's huge. And that's thanks to the work of all of you, and especially the work we did in our Washington Seminar. So good start. You know, 32 is a good number, but we've got to get a lot more. So keep pushing on that bill as well as our other legislative initiatives. It's been a busy week, though, because earlier this week we got some movement on the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act. This is a bill we have been pushing for a number of years to fully eliminate the federal allowance of the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities. We're doing great work in getting this eliminated state by state, but we want it out of federal law.  And we have gotten it introduced in the Senate on Monday of this week, introduced by Senator bob Casey of Pennsylvania. The lead co sponsor on this bill is Senator Steve Daines of Montana.  The bill number is S533.

We also have gotten the bill introduced into the House of Representatives yesterday.  So we now have three days in a row where the Federation has got bills introduced.  The introduction of the bill in the House of Representatives, our lead co sponsor there is Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, and the bill number is HR 1263. So congratulations to the Federationists across the country of doing great work to get these bills introduced, and we know that our other legislative priorities are going to continue to roll forward. So keep the pressure on members of Congress. And thank those who have gotten on board with these bills. I don't know what our governmental affairs folks are going to do tomorrow to get introduced into Congress, but I'm sure we'll talk about it on the next release.

We've talked before about our efforts to support Joe Orozco, who is a member of the Federation from Virginia and a blind analyst at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Joe has faced a lack of equal access to workplace technologies that have held him back from advancing in his role at the agency.

Joe's experience is very similar to that of many, many, many blind employees across the government whose agencies fail to provide them with equal access to workplace technologies they need to be successful and those technologies are required to be fully accessible under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

We, with our support of Joe, won a major victory in the United States court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on February 17, 2023. The appellate court ruled that a lower court was wrong when it dismissed Joe's case.

This is a huge victory for blind people, and the decision notes that while the lower court said that Joe's case should be dismissed, that there wasn't a right of federal employees to bring a private right of action against their agencies, the appellate court says, you're wrong. The law says you do have that right. And this is really significant for blind federal employees. It's a great victory.

Now, the case continues for Joe Orozco, and we have to continue to stand with him to get access to the technologies in his agency, but going forward, this victory on behalf of blind people will allow us to push harder on government agencies in terms of implementation and holding them accountable for Section 508 violations. And, of course, this doesn't just impact blind Federal employees. It also impacts really all of us who use technologies that are public facing of the government. So this is a tremendous win, and could really only happen because of the collective action of the National Federation of the Blind. Now, the agencies—I'm sure the government agencies hope we're going away, but we're not.  We're going to keep the pressure on, and we're doing a great job of that. We've been raising Section 508 concerns for quite a while, and other parts of the government are with us and listening.  Recently, last month, the United States Department of Justice released a report detailing the accessibility of federal electronic and information technologies. The report shows—this will be no surprise to members of the Federation—the report shows that one in ten public facing websites at major federal departments and agencies are inaccessible. It also shows that approximately 60% of internal websites at major federal departments and agencies are inaccessible. We will continue to push on Department of Justice and other agencies to compel government agencies to uphold their responsibilities, and along the way in this journey, we will demand better data and more accountability in really measuring the progress that these agencies are making. But congratulations to the Federation and our work together to support our blind federal employees to get equal access.

Now, this is the time of year, in fact, the very day when we start to talk about registration for our 2023 National Convention, which will happen in Houston, Texas, from July 1 to July 6. Note that Norma Crosby is here in the audience today. Our host for the 2023 convention—and we're really looking forward to being at the Hilton Americas Houston, which is a great property. It was recently there, and they're looking forward to having us. The rates at our headquarters hotel is $119 a night for singles, doubles, triples, and quads, plus various taxes that they put on top of it.  You can't avoid that.

The Hilton has been taking reservations, has been taking reservations for a number of months, and despite the rumors, there still are rooms available at the Hilton. So if they tell you there's not a room available, keep pushing them. But they're not going to be available forever, so I encourage you to get your reservations in soon.

