Presidential Release #533, December 2023 (Transcript for Chapter Meetings)

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 Thursday, November 30th, 2023, and this is Presidential Release Number 533, live from Members Hall here at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute!

[Applause]

You hear a great audience here.  We have the members of the National Federation of the Blind board of directors here.  We also have the members of the board of directors for the Jacobus tenBroek memorial fund.  And many supporters, staff, others in the audience.  They deserve applause too.

[Applause]

So it's so great to have everybody.  It's not like we're slowing down here at the end of the year.  We have a busy couple days of our board will be meeting and making a lot of important decisions and plans going forward.  We will be hosting here at the national office activities of our Maryland affiliate holiday party.  I hear Santa Claus is going to be here next weekend.

And we still have more national events.  We have our STEM2U training that will be happening in December. So we got a lot to do before closing out a very successful 2023 and starting to implement our active plans for 2024. And that extends to each and every one of you in the Federation because we have some opportunities before the end of the year.  I want to start with that. We have just learned that there could be an opportunity here at the end of the year for a tax package to be advanced through Congress and be included in the National Defense Authorization Act.  And this presents a great opportunity for us to attach the Access Technology Affordability Act to this package.  In order to do that, we will need to take some immediate action to increase the number of cosponsors in both the House and the Senate so that it will get noticed and be top of mind when that package is put together.  Our champions in Congress are for it, but having a robust number of cosponsors will help.

So a reminder that the bill number in the House is HR-3702.  And in the Senate, it is S-1467.  We should do what we can as soon as possible to get our members of Congress to cosponsor this bill before the end of the year and before this tax package is considered.
Just as a reminder, the Access Technology Affordability Act creates a $2,000 refundable tax credit for the use over a 3-year period to purchase personal access technology.  Of course you can find all of the details on our website about the bill and our advocacy work for it.
If you have questions or want to know some approaches you can take, you can reach out to Jeff Kaloc on our team here at the national office with those questions.  Jeff can be reached at (410)659-9314 extension 2206, or by email at [email protected]. Let's see if we can get a bill passed through Congress before the end of the year!  That would be a nice New Year's wish there.

[Applause]

Now, we are looking ahead to 2024, and in 2024, I'm happy to say that the National Federation of the Blind will be bringing back our summer internship program.  It's been a number of years and we're really excited to be preparing to host interns in the summer of 2024.  It's a tremendous opportunity to gain some valuable experience while contributing to the mission of the National Federation of the Blind right here at our national headquarters. Internships will run from June 3 to August 9th. That's 10 weeks.  And it will include work at our national convention in Orlando, Florida.

Applications will be due by March 15, 2024.  Materials will need to be turned in in an accessible format.  If you submit an image PDF, we'll throw you out automatically.  You will need a cover letter expressing why you are uniquely qualified to participate in an internship with the Federation. We will also need a resume to be included with your current contact information, and we'll need at least two references and the email and phone number for those reference so we can reach out to them. A condition of the internship is you will have to pass a successful background check.

If you want more details about the internship, they will be posted to our website in the coming weeks and into January.  But if you have immediate questions, you can contact Anil Lewis at [email protected] or at extension 2374 here at our national office. We do anticipate selecting our 2024 summer intern class by April 12.  Really looking forward to that.  The interns always ask some great questions and get us thinking about new ways to carry out the mission of the organization.  So definitely looking forward to that in 2024. But let's dial it back even further.  We still have a lot of months before that, and the next big thing we're going to undertake and first big thing in 2024 is our 2024 Washington Seminar!

[Applause]

Hard to believe only two months away.  It seemed like just yesterday we had the last one.  And as a reminder, the 2024 Washington Seminar officially begins on Monday, January 29, 2024, with our annual Great Gathering-In meeting.  There will be of course a number of meetings on that Monday before that.

Hotel reservation information can be found on our Washington Seminar page, which is www.NFB.org/washington-seminar.
You should be sure to get your reservations in as early as possible, as rooms may fill up and you don't want to be left out.  I know a lot of affiliates are already planning their delegations and the work of the delegation. Updates will be posted to the web in the coming weeks, and I know the big burning question is what are the issues going to be.  Well, we're going to find out.  The board is going to discuss it and make a decision about that in the coming days.  So visit the website, and that information will be available very soon.

Speaking of advocacy, we take on advocacy in a number of ways.  In 2024, I have an interesting announcement from Regina Mitchell, who is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada, and Chair of our NFB in The Kitchen Group.  She offers us this announcement, intended to spark some advocacy around home appliances.  She says:  Everybody is cooking during the holidays, including blind people.  And so we would like to take advantage of the newest appliances that make cooking easier or help create a culinary delight.  However, too many of the new cooking appliances are inaccessible.

