MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks. Greetings, fellow Federationists. Today is Wednesday, November 1st, 2023, and this is Presidential Release number 532 coming off of Halloween. So hopeful everybody had a great Halloween. My family and I were out in south Baltimore yesterday giving out candy. The kids were racking up on the candy. So it was a good time. And I spent a good portion of October traveling for the Federation, spreading the word about what we're doing and making connections. So a really great month. Many great things happened. We still have two full months of the year to go.
This is a special anniversary Presidential Release because the very first Presidential Release number 1, was on November 12, 1973 was the first Presidential Release. I should say the first recorded Presidential Release. Hopefully if you haven't had the opportunity to tune in when we had Presidential Release number 500, which was in December of 2020, go back to it, find the transcript, find the audio. That was a special moment. And we had both Marc Maurer and Mary Ellen Jernigan. Before that, they sent out paper versions with information to Federation leaders.
And we are also this month celebrating the 83rd anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind coming up on November 16th. So these milestones are important opportunities for us to look back at what we have done and the accomplishments that we have made. And to use that as a tool to have inspiration for what we want to do going forward.
Of course, it's our forward momentum, our progress and the things that we still have yet to do that are most important. So happy anniversary to all Federationists. And I hope you do take an opportunity to study the history of our movement and what we've done because I think it gives important signals to where we need to go still.
There are some interesting things happening at this point in time. And one of them is that tomorrow, Netflix will be releasing officially to the public, "All the Light You Cannot See," which was a book originally. But they've released a four point, I guess you would call it a miniseries. It's coming out tomorrow.
But what's really significant about this is that the federation has been pushing for authentic representation of blind people on the big screen for some time. And Netflix heard what we had to say, and they cast a blind person in the lead role for this miniseries. And we have celebrated Netflix at our convention before, but I think this is a really important moment for authentic representation of blind people. I've had the opportunity to preview all four episodes featuring Aria Loberti who is the blind individual who plays the lead character. There are some other blind individuals involved in this as well.
I encourage you to watch it. I think you will be impressed with the authentic representation of blind people and how Aria was able to, I think, influence the development and how the character was portrayed compared to the book. So a really great moment for us. Certainly many more achievements we still have to make in terms of blind people in the performing arts. But I think this is a great one to celebrate.
I had an opportunity to send a congratulatory note to the actress today before I left town. We had some other great moments in October for our blind equality achievement month. And very appropriately, on October 17th, Karla Gilbride was confirmed as the general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She was confirmed by the United States Senate, of course. Karla spoke at our convention this year. She's been a member of the National Federation of the Blind. She was one of our national scholarship winners. And I like to promote that she was in her earlier days even, a winner in the Braille Readers are Leaders contest.
So when we talk about the fact that Braille readers are leaders, Karla is a living example of that and we do wish her well. And we know because of her authentic lived experience, what we heard from her at our convention this summer, that she will do a great job in representing the interests of blind people at the EEOC.
Our advocacy work also make great progress in the month of October. But you do need to keep the pressure on to promote all of our bills in Congress. We're making steady progress at getting co sponsors, but don't neglect letting your members of Congress know about our legislative priorities, following up with them to secure their support for our legislation. The more co sponsors we get, the better. We also published, or had published an op ed that I authored. It was published in The Hell. This was on voting accessibility. A lot of times those who are concerned with security of voting which we all should be concerned about the security of our voting systems oftentimes security is used as a reason why full accessibility for voters with disabilities cannot effectively happen, especially when we talk about electronic ballot delivery and especially electronic ballot return.
There's a lot of myths around that. We believe that security and accessibility go hand in hand and that they can work together and that both of these things are achievable in a nation that prides itself on technology innovation. And so I call out that op ed as something Federationists can use in local communities and in states to advocate for accessibility. Now, this is the time of year that we sometimes talk about changes in the Social Security program. We have been working, well, really since 1940 to improve opportunities in the Social Security program. And our governmental affairs team would like me to share with you that for those who are receiving benefits, the SSA has announced a 3.2% cost of living increase for 2024. The 2024 Substantial Gainful Act amount, otherwise known as SGA will be for 2024, 2,590 dollars. And the 2024 Supplemental Security Income amount will be 943 dollars.
