An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
At the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
Online (Baltimore, Maryland)
July 17, 2020
During the past year, the organized blind movement has grown by every measure of success. But progress itself is not a certainty. Our success comes from the real efforts each of us contributes. Blind people from every community in this nation, from diverse backgrounds and with varying perspectives, have continued to march forward together to build a world where we can participate fully in all aspects of life without being limited or defined by our blindness. We, the blind, have directed our own actions, crafted the programs needed to fulfill our dreams, and strengthened the bonds with our partners. Over the past six months, we have faced some of the most adverse external barriers to building our organization since the early years of our movement. At that time, our new organization overcame the resource constraints of World War II in order to build. This time, our movement has faced the challenges of COVID-19 with determination and demonstrated the depth of its strength, innovation, and heart.
In the wake of a worldwide pandemic, economic collapse, and social disruption driven by centuries of racial injustice, the blind have once again demonstrated the qualities that make success possible. We have strengthened connections among blind people and protected our fundamental right to live the lives we want. By focusing on connecting and protecting, we have sustained our ability to build our movement, and we have been building with the love, hope, and determination that makes us unstoppable. Although we gather together today from a distance, we remain undivided. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
Protecting the right of blind Americans to vote privately and independently in elections remains an important priority. There has never been a time when blind Americans have had equal access to the complete range of voting options in a manner that protects the privacy, independence, and accuracy of our voting choices. But over our eighty-year history, we have pushed ever closer to equality.
In September 2019, as part of our extensive outreach and advocacy efforts consistent with the Help America Vote Act, we sent a letter to secretaries of state outlining their responsibility to ensure equal access to voting for the blind. Our objective was that states would plan for equal access for blind people across the range of voting options in time for the 2020 elections. Most states ignored our advice, and when the coronavirus pandemic pushed states to quickly shift to all mail-in elections, they simply made no plans to include the blind.
In Michigan, just days before the May 5 primary, we secured an interim settlement requiring the state to provide voters with disabilities an accessible version of the ballot used by overseas and military voters. In addition, we secured a consent decree requiring the state to set up a remote, accessible vote-by-mail system in time for its August election and all future elections. We continue to monitor to ensure appropriate enforcement is executed in a timely fashion.
In Pennsylvania, we secured a last-minute court hearing before the June 2 primary election. The state proposed, and the judge accepted, an interim solution of using the federal write-in ballot. This accessible electronic ballot permits a voter to type in their candidate selections from a list provided by the state. While the interim solution was better than an inaccessible piece of paper for voting in the primary election, we are not prepared to accept this second-class system in the future. Our litigation in Pennsylvania continues to seek equal treatment in November and all future elections.
In New York, we joined with others to prevent the use of inaccessible absentee ballots for the June 23 primary and special elections. This case builds upon our February 2019 court-ordered settlement agreement that ensures private and independent voter registration through a fully accessible website. We reached an interim agreement to provide accessibility for the June 23 election, and we continue to negotiate for a permanent, remote, accessible vote-by-mail system in time for the November elections.
Public officials responsible for managing elections in many other states claim they cannot implement accessible voting unless action by the state legislature is taken. We are supporting our affiliates in Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia, and all the other places where excuses are being used to deny our access to the vote. Let us just clear it up right here and now: Compliance with federal election law and the Americans with Disabilities Act is not optional. States are bound to provide equal access in federal elections regardless of the desires or politics of the local legislatures. We will strengthen and expand the gains made in the Help America Vote Act whenever Congress advances new voting reforms, and we will continue to offer our expertise to the states. We will continue to charge aggressively forward to a time when the blind have equal access to all of the voting options for federal elections, and we will not stop until we also secure the same access in local and state elections.
We continue to set the pace for protecting and expanding the rights of blind people through federal and state legislatures and government agencies. During our 2020 Washington Seminar we advanced seven bills in the United States Congress that were a direct result of the Federation’s priorities. In addition, we have been actively working on influencing bills related to voting, access to rideshare services, website accessibility, and other important policy areas. As Congress has considered laws to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, advancement of our own policy proposals, as well as our feedback on the proposals of others, has helped protect blind people in this difficult time. Beyond Washington, DC, our expertise has been critical in helping blind people navigate everything from the changing rules related to securing economic impact payments, to overcoming the inability to access drive-up COVID-19 testing facilities. We continue to track and respond to a broad range of government regulatory issues such as access to air travel, audio description, and the public charge rule. We also continue to lead the way on defining equal access to fully autonomous vehicles. On February 11, 2020, a hearing on this topic was held in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. The primary testimony on access to autonomous vehicles for people with disabilities was presented by the President of the National Federation of the Blind. A full report on our advocacy and policy work during the past year will be featured later in this convention.
