Presidential release #535

Mark Riccobono:
Greetings fellow Federationist. Today is Thursday, February 1st, 2024, and this is Presidential Release number 535 coming off the energy and great advocacy work of our 2024 Washington Seminar. Hard to believe that February's here already. It went by so quick, January did. It's a little unusual to be recording the release at this point. Used to mostly at least being to some degree live. So different experience, especially coming off the great energy of the Washington Seminar.

I do have a lot to share with you and I hope you were able to tune in to the great gathering-in meeting as that was our live event for this month. But I do want to give you a short recap if you didn't have a chance to participate virtually or in person at the Washington Seminar. We did have a fantastic in-person attendance at the Washington Seminar and we were able to make many visits on Capitol Hill.
Representative Pete Aguilar from California came and spoke at our gathering-in. He is chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and he has spoken to us before. Representative Aguilar's grandfather was a Randolph Sheppard vendor, and he had responsibility for the courthouse in San Bernardino, and representative Aguilar discussed the fact that that was his first job, was working there at that operation run by a blind person.

And we had at the Washington Seminar a member of ours from California, Max Duarte, who also ran that very same facility, obviously a number of years later. So it's great to see those connections being made with members of Congress. We did have over 400 meetings on the Hill. Some of them are still going on today while I'm recording this release back in Baltimore, and we were able to persuade many members of Congress to co-sponsor across our entire suite of bills. So congratulations to us on that. But we need to keep the pressure on now that we're back home. We need to continue to push on getting co-sponsors so that we can move our bills forward in what we know will be a somewhat shortened year in Congress, especially the closer we get to the November elections.

We did, again, have a congressional reception on the Tuesday night of the Washington Seminar, and what a great success that event was. I want to spend a moment here on the release thanking Waymo who was our partner and sponsor for that congressional reception. We had a record number of members of Congress come and speak with us at the reception which was held in the Cannon House Office Building.
Speakers at our reception included this pretty stellar lineup. We had Senator Roger Marshall from Kansas, representative John Rutherford of Florida, representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, representative Greg Stanton of Arizona, representative Gregory Murphy of North Carolina, representative Rick Larsen of Washington State, representative Kat Cammack of Florida, representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, representative Pete Sessions of Texas, representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, representative Alma Adams of North Carolina, representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland was our closer, longtime friend of the Federation for now 40 plus years.

And I also want to mention that I introduced all of these individuals, but in introducing Pete Sessions before he got on the mic, he corrected me, said I got the introduction wrong and said that I should tell the audience that he planned to be the lead co-sponsor for the Blind Person's Return to Work Act. So I'll take a correction like that from any member of Congress at any time. That was a pretty fun little surprise for our congressional reception.

Really great work on the Hill and really great energy. I have to say our affiliates brought a whole bunch of first timers getting them trained on the Hill, so I love to see the advocacy work, but also the leadership and mentorship of bringing new up-and-coming leaders, especially our students, into the expertise of doing advocacy on Capitol Hill.

We did have a great student meeting. We had a parent leadership meeting that went on and before we got to Washington, our affiliate presidents and our Kenneth Jernigan leadership in service program participants joined me here in Baltimore for an intense meeting. So a lot of great work got done in the last week, and I'm looking forward to our continuing the effort to get some bills passed before we get to November's elections.

There are a number of other things to talk about real quickly. Yesterday was what, two days ago I guess, was a special anniversary for the Federation. We talked about it at the Washington Seminar. In October of 2001 we broke ground for the facility that would later become the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, which we opened at a grand opening on January 30th, 2004. I was honored to be there for that event. And since we opened this facility, which is part of our national headquarters here, we have truly transformed our approach to our program and advocacy work.

We've raised expectations in society, but we've also changed the way that blind people are viewed and participate in the society. So appreciated the opportunity to celebrate with the Federation family by doing what we do in DC. Also had the opportunity to kick off a tour here, folks that came as part of the Washington Seminar. I have worked at the NFB Jernigan Institute since day one. As I say, I was here for the grand opening, started for the Federation a little bit before that. And when you think back about, first of all, the bold idea of creating a research and training institute with only the hopes and dreams of blind people, something that a lot of people would not have invested in, but we did, our friends and supporters did, and then we got to the work of making it happen. And I know for me, when I first came to be on the staff, I was tasked with some of those early projects that I had no idea how we were going to do. But I simply did what I learned from the Federation, which was to go talk to blind people, learn from the wisdom of blind people and find people in the movement who wanted to help. And over the last 20 years, we've really had some amazing milestones.