You can get the hotel address and the phone number and all those details at our convention page, /convention. I've given it on the release before, so I'm not going to give it again. /convention.

I also mention that we have an overflow hotel, the Marriott, which is half a mile away or so. It's not really that far. It's an easy walk if you take the indoor route through the convention center. The Marriott has many of the same amenities except that it does tout that it has the largest lazy river in Texas, and it happens that the lazy river is in the shape of Texas. I should say the Hilton is a great property. It has many amenities. The Federationists will find the hotel very simple to navigate. It's—all the meeting room space are stacked on top of each other, a number of restaurants, there is a Starbucks, and there is so much food and entertainment around the hotel. You're going to just love the space, and especially the hospitality that will be provided by the NFB of Texas.

Now, registration is open. You want to go to to register. You have until June 1 to register online. After that you have to register at the convention. Registration is $25 per person. It's a bargain. It's been at $25 for a number of years. The banquet cost this year is $70. The online registration closes on June 1, as I say, and the prices of each of those will go up $5 when you get to convention. So it pays to get your registration in early. You also don't have to wait in the registration line, and things like that. So I would encourage you to get your registration in. If you are looking to fill out our registration form in Spanish, we do have it available, but it's slightly delayed. So not quite ready for this release, but certainly it will be ready in the coming days, and I want to remind you also that when you register online, you can make certain requests for support, such as interpreters, if you need interpreters, because of your hearing or things like that. Now, there are certain things that you don't have to request. For example, there will be Braille agendas. You can count on that at the convention, and that sort of thing.

Now, some of you out there maybe haven't been to our National Convention, and you want the experience, but you need a little support. Well, fortunately, the Kenneth Jernigan Fund of the National Federation of the Blind provides convention scholarships to first timers, and that program is, again, available this year. You do have to apply.  Some of you may have participated last year in our virtual convention experience, or in our virtual conventions before that. That's okay. You are still eligible to receive a Kenneth Jernigan first time Convention Scholarship. I in particular love engaging with the first timers at the convention. They bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Some of them are scared to death, but it's really great to observe their growth during the week, although my first convention was more than 25 ago now. I still remember the experience, and I still have very fond memories of those Federationists that took me under their wing at my first convention when I had no clue what was going on.

So if you are a first timer at the convention, please make sure to come by the Presidential suite, or stop me in the hall, would love to meet you.

Now, applications are due for the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarships by April 15th, and you do have to reach out to the president of your state affiliate of the Federation to get a recommendation letter. You can get more information and find the form to fill out, including all the details that are needed at our convention page,  And I refer you to that page frequently, as it will be updated with all sorts of information.  But, please, if you haven't yet been to the convention, it is the highlight of the year. It's when we bring the most people, energy, imagination together to talk about our concerns, our dreams for the future, and make things happen. There will be some new and exciting things at the convention, so we would love for you to be there. And as I say, I'm confident the hospitality is going to be great.

Now, if you're getting ready for the convention, you may want some new NFB apparel.  And our Independence Market group would like you to know that we have new apparel available in the Independence Market for you to call and order.  We have cotton polo shirts in black, red or blue. Ladies sizes small to 3X go for $24 apiece, and men sizes small to 4X sell for $24 apiece. We also have windbreaker jackets in black, red and green. Those are three colors, not one. So black, red or green. Ladies sizes small to 3X are $30. And men sizes small to 4X are $30. And still cold out there in many places.  You can get an NFB skull cap in black to keep your head warm, $20. You can get them now at the Independence Market, and you'll want some of them. You probably won't need the skull cap in Texas, but, you know, hotels can get cold, so you may want it there. And if you want to make a fashion statement, I say go for it. The more NFB logos, the better.