We provide a lot of advocacy work to Federation members to assist with Social Security issues, especially because even folks at Social Security often get the rules wrong, especially as it relates to blind people, the payments that blind people should receive, the rules that blind people should be under. And this often results in overpayments. So if you or members of your chapter have questions regarding SSI or SSDI or other aspects of Social Security where you may be having problems, we would ask you to contact Jesse Shirek, who is a governmental affairs specialist at our national office. You can reach Jesse at 410 659 9314, extension 2348. Or by emailing [email protected].
Jesse is handling our Social Security matters. And you will see more about this in the Braille Monitor coming up. And we do encourage individuals who are having issues to let us know. There will be some other updates coming in 2024 because of previous advocacy, and especially legal advocacy work we've done with Social Security recently. So stay tuned. But watch the December Monitor if you want all details and updates on the Social Security program and contacts and things you should consider. The Federation has led on this issue for a long time. We will continue to do that and I urge you to take advantage of the great expertise that we have in our Federation advocacy team.
I want to congratulate Federation members on Fred spreading the word about our end of year match program. Now look, we're not done yet. Continue to promote the end of year match to your friends and family, because it's a great opportunity for them to make a contribution to a cause that's important to you, and they have their dollars doubled, thanks to the generosity of Human Ware. We had a very special opportunity during the month of October. We had a week long campaign where actually the contributions were tripled, and we were able to meet that triple match opportunity, which is really cool. So we're doing really well. We're better than 60% of the way there on our end of year match. A little more work to do, but we do have two months. Keep pushing, keep spreading the word about the opportunity to support this organization that's important to you.
This time of year is also special for many reasons, but it's also an opportunity to celebrate the holidays and winter and our long standing partnership with Santa Claus to provide blind children Braille letters from Santa Claus. And we've expanded that effort to include a winter letter, a Braille letter for those who might not celebrate in the same way. This program brings Braille to children across the country. Each of our options that we have available, both the Santa letter and the winter letter is available in English and Spanish. Letters come in packets with both Braille and print to accommodate the parents that might need that. And along with the letters are a fun set of activities that help promote the whole family, organizing around Braille and really putting the blind child at the center of some fun activities.
You can request letters between November 6th and December 15th. We obviously have to get your request in time to get it out before the end of the year, before the holidays. So get those requests in. And you can learn more about the program at our website, nfb.org. You can make your requests there. Please promote this with families. It's a great way to introduce families to the National Federation of the Blind.
Sticking with the theme of Braille, this is also the time of year when our partners at the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults launch the Braille Readers are Leaders contest. And this is a great opportunity for all of us, really, to continue to sharpen our Braille reading and also win some fun prizes and encourage Braille reading in our communities. As a partner in this program with the Action Fund, we should promote it in our chapters. This year's contest has some new special features to it for the first time.
First of all, the contest runs from December 4, 2023 through January 22, 2024. There are a number of categories where students can compete. First of all, students kindergarten through 12th grade can compete in the youth category. The blind adults can also participate. Blind adults of all Braille reading levels and experience. So if you're just beginning, don't worry, you can still be in the contest. And this year, there's a new category for sighted teachers of blind students who want to practice their Braille reading. I think this is a really cool thing for the Action Fund to do to encourage our sighted teachers to compete equally with Braille reading. It was actually a request well, actually of our teacher of blind students, our distinguished educator of blind students for this year, was one of the first to make this request. And the Action Fund stepped up to the plate for it.
So the contest works by logging minutes that are read during the contest period. So you have to go on and keep track of your minutes. And you can earn prizes and entries into a grand prize as well. The grand prize drawings have been pretty spectacular the last couple of years. The Action Fund hasn't announced them yet for this contest, but I'm sure they will be prizes you would want. But most importantly to promote Braille. To learn more, go to actionfund.beanstack.org. Bean stack is the platform that's used. So actionfund.beanstack.org. That's also where you can register. You can register anytime now through the contest period. So register now to get yourself ready and start logging minutes in December. If you have questions, send them to [email protected]. Let's all get onboard with Braille Readers are Leaders. And who knows, maybe some of our winners will be confirmed by the Senate or maybe confirmed someday by the electorate in our country as President or Vice President of the United States. We look forward to celebrating that, but for now, we celebrate Braille Readers are Leaders.