We seek to protect the rights of blind people to participate in the full range of positions in integrated competitive-employment settings. Specialized programs for the blind often tell us they are at a great disadvantage due to the structure of federal regulations related to integrated competitive employment. Yet these same agencies are pleased to benefit from exemptions in the law. While many blindness agencies no longer utilize the exemption permitting them to pay less than the minimum wage, they continue to block unemployment payments to their blind workers when layoffs occur. One example is Shirley Colbert, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana. She was laid off from her position as a laser operator at the Louisiana Association for the Blind. She rightfully thought she would be eligible for unemployment benefits but was denied due to another exemption in the law. Agencies providing both training and employment to people with disabilities can avoid paying unemployment taxes on the wages earned by their disabled workers by claiming them as rehabilitation clients. We commend Ms. Colbert for exposing this unfair exemption, and we will continue to fight this harmful practice in any agency for the blind that continues to claim it is a competitive employer but labels blind people as clients in order to avoid paying unemployment taxes. If you are a blind person who has faced this unfair treatment in the past year, we need to hear from you. We will not quit until we protect the right to equal compensation and benefits for blind workers.
Agencies for the blind are not the only employers systemically holding blind people back. Joe Orozco is an active member of our Virginia affiliate. He serves as an intelligence analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since he began working for the FBI in 2012, Joe has regularly worked within his chain of command to advocate for the use of accessible technology within the agency. However, the FBI continues to use inaccessible software programs that prevent blind employees from fully contributing their talents and gaining new work assignments to advance their careers. Similar artificial barriers are encountered by blind employees in every agency of the federal government. The use of inaccessible information technology violates Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is rare for an agency to meaningfully enforce the requirements even when violations are well documented and submitted as formal complaints to agency leaders. We have had enough of the discrimination. We have supported bringing Joe’s complaint to federal court. We seek to protect the right of blind federal employees to hold indifferent federal agencies accountable for Section 508 violations and have those rights enforce by the court.
Frequently the discrimination we encounter is employers protecting us from the danger they perceive to be inherent in blindness. In 2004, Alina Sorling was hired as a food service technician by Mercy Medical Center of Redding, California. In 2014, a serious illness left her in a prolonged coma that caused her blindness. Mercy promised Alina that her job would be available to her when she was ready to return to work. After receiving blindness skills training, she asked for her job back. Mercy responded by terminating her employment in 2015, claiming that it would be too dangerous for her to work in the hospital’s cafeteria.
Fortunately, Alina found protection against the employer with the National Federation of the Blind. We helped her file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigated the case and determined that there was probable cause to believe that Mercy had violated the law. The EEOC took the extremely rare step of filing an enforcement action in the United States District Court against Dignity Health, which owns Mercy. We joined in that action to represent Alina. In September 2019, Judge Charles Breyer entered a consent decree that ordered Dignity to cease discriminating against persons with disabilities, to implement proper reasonable accommodations practices, and to provide training on the Americans with Disabilities Act to all employees, with extra requirements for management staff. Among the specific provisions of the order, the company official who fired Alina was required to undergo immersion-to-blindness training to understand the techniques blind people use. For Alina’s lost wages, emotional distress, and attorney fees, Dignity paid her $570,000. Alina’s dignity was restored when the judge gave no mercy to her employer, and we have again affirmed the right of blind people to be protected from the harmful effects of low expectations.
Low expectations bring the continued lack of innovation and persistent discrimination of Amazon to mind. FaShandra Howard, Rosa Negrete, Tony Lane, and Luz Avalas are members of the Federation from the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. All four of them applied to work in Amazon warehouse fulfillment and sortation facilities, and they disclosed their blindness during the orientation and application process. Amazon hired each of them, and each was met with discrimination during their first day at the warehouse. Amazon refuses to make its warehouse scanning and inventory technology accessible so that blind people can work in a variety of positions. In some cases, Amazon goes so far as to restrict blind people from working in its facilities at all, claiming unfounded safety concerns. Just weeks ago we assisted in filing charges with the EEOC. Our goal is to advance a class of blind employees who are being denied job opportunities at Amazon facilities. We want to hear from any other blind people who have had similar experiences with Amazon.