So, our advocacy and policy team has sent me a note here regarding Medicaid. The federal government is giving states up to one year to determine whether their residents are still eligible to receive Medicaid. Over the next year states are going to be requiring individuals to verify their personal information in order to continue to receive Medicaid support. This includes contact information, such as income and household signs. If you are receiving Medicaid, our team strongly advises you to contact your state's Medicaid office to verify your address, so that you will continue to be eligible and to receive updates from the program. Additionally, please make sure that you pay attention to any correspondence from your state's Medicaid agency. Of course, we want to bring this to your attention, because for most states, they probably are sending it to you as an unidentified print object, and we don't want to—we don't want you to miss it and get dropped from the Medicaid roll.  So we are encouraging you to be proactive and contact your state agency and get that done. Our team will continue to monitor the situation, and if we have received more information, certainly we will pass it along. Also right now there is a lot of discussion, again, about the accessibility of US currency. The United States treasury is currently redesigning the $20 bill to include a portrait of Harriet Tubman. And we're monitoring this effort at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.  According to a federal court decision from 2008, any new currency redesign must include accessibility features to accommodate individuals who are blind.

You may recall, or you may not, that the Federation has had a number of resolutions over the year about the accessibility of money. Our last resolution on this topic was from 2008, Resolution 2008 08, as a matter of fact, and in that resolution our resolves and summary were to urge treasury to consider adding more meaningful features to money during a redesign process, and to include significant input from blind constituents in that process. So, this is something we are continuing to monitor. I thought it was important to share with you that the Federation has a longstanding set of resolutions urging that when money is redesigned that the government consider innovative ways to put tactile features into it. Our biggest problem has been not having enough money, of course, and with the pandemic, people are using less paper currency than they once were, but we still urge the government to find new innovative ways to make accessibility a priority.

Now, we're not just doing legislative work, though. We're also doing a lot of education work.  And we are now in the period of time where we are heavily recruiting for our summary Braille enrichment for literacy and learning academies. We actually—when I wrote these notes, we had many fewer programs than we have. So I'm going to give you the updated statistics. We currently have 19 in person programs in 16 of our state affiliates. So lots of options out there for families to get their kids into our Braille literacy programs. I'm not going to read you the list, because apparently it's changing actually by the hour. So you can find the up to date information at But don't forget also that we offer our BELL In Home Edition, for those who may not have a program near them or for some reason can't attend an in person program. We have learned a lot over the last few years about offering Braille enrichment virtually, so it's a good option.  But the spots are going to fill fast in all these programs, so please promote this to people in your area, and even if there's not a BELL Academy in your affiliate, there's one nearby that you can get to. On the December presidential release, I talked with you about the launch of a new program with the ride share company Lyft, which allows you to round up your ride to the nearest dollar and donate those pennies to the National Federation of the Blind. I wanted to remind you again that you should continue to reach out to family members, friends, really anyone who will listen to you and feel compelled to do what you ask them to do. If they use Lyft, ask them to hit the menu option, go to "donate" and then to select the National Federation of the Blind. It's really that easy, and then next time they take a ride, their Lyft will be rounded up and those pennies will come to the National Federation of the Blind. Lyft passes on 100% of those donated funds to us.  We actually have gotten our first donation from the LYFT Up program. It's a great way to encourage people to give. It's easy, and it's an easy ask for people that you know that use Lyft. So continue to promote that heavily. It's not going away, and once hit the button, they probably never think about it again, but it will make a big difference to us.

I do want to real quickly encourage you to get on the PAC plan. This is our Pre-Authorized Contribution program. It's a way to give monthly to the Federation. It would be great to come into our 2023 National Convention at a record high on the PAC program, especially to honor our friend and colleague Scott LaBarre, who was the chairman of the program for many years. You can go to to learn more about the program. I do have a number of Federation Family notes for you here on the release. I regret to share with you the passing of Lloyd Mathews on February 12, 2023. Lloyd was a long time member and big time promoter of the Federation from our Tampa Bay chapter.

