Presidential Release #531, October 2023 (English Transcript)

This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.

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. You can applaud for that. It's okay.


This is a very polite group. Like we don't want to mess up the recording. I do have a few other things to share with you. You know, it's not just that we're working on one issue at a time. It happens throughout the Federation. I want to thank the President of the NFB of Maryland, who also serves as President of our blind government employees national division, Ronza Othman, who testified in Congress on behalf of the Federation on September 21st during a hearing that talked really about these issues and especially how they intersect with government. You know, a lot of people think oh, it must be glamorous to get up there and talk in front of Congress. But it's nerve wracking. Especially when you're representing a community like that.  Ronza did a great job on representing us and talking about the real meaningful problems that blind and other disabled federal employees face and really at all levels of government face as it relates to inaccessible websites and other applications. Yeah, absolutely.


SPEAKER:  Go Ronza!

MARK RICCOBONO: Throughout the month of September, we also did a great job on our Access Technology Affordability Act, where we gained seven new cosponsors in the House of Representatives. So keep the pressure on. It is making a difference. This is an important bill because there will be a vehicle where our primary sponsors in the Congress that are leading this, they're on the watch for the right bill to attach this to to get this tax benefit passed through Congress. So the more cosponsors we have, the better. So this is another bill that if you can get support in this critical time, especially as we know that more budget bills are going to be considered, it will make a real difference.  So congratulations to the affiliates who were able to on board sponsors during the month of September.

I do want to call out that a very unusual thing happened in September with our NFB-NEWSLINE service. We experienced what I would say is a significant set of technical problems. We maintain our NEWSLINE servers. Most of them are in the cloud, but some of them are still at a data center, physical data center, and it turned out that the physical data center where our servers are held did some electrical work. That seems like a very dangerous thing. And it turned out to be so in this case. It did some significant disruption to our NEWSLINE system. So just want to put that out there and apologize for our avid NEWSLINE readers who have been feeling it for the last week or so. We have almost all of our systems back up online, and it also pushed us into getting some of those final systems into the cloud. So we're going to continue to work on that. But one thing I think we can be very proud of is that the NEWSLINE system over its lifetime actually had very few technical disruptions. So this is an unusual situation.

I do want to announce the 2024 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, which will be coming up in 2024. Our theme will be the right of people with disabilities to live in the world, emergent barriers and unrealized potential. Dr. tenBroek was not bound by where the law was in his time.  He envisioned what the law could be and what we could help to shape it to be. Our Disability Law Symposium seeks to do that, especially in a time where we do face challenges with the law and proposed regulations. We need to continue to be thoughtful and strategic about how to go forward. So I encourage those interested in the law, emerging law students, lawyers, people you may know who are interested in getting into disability rights, encourage them to be part of our Jacobus tenBroek Symposium at our building.  It will happen from March 21-22, 2024. We are currently accepting submissions for plenary sessions and workshop proposals. The deadline for those is December 31st of this year.  So if you have folks who have interesting topics that they might want to talk about at the law symposium, please encourage them to submit their proposal. Registration and hotel information for this symposium will open up at the beginning of January of next year.  It's a very scholarly gathering. It has made a huge difference over the last almost 20 years now in terms of pushing the thinking on disability rights.

I got two more quick things before I want to pause and give a little time here to our Kentucky affiliate. And the first of the two is to talk about the PAC plan. This is our Pre-Authorized Contribution program where chapters, affiliates, individuals can make a monthly commitment of funds to the Federation. And I want to welcome the new Wayne County chapter of our Michigan affiliate which has recently joined the PAC program. So thank you to our chapter in Michigan for being part of that program.

Another important program we have is our Dream Maker Circle. Now, this is a way for partners, members, other donors to make an end of life commitment to the Federation while they're still alive. And our list continues to grow.  And our Dream Maker Circle list is really important because it encourages others who are thinking of putting us in a will or making some other kind of commitment to give financially to the Federation on their passing. The more individuals they find on the list, the more confidence they have. Especially if they don't know us that well. So every person counts, and we would like to welcome Deborah Zwickey of Minnesota as the newest member of our Dream Maker Circle. Thank you for your commitment, and I hope that more of you will consider being part of the Dream Maker Circle.

