Presidential Report 2019

An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
Las Vegas, Nevada
July 10, 2019

During the past year, the blind of this nation have continued their march to freedom at an accelerated pace. Individuals who possess determination, hope, ambition, strength, and a spirit of community join their unique talents and perspectives in our march. One by one we link arms—across cities, across states—to build the most powerful network of the blind anywhere in the world. In joining together, we create a movement that reflects the great diversity of the characteristics each of us bring to the effort. In staying united, we strengthen the bond that we share, and we enjoy the progress that comes from the power and influence our collective action commands. Together, we share a powerful name and make the commitments that form the foundation of our movement. We are the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

We have prepared our movement for a significant period of growth with the development of the latest strategic plan for the National Federation of the Blind, which we released earlier this year. In order to expand our organizational capacity, our areas of priority include (1) education, rehabilitation, and employment; (2) membership and community building; (3) advocacy; and (4) development. Each of these pillars supports our ultimate goal of freedom for the blind. This new plan will allow us to accurately measure our progress, effectively synthesize the feedback of active members, and strategically utilize our resources—which are not unlimited.

Our strongest and most valuable resource is our membership. This year we have issued a membership coin to each active member of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the one I carry with me—I invite you to take yours out as well. Members from each of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now carry this symbolic token of the bond we hold together. It represents the value of our individual effort, the support of the Federation family, and the power we share together. For those who do not yet understand the power of membership in our movement, we have developed, and are now piloting, a new-member onboarding process to improve our outreach to prospective members and to accelerate the active participation of new members. In addition, we are building stronger tools to improve communication between our national organization and local affiliates in order to enhance the community of resources our members share. With each new member added to our family, we can hear freedom ring even more sweetly. If you are a member of the Federation, let’s hear your freedom ring.

As our movement grows, our work becomes more complex. Systems that were once well understood or less formal must be communicated to a bigger and more diverse audience. In the spring of 2017 we began developing the foundation for what is now the Federation’s code of conduct. Initially adopted by the board of directors in January 2018, the code articulates in writing the expectations that members of the Federation have always had for each other and that our leadership has been required to model. This code is so core to what we do that we have made it more widely available than any other piece of Federation information. The board of directors has committed to regular review of the code, the procedures for handling grievances, and data regarding grievance outcomes. Furthermore, these policies and practices have been reviewed by an independent third-party consultant. Whether you are an active member, an individual considering joining with us, or part of a corporation seeking to partner with us, the code details our collective expectations. While the document speaks for itself, let me underscore a few points from the code that cannot be said enough:

  1. Diversity is an asset in our movement, and we need more of it. To quote our code, “The National Federation of the Blind does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics.” We value diversity, we do not tolerate efforts to marginalize individuals based on their characteristics, and we accept the challenge of evolving our practices to strengthen our outreach to, and inclusion of the broadest cross-section of blind people possible. When we say we are the voice of the nation’s blind, we mean all blind people regardless of other characteristics or immigration status.
  2. Harassment is a hindrance to our progress, and we want none of it. We choose to create an environment free of harassment for all of our members and their families. Harassment can be verbal, written, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of any of their characteristics and that has the effect of limiting participation in our movement. While all forms of harassment are against our core values, we are especially adverse to sexual harassment because of the significant long-term impact it can have on victims of this treatment.
  3. Blind youth are our future leaders, and we value family. We continue to welcome an increasing number of minors into this movement, requiring us to take extra care to ensure that we are protecting these youth from harm. We continue to ensure that leaders understand their obligations, that adults participating in our youth programs have the appropriate background screening, and that we empower blind youth with resources to deal with situations that might arise, including methods to report to appropriate authorities or law enforcement.
  4. Grievances are taken seriously and carefully investigated. Within the code, we have established a formal grievance process for reporting violations. The process permits formal grievances to be filed in a variety of ways including online, by telephone, using email, or through a direct conversation with a leader of the Federation. If desired, the process permits anonymous filing. Internal procedures for investigations, maintaining confidentiality, and training a team of investigators have been implemented. Retaliation for filing a grievance is expressly prohibited. No member is exempt from being investigated for violation of the code and, in circumstances where it is necessary, a third-party investigator will be used to make determinations.
  5. The movement is more important than any one member or leader. Leaders shall practice accountability and transparency in all activities and transactions; disclose conflicts of interest; foster a welcoming environment at Federation activities; positively promote the NFB through verbal and written communication; and handle conflicts or complaints involving other members privately, directly, and respectfully.