COVID-19 has given a new importance to work-from-home jobs, but this has long been a concern for us. One example is our work with Ronit Mazzoni, a member of our Silicon Valley chapter in California. After nearly ten years of experience as a licensed genetic counselor, her skill set is highly sought by employers like Myriad Genetics. This company provides tele-healthcare services to patients across the country using genetic counselors who work remotely from home. Ronit applied to Myriad and successfully navigated a series of interviews. The company said it really wanted to hire Ronit based on her qualifications, but no offer would be extended because she needed screen-reading software and accessible, electronic information technology to be successful. With assistance from the National Federation of the Blind, Ronit filed a lawsuit in federal court and settled the case earlier this year. We have recovered the cost of our assistance in the case, and Ronit is now employed by another tele-genetics company, working remotely with accessible software configurations. We are actively pursuing the discriminatory practices of other employers, and we will continue to protect blind people from being shut out of the full range of work-from-home employment opportunities.
Another aspect of our work is protecting the personal information of blind people by ensuring that communications are available in multiple forms including Braille, and that technologies like check-in kiosks are fully accessible. One recent example is the settlement of our 2017 case against the Social Security Administration (SSA) challenging its implementation of inaccessible visitor-intake processing kiosks. Under the settlement, SSA agreed to deploy Section 508-compliant kiosks in its field offices and to make best efforts to add keypads to existing kiosks.
Another persistent barrier imposed by the Social Security Administration has been the requirement to complete inaccessible paper forms and include a wet-ink signature. The COVID-19 pandemic forced this issue by presenting blind people with a choice: risk exposure to the virus by seeking assistance completing the paper forms or forgo the benefits and services that have been developed to support living independently. In response to our federal complaint and request for preliminary injunction on behalf of blind applicants and beneficiaries, the agency changed some of its policies for the COVID-19 pandemic period to allow online applications where paper had been required and to forgo certain reviews and accept certain forms differently to avoid the need for wet-ink signatures. The lawsuit continues regarding the permanent solutions.
Another example is a suit we filed shortly after last year’s convention. Blind people want to work and, although we complain about it as much as anyone else, we want to pay our fair share of taxes. However, we are not willing to go through the extra expense of figuring out what our inaccessible notifications from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tell us we owe. The government must provide equal access, and we filed against the IRS to stop their persistent failure to do so. Our structured negotiations with the IRS have resulted in an agreement signed just days before this convention. Under our agreement, the agency will develop a system enabling blind people to request ongoing receipt of IRS notifications in accessible formats, which include Braille, electronic, and large print. We will continue to aggressively protect equal access to all forms of private information that blind people have for too long been forced to expose to others.
Education is an important area of our work to protect the equal participation of the blind. For over a decade, we have been advocating that colleges and universities take affirmative steps to only implement educational technologies that are fully accessible. Had institutions of higher education payed attention, they would not have struggled to provide equal access to the blind when they rapidly shifted to online environments as a result of COVID-19. The Federation, on the other hand, was well prepared to support students and families in the rapid shift to online learning. We quickly launched our #AccessibleNow efforts, including monitoring educational accessibility challenges and providing advocacy resources like our self-advocacy in higher education toolkit. Despite the resources we make freely available, the universities continue to put barriers in the way of blind students.
One example is Federation member Mary Fernandez who graduated this spring from Duke University with a master’s degree in business administration despite the university’s efforts to make it as difficult as possible for her to complete her studies. We assisted Mary in filing suit against the university for its failure to provide her with timely access to Braille, electronic, and tactile materials during her MBA program. We once again call on institutions of higher education to protect the rights of blind students under the Americans with Disabilities Act and stop the unequal treatment. We would hope that Duke is the last of these cases that we are required to take to court, but we are prepared to challenge other universities that continue violating the law.
High school students take Advanced Placement courses with the hope of being able to score high enough on tests to receive college credit in certain subjects. The Advance Placement tests are administered by the College Board. For years, we have tried to work collaboratively with them to improve the process for accessible testing and to raise expectations, with modest success. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we learned about the board’s plans to shift to online testing, and we offered feedback, especially as it related to hardcopy Braille and tactile graphics. Even if the online testing platform was fully accessible, certain subjects like calculus and biology would be extremely difficult to manage with speech or a one-line Braille display. The College Board ignored our advice and did not even plan to offer hardcopy Braille during the initial testing period.
