by Gary Wunder
When historians of the National Federation of the Blind look back on the conventions of the organization, they will no doubt judge the convention held in July 2014 to be one of the most significant. This convention witnessed a change in leadership as President Maurer decided not to run, ending the longest presidency in the organization's history. This was also the convention at which Mark Riccobono was elected as the organization's president. The convergence of these events meant that the convention took a reverential look at the progress of the organization over the past twenty-eight years, focused on the programs we have today and the challenges that confront us, and dreamed together about what the future would bring as our new president assumes the responsibilities of his office.
Seminar Day was crowded with events for people of all ages and all interests. Activities sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children started early and ran throughout the day. A seminar for job seekers was conducted by a panel of experts from NFB training centers, state and private agencies, and employers. More than eighty people attended. A job fair would be held later in the day at which twenty-three employers came looking for people with ambition and brains to fill their jobs. Among the employers looking for workers was LEGOLAND, Florida.
The Jernigan Institute held technology seminars on the accessibility of the Android operating system, accessible desktop cloud computing, and printing and three-dimensional creation for tactile graphics. Self-defense workshops were held throughout the day and were sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division. A craft show was conducted where Federationists could display and sell their handmade items. The Seniors Division hosted a panel discussion regarding what you should know about making the all-important decision concerning whether to age in place and find assistive care as needed or move into senior housing. Dominion Voting Systems demonstrated its Image Cast Evolution Tabulator®, a precinct-level optical scan ballot counter. This digital voting system allows blind and sighted voters alike an opportunity to vote privately and independently. A seminar entitled "A Federation Moment Is Worth 1,000 Words" was held to acquaint Federationists with the power of video presentations and to provide an opportunity for all of those who had iPhones and similar devices to do video interviews and to have them reviewed. Of course one could find music, door prizes, and a cash bar at the annual Karaoke Night, sponsored by Blindness, Learning in New Dimensions, a training center of the National Federation of the Blind in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Wednesday, July 2, began with registration at 9:00 AM, and following the receipt of a badge, a banquet ticket, and a convention agenda, many made their way to the exhibit hall, where the sponsors of our 2014 Convention were given an exclusive opportunity to show their products and services. Our convention sponsors for 2014 were:
The meeting of the board of directors was gaveled to order on Thursday morning, July 3, and a roll call found all members present with the exception of Jeannie Massay. Jeannie could not attend due to illness, but she listened to the convention stream, and those assembled sent warm wishes and their hope for her speedy recovery.
President Maurer asked that the gathering observe a moment of silence for those who had died during the past year: Carol Irwin, Mrs. Jernigan's sister; Dr. Abraham Nemeth, creator of the revolutionary Nemeth Code; Dr. Adrienne Asch, a renowned bioethicist and scholar; Lori Stayer, longtime leader in the Writers Division and the wife of David Stayer; Jean Dyon Norris, creator of the Twin Vision book and the longtime manager of the California office of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults; Joe Money, former president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana; Jim Willows, former president of the National Federation of the Blind of California and husband of our current president, Mary Willows; Robert Bell, former president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina; and Connie Conley of Louisiana, who was a teacher, nurse, and an inspiration to many. The convention silently rose in memory of these and other Federationists whose lives had contributed so much to our movement.
President Maurer discussed the composition of the board of directors, reviewing for the assembled those positions that were up for election and those which would continue until 2015. At this convention all officers would stand for election. They were Marc Maurer, president; Fred Schroeder, first vice president; Ronald Brown, second vice president; James Gashel, secretary; Pam Allen, treasurer; and Amy Buresh, Patti Chang, Michael Freeman, John Fritz, Carl Jacobsen, and Alpidio Rolón. Those whose terms will expire in 2015 are Parnell Diggs, Sam Gleese, Ever Lee Hairston, Cathy Jackson, Jeannie Massay, and Joe Ruffalo. President Maurer noted that he had been elected fourteen times to head the organization and that he would not be running in this election. He said that he was supporting Mark Riccobono and hoped that he would be nominated and elected. The convention expressed its appreciation for his service and its enthusiasm for the candidacy of Mark Riccobono by its applause.
Mike Freeman asked for the floor and told the board of directors and those assembled that he would not stand for election in 2014. He said that he appreciated the time he had served on the board but that in this time of transition he felt it appropriate to relinquish his position in the hope that it would be filled by someone with the youth and energy that are necessary to the continued success of the organization. His service was also recognized by the audience and the board of directors with applause, cheers, and shouts of thank you. President Maurer also echoed his appreciation for the work Mike had given as a member of the board.
Dan Hicks, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, welcomed the board and the convention. He told us that, while residing in Florida, we had certain rights: "You have the right to an attorney, and heaven knows we have enough of those here; you have the right to remain silent, though few of us will; and you have the right to bear arms and legs and torsos and just about any other body part on our beaches. But in Florida we have a very special right—the right to partay. We know a lot of work gets done at these conventions; we do a lot of work to put these conventions on, but we still think of them as a multi-day party, and we want you to enjoy this convention and always to remember it."
Dan played a snippet from the song "Happy," as it was featured in the movie Despicable Me. He taught us words appropriate to the celebration of the Seventy-Fourth Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The words Dan gave us were these: clap along if you want the convention to raise the roof; clap along if you feel the Federation is the truth; clap along if you know what the NFB means to you; clap along if you want to live the life you choose.
Following a prolonged cheer for this song and for the welcome offered to us by the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, President Maurer read to the convention a resolution passed by the national board of directors in January 2014. It said:
A sentence shall be added at the end of Article IV, Section C, which reads: Biennially, during even numbered years, at the first meeting of the board of directors following the convention at which officers and board members are elected, the board of directors shall select a chairperson from among its members who shall not be the same person as the president and who shall serve without compensation.
This was the first reading of the amendment, and it was later passed unanimously by the convention.
Mark Riccobono was introduced to talk about efforts by the board of directors to clarify our message, improve our marketing, and increase the name recognition of the National Federation of the Blind by engaging the efforts of an outside company to help us sharpen our message and strengthen our brand. He began his presentation with what is being referred to as our "one-minute message," something that one can easily use to communicate who we are, what we do, and why we do it, all in less time than it takes for a short elevator ride. The message is: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.” Along with this one-minute message and a new and consistent tagline, we have also created a new logo—one which is a stronger reflection of our organization, our brand characteristics, and our values.
Here is a brief description of our new logo: the new logo of the National Federation of the Blind is an updated, stronger reflection of our organizational characteristics and values. The logo of the National Federation of the Blind consists of three elements: a symbol and two text elements—our name and tagline.
The basic element of our logo is a contemporary, sleek, forward-facing icon that is intended to convey creativity, movement, freedom, and warmth. We refer to this icon as Opportunity, as it represents the opportunity we seek for blind people, the opportunity to find blind people who have not yet benefited from the organization, and the opportunity to determine our own future and establish new levels of participation in our society. The forward-facing Opportunity icon demonstrates respect and is more inviting than an icon facing to the side.
Our logo incorporates a symbol that we refer to as Our Movement. The Our Movement symbol is composed of six Opportunity icons arrayed in a circle and conveys a feeling of movement, symbolizes individual actions collectively focused (as the eye is drawn to the center of the circle), and represents key values of the organization's brand—collective action, full participation, love, respect, democracy, and courage. Our logo emphasizes the plurality of Our Movement, instead of an individual icon, because we are not alone; we are a group, a team, and a family, working together. The Our Movement symbol also conveys the personality of the organization—inspirational, innovative, powerful, and inviting. The colors of the Opportunity icons in the Our Movement symbol (blue, orange, green) represent optimism, love, unity, hope, confidence, growth, and energy—all of which are important to our brand. The gradation of colors also reminds us that we are a diverse organization, and each of us has something to contribute.
The font of the text elements of our logo is more modern and innovative than the heavy serif of our previous logo. It is also much more readable for our low-vision members. The logo places more emphasis on the words "of the blind" in order to call attention to that important and powerful aspect of our organization. The tagline font is italic to imply the energy and action we want people to take in order to "Live the life you want." The text in the logo represents power and action.
Mr. Riccobono concluded his presentation by reiterating our brand promise: "Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality."
Parnell Diggs, a member of the board of directors, was introduced and proudly announced to the convention that he was the Democratic candidate for the office of attorney general in the state of South Carolina. Although the National Federation of the Blind does not get involved in supporting or opposing candidates for office, it is extremely interested in the advancement of blind people to positions where they can demonstrate the competence of the blind and work to forge public policies that give us greater opportunity. Mr. Diggs observed that 2014 is an off-year election and that many people do not exercise their right to vote in contests that occur in these election cycles. He considers this unfortunate given that men and women have died for the right to elect those who will serve them. He also stressed the importance of blind people being politically active, especially now that we can cast a secret ballot thanks to our efforts in securing the passage of the Help America Vote Act. Diggs first voted independently in 2006, and he looks forward in 2014 to seeing his name on the ballot. His priorities will include enforcement of the anticorruption statutes in his state, working to improve voting rights, and helping to bring affordable healthcare to his state. He noted for the crowd that these items have nothing to do with blindness but that "blindness is not the characteristic that defines me or my future."