The NFB in The Kitchen Group is launching a campaign to increase the accessibility of these emerging kitchen appliances.  First, we would like to find out what accessible, or newly accessible devices, blind people are using. Starting in December 2023 and continuing through January 2024, the group is asking for blind people to share the names and manufacturers of kitchen devices they know are accessible. In February 2024, the group will begin a campaign of identifying inaccessible appliances in order to encourage those manufacturers to work with us to make sure those devices are accessible.  I love this.  Let's start with the positive, what works, and use that as a motivator for those that don't.

So how can you get involved?  Well, you can be a part of the campaign by joining the NFB in the kitchen group listserv, which you can find at NFBnet.org or send an email to [email protected] and leave everything blank, the subject line and everything else, or you can go as I say to NFBnet.org and find the listing there. You can also reach out to Regina.  Her email address is [email protected].

This is a cool initiative and I would encourage you to participate.  As someone who likes to cook, I'm always looking for new accessible gadgets. I think this is a great example of where the wisdom of the blind community can really make a difference in moving accessibility.
I do want to mention because it's the end of the year and we're celebrating our supporters that we would encourage you to continue to take the opportunity to encourage those you know, those you love, to make end of the year contributions to the National Federation of the Blind.  Now, one way we can make contributions on a regular basis as members is through our preauthorized check program, the PAC plan. And I want to welcome the NFB of Arkansas central chapter as the newest member of our PAC program.  If you want to learn more, go to www.NFB.org/PAC.  You can sign up any time. This is a tremendous way to support our work on a month-to-month basis.  It gives us the core dollars we need to do all of the things that we do.

And I do encourage you to promote to your friends and family that we do have an end of the year fundraising match program.  So you can encourage people to make a donation at www.NFB.org/donate, and those dollars will be matched.  So don't neglect the fact that people usually donate when they are asked.  So help your friends and family know how important this movement is to you and ask them to contribute before the end of the year.

Finally, in that regard, a reminder that when you're thinking about going out shopping or doing other activities, you may want to choose Lyft because you can join the Lyft round up program. And that will round your ride up to the nearest dollar, and those pennies add up quickly, making contributions to the National Federation of the Blind. I have a few Federation family notes.  From Ohio, I need to let you know of the passing of Donna L. Menges on October 27. Donna was a member of our greater Akron chapter.

From California, Julie Cardenas, who is President of the NFB of San Diego chapter, shares with us the passing of Claude Edwards on November 6, 2023.  He passed away from a very aggressive form of brain cancer.  Claude had a passion in life for wildlife and for birdwatching. The chapter is already planning how it's going to demonstrate its capacity and honor Claude by putting a team together in a local cancer walk in his honor next year.

In Maryland, in October, we learned of the passing of Sue Soldan, who passed away after a long illness at the age of 62.  Sue was a founding and lifetime member of the NFB of Maryland's TLC chapter. Sue and her husband Scott were long time members of the Federation and she will definitely be missed. From Illinois, we've learned of the passing of Ken Staley during the weekend of November 18th, 2023.  Ken is described as a member that had a heart of gold.  He was widely known in his affiliate as the king of candy.  He challenged the chapter to raise money by inviting chapter members to sell 110% of the candy that he sold.  And apparently he sold a lot of candy, like over $1,000 worth.  So he did a lot individually to help move the Federation forward by raising money, and he will definitely be missed.

Many Federationists around the country may know him from his booming voice helping out as a talking sign at the national convention.
Additionally, we learned from Illinois of the passion of Nicole Yarmolkavich -- I hope I pronounced it right -- who passed away in October. Nicole was a state scholarship winner in the early 2000s and attended her first national convention in 2012. And finally, I want to send special sympathies out to long-time Illinois member Bill Reif, who recently lost his father.

I also have one more note to share with you that was handed to me by Pam Allen just moments ago, and that is to let you know that Kirk Bimel passed away yesterday, November 29, from complications following heart surgery, surrounded by his family and his devoted wife Jewel. Kirk served as the Louisiana Center for the Blind's residential manager for the last several years.  Since graduating from the LCB in 2001, he has been an active member of the north central chapter of the NFB of Louisiana.  And he's served as their treasurer for a number of years.