Very sad to bring you news from our Illinois Federation Family of the passing of Teresa Meyer, a long time member of or our Chicago chapter who passed away after a long battle, a long illness on February 26th, just a couple days ago. Teresa is the wife of Dave Meyer, a long time Federationist, has held many leadership positions. Teresa was not only a support to Dave in his leadership work in the Federation, but was an active member in our Chicago chapter and helped out in many places herself. She was a true soul mate for Dave. I urge you to keep Dave and our Federation Family in Illinois in your thoughts and prayers upon Teresa's passing.

Also, really regret having to share with you the passing of Carl Jacobson who passed away on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. Carl, as I'm sure many of you know, served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York for more than 20 years, starting in 1997. He served on our National board. He traveled to many affiliates spreading the word of the Federation. He was a long time member of our National Scholarship Committee where he mentored many, many, many Federationists. I was honored to have the opportunity to go to his funeral and hear that wonderful testimonies from so many people about the impact they had, that Carl had on their lives and their commitment to carrying his legacy forward. Carl leaves behind his beloved wife Mindy, who is a long time leader in the movement herself, as well as his children and several grandchildren and so many people who he inspired and loved. I count myself as fortunate to have had the opportunity to be mentored by Carl, especially as a board member when I came on to the board, he was a great support and mentor to me. So I encourage you to keep the Jacobson family and friends in your thoughts and prayers, as well as those who I might not have received information about.

Pam, I think that's what I have for the moment.  I'm sending it back to you.

PAM ALLEN: Great. Thank you so much, President Riccobono. So many exciting things happening in our organization, and just a note, as someone who grew up in Buffalo with Carl, such a tremendous, positive force in my life too. So definitely grateful for his mentorship and sending support.

MARK RICCOBONO: I miss that great voice...

PAM ALLEN: Exactly. You could find Carl anywhere. [chuckles]

MARK RICCOBONO: That's right.

PAM ALLEN: So I want to thank everyone for submitting such great questions.  Just a reminder, you can still submit questions tonight through the Q&A feature available on the web or the app version. Also, you can email Chris Danielson at [email protected]. So President Riccobono, we have a question from a live audience from the great state of New York. So...

MARK RICCOBONO: Are we giving that person a microphone.

PAM ALLEN: Yes, we are. We are ready. And so I'm going to turn it over to Heather.

HEATHER: So this actually is a question that my son has asked me, and then one day he said, what about really important people, like President Riccobono? And I said, maybe we can ask him. And he said, when you were a kid, maybe even a really little kid, when did you first realize you were blind? And when did you first realize that was quote/unquote bad according to some people out there in the big wide world outside your family?

 MARK RICCOBONO: Oh, gosh, that's a great question. What is your son's name?  Jeremy.  Okay, hopefully Jeremy is listening.

So, Jeremy, great question. You know, it's an interesting question. I mean, I really never knew I was a blind person. I certainly didn't identify as blind. I knew I couldn't see so well. And you know, I really learned to fake it.  And when did I figure out it wasn't really cool? Well, I guess I got those messages all the way along as a child. Not necessarily from my family, but just the incidental messages that you get. Because vision is such a focus, I very quickly began figuring out that it was really important to people that I saw things, and so they would ask if I saw things and I would say, yeah, I see that. And I didn't get challenged on it. So it seemed to make people happy if I saw things.

But I would say, you know, it's really in middle school that I figured outside that, you know, I couldn't... I wasn't going to be able to see things, and I... it was easier for me to hang out in the back of the room and fly under the radar in school rather than going right up to the board and trying to see what I needed to.  And no one ever told me Braille was a thing.  And so I really learned to fake it. I was an expert at faking it. And I regret that that was my experience, and I would encourage anybody out there who is faking it—I'm sure there are people listening right now who are faking it, there's a really better way to do it. There's really a better way to do it.  And the first thing for me was recognizing that it is respectable to be blind. The fact I couldn't see so well didn't have to define what I did and who I was, and how I went about life. And when I found the Federation, that burden was lifted from me. I didn't have to fake it anymore. I didn't have to put my energy into pretending that I could do something that I couldn't do, which was see.  And I could put my energy into focusing on the things that I could do.  And you know what I found out now over 20 years is that, in fact, I don't know where the limits are for the things that I can do. And the Federation has helped to push me into all sorts of things that I didn't know that I could do. I didn't know what was possible. I used to think the idea if of blind people driving cars was a crazy thing until the Federation pushed me out to go out and figure out how to build technology that would allow a blind person to drive a car.

