¶ ¶ (Music playing: "Anything's Possible" by Lea Michelle)
PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everyone! Welcome to our September presidential release. We are broadcasting live from Chicago. We are so happy to be with everyone tonight. If this is your first time, this is our monthly event where President Riccobono highlights the current events of the National Federation of the Blind, where anything is possible, because we are transforming dreams into reality.
We are so glad you are here with us tonight. There will be a question and answer session at the end of our release. You can send questions through our Q&A feature on the web or mobile, or through our social media channels, or you can send an email to [email protected].
Also along with our closed captions in Zoom, we are using the 1CapApp feature that can be used for captions at your own pace, and the link has been posted in the chat.
Thank you again so much for being with us tonight. We will be starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern in just a few moments. We are so happy you are with us tonight. Thank you.
¶ ¶ (Music playing: "For Once in My Life" by Stevie Wonder)
(Music playing: "Runnin' Down a Dream" by Tom Petty)
PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everyone. We will be starting in just a few minutes. Thank you so much for submitting your questions, and we welcome you to our presidential release. Thank you again.
¶ ¶ (Music playing: "On Top of the World" by Imagine Dragons)
(Announcement regarding Spanish interpretation services)
¶ ¶ (Music playing: "Live the Life you Want")
¶ ¶ Live the life you want, yes, we know the truth. Grab a cane, get trained. Gotta get moving. Make a change and a wage; that's what we're doing. Come with me. 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've 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. 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.
¶ ¶ You can live the life you want. Yes, we know the truth. ¶ ¶
PAM ALLEN: Good evening, everybody. Welcome to our September presidential release, live from Chicago. We know in the National Federation of the Blind that blindness does not stop us from living the lives we want, and we're so excited to welcome everyone tonight, both in person and virtually. So President Riccobono, in Chicago, are you out there?
MARK RICCOBONO: I am here. Can you hear me?
PAM ALLEN: Yes. Loud and clear.
MARK RICCOBONO: Okay. Great. It's great to be with you, Pam.
PAM ALLEN: You too! How is everything in Chicago?
MARK RICCOBONO: It's fantastic. Great pizza, right, guys?
PAM ALLEN: You're making us all jealous.
MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah, it's great to have you—sorry we couldn't get you some pizza through Zoom there.
PAM ALLEN: I know. That would be great. I'll take that with some popcorn, please.
MARK RICCOBONO: There you go. We'll have to send Pam a little care package.
Yeah. It's great to be here in Chicago. Spent the day here checking out some places we might consider for future conventions.
PAM ALLEN: Very exciting! That would be awesome.
MARK RICCOBONO: No pressure, right?
All right. Should we get started?
PAM ALLEN: Let's do it.
MARK RICCOBONO: Okay. Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Tuesday, September 7, 2023, and this is presidential release 530. We are live in Chicago, Illinois.
We are live here with our members of our Chicago chapter and a number of other folks from as far as Philadelphia, I notice, live here at the Exchequer restaurant and pub. So it's really great to be together with our chapter here.
Tomorrow we will be celebrating the completion—you can hear the train in the back. That's pretty cool. Hopefully that's coming through on Zoom.
Tomorrow we'll be celebrating the completion of the Ride for Literacy with Dan O’Rourke this evening. We should welcome Dan and his family.
And give him an early congratulations. We don't want to jinx it. But we're looking forward to celebrating the end of that effort and the next phase of our literacy work together.
It's been a busy time in the Federation. Even as we do new things, we should celebrate the work that we've done. We just completed over the Labor Day weekend a leadership seminar at our national headquarters. The 50th anniversary seminar, the first seminar having been held in the Labor Day time of 1973. Hope you'll get a chance to meet some of the twisted pilots seminarians at the convention.
It has been a busy summer. In addition to the Ride for Literacy, a number of cool things happening. If you haven't noticed it yet, one of the latest announcements is that Lego has come out with its Braille bricks collection, which you can buy preorder online. So that's pretty cool. The National Federation of the Blind gave input on the packaging and other things for Lego Braille bricks. So something to make sure is in the stockings or under the tree coming up later this year. So check that out.
We do have a number of things to talk about on this release. First and foremost, I want to talk to you about the launch of our membership profile. I announced in the presidential report this summer that we would be releasing a new membership profile for all members of the organization. We have done that this week. The member profile is the new self-service platform where members of the Federation can update their own contact information and review their membership status.
