Presidential Report 2004

An Address Delivered by
Marc Maurer
National Federation of the Blind
Atlanta, Georgia
July 2, 2004

The time since our last convention has been one of intense effort, of accelerating growth, of increasing accomplishment, and of tremendous challenge. Through it all, we have maintained harmony and unity of purpose. It has been an extraordinary year for us, and the reason for our success is the commitment we share with each other--is the spirit of the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

At our convention in 1999, we talked about a plan to build an institute to conduct research and to create innovative training programs for the blind. We set about dreaming of the programs that would be conducted in this new facility, and we commenced raising money to make the dreams real.

On January 30, 2004, the members of the board of directors met to talk about what we have done and to consider the name for our institute. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our former President and beloved leader, had, before his death, formulated many of the plans for the institute and talked with me and with others about the value of building it. The board decided to name our building in honor of our beloved President. It is the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

Later that day, we cut the ribbon for the Grand Opening of the Jernigan Institute. More than fifteen hundred people attended, including officials of programming for the blind from Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the United States. NASA's administrator, Sean O'Keefe, announced a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to encourage blind students to study mathematics and science and to invite blind scientists to participate in programs that will stretch the mind and produce innovative ideas and products.

The executive director of the Jernigan Institute is a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. Her accomplishments were featured this winter on the cover of Smart Woman Magazine. Several weeks after the opening of the Jernigan Institute, she was invited to be a guest on the nationally broadcast “G. Gordon Liddy Show.” Possessing the intellect, the judgment, the management skill, and the generosity to initiate and sustain multidimensional programs of a kind that have never previously existed, it is a pleasure to have Betsy Zaborowski as the executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

At the Grand Opening we announced the first in a series of National Federation of the Blind online courses. Continuing education is essential for teachers, and one course that is now available is the one that we have created, which gives basic information to public school teachers about what to expect of blind students and what tools and techniques exist to assist in the education of the blind.

Another innovative program presented at the Grand Opening is Science Camp, which will occur later this summer. One planned activity is the dissection of a full-grown shark. Another is the creation of a payload for a rocket to be launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. It is not the minds of blind students but our opportunities that have been limited; through our Institute we are seeking additional ways to change this. NASA's associate administrator for education, Dr. Adena Williams Loston, will be with us later during this convention to discuss the work we are doing together. At our last convention, Mr. A.V. Diaz, the director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, made a striking presentation. Last fall, several of the leaders of the Federation were invited to participate in an event hosted by NASA at the Smithsonian Institution and were introduced to the hundreds of participants, officials from companies in the aerospace industry, college presidents, scientists, and congressional leaders. We plan to produce educational videos from the joint effort we are making at the Science Camp for the blind. We believe this collaboration will significantly enhance opportunities for the blind in the scientific arena.

Advisory working groups conducted at the 2003 Convention helped in the drafting of the strategic plan for the Institute that was later considered by the board of directors. Members of the Federation are participating in groups dealing with technology, online computer courses, early childhood development and education, and science education. Other groups will be created to give direction to the work we are doing in such areas as training for seniors, developing enhanced employment opportunities, and building the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library. At the time of the Grand Opening, construction of the new Institute had not been completed--there had been unavoidable delays we were told. Through the spring, additional delays were encountered. However, we took possession of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on the afternoon of June 11, 2004.

An extensive presentation regarding the work of the Jernigan Institute will be taking place later during this convention. However, the Institute we are creating will be different from other entities in the blindness field because the blind will run it. We invite researchers, scholars, students, professors, and others interested in the problems of the blind to participate with us in building our Institute. We need the best ideas we can get, and we welcome partnerships. We especially welcome them because the blind will be a part of them, and we will give direction to what is being done.