Raising expectations in society starts with setting the highest standards for ourselves; that is the purpose of our code of conduct, and that is the unshakeable commitment we make on our march to freedom in the National Federation of the Blind.

Blind teachers, medical professionals, entrepreneurs, government employees, manufacturing personnel, customer service agents, and individuals seeking employment in dozens of other sectors of the economy receive support from the National Federation of the Blind. Last year we shared the story of Federation member Mary Flood of Washington, DC. Ms. Flood was hired by the United States Navy to serve as an educational technician working with young children. After a day and a half of work, she was informed that she was being fired at the recommendation of a doctor who believed the children would be at risk while under the supervision of a blind person. In April of 2018, we filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the Navy failed to uphold freedom and equality for the blind. Earlier this year, we settled the case—Flood prevailed over Navy. The Navy has paid $100,000 for lost wages and attorney’s fees, and they have agreed to work with the Federation to eliminate misconceptions based on disability from their employment practices.

With us at this convention is Dr. Jan Bartleson, a blind counselor and emotional/behavioral disabilities clinician employed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools for more than twenty-seven years. Despite her strong professional work skills, she constantly had to rely on sighted coworkers to help her do basic tasks like inputting student notes and accessing employee benefits, because the district used inaccessible workplace software. Despite her strong qualifications, these artificial barriers also prevented her advancement into other positions. With our help, Dr. Bartleson filed a groundbreaking suit against Miami-Dade under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that after-the-fact, ad hoc accommodations are not sufficient to meet an employer’s obligations to its blind employees. In February, a federal court approved a consent decree requiring the school district to make all existing websites, forms, and software accessible; to procure only accessible software in the future; to take steps to ensure the full inclusion of blind employees in school programs and activities; and to pay $250,000, which includes the Federation’s attorney’s fees. Going forward, the implementation of accessible technologies should improve access for all blind people interacting with the district in any capacity.

One of the fastest growing employers in the nation is Amazon, where jobs range from very technical to very physical. For twenty-four years, Alfredo Estrada worked as a blind aircraft maintenance technician with United Airlines at the San Francisco International Airport. He excelled at safely completing many tasks involving aircraft repair, working with pallets and handheld carts, and moving safely in unusual places like on the roof of aircraft. Desiring to do part-time work after his retirement, Alfredo sought a position at the sortation center near his home. During the application process he disclosed his blindness, and Amazon hired him. However, on his first day of work the supervisors quickly escorted him out of the workplace and would not allow his return. With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, Alfredo filed a complaint, and we secured a resolution to the discrimination. Amazon will provide training to the staff at the sortation center, engage in understanding how blind people can safely work in complex industrial environments, and pay the Federation for the costs of, once again, teaching the company that the blind cannot be excluded from opportunities within its workforce.

Established in 1938 by the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, the AbilityOne program is an independent government agency overseen by a group of appointees known as the AbilityOne Commission. The authorizing statute directs the commission to designate one or more central nonprofit agencies (CNAs) to facilitate the distribution of government orders of procurement-list products and services among nonprofit agencies employing people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Since 1938, National Industries for the Blind (NIB) has been the CNA managing contracts employing blind people. On July 26, 2018, the AbilityOne Commission announced, without a public notice and comment period and without a competitive process to select the most qualified organization, that it was establishing a second CNA for employing the blind in competitive integrated settings. No blind workers currently employed on AbilityOne contracts were consulted, no agencies managing contracts were invited to shape the priorities, and no elected leaders of the blind were asked for feedback. Instead, the AbilityOne Commission appointed, through an exclusive backroom deal, the American Foundation for the Blind as the newest CNA.