On that rousing note President Maurer directed our attention to convention logistics. He said that this was his forty-sixth convention but that others newer to attending these gatherings might be less familiar than he with how they were organized. He introduced Mrs. Jernigan, who said that this was her forty-ninth convention. She reviewed the procedure for registering and picking up materials for those who had preregistered, the purchase of banquet tickets, and the banquet exchange. Before she left the stage President Maurer asked her about the start time for a meeting that was to be held in the evening and, without a moment's hesitation, she was able to provide it. This explains why she has for so long been the chairperson of convention organization and activities.
Anil Lewis is the chairman of the Imagination Fund Committee. He came to the podium to talk about how money from this program goes to support the innovative research and training programs done by our Jernigan Institute. As we did this year, we will again designate a three-month period in which we will concentrate on building this fund and another three-month period in which we will help affiliates develop their fundraising, realizing that we are all one movement and at all levels must work together to be successful in our fundraising and outreach efforts. Of course, fundraising for this and other activities of the organization should not be limited to, but instead emphasized during these periods. An easy way for family, friends, and coworkers to contribute is by sending a text message to 41444, and in the body of the message writing "2014" and the amount they wish to contribute.
In the coming year the Jernigan Institute will concentrate on enhancing our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) campaign, will start a new program for blind seniors, and will focus a great deal of energy and attention on employment. These programs all deserve our concentrated effort, but it is only by funding them that we can make them vital and strong. As Anil reminds us, "If we don't do it, no one will."
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award is presented annually, and this year the presentation was made by Chairman Cathy Jackson, member of the board of directors and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. This year's winner is Theresa Postello from the state of California. Remarks made during this presentation will be found elsewhere in this issue.
Much of the work of the Federation is done by its committees, and President Maurer urged that members who would like to serve contact the office of the president to make their wishes known. Committee appointments are normally for one year and are made by the president.
Sandy Halverson addressed the board of directors and those attending the meeting with an update on the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Fund. This is money that the Federation uses as its savings account or rainy day fund. It has increased by more than $13,000 over the past twelve months, but some states are not active participants, and this is an issue we must address.
Dr. David Ticchi followed Sandy Halverson to the podium, and his job was to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award for 2014. A full report of his presentation will appear elsewhere in this issue.
Scott LaBarre addressed the board meeting in his capacity as the chairman of the Preauthorized Contribution Program. In honor of its fortieth birthday, Scott lead us, in his best operatic voice, in singing happy birthday to the PAC Plan. Originally called the Bank Draft Pledge Program when it began in 1974, it has evolved, and now electronic transactions allow those who wish to make a monthly contribution to the National Federation of the Blind to do so using their debit card, credit card, or a traditional draft from their checking account. Coming into the convention members were contributing $433,415.52, and Scott asked us to join him in reaching the goal of raising that number to at least $470,000. At convention’s end Scott and his hard-working volunteers would report that our members were able to raise the annualized amount given through this program from $433,415.52 to $473,741.52, with 230 people either joining the program or raising their monthly contribution.
One of our Accessibility Champion sponsors for the convention was Vanda Pharmaceuticals, and Kate Holland, senior director of marketing, was introduced to the board to make some remarks. She explained the way in which the absence of light can disrupt the circadian rhythms that control when our body sleeps and is awake, how the company has been trying to increase the awareness of this disorder, and the drug they have created to address the problem. Ms. Holland says: "When speaking with people living with Non-24, they speak of the challenges they face every day. It's not because of their blindness; they've learned to live with their blindness, but it's the challenges of not getting a good night's sleep or not being able to stay awake during the day that create a whole new set of hurdles, which for many people have been a mystery without a name. By making people aware of Non-24 and its prevalence in people who are totally blind, our goal at Vanda has been to remove barriers and provide important information and education, not only for potential patients, but also for healthcare providers. In the spring of this year we launched a national television campaign. The campaign was created with the goals in mind of highlighting and changing the perceptions and stereotypes about blindness and raising awareness of Non-24. The awareness campaign didn't tell people what we, Vanda, think blindness and Non-24 look like. The people who appeared in the commercials were not actors but were blind individuals who have real life experiences, some with symptoms of Non-24 that have impacted their life. The commercial gave them and others struggling with Non-24 a voice." She concluded by quoting an article in which Eric Duffy, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, says that Non-24 is not a condition we should hide from, but one for which we should embrace a possible treatment. She concluded by saying, "I want to take this time to thank the Federation for its collaboration and help to educate us on blindness and accessibility. We continue to appreciate your feedback on activities that Vanda is working on and value the opinions of the Federation. As the NFB approaches your seventy-fifth year anniversary, we are happy to have been a partner for the last five years and are excited and look towards a future in which we enjoy many more years of collaboration in helping people who are blind live the life they want."
For some time now the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been looking for a way to make the identification of paper money easier for the blind. The senior advisor to the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Don Haley, told the board about the contract with Orbit Research to distribute the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier to blind people in the United States. With the assistance of the Library of Congress, National Library Service, money identifiers were distributed at the convention. Starting in January, these will be made available to all eligible blind people who want them. The bureau has also developed an iPhone app, which is distributed without charge, that can also be used to identify paper money. It is also looking into the possibility of making money identifiable by touch, a process that may be implemented in 2020.
Joanne Wilson came to the stage to talk about our fundraising efforts with GreenDrop and our Vehicle Donation Program. She addressed the convention in this way: "Good morning. Literally, we want someone else to walk a mile in your shoes! Yes, we are asking for you and your neighbors to give us the shirt off your back. We are working with a group called GreenDrop, who collects gently used clothing and household goods and turns them into cash for the National Federation of the Blind so that we as blind people can live the life we want but without the clutter!" She thanked the eight states that have participated in this program, have generated badly needed funds for us, and have helped to unclutter the areas in which they live.
The Vehicle Donation program is another way we can put cash into the treasury of the National Federation of the Blind by asking that people with used vehicles donate them to us. The donor benefits by making a donation to help the blind and is entitled to a tax deduction on their federal income taxes. So far forty-one states have gotten donations for the program, resulting in $77,000 in the treasury of the organization. This is both easy and profitable, and we will expand the program using Facebook and public service announcements. Even so we must remember that the most effective advertisement will come from our members spreading the word through distributing our fliers to local churches, theaters, and businesses in their area.
E.A.S.Y Tactile Graphics is a company that manufactures products that allow blind people to "draw what you feel, feel what you draw." The Federation has been instrumental in providing vital encouragement, expertise, and funding in this effort because we know how critical it is that blind people be able to review and create tactile drawings. Mike Rosen is a professor, an engineer, and a cofounder of E.A.S.Y., and he came to deliver what he called "a short report to the board and a thank you note to all of you." Readers will remember an article written by Al Maneki, now president of E.A.S.Y. LLC, that appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Braille Monitor. In that article he discussed the origins of this company, the role of the National Federation of the Blind in assisting it, and the products the company has developed. Mr. Rosen concluded his remarks in this way: "If history is any guide, NFB will always be there as a voice that we can listen to for the needs and wants of the blind and low vision community; as a guide for our research and development; as a channel for marketing; as a connection to leaders in business, education, and advocacy; as a business partner for our company; and, ultimately, I hope, as a beneficiary of its growth. Finally, I want to add a personal note. On my next birthday I'll be seventy-one. I've been an academic grad all of my life. I've got a lot of published articles and presentations at meetings. I have half a dozen patents and am very proud of the theses of my graduate students. I've always worked in the area of assistive technology of one sort or another, but this will be the first time in my life as an engineer that something I was part of designing and building will show up in the lives of real people, and I thank you for that."
Patti Chang, the chairman of our scholarship committee, came to the microphone to introduce the class of 2014. She told the assembled that, by her best calculations, we spend almost a quarter of a million dollars to find, recognize, and extend a hand to up and coming scholars and leaders throughout the country. A full report of this part of the proceedings will appear elsewhere in this issue.
Fredric Schroeder, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, came to the microphone to introduce two international visitors. The first was Monthian Buntan, a blind man who, until the recent political unrest there, served as a senator in Thailand. In his remarks Mr. Buntan thanked the National Federation of the Blind for the encouragement he received, first in Minnesota back in the early 1990s, and later for the help in attending the convention held in 1993. He attended again in 2001 and brought three other blind people with him. This year at the convention he was accompanied by ten more people from Thailand. "We are here to congratulate the Federation on its great success, to congratulate Dr. Maurer for his twenty-eight years of service, and to encourage you to live the life you want and to give up on giving up."