In April, we conducted our first major activity after the Grand Opening in the Institute, a technology conference for technology trainers, sponsored jointly by the National Federation of the Blind and the Mississippi State University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision. The technology conference for teachers was extremely successful. It is planned that there will be future conferences of this kind in the years to come. Not only did staff members of the National Federation of the Blind conduct training sessions, but we also invited technology experts from the Iowa Department for the Blind, the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and the Federation training center in Minnesota, Blindness Learning in New Dimensions, to participate.

I opened the conference with a major statement about the approach the National Federation of the Blind takes with respect to technology and accessibility. Dr. Joanne Wilson, the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education, addressed the conference about the needs of technological development and the rehabilitation process. Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, one of the most prolific inventors of our time and a philanthropist, addressed the conference at length about future trends in technology and the likely alterations within society that will occur because of them.

Dr. Kurzweil has been working with the National Federation of the Blind since the mid-1970's. At that time he was devising the first print-to-speech reading machine--the Kurzweil Reading Machine. Our work with Dr. Kurzweil continues. He will be addressing the convention, and he will undoubtedly discuss the handheld reading machine, a device so small, so portable, and so powerful that it will revolutionize access to information for the blind. A prototype of this machine has already been fabricated, and it is likely that a form of this product will be available for distribution in less than a year--the Kurzweil / National Federation of the Blind Reading Machine.

In 2002, at our urging, Congress adopted requirements for nonvisual access to polling places as part of the Help America Vote Act. Every polling place in America must have at least one system equipped for nonvisual use by January 2006.

Accessible direct recording electronic computerized voting machines are now on the market. Every polling place in Georgia has this equipment, and the government of Maryland voted to buy them for almost every polling place in the state. However, a controversy has been created to block the use of direct recording electronic voting devices. One of the manufacturers of these machines is Diebold Incorporated, the multi-billion dollar ATM manufacturer that has committed itself to producing accessible electronic machines. Several years ago we entered a partnership with Diebold in which Diebold contributed a million dollars to the construction of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and we agreed to work with the company to assist it in making bank machines accessible to the blind. Diebold later pledged to produce equally accessible voting machines.

An editorial which appeared in The New York Times on June 11, 2004, tried to paint the relationship between Diebold and the National Federation of the Blind as devious and underhanded--The Times sought to imply that the good opinion of the National Federation of the Blind was available for sale and that Diebold was buying. The New York Times asserts that "a handful of influential advocates for the disabled" opposed electronic voting machines that produce paper receipts because the requirement that these machines be provided will slow the installation of accessible voting devices. "The National Federation of the Blind, for instance, [says The Times] has been championing controversial voting machines that do not provide a paper trail. It has attested not only to the machines' accessibility, but also to their security and accuracy--neither of which is within the federation's areas of expertise. What's even more troubling is that the group has accepted a $1 million gift for a new training institute from Diebold, the machines' manufacturer, which put the testimonial on its Web site."

These are the words from the editorial in The New York Times, and many of them are inaccurate. Furthermore, the tone of the article is completely false. We have worked with Diebold for several years, and we have examined their machines. We believe their machines are accessible. We have talked with officials who run boards of elections, and they tell us that the Diebold electronic voting machines are as accurate and safe as any on the market. We have not insisted that paper receipts be produced, but neither have we insisted that they be avoided. If they are produced, we want them to be accessible to us, and we insist that blind people get the right to a secret ballot along with everybody else. Too often we have been told that later is good enough for the blind and that accessibility is just too hard.