Documents show that AbilityOne and the American Foundation for the Blind engaged in years of secret meetings and negotiations, a request for proposals was issued exclusively to the foundation, and, amazingly, the foundation was unanimously rejected for being unqualified by the AbilityOne evaluation committee. In spite of its own determination that the American Foundation for the Blind lacked the necessary qualifications, AbilityOne unilaterally made the designation and justified its edict with a press release that hyped the foundation’s, “unique experience and demonstrated expertise…” Regardless of the spin, the record demonstrates that the AbilityOne Commission secretly and knowingly entrusted development of a new government employment program for the blind to an unqualified agency without the experience or resources to meet the requirements. When we asked the American Foundation for the Blind about this lack of transparency, they responded by saying, “we had an opportunity, and we took it.” Neither the government nor the foundation gets to determine what the future priorities are for us, without us. In support of all blind AbilityOne workers, the National Federation of the Blind has taken the opportunity to file suit against the AbilityOne Commission for violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and federal contracting and grant-making regulations. Do not misunderstand: we believe the AbilityOne program should be transformed, but we want it done right, and we want it done in cooperation with the organized blind movement.

We have observed significant progress in our movement to eliminate Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which permits the payment of unequal wages to people with disabilities. During our Washington Seminar, both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives introduced the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act (S. 260 and H.R. 873, respectively). While our advocacy is creating movement at the federal level, we are not waiting for Congress to fulfill its responsibility. Through our dynamic network of affiliates, we continue to make steady progress on securing state laws to eliminate the use of 14c certificates. Congratulations to the newest states to raise wage expectations for the blind: Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

While a full report of the Federation’s extensive advocacy and policy efforts will be presented later in this convention, we must highlight two significant achievements of the past year. The Department of Defense Space Available Program provides transportation on scheduled and unscheduled military flights within the continental United States and on scheduled overseas flights on a space-available basis to members of the Armed Forces entitled to retirement or retainer pay. Since 2012, we have been working to extend these benefits to veterans with a service-connected, permanent disability. Like our veterans, members of the Federation do not quit until we secure victory. On August 13, 2018, the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act including our bill language was signed by the president of the United States granting our blinded veterans the increased freedom they deserve.

A critical component to freedom is literacy. Previously blind people have only had access to a small fraction of the world’s published works, but, thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, the circumstances are dramatically changing. In June 2013, our collaboration with leaders of the World Blind Union resulted in the completion of the first international treaty dedicated exclusively to access for the blind: The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually-Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled. Over the proceeding five-and-a-half years, we undertook a substantial effort to secure United States ratification and implementation of the treaty, which would facilitate our use of the accessible works from other countries. On October 9, 2018, the president of the United States signed Public Law Number 115-261, confirming our nation as fully compliant with the Marrakesh treaty. Our country is now an official party to the Marrakesh Union, which currently includes eighty-two other nations with more expected to join in the near future. As soon as the law was adopted, we turned our attention to encouraging the World Intellectual Property Organization to develop an efficient international system of exchange that serves blind people directly rather than requiring complex library structures. Our voice has been heard, and we will continue to provide leadership in establishing the access systems of the future.

Equal access to the full range of options for blind people to vote privately and independently in elections continues to be a pressing priority. In November 2018, we reached a comprehensive settlement agreement with Alameda County, California, requiring acquisition of new accessible voting machines, implementation of an accessible vote-by-mail system, dissemination of improved poll-worker training, adoption of procedures for managing election-day accessibility issues, and compliance with the WCAG 2.1 AA standards on the county’s website. In February 2019, we reached a court-ordered settlement agreement with the state of New York. The agreement, among other provisions, requires the state’s board of elections and department of motor vehicles to make their websites fully accessible, allowing for private and independent voter registration.  