You know, dreams in this organization have happened, have come into reality because of effort all over the country. And our affiliates are so very critical to the work that we do. I thought since we were in Louisville, it would be great to hear a little bit about our Kentucky affiliate. But it's not just hearing from our Kentucky affiliate. We're really quite honored this evening that we could hear from an individual who has been a huge part of those contributions.  She has served as our President here in Kentucky. She has served with distinction on the Federation's national board. And like all successful Federation leaders, she continues to, has always stayed rooted in the local work of the Federation right here in Louisville.  So it's my honor to turn over the podium this evening to talk a little bit about our Kentucky affiliate to Kathy Jackson.

KATHY JACKSON: Thank you, President Riccobono, and fellow Federationists. As the story goes, there was a young blind gentleman who was a student at the University of Louisville who was contemplating his future as a blind man and the future of other blind people in Kentucky as well.  This man was Harold L. Reagan, our first President of the Kentucky Federation. Harold had a reader at school, and this reader had a blind friend who coincidently knew Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and first President of the National Federation of the Blind. Filled with lots of excitement and anticipation, Harold flew from Kentucky to California to personally meet with Jacobus tenBroek. Harold came back to Kentucky just filled with hope and anticipation, and he just knew he had to become a part of this national movement that was catching fire.

Somehow, and I don't know how the meeting took place, but he met another blind gentleman named Bob Whitehead, who coincidently was our second President of our Kentucky Federation. He began telling Bob all he had learned from Harold and hope was starting to swell in Bob as well. Their first order of business was to try to convince other blind people that becoming a part of this movement could be such an advantage. So they had to build membership. Now, neither Harold nor Bob went to the Kentucky school for the blind, but they surmised if they could make connection with the alumni association, that that could be fertile ground for building membership.  And it worked.  And for years, KSB alumni and the Kentucky Federation were in close contact.

The second order of business was to make a connection with the state legislature because goodness knows there was plenty of work to be done. And Bob had just that person in mind. He knew a lady named Mae Budestein. She was a southern woman, and her favorite word must have been marvelous, because everything was just marvelous. I can hear the words echoing now. So the Federation was off and running in Kentucky.  There was much work to be done. Those in charge of our services for the blind were in need of an attitude adjustment as far as the capabilities of blind people. Education and employment were of utmost importance. And the vending program was proving to be a pathway to some good employment for our blind men and women.  So that had to be kept blast upon. If these issues sound familiar, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Just as Dr. tenBroek and his colleagues decided in 1940 that it was time for blind people to come out of the shadows and take their rightful place in society, so did our forefathers here in Kentucky. In 1947, Kentucky became an official affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind.


We truly are standing on the shoulders of some pretty great men and women. Even back then, they realized that they had to dispel those negative attitudes about blindness and the low expectations that these attitudes created. A great deal of the work that is done in our state affiliates, you know, starts at the national level. As early as 1973, Kentucky's delegates made themselves known in what was then called our march on Washington. And today it's our Washington Seminar. And we model our state legislation sessions after Washington Seminar.  We decide what issues are of importance and outline our agenda accordingly. And we've put out some pretty impressive legislation in this state. One of the most significant pieces that I can think of was back in 1979 when after several years of fighting we finally were granted our separate state agency for the blind. Unfortunately, all good things somehow come to an end.  And on October 1st of 2018, we found ourselves under the umbrella of the Department of Rehabilitation once again.  That doesn't mean that we've turned our back and aren't keeping an eye on what's going on. On a couple of occasions, we've had to fight to make sure that our Kentucky school for the blind stayed a school, educating our students in K-12 and it wasn't dismantled and repurposed into a hospital for the most severely disabled individuals.

We are currently working on a couple of bills. The parents' right bill and the elimination of subminimum wage for the blind and disabled. Now all state affiliates kind of go through this ebb and flow with membership. That's just the name of the game.  But there are other ways to measure the success and growth of your chapters that aren't readily as noticeable. Like for example, for years we had wanted to expand our state conventions.  We wanted them to be more than just some guest speakers and a business meeting. Well, our technology assistive division took the bull by the horns and they've turned our Fridays into an all-day activity. I mean, they've sponsored job fairs, technology seminars, they've presented some good speakers, and they've organized exhibit halls. Our sports and rec division got into the fracas one year and hosted a scavenger hunt that got a little rowdy but was fun nevertheless. Our Saturday afternoons have been reserved for special activities and events and breakout sessions. We might just hear from our BELL Academy students and their parents.

