Presidential Release #531, October 2023 (Transcript for Chapter Meetings)

MARK RICCOBONO:  Greetings, fellow Federationists, today is Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023.  This is presidential release 531 live from Louisville, Kentucky! That's right, at the Hyatt Regency downtown Louisville near 4th Street live and all the amenities of Louisville. We've had a number of national conventions not too far from here, so it's great to be back together and great to have a live audience here in Louisville to kick off blind equality achievement month! So thank you to our Louisville chapter, to our Kentucky affiliate, to our affiliate President and other leaders who are here to host this presidential release live to kick off this very special month when we are having a focused time to raise awareness about the capacity of blind people.  And I would like to remind everybody that you can go to to check out the updates and send in events that your chapter might be hosting for this year's blind equality achievement month. It's never too late to share those events with us at the national office.

There is a lot going on as we get into the last quarter of 2023.  One of the topics of course is a recent rise again in COVID across the country.  You may have noticed that the White House recently announced that it was again making at-home COVID tests available to Americans to reorder.  People are now able to place an order for free at-home COVID tests, and each household can place one order which will get you 12 tests.

Now, as Federationists will know, we did substantial work the first time around that the government did this to get them to fix it, and I have to say, this time they got it right from the beginning.  So it does show ya that what we do does work.  We have checked with the folks in the government, and you can now get accessible tests from the government through this program.  They are making the accessible tests by Ellume available.  You can order them via the online system or over the telephone, and you will need to go through the specific channels to get accessible tests.  Believe it or not, apparently some people wanted the accessible tests who didn't necessarily need them.  So the government, to their credit, has taken extra steps to make sure that these tests really go to the people that need to use these specific tests the most.

So if you want to order your tests online, and I know many people already have.  I know because the Riccobonos have ordered theirs for at home.  You go to You can also order them by phone by calling 1-800-232-0233. You'll want to select the language that you want to be prompted in, and then once you do that, you want to select item number 8 for the accessible tests. Again, if you don't select item number 8, you will get an inaccessible test, so make sure you go through that specific channel. There is assistance available for both placing orders and help understanding how to administer the test by calling (888)677-1199. Through this, you can get other information as well. This DIAL hotline, they call it, is a disability access hotline run by ACL.  It's available Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

We in the National Federation of the Blind have long valued building leadership. And we continue to look for new ways to build leaders. I talked on last month's release about it being the 50th anniversary of the first presidential leadership seminar which was held in the fall of 1973. And this month we're coming upon the 25th anniversary of the passing of Kenneth Jernigan, our second great President, and who started the presidential leadership seminar and did so much to make sure that our organization stayed focused on investing in new leaders. Well, we thought that it would be a good thing to reinvest in leadership by sponsoring this year a new program which is the Kenneth Jernigan leadership in service program.

This past weekend we had our first class of 15 individuals who are part of our inaugural class. I just wanted to call them out on this presidential release. The we're really honored to have the opportunity to work with them all year on leadership.  And the class includes Suzanne Belemer of Vermont, Heather Bird of New York, Christopher Bove of Rhode Island, Felicia Bradford of Michigan, Janice Bright of South Carolina, Jenny Carmac of Missouri, Jean Kim of California, Hunter Keister from Wisconsin, Stacy Leap from Pennsylvania, Carly Mullen from Maryland, Judy Marula from Maryland, Alaida from Puerto Rico, Camille Tate from Florida, Liz Wise Carver from Texas, and Becky Young from Iowa.

You certainly will be hearing more from these individuals as you come across them in various Federation events, and we will definitely be celebrating them at the national convention when we come to the end of their program.  One of the things that these 15 individuals are doing is to help shape what the future program implementation looks like. So I'm pleased to report that leadership development continues to be alive and well, and I can't think of anything better to celebrate the legacy of Kenneth Jernigan than continuing to invest in new leaders in the organization. Now, leadership happens in many ways, though.  One of those happens to be our commitment to educators. Two weekends ago, we had 14 of our teacher of tomorrow participants for the 2023-2024 school year.  

We have educators from Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington State participating. These are all teachers working with blind students who are early in their career.  And we're giving them a positive understanding of bottom lineness through real engagement with blind people through this intensive program. So if that's one of your affiliates, please make sure you meet these teachers and get to know them and bring them into the organized blind movement. Now, we are in the last quarter of the year, and that is a very significant time for the Federation in terms of fundraising.  And so to kick off our end of the year fundraising efforts, I would like to introduce the support from this year's matching campaign partner with this video.