Prior to the testing week, Kaleigh Brendle, a seventeen-year-old, blind, high school junior from New Jersey decided that unequal treatment was not acceptable even in a pandemic. She posted a video on social media highlighting the unequal treatment by the College Board and inviting other blind students to join with her. When we learned about Kaleigh’s work to organize blind students, we offered to add the power of the National Federation of the Blind to her efforts. The NFB and Kaleigh quickly filed civil rights complaints with the Departments of Education and Justice, and our legal counsel reached out to the College Board. After a period of negotiation, with Kaleigh taking the lead for blind high school students around the country, we reached a settlement with the College Board that provides for blind students to have an equal opportunity for retesting, including the availability of hardcopy Braille and tactile graphics. Among other provisions, the College Board will also provide a letter to affected high school seniors so they can provide their universities with justification for their delayed test scores. Sometimes students fight to get out of testing. These blind students fought to get into testing, and all they wanted was to use Braille—the method of communication that would best facilitate their ability to read and respond to the test content.
Our strong work to protect and expand the rights of blind people is essential for our full participation in society. However, our efforts to connect blind people through a network of resources is critical to our living the lives we want. Shortly after last year’s convention we launched a new series of regular Membership Open Houses where we invite blind people to come learn about our organization. Many times people think they know who we are from what others have told them, and frequently their understanding is inaccurate. Our open houses allow us an opportunity to engage directly with those who have not yet joined to discuss their perceptions and what they are seeking. This is just one of the many tools we have tried during the past year to engage and onboard new members. Since our last convention we onboarded 475 members through our new-member process. Each of these individuals was mailed a membership certificate in Braille and print and a membership coin. They were also provided with information to connect with others in the organization. Welcome to all of our new members and first timers at this convention and thank you to our affiliates that have made this a priority. Our new-member efforts have been led by our Virginia, New Jersey, and Ohio affiliates, which brought in the most new members during the past year.
We recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic was a time for us to continue growing together as a movement. Knowing that accurate, accessible information is critical, we made COVID-19 resources easily discoverable on our NFB-NEWSLINE® service. While six of our state affiliates do not have local sponsorship of, and therefore access to, NFB-NEWSLINE, in March we made the service available in these locations at our expense, in order to ensure that every blind person in this country had access to breaking news. In this case, the information could mean the difference between life and death.
To maintain the connections within our organization despite social distancing, we quickly made Zoom licenses and resources available to all of our affiliates and national divisions at no charge. We assisted in collecting and disseminating information about virtual Federation events across the country. During the height of the nation’s shutdown, a blind person could connect with more than fifty Federation events in a week without even considering local chapter meetings, open state affiliate calls, and other local outreach efforts. We held yoga classes, philosophy discussions, technology trainings, talent shows, happy hours, and dozens of other enrichment gatherings leveraging the talented membership of our movement. All of these gatherings we offered at no charge to participants. These events demonstrated the power and love of our network. Our challenge now is to develop the systems for extending our virtual presence and integrating it with our in-person meetings, as that becomes possible in local communities, with the goal of continuing to build our movement. Regardless of state borders or method of participation, we recognize we are all one movement.
When COVID-19 caused the shutdown of schools, blind students were forgotten. But our talented Federation educators stepped up their efforts to connect families with resources and blind youth with successful mentors. Our distance education program included offering nine weeks of interactive Zoom lessons, posting twenty-five videos equaling nearly six hours of content, and sharing nearly thirty text-based activities from our early childhood newsletter. The videos ranged from blind people reading Braille books out loud to making scented playdough and learning basic indoor cane travel techniques. This is in addition to the individual consultation with families and educators that resulted from these offerings. Thanks to Carlton Walker, president of our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; Eric Guillory, president of our division for Professionals in Blindness Education; Emily Gibbs, who oversees educational programming in our Texas affiliate; and Krystal Guillory and Kristen Sims from Louisiana, who are experts in turning our philosophy into action for families. These volunteers worked closely with Federation staff to develop these unanticipated quality resources ensuring that our blind youth were not forgotten. These resources remain available for free, and we expect to offer additional lessons in the fall of this year.
The summer of 2019 was our twelfth straight expanding literacy through our NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning® (BELL) Academies where we offer two weeks of hands-on learning. In 2019 we operated the program in twenty-six states delivering Braille education, nonvisual technique training, and a real connection to blind mentors to 279 blind youth. When COVID-19 threatened our ability to execute our traditional program in 2020, we chose not to shut down but to take the opportunity to extend our program into an area we had not yet explored.