You can also indicate that you would like subscriptions like the Braille Monitor and find other information such as member benefits. And we'll be expanding the member profile capabilities going into the future.
There is an FAQ section on the member profile and a place for members to change their user name and password.
We hope to add new features, as I mentioned, and a rollout is happening now. So you should have received an email about this. The rollout is heavily dependent, however, on our having your correct email address in our database. If we don't, you probably did not receive the email.
Let me tell you how this works. All current and recent members of the Federation whom we have a unique, working email address for should have received a notification via email about the creation of the member profile account sometime early in September here. And each member who has received that email was given a user name and a link to go set up their member profile at NFB.org.
It's important to note that the link that is in the email does expire, and so if you don't set up your profile by Tuesday, September 12th, that link will expire. But you can still use the user name by going to NFB.org and clicking on "members," which is at the top of the page. You can find it on any page, but you can find it right there on the home page. Click on "members," use that same user name, and go to "reset password," and it will guide you through the instructions to do that. And once you get your log in set up at NFB.org, you can check your address information, make changes, make updates to your profile.
Going forward, members of the Federation that are current in the membership management module but don't have a unique working email address will need to make sure that we get that information. So if that's you, you should talk to your chapter President or membership coordinator for your chapter or affiliate and make sure that they submit that information could us at the national office. They can do that by sending an email with a list of the members who need their email addresses updated, name and updated email address should be sent to [email protected]. So every chapter, make sure you have a membership coordinator or designated person if it's not the resident to do that.
New members will automatically be added to the member profile going forward. And when they receive the email, they'll need to be sure to go in and update their membership profile log on.
A reminder about the membership profile is that if your membership shows you are expired, you may still be a member. You should check with your membership coordinator for your chapter or affiliate. They may not have updated your membership for 2024—excuse me, 2023 in the membership management module. So if you believe you've paid dues and your membership profile shows that your membership is expired, that simply means that your chapter needs to go in and make sure that it is updated in the membership management module. Please do not call the national office because we will not know that you're a current dues-paying member. Your chapter or affiliate has to do that in the membership management module.
A challenge for Federationists to see how many chapters can get to 100% of members logging in to their membership profiles and checking them out and updating them by the time of our November release. I logged in to my membership profile a couple days ago, made updates, corrections, so I encourage you to do the same.
Now, Congress is back in session, and it's a great time for us to follow up after this August break on our legislative priorities. Congress will be fully back in session next week, and we need to encourage them to support all of the legislation that we are supporting. This includes the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act, which is HR 1263 and Senate Bill S 533. The Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act which is HR 1328, the Access Technology Affordability Act, HR 3702 and S 1467. Your calls and emails do make a difference. So please use this opportunity with your members of Congress and Senators being back at their desks to urge them to get on our bills and get movement on these important legislative matters for the Federation.
If you have questions about which of your representatives or Senators have or have not cosponsored our legislation, you can contact Kyle Walls at our national office. His email address is [email protected] or you can reach him at extension 2223 at our national office.
This does bring to mind that we should start thinking about next year's Washington Seminar, which will be from Monday, January 29 through Thursday, February 1, 2024. The Great Gathering-In by longstanding tradition will be on Monday, January 29th, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Hotel reservation information and more details about the Washington Seminar will be on the website very soon. Affiliates should start putting together delegations for the Washington Seminar. It's not too soon to get your delegation together.
You can go to NFB.org/washington-seminar for more information.
I meant to ask the room here, does anybody have a membership coin.
A lot of people don't. A lot of people don't. I have mine up here. So I urge you to carry your membership coin.
I have a few other announcements to talk to you about on this release, and we're now getting into the portion that will not be on the recorded portion of the release. And the first is to talk to you about our 2024 convention. I mentioned it on the release last month, but I wanted to talk in a little more detail about our 2024 convention which will be in Orlando, Florida. One thing I did not talk to you about last month was the statement that our board of directors released at the time that we announced our 2024 convention, and I would like to—you can find that statement, by the way, at NFB.org/convention, but I would just like to give you on this release the first paragraph from that statement. And it reads as follows:
"The National Federation of the Blind is aware that prominent civil rights organizations representing marginalized groups, including racial minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community, have issued travel advisories for the state of Florida because of recently enacted laws and policies that affect these groups and, consequently, affect your members as well. We acknowledge the serious concerns raised in these travel advisories. Over the past decade, we have enjoyed many safe and meaningful conventions in Florida, and we hosted the 2016 General Assembly of the World Blind Union working closely with the team at Rosen Hotels and Resorts. We made a previous commitment to come back to a Rosen property in 2024 specifically because of the hospitality and respect shown to all our members by the Rosen Hotels and Resorts staff."