I have an announcement here from our advocacy group about the new IRS Direct File pilot program. That's hard to say. This is a program where 13 states have agreed to participate in the IRS' pilot program for the 2024 tax filing season. The Direct File program will allow taxpayers to file their federal returns directly with the IRS for free. The 13 states participating are Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. For the pilot, Direct File program, you will only be able to file the simple form online.
I raise this with you because I want you to know that our team is looking into this pilot project with the IRS. We are making sure that it is fully accessible for screen reader users and other blind people. So we are currently investigating the program and feel that Federationists will certainly let us know if they experience problems. But we're hoping to head that off. We're hoping that the IRS got it right and that it will be fully accessible and 508 compliant. But we are looking into it, which is why I wanted you all to know about it. If you learn information, if you're in one of those states, about the Direct File and you find information about the accessibility or not, you can reach out to our governmental affairs team.
I do have a couple of Federation family notes to share on this release. I regret to let you know that in the past month, we have learned of the passing of Gina Falvo of Illinois. Gina was an especially friendly, outgoing member of our Chicago chapter. She served the Chicago chapter on the board and as a membership chair for the affiliate for many years. She was always a key part of making sure that Federationists were greeted with a smile and welcomed into the organization. From Maryland, Chris Danielsen shares with us that long time greater Baltimore chapter member Martha Seabrooks passed away on October 18th. She was 81 years old. Martha was a member in our chapter when Melissa and I first joined the chapter, actually exactly 20 years ago this month. She's been a very active member of our chapter. She has made a great difference in welcoming individuals, like Melissa and I into the chapter. So she will definitely be missed.
And we've also learned just recently that Nancina Tompson, a founding member of the greater Baltimore chapter passed away on June 13th. And this is significant, obviously, because a founding member of our chapter, which was founded many decades ago. She was also 81. And she hadn't been as active as she was previously, but it's always sad to lose a founding member of the chapter. And from Montana, Jim Marks shares with us that Ted Robbins passed away suddenly on Saturday October 28th. Ted lost his sight in 1979. And he first started attending federation national conventions in 1983. He never missed one after that. And he was notable to many Federationists because often time he was the only member, at least for many years, was the only Federationist from Montana. And some people thought there weren't any other Federationists in Montana, but there are. And there are many more that attend the national convention today because of Ted.
He had a rich history of telling really good stories and he was a central figure in keeping the Federation spirit and energy alive in Montana. I had the opportunity to get to know him, especially when we reorganized that affiliate in 2012. He was the very first person to step up and make a financial contribution to the newly organized affiliate.
I would urge you to keep Ted's wife Anna, his nine children, his 35 grandchildren and his 38 great grandchildren in your thoughts and prayers. And of course, also his friends and family and the friends and family of the others that I have mentioned here who we've lost, and maybe those that we didn't know about this month. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers and use them as inspiration for carrying the work forward.
One other note about the Federation family relates to our Dream Maker Circle. This is an opportunity to declare an intention to leave an end-of-life gift to the National Federation of the Blind. And I want to welcome Bridgid Burke of Illinois who is the newest member of our Dream Maker Circle. Thank you very much. She serves as Executive Director of fiscal services for our national office. So thank you, Bridgid for being the latest member of the Dream Maker Circle. If you need more information, you can contact Patti Chang at our national office. You can contact her at [email protected] or extension 2422 at our national office. Pam, I think that's what I have at this moment. So I'm going to flip it back to you.
PAM ALLEN: Sounds great. Lots of things happening. It has been a busy October. I know we're just concluding quality achievement month with great events around the country. It was great to watch everyone cheer all the great opportunities.
MARK RICCOBONO: Absolutely.
PAM ALLEN: We have a question in celebration I know I heard all the teachers cheering at the additional category.
MARK RICCOBONO: Let's see if they can do it.
PAM ALLEN: That's right. I see a challenge. In honor of our Braille Readers are Leaders contest, we had a question about any book recommendations you might have, President Riccobono.
