Image of President Maurer and Mel Smith

CAPTION: President Maurer holds up the $50,000 check just presented by Mel Smith, Human Relations Manager, Baltimore District, United Parcel Service

The 1998 Washington Seminar
by Barbara Pierce

As usual, this year's Washington Seminar started with a bang several days ahead of the opening briefing with workshops and committee meetings at both the Holiday Inn, Capitol, our headquarters for the week, and the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. The Research and Development Committee met in Baltimore while the Merchants Division and the National Association of Blind Students conducted daylong seminars on Saturday, January 31, in Washington.

Both seminars were well attended, and both culminated in banquets Saturday evening. President Maurer addressed the vendors, and Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, spoke to the students.

On Sunday morning well over a hundred Federationists boarded busses and vans for the drive to Baltimore and a tour of the National Center for the Blind. Meantime the National Association of Blind Lawyers met during the morning at the hotel, and scores of Federationists gathered during the afternoon for an inspiring workshop on all forms of fund raising. This was an extremely interesting and useful program, and the consensus seemed to be that it should become an annual event.

The Mercury Room staff under the leadership of Sandy Halverson opened for business Sunday afternoon making note of appointment times and handing out materials for distribution on the Hill the next day. As always, Sandy and her crew were a model of efficiency, patience, and good humor. All weekend print and cassette copies of the fact sheets for the week circulated throughout the hotel, and one could hear snatches of conversation everywhere indicating that people were studying the sheets and preparing for their presentations.

Word began to trickle out that this year a solution had been found to the overcrowding of the 5 p.m. briefing on Sunday. Rather than asking people who couldn't find chairs to stand or lean against the walls for two hours, an overflow room was set up with piped-in sound from the main meeting. This made everyone much more comfortable even if close to a hundred late-comers missed out on the firsthand excitement of the meeting. By 4:45 there were very few seats left in the Columbia room, Dave Evans's trumpet was sounding charge, and a number of chapters were selling sustenance for the inner man or woman in the form of candy of all sorts. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children even prepared packed lunches to sell to those interested in a more balanced approach to fending off starvation.

President Maurer chaired the briefing and brought members up to date on a number of important matters. He announced that forty-eight affiliates were present at this year's seminar and that there were about 500 people present for the opening session. He then introduced representatives from the United Parcel Service Foundation, who presented the NFB with a check for $50,000 to be used to nurture Braille literacy among blind children. The briefing concluded with Jim Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs, discussing the legislative issues for this year and answering questions. (See the article reprinting the fact sheets elsewhere in this issue.)

By now Federationists are old hands at dealing with the complexities of Capitol Hill and Congressional office appointments. Newcomers naturally gravitate to experienced colleagues for pointers and advice, and everyone gets down to business on Monday with a commendable lack of furor. Late Monday afternoon the word went out that people were needed to report to a hearing room in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to demonstrate support for the National Library Service, whose budget was being reviewed. Without breaking stride the necessary troops slipped away from lunch or Congressional meetings where they weren't needed to pack the hearing room and the halls outside it. The message that the NLS program is important to blind people was clearly heard and noted.

Tuesday evening Senator Christopher Dodd, whose sister Carolyn is an active Connecticut Federationist, came to the briefing to talk about the importance of the Rehabilitation Act amendments to be marked up on Wednesday morning. His speech was filled with energy and commitment, and the response he received was equally enthusiastic.

By Wednesday morning many of us had completed our Congressional appointments and were heading home. But the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources had scheduled a meeting to mark up the bill Senator DeWine had introduced the week before as S. 1579. Naturally Federationists wanted to be present to underline the importance of this legislation to blind Americans. So again, everyone who was not busy elsewhere went to show the members of the Senate committee what we thought about their work and this exciting piece of legislation.

By late that day the Mercury Room had been packed up and the files and computers loaded onto vans for the return trip to Baltimore. Another Washington Seminar had come to a close. But the legislative work of the Federation for 1998 was just beginning.