Since we made the contract and signed the contract for 2024, the climate has changed in the state of Florida, and our board has heard from a number of Federation members, especially intersecting with the LGBT community. We started hearing from these members late this spring about their deep concerns regarding our going to states like Texas and Florida. The concerns were originally raised about Texas because it wasn't publicly known we were going to Florida. And the concerns have been about the hostile climate that exists in these states regarding these intersecting characteristics within our Federation community.
All of the members of our board of directors take these issues very seriously. We have discussed them and debated them in great detail. And including whether we should pull out of our 2024 convention contract. We had this conversation as a board in June of this year, knowing that that was going to be our announcement at the 2023 convention.
The board reviewed the travel advisories that have been offered by other civil rights organizations, and the board specifically noted that these travel advisories do not call for boycotts or bans of the state of Florida. And that the goal of the advisories was to make sure that everyone had complete information about the policies of the state so that individuals could make decisions for themselves.
Our board's analysis of this situation included looking at the impact of canceling an existing contract with just over a year left before that contract was to be fulfilled, both the external impacts to the organization as well as the internal impacts.
We assessed the impact on our members and specifically our members in Florida, who have to live with these states every day as blind people.
We also assessed the impact of showing up and demonstrating the power of diversity and togetherness within our movement and our focus on making sure that we can use our movement to bring all blind people closer to equality in this country.
We also considered the position of the Rosen leadership and staff on these issues, and we had many conversations with them. Our consideration of things we could do to make as many members of the Federation as possible feel safe, supported, and welcome at our 2024 convention was part of our analysis, and how we could rally Federation members more broadly to help with that.
Of course as a board, we have a fiduciary responsibility, so we also considered the financial implications of breaking our contract. At the time when we discussed this in June, the cost to the organization would have been upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars to cancel that contract before the 1-year mark. The consideration today would be upwards of $1.1 million to cancel that contract, not to mention the impact it might have on future contracts we make.
Our board has made a deep commitment to continuing to build our movement in new ways and to figure out how we can make all of our activities as inclusive as possible within the parameters of our organization.
After careful consideration of all of these factors and discussion, our board decided not to break our contract with the Rosen properties for 2024, and we developed a statement that is on our website. We read it at the board meeting during the convention, and I've read to you now the first paragraph of that.
We as a board have made the commitment to continue carefully considering future contracts that we might enter into and what the terms of those contracts should be, as well as what considerations we should take into account related to local laws and the impact that they might have on the Federation and our participation in those states. And, in fact, in soliciting proposals for future conventions, we've already gotten some proposals responding directly to those concerns, especially part of our commitment is trying to go to communities that are less hostile to individuals within our Federation community.
As we consider the many factors that we have to in deciding where to take our convention and how we sign future contracts and make plans, you should know that until we as a board have discussed these factors more fully, we have rejected signing future contracts that we had in front of us, and we're having some very good dialogue as a board about that.
In addition, development has already begun on plans for 2024 with our LGBT group within the Federation and others interested in helping with these issues to develop an action plan of ways that we can make our 2024 convention the best it can be. We invite any member of the Federation who is interested in helping with that to let us know as a board much reach out to our LGBT group. We will continue to dialogue about the active things that we can do to create meaningful programs within our organization that help to build the kind of community that we experience within our organization and help that radiate to other places.
We will be reaching out to local organizations in Florida to help us make sure that our convention can be maximized in terms of safety and inclusion, and if you have contacts in that regard in the state of Florida, I invite you to share those with us. I will be going to our Florida state convention in about a month to help continue these conversations as well.
We know that as a Federation community, we have the challenge of operating within the rest of society, and we deeply appreciate all of the members who are committed to helping our board work through these difficult issues as we try to continue to build a 21st century movement that represents all blind people and does the best to make sure that we set an example for the rest of society about how people should be included.