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. Before I say that, let me just apologize. I got caught off guard there. So I'm here in a hotel here in a Marriott and I don't know, housekeeping or something was knocking on the door here part way through. And since I'm here by myself, they weren't sure what to do. So they left.
But I wasn't sure what to do either. I was busy. So book recommendations. Well, first of all, I would say that in terms of reading, obviously you should read something that's of high interest to you. Whether you're a beginning Braille reader or not, you should find something that's of interest to you because you're going to be more motivated to read it. So I would say book recommendations depend on what are you interested in? And, you know, there's a lot of great content available from the National Library Service, from sharebraille.org. It's downloadable from the library if you're using a Braille display.
Find something that's of interest to you. If you're a new Braille reader, if you're in the beginner category, I would suggest picking things that are a little shorter so that it might have shorter stories or shorter snippets in them so you can feel like you're making progress. I know when I was an early Braille leader, the Colonel book stories are really great. You feel like you've accomplished something. But find content that is of high interest to you. The wonderful thing about 2023 is the amazing amount of content we have available. And I know more and more states have access to the e-readers, the Braille e readers from the library. And there's just so much content out there. I say find what interests and motivates you and then dive into it.
PAM ALLEN: So many great resources for Braille. Excellent. Now, another question we have, everybody is looking forward to the Washington seminar in a few short months. Questions for you about your experience, first watching the seminar and any tips you have as people are getting ready to travel and make reservations and prepare to attend.
MARK RICCOBONO: My first Washington seminar was the early part of 1997. So going on 25 years ago or so. More than that. What I would say is the wonderful thing about Washington seminar is that there are some wonderful folks who are veterans at the Washington seminar. Certainly someone in your state delegation has been to the Washington seminar. So get to know them. Find out who they are. Talk to them ahead of time so you're familiar with them. And then have them be your mentor in that process.
I would encourage you to get your reservations in early. Watch for that announcement. The rooms sometimes fill up fast. And then depending on what affiliate you're with, really network with the folks in your affiliate. Everybody has a different strategy and different delegations have different strategies, how the seminar is tackled. Keep in mind, Washington can be cold that time of year. So be prepared for that, especially if you're coming from a place that's not used to it. And then I would say, you know, the agenda for the seminar, especially the Monday when we have the training and the great gathering, keep in mind, the seats fill fast, especially in the main ballroom. So you'll want to get there early, especially if you want to be in the main ballroom.
But there is an overflow room. And the overflow room is quite comfortable as well. And the sound is just as good. And I think the energy is just as good. So keep those things in mind. And Washington is just a spectacular city. Our nation’s capital has so many great assets. The other tip I would have is if it's your first time coming to Washington seminar, make sure you plan some time to take in some of the tremendous cultural assets that are in D.C.
I mean, you would need weeks to experience them all, but even just blocks from the hotel is the Smithsonian, the Air and Space Museum, so many great things. And much of what's in D.C., especially the Smithsonian, is free. So I would encourage you to not let that pass you by. I don't know what the situation is today with capital tours and that sort of thing. You should certainly contact your members of Congress. They can advise you on that. I don't know in the last couple of years how they've changed that. But if you get a chance to get a tour of the capital through your congressional office, I would encourage you to do that as well.
PAM ALLEN: Great advice for sure. And this next question comes in respect to employment and being on the job hunt. A question for you about what are some good ways that you think a person can keep up their morale as they're looking for a job when sometimes people have negative attitudes about blindness? Or maybe there's some access barriers or technology in the job search process. What are some tips to keep motivated?
MARK RICCOBONO: Well, what I would encourage job seekers to do is build a circle of folks to help support you in that process. It is frustrating. And there is still discrimination out there. And it can be discouraging, especially depending on the economy, where you live, the transportation barriers. This is where the Federation, I think, can be really important networking tool, but also a source of hope and support. You have to treat job seeking like a job. And you have to build it into making sure that every day you're doing something toward that end. But I think that network of people in your local chapter or your affiliate, call on folks and ask them to be part of your support circle. So that when you just want to vent about the horrible experience you had, they'll be there to listen to it because they'll understand. They've probably experienced it, lived it before.