In our voting outreach work under the Help America Vote Act, we evaluate nonvisual access to voting systems, bring key stakeholders together to advance best practices, and conduct regular, national conference calls with protection and advocacy system personnel and elections officials. The authenticity in our expertise comes through local engagement from Federation members. Since 2008, we have monitored fall elections through our Blind Voter Survey, which is the most meaningful data available that documents the experience of blind voters in the United States. We will continue to work tirelessly to advance full participation of the blind in the American democracy.

At our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, we coordinate the most extensive program of access to technology by the blind anywhere in the world. A growing area of focus for us is inaccessible touch-screens and kiosks. We are collaborating with manufacturers to include accessibility, as observed in progress we have made in tabletop machines in some restaurants and in micro-market vending locations. We are engaging in structured negotiations in other cases. One example is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which has deployed a fleet of inaccessible self-service kiosks in public locations around the state to alleviate wait times and improve access to a number of vehicle registration tasks. Does the state think that blind people have nothing better to do than wait in line?

Speaking of lines, many stores are implementing self-service checkout lines. Based on the experience of Cynthia Morales, a Federation member from Maryland, we raised the inaccessibility of these checkout lanes with Walmart. A Walmart employee, who was assisting Ms. Morales with the inaccessible self-checkout kiosk, selected the cash back option without Cynthia’s knowledge, and proceeded to pocket her money. Walmart brushed off the incident and ignored our offer to collaborate on equal access. In October we filed suit against Walmart to demand that its self-checkout kiosks be made accessible. In the meantime, members of the Federation may wish to spend our hard-earned dollars at other stores that value our equal participation in their services.

Artificial barriers in healthcare systems are frequently encountered by blind patients and blind employees. In North Carolina we are pursuing access to critical healthcare information and billing invoices in accessible formats. In Indiana we are exploring equal access to applications and resources provided online by state-administered benefits programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, low-income housing assistance, childcare assistance, and vocational rehabilitation services. In Massachusetts to protect the jobs of blind healthcare workers, we are demanding that Epic, one of the nation’s largest providers of healthcare software, build accessibility into the employee-facing portions of its systems. And across the nation we are pursuing a number of other accessibility issues related to medical devices and services.

Our network of dedicated members makes enforcement of our agreements effective, authentic, and powerful. At last year's convention, we announced a settlement with Greyhound Lines Inc. to provide blind customers with equal access to and the company's mobile application. As the company worked on its accessibility, blind customers were permitted to call to buy tickets without being charged the standard call-center booking fee. We conducted a secret shopper program with over 120 reports filed by Federationists that were essential to holding Greyhound accountable for the policy implementation. From now through 2021, we will monitor Greyhound’s maintenance of equal access to its website and mobile application.

We have also committed to holding both Uber and Lyft accountable for equal access to their services, including protections for blind users of service animals. Federation members have helped to generate over four thousand surveys in our monitoring effort, and it is clear that discrimination continues. We now enter the final year of our existing agreements. If the discrimination persists, we will have no choice but to head back to court to seek an even stronger court-mandated solution. While the lack of progress is frustrating, your continued effort to submit the Federation’s monitoring surveys is the best tool we have to document the scope of the problem. Your commitment to the final year of our rideshare-testing program is critical. In return, the National Federation of the Blind reconfirms its commitment to ensure that these companies arrive at the destination of equal access for the blind.