So I want to ask for really some appreciation and applause for our board that has done tremendous work in looking out for the interests of all our members in the Federation. I would invite you to give them a round of applause if you feel it's warranted.
And again, anybody that has suggestions, we do welcome that. And I think we're going to plan some great conventions going forward. Maybe we'll even come to Chicago again someday.
And have pizza.
So I do have a couple other announcements before we get to some special presentations. I have one here that's from our NFB-NEWSLINE group, which wants to remind you that this is the time of year that some of us are thinking a lot about advances in technology. We want to add them to our end of year wish lists or because we're looking for the latest updates on new gadgets from companies like Apple and the NFB-NEWSLINE group would like to remind you that you can keep up and be in the know about all of these things by finding many, many publications on NEWSLINE to help with this, whether it's some of the breaking news online publications like Apple Insider or finding the updates from Mac World on NEWSLINE.
Also, there are a number of other tech publications and trends that can be followed through publications on NEWSLINE. Some examples might include, let's see, Android Central, MIT Technology Review, PC World, and Wired Magazine, amongst others. You should also remember that you can do a global search through NFB-NEWSLINE for your favorite technology topics, and you can find information there.
If you are not yet a subscriber to NEWSLINE or need more information on how to find publications, so to sign up or to get more information about this free service available to any blind person, please call Scott White, our director of sponsored technologies at 410-659-9314, extension 2231, or send him an email at [email protected].
Okay. In this portion of our release, I want to dedicate some time to our Chicago chapter.
I'm really excited that with me here at the head table, I have two individuals from the chapter who are going to share some about the work of the Chicago chapter. You know chapters of the Federation are places of action and community building at the local level that are there to support blind people and to help advance the work of our state affiliates. And what we need to have a healthy organization is strong local chapters. And our Chicago chapter has long been a model of strength and action within the Federation. I know because I grew up in the Federation right up the road in Wisconsin, and you know, even early on I was hearing about the Chicago chapter and the stuff the Chicago chapter was doing. I met members of the Chicago chapter my very first convention. And so I thought since we're here in Chicago, I would invite the Chicago chapter to talk to you about chapters of the Federation and not merely being a social organization but being action oriented.
So here I'm going to turn it over now to the President of the Chicago chapter of the NFB of Illinois, Denise Avant.
And with her is Debbie Kent Stein. So ladies, take it away.
DENISE AVANT: Thank you, Mr. President.
We are so excited to have you and members from our national office to be here with us tonight. We are looking forward to the finale of the Ride for Literacy tomorrow, and Dan and April and Dan's parents, thank you all so much for joining us in Chicago.
You know, I have been a member of this chapter since 2005. I am currently serving as its President. I've been the President of Chicago chapter for 3 years now.
The one thing about our chapter, we are proud members of the National Federation of the Blind. We understand that through collective action, we can change the lives of blind people and spread a positive message about blindness. And locally here, we work with agencies, the Chicago Lighthouse. We often use their space for our Braille Enrichment Literacy and Learning academy. Many of the people in this room volunteer their time in the summer for BELL. We have worked with the mayor's office of people with disabilities.
There are audible pedestrian signals going up across the country, and we have worked with MOPD in order to make sure that the signals are installed in strategic places and that there is a consistent application, we are working with the Chicago Board of Elections. Now, normally voting is an affiliate issue, but all politics and all elections are local. So for the last 2 years, we've been working with the Chicago Board of Elections in order to make sure that the website is accessible for people who want to check their registration or register to vote or vote by mail. We also had testers go to the Chicago Board of Elections and test the machines.
Chicago is one of these cities, we have 24/7 public transportation as you might hear from the Ls that have come by from time to time. And we have been working with the Chicago transit authority to make sure that we have access to our public transit system, making sure that all of the buses, the audible GPS that calls the stop as the bus approaches are working on all buses and all streets across the city of Chicago. We are currently working with the CTA in order to make sure that when the trains approach the station, that we know which train it is, whether it's the yellow line, the blue line, the purple line, the red line. That's still a work in progress, but these are some of the things that locally we have been doing to change the lives of blind people.
We're proud people of the National Federation of the Blind because we believe in sharing our resources with our affiliate to help with our BELL program, to help with the state scholarship program, to help bring people to our state convention which we know changed the lives of blind people.