So great question. And so for those of you out there still trying to fake it, I would encourage you to open your heart to the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. I think you will find that there's something more powerful there for you.

PAM ALLEN: Okay, great, thank you so much, Heather and Jeremy. Our next question, President Riccobono, we have a question about how the National Federation of the Blind makes decisions about which lawsuits to engage in and which legal cases to take on, and how often do we actually engage in lawsuits against employers who are discriminating against blind people?

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, how do we make decisions about lawsuits, well, it's a complicated question. But there are a lot of cases of discrimination out there, and there are just way too many for us to bring to litigation in the courts. Litigation is slow. It's expensive. It has a degree of risk to it, because you don't want to make a bad ruling in the courts, if a judge who doesn't understand blindness makes a bad ruling, that's very harmful and can do more damage almost than a good ruling can help us.

So, litigation is really the last resort for us. Especially in the employment space. Because employment discrimination cases are very, very, very difficult to win for all sorts of reasons I won't go into here, but it's an area of the law that is very tricky.

So, when we look at, as an organization, what cases to take, well, the first thing is, we can't take all the cases, so we try to empower our members with the knowledge and resources to be your best own advocate. And to really push using the advocacy tools that we can give you and train you on the law so that everybody can be their own best advocate.

But we do have some strategic areas that are of focus for us. Those strategic priorities in the legal area, we look at every year. And the goal is to try to find cases that will expand the law from where it is today, and cases that will impact more than one blind person. So what is a good example? Well, during the pandemic we worked to file a concern with the Social Security Administration, because they were still requiring people with disabilities, who wanted to apply for benefits, to actually provide a physical signature. Now, in other parts of their program they will accept an electronic verification of your identity, but they, for disability, wanted an actual physical wet ink signature. Well, for blind people, but for other people with disabilities, this is actually a barrier, and if we get Social Security to do something about that, it impacts more than just one person. It impacts and improves conditions for all people who face that barrier. So we look for those kind of cases. And employment cases are very difficult in that regard, but since I mentioned it earlier, Joe Orozco's 508 complaint, very individual case, but because we brought it to suit and because we have gotten a good ruling, it sets a very important precedent for all blind people.

The other thing is, when we think about who we are going to support in a case, we want to make sure that the individual that we're going to bring a case on behalf of really is in it for all blind people. A key strategy that some people use, especially in employment cases is, hey, here's a little money, we'll give you some money to go away. And, you know, it's tempting, if you're a blind person who has been discriminated against, to take the money and run, right?  Because it's hard going through the discrimination, and then standing up to be a plaintiff is not an easy thing to do. We're pretty careful that, you know, we want to bring cases where people like Joe Orozco are looking for their own relief, but they're also in it for the group. They're not going to run away because waved a couple thousand dollars at them.  People that are in it to really help change the landscape of accessibility and equal access and our rights.

That is a very short answer to a complicated question. The challenge we face is we cannot take all the cases that come our way, and there are some places where the courts are just not friendly to blind people, to our point of view, to what the laws say. So it's a tricky analyses. Sometimes we find an issue we want to push on and then we have to find the right circuit of the court that we can bring it in because we're more likely to get a judge and/or jury that is going to understand our issues better.

So, complicated set of circumstances, but let me just demystify this for you. Although we bring very successful lawsuits, it is only one factor in our strategy.

We use all the tools at our disposal, and suing people is the slowest, most frustrating, and sometimes the most unsatisfactory, because we can't get everything we want.

