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.
PAM: Good evening, everyone. The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day, we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
You can live the life you want. Blindness is not what holds you back.
We are so happy to be with you tonight. Thank you so much for being here with us for our April Presidential Release. We appreciate your patience with our audio difficulties, so thank you so much for joining us for what we know is going to be a great evening. President Riccobono.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Greetings. How are you?
PAM: Doing great. How are you?
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Hopefully, I'm coming through okay.
PAM: Loud and clear. Good to be with you. Happy baseball season.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Absolutely, absolutely. It's the Orioles’ winning season.
PAM: That's right, you know it. It's great to be with you tonight.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: I'm glad to be upright.
PAM: That is a good thing.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Dealing with a little COVID recovery here.
PAM: We are glad you're feeling better. Sending you good wishes and healing thoughts.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Was worried we were going to have to push, but I'm here.
PAM: We are thankful for that.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Getting ready for the busy ramp-up to convention.
PAM: The countdown is on, huh? It's a busy state convention season, too.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: You've got one coming up right?
PAM: April 14th through the 16th. We are looking forward to being together.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Excellent, excellent. All right. Shall we get started?
PAM: Sounds great.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Okay. Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Tuesday, April 4, 2023, and this is Presidential Release 526. Spring is officially here in Baltimore today. It was like 75 degrees or something, so it's definitely spring plus, and baseball season is here, which is very exciting and we are in the middle of the spring convention season in the Federation, so great things happening.
I had the opportunity to go to the Nebraska convention a couple of weekends ago.
We do have our national convention coming up just three months away from our national convention and I want to remind you that you can go to NFB.org/convention to get all of the information.
I realized on the last Release that we did not talk about our virtual convention experience. We will, in fact, again be offering the virtual convention experience for those who can't be with us in Houston, Texas, from July 1-6.
You will have the option to register for the virtual convention experience, with some daily sessions and other interesting things. I know our virtual convention experience team is putting a great lineup together in addition to the general sessions and board meeting events that we will stream via Zoom.
So please go to NFB.org/convention and get that information and make sure you register for the virtual convention experience. Looking forward to the convention. It will be here far too quickly.
I do have a number of policy items to update you on that we have taken action on during the last month.
In March, we sent a letter to both the house and Senate appropriations committees regarding increasing the annual appropriation for the Independent Living Services for Older Individuals who are Blind, or the OIB, program.
Federationists certainly know that the federal funding for the OIB program has remained stagnant for several years now, and we believe that the funding, in fact, is woefully inadequate. We had a resolution on this topic previously, and an increase in funding would significantly make a difference to the independence of this growing population of blind individuals, and so our letters have gone out in support of an increased appropriation for the OIB program.
I call that to your attention.
Also late last month, we sent a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, regarding companies requiring job applicants to possess a valid driver's license, even when driving is not an essential function of the job. This topic was also a subject of a resolution at last year's convention. This matter is already prohibited in the language of the current rules, but we believe that the EEOC could make a big difference by adding clarifying language that would strengthen support for this idea.
It's something that many blind people have faced problems with, and, in fact, we've written to a number of employers about the fact that the employer requires a driver's license when it's not an essential function of the job.
We recently wrote to Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts which was requiring a driver's license for a number of positions, including the coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act work at the university.
All three of these letters can be found at the Policy Statements section of the Advocacy page on our website. That's NFB.org/advocacy. You will find all of our recent statements, legislation, many things happening there.
This evening, we have a special public announcement for this Presidential Release, first coming to the federation family across the country. Raising expectations, especially as it relates to literacy, is a core value of our work in this moment.
And there's many ways we're doing that. We've been for a number of months now about our project with APH and Humanware to build a dynamic tactile display called the Monarch. I actually have beta unit number 14 right here.
I'll hold it up for those watching on the YouTube. It's a pretty cool device. Those coming by our national office will get a chance to check it out and if you come to the national convention, you'll have a chance to check it out, but it's just one of the activities we're doing related to literacy.
And we often find important friends who want to help us elevate our mission and our priorities. Recently, we made a special new friend and his name is Dan O'Rourke and tonight, I am asking all members of the Federation family to add something really special to your summer plans for 2023. This is our official announcement of the National Federation of the Blind 2023 Route 66 Ride for Literacy.
We're excited to partner with Dan O'Rourke for this journey of dedication and connection this summer.
Dan, who has been an on-ice official for the National Hockey League since 1999, came to us because he believes in the capacity of blind people from watching his own father who didn't let blindness hold him back from being a great dad.