Our legislative team might host a session on the purpose of resolutions. We might even have somebody come in from our state legislature to talk to us about organizing a bill from start until it becomes law. Now, as a result of all this expansion, we've had to move our business meetings to Sunday mornings. But I haven't heard too many complaints because our conventions are so much more meaningful and full of substance. In many ways COVID just kept us down.  We weren't able to meet in person or have social activities. But because we're now able to host Zoom meetings, it's less to keep in contact with our members from across the state. And our all-chapter meetings have really proved to be a vital part of our growth.

This affiliate wants to make sure that we keep Braille alive and under the fingers of our kiddos.  We hosted our first BELL Academy in 2015.  We had one student, and it was an abbreviated session. It only lasted 3 days. But I think little McKenna got a lot out of that 3 days with the individualized attention that she got. Our BELL program continues to progress.  We healed our sixth in-person session this year with six crazy kids who definitely kept us on our toes.  Yeah, some of our volunteers are echoing that. I'm grateful for the partnerships that we have created over the years. The American Printing House for the Blind and the Kentucky school for the blind have both been supporters of the state and local NFB.  They have both hosted BELL Academies, they've allowed us to host meetings on their campuses, and fundraising events.

The NFB of Kentucky and its members have held a prominent role on the national stage as well. We've held six national conventions right here in Louisville. 1954, 1966, 1985, 2002, 2003, and 2005. Yeah, take a breath. Tim was a long time member of the affiliate and chapter and held office on both levels, known for his work in the field of technology. For many years he chaired the research and development committee on the national level.  He partnered with an engineering friend of his, Dean Blazey, to create one of the first voice output devices known as the Braille and Speak, which has morphed into one of those note takers that you're using out there today. Charlie Allen held the President's position in the National Association of Blind Merchants.  Michael Freehome chaired the living history committee. Maria Jones served on the board of directors of the parents of blind children. Danielle Burton served as Secretary of the Deafblind division.  And where do you suppose the national association to promote the use of Braille got its start? 

Well, let me tell ya. Five Kentuckians went to our national office and sat down with President Kenneth Jernigan to officially organize the association. Betty was the first President and served for a number of years.  Denise was the first secretary. I'm not sure what offices the other gentlemen held. But these five members have gone to that great division in the sky. Betty was well recognized. Not only was she our state President for a number of years, but she also served on the board of directors of the Braille Authority of North America, BANA.  She was recognized for her dedication and hard work and awarded an award, which is not given to just anyone. Kentucky can be proud that we've had three members serve on the national board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. The first being Harold Reagan. He served as a board member from 1949-1967. And as second Vice President from 1968-1971. Betty served on the board of directors from 1985-1999.  And I was pleased and privileged to serve from 2002-2019. Oh, and by the way, you know that phrase that you hear so often, we're changing what it means to be blind? I've heard Betty nicely coined that. Well, Federationists, it has been marvelous speaking with you this evening and sharing just a bit of Kentucky's history. Thank you.


MARK RICCOBONO:  All right!  Thank you, Kathy. I was going to say nicely done, no pun intended. That's great. You know, for those who might be tuned in who didn't get to experience a Kentucky convention, some of that is a lot of stuff they didn't know, but for those of us who did get to experience some of the wild Kentucky conventions, memorable, very memorable, for many reasons.  It's really great to review. And again, the history is really important indicator for us in terms of thinking about where we want to go in the future. And what a privilege it is for us to stand on the shoulders and the work of folks that have done a really incredible things to create the opportunities that we have today. Okay.  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'm sure we have some questions, Pam, so I'm going to turn it over to you.

Questions and Answers (Q&A)


PAM ALLEN:  All right. Thank you so much, President Riccobono. It was great to hear the history of our wonderful Kentucky affiliate. So thanks, so much, Kathy, for sharing. It's always great on our live releases, we've had some wonderful treats on our history and our great future ahead. We do have wonderful questions tonight. Thank you, everybody. We have questions from all around the country, including in the room where you are. So thanks, everybody, for submitting questions. You can continue to submit questions through our Q&A feature. We have our awesome communications team working really hard to follow up on any questions we don't get to this evening. So our first question tonight is coming from someone there in the room.  We have a couple questions from Bill and Debbie. Debbie would like to know what we are doing in the National Federation of the Blind in respect to artificial intelligence. I know we talked a little bit about that at the national convention this summer, but just any thoughts or updates on that?