Dr. Schroeder next introduced Kua Cheng Hock from Singapore. Following the convention he will go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and participate in three weeks of training which he will then take back to Singapore and use what he has learned to build programs for the blind in that country. He talked about meeting Dr. Jernigan in their work in the World Blind Union, how he has valued the work that he and President Maurer have done together, and how he hopes to work to develop not only training based on the Federation model but to establish organizations of the blind in Asia through which people from this part of the world may speak for themselves as we do here in America.
The Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund owns the magnificent facilities that we occupy in Baltimore, and Gary Mackenstadt addressed the board in his capacity as the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Committee. He asked that all chapters and affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind help in raising the money necessary for maintaining our Jernigan Institute and said that we would be given a chance to make individual donations later in the convention.
The last order of business for the morning was to recognize significant donations that have come from affiliates as a result of bequests they have received and shared with the national body. Julie Deden, the executive director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and Scott LaBarre, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, presented a donation in the amount of $500,000. Jennifer Dunnam, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, followed with a check in the amount of $220,000. Mary Ellen Gabias said, "Dr. Maurer and Federation family: Blindness has no borders, and neither should the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. As your best friends forever from north of the forty-ninth parallel, I come from the Canadian Federation of the Blind. We are an organization firmly committed to changing things in Canada, including Canadian culture, government, and meeting challenges particular to our country. We are firmly committed to the philosophy, the structure, and the organization of the National Federation of the Blind. We are proud to give a donation of $500 as a token of respect, gratitude, and a commitment to working in the common cause of blind people everywhere." Mike Freeman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, said that the Washington affiliate had received a bequest in the amount of $19,810.52 and that it would soon be sending a check for 50 percent of that amount to the national treasury.
After thanking everyone for their donations, President Maurer called for other business. There being none, the meeting of the board of directors was adjourned.
The audience quickly emptied the room to grab a bit of lunch and then participate in one of the many activities held in the afternoon. One could learn about new accessible devices to manage diabetes in the meeting held by the Diabetes Action Network, attend the meeting of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, hang out with computer programmers and others fascinated or frustrated by these machines in the meeting of the NFB in Computer Science Division, or attend a session focused on empowerment sponsored by the Seniors Division. One could learn how to use social media to promote the programs and activities of the Federation; learn about "the anatomy of a piano," sponsored by the Piano Technology Group; attend an auto show sponsored by the NFB CARS Division; or learn about "sports and recreation activities" by attending the meeting of the Sports and Recreation Division. The National Association of Guide Dog Users held a seminar in the evening, as did the Community Services Group, the Science and Engineering Division, and the Assistive Technology Trainers Division. The webmasters for affiliates and divisions gathered to discuss the updating of their websites to reflect our new logo and our branding message. They also discussed the forthcoming update of the National Federation of the Blind's main website, <www.nfb.org>.
When President Maurer brought the gavel down three times on Friday morning, the first general session of the 2014 Convention was in order. Reverend Sam Gleese, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi and the pastor of the Country Hill Baptist Church, offered the invocation. Dan Hicks was invited to introduce the first program item, that being an official welcome from the state of Florida. He said, "Fellow Federationists: Florida is known for a lot of things, some good, some not so good, and some wonderful. One of the things we produce in Florida is great music. We have Tom Petty from Gainesville, Matchbox Twenty from Orlando, Bertie Higgins from Tampa, KC and the Sunshine Band from Hialeah, the Miami Sound Machine—from Miami I do believe—and Jimmy Buffett, who hails from Key West. Now the problem we had was that there just wasn't room for six bands on this stage, and with it being the Fourth of July weekend, they probably had something else going on anyway. So we had to get one super band to cover the songs of all of these great acts, and, ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce them to you today: Craig Singleton and the Big City Band!"
As promised, the band delivered hits from all of the great talent from Florida that President Hicks had recognized, and their sound and enthusiasm set the tempo that would carry us through the rest of the morning.
Conchita Hernandez was introduced to make an announcement about Spanish translation services and the availability of agendas in Spanish. America's veterans were then honored in a ceremony conducted by Dwight Sayer, the president of the National Association of Blind Veterans. President Sayer invited veterans to introduce themselves, and twenty-eight of them did so as they crossed the stage. He then introduced the color guard consisting of eight Federationists: Wayne Field, vice admiral, United States Naval Air; Corey Keith, private first class, United States Army; Roy Stenson, gunnery sergeant, United States Marine Corps; Kevin Treece, master sergeant, United States Air Force; Joseph Hobson, private first class, United States Army; James Mays, lieutenant, United States Navy; Robert Pierce, first lieutenant, United States Air Force; and Roy Murphy, corporal, United States Marine Corps. David Enzfelder of the Kings Pipers escorted the color guard into the auditorium, where we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and were treated to the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" by Devin Leigh Sauer. While the veterans exited the stage, David Enzfelder played a medley of songs, one representing each of the armed services: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
There followed the roll call of states, which was begun by Joy Harris, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. Illness caused her to be absent last year, but she came to the microphone to thank the 2013 Convention for their shout out to her, which she had heard using the convention stream. She asked that we give a similar cheer and send our good wishes and prayers for the recovery of Miss Cindy Jones, Alabama's delegate last year. The convention did just that.
Bob Kresmer, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, announced that Arizona had fifty-seven first-time attendees at the convention, and he gave much of the credit for that number to Arizona Rehabilitation Services, Services for the Blind and Deaf. This agency's policy is that any new customer who wants to attend a convention of the National Federation of the Blind is supported in that goal.
Shawn Callaway, president of the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia, came to the microphone to announce that the affiliate would be celebrating its first BELL Program, but these weren't the only bells we would be hearing in the District. Alex Castillo and Conchita Hernandez are engaged to be married. Through its applause the convention sent its best wishes to the soon-to-be couple.
Melissa Riccobono, who serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, invited everyone to attend its convention which will be held November 15 and 16 and will officially kickoff the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of the National Federation of the Blind. Carl Jacobsen, president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, invited all affiliates to join in an effort to create NFBLIVE, an electronic forum that can be used to hold NFB meetings, group discussions, and even chapter and affiliate seminars. He believes that the potential for this technology to bring the message of the Federation to others is almost unlimited, and he expressed his willingness to talk with anyone involved in affiliate leadership who might be interested in joining to make this a reality. The president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, Carla McQuillan, announced that the affiliate would be celebrating its forty-fifth annual convention and that one of the founding members in Oregon was present. Sister Joyce Green was recognized with a round of applause.
The National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina announced through its president, Parnell Diggs, that the affiliate would be celebrating its seventieth anniversary in August and that Mark Riccobono would be the national representative.
President Fred Schroeder from the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia announced that our affiliate there will be doing three BELL Programs this year and encourages all affiliates to reach out and touch the lives of blind children in the dramatic way that this program can and does.
At the conclusion of the roll call John Berggren, executive director for operations for the National Federation of the Blind, was invited to the podium to talk about the development and testing of the NFB app first mentioned at the Washington Seminar by President Maurer and available at the time of the convention in its pre-beta incarnation. The title of his presentation was "The National Federation of the Blind Mobile App: the Power of Technology Supporting Federationists." He began his remarks to the convention in this way: "Greetings fellow Federationists. More and more every day each of us is taking advantage of smartphones, little computers in the palms of our hands. We can do all kinds of cool things with smartphones: read our email, play music, call cabs, listen to NFB-NEWSLINE®—I've even seen a person make a phone call. This past February at the Washington Seminar, President Maurer announced that the National Federation of the Blind would develop a mobile app for smartphones to help us get information into the hands of people who need it." John explained that exactly what this application would do depended on what we told the developers we wanted. The list we got was a good one, and, though it had to be narrowed a bit, he thinks we have come up with the most requested and helpful features that you wanted to see. Everyone says they want more convenient access to information about the Federation, legislative announcements, upcoming events, a convenient way to get at our national publications, and a way to explore the rich history of our organization. We intend to do all of this in our app and to demonstrate that harnessing the power of technology and making it usable by the blind is not difficult or expensive. The short demonstration featured the app reading a list of announcements, upcoming events, current legislation, local and national resources (local resources being determined by where one is when activating this function), important speeches, presidential releases, and even convention streams. The app will also grant access to our national publications, and to demonstrate this, the app read the beginning of the July 2014 issue of the Braille Monitor. In addition to publications, the app will also allow easy reading of the numerous blogs we maintain.
By the end of the summer we hope to have available what we're calling the NFB Time Machine, a feature that will allow one to enter a year and have available, at the tap of his or her finger, the major events that took place back then. Once version 1 is available, then we will turn our attention to version 2.0 and some of the features that didn't quite make it into our initial release. John concluded by saying, "We want to deliver information for everyone, to continue to harness the power of technology to support our members in their efforts to educate the public, and to grow the Federation."