More than that, we've also always contributed to our national funds because we are proud members of the NFB. So we contribute to white cane, tenBroek, SUN, and Jernigan. And we probably are one of the first chapters to make our pledge to the Museum of the Blind People's Movement!
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you. Thank you.
DENISE AVANT: One of our favorite things is Washington Seminar. We have established great relationships with our Chicago area congressional delegation, as was mentioned earlier, the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act is currently introduced and it is introduced by our own Jan Schakowsky. And we just continue to work hard to advance the cause of blind people in our city, making sure that people have what they need. And I think that one of the things that I learned as a Federationist is that you can engage in collective action but you can still have fun doing it. We understand that our primary responsibility is to change the lives of blind people through collective action. But some of our fundraisers where we introduce ourselves to the public and bring in new members is we have a picnic in July where we just go to Lincoln Park Zoo and have a good time. We have our Chicago chapter auction during the Christmas holiday season, which is the highlight really for many, and it's a lot of fun. And then we have a games night right here at Exchequer. Exchequer has been our home for many, many years. Debbie Stein will tell you more about that. But not only do we have our meetings here where we conduct blind people's business, but we stay around afterwards and we socialize and we talk to new members and tell them about the Federation and spread the positive message about blindness.
So I am going to turn it over to Debbie so that she can share our history.
DEBBIE STEIN: Thank you so much, Denise.
So when I was asked to talk about the history of the Chicago chapter, I immediately turned to Steve Hastalis, who is kind of our historian in residence. And he carries around an enormous archive in his head and knows everything about the chapter from its beginning because he is our only surviving charter member.
So I want to start out by thanking Steve. And he's here with us.
So the NFB of Illinois, Illinois was one of the charter members of the NFB back in 1940. Illinois delegates attended that first historic meeting in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and the Federation affiliate in Illinois survived for a while. Then it kind of fell apart during a time of some turmoil. And in 1968, Ramy Rabbi came to Illinois and helped to start a brand new Illinois affiliate and simultaneously the Chicago chapter.
So the chapter and the affiliate have always been very closely connected. And the chapter carries out affiliate business and likewise the affiliate often gets behind issues that really deal with Chicago and the Chicago metro area such as supporting issues having to do with public transit.
So Ramy Rabbi, Steve Benson, Steve Hastalis, they all were members back in 1968. They held their first meeting on August 10, 1968.
Initially the chapter met every other month and held meetings at a Lutheran church. And it wasn't entirely clear what the purpose of the chapter was going to be. There were a lot of people who thought it was a fun time to socialize and, you know, just hang out and talk to friends and go out to eat and the like.
Ramy Rabbi made it very clear that socializing was great and a good way to build solidarity within the chapter but that the real purpose of the chapter, as the purpose of the affiliate, was to conduct business and work on initiatives that were going to benefit blind people. And after sometimes raucous debate, according to Steve, who was there, it was quite clear that the prevailing purpose of the chapter would be to conduct business to promote the better lives of blind people.
Although people would get together afterwards just as we still do and hang out and build our bonds of friendship and solidarity over food and beverages, and oftentimes I hear those gatherings might last way into the wee hours of the morning. So they were quite famous.
The chapter eventually moved to hold its meetings at DePaul University on East Jackson Street, still a very central location right downtown, easily reachable by public transportation, and that was in 1980 when we began to meet at DePaul.
And oftentimes people would be working on some piece of legislation that was related to Chicago or related to the state. And there were times when people would bring portable typewriters to chapter meetings and they would sit down and type letters that would go out to legislators and go out to people on the city council and so forth.
There were sometimes divisions within the chapter. There would be a men's division and a women's division, which is hard to believe today. But I am told on very good authority that this was the case. And the men would type letters too, which I find very impressive.
Now, Camille Meyers Caperelli and her husband Bill created the first Braille street and rail guides for the city of Chicago, and I think some people here remember those. I still have them. So they were done on Sirma form and if you kept them out of the sun, they would last forever. They were very useful, and Chicago was one of the first cities, if not the first city, to produce such guides, which were helpful for the blind.
Chicago has been host to four national conventions so far. There was the national convention here in 1974, 1975, 1988, and 1995 was the last one. So I hear there may be some rumbles about something coming down in the future. We'll just see what happens here.