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah. Well, it's a great question. The one current conversation that is taking some energy is around the privacy concerns that are being raised in the artificial intelligence community. You know, blind people want to use AI to get access to information that those who are not blind get information to just by looking around. If you're walking down a hallway in a public place like this hotel, you get a lot of information without having to do anything. And we want to be able to take a picture and get that same level of information. And that intersects with a concern that is rightfully being raised in the community about privacy. Especially as it relates to facial recognition. So we're talking with both the AI companies and legal experts and trying to make sure that we can carve out an appropriate space for blind people to be able to get access to appropriate descriptions in the way that someone if they weren't blind would be able to look at an image and get that information.

So that's where our current energy is being spent, as well as continuing to talk with and inform companies like Be My Eyes that are making access to some of these tools available. I would say the third area that maybe is a huge concern right now is working with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and others on how artificial intelligence tools are being used to screen blind applicants out of employment opportunities. Sometimes that happens through taking prescreening tests. Sometimes that happens because, for example, in some systems, each and every one of us are going to indicate that we don't have a driver's license, and as we well know from the nonartificial intelligence spaces, there's a lot of job postings that still require or claim to require a driver's license even though there's nothing about driving that has anything to do with the position. It's usually sometimes an outdated job description. But if artificial intelligence makes that decision before we even get considered, there are issues there.

So we're continuing to work on those aspects as well. This is where it's really important for us in this community to be engaged in the conversation.  And if you have concerns and connections in the artificial intelligence community that you think we should be talking to, please send them along. But if you have friends, family that are working in these areas, I mean, raise the concerns that blind people have and get people thinking about it in the same way that we have with other technologies and things that we faced in society.

PAM ALLEN:  Excellent. And similarly, another quick question. This is from Bill in relation to autonomous vehicles. NFB has always taken the lead in this department. Anything new to report? Or any new developments?

MARK RICCOBONO: There's no new developments except to say, you know, we live in a very interesting time. With technologies like autonomous vehicles, there's a tricky balance between testing, exploring demonstration projects with these technologies, especially where their feature improvement is going to be made even better by the data they collect. Balancing that against accessibility and maybe where we would like things to go in the future. So we're in a really good place because of the blind driver work that we did over a decade ago.  All of the major companies working on autonomous vehicles know that the blind are an important constituency. They also know that we're demanding equal access from the beginning. So they need us as much as we need them, maybe in some ways more.  And so we have a lot of good connections and are able to have a lot of good conversations.

Where this gets tricky is places like San Francisco, where, you know, recently the autonomous vehicle companies were granted 24 hour 7 day a week access to run autonomous vehicles on roads. This is a good thing. So if you happen to go to the Bay Area, you can download an app and dial up an autonomous vehicle and it will come get you and it will probably drop you off where you want to go, actually.  Hopefully. Actually, it's very reliable from my experience. But there's always quirks. But you know, if you happen to be someone that also utilizes a wheelchair, right now the options are a little limited. So there's a push and pull on these things. I think, though, what we can say is that this technology is moving faster. It's not in all parts of the country but you'll see it coming to more places.  You'll see it coming to more rural communities, because there's definitely a push for that right now. And of course those are our communities that could really use this access to transportation.  Especially if you're a blind person living in one of those communities. So it is coming. It's not like flipping a switch, though. It's not going to go fast because, you know, it's kind of like I was telling someone the other day, you know, when you're a blind person, you go throw out the first pitch at a baseball game, everybody expects you to screw it up, right?  Now, if someone just off the street goes and throws the first pitch, they get laughed at if they screw it up, but they don't expect them to screw it up necessarily.