The history is very interesting, and I'm sure this year we'll be spending more time talking about the work that we've accomplished, but it points to where we need to go in the future. And we know that there is so much more to be done. We need to do more to amplify the stories of blind people, to share our authentic experience. We come across people every day that don't understand or know the real experience of being blind, and so our Jernigan Institute, our programs, our trajectory toward a future Museum of the Blind People's Movement all lead us in this way.

But we should pause for a moment and celebrate the fact that we really have made some pretty tremendous things happen over the last 20 years that we can be proud of and that give us a base to stand on for the future. That does bring me to your stories. I want to remind you that we need members of the organization to share your stories. We can use them in all sorts of ways. We can certainly use them to promote why our legislative priorities are important, but we need your stories about being a blind person, how you've overcome, how you have fought against the artificial barriers that are out there. And whether you provide those stories in person or through social media, we need you to share them with the Federation.

And so I'm asking members to start to archive your stories by sharing with us even just a little sound bite of what your story is that you want to share that relates to one of our advocacy priorities or the work that the Federation's doing. It doesn't have to be fully written out. You don't need to give us 10 minutes worth. We want to capture the essence of your story so that we can follow up. You're going to hear us saying this much more and more often so that we can get these stories from you. These stories are going to be key to helping us make change in society going forward and to promoting the work that we do. So more stories are needed. And how can you give them? Well, what we would ask you to do is email your story, whatever it is. Maybe it's how you haven't been able to manage your own medical issues at home because a device is not accessible. Maybe it's you're being barred from some activity because a website wasn't accessible.

You can send your story to [email protected]. It's that easy. Again, it should have your name, what state you're from, maybe a way to contact you beyond your email and just a couple sentences if nothing else, about the situation you had, how you overcame it, and how our advocacy work would help to alleviate that in the future. You can also, if you don't have email or would prefer, you can leave a voicemail with these basic details and certainly tell us how to get back to you. We may use these stories in our publications on our podcast, or we may follow up with you to get more information to build your story out. You can call our main number 410-659-9314, dial extension 2444, and you can leave your story there at the voicemail. And we should also find other ways to curate stories from members at our state conventions, whether it's by capturing videos or audio clips and sending them into our communications group. Here at the national office you can email [email protected] for more information.

This gives me an opportunity to remind you about our publications. We of course have a whole suite of ways that we provide information to members in the public. Our flagship publication, the Braille Monitor is full of a lot of great stories and we need you to write for the Braille Monitor. Gary Wunder, our editor is always looking for good stories.

We also, of course, have our blog at We have our podcast that you can get, the Nation's Blind from a number of the popular podcast providers. You also can read the Future Reflections magazine that we partner with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults to provide. And this is a great publication for parents and educators. And of course, there's all of our social media channels.
So please participate in these avenues. Tell us what you'd like to read or hear in these forums and start putting your own stories into the mix.

Finally, related to our publications, I do want to call your attention to the fact that in our publications, the Braille Monitor especially over the last couple of months, you will find the information about the Federation's Award programs. Not only our merit scholarships, but the Bolotin Awards are awards for educators of blind children or for blind educators. These are great opportunities to highlight important programs or people in your local community. Please nominate individuals or organizations for our various awards and of course promote our scholarship program. You can find all of that in our Braille Monitor and other publications. And many of our awards are currently highlighted on the front page of

Our technology group has asked me to let you all know that starting this month, Gmail will be automatically transitioning the web interface from the basic HTML version to what they call the standard version. Now, if you use Gmail and you've relied on the basic HTML view, you might be panicked that you're not going to be able to get to your email. If you do use a screen reader, our technology group wants you to know that the standard version of Gmail is accessible and our group has put together some documents to help manage that transition and make you feel more comfortable with the fact that the standard Gmail is accessible. Just takes some learning.

You can go to That's for our Center of Excellence and Non-Visual Access, to find those documents and also other great information that our technology group is producing to help Federationists do the work of the organization.
Now, one of the announcements we had at our great gathering in I want to share here, and that's an announcement from our performing arts division.