Kirk was always ready to help when needed at the center.  He knew firsthand how the LCB training and his involvement in the NFB had changed his life.  And he wanted to share that with others who were struggling with negative ideas and low expectations about blindness. He was our grill master and loved to teach students at the apartments and at our annual crawfish boil. Kirk was known for his dry sense of humor, and was always ready with a quip to make you laugh.  Kirk was our cherished colleague and trusted friend and mentor to many.  He will be missed greatly.

I encourage you to keep Kirk and Jewel and all of the others who have been impacted by these individuals and those we might not have known about in your thoughts and prayers as we come to the end of this year and reflect on the tremendous opportunities these individuals have helped us to have in our movement. Now, fortunately to end this part of the release, I do have one joyous piece of news from Kansas.  That is that Emily Schlenker and Rowan Garel were married on November 4, 2023, during the banquet of the NFB of Kansas. And I can attest to it because I was there.  I witnessed it.

The ceremony was officiated by Tom Page, President of the NFB of Kansas and national board member for the Federation.  The ceremony was a surprise to those in attendance, well, except for the bride and groom of course, and a couple of others.  But I offer my congratulations on this release to the newlywed couple.  I was honored to be there.  I had no idea I was going to a banquet and a wedding was going to break out, but it was a cool opportunity and I was pleased to be there.  So congratulations and for those looking for interesting banquet ideas, there's one for ya.

Thank you, everyone, so much for being with us tonight.  Join the next Presidential Release that will be live on Thursday, January 4th, via Zoom.  The Nation's Blind YouTube channel, our internet stream, or by asking your Amazon device to open nation's blind. You can contact President Riccobono at (410)659-9314, or via email at [email protected].

As we come to the end of this Presidential Release, I want to share a couple of other reflections.  Before I do that, I want to remind everybody that we do have an awesome partnership with Santa Claus to provide Braille letters from Santa Claus. Or a winter letter. That's still available to families.  Don't forget to promote that so that we can continue to get Braille in front of kids here at the end of the year.
As I come to the end of this year, you know, what I reflect upon is really how tremendous it is that we have this very unique movement that is rooted in local chapters and comes up to this large wave that is our national movement. And I'm really thankful for the collective wisdom that comes from the work that we do together that's based on our authentic experience.

It has been the real fuel, you know, for my life and for my family for many years.  And I continue to receive the stories of blind people all over the country who face low expectations in so many aspects of life, who are started by almost everybody they encounter. But what makes the difference in those stories is the connection with other blind people.  And I'm filled with a lot of hope by the partners that we have. I received a number of stories even this week about people working within the vision industrial complex who, you know, continue to perpetuate outdated motions about what's possible for blind people.  And it's only the fact that we come together.  And through our local chapters, we generate this positive understanding about the capacity of blind people that literally changes lives.

As we come to the end of this year, which has been a difficult year.  Started as a difficult year.  Thinking about the loss of a number of folks, including our colleague Scott LaBarre who passed away a year ago, but what sustains us is we always come back to this space that we create together.  And I like to say this space is normal, right?  The rest of the world?  Not so much.  But this space that we create together is normal.  And when we think about the challenges in our world and the strife and confrontation and sometimes pure hatred that's perpetuated, what ripples out from this space that we create is something so different, something so meaningful, that it gives me hope that if we can continue to pour our energy and our focus into this, that we truly can make anything possible.

And so as we close this year, with all of its challenges, and we think about the next chapter that we're going to write in 2024, I would encourage us to focus on that positive energy that we are creating and use that as a source to document, write, record, amplify, post our stories so that we can take the normal that we set here and make that the normal for the rest of society in 2024.
With that, I want to wish you the happiest of holidays, a fantastic new year, and let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

[Applause]

Happy holidays, girls.

SPEAKER:  Happy holidays!

MARK RICCOBONO:  It's the final Presidential Release.  Do you have any gifts to offer us?

SPEAKER:  I have a joke.

MARK RICCOBONO:  You do?

SPEAKER:  What do you call a ghost in the winter?

MARK RICCOBONO:  I don't know.

SPEAKER:  Cas-brrr.

MARK RICCOBONO:  How about you, Oriana?

SPEAKER:  I have a joke.  Why did the turkey cross the road?

MARK RICCOBONO:  Why?  To get the... I don't know.

SPEAKER:  To prove it isn't a chicken.

MARK RICCOBONO:  Wow. Well, I have something to offer you.  What does a polar bear make its bed with?  Ice sheets and a blanket of snow.

SPEAKER:  That's such a comfy bed!

SPEAKER:  Happy holidays, everybody.

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