The technology work is a little bit like that. Any time -- you know, you hardly ever heard about an automobile accident on the news anymore, right? They're so commonplace. People are killed every day in car crashes. But if an autonomous vehicle gets stopped because someone put a traffic cone on the hood and it confused the computer, it makes the nightly news, right? So it's a little bit like that where the truth is somewhere in the middle. Obviously there's work to be done, but the promise of the technology and what it can do for all sorts of areas, the environment, transportation, different things, is, you know, really gives you a lot of reason to have hope. And the fact that we're involved at this level at this stage in the game I think is impressive. I mean, we had no idea when we said 10 years ago that this is really where we wanted to go with our blind driver work whether we would get there. And at the beginning, we didn't. I can tell ya, I was at the first meeting at the driverless car summit, and Google laughed us off the stage. Like you guys get out of here. That is not Waymo's position today. So it is because of our work. So I want to present that it is optimistic, but I also don't want to say it's going to happen in your community tomorrow and it's going to be foolproof.

PAM ALLEN:  Thanks for those great questions. And we definitely will continue to advocate to make sure we're heard in that. We have another question concerning another issue we've talked about at conventions and had a lot of dialogue on.  This is from Claudia, and she would like to know how can we advocate for more descriptive video on TV shows and movies?

MARK RICCOBONO:  What I would say about that, and I'm throwing a cue to my colleague Everette Bacon in the room who serves on the FCC advisory commission on behalf of the Federation, but two things. One, you should ask for it. You should ask the providers for it.  You should write them letters. And the second thing is, writing to the online providers, the stations, the producers, whoever you can get to when they're providing description. They need to hear both sides. And by the way, she should still hear from us when the descriptions are really bad. The industry has gotten better, but they still need to hear from us. And I think unfortunately sometimes the message that they've gotten is that we're so grateful to have any level of description, that anything is enough.  

But that's not really our opinion, right?  We have always held the opinion that if we're going to prioritize, the first thing should be making sure that emergency information, other critical information that's presented on screen is always presented in a nonvisual way.  But we want all of the information and we want it in as robust package as possible. And it has to be easy to discover, which is the other thing. So I think we need to continue to push and not just say thank you for the little bits we get, but to really push that it's really important that there is more content out there. And I think we're seeing that happen. But I think our continuing to write to these entities and let them know will go a long way. Everette, did you have anything to add to that?

EVERETTE BACON: You said it very well, sir. I would just add that the FCC Disability Advisory Committee, if you go to their website, they have an email link there where you can email concerns about audio description directly to them.  
They keep track of all of the complaints or concerns or even issues that come through. So please, email them. If you have trouble finding the website, please contact me at the NFB of Utah, [email protected].

MARK RICCOBONO:  And if you ever want to talk movies, Everette is your guy.

PAM ALLEN: Thank you. Thank you both so much. And our next question is related to, I know how excited we all are about our museum. And a lot of great questions that we have here. So David would like to know, President Riccobono, if you could give an update. And he had a question about if the museum would be housed in our current building or in a separate building.

MARK RICCOBONO: Oh, that's a great question. So our museum work is going forward. We're continuing -- so there's two aspects. One is raising pledges and we're making good progress on that. I got a text earlier today from Patti Chang that said 100,000 check was on its way from some individuals that we talked to in the last week or so. And we continue to get a steady flow of pledge commitments and actually paid pledges. But that work is going to continue for a while, right, because we've got to raise what we think is 20 million.

At the same time, we are in the deep throes of really putting together the concept package, the design, the thematic ideas that are going to really drive where this goes in terms of the physical design and the exhibits and that sort of thing. So we've still got a number of years of work ahead of us. But by the end of this year we'll have a very good concept, thematic design, which will help accelerate our fundraising as well. Now, to David's question specifically, we have a great building in Baltimore, and part of what we did in thinking about a museum, the first thing we did was a feasibility study. So we didn't just come out and say we're going to have a museum. Before we went public with that announcement to the Federation, we did a feasibility study to see did it make sense.  Was there a real opportunity or was it just something we wanted to do.  Did Baltimore make sense or was the market saturated. And we had some great consultants work with us on this, and our feasibility study showed that Baltimore is a good market, we're well positioned for it.