But then they'll also be able to bring you back to okay, so that was today. What are we going to do tomorrow? Build that kind of support team. And I know that Federationists in your chapter or affiliate, through our employment committee, I know folks in our organization will be there for you. And what we do know about the federation also is that we have a tremendous network that lots of people would love to have when they're looking for a job.
Lots of sighted people wish they had it. So take advantage of that network. If you're looking at a job in a new state, you know you have people you can call. Even if they don't know you, they'll take your call because you're a member of the Federation. I think that's really powerful. But it is difficult, especially if you've been on the hunt for a while. I would encourage you to take the opportunity to vent those feelings with folks that are going to understand, because they've lived it, and then help support you.
PAM ALLEN: Speaking of a great networking and opportunities for getting involved, we had a question about the new member form and what's happening and any updates with respect to that?
MARK RICCOBONO: Yeah. It's a great question. Our new member form, which is used by affiliates and chapters to get new members into our onboarding, welcoming process was down for a little while because we discovered some technical issues with it. It's back up and running. Hopefully all the affiliate chairs got notification of that. So it is back up. I urge you to get caught up on new members. The new member form is not for new members to fill out.
If you're a new member listening here, you didn't miss something. You weren't supposed to fill it out. Your chapter president or designated person in your chapter will be doing that. That gets you into our central database at our national office. It gets you into the onboarding. We're also using the new member form to assist with our membership records in other places.
So it is back up and running. I encourage our affiliates and chapters to be using it again. And, of course, if you do run into issues, be sure to report that to our membership team at [email protected]. And let me use this as an opportunity to remind all members that you should have gotten an email about logging on to your member profile which we launched a month or so ago. If you haven't taken the opportunity to log on and update your member profile, look at your membership status, correct your email address or whatever else, please do that. That's going to be an important tool going forward for the organization.
PAM ALLEN: We have a question from someone who's joining us tonight who is in high school, which is awesome. And they're wondering about how they can get involved as a high school student.
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. First and foremost, you're never too young to be involved in the organized blind movement. I think my children were all members well, certainly within the first month. So there's many ways to get involved. First and foremost, I would encourage you to connect with your local affiliate. You can find information about all of the federation affiliates at nfb.org.
I would encourage you also to get connected with our National Association of Blind Students. You can also find information on our website for our student division. Those are two great ways to get connected with mentors, but also folks who are closer to the student experience. I think high school is a great time to start to really learn about the advocacy work that we do. You can make some important contributions to that. It's just a great way to get connected with mentors so that when you're thinking about if you're going to college or a vocational school or whatever you're going to do after high school, there are people you can call on in the organization.
If you are thinking about going to college, definitely would encourage you to get connected with our scholarship program. You're never too young to start learning about the movement, our priorities. And there's lots of ways you can help. I don't want to stereotype anybody, but I will say that especially we found during the pandemic that our younger members tended to be digital natives. And one important way they could help was by helping some of our newly blind older individuals who weren't as comfortable with technology get connected to the NLS reading machine or on Zoom. It's a great way to help do training on technology within the Federation.
And what we have found is oftentimes the folks that were doing the technology training had the opportunity to learn from the folks they were training about other topics. So it's a great give and take. And that's what we are about in the Federation is that circle of giving back.
PAM ALLEN: Question from one of our NFB Newsline subscribers about adding publications to NFB Newsline. How do publication, how are they added? And what if someone has an idea about publications to be added?
MARK RICCOBONO: That's a great question. All of our publications, or most of them are sponsored. It costs money for us to have publications. Where we can, we try to get agreements to have those publications provided. But sometimes they have to be financially sponsored. The best thing to do if you have a suggestion is to contact our NFB Newsline group.
I know Scott White, the director of our NFB Newsline program would love to hear from you directly. You can email Scott at [email protected]. All suggestions are welcome, especially if you know people who work for certain publications. That often helps us get an in with them.
But keep those requests coming because where the demand is, that helps us know to focus our energy on trying to get those providers onboard. And a variety of all diverse sources is really important. We have a lot of great publications and a lot of fun publications. I know I advocated for a long time to get The Onion on Newsline.