For decades, Federation affiliates have provided what assistance they could to blind individuals in the prison systems, recognizing that these individuals disproportionally come from minority backgrounds and experience some of the most brutal discrimination imaginable. Maryland is an unpleasant and typical example. The state holds all of its blind inmates in one facility but offers no access technology there. The prison communicates to inmates in writing and requires submission of handwritten forms for medical requests, grievances, commissary orders, and other matters, but it offers none of these in accessible formats. Blind inmates are not allowed to do any of the highest-paying inmate jobs, not provided with orientation and mobility instruction, not permitted to participate equally in education and self-improvement programs, and not given access to programs at other facilities. Blind inmates have no choice but to rely on other inmates for navigation and access to communications. You can imagine the horror of being at the mercy of another inmate who is unreliable, untrained, and frequently dangerous.

In 2016 we sued the Maryland Division of Correction on behalf of nine blind inmates, and last month we reached a landmark settlement. The state will now develop an accessible process for requesting and providing reasonable modifications and auxiliary aids to blind inmates; will provide accessible formats of all inmate documents and forms; will provide a suite of access technology; and, when human assistance is required, will ensure that the person is qualified, impartial, and maintains confidentiality. Maryland will pay each plaintiff $42,500 for the discrimination they suffered and reimburse the Federation over $1 million in attorney’s fees and costs. More than a great victory for social justice, it is our hope that this settlement serves as a model for all states to use in ensuring equal treatment of blind inmates.

In 2018 we joined forces with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the NAACP to file a federal lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act against the United States Department of Education. The suit challenged the announcement by the Office of Civil Rights that it was, without advance notice and public comment, changing its procedures dramatically with the effect of diminishing the enforcement of rights it is charged with protecting. In November, in response to our suit, the Office of Civil Rights voluntarily reversed course and restored previous protections. Yet, we continue to seek enforcement by the court. We are proud that we can link arms with other civil rights organizations to raise expectations for, and protect the civil rights of, the blind.

We continue to make progress in eliminating unequal treatment of the blind in higher education. After a two-year fight, we scored a victory last month when a United States District Court judge found that the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD)—the largest community college in the nation—discriminated against two blind students by denying them meaningful access to their education. The court’s findings specifically note discriminatory action including the use of Pearson’s inaccessible MyMathLab product, failure to deliver accessible instructional materials, operating an inaccessible website and a student information system made by PeopleSoft, and offering library databases with inaccessible documents. We now await the Court’s decision on the scope of the injunction that will be entered to ensure that LACCD complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We will continue to reject second-class treatment at all institutions of higher education, and we will provide leadership to those schools seeking to serve as a model of equal access.

Through our Blind Parents Initiative, we lead the way in advancing equal rights and creating resource connections for blind caregivers. We are a quarter of the way to our goal of every affiliate securing adoption of our model parental rights legislation. Today we celebrate the recent enactment of protections for blind parents in Georgia, Alabama, Nevada, and Hawaii.

Minh and Daniel Turnbull are a blind couple who live in Eagle Point, Oregon. On December 21, 2018, they experienced the joy of giving birth to their first child—a boy named Silas. Little did they know that the low expectations and misconceptions of a nurse in the hospital would soon turn their celebration into a nightmare. Uncertain how a blind couple would safely manage the care and feeding of a newborn baby, the nurse reported the couple to Oregon's Child Protective Services, where the most experienced staff were on leave due to the holidays. Exercising their duty to protect, the remaining agency staff ordered that, to take Silas home, the couple must have a sighted person observing their actions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Just one instance of the Turnbull’s failure to comply, they were warned, would result in Silas being removed from the family. Imagine, in the middle of the night, the parents must first rouse a sighted person before undertaking one of the many care tasks that newborns require—tasks that most parents, blind or sighted, learn to do without turning on the lights. What is harder to imagine is the irreversible impact this unnecessary restriction had on the bond between parent and child in the early days of life.

Fortunately, on New Year’s Day, a friend of the family called Carla McQuillan, a blind mother, educator, and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. It took Carla the better part of twenty-four hours to get someone from Child Protective Services to respond, but when they did, the biased restriction was lifted within the hour. Mihn, Daniel, and Silas are now members of the National Federation of the Blind, and they are here at their first convention.