Dan shared his dream of doing something big to let blind children and adults know that they were not alone, and that we truly can live the lives we want.
So why not bike Route 66? Well, it's not what I would have thought of, but it's Dan's passion.
It's a great way, while trekking over 2,400 miles, to talk about the National Federation of the Blind.
I have had the pleasure now of talking with Dan on a number of occasions, getting to know him, and what drives his determination, and I am confident that the Federation Family members will all find his understanding and spirit to be completely in sync with what we do in our movement.
Many people come offering to help us, but they truly don't get us. Dan not only gets us. More importantly, he is very clear that he simply wants to promote us as a partner in our movement. He's not trying to speak for us. He's not trying to help us as an outside sighted person. He's trying to elevate our stories and he wants to use his experience and platform to do that.
So starting at the end of July, we don't have an exact date just yet, Dan will ride a bicycle from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois, along the famous Route 66, which, as I said, is just over 2,400 miles.
This is an opportunity for us to expand our circle of connection and to get more people to know about the work that we do.
We will be coordinating a number of meet-and-greet events along the ride to create awareness about the Federation and our literacy efforts, and this is also a great opportunity to bring financial support to the organization during the ride, from people who may learn about it outside of the Federation. There are still lots of details to be worked out, and we will be sharing those as we have them.
We have invited the eight Route 66 affiliates to be part of this. That's California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois. We believe there will be many other opportunities for other affiliates to get involved, especially we're hoping affiliates that host NHL teams.
As always, though, every member of the Federation is going to play an important role in amplifying this Ride for Literacy and telling our story and helping to share what Dan O'Rourke is doing to elevate the experience of blind people.
As I say, more details will be coming in the weeks ahead and those of you coming to the national convention may have the opportunity to meet Dan in person because he will be at our national meeting, because the NHL season will be over and he'll be ready to make this big ride.
We'll be sharing all the details and you can check it out at NFB.org/route66. You will be able to sign up to get updates and, of course, we'll be putting information into our communications stream.
I think this is going to be an exciting part of our summer, especially coming off a great national convention, so I urge you to get involved and find ways to support the Route 66 Ride for Literacy in the National Federation of the Blind.
I want to talk to you a little bit about our NFB-NEWSLINE service. It's a free service created and operated by the National Federation of the Blind to give blind people access to well lots of information. We've added a number of new publications that I'm going to tell you about real quickly.
Recent additions include: Al Jazeera, Black America Web, Cooking Light, Downbeat, which is a jazz magazine, Harvard Business Review, Kyiv Independent, the Shanghai Daily, and undoubtedly there are some others that aren't on my list.
We now have over 550 publications on NFB-NEWSLINE so there truly is something for everybody there.
If you want to make a recommendation about a publication, you can reach out to our NEWSLINE help desk by calling 866-504-7300, and letting us know what publication you would like to have there.
As I often say when I go around to state conventions, if there's something more you want from NEWSLINE or want it to do, it's up to you to put your idea in the mix. It's a service created and run by blind people for blind people, and so we do our best to get the content there that people want, and sometimes, it's a little challenging to get some things and it takes a while, but we work on it, so keep putting your ideas in the mix.
Recognize that there are many ways to get the NEWSLINE service also and if you're listening tonight and not familiar with NFB-NEWSLINE, I would invite you to go to our website, check it out. Sign up. It is free for blind people in the United States.
I do have another policy matter to mention to you, and that is on March 30th, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Katie Porter out of California introduced the Disability and Age in Jury Service Nondiscrimination Act, which is S 1086, and HR2442.
These bills would prohibit excluding a person from federal jury service based on disability or age, and many blind people who have had the opportunity to be considered for a jury know that sometimes, it's a real struggle to get people to not discriminate against you.
This bill would ensure that disabled jurors over the age of 18 are able to perform their duties and responsibilities of being a juror with reasonable accommodations, including the use of Braille by blind people.
The Federation is in support of this legislation, and I thought you all would want to know. I know we get questions with some frequency at our national office about blind people serving on juries. This bill might help strengthen our protections under the law so we will continue to pursue it and as opportunities come to push on it from the local communities, we'll encourage you to do that, but you should be aware of it when people ask and know that the Federation is in favor of it.
I also want to remind you as part of our “Summer of Literacy” we have our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning programs coming up.
We have programs in 19 of our affiliates. These are the local programs, plus the in-home edition available to kids anywhere in the country. You can find more information at NFB.org/BELL. We want to make sure we use this as an opportunity to promote our literacy efforts and get kids in our local community connected with Braille and the Federation.