SPEAKER:  Hi, everyone.  I'm Peter from HumanWare. Today we'll be looking at the Monarch device made in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, HumanWare, and the American Printing House for the Blind. The Monarch is the first of its kind device that will show 10 lines of refreshable Braille, 32 characters per line, and can also show tactile graphics on the same program. All right, everybody, I have $5 for Mr. Dan O'Rourke here.  Now, Dan, you will be checking this out for the first time.  Feel what's on our array here and tell me what you think this tactile graphic is.

SPEAKER:  I am going to say that it is a bicycle.

SPEAKER:  He is correct, ladies and gentlemen. The question is, would you like the $5 or would you like to double it for the next person?

SPEAKER:  I'm going to say double it for the next person!

SPEAKER:  Double its, all right.  Thanks, so much, Dan. Sara, I'm going to have you put your hands on the Monarch array. Can you tell what that tactile graphic is for $10?

SPEAKER:  It's two hockey sticks!

SPEAKER:  Are you correct. Would you like to take the $10 or would you like to double it for the next person?

SPEAKER:  I want to double it.

SPEAKER:  That's what I'm talking about. All right. Thanks, Sara.Time for contestant number 3. We are at $20. Ellen, what's on the array of the Monarch here? Do you know what this tactile graphic is?

SPEAKER:  Yes. Double dollar signs.

SPEAKER:  That's correct. The real question is, do you want the $20, Ellen, or do you want to double it?

SPEAKER:  I want to double it.

SPEAKER:  That's what I'm talking about. And the doubling will continue. HumanWare is excited to also double more for the National Federation of the Blind. Starting this October, every dollar donated will be matched up to $50,000.

MARK RICCOBONO: It's truly because of our partners, our supporters, that we're able to help blind people across the country live the lives they want, by paying it forward, making a contribution to the National Federation of the Blind, and having your contribution doubled. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

(Video ends)

MARK RICCOBONO:  First and foremost, thank you to HumanWare. Even with Peter's shameless plug for the Monarch device. I'm here in Louisville for the American Printing House for the Blind conference annual meeting. I'll be giving a keynote address later this week. But that innovation that we're helping to steer really is truly powerful. What's more powerful than that, even, is HumanWare's continued work to make sure that we can continue to do work together by making sure that the Federation has the financial resources it needs to drive our advocacy and community building agenda. And so HumanWare has made a $50,000 gift available to us if we can match that with other contributions.

Now, I know Federationists might be thinking, oh, I've already given what I can. But look, you know a lot of people. And the end of the year is a very important time for giving. Help spread the word about this. You will see emails, find emails about it, you will get alerts about it in social media. Share it with your networks, and let them know how powerful it is if they choose to make a contribution, they're choosing to double it. And that's really powerful. And it speaks to the work that we're doing not just as blind people across the country, but with great partners like HumanWare and others to drive real meaningful change for blind people.

Now, HumanWare, I do have to say, has been a long time partner of ours, and they're really a long time leader in the blindness technology field. They have innovated literally dozens of products. And what's really important is they take very seriously taking feedback and diving deep with blind consumers to make sure that their products really do what we want them to do. And so I encourage all of us to spread the word about this important end of the year giving opportunity for us. There are three ways to give. You all probably already know them. But you can encourage people to give online, Individuals can mail a check to our national office at 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, Maryland, 21230.  Or we can also take contributions by phone using a credit card by calling 410-659-9314 and dialing extension 2430. Let's find innovative ways to promote this giving opportunity during this blind equality achievement month.

Now, the giving is important because it enables us to do a lot of powerful things. And we've been working on those powerful things in the month of September. And I'm really happy on this release to announce that on Thursday, September 28th, the Websites and Software Applications Accessibility Act was introduced in both the House and Senate! It's amazing, right? Now you know why the government funding was so delayed, because they had to get the website bill dropped first. But we are truly excited about this.  In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by our long time supporters Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and original sponsors Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts. So congratulations to Massachusetts. The Senate Bill number is S2984.