We do have a building that has lots of great space, and we determined that our building was adequate for what we want to do. 20 years ago we opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute building, and that building is a 4-story building. The second floor of that building, the newer building, is partially finished space, I'll call it. About half of the second floor of the new building is dedicated already to our substantial corporate and library archives. So tens of thousands of square feet.  But we have approximately 20,000 square feet that's just a big open room. It's been waiting for 20 years or so for a purpose. We didn't build it out because we didn't have a specific need or purpose for it, and so you don't want to build a space out and then decide, oh, wrong purpose, and have to redo it. So it's just a big shell of a room. And when we've showed it to our museum consultants, they're like, this is wonderful! Because A, we don't have to build a building. B, we don't have to remodel anything, which is exceedingly difficult.

So right now we envision that as being the space. So it would be the second floor. People would come in to our Wells Street entrance, we would do some work on our entrance to make it a little more conducive to both museum traffic and our day-to-day business traffic. And they would take the elevator up to the second floor and experience the Museum of the Blind People's Movement. Now, I say that. When we get further into design, we may think, you know, maybe a different part of the billing really would be better.  But we don't think so.  And we think this is going to challenge us on how to even have our operations of our national headquarters be more dynamic. So that's the idea. And that's the good news. Because we don't have to build a building. We don't have to rent a building. We simply can build out space that already is ours.

PAM ALLEN:  Excellent.  Can't wait for that. So thank you, everyone, for the great questions. We have time for one more I think President Riccobono. As we are celebrating blindness equality achievement month and finding ways to raise awareness, White Cane Awareness Day, we had a question from Rahil in New York about your experience using a cane for the first time and how for a lot of people that can be a very big step toward their independence and there are lots of different feelings associated with it. How was that experience for you and what advice would you have for people that are using their cane for the first time?

MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah. So I think for me, now a long time ago, I didn't really -- you know, I had been faking it for so long. Right? I didn't really know I was a blind person. So I was really good at faking it. I was really comfortable in my own skin with figuring out how to get around in my own way. I got a cane, a fold up cane, for graduating from high school.  And I did know it was a good idea to take it to the University of Wisconsin, so I didn't fall down the stairs in front of co-eds.  But, you know, once I figured out the routes, I put the cane in the closet and, you know, I don't actually know why. I don't think I actually was ashamed of it. I didn't know what to do with the thing.  Right?  They just handed me this cane and said here you go, good luck.

So I never had a blind person who could say this would benefit you. When I was invited to go to the NFB convention in Anaheim, I thought, I've never traveled across the country by myself, I bet you this cane might come in useful. No one told me to bring it. I just thought, well, it would help. And you know, the truth of the matter, I didn't know what I was doing with it.  I certainly wasn't getting good information from it. It was a short, very heavy cane. And I came to the Anaheim convention and I saw just through observation what to do with it. I saw blind people getting information out of it. People that definitely -- and I didn't have a lot of usable vision, but they had less usable vision than I did. And, you know, they had to show me where to go. And here's the story I want to tell about this. And I guess I'm unusual because I wasn't really ashamed of it. I just didn't know what kind of value it could have.

But I was a student, and people were sitting around at the pool. California. And they're talking about their canes and the length of their cane and the weight of their cane. And I'm like, we're at the pool in Anaheim. What are you talking about. But you know, the whole time I'm absorbing their conversation, right? And I think for me, I didn't really understand the freedom and the value of the cane until I really listened to blind people talk about how they used it. I mean, I had professionals who told me, well, it will be a good signal to other people that you can't see.  But it wasn't until someone put it in terms of well how is this going to benefit me.  And I mean, that it is a signal to other people I think is a good note, but I think the way we can make it meaningful to folks is saying, look, this is going to benefit you. Sure, nice that it tells other people that you might not be able to see them.  But they're also going to want to scan it when you check out at Walmart so it might not. So yeah. Interesting question.

PAM ALLEN: Excellent. Thank you so much, President Riccobono, for sharing that story.  And I know that we have had so many great questions. Again, thank you for everyone for submitting. And if we didn't get a chance to answer your question, we will be following up. So thank you. It was great to be with everyone tonight live from Louisville, Kentucky, great to hear our history and talk about all the exciting things that are hang.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Thanks for doing a little overtime here.

PAM ALLEN:  Yes, we are.  We're dedicated in 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.

MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Pam. It's been great to be with you. And thank you again for doing overtime to our team back in Baltimore, for going a little over the hour. Really appreciate it. 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 bill the National Federation of the Blind!

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.