So people love to paint us with the brush of being "sue happy," but it's actually not the case, and we celebrate the victories we get in the courts, because we do look for the systemic opportunities. So when we have wins, like Orozco, or take the Target lawsuit from years ago, I mean, we go after cases that are going to make a big impact in society.

PAM ALLEN: Okay, great. Thanks so much, President Riccobono. Now we've got a few questions about Convention.  Everyone is really excited.  I know we have already registered. We're counting down the days. We have a question about any decisions being made concerning COVID protocols.

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, that's a great question. And I should have mentioned it earlier. So, the National Board over the last few years, you know, has considered carefully the public health situation, and we continue to recognize that we as members of the organization all have a personal responsibility as part of this community, as family members in this Federation to do what we can to keep ourselves and those around us safe in the environments that we're in together. Recognizing that the public health emergency is coming to an end, that we have all learned about the techniques that we can personally use to keep ourselves and those around us safe, and our belief that we all have the capacity to make the right choices and do what is right for the people around us, the Board has elected at this time not to put any special protocols into place for the 2023 Convention. We certainly do want everybody to recognize that we have members of our Federation Family who are higher risk for contracting something like COVID, and we would encourage everybody to be smart. If you're having symptoms, to make the personal choice to isolate. If you're having severe enough symptoms, make the really hard choice to stay home from the Convention. To keep yourself safe, but also to keep others safe at the convention.

At last year's Convention, you know, we had a similar theme of encouraging people to recognize that we're a family and we want to do what we can to take care of other members of the family. At this time, though, we don't anticipate employing the same level of testing and protocols that we needed to in 2022 based on the public health information and where it's going.

Now, the caveat, that could change. As we have learned over the last two years, it could change day to day, so that is our thinking right now as we get closer into May, that analysis may change. But we believe that Federation members will do the right thing to take care of themselves and their fellow Federation Family members.

PAM ALLEN: Okay, great. And another question along the lines of Convention. Wondering, what is the significance or is there any kind of significance that our conventions are generally held around the Fourth of July?

MARK RICCOBONO: Free fireworks! No... (chuckling)

It's kind of simple. Well, it's a good time of year to get together. We, of course, have a focus at our conventions around families, and it tends to be a time when school is out of session. But most importantly, you know, we continue to negotiate for our convention, trying to get the best potential rates we can to make convention as affordable as possible to as many people as possible so that time period around the Fourth of July, and actually when we negotiate, we give a pretty broad window of time, but the Fourth of July time tends to be a time when there is a little better availability in hotels.  We can get better rates. And so that really is our priority, and that's why it ends up being at that time. You know, our conventions have been later in the last couple years. We've had some later conventions. It's always a tricky balance between getting the right price, getting a facility that is big enough for us, getting a time when, you know, it's going to be convenient for families. We really have a tight window if we want to continue to draw in parents of blind children, and they have a significant presence at our convention, making sure we can get a convention time when kids are out of school. I mean, if we want to meet, say, in New Orleans in late August, we would probably get a great rate because everybody is already in school. But there's a trade off there. So all these factors have to be considered, and also our convention is big. And so, you know, it limits the places where we can go, especially if we want to get as much of our convention as possible under one roof. I think you're going to love Houston for this reason. It's probably one of the most compact layouts in terms of meeting room spaces and guest rooms that we have had in many, many years.

PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. Another convention question... this is from someone that is new and is asking why does the Federation consider National Convention to be the culmination of our year's work and so important to our purpose?

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, that's a great question. There's a couple of important things to talk about here. First of all, the convention is the governing authority of the Federation. It's the time when our affiliates come together to set policy for the organization, to elect the leaders of the organization. And so we celebrate our progress because at one level, as leaders—and I'll just speak for myself as the president, I have an obligation to come tell the members what we have gotten done. And we do want to celebrate what we have gotten done, but it's also part of or our accountability and transparency. The convention is also the time when we set the priorities for the next year, and we imagine what we want to do in the future, and we get together and debate about how do we raise expectations for blind people, and what is possible, and we hold companies and agencies accountable for not doing right by blind people. But more importantly it's the time—the most significant concentrated time when our community comes together. You know, the National Convention is the one time when you can be guaranteed that you are in the majority as a blind person. And it's your space. And I like to say, you know, it's normal, right?