The NFB BELL In-Home Edition was launched only six weeks before the first session started on June 1. Registered families were sent a box with seven pounds of accessible materials for Braille education in the home, as well as an appropriately sized NFB straight cane. During the two-week program, families could join a daily lesson as well as a social hour to connect families together. Blind mentors from our local affiliates provided support, assisted with reinforcing new concepts, and connected families with other resources throughout the Federation. A customized session was offered in Spanish to provide an authentic environment to families for whom English is their second language. By the end of this summer, we will have delivered the NFB BELL In-Home Edition to 280 blind students ranging in age from four to twelve. Families from all the sessions will come together for a BELL-ringing ceremony in August. This new approach to our Braille enrichment efforts, including the additional costs associated with moving to this model, would not have been practical without the continued financial support of our partners at the Wells Fargo Foundation and the generous financial and volunteer support of many of our state affiliates. We are eager to again ring the bell in person with students across the country, but we can all be proud that our Braille enrichment efforts have reached a new height by connecting the Federation directly into the homes of these future leaders when they most needed us.
Through our Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, we pursue the development and coordination of programs, training, and research that advance our movement. This work helps us connect our expertise to others, but it also facilitates strong connections between blind people. Over the past year, the NFB Career Mentoring Program has provided pre-employment transition services and mentoring to eighty-two transition-age youth from Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Virginia. Through our ten Career Quest retreats we have facilitated career exploration, work-based learning experiences, tours of college campuses, exposure to job-readiness skills, use of nonvisual techniques for independence, and development of self-advocacy. We are expanding this work to the online environment and expect to add the state of Illinois to our circle of mentoring later this summer.
Connecting blind students to high-quality opportunities to pursue science, technology, engineering, art, and math continues to be a priority of our movement. We are coming to the close of the third year of our five-year National Science Foundation-funded project focused on the development of spatial skills and challenging blind youth with opportunities to exercise those skills through engineering activities.
In order to continue advancing our objectives within the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed NFB Engineering Quotient (EQ) Online. Over a period of six weeks, including this convention, blind students who previously participated in our programs are offered an opportunity to reconnect, discover new mentors, and continue developing their technical knowledge, spatial reasoning, and other skills essential for success as a blind person. The program includes synchronous online group events focused on apprenticing students into our community of practice and hands-on STEM activities that can be completed as the student has time. Program activities were selected based upon the self-directed preferences of the students and include engineering challenges, tactile puzzles, and drawing activities. To facilitate the hands-on activities, we shipped each student a twenty-three-pound box containing tactile measuring tools (such as Braille calipers, a click rule, and tactile protractor); tactile drawing boards; and building materials.
Through our Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) initiative we coordinate technical expertise based on our authentic experience. This expertise breaks down artificial barriers in society and creates meaningful connections for our partners who seek to synergize with our movement. Some examples of our efforts this year include work with Disney+ on accessibility; Pearson on tactile graphics; and with VW, Ford, Waymo, the Federal Transit Administration, and a number of universities on autonomous vehicle research efforts. We maintained productive relationships with Apple, Google, HumanWare, Microsoft, and Vispero while strengthening our work with other partners such as the American Printing House for the Blind and GoodMaps. We have continued to work with Target and D2L as Strategic Nonvisual Access Partners (SNAP). Through our SNAP program we formalize a working relationship and assist our partners in finding innovative ways to extend their accessibility work. We continue to build our partnerships by advancing our Accessibility Switchboard and accessibility community of practice. For us, accessibility is not a business model, it is a tool to facilitate the full participation of the blind in society, and we want everyone to have the tools to advance our mission.
Last October, we connected non-blind people to our mission in a fun and competitive way. Through a partnership with Mattel toys, we collaborated in the launch of UNO® Braille. UNO is one of the most popular family games in the world. UNO Braille consists of 112 cards, with each card featuring Braille and the logo of the National Federation of the Blind. The game packaging included the words “UNO Braille” and “National Federation of the Blind” in Braille as well as our logo on multiple sides of the box. More importantly, it was sold in Target stores across the country at the same price as other versions of the popular game. UNO Braille continues to be available on the store shelves. We intend to pursue more efforts to get Braille onto consumer packaging, to assist the industry in establishing best practices for access to products like gift cards, and to create more meaningful connections through our partnerships. By the way, our relationship with Mattel continues, and you can expect other interesting announcements in the near future.
These are only a handful of the highlights and a small sampling of the people impacted by our work together. These accomplishments are because of you. Each and every active member of this movement makes the difference in what we do. You have stepped up this year in a way that demonstrates to the world that our movement is exactly what we need in good times and bad to ensure that blind people have equality, opportunity, and security. You have dedicated extra dollars, more time, and a large measure of love to our work together. The results are found in this report, but more importantly in the thousands of individual stories we do not have time to tell today. Thank you to the members of the National Federation of the Blind for turning one of our most challenging years into our strongest building year ever.