Speaker 2:
Calling all creatives. Would you like to hone your songwriting and lyric crafting skills? Do you want to contribute to new music for the National Federation of the Blind? Then please consider entering the 2024 Federation Song Contest. Submit your material by March 15th, 2024. Both music and lyrics are welcome. Top contestants will be invited to a songwriting retreat in Baltimore this summer. All information can be found on our website, That's
Mark Riccobono:

I appreciate our performing arts members putting together this initiative to find some new songs to express our hopes and dreams in the Organized Blind Movement. I'm looking forward to what comes out of that effort, and maybe we'll have some new tunes to sing together at a national convention very soon.

Speaking of national convention, we're going to be talking about that a ton in March when registration opens. But I do want to put a note here that our national convention will take place from July 3 through July 8. That's Wednesday, July 3 to Monday, July 8, 2024 in Orlando, Florida at the Rosen Centre. If you haven't been there, it's a great property, great hotel. We've been there before and their hospitality is second to none.

The registration for the convention is not yet open. It will be next month, but you can book your hotel room, and I know that many of you already have because I've gotten many emails from Federationists saying, "I got my room. I can't wait to be there.' I'm not going to cover all those details on this release. You can again, find the details in the Braille Monitor, or you can always go to to find all of the convention details, including information about booking a room. And if you have not been to the convention, you're thinking about it, you're nervous about it, you can find there a first timers guide to help you feel more comfortable with the convention and being a first timer.
I do hope you will join us for our annual family reunion and business meeting where we set the priorities and elect the leaders that are going to help steer our organization going forward. Looking forward to being back in Orlando with all of you.

I do have a few Federation family notes to share with you on this release, and I regret to give you a note that comes to us from Dorothy Griffin, our president in the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia. She reports that Magnolia Lyons passed away on January 5th, 2024. She shares that Magnolia was a longtime member of 52 years and that she was one of the founding members of the NFB of Georgia's Senior Division, which was founded 18 years ago. She was also a dedicated member of the NFB of Georgia's Atlanta Metro Chapter. Please keep Magnolia, her family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

I do have some joyous news on this release, which is always wonderful. From Arizona I am proud to share that Ashley and Jordan Moon have announced the birth of baby Liamel Nathaniel Felton Moon on January 15th, 2024, weighing in at 6 pounds, 11 ounces and measuring 20 inches long. I'm told that everybody in the family is doing well and that big sister Liberty especially is excited to welcome the newest member of the National Federation of the Blind. So congratulations to the Moon family.

Now, since this release is recorded, I want to let you know that our next Presidential Release Live, which I do urge you to tune into, will be held on Thursday, February 29th. That's February 29th, not something that happens every year, so make sure you note that, February 29th at 8 P.M. Eastern Time, and you can tune in of course on Zoom by asking your Amazon device to open Nation's Blind or going to our YouTube channel.

I do encourage you to tune into our live Presidential Releases because it includes a lot more content than what we've been putting on these recorded releases. And I do appreciate those of you that continue to give me feedback about our Presidential Release lives and our recorded chapter version of the release. I really appreciate that chapters play this recording so that I have that opportunity to share directly with our members the information that comes on the release.

It's always great. At a time like Washington Seminar to come across people and they say, "I know your voice from the Presidential Release." So tune into the live event as well. We'll see what fun things we can think to do for our Leap Day Presidential Release Live, which is definitely a rarity.
Now on this Presidential Release, I do want to offer you some customary endings and they go like this. What was George Washington's favorite picnic food? Why, it was his uncle's ham of course. Now, David Dino Terrace of Pennsylvania is often sending me little things, which I think as a blind dad himself, he hopes will become customary endings. But he sent me recently this report that a ship carrying red paint and a ship carrying blue paint collided and all of the sailors were marooned.

Now, as I close this release, I want to put a call to action out to all of you. I was wondering if anyone out there has any different Groundhog's Day jokes, because I keep hearing the same one over and over. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.

Speaker 3:
The preceding message was brought to you by Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind, 410-659-9314. Office of the President at Follow President Riccobono on Mastodon. Just search for @[email protected]. Let's go build the National Federation of the Blind.