As he has done for many years now, President Maurer did an informal survey of the audience to determine the decade in which people attended their first national convention. We heard at least one person from the 1950s, a scattering of people from the 1960s, considerably more people from the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, but clearly the majority of those attending came in the first decade of the twenty-first century and beyond.
The proposed constitutional amendment adopted by the board of directors and read the previous day during its meeting was again read, voted on, and passed. After drawing a door prize, which was won by Joy Harris of Alabama, the morning session was recessed.
The afternoon started with the traditional but always surprising Presidential Report, one that continues to get better with every passing year. Though it was clearly the last year of his presidency, the report that President Maurer delivered focused on the present as, issue after issue, it told the story of the fight of the blind to be included and to stay competitive in education, employment, and in our communities. The Presidential Report appears in full elsewhere in this issue.
After prolonged applause, the chanting of "NFB, NFB, NFB," and a round of the song "Glory Glory Federation," President Maurer was followed on the program by Robert Dizard, Jr., deputy librarian of Congress, who delivered remarks entitled "A Standard of Literacy for the Blind from the Library of Congress." He took this opportunity to announce that on this very day a report of the summit which was convened by the Library of Congress was being released. His remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
When Mr. Dizard concluded his presentation, President Maurer reiterated the role of the National Library Service both in getting reading material for blind citizens of the United States and in establishing an example for other countries to emulate. He said that he would like to ask a question of the librarian. From time to time, when the National Federation of the Blind has attempted to help the Library of Congress with budget issues, particularly those relating to the National Library Service, we have gotten the impression that the library would prefer that we leave them alone to handle their relations with Congress. It seems abundantly clear to us that we should and must be strong advocates for our programs and make certain that the Congress knows just how important library services for the blind are in our lives. Mr. Dizard agreed and said that our advocacy would always be welcomed.
Access to information is absolutely essential for blind people who want to get an education, get a job, and enjoy much of the information available in today's society. Almost all of it is held in computer systems that can level the playing field or plow the soil and make the road leading to equality of opportunity more difficult to pass. With this in mind, here is how President Maurer introduced the next agenda item: "This program item is of dramatic importance, and it has a title which is a deliberate one: ‘The Federation at Work with Google: Changing the Structure of Expectations,’ and I think that is precise." The president went on to say of the next presenter that she is someone he has come to know who is direct in presentation, optimistic in speaking about what is possible, and realistic in speaking about the changes that must occur if the possible is to become the product. He said that his knowledge and use of technology are limited but that he has been assured by the Federation's technology team working with Google that the progress made over the last six months in addressing accessibility has been positively extraordinary. With those remarks, President Maurer introduced Eve Andersson, accessibility engineering and product manager—Core Team for Google. She began her address to the convention by saying, "Before coming here, I stopped over in Atlanta and was able to attend the opening ceremony for the National Association of the Deaf convention, and it took place at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This is the church where Martin Luther King attended as a young child; this is the church where he preached as an adult. And, to be standing in that spot where that great man stood was really moving to me, and of course the reason it is so moving is that he preached equality for all, and this is something that I have believed in my whole life. And now to be able to work at Google, leading our accessibility and engineering efforts to further that goal of equality for all, is really important to me." These opening sentiments set the tone for her remarks, and they appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer introduced our next speaker with these words: "We have the pleasure of having a lawyer come to talk with us. Some lawyers are more fun than others; this one is fun." Of course, the lawyer he was introducing was our longtime colleague, friend, and member, Dan Goldstein. His presentation was entitled "Enforcing the Law of Inclusion: a Personal and Professional Journey," and, as the political enthusiasts from the South would say, his speech was a real barnburner. His thesis is that there can be no equality for the blind unless we have equal access to information, and what he said appears in full later in this issue.
The Federation's work to improve employment opportunities represents a significant priority of the organization. This work begins with changing attitudes, increasing confidence, and ensuring that blind people have the skills that are required to get and hold jobs in the twenty-first century. But a part of this effort also demands that we work to ensure that the blind are treated fairly in the hiring process, and one of our partners in this work is the federal government through the Department of Labor and its Office of Federal Contract Compliance. To talk about the work of this office and the notion that a good day's work deserves a good day's pay, Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs for the United States Department of Labor, addressed the convention in remarks entitled "Improving Disability Employment: A Pathway to Success for Employers and Workers." Her message was about economic independence and freedom: freedom from artificial barriers that impede our ability to live and work, freedom from prejudice and discrimination that diminish us as people, and freedom to pursue happiness on our own terms. She also came to talk about the president’s executive order issued on March 24, 2014, a new rule calling on companies with government contracts to achieve a 7 percent employment goal for qualified workers with disabilities in every job category and across the workforce. Her remarks were moving, passionate, and inspiring. They will appear in an upcoming issue.
At the conclusion of Ms. Shiu's presentation, President Maurer said: "When the rule came out, Fortune Magazine had an article which said that the government is requiring us to hire persons with disabilities, and this will hurt business. And I thought—how do you know? You've never tried it! Why don't you give it a try? Maybe it will help business. Maybe you will find people who have some commitment to employment in a way that's never happened because they've never been given equal opportunity. I'm glad that you are with us, helping to promote equal opportunity, and we'll join with you in this effort to spread the word. Thank you so much for being with us."
A much loved and longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, Arthur Schreiber, came to the platform to speak on the topic "Fifty Years Later: Traveling with the Beatles on Their First Cross-Country Tour of America.” He told the convention that at 7:00 PM that evening he would be talking about his travels with the most popular musical act of the 60s, the Fab Four, what it was like to play Monopoly with John and George, and why he had long since abandoned the game of poker. Art also has a book for sale, and more about it and his presentation will appear later in the fall.
Ten years ago the National Federation of the Blind opened the Jernigan Institute. Opening the doors of this facility marked the beginning of delivering on promises: a promise to expand the work of the National Federation of the Blind, to do research on blindness that had never been done before, and to devise new educational strategies to take advantage of the technology of the twenty-first century. Mark Riccobono, the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, came to the podium to talk not only about the progress of the Institute but about the changes in his life that have come from being a part of it. What he offered as the last item on Friday afternoon was both an address to the convention and a report to the man in whose name the Institute is dedicated. What he said appears elsewhere in this issue.
At the conclusion of Executive Director Riccobono's speech, President Maurer addressed the convention and said: "I've been on the platform many times, and I've had to face challenges many times—some of them from the platform—and I admit that this is not an easy one. I told Mark Riccobono that, ‘You've got to put your heart in it,’—and this is the heart that I meant for you to know."
At the close of the general session members appointed to the nominating committee took up the task of recommending officers and board members for the coming term. The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research Advisory Committee held an informational meeting for people interested in participating to learn more about the Journal—its purpose, goals, and values. The United Blind Industrial Workers of America held a wide-ranging discussion on improving working conditions and wages for all blind workers and developing strategies to ensure that all disabled workers are paid at least the minimum wage. The Colorado Center for the Blind held an open house, the Spirit of 75 Committee talked about the work it will do from September 2 through November 16, and the exhibit hall was open for an evening session that ran from 7:00 PM to 9 PM.
Promptly at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, the convention was gaveled to order, and the invocation was presented by the pastor of the Chapel at Littleton Pentecostal Church, Tom Anderson. The convention then turned its attention to reviewing the finances of the Federation. The organization has a substantial treasury, and it was appropriate to review the procedures and safeguards used in the handling and disbursement of funds. President Maurer then reviewed the financial report, noting that expenses are now in line with income, and we hope that expanding our efforts in the area of fundraising will let us similarly expand our program services. Currently, we have a substantial investment in KNFB Reading Technologies. Building the world's first reading machine that could fit in a shirt pocket, developing software that could be used for the mass distribution of books that are pleasing to the eye and completely accessible to the blind, and bringing the ability to read print using the Apple iPhone are all worthy uses of our time, talent, and financial resources, but investments of the kind we have made are speculative and come with risk. The company we have created has considerable intellectual assets, but it is currently too early to know whether or not we will get back the money we have put into it and whether we can manage to make a profit in its eventual sale. The risk we have willingly undertaken is the same one that every new entrepreneur takes, but President Maurer thought it was important that we acknowledge our investment and its potential to affect our financial position in the coming year. After accepting donations for the general treasury, the tenBroek Fund, the SUN Fund, the Jernigan Fund, and the Imagination Fund, President Maurer concluded the financial program item by saying: "It does seem to me that our financial position, though not assured, is in good shape and in better shape than some of us had worried it might be. I think we have demonstrated that we can raise money, and I think that we can fund the programs that need our support. I appreciate all of your help in doing that, and I think that this has been a solid year for us; it has been because we have worked together to make it that way."