In Maryland we participated in a court battle a few months ago to secure the right for the blind to have a secret ballot. Now, the state is being sued by so-called experts like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Campaign for Verifiable Voting to abandon its commitment to a statewide accessible system of voting because of alleged newly discovered security flaws. The National Federation of the Blind demands that the promise made in the Help America Vote Act be kept. The right to vote is fundamental in democracy, and the blind must have equal access to it. Furthermore, it is reprehensible that a newspaper would misrepresent our purposes and our statements. I have written an editorial response and submitted it to The New York Times. I have corrected the misstatements in The Times article, and I have pointed out that supporting accessible electronic machines that give blind people equal access to the same information that sighted people take for granted is not dubious but laudable. Furthermore, we will not permit trumped up charges of inadequate security to keep us from having equal access to the polling places. Electronic voting machines are going to be installed in the United States. The technology exists to make them accessible to us. We insist that this technology be used and that they be accessible. Our right to vote is no less important than the right of every other citizen, and we will protect it. One other thing should be said: when you have influence, you get criticized. The New York Times was right about at least one thing, the National Federation of the Blind is an influential organization.

In 2001, shortly before the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, we worked with Senator Christopher Dodd and others to have the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA) presented to Congress. This act declared that textbooks would be provided in a medium that would make them accessible to the blind at the same time they became available to sighted students. We have continued to press for this legislation, and as we gather for this convention, both houses of Congress have included provisions on this subject in their respective versions of amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Senate version of the IMAA amendments includes a provision to place electronic texts of all books in a national access center which will catalog and redistribute them. This is a vital provision to achieve the goal of on-time access for each blind student. Therefore, we are working hard to have the Senate provisions included in the bill that goes to President Bush. We believe this proposal will become law before the end of this Congress.

The Instructional Materials Accessibility Act would have been law years ago except for the interference of an official in the Department of Education, Dr. Robert H. Pasternack, Assistant Secretary of Education. In 2001, Dr. Pasternack persuaded the Bush Administration to oppose passage of the bill that would let blind students have their books on time. He said that such a bill would violate principles of federalism. I am able to report to you that, for whatever reason, effective the beginning of January 2004, Dr. Pasternack ceased employment in the Department of Education. Now, perhaps the blind children will get their books.

The growth of NFB-NEWSLINE® has continued at a dramatic pace. With 105 separate papers now available each day, and more to come, NFB-NEWSLINE® is by far the world's largest program for providing rapid access to current information for the blind. NFB-NEWSLINE® has over 49,000 registered readers (6,500 new readers since our last convention), who called the service for 703,497 reading sessions between June 1, 2003, and May 31, 2004.

Two magazines, The New Yorker and The Economist, have recently been added. Anyone registered from anywhere in the United States can call NFB-NEWSLINE® and read these magazines. Because NFB-NEWSLINE® has been outstandingly successful, we are pursuing additional development. We expect to add content to the system, and we expect to create new distribution methods that will be a part of NFB-NEWSLINE®.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act (legislation to establish a prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program) authorized two studies of interest to the blind. One will examine a proposal to make rehabilitation a Medicare service. This one has posed significant problems because although doctors should know about rehabilitation, most of them do not. To assign them the task of designing rehabilitation programs for the blind is to ask them to become involved in a specialty for which they have no training and no experience. Many NFB members are rehabilitation experts--some of us provide rehabilitation and many more of us have received it. The medical model assumes that the professionals know what to do, and the patients receive the services offered. The rehabilitation model demands much more interaction. The professionals and the clients work together to achieve a goal established by the client. We must impress our positive view of rehabilitation and blindness on the officials of the Medicare centers who are conducting the rehabilitation study.

The second study examines existing and emerging technologies to make prescription drug information accessible to the blind. The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of the technology study, and we provided comments on the need for greater access to prescription information.

During the past few months, NISH, formerly known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, has tried to diminish opportunities for the blind under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. NISH would like to control all large military mess hall businesses. Although NISH talks about jobs for the disabled, it pays its disabled workers a pittance while it lavishes hundreds of thousands (in some instances well over half a million) in cash and fringe benefits on its sighted able-bodied managers. The bosses don't want to lose the cash, and they're willing to give a little to the disabled to get it.

In May, a section of the National Defense Authorization Act was reported to the Senate floor, seeking to make the Randolph-Sheppard Act inapplicable to any troop dining services provided on military bases in the United States. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that the same rule, if adopted, could eventually apply to federal office building cafeterias or other businesses as well. This is what we told members of Congress in a massive grassroots response challenging the Senate provision.