The Chicago chapter eventually stopped meeting at DePaul, moved over to the YWCA. We met there for a few years. And for the last 20-25 years we have met here at Exchequer pub and restaurant where we have a wonderful relationship with the staff. They have treated us royally and we really, really appreciate their ongoing support.
So want to tell you one small story before I close. In 1990 when the National Federation of the Blind celebrated its 50th anniversary, there was a book came out called Walking Alone and Marching Together by Floyd Matson, a compilation of many historic documents relating to the Federation, basically the 50-year history of the Federation.
When the book came out, Steve Benson and Steve Hastalis and a number of other chapter members decided that in honor of the book, they would walk around the block at City Hall carrying a copy of the book. And then they went inside of City Hall and marched up to the mayor's office and somehow they got in and they saw Mayor Richard M. Daly and they got him to sign Steve Benson's copy of the book.
We weren't shy back in those days, and we're not shy now either.
So thank you very much for listening, and I'm going to hand the mic back to Mark Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: Okay. Thank you very much, Denise and Debbie. Let's give them a round of applause.
Yeah, that's great. Great to learn a little bit more about the history and the foundation that the chapter is building upon even today.
Okay. I know we want to get to some questions and I still have a number of things here. So let me just quickly remind you that the National Federation of the Blind has joined Lyft's Round Up program. So if you are a user of the rideshare platform Lyft, you or individuals connected to you, you should encourage them to go to the menu in your Lyft app and choose "donate" and select National Federation of the Blind to have each fare rounded up to the nearest dollar. And those pennies add up quickly and become contributions to the National Federation of the Blind to help us raise expectations and make dreams come through for the blind of the nation. So please share this information with people in your network and get involved in the Lyft Round Up program to make a difference to the National Federation of the Blind.
Another financial contribution that people can make is by including the National Federation of the Blind in a will or life insurance or other form of leaving an end-of-life gift to the Federation. And when people let us know that they've done this, we count them in our Dream Maker Circle. And this evening I would like to acknowledge Dennis Groshel of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, who is the newest member of the Dream Maker Circle. Thank you to Dennis for making that commitment.
I do have a few pieces of Federation family news to share with you this evening.
From Illinois, we've learned of the passing of Roberta Glickman, who joined the NFB of Illinois in 1974 and was an active member in the affiliate until her health prevented her from being active.
You should keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.
From North Carolina, we've received notice of the passing of James Oscar Johnson on Saturday, August 26. He was known to his friends and family as Oscar. Oscar was an energetic 82-year-old member of the Mecklenburg chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. This is near Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rob Tabor who served as First Vice President of our Kansas affiliate says he regrets to announce the loss of a great man and longtime Federation leader. And I share that sentiment in letting you know that Tom Anderson passed away on Tuesday, August 29, in the late afternoon hours at Advent Health in Overland Park, Kansas, where he was hospitalized to treat very severe COVID symptoms.
Tom's leadership most recently has been with the blind Christians group in the Federation, leading devotionals at conventions, helping blind people get access to religious resources and participation, performing invocations at our conventions.
Outside of those more public activities, he was continually working with blind people to help them overcome barriers prior to his returning to Kansas where he has long been a leader of the Federation and continued to be when he returned to Kansas recently. Before that many of us knew him as the Braille and communications instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind. As I read this information to you in Braille, I am one of Tom Anderson's students from the Colorado Center for the Blind.
He has a long history of leadership within the Federation and has made a difference to literally thousands of individuals. I would encourage you to keep his wife Linda and all of his friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.
From Idaho, our Treasure Valley chapter reports the loss of Sharon Ostermeier, mother of Shane Ostermeier, who is the chapter secretary there. Sharon was a strong supporter of the Federation in many different ways.
From Missouri, the Springfield Missouri chapter would like to share the sad news that Matthew Wade Bailey passed away on August 20th, 2023, after complications from a fall. Matthew had only been a member of the Federation for one year and he was only 50 years old.
You should please keep Matthew's wife Stephanie and his family in your thoughts and prayers.
From Virginia we've learned of the passing of Susan Fay Roe, who passed away on August 30th. She was a long time member of the Richmond chapter and was very active in getting people enthusiastic about the Federation and always did so with warmth and a smile on her face.