Fred Schroeder came to the microphone to present the report of the nominating committee. For the position of president of the National Federation of the Blind, the nominating committee recommended Mark Riccobono. Fred Schroeder was nominated to be the first vice president, Ronald Brown to serve as second vice president, James Gashel to serve as secretary, and Pam Allen to serve as treasurer. For the six board positions needing to be filled the committee nominated Amy Buresh; Patti Chang; James Brown, president of the NFB of Tennessee; John Fritz; Carl Jacobsen; and Alpidio Rolón. The report was adopted by the convention, and the elections were held. The convention unanimously elected Mark Riccobono to be the next president of the National Federation of the Blind, and here is what he said in accepting the office:
My Federation family, it is a high honor and humbling responsibility to accept your trust in me to serve as president of our organization. The presidency of the Federation demands commitment; sacrifice; strength; energy; imagination; insight; and, above all, love; and I pledge to give each of those fully. We expect our president to be our chief representative, our active builder, our firm negotiator, our savvy investor, our visionary collaborator, our thoughtful teacher, and our caring friend; and it is daunting to contemplate what learning lies ahead in order to meet each of those responsibilities. I am comforted by the reality that the members of the Federation have always been wise teachers in my life—whether it was during the time that I was first learning Braille, the time that I was a young and relatively inexperienced affiliate president, the time I spent improving services for blind children in Wisconsin, the time that I was learning to manage life as a blind father, or during my entire time as executive director of our Jernigan Institute.
Nearly twenty years ago I was lost, filled with uncertainty, constantly questioning my next step, and fearful about my future. That was before I met the National Federation of the Blind. I came to our national convention in California, and my life was changed forever. I made a commitment to myself that I would give back to this organization all that it has contributed to my life and more. Yet, the more I contribute to our organization, the more I am humbled by the way the Federation family continues to enrich my life and the lives of those I love.
My first expression of commitment to the Federation was to write a letter to Marc Maurer shortly after my first convention. Imagine my surprise when he actually wrote back to me. He accepted my enthusiastic expression of interest in building the Federation, he offered to help me learn, he challenged me to teach others, and he invited me to contribute my own ideas to the movement. I have tried to keep faith with that original commitment and Dr. Maurer's response. In the beginning what we shared was the faith in one another that is common among all of us in the Federation. To meet that commitment, I have done my best to rise to meet every new challenge that Dr. Maurer and our Federation have presented to me. Over time my work to build the Federation has expanded that faith into trust, love, and a shared set of experiences which bind me to this movement in a way that only active members of the Federation can understand. With your trust I now have the challenge of building on our achievements under Dr. Maurer's presidency. I am grateful that he continues to have the strength, health, energy, and wisdom to help me meet that challenge. I cherish the opportunity to continue working closely with Dr. Maurer in the years to come, as I continue that commitment I first made eighteen years ago. Just as I will require his help as I learn about the presidency, so will I require yours.
In this moment the only way that I know to appropriately thank Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Maurer, and the thousands of other members of the Federation who have built this foundation we stand on and who have given of themselves to make our lives better is to build our Federation with the same love and determination that they have demonstrated. With my pledge of commitment I invite each of you to express your gratitude to Dr. Maurer by being an active contributor to the next great phase of our movement and by answering the call to help me fulfill the promise we make to each other: together with love, hope, and determination we will transform dreams into reality.
Each of those who were elected to the board in turn accepted with a brief speech. Fred Schroeder said that one of his major goals in serving was to bring the Federation to more people so that it could do for them what it has done for him. Ron Brown acknowledged the leadership of President Maurer when he was the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana and helped Ron deal with the onset of blindness after a gunshot wound took his sight. James Gashel accepted the office of secretary with these remarks:
As I rise to take the floor to accept this position once again, I am filled with the sense that we are writing history here today. So, if you don't mind, may I have just a moment for reflection?
I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1965 and attended our convention in Washington, DC. That was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind. I have missed one convention since then, so this is my forty-ninth convention, and next year will be number fifty. I was present when Dr. tenBroek passed the torch to Dr. Jernigan. I am fortunate to be one of the few in the room who met Dr. tenBroek—I having been the president of the Student Division at that time. I was present when Dr. Jernigan passed the torch to Dr. Maurer, and what a great thing that has been. And now I am present again when Dr. Maurer passes the torch to Mark Riccobono, and what a great thing that will be. And when, thirty years from now, Mark Riccobono passes the torch to somebody who is now in the kids camp [laughter]—no, no, he is, or she is [cheers once again], what a great thing that will be. I've learned a lot of things during all of those years, but one thing I know for sure: as Mark Riccobono accepts the mantle of leadership and the challenge to lead this organization into the future, we accept a special responsibility. He will lead, but he will also stand on our shoulders. Some of us are part of the outgoing generation, but I would say to our president-elect that we're not going away! We will be here, and we will help you, and together we will all succeed.
Pam Allen was elected treasurer, and in accepting the office she quoted Steve Jobs, who said, "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently: they are not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you cannot do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and, while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do." She concluded by saying: "To dream what is possible and to put oneself into service of that dream is the formula for a life well lived."
Those nominated by the committee to fill the remaining six board positions were elected, each of them demonstrating through their heartfelt remarks both their understanding of what it means to be blind and the challenges that face us on our march toward first-class citizenship. Three of the six members concluded their acceptance remarks in song. The election and all of the convention can be heard by going to <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
At the conclusion of the election President Maurer congratulated the new board, noted that he had been a member of it for twenty-eight years, and pledged that, though his role would be different, he would continue to be active and would bring to this work the kind of spirit and excitement that have characterized his long service in the Federation. "I admit that I have had a restless spirit, that I have done a good bit of roaming, and that I have done it with you. With this newly elected board, as long as health and strength remain, I will be with you; and I will be part of the element that brings excitement, imagination, and joy to what we do. I couldn't imagine it being any other way, and I couldn't imagine you having it any other way. I appreciate you for what you are and what you have caused me to be. Thank you so very much." [prolonged applause]
"Guide Dogs for the Blind: Striving for Excellence" was the next topic on the agenda, and it was presented by George Kerscher, chairman of the board of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Last year when he spoke on the convention floor, he said that he wanted to ensure that Guide Dogs for the Blind would be around forever and to make sure that, if a blind person wants a guide dog, he or she will be able to come to a great organization that provides the most wonderful dogs in the world. Part of his work has been to find a new chief executive officer for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and he introduced Chris Benninger, CEO and president. She has only been on the job for three months, so she says she is still getting her feet wet and often tells people that she feels like she is drinking from a fire hose. She told the convention about a number of significant changes at the school and attributed them to the input the institution has gotten from its customers. Training courses have been reduced from four weeks to two; the instructor-to-client ratio has been reduced from four to two; and the average wait time to speak with a representative when calling the school has been reduced from forty-eight hours to three minutes. Guide Dogs for the Blind is the only school that provides financial coverage for veterinary care throughout the life of the guide dogs it places. The emphasis in the following year will be on partnerships: partnerships with the makers of technology that assists blind people in travel, partnerships with other orientation and mobility providers, and partnerships internationally to support the expansion of guide dog services. Guide Dogs for the Blind has an initiative to hire more blind people on their campuses in California and Oregon, and in the past year they have started an internship for blind college students.
She concluded her remarks by saying, "We are constantly striving to be the best guide school available, but we can only do this with your feedback and help. I hope that those who don't really know us will get to know us and learn more, and, for those who do know us, that you will continue to stay in touch and involved, because we value your feedback and your input. Thank you very much."
During the lunch break a number of committees met to conduct Federation business, one of them being the Cash and Caring Committee. At this event members shared their fundraising successes and made suggestions for other activities that are likely to enhance our treasury. This committee fervently believes that many of our Federation events can be used to generate funds if we consider this possibility when we create and execute them. The message is one from which we can benefit tremendously, though it represents a significant change in how we think about many of our activities—chapter meetings, state conventions, division meetings, seminars, and other events we hold.
The afternoon session began with a presentation entitled "Blind Workers Deserve Fair Wages, Too," and the man to speak on this topic was Platt Allen, III, president and chief executive officer, Lighthouse for the Blind, Fort Worth, Texas. He talked about the relationship between fulfillment and work, work and pay, and the way that a good job can improve the quality of life for blind people. In word and deed he demonstrates his belief in the capacity of blind people, and his remarks will appear in full in a future issue.
At the conclusion of this presentation President Maurer said: "If you pay people as though you don't really care about them, they will behave as if you don't really care about them; if you pay them so that they know you care about them, they'll give you a kind of work product that comes from people who know you really care about them. That's why this thing works. I appreciate you telling us that it works for you."