On May 19, 2004, the National Federation of the Blind and NISH reached an agreement that the Randolph-Sheppard Act priority would apply to all military installations in the United States where troop dining services are provided except locations currently operated by NISH affiliates. We expected this agreement to be enacted in law, but the Department of Defense objected. Because blind people have an unemployment rate better than 70 percent, we must try to protect opportunities that currently exist, and we will. Our agreement with NISH could have provided more than two hundred locations in which the blind could make very substantial incomes. Because it is important for the blind to have at least some chance for the lucrative opportunities that sighted people seek, we will do our best to protect this program.

Employment practices of some sheltered workshops that are affiliates of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) have been a source of concern for many years. Cari Dominguez, who currently chairs the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, attended our convention last year and expressed interest in discriminatory employment practices affecting the blind.

Charges have been filed by the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of blind workers against the Louisiana Association for the Blind, located in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Lions Volunteer Blind Industries, located in Morristown, Tennessee. These charges describe discriminatory employment practices subjecting blind employees to less favorable terms and conditions of employment than their sighted colleagues. The practices include: paying blind employees less than the sighted; not making reasonable accommodations necessary to permit blind employees to be promoted; laying off blind employees while retaining the sighted; prohibiting blind employees from transferring, while permitting the sighted to do so; and, in the case of the Louisiana Association for the Blind, classifying laid off blind employees in a way that prevents them from receiving unemployment compensation benefits. The sighted who are laid off get them.

The agencies in the NIB system receive tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts, and some of the employment practices that can be found in them cannot stand examination. The time for reform is long overdue.

Meleah Jensen is a blind senior at Louisiana State University (LSU) and a former National Federation of the Blind Scholarship winner. Last year she applied for and secured a job as residence hall assistant. When she arrived for training at the beginning of the school year, LSU changed its mind and took the job away stating that it would be too dangerous. With the help of Scott LaBarre, president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, Meleah Jensen filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. A settlement has been reached. Meleah Jensen will be receiving three times the salary and benefits she would have had working as a residence hall assistant. This is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.

Lee Martin is blind and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before becoming blind in 1999, he worked as a foundry technician at the DaimlerChrysler Foundry where he helped to manufacture engine blocks. After getting some blindness training, he attempted to return to work but DaimlerChrysler said it was too dangerous. How tired we get of hearing that the world is a place too dangerous for us. State vocational rehabilitation officials said that they would provide on-the-job assistance, and they were invited to visit the DaimlerChrysler facility but Lee Martin was excluded because DaimlerChrysler said it would be too dangerous for him to walk around the plant.

Eventually, Lee Martin entered the manufacturing facility and performed one of the jobs there, but DaimlerChrysler continues to say it is too dangerous for him to work. Consequently, we have filed a lawsuit on his behalf in the Federal District Court. Does DaimlerChrysler run a manufacturing operation that is inherently dangerous? Can DaimlerChrysler demonstrate that the blind have more accidents or more injuries than the sighted? Having us in the workplace does not increase the danger, and we will not let prejudice keep us out.

Larry Povinelli, a blind lawyer and a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, represented a blind woman, Rauihya Idarus, in a hearing to determine whether she should receive a license to become a practical nurse. Ms. Idarus had met all of the requirements, but she is blind. At the end of the hearing, she received her license, but it would not have happened without the help of the National Federation of the Blind.

Larry Murphy was a blind man living in St. Joseph, Missouri, and a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. He had been the yard supervisor in the maintenance department for Buchanan County. When he applied for a promotion to the head of the road and bridge department, a job he had been doing for some time, he was refused the opportunity on the grounds of blindness. We helped him with an appeal, and we were making substantial progress when Larry Murphy contracted cancer. Before the case could be concluded, he died. However, Pauline Murphy, also a longtime member of the Federation and Larry Murphy's wife, has carried the matter forward, and I am pleased to report that she has received a very substantial settlement--$165,000.