Through the generous support of the Gibney Family Foundation, we are expanding our Blind Parents Initiative in order to reach more people before they face these harmful low expectations. We have launched a new podcast called Blind Parents Connection, and we are building new educational resources and expanding our website. None of this could happen without the tremendous expertise of the Federation members who volunteer their time to share their experience with others.

Some of the most meaningful contributions of Federation members are offered in our extensive education programs. Our nationwide Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academies provide blind students intensive instruction in Braille and related skills from people who model the Federation philosophy. This summer we will have forty-five academies—making it the most comprehensive national Braille instruction program.

We do so much more with Braille. On behalf of the Library of Congress, we train hundreds of people annually to be certified Braille transcribers or proofreaders. In partnership with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, we distribute more than four thousand free Braille books to blind children every month. Through our early childhood outreach work, we engage families with Braille reading prompts and fun activities that empower parents to be their blind child's first and most important teacher using the positive philosophy of our organization. Let us not forget that we continue to partner with jolly old Santa Claus in sending Braille copies of his letters to more than four hundred children annually.

The Federation sets the standard for educating blind youth in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Two weeks ago we concluded another highly successful engineering academy for thirty students, and, for the first time, ten of our program alumni are here at this convention as part of our project to enhance their career exploration. Through our engineering program, which is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, we focus on teaching the development of spatial skills using nonvisual techniques and provide challenging opportunities to exercise those skills. Engineering relies heavily on spatial reasoning skills, and we believe our work will contribute significantly to helping sighted and blind students more effectively use spatial understanding in their discipline and in life more generally.

New understanding is being developed through our engagement with the museum and art communities. In partnership with 3DPhotoWorks, Federation leaders participated in an exhibit at the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums in New Orleans. The Alliance represents three thousand institutions worldwide. The exhibit booth included a letter, enlarged to be ten feet high, inviting institutions to work with the National Federation of the Blind on accessibility. In Baltimore we participated in a community-funded project known as the Ways of Seeing Tactile Art exhibit, which featured collaboration between blind and sighted artists. The exhibit facilitated conversation about tactile art and how to actively engage more people in the arts. In all of this our message is simple: incorporating our perspective enriches the experience for everyone.

We have attempted to share our philosophy with, and build bridges to, the professionals working with the blind. Last July, more than twenty-five Federationists attended the International Conference of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). We worked an exhibit table and hosted a reception in an attempt to share the authentic perspective from our movement. We sought to open avenues for collaboration and exchange of information. We intend to play a leading role in programs for the blind, and we hope that the professionals choose to treat us as partners rather than to serve us as patients.

In all of these areas of education and so many more we continue to lead the way. Our motto is if they will not teach them, we will teach them ourselves. We need more members to engage as mentors in our programs and to contribute expertise to raising expectations for the next generation. Later in this convention we will receive a full report of our education, technology, and research work, as well as hear from the partners that join with us to build the future.

In 1978 we committed to moving our national headquarters to the National Center for the Blind (now known as the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute), a complex of buildings occupying a square city block in Baltimore, Maryland. We had a property without much functional capacity, but over time and as resources have allowed, we have made improvements. Initially, this meant remodeling a significant portion, but not all, of the fourth floor of the primary building for our use. In the early 1980s we added sleeping rooms to the building, allowing us to host overnight seminars. In 2001 we broke ground for a new, twenty-million-dollar building on the southwest corner of the property to provide new conference, training, research, archive, office, and parking space—significantly increasing our capacity to implement almost any type of program or project we might imagine. We now seek to improve our capacity even further.