Our goal is to get the rest of the year, the other 51 weeks of the year to be as normal as our convention is. Meaning, you know, when you walk around the convention you don't worry about whether someone is blind or sighted. You don't. I don't. Because you don't have people grabbing you all the time, or asking you if you know where you're going, you know, things like that. And you can find people who you can share experience with, or who you, you know, can talk with about the struggles that you are having as a blind person. And you don't have to throw a cane very far to hit someone that is going to understand, right?

So, the convention is important for all of those reasons. It's the real shot in the arm that we need. And you know, our goal, the way I think about it is we're trying to extend the normality of the Convention out to the rest of the year.

And there's a lot of scale in what we do. You know, our exhibit hall, you don't get a spattering of devices and exhibits like that anywhere else for blind people, and it's all led and directed by blind people. And so you don't have to deal with some of the things that we encounter at other conferences in the blindness field that aren't centered on blind people.  So it's important because it's ours, and it's directed by us, it's built by us, and at a real basic level, the most important part is, if you spend any time in this community, when you come back to the convention, it feels like home. You're going to find people who you have met at the convention. You're going to befriend new people. You're going to get to share your expertise with people, and you build relationships. I mean, I briefly talked about my first convention, you know, I'm still friends with people who—you know, I only got to know them because they harassed me to buy a candy bar at my first convention, you know? But they're still dear friends and we share ideas and you know, we meet at the convention maybe only we see each other once or twice a year, but we drop right into what is happening and what is going on, and that community is really significant, and it only happens because we invest energy in coming together at the convention. That's why I'm really glad that we have these in person experiences again, because it's at a much different level than, you know, sitting on Zoom and listening to people.

PAM ALLEN: So true. I could not agree more. So, also we've got a question... this comes from one of our leadership participants, and this is in relation—we know, President Riccobono, you are busy thinking about this year's banquet speech —

MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks for reminding me. I have to put that on my to do list.

PAM ALLEN: So this individual would like to know what banquet speeches or speech is most significant to you? Not one that you have written, but thinking back to all the speeches, is there one that stands out to you that is personally most meaningful?

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, definitely. There's so many great presentations that have been given in the Federation, but the banquet speech that I like the best, really because it clicked with me is "Reflecting the Flame" which was Mark Mowers 1991 banquet speech. It clicked with me on many levels. And partly it clicked with me because when I came home from my first Convention in 1996, at that time you could bring home from the Convention a bunch of literature on cassette tape. You can't bring any cassette tapes home anymore. But I came home with a bag full of cassette tapes, and one of them was the 1991 banquet speech. So I was not there for it, but I listened to it. And I absorbed that speech at a particularly critical time in my life, and it resonated with me.  Many aspects of it. But that's true of a lot of speeches. But that's one that I think has stuck with me.

Now, in terms of speeches that I was in person for you know, I think about the 1997 banquet speech. Probably not what I would consider Dr. Jernigan's top speech that he ever gave, but I was there for it. You know, I was in the room. And it was the last banquet speech that he gave. So it has a lot of meaning for me. And it's the concept of the day after civil rights is something that I think a lot about, how do we get to that day?  Because there are still so many civil rights struggles that we face. It's an interesting concept intention. I could talk all day about this question. Pam, what is yours?

PAM ALLEN: Oh, my gosh... I was sitting here thinking.

MARK RICCOBONO: I only brought that up because you remain me I have a banquet speech to write.

PAM ALLEN: I thought about reflecting if that was my first convention as well.

MARK RICCOBONO: You were there for it.