Last year I reported to you that the Federation and the attorney general of Massachusetts were suing E*TRADE, an outfit with over fifteen thousand ATM's, to make those ATM's accessible to the blind. E*TRADE sued the NFB in Virginia in an attempt to keep the case out of Massachusetts. The federal judge in Virginia recognized this stratagem and dismissed the case. We continue to pursue the matter in Massachusetts, although E*TRADE has tried to obstruct, delay, and obfuscate. When their legal maneuverings failed, they tried other strategies. In June they announced that they were selling their ATM's for $108 million to another entity called Cardtronics. We will hold E*TRADE accountable for failing to be accessible to the blind, and we will pursue matters with Cardtronics.

Last year the NFB of Pennsylvania got a surprise. A disability law center in Pittsburgh had purported to have negotiated a deal on behalf of the NFB of Pennsylvania with National City Bank, which operates thousands of ATM's in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. However, the NFB of Pennsylvania had not been involved in the negotiations, and the so-called settlement was horrible. It would have required National City to make only a tiny fraction of its Pennsylvania ATM’s accessible to the blind over an extended span of time. Of course, this alleged settlement had to be rejected. We told National City that it must make all of its locations accessible, and it must do so within thirty months. National City agreed to do it, and it also gave us a contribution to support our movement.

Harriet Go was a senior at Temple University’s College of Education. She is a bright lady, who has won a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship as well as the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania’s Ted Young Memorial Award and a Temple University academic scholarship. For her student teaching requirement, she was placed at a nearby public elementary school. When Ms. Go went to meet the supervising teacher in anticipation of her teaching assignment, she encountered the principal, who complained that he should have been told that she was blind. The principal called the University, and Temple “pulled” her student teaching assignment. When the National Federation of the Blind intervened and provided Ms. Go with a lawyer, Temple and the Philadelphia schools each denied responsibility and blamed the other. Harriet Go was quickly reinstated to her student teaching assignment. She has completed the task and has graduated.

The State of Arkansas several years ago acquired a brand spanking new statewide computer system to handle all state government computer-related functions. This system was not accessible to the blind even though state law required it to be and even though blind employees had urged, prior to the acquisition, that an accessible system be purchased. I reported to you last year that the National Federation of the Blind filed suit on behalf of blind state employees. Since then, we have secured an injunction prohibiting the addition of any more components to the state’s computer system, until that system is accessible. The judge also ordered the state to make the system accessible or to shut it off by July 1, 2004.

This is July 2nd, 2004. Has the state of Arkansas complied with the court order, or are further proceedings required? If more effort is necessary, we are equal to the challenge. We are confident that Arkansas will soon have a computer system accessible to the blind or pay a hefty price for failing to do what the law requires.

One of the opposing lawyers in Arkansas told our lawyer that we had better settle this case and agree to accept an inaccessible computer system. If we did not accept his agreement, he said, matters would be set in motion to repeal the law requiring accessible technology. However, we did not succumb to the threat. We also know the way to the capitol, and we can talk to legislators about our needs as easily as they can. We will meet them in the offices; we will meet them in the legislative halls; we will meet them in the corridors of power. The blind will not be forgotten or ignored, and we will have access to information. This is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.

In July 2002, the National Federation of the Blind filed an action in the United States District Court in Arizona against American Blind Products and its officers for trademark infringement and deceptive telemarketing practices. American Blind Products had been using the name of the Federation in telephone solicitations and telling people that purchases of their products would help us. We settled this case in December 2003. American Blind Products will no longer be using the name of the Federation and will not refer to the blind in any of its dealings. It has also paid the National Federation of the Blind $175,000.