Work is currently underway to make modest upgrades to our beautiful dining room and to dramatically transform the 18,500 square feet east of it that has been office and storage space for the past forty years. Expected to open in September of this year, the remodeled space will include twenty-one new sleeping rooms along the east and north exterior walls, featuring windows, nine-and-a-half-foot ceilings, and comfortable amenities. Near the sleeping rooms will be casual spaces for working, open spaces for spending time with others, a kitchen space for teaching, laundry facilities, and a substantial fitness area. Immediately to the east of the dining room will be a foyer featuring a forty-two-inch diameter wood-burning fireplace with seating on all sides and touches of Federation history and symbolism. The foyer transitions to the north to a seating space named in honor of a blind couple from Colorado who have built programs for the blind that have transformed the lives of thousands of Federation members. This living room space will have a fountain built into the east wall—a symbol of the experience of being at their home. In our new spaces, as was true at their home, relationships will be forged, and the bond of faith we share will be passed between generations of blind leaders. We anticipate welcoming you to our new Diane and Ray McGeorge Living Room at the Jernigan Institute.

Our efforts to educate the public about blindness are growing faster than at any time in our history. We launched a new and improved website, experienced strong growth in our social media engagement, reached a broader audience through stories published about us, and enjoyed the benefits of increased name recognition through distribution of our public service announcements. We launched the #LetUsPlayUs campaign to change the representation and inclusion of the blind on screen and stage, and we protested in front of CBS in New York City over the lack of authentic representation. We partnered with Kellogg's on the Rice Krispies Love Notes project to promote Braille. In less than one month, the complete stock of thousands of Braille Love Note sticker sheets and audio boxes were distributed. News about the partnership, including a video featuring members of the National Federation of the Blind, reached nearly 125 million web viewers. While this effort brought conversations about Braille to grocery stores in the United States, we are not done. In the fall of this year, we will announce a new partnership that will bring Braille and the name of the National Federation of the Blind to stores around the world.

All of these accomplishments, and those we have not had time to review, happen because of the individual efforts of each and every active member of the National Federation of the Blind. Every day I am filled with hope, energy, and love by participating in this organization because of what each of you does to raise expectations for us. I am humbled and blessed by the opportunity to serve as your President, and the trust you place in me is an unparalleled honor in my life.

On September 18, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles honored the National Federation of the Blind and our forty years of being headquartered in Charm City, by becoming the first professional sports team in the United States to wear Braille jerseys during a game. Over 250 stories about National Federation of the Blind night at Oriole Park reached 2 billion views on the worldwide web. One of the jerseys from that evening is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Another jersey is displayed at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. I had the distinct honor of wearing that jersey as I stood at the edge of the pitching mound in the center of the field at Oriole Park. With hundreds of Federationists in the stands, I held a regulation major league baseball, which felt at the time like a bowling ball. I took a deep breath and focused on the three things that keep me grounded every day. One, no matter what happens I know that the members of the Federation family have my back. As I felt the stitching on the ball, I experienced the strength of the interconnected commitment that binds us together in this movement. Two, it is my responsibility to raise expectations every day rather than settling for low expectations. I understood that while most of the crowd expected me to be the highlight on the evening blooper reel, Federationists know that blindness is not a defining characteristic, and I was expected to throw a strike. Three, I have been elected to represent the hopes and dreams of Federation members, and I should not ask of you anything that I am not prepared to deliver on myself. In everything I undertake for us, I dedicate all of the heart, energy, and thoughtfulness I can bring to the assignment. Whether it is with a baseball; our treasury; our legal team; our building; our picket signs; our educational resources; or the invaluable time, energy, and love of the members of this movement, I step forward as long as you call me to do so, and I strive to hit the mark every time. I stood up straight, gripped the seams of the ball one last time, and put everything I had into representing blind people that evening. I could not hear the ball hit the glove over the sound of our march to freedom. However, Orioles announcer Jim Hunter declared that we threw a strike that evening, shutting out the low expectations between blind people and our dreams.

My Federation family, this is my report for 2019. This is our progress. This is our commitment to each other. This is the unshakeable bond of faith we share. This is how we grow the team that will transform our dreams into reality. Let our freedom ring.