Janet LaBreck is the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal partner in the state/federal rehabilitation program that provides vocational and other rehabilitation services to help blind people achieve self-sufficiency. She came to speak to the convention on the topic “The Promise of Rehabilitation: Offering Hope, Building Opportunity.” In his introductory remarks President Maurer noted that in some places in this country rehabilitation is not loved, this despite its potential to make dramatic changes in the lives of people it is charged to serve. Far too often the way the Rehabilitation Act is implemented in the states is far more restrictive than envisioned by those who wrote it and more confining than those who administer it at the federal level know it should be. Rehabilitating blind people can be a very expensive undertaking, but, when the rehabilitation program is good, when it changes the mindset of the blind recipient from victim to victor, and when it imparts the skills and the attitudes that lead to bringing home a paycheck, what is paid back in taxes far exceeds the amount spent on the person who is blind. President Maurer said that Janet LaBreck comes with the talent and the spirit to lead this transformative program, and he invited her to share with the audience a bit of her spirit and enthusiasm as a blind person, former client of the rehabilitation system, and now its chief administrator.
Ms. LaBreck thanked President Maurer for his introduction and for his work and leadership in building and strengthening rehabilitation throughout his tenure as the President of the National Federation of the Blind. She said that the success of the program would require that blind people not only be the recipients of service but have a major say in how that service would be provided. Without the involvement of the blind, the rehabilitation program would be far different, far less dynamic, and far less successful in Congress than it has been. Her agency is working with the vice president’s office to evaluate how job training occurs in this country, what the chronically unemployed need, and what are the education and skill levels necessary to land a job in today’s environment. For the first time people with disabilities have been an integral part of this process. The legislation known as the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act that is now being considered by the Congress creates opportunities we have never seen before by forging relationships between education, business, and industry to figure out how better to train people for the available jobs that exist in this country. She said that, from this point forward, every grant that the Rehabilitation Services Administration administers will be geared toward increasing employment outcomes and will involve people at the local level. She concluded by thanking us for our unceasing work and pledged to continue to regard us as one of RSA’s most important resources and champions.
President Maurer said, “For the last little while the Rehabilitation Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act have been under review. In the course of all of that negotiation and argument, there was a proposal to move rehabilitation to the Department of Labor. We oppose that, and that opposition has been successful. The rehabilitation program will not be moved to the Department of Labor and will remain in the Department of Education. In the process of discussion, however, Senator Alexander said that the rehabilitation program has always been a poor, left out, unfavored child in the Department of Education. The promise of rehabilitation is so great that we should not permit this to continue. We should know that the rehabilitation service that is offered is of such value and is so important and it does provide so much promise that it is highly regarded and a huge benefit to blind people the country over. But, if it is going to be that, it has to have participation of the people who are affected as part of it. It has to have a mechanism for the members of the community to join in and make it the kind of program that it needs to be. I am glad you are the Commissioner; I know that you have the right spirit, but I want you to find a way to get that spirit in the state agencies throughout the country so that we care about rehabilitation.”
“Working to Advance Equal Rights and Protections for People with Disabilities in the Workforce of Today, Tomorrow, and the Future” was presented by the deputy director of the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor, Laura Fortman. She said that, when she first met John Paré and other members of our staff to discuss fair wages for persons with disabilities, she was reminded of a quote by William Faulkner in which he said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion and against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” She said that one of the provisions of the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act will require a re-examination of the effectiveness of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The legislation also creates an advisory committee charged with figuring out how to increase competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Ms. Fortman’s remarks will appear in this magazine later in the fall.
John Paré and his team from the Advocacy and Policy Department came to the stage. The department is responsible for NFB-NEWSLINE®, public relations, and governmental affairs. The report given by John Paré, Rose Sloan, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle will be summarized in a future issue and is available in its entirety by going to <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
The last agenda item of the afternoon was reading and voting on resolutions, and a full report of the committee’s activities and the resolutions passed can be found elsewhere in this issue.
With the adjournment of Saturday afternoon’s session, members visited the hospitality suite of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to pick up an iBill Banknote identifier and to learn about other activities to make money identifiable by touch; took a final trip to the exhibit hall; or exercised their brains by going to Trivia Night, sponsored by the Community Service Group. A session entitled “Social Security and SSI: What You Should Know” was presented by Jim McCarthy, and a seminar on Braille proofreading was sponsored by the National Association of Blind Office Professionals Division. The Fourteenth Annual Showcase of Talent was conducted by the Performing Arts Division, and there was a Salsa Night sponsored by the Spanish Translation Committee.
The Sunday morning session began with an invocation by David Stayer, a former president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York and a member of the Young Israel synagogue. Dan Parker then made a most unusual entrance by riding his three-wheel motorcycle to the edge of the stage. His presentation was entitled “The Blind at Speed,” and in it he related what he called “the story of my life in two parts: before blindness and after blindness.” When an accident caused his loss of sight, Dan had to decide whether blindness would forever alter his life and the pursuit of his interest in automobiles and racing or whether he could channel his enthusiasm, expertise, and creativity and find a new way to pursue his life’s work. With the help of the Federation, he figured out a way to design, build, and ride a motorcycle, and what he said to the convention will appear later in the fall.
“Game-Changing Technology from an Innovator” was next presented by David Bradburn, president of Baum USA. The VarioUltra is the newest offering from this company, both a basic Braille notetaker and a twenty- or forty-cell Braille display. What sets it apart from its competition is that the VarioUltra can be connected simultaneously to up to five devices, meaning that it can be used for connecting to one’s personal computer, smartphone, music player, or any other combination of devices that use a Bluetooth interface. The ability to connect to many devices simultaneously makes this Braille display very attractive for those of us who have several pieces of technology whose output we would like to see in Braille. The unit will be available for purchase by the end of July 2014.
President Maurer next introduced Lucy France, Esq., legal counsel for the University of Montana, who addressed the convention on the topic “A Plan to Create Total Accessibility on Campus.” The university she represents received a letter in June 2010 jointly written by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education. That letter addressed the subject of electronic book readers and put universities on notice that they should avoid the use of any of these devices that were inaccessible to people who are blind or have low vision. A year later the Office for Civil Rights followed up with a frequently asked questions document, clarifying that universities should not use electronic information technology that is not usable by the blind. These general admonitions were soon followed by a complaint through the Office for Civil Rights and another brought by the National Federation of the Blind alleging that the university was violating the law by using inaccessible learning management systems, documents scanned to websites, uncaptioned videos, library database materials, and classroom clickers. This got the attention of the university’s legal counsel, but what she found was that the National Federation of the Blind practices what she calls “intelligent advocacy.” The Federation, which the university initially viewed as its opponent, came with offers of assistance in developing a remediation plan that would help the university comply with the letter and the spirit of the law.
The agreement reached by the University of Montana and the National Federation of the Blind is contained in a comprehensive resolution, and some of its key points are that the University has a commitment to purchase technology usable by all, that it will develop procurement procedures to ensure that what it buys is accessible, and that faculty and staff will receive training in the way they can make the classroom and the programs offered by the University accessible. While the process of achieving these goals is not easy, it is gratifying to know that there was little pushback from the faculty, staff, and administration of the institution. They want to do the right thing, and the job that the Federation has successfully undertaken is to make them aware of the problem, give them solutions for solving it, and be of assistance in monitoring their progress and continuing to make suggestions that improve the quality of the education blind people receive there.
President Maurer noted that all too often our attempts to talk with universities have been greeted with the question, “Why are you bothering us?” But the reaction of the University of Montana has been so warm and open that it has not only led to greater opportunity there but also extended to other campuses and universities who are coming to realize that providing accessible education is both possible and rewarding.
“Accessibility on Computers and Mobile Devices” was the next agenda item, presented by Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer for the Microsoft Corporation. He said that Microsoft’s goal is to create technology that is people centric, meaning that the technology should adapt to the needs of the people rather than the people adapting to the capabilities of the technology. He said that accessibility really is an incubator of new innovation for modern experiences and that it will create opportunities not only for the blind and the disabled but for all of Microsoft’s customers who will want options in communicating with and getting information back from the devices they use.
The recent partnership between Microsoft and GW Micro to provide Window-Eyes without charge to those who already own a version of Microsoft Office represents Microsoft’s attempt to recognize the value of having a third-party screen reader. At the same time significant improvements have been made to Microsoft’s own screen-reading solution, Narrator, and these are found in Windows 8.1. In its annual Internal Ability Summit, seven hundred of Microsoft’s employees recently learned how to write computer code with accessibility in mind, and Microsoft, along with the National Federation of the Blind and twenty-eight other organizations, has formed the International Association of Accessibility Professionals to encourage the writing of accessible computer programs worldwide.
Mr. Sinclair concluded his presentation by demonstrating the accessibility features found in Microsoft’s new mobile phone, which is expected to be released by the end of the summer. He reminded the audience that the company has created a disability answer desk that will address problems and concerns by those who use assistive technology and concluded by underscoring the commitment of the company to full access for everyone by noting that the first national Super Bowl commercial ever sponsored by Microsoft focused on the power of accessibility.