We have an ongoing webinar series called Where the Blind Work, which features panels of blind professionals sharing their experiences performing the job areas that we're highlighting during those sessions.
The one that's coming up is let's see, it is highlighting journalists. It's called Where the Blind Work: Investigating the News with Blind Journalists. And it will be held on April 20th, from 8:00 to 9:15 p.m. Eastern Time and you'll be able to hear from a great lineup of journalists.
I'm quite excited about it myself. There is a long URL so we'll put that in the chat. I won't read it here, but if you're interested, go to NFB.org and look up Where the Blind Work. You can find it. It's going to be a great session. If you need help finding it, talk to someone in your local chapter.
Also, a reminder for those who may have applied for our NFB scholarship program. Of course, the application process is now closed, but if you did not get connected with your affiliate president for them to do an interview and write a letter, I encourage you to do that to close the loop on that.
And I want to encourage our affiliate presidents, if you haven't had the opportunity to follow up with scholarship applicants, to do that before the April 15th deadline. The committee will be meeting later this month and making determinations about that important program.
Sorry about that. And finally, at least for this segment of the release, a reminder that our preauthorized contribution program is an important way to make ongoing monthly donations to the National Federation of the Blind. You can visit NFB.org/PAC, that's P-A-C, to make a monthly financial commitment to the Federation.
These are discretionary dollars that we can use to pursue our BELL Academies or policy matters or anything else that we need to in our organization, so your support on the PAC Plan makes a big difference.
I do have a number of Federation family news items to share with you on this release.
From California, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chapter reports the passing of one of its founding members, John Vandervort. John had been a member since the 1970s. And the members of the chapter wish to remember him. I will have another note from the Silicon Valley Chapter coming up here in a minute.
But first, I want to share with you from Virginia that Christine Faltz Grassman reports the passing of Jim Walker, who was husband of Chris Walker, the president of the NFB of Virginia Winchester Chapter. Jim passed away on Sunday, April 2nd, after a valiant three and a half-month battle subsequent to several strokes that occurred following a triple bypass surgery.
Jim left peacefully with Chris and his family at his side. I urge you to keep Chris and Jim and John's families in your thoughts and prayers.
From Tennessee, we've learned of the passing of Sheri Thorsett, who had cancer. She was a founding member of the Stones River Chapter, and a previous national scholarship winner.
Also from Iowa, we've learned of the passing of Susan Monath, who died on March 6th. She was a member of the Des Moines Chapter and later, the Old Capital Chapter in Iowa.
And from Illinois, we've learned that long-time Chicago chapter member Dale Wolthoff passed away. He celebrated his 90th birthday in January, and he recently passed away on March 18th at his home in South Carolina. The Wolthoffs were members of the Chicago chapter starting in the 1970s, up through the 1990s.
They were very active in many aspects of the state organization, the Chicago Chapter, including public relations activities and fundraising activities.
I would urge you to keep all of these individuals in your thoughts and prayers.
From Colorado, Julie Deden has reported the passing of her brother, John Deden, on March 5th. Jon was a long-time leader in the NFB for over 40 years. He was a significant recruiter for the Federation. He worked on fundraising and organizing, and he particularly joined being the door prize chairman at the Colorado convention.
He was a deep supporter of the Colorado Center for the Blind and everybody will miss him.
Julie adds this personal note: Jon enjoyed skiing, running, and lifting weights. He always had a pet dog around the house that he could spoil. He had a heart of passion, generosity, and love for his wife, Michelle, their daughters, and ten grandchildren, and all of us.
I encourage you to keep Julie, Michelle, and the rest of the family and friends in your thoughts and prayers and those members of the organization who I might not have known about this evening.
Now I do have one joyous piece of good news coming back to the Silicon Valley chapter, and that is that Jamie and Timothy Crane and their son Heleon welcomed a new daughter, Selene Lillian Crane. She came into the world on March 9th.
Selene arrived, get this, weighing an unexpected 11 pounds, 11 ounces and almost 22 inches long. Now this is a quote from Mom. She says, quote, "it was a challenging delivery, but Mom and Baby are expected to make a full recovery."
Jamie and I might have different definitions of challenging. That might be an understatement. But congratulations to Mom and Dad and big brother and certainly welcome to Selene to being the newest members of the National Federation of the Blind.
Pam, I think that's what I have at the moment. I'm going to flip it back to you.
PAM: Thank you so much, President Riccobono, and just a reminder, I want to thank everybody for submitting such great questions tonight, and all our various channels.