We know there are more blind people who have not found us or have not decided to join our movement for one reason or another. Some of them are participating in our convention for the first time this year. If that is you, we extend our hand and welcome you to our family. We need you. We need your diversity, your perspectives, and your talents. We also know from our experience that you will get a lot, more than you can imagine today, from being part of our Federation family.
We also know that some of you joining us for the first time this year are members of another organization. The American Council of the Blind was established by a small group of individuals who left our movement nearly sixty years ago. For a long time the Council opposed nearly every priority we undertook. Today, its scope is significantly smaller than ours, and it does not often openly attack our efforts. Last summer I invited the Council’s newly-elected president to meet, and, in that conversation, I invited him to consider holding the Council’s annual meeting in conjunction with one of the Federation’s future conventions. This is not our first time extending this offer and, as in the past, we still await a response. Despite the silence, we welcome those Council members who have come on their own to closely examine the Federation’s work. If you like what you find, we invite you to join our mission, take our pledge, and walk confidently with us into the future we are building for all blind people. If you decide this space is not for you, we want you to know that the Federation family will still be actively working hard to ensure that you too can live the life you want. To all those who find hope, energy, love, and strength in this Federation: join us, pledge to participate actively in our efforts, and receive the title that we proudly share: member, National Federation of the Blind.
Our value proposition to society is that we bring the lived experience of blind people to the front of society’s consciousness. During the past few years we have been making a concentrated effort to fulfill our promise that we represent all blind people regardless of their 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. In doing so, we recognize that the words are not enough. Words need to be followed by actions, and our Committee on Diversity and Inclusion has been guiding our actions in this area. This spring, we were shocked by the video of the killing of George Floyd approximately three miles southeast of BLIND, Incorporated, our training center in Minnesota. That moment caused us to examine our actions within this movement and whether we have done what was needed to fulfil the promise we make to each other in our organizational code of conduct. On June 2, we released a statement of solidarity and we committed that we would take positive steps to ensure our organization is free of racism. Some people tell us we are lucky as blind people because we do not see skin color. We know that this is simply another ableist misconception about blind people. As blind people we are shaped by the society around us as much as our non-blind friends. We have made the commitment to work harder at exposing and shattering the misunderstandings we have related to the other characteristics found in our movement. In many ways, it was easy for us to say Black Lives Matter; now we need to plan and execute the actions that will make a difference within and outside our organization. We are all stronger when we make the commitment to explore this honest reflection within ourselves, and our movement will be better when we use the learning to create more space for those who perceived that this organization did not represent them. We will continue to seek innovative ways to bring all blind people together, to connect a larger, more diverse audience to our movement, and to grow the connections in person and online.
My Federation family, I am truly prouder of what we have done in the past year than I have ever been at any of the previous twenty-four conventions I have attended. How our movement has responded in the past year gives me deep strength and boundless hope for what we will do together in the future. It continues to be my deepest honor to serve as your President. Answering to you and carrying out your priorities is the most challenging and joyous undertaking of my life. In the past year, the challenges were ones I never imagined. Yet you gave me everything we needed to push through. You invested in me. You trained me. You challenged me to test the limits for us as blind people by encouraging me to dare to do so within myself. You have loved and trusted me enough to give to me and to accept what I have been blessed to give back. A year ago I would have told you I had no idea how we would do what we have done this year, but the truth is you prepared me long ago for these moments. I carry the understanding that we are in this together—you have my back and I have yours. The wise counsel and unwavering support that you have given to me combined with your extraordinary efforts makes it possible to lead. The love that you share with me and my family makes it possible to live the life we want. I again pledge to you my dedication, energy, imagination, and heart in advancing the mission of our movement. I will never ask of you anything that I am not prepared to do myself. I am prepared to serve in this office as long as you call upon me to do so. I will continue to march shoulder to shoulder with you until I have nothing left to give. I will never run out of gratitude for all that you have given to me, and I will continue to work tirelessly to pay the value of the Federation family forward to a new generation of leaders.
Fellow Federationists, this is my report for 2020. This is the continued progress we make in protecting. This is the unshakeable bond of faith we share in connecting. This is how we transform dreams into reality despite unexpected challenges. This is our love, hope, and determination in the National Federation of the Blind.