“Free Global Access for the Blind to the Computer” was next introduced by President Maurer, and presenting on the topic was Michael Curran, developer of the Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) software and one of the founders of the company NV Access based in Queensland, Australia. NVDA has been created with the goal of providing a screen reader for anybody who needs one and meeting the need that exists in many developing nations for a screen reader in the language they use. Not only does this software meet needs in places where previously no screen reader was available, but the open source model used in its creation also makes available the techniques used to extract and present information to a wider audience of developers. Mr. Curran thanked the National Federation of the Blind for its help in financing this effort. His remarks will be reprinted later in the fall.
Any blind person who subscribes to cable or satellite television knows that the set-top boxes that are used to control what is watched have features that are impossible to use independently. Most services allow a customer to record what is being watched, record one program and watch a different one, set up a schedule for watching shows that one wishes to watch later, watch recently aired programs, and enjoy a variety of movies and documentaries on demand. All of these services depend on being able to read the on-screen menus, and to speak on this subject the convention welcomed to the podium Tom Wlodkowski, vice president of accessibility at Comcast. This company has been working with the Federation for the last several years to bring accessibility to the services they offer, and the convention reacted with enthusiasm when a demonstration of the set-top box allowed a blind person to move between program offerings, read the description of the programs, and select one.
Of course the set-top box will soon be important for more than entertainment. It can be used in operating a home security system, for setting the temperature in one’s home, and even for managing one’s inventory of food and other products. Many of these home-management activities may also be conducted using a smartphone, and Comcast will ensure that the necessary apps are accessible. This presentation can be heard in its entirety at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
Eve L. Hill is the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the United States Department of Justice. She has spoken with us many times in several capacities, and her remarks are always inspiring, thought-provoking, and courageous. She came to the podium to speak on the topic “Minimum Wage Guarantees for Disabled Workers—A Report from the Department of Justice.” The evolution of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the legislation that has followed, the changes in societal expectations, and the president’s executive order provided the substance of this presentation, and a condensed version will appear in an upcoming issue.
“Architecture: A Profession for the Blind” offered a new take on an occupation often considered one requiring vision. The presenter was Christopher Downey, principal, Architecture for the Blind of Piermont, California. Although the use of vision is quite significant for those who have it, Chris Downey has come to understand that the creativity required to be a successful architect resides in the mind and not in the eye; it is intellectual, not visual. Understanding and creating drawings and communicating with others can be done using tactile methods in lieu of visual ones; the difference is in the tools used to accomplish the task. A printer that can emboss on paper sixteen inches wide allows Downey to view drawings made by others by receiving a normal PDF file, sending it to his embosser, and then reading it through touch. He observed that an architect looking at a drawing visually will first see an object in its entirety and must then work his way down to examine various levels of detail. A person reading that same drawing by touch first perceives detail and must then construct the elements he observes and put them together to create the whole. Downey says that this is an interesting change in perspective, and, although it took him some time to learn to create the whole from its parts, the beauty of this process is that he is inside the drawing and becomes a part of it instead of being separate and apart, the outsider looking in.
Of course the work of an architect requires more than reading and drawing. He must be able to make a drawing, and it is at this point in his story that the National Federation of the Blind has been particularly helpful to him. In 2009 he was asked to attend NFB Youth Slam as a mentor. He was a tremendous source of inspiration and information to the students, but in the bargain he learned how to draw. The young participants introduced him to wiki sticks and demonstrated how they could be used to make tactile shapes. The more Downey thought about this, the more he came to believe that he could place these atop paper drawings he wanted to read and enhance and could then make alterations by bending and shaping the sticks. His drawings could then be photographed, discussed with colleagues, shared with clients, and used in major presentations. So the man who uses advanced technology to read the drawings of others discovered that the simple technology found in a child’s toy would be the key to creating them.
The man who, during 2008, lost his sight and nearly lost his business, is now busy with several major projects, one of them being in the construction of a $2 billion building. He demonstrates that with intelligence, creativity, and a network of motivated friends, colleagues, and Federationists, no problem is unsolvable.
The National Federation of the Blind has long been interested in sharing with the world what we have learned about blindness and the power of self-organization in improving the lives of the blind. For this reason we were active in the creation of the International Federation of the Blind and have long been involved in its successor organization, the World Blind Union. “The Federation Spirit in the World” was the title of the next presentation, by Arnt Holte, president of the World Blind Union. He began by thanking the president of the National Federation of the Blind for inviting him and said that it was a real pleasure to be in the company of the first vice president of the World Blind Union, Fredric Schroeder. He observed that, as he listened to the report from the Department of Justice, he found himself wishing that Eve Hill worked in the Department of Justice in Norway.
Like all presidents who are in charge of putting together and presiding over successful conventions, President Holte was concerned about the arrangements for the 2016 meeting of the General Assembly of the World Blind Union, but, in looking at the bids from countries wanting to host the event, he was gratified to see that the National Federation of the Blind was one of the organizations. He knows that we know how to put on a first-rate convention and is excited that the 2016 General Assembly will be held in the United States and be sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.
President Holte said that the World Blind Union covers about 285 million people worldwide, and the problems they face are significant. Sometimes solving them requires moving mountains, and, though this is a most difficult task, with the right organization and the right spirit, mountains can be moved.
He thanked President Maurer for his many years of leadership in the Federation, and he has every hope that Dr. Maurer will continue to be active through the World Blind Union in helping to address the problems that challenge the blind of the world. President Holte concluded by saying “You have inspired a lot of people, and in traveling around the world I talk to people who tell me that they have been to one convention that has changed their work and their lives, and it is yours, the convention of the National Federation of the Blind.”
President Maurer closed the Sunday morning session, and in the two-hour lunch break Federationists were able to grab a quick sandwich and could attend the Amateur Radio Division business meeting, observe as the winning tickets were drawn for the numerous raffles held during the convention, attend a question-and-answer session offered by the National Library Service, or simply relax in preparation for the afternoon session, the banquet, and the parties that would most assuredly follow.
When the afternoon session was gaveled to order, the first presentation was entitled “Working with the Blind to Build a World of Opportunity: a Voice in Congress,” given by the Honorable David W. Jolly, United States House of Representatives, representing the thirteenth congressional district in Florida. Representative Jolly is a cosponsor of the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act, HR 3505. The Congressman expressed his appreciation for being able to address the convention and said: “At some point each and every member of Congress and every elected official has run against what we see as the dysfunction in Washington or the dysfunction of Congress or at times the dysfunction of the administration. But once elected we do not have the opportunity to resign ourselves to that dysfunction; we have a responsibility to govern, and that is what we should expect of every member of Congress. [Applause] The issues we face as a nation are important, and they are important because the issues we face impact lives, and you know that. You know the advancements that have been made in public policy, budget issues, advancements in technology and research, workplace regulations, and society in general. But you know there is much more to do … We are not too far from where we were ten, twenty, or thirty years ago; even with all of the advances that have been made, we have many more advances yet to come, and that is why an organization like this and the voice of advocacy is so important. So what do we do? We demand action.… We embrace the radical notion that the Teach Act should already be enacted and that we shouldn’t have to fight for it in 2014. We embrace legislation regarding wages in the workplace; we embrace legislation like the space available legislation that you’re fighting for right now. We do that because advocacy matters.” Congressman Jolly’s remarks can be heard in their entirety at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
The National Federation of the Blind is now in its seventy-fourth year, and this means that very soon it will have been working on behalf of the blind for three quarters of a century. Seventy-five years is a significant amount of time in the life of an organization, and it is right and fitting that we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of our organization with seventy-five days of action focusing on building and strengthening the Federation. To speak on this topic, President Maurer invited a co-chairman of the Seventy-five Days of Action Committee, Kevan Worley, to speak on the topic. As noted earlier, Jeannie Massay, the other co-chairman of this committee, was unable to attend the convention, so Chairman Worley was charged with the task of incorporating her remarks into his presentation.
The Seventy-five Days of Action Committee will undertake two major activities: one will be to strengthen existing chapters, and the other will be to create seventy-five new ones. It is an understatement to say that this is a challenge, but it is one that all of us who believe in the work of the National Federation of the Blind gladly embrace. One of the ways the Federation will reach out to blind and sighted people is through creating videos that can be posted on the Internet and elsewhere, and in his presentation Kevan played a video that has been created as a result of the work of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Both moving and impressive, it can be found at <http://www.youtube.com /watch?v=MrJgWiwgB24>. To share the love and hope that are found in this organization and to strengthen it so that it is better able to do its work, all of us who want to play a vital part should send a message to <[email protected]> and invest our energy, strength, and creativity in building our Federation.