PAM ALLEN: Yeah, exactly. So that's always memorable. That's hard... but I think, you know, the importance of banquet speeches can't be understated, and we can counting down to hear this year's. We know it's going to be special.

MARK RICCOBONO: Okay, move on... [chuckling] You're making me nervous.

PAM ALLEN: [chuckling] No worries. And our final question tonight is that—it relates to any advice you would—we have a lot of people really excited about attending Convention and what advice you would give to someone who is very new, who hasn't—who is just now connecting to the Federation, any advice for their first planning, things they should be doing now to help them get prepared?

MARK RICCOBONO: Well, what I would say is reach out to your affiliate, your chapter.  Find people who are going to the convention and have been to the convention who can—and get their commitment to show you the ropes and give you their tips and tricks, right? That's really the best way to do it. Get someone who will be your navigator, so to speak, in terms of letting you know what to expect and who will be there when you get into this crowd of thousands of people and you go, oh, my God, what am I doing here!?
You know, figure out who that can be. If you don't have someone in your chapter, talk to your affiliate. You know, when in doubt, if you really can't find anybody, call our membership committee. We'll find you someone to get connected with, so that when you show up at the convention you're not alone. It won't take you long to get into the groove, but there's so many people that have their own convention tips and tricks, survival ideas about what to do. And then what I would say, as a first timer, is just live in the moment of it and recognize that you don't know what you don't know. And so go with the flow, which is what I did at my first convention. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was supposed to be, but I followed a lot of people. And I found people who were mentors, and, you know, Federation members take care of each other, and so you will be well taken care of, and so build that relationship before you get to the Convention so you have one or two or five people you can call on to help you understand what is banquet exchange anyway? You know, do I have to bargain? What is this?

You know, lots of people will help you understand that. And then, of course, you should not neglect putting on your calendar showing up at the Rookie Round up. Was that a plant question so I would mention Rookie Round up?

PAM ALLEN: Never. Well, thank you so much, President Riccobono, for sharing with us tonight, and also sharing so much about your personal journey. I know what an important time it is for all of us to be together as we plan and to celebrate our accomplishments. So thank you again so much, everybody, for being here with us this evening, and for submitting great questions. We didn't have a chance to get to every question, but our wonderful communications team will be following up, if we weren't able to get to your question this evening.

And I want to, again, thank everyone for being with us tonight. Our next presidential release will be on Tuesday, April 4th, at 8 p.m. Eastern. You can contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9134 or via email at office of the president at Thank you again and I will turn it over to you, President Riccobono.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks Pam, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. This brings me to the end of the presidential release. There are so many great things coming up as we move through may and into April. We have our Jacobus tenBroek disability law symposium coming up here at the national offers. We have a seminar for the BELL coordinators. We're doing some work with the first beta units along with the APH and humanware of the Monarch. This is the tactile display we discuss at our national convention. We have some other surprise that is I hope we'll be able to announce on the April presidential release, and, of course, so many great activities happening in local communities across the Federation. Thank you all for what you do to build our movement every day and for the work that you do to raise expectations for the blind.  We are going to have the customary ending, but first let me leave you with "Let's Go Build the National Federation of the Blind."

 SPEAKER: I have riddles for you.

 SPEAKER: You're changing it up.

 SPEAKER: What English word has three consecutive double letters?

 SPEAKER: I don't know, what?

 SPEAKER: A bookkeeper.

 SPEAKER: And my next hurdle is what has 13 hearts but no lungs or stomach?

 SPEAKER: I don't know that one either.

 SPEAKER: A deck of cards.

 SPEAKER: Hello! Do you have a joke for me?


 SPEAKER: What is it?

 SPEAKER: Why can't March get a gold medal?

 SPEAKER: I don't know, what, it's too springy?

 SPEAKER: Because it always comes in third.

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

¶ you'll be fine, we got good news ¶
¶ You can live the life you want ¶
¶ Yes, we know the truth ¶