PAM ALLEN: That's definitely a great one. Well, I want to thank everyone so much who submitted questions. We really appreciate all the wonderful discussion and the great questions. And thanks also to our communications team who will be following up with anyone if we didn't have a chance to get to your question tonight.
As we're entering our season of gratitude, thank you so much, President Riccobono, for all of our leadership and thank to our members for providing such excellent questions and for all of the activities that happen during October as we celebrated Blindness Equality Achievement Month. Thank you again for being with us tonight. You can contact President Riccobono at 410 659 1314 or via email at [email protected]. Join President Riccobono on Thursday November 30th at 8:00 P.M. eastern. And we're looking forward to seeing you in a month. And I will turn it back over to you.
MARK RICCOBONO: Thanks, Pam. I forgot to say earlier, in the music lead up here, we played "Love Me Do" in honor of tomorrow will be the last Beatles song, the last new Beatles song ever will be released tomorrow.
PAM ALLEN: Wow, I dependent know that.
MARK RICCOBONO: 10:00 A.M. Eastern. You can tune in. I don't know where it's going to be released but it's going to be exciting for those Beatles fans and I guess for fans of AI editing of music, too.
PAM ALLEN: That's pretty amazing.
MARK RICCOBONO: I know I'm excited. So I look forward to seeing you soon, Pam.
PAM ALLEN: Sounds good. Happy Thanksgiving.
MARK RICCOBONO: Do you, too. As we come to the end of this Presidential Release, I want to make a few more acknowledgments. And the first is that we will sell rate during this month Veterans Day, and I want to thank all of our members and family members who have served in with the United States armed forces. A special thank you, of course, to our division the National Association of Blind Veterans. Does a great job of linking together blind veterans and helping to make sure that we continue to the protect the rights and dignity of those individuals who are blind who have served our nation.
You can learn more about our division at nabv.org. But happy Veterans Day to all in our Federation family community who were veterans of military service, and especially poignant in these times when we're watching a lot of strife around the world and conflict to know how important it is that we continue to honor our veterans but also work toward peace in our nation and in our world.
I also want to acknowledge that this month we honor teachers through American Education Week. And this is often an important time in the Federation when we get to reach out to educators who support our blind children, professionals working in the field of blindness, and celebrate the great work that they do. Also encourage them to get in our Braille Readers are Leaders contest. But it's a great time to celebrate the tremendous work that teachers and educators of all types are doing, and including our NFB training centers. So thank you to those serving in those places for American Education Week.
And of course, as we get to the end of the month, we do have the Thanksgiving holiday. And that's an important time to reflect and come together. And as we come to that time, I really on my heart is the Federation family. How important it is that we have built this extended community of diverse individuals that can support each other and hold each other up. And all over the nation that we can find support wherever we go.
You know, year after year I am more and more grateful for what we find in the network that we have in this organization. And as I work with leaders of other organizations, other communities, I'm really struck at how much they struggle or are struggling to build community amongst the people they work with. And the fact that we have built this rich community of togetherness and support is really important. So I'm grateful for the role that you play in that every day and for the difference that you make in helping this community of blind people come together and continue to be empowered, to live the lives we want. And in this time of difficulty in so many parts of the world where many of our members are struggling because of those difficulties around the world, I encourage us to use this time of Thanksgiving to come together to reflect on the blessing that the togetherness that we have is.
And I encourage you to reach out to those in our Federation family that you know might be hurting for one reason or another. And remind them that you're there for them, we're there for them, so that we can continue to work together to build the National Federation of the Blind.
So as we come to the end of this release, thank you, happy Thanksgiving, let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.
ELIZABETH: Hello. I'm Elizabeth Riccobono. And I have a joke. What do you call a beaver's dating app?
MARK RICCOBONO: What?
MARK RICCOBONO: Hi, Oriana.
MARK RICCOBONO: Do you have a joke for American Education with week.
ORIANA: I have two jokes. What do you call a potato with glasses?
MARK RICCOBONO: Hmm.
ORIANA:A spec-tator. And my second joke is what's the difference between a teacher and a train.
MARK RICCOBONO: What?
ORIANA:A teacher says spit out your gum. And the train says choo choo!
The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, [email protected], 410 659 9314, www.NFB.org. Follow President Riccobono on Mastodon. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.