In the House, the bill was sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, with Representative Pete Sessions of Texas as an original cosponsor. And I know Federationists appreciate anytime we can, like in this case, have a bipartisan introduction to the bill, it makes a great difference. So we're really happy for that. In the House, the House bill number is HR5813. This is a good, good excuse for you to email your members of Congress, get on the phone with them, try to get a meeting, get their attention and let them know we've talked to them about a bill before but the bills are now introduced. We have bills that they can now cosponsor. So now is the time to prove it, sign up, get on board. So please, push this bill. It's an important time to do it.  And we need the momentum. And one reason we need the momentum is we're not confident that other means of getting access through the government are going to happen.

In August the Department of Justice published a notice of proposed rulemaking related to regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to Title II of the ADA, specifically around website and mobile applications. We put a team together of staff and members and partners of ours and spent literally weeks poring through the 200 pages of the NPRM and literally dozens of questions that needed answers in the NPRM. We submitted our comprehensive remarks on the NPRM, and they are published at our website We submitted our comments on September 19th with the hope that members and others would know what we had said and help to amplify the message. I know many have already.  That window is closed now, but we appreciate all those that were able to submit comments.

The shorthand version of the comments was, it's extremely disappointing. We've waited over a decade for the Department of Justice to propose regulations, and instead of strengthening, in fact, the idea that was advanced in the NPRM was to add seven new exceptions to the Americans with Disabilities Act. It may come as no surprise that the position of the National Federation of the Blind is to absolutely 100% reject all seven proposed new exceptions. Not in 2023. It's not needed.  We have a good law in place that already allows two very notable exceptions. And keep in mind, these seven exceptions were offered to government websites! Imagine what might be offered to corporate America in the future.  We cannot have this stand.

So I'm going to let you know that although that message is a little bit disappointing, stay tuned. We're going to keep the pressure on, and we're thinking about doing some other things because in the next 90 days plus, the Department of Justice will be sorting through all this with the hope of putting out a final rule sometime late next year before the end of the administration, which is kind of their time line. We're going to let them know in every way that we can find beyond our comments that blind Americans are concerned about this, so we will need to call on you to come out to do various activities, send letters. We're working on our strategy. But just be ready because we cannot settle for more exceptions to our civil rights, especially when it comes to access to the digital age.

I have some Federation family notes for you to come to the end of this release. And the first comes from Indiana, where we learned of the passing of long-time Federation member Garry Siebern on September 2, 2023, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  He was an entrepreneur in our blind enterprise program there in Indiana and was a passionate member of the local chapter. Also from Missouri, Sheila Wright reports the passing of Sharon Fleman on September 12, just four days after her 72nd birthday. Sharon was the wife of Gene Fleman, long-time active member of our Missouri affiliate. I urge you to keep these two Federationists, their friends and family, in your thoughts and prayers.

I think that's what I have for this October presidential release. It is going to be an exciting month of activities for blind equality achievement month. Many affiliate conventions. A number of exciting things going on. I'm looking forward to going to the Baltimore, greater Baltimore chapter water distribution at the running festival in Baltimore.  So I know a lot of other chapters, wish I could be there to participate in your fun and interesting events. We do have a busy end of the year ahead. So I will leave it with all of you and say that I appreciate what you're doing to spread the awareness of the capacity of blind people every day.

Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind! Thank you for being with us tonight. You can contact President Riccobono at 410-659-9314 or via email at [email protected]. Please join President Riccobono on November 1st at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for our next presidential release. Thanks so much, and I'll turn it back to you, President Riccobono.

SPEAKER:  Hello, Oriana. Do you have jokes for us?

SPEAKER:  Yep. Why did the vampire like baseball?

SPEAKER:  Because he's a Brewer and an Oriole fan?

SPEAKER:  No. Every night he turns into a bat. What's a ghost's favorite pasta?

SPEAKER:  I don't know.

SPEAKER:  Spook-ghetti.

SPEAKER:  Hi, Elizabeth. Do you have a joke?

SPEAKER:  Yes. What do you call a monster who picks its nose?

SPEAKER:  Disgusting?

SPEAKER:  The boogeyman.

SPEAKER:  What's a witch's favorite baseball team? The Brewers.

SPEAKER:  Oh, finally! A Brewers fan!

The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, 410-659-9314, [email protected].  Follow President Riccobono on Mastodon. Just search for @[email protected]. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.