From Florida, I regret to inform you of the passing of Joe Naulty on Sunday, September 2. Joe had been a long, long time member of the Federation and was always active when he could be and always cheerful about the work of the Federation even as he had declining health. Joe was a founding President of the Melbourne Space Coast chapter of the NFB of Florida, and he was known to many because of his dedicated work to advancing the lives of deafblind individuals and was a founding member and leader of our national deafblind division.
He was also a fun guy and made sure that many got to enjoy his interests, including classic cars, which he often brought to the convention so blind people could enjoy them. He is survived by his wife Arlene who has been active in the Federation. I would urge you to keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.
I do have two joyous pieces of news to share, and the first comes from Utah. NFB of Utah member Moises Bettencourt and his wife Bri celebrated the birth of Moises, Jr. on August 19th. Moises is a member of our Salt Lake City chapter and active in other efforts in Utah.
And from Maryland, we're delighted to share that Garret Mooney and Brittany Bomboy welcomed a new baby on August 22nd, 2023. Matthew Grayson Mooney was born at 21.5 inches and 9 pounds 6 ounces. Big sister Braylee and mom and dad are all doing well and are enjoying the new addition to the family. Garret and Brittany are both leaders in our affiliate there in Maryland, and so let me officially, on behalf of the Federation, welcome Matthew as the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind.
All right, Pam, I think it's back to you.
PAM ALLEN: Okay. Great. Thank you so much. It was so good to hear about all the exciting things happening in Chicago and the wonderful history. So thank you so much for sharing.
We've got some great questions tonight, President Riccobono. So first, in celebration of our Ride for Literacy, we have a question from someone in the audience there who is interested in how Dan connected with us for the Ride for Literacy.
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. We should ask Dan. But let me just say this real quickly. People reach out to the Federation all the time. Sometimes with crazy ideas about what would be good for blind people. And Dan found Patti Chang and shared his crazy idea of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to use it to amplify the important work of the National Federation of the Blind. And you know, when people contact you with these ideas, you don't want to dismiss them out of happened, but you sometimes wonder, like, okay, where is this going to go. And I think I shared this at the convention. We invited Dan to come visit us at our national office. You know, somewhat wondering what we were getting ourselves into. But we found very quickly that Dan was sincere, was energetic, was determined to use this opportunity to celebrate his own father but also to use this to amplify the important message of our organization. So sometime we'll have to ask Dan exactly how he found us, but thank goodness he did, right?
PAM ALLEN: For sure. For sure. We are so excited and so grateful.
And in honor of Braille and in remembrance of Tom also and all the many, many Braille readers, we have a question about Braille and how, President Riccobono, what is your opinion about Braille being replaced by technology. How do we as blind people who know how important Braille is to success and personal life, employment, and so many areas, how do we convince the public that Braille is not only relevant but essential, and how do we help find ways to make Braille more mainstream like we're doing with the Ride for Literacy and other programs?
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. It's an age old question to some extent, going back to Louis Braille having to fight for his code even to be used, right?
I think what's important is that as blind people, we do what's authentic to us. And we help to demystify what Braille is and what it's not. Every time I get to talk to somebody about Braille, I say, look, Braille is not a language. It's English. At least in the way that I use it, it's English, right? It's a code. And it's cool. It's cool. Like people love codes, right? Like that's a cool thing. So this is what I like about the Lego Braille bricks because we can see kids doing cool things with it.
So I think what we need to do is help people know that Braille is important by being out, there using it, and talking about it. I always love when I'm in an airport and I'm using my Braille display and someone says, what is that! You know, because that's an opportunity, then, to talk about what it is, how it works, why it's meaningful, why Braille makes a difference. And so I think we should remember that there's a lot of misunderstanding about Braille, and so when people ask us about it, we should see that as an opportunity. And we should find creative ways to talk about it. I know on the Ride for Literacy, one of our activities, our Texas affiliate did a little Braille graffiti, which I think is really cool. In Chicago. What a great place to do Braille graffiti.
PAM ALLEN: Excellent. We had a question about how do we collaborate with others to help increase employment opportunities for blind people.
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, you know, related to employment, we need to look for those individuals and organizations that are truly committed to employment of blind people because they believe in the capacity of blind people. And because they're committed to helping break down those barriers.