President Maurer introduced the next presentation with these words: “Now we come to the item on the program called ‘The KNFB Reader’; it is the fastest, the most portable, and the least-expensive reading machine ever, and it fits in your pocket; we have had it before, but now it is new again. To present this item we have the vice president for business development of the K-NFB Reading Technology company, who is also the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind…. Here is Jim Gashel.”
With that introduction Mr. Gashel told the assembled that the KNFB Reader has been moved to the Apple iPhone; it is accurate, fast, easy to use, and affordable. In a demonstration the iPhone read a portion of the convention agenda, a banquet speech, and a PowerPoint presentation from a picture that was taken twenty-five feet from the screen. The KNFB Reader is now being beta tested, will be in the iTunes Store no later than the end of August, and will be available for the incredibly low price of $99. Again the ability to read print is as close as the pocket or the purse, and the question about the information that appears on the smooth surface of a paper or the sign is suddenly a mystery no more.
Each year Raymond Kurzweil takes time out of his busy schedule to attend and address the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year he focused on his work as the director of engineering for Google, the emphasis he has placed on helping it make its technology accessible, and how the work he is doing to understand and emulate the workings of the human mind using the power of computers will revolutionize the lives of blind and sighted people alike. He believes that we will continue to rely on biology to do what it does best but that we will come to incorporate silicon to do those tasks such as memory and computation that are more slowly performed by our biological brains. Mr. Kurzweil’s intriguing remarks can be heard in their entirety at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
Final registration figures were presented by President Maurer, and 2,251 people registered for the 2014 Convention. The accommodations at the Rosen Centre were outstanding, and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, greeting us as old friends, and, as the end of the convention neared, many saying that they would look forward to seeing us next year.
The person next called to the stage was James Gashel, chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. Four awards were presented totaling $50,000. A report of this presentation is covered in full elsewhere in this issue.
The final program item of the afternoon, entitled “Reflecting the Flame: Twenty-Eight Years Building Our Movement,” was introduced by the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, research professor, San Diego State University. Here is what Dr. Schroeder said:
I was first elected to the national board in 1986. For all of these years I have been privileged and honored to work with Dr. Maurer. This afternoon we gather together to thank Dr. Maurer for twenty-eight years of leadership, twenty-eight years guiding and coordinating our work.
Leadership is not easy; it comes with responsibility and consequence. Throughout our history our leaders have asked us to sacrifice, but never without reason and never without a profound awareness of the cost. And, while our leaders have asked much of us, we in turn have asked much of them. We ask them to assume the inviolable trust of leading our collective action judiciously and wisely, boldly and with resolve, and, when circumstances require it, with patience and restraint.
Dr. Maurer has been our president for the past twenty-eight years. He has served with distinction and courage. In a few moments we will be showing a video memorializing Dr. Maurer's presidency. But of course his struggles have been our struggles, and his successes have been our successes. Before turning to the video, if you will permit me, I wish to offer a brief personal reflection.
One of Dr. Maurer's most engaging qualities is his love of language. He is fascinated by words and their origins, and, most of all, he loves obscure, little known words. For example it was he who introduced me to the word "defenestration," which is execution by throwing a person out a window--not a word that comes up very often, but an interesting word, nevertheless.
On a lighter note, there is the word "infracaninophile." Now the legitimacy of the word infracaninophile is disputed, but I believe it is worthy of acceptance since it is reported to mean the supporter of the underdog—a word that well describes our Federation. And there are other words: "cenosillicaphobia": the fear of an empty glass, and, in the same vein, "labeorphilist," meaning a beer bottle collector.
But let us not forget the word "omphaloskepsis." For those of you less learned, "omphaloskepsis" is the contemplation of one's navel. It struck me as quite a deep, philosophical word, and I was a bit intimidated; then Dr. Maurer went on to explain that the word omphaloskepsis is mostly used in what he called a jocular manner to describe someone who is self-absorbed, leaving me to wonder why, when speaking with me, that particular word had come to mind.
So, Dr. Maurer, now I offer you a word, or more precisely, a Latin phrase that I believe captures much of your spirit and who you are as a leader: "credo quia impossible est," meaning, I believe it because it is impossible. Over and over again we have been told that our goals are unrealistic and our dreams unattainable. But you have never let the low expectations of others define us, and, with your steadfast faith in us, we have defied the impossible, and as a result countless blind individuals have been able to live the lives they want.
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for giving us your imagination, your courage, strength of will and optimism, and, by so doing, giving us belief in the rightness of our cause and confidence in ourselves.
With these remarks Dr. Schroeder introduced the video tribute to President Maurer. It can be seen at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-E1Vp7l_MQ&list=UU2VqDaqQP_m2JeznJm2yz0w>.
Following the video, President Maurer was given the microphone, and, in a shaky voice conveying surprise, gratitude, humility, and commitment, he said: “I want to thank you for that [cheers]. I have the crazy idea that whatever we need to know we can learn, and I have the crazy idea that whatever we need in our future we can build. I love the history of the Federation, and I used to love to listen to Dr. Jernigan talk about the early days. I have read Dr. tenBroek’s material. The past informs us, and it gives us the joy and the courage to face the future. My favorite history, however, is the history we’re going to make! Anil Lewis complains about me from time to time. He says that, when we make a great victory, we take a few minutes and celebrate it, and then I say to him, ‘All right, what’s next?’ I like to think about where we’ve been, but I love to think about where we’re going.
“We are changing our president this convention, and it will be different for me—I won’t know quite as well how I fit in, but I’ll tell you something: there’s one thing that is certain, and that is that I will fit in. I appreciate all the joy that we have shared, and I look forward to all the joy that we will.” With those remarks this session of the convention was recessed, and more than 2,000 people moved quickly to their rooms to dress for the evening’s ceremonies.
When the banquet commenced at 7:00 PM with Fred Schroeder as master of ceremonies, the crowd responded with a tremendous roar, and it was clear that the program had begun. The invocation was given by Father John Sheehan. The banquet meal was served, conversations among friends and new acquaintances filled the banquet hall, and all of this was interspersed with announcements from the podium as door prizes were drawn, exhibitors conducted their drawings, the Jernigan Fund drew for two major cash awards, and divisions announced the winners of their raffles. Soon it was time for the high point of the evening and, for many, of the convention—the banquet speech President Maurer would deliver. This year its title was “The Challenge and the Limit.” It is reprinted in full later in this issue.
Following prolonged applause and congratulatory remarks from Ray Kurzweil on President Maurer’s leadership and the work he will continue to do, thirty scholarship winners made their way to the stage. Chairman Patti Chang began by expressing her optimism about what the future would hold for these men and women and her hope that they would be involved in the work of the Federation and continue to draw from it in the advancement of their careers and in the advancement of all blind people. At the end of the ceremony, with all scholarship winners having been recognized with applause by the audience, Deja Powell, the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, was announced and given an opportunity to address the convention. Her remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
The Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented for the thirty-first time as the Federation’s way of acknowledging significant contributions to the movement by one of its members, Sam Gleese. A report of this presentation is found elsewhere in this issue.
The Newel Perry Award is presented to a person who is not a member of the National Federation of the Blind but who has made a significant contribution to the progress of the blind through his or her work. This award is given only as often as the Federation finds a deserving recipient, and this year it was presented to Judy Brewer. Remarks made during this presentation are found later in this issue.
Dan Hicks, the president of our host affiliate, stepped to the microphone to present a door prize in the amount of $2,014. The prize was won by Cora Williams, an infant, and it was accepted on her behalf by her parents, who were in the room.
President Maurer was called to the microphone to conclude the 2014 Convention. He brought with him two gavels, one which he had used for twenty-eight years, with all of the knicks, scars, and indentations that those momentous years of service have imprinted upon it. He also brought a new gavel, and he asked that President-elect Riccobono join him at the podium to receive it. After the traditional Federation cheer that closes each annual convention, the president and the president-elect grasped the senior gavel and together concluded the 2014 Convention and commenced the term of our new president.
Transitions by their very nature are exciting, but, when an outgoing leader is much loved and respected, there is an element of sadness as well. Excitement for the future and a reverent and sentimental look at the past did not stand in opposition; in this convention they were joined as one, and in their coming together they created the spirit of 2014. Presiding over this convention required exceptional balance—too little reflection on the past, and the transition would fail to be recognized for the significant event it is—too much nostalgia, reflection, and looking back, and the convention could take on a very different tone, with the message being goodbye instead of good luck in the new role you will come to fill. With pride in our past, gratitude for our present, and an unshakeable commitment to the future we will create, the 2014 Convention takes its place in history. All of us who were there to witness it come away feeling blessed by our participation and reenergized in our determination to see that the blessings that have come from nearly three-quarters of a century’s work, perseverance, and belief extend far into the future as we prepare ourselves to celebrate seventy-five years and beyond.