We appreciate that. And we've got some great questions tonight, President Riccobono so we'll jump right in. So our first one, we had a member who reached out about an opinion piece that was recently published by a former member of Congress concerning an Americans with Disabilities Act case that is before the US Supreme Court.
And just wondered if we had any comments on the case and if we could share some of our perspective.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: So, you know, the Federation is always watching what happens in the courts, and where we can help add our name and legal muscle to help protect the rights of people with disabilities in various cases.
There was a recent case known as the Perez Decision, which expands rights of families to utilize the Americans with Disabilities Act in education cases. That was a case where we helped in support of the case by signing on to an amicus brief in that case.
This particular case, which has to do with hotels being sued by an individual with a disability, we haven't made an official determination about our involvement in the case, but it is of interest to us, and I have some confidence that we will again sign on to an amicus brief or a group of them generated by the disability community.
It's really important to us that the Supreme Court understand disability in an authentic way. The court has not always been friendly to disability, and consequently we've sometimes worked to keep cases out of the Supreme Court for fear that it would roll back some of the protections we have in the law. So you can be assured number one that we're watching this case and that we will get involved in the way that we think we can help, and we will continue to watch other cases out there.
Federationists have often heard me say, bad decisions in the court can set us back much more than good rulings can sometimes push us forward. So this is part of our strategy, to watch and help out in these cases. This is not one of our cases.
And we're particularly concerned where in other cases, some bad practices are used to bring cases to court, not suggesting that's true in this case, but it's a constant watchdog effort we have to make sure lawyers aren't bringing cases, especially on behalf of blind people, that set us back or lock the class of blind people into an agreement we don't like.
We haven't officially committed just yet.
PAM: And this next question, we had a couple of different questions about the work that we are doing in the NFB about ride-share discrimination, and just questions about an update and what can people do if they're having problems with ride-shares, guide dog users who are trying to use ride-share?
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Well, you know, this is a continued problem and we're continuing to work with these huge companies. Obviously, primarily Uber and Lyft on their policies and practices. We continue to evaluate how we can push them even harder.
They are making some policy progress, but we need to continue to stand strong when we face these situations, and document them, report them to the companies, but also report them to the NFB on our website through our ride-share form.
I know that this is very hard to do, and it's very stressful, but we do think we're making some progress. I can tell you that today's Tuesday so just last Wednesday, I was involved in denial myself. It wasn't my guide dog, but someone I was with, and I was able to capture a video.
One of my colleagues who was with us went and stood in front of the car. I'm not recommending it necessarily, but we had a tag-team strategy, and we were able to document a video asking the driver if he understood his obligations and that sort of thing, and we were able to submit it in that case to Uber and we did get confirmation that Uber took swift action. They actually thought the video was kind of horrific.
But it is stressful. It takes energy, and I know that many people just in the process of calling, hailing a ride, are stressed out about what might happen. We are working on it. It is extremely complicated. I had a call with Raul, our president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users regarding this matter, and we are going to continue to keep on top of it.
I would say the best thing you can do is continue to report the incidents to the ride-share companies. Report them to us and certainly, encourage you to report them to local law enforcement if there's a mechanism to do that.
PAM: Okay. And President Riccobono, also, you talked about the virtual convention experience a bit in the Release earlier, but this question also relates to just registration. Should people—can people register if they are planning to take part in the virtual convention experience? Or are there different parameters for virtual versus in-person?
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: So there is a registration form for the virtual convention experience. You can get to that from the convention page. We do want you to register because it will make you eligible, for example, for door prizes or other special benefits that we've put together and you'll also be able to get the various information and we'll know that you have participated, but if we have sponsors that offer special discounts or that sort of thing, we can get you access to them.
So you should register if you're planning to participate in the virtual convention experience and that really means if you're planning to participate in any aspect of the convention at a distance, and you won't be at the convention.
You can, of course, go on YouTube and watch our general sessions, but you won't be eligible for door prizes and to be part of the group.
So we do want you to register. Just like you do at convention, there is no cost, I didn't say that earlier. There is no cost for the virtual convention experience.
PAM: Excellent. And this question is related—we had a couple of different questions. People who are entrepreneurs, who are interested in learning about the mission of the National Association of Blind Merchants and about how entrepreneurs can also get involved in the National Federation of the Blind.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: That's a great question. And quick shout-out to Nickie, president of our National Association of Blind Merchants. He's been dealing with some health issues. Nickie, hope you're on the mend if you're listening this evening.