Now, we should start with those employers that are already working with us. You know, there's thousands of blind people who have been employed and working with companies and have respected the work that those blind people are doing because they're contributing to the mission. So we can get those individuals to first and foremost be great allies in helping to speak to other employers about why blindness is not the characteristic that should be used to define whether someone is a good employee. And I think if we can get the employers talking with each other and demystifying it, it can help in many ways.
So we have a great effort we're putting together at our national office through what we call our center of employment opportunities to find ways to connect with employers.
One thing you can do is if you know of big employers who are interested in hiring blind people, get them connected with our employment committee, because our national convention is the largest employment career fair anywhere in the world for blind people, and we want to continue to build that network. And when we get employers to come to the national convention, that's where they experience the magic and become true allies for what we're doing.
PAM ALLEN: Awesome.
Do you have any updates on the Cogswell-Macy Act and what is happening with respect to that piece of legislation?
MARK RICCOBONO: So the Cogswell-Macy Act is a bill that the Federation has opposed and continues to oppose because it introduces language that diminishes the Braille provision that this organization helped to get into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And although we have shared with the proponents of the bill our concerns, not just in this Congress but this many Congresses past, this continue to offer the same bill with the same language.
So that bill is not advancing very far, partly because the blind of America don't support it.
Having said that, there are some good provisions in that bill as it relates especially to deafblind individuals. And through our deafblind division and our advocacy and policy group at our national office, we're working with our deafblind members to see if we can advance the ideals related to improving services for deafblind individuals by getting that language put into other bills.
PAM ALLEN: Excellent.
And several questions have been raised, just a follow up to many members participating in the Uber town hall meetings and if there are any updates or news on that front.
MARK RICCOBONO: It's a great question. We had two very good town halls, one in July, one in August, and thank you to all of the members who participated. We are continuing to have discussions with Uber. This is an ongoing issue. We don't have any specific updates. We have talked to them about some new approaches that they're testing and going to roll out. We will continue, though, to press people to file complaints and log information with us so that we continue to hold them accountable. It's going to take a long time, longer than we would like of course because one denial is too many. But I encourage us to keep the pressure on.
Uber is listening. Lyft is kind of listening. They will listen in the end, and we will get change to happen. And definitely when we have substantive updates, we will do that.
PAM ALLEN: Thank you so much. And we will persist. We know how to do that in the National Federation of the Blind.
So I want to thank everybody who submitted questions both from our audience and also questions that were sent in. If we didn't have a chance to answer the question tonight, our always phenomenal communications team will be following up.
So thank you again so much for all the great discussions and for sharing the history tonight and just the opportunity for us to come together and to celebrate also our wonderful success and our Ride for Literacy.
Thank you again for being with us tonight. You can contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9314, or via email at [email protected].
Join President Riccobono next month on Tuesday, October 3rd, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for the presidential release live from Louisville, Kentucky. If you want to attend in person, reach out to your Kentucky President for more information.
Thank you so much for being with us tonight.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Pam. It's been great to be with you again. Wish you could have been with us here in person in Chicago.
PAM ALLEN: Have some extra pizza.
MARK RICCOBONO: Yea.
That does bring me to the end of this September presidential release. It has been a great summer, and I know there are many exciting things ahead as we get into the fall convention season.
One of the things, though, that the summer brings to an end is our 2023 Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program, again, across the country, we've helped so many young people get meaningful experience and mentorship with Braille. That always sends us into the fall and back to school time feeling very optimistic about the future for these young people. And I want to leave you with that as we close this presidential release by giving you some customary endings from young people from our Braille enrichment program! Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
SPEAKER: My name is Brandon from Texas and I have a joke for you. What's a cat's favorite song?
SPEAKER: I don't know.
SPEAKER: Three Blind Mice.
SPEAKER: I'm Mae. I live in Vermont and I have two jokes for you. How much does a grandpa weigh?
SPEAKER: I don't know. How much?
SPEAKER: A little more than a gram.
And secondly, why did the cow go to Broadway?
SPEAKER: I don't know. Why did the cow go to Broadway?
SPEAKER: Because it wanted to see the moosicals.
SPEAKER: Hello. How many tickles does it take an octopus to laugh? Ten-tickles!
The previous message was brought to you by President Mark Riccobono, [email protected]. Search for @president @NFB.social on Mastodon.
Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.