We do encourage blind small business owners to get involved with our National Association of Blind Merchants. Look, the Randolph Shepherd Program has been a strong cornerstone. It has made a difference for thousands of blind people over the years, and continues to make a difference in the lives of many people, and we want to continue to keep those protections in place and use that as a springboard to other business opportunities.
I know that the leaders of our division, Nickie and the rest of the board there, are committed to finding innovative ways to bring in more blind entrepreneurs, to expand to private opportunities for business and we need more small business owners who are blind to come to our National Association of Blind Merchants and help with the growing of that division to be really kind of the chamber of commerce for blind people running businesses.
Randolph Shepherd certainly is an important conversation and discussion there, because there are important laws to protect and uphold and the livelihood of real blind people that are impacted there, but I would encourage any blind person who is an entrepreneur, who's running a small business, to come, put your voice in the mix and the more small business owners we have there, the more concentration of discussions and leveraging of resources we can do.
PAM: Excellent. And this question, President Riccobono, everyone knows what a big baseball fan you are. And so question about how do you enjoy a baseball game at a stadium if you can't see?
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Well, that's a great question. First of all, don't people go for the food, anyway? So there are many ways.
First of all, of course, the ballpark experience is very multisensory. There's a lot of great sounds, just being part of the crowd. I know myself and many other people really prefer to bring a radio so you can listen to the play-by-play.
Usually, a real old-fashioned transistor radio is the way to go because there's no delay. In some places, the radio station carrying the feed tends to leave the censorship delay on, so you get about six or seven seconds before you figure out what the pitch was.
This is a great thing for the local chapter to do some advocacy on. I know this has happened more than once here in Baltimore, that they forget about this so our chapter has to write a letter or call the Orioles up and let me know.
And, in fact, a couple of years when they switched stations, they actually made a big deal for everybody that there wasn't a delay. So the cool thing is, in a lot of places, all sorts of people take radios to the ballpark.
I grew up in Milwaukee. Lots of people took radios to the ballpark, not just blind people, because they like listening to the announcers.
So that's one way. Some people use apps to follow various stats on their phone, and, of course, if you're just learning about the game, it's good to go with someone who can tell you various aspects of the game. That's what I do with my 10-year-old. I'm really trying to teach her about the game and so when we go to the ballpark, it's a great opportunity for me to talk to her about things that are happening, that we're hearing.
I think the ballpark is a great experience. Plus, the food is a good experience, too. I hear that the Orioles have pretzel bowls with crab dip now this year. So the ballpark is like a whole experience.
And, of course, that's major league.
Minor league ballparks are even more engaging. They have lots of fun contests and that sort of thing. So I would encourage you to get out to the ballpark.
PAM: That sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks for those great strategies. Delicious food tips, too.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Hopefully, we'll all get to go to an Astros game together.
PAM: That's right. That sounds like a lot of fun, too.
Okay. So I want to thank everybody again. We had some great questions tonight. Thank you so much for sending in your questions. We really appreciate that. We always look forward to the Q&A time and hearing from our members so thank you so much and those who might be joining us who are just learning about the National Federation of the Blind. Welcome, everyone, again, for being here with us tonight.
If we didn't have a chance to answer your question tonight, our fabulous communications team will be following up with you, and I want to again thank everyone for being with us tonight. Please join us for the next Presidential Release live on Tuesday, May 2nd, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
You can contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9314, or via email at [email protected]. Thanks so much and I will pass it back to you, President Riccobono.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: Thanks, Pam and happy Easter to you. I know you'll be celebrating, so look forward to seeing you soon.
And have a great convention.
PAM: Thank you. We're looking forward to a great one.
PRESIDENT RICCOBONO: That's what I have on this April Release. I know that many of the members of the Federation Family will be busy this month, celebrating the myriad of various holidays that we are enjoying this month, and I wish each of you well and I hope that you are making your arrangements for the national convention, which I know will be one of our finest in Houston, Texas, in July.
We do have a couple more months of real activity to go, and a number of things to do. So with that, I will leave you with the customary endings and say, let's go build the National Federation of the Blind!
>> Hey, girls. Happy baseball season.
>> Happy baseball season.
>> Why did the pirate want to hire a catcher?
>> Because he knew he had a chest protector.
>> That's so funny!
>> I have two jokes. What do you call a hammer bought on April 1st?
>> A good deal?
>> No, an April tool.
>> Babies born on March 31st are the easiest to prank on April Fools' Day. Why?
>> This is a riddle. I don't know.
>> Because they were literally born yesterday.
The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind. [email protected]. 410-659-9314, www.NFB.org. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.