Mike Jones is a doctoral student in the Rehabilitation Department at Auburn University in Alabama and, until recently, was also a graduate teaching assistant. He serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. During the fall of 2003, Mike Jones was chivied by a professor in the department about his advocacy on behalf of the blind. The comments of the professor became so strident and offensive that Mike Jones filed a complaint of harassment. Three days later, he was terminated from his teaching position without any explanation, without any opportunity for reviewing the decision, and without the rights of due process. Professors in the department are also refusing to work with him to complete his doctoral degree.

Although Auburn claims that Mike Jones was fired because of lack of “funding,” he was the only teaching assistant who was not continued for the spring 2004 semester, and he is the only student with a disability in the entire rehabilitation department. Auburn cites Mike Jones’s “attitude” as a reason for the termination. Apparently blind students are supposed to be passive, conciliatory, patient, meek, and not too demanding.

We believe that Mike Jones was fired because of his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the blind and in retaliation for his filing of a complaint of harassment. We believe he has claims for damage because he was not accorded the constitutional right to free speech. We further believe that Mike Jones has a constitutionally guaranteed right to serve as the president of our affiliate in Alabama and to speak for the blind. We in the National Federation of the Blind join with our blind brothers and sisters to take collective action, and when necessary, we serve as outspoken advocates. Furthermore, we intend to keep it up. We will not let anybody tell us that this kind of behavior is wrong--not even the professors at Auburn University.

Anil Lewis, a blind person from Atlanta, Georgia, who serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia and as a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, applied for the position of director of the Business Enterprise Program in Georgia. He made it to the final round. During the interview, he was asked to take a writing test on a computer that had no access technology installed. He was also asked a lot of questions about how he could be president of the Georgia affiliate of the Federation and still do the job for the state. While he was waiting to hear whether he would be hired, Anil Lewis continued his advocacy for a vendor who had been wrongfully terminated from the program.

The application of Anil Lewis was rejected; a less qualified applicant got the job. It seems as though the state agency expects blind people to know their places. It seems as though the state agency does not approve of blind people who are aggressive advocates. It seems as though the state agency refuses to hire a leader of the Federation because he is a leader of the Federation. However, our right to organize is a fundamental element of our citizenship, and we will not permit it to be eroded because of the prejudice of certain officials in state government. We will defend our right to free association--to join with our blind brothers and sisters--and we will ensure that the abilities we possess are not belittled or rejected because we have decided to take collective action. If necessary, we will meet officials of the state government in court, and we will not rest until we win!

In 1990 we established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind and pledged to display in it at least one of every piece of access technology or software that provides tactile or spoken word information to the blind. We have kept this pledge and expanded it. Our technology center houses the most comprehensive collection of access technology for the blind in the world. It is available to inventors, to students, to entrepreneurs, and to the members of the Federation for examination and comparison.

During the past twelve months we have obtained upgrades to computer software programs such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, SuperNova, MAGic screen magnification, ZoomText screen magnification, the Kurzweil 1000, and OpenBook. We have purchased new PAC Mates; the Braillex EL 40S Braille Display; the Alva MPO 550 Phone Organizer with Braille Display; the Extreme Reader from Guerilla Technologies along with a keypad and a scanner; a VideoTIM, a device with a camera and an array of pins which is used to display tactilely the image on a printed page; global positioning system (GPS) hardware and software with street maps; a Mimeo, a device which allows a blind person to capture images drawn on a whiteboard and save them to a file or print them; a Sharpe Talking Cash Register; a BookPort; three digital book reading machines, the Victor Classic, the Victor Vibe, and the Telex Scholar; and upgrades for the Braille Note and Voice Note.

As we have worked to initiate the development of technological products for the blind, we have established partnerships with a number of entities. VisuAide is a company in Canada that produces the Victor machines and the Trekker, which is a global positioning system operated through a personal data assistant such as the Ipaq. This GPS unit has potential for considerable computing power.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is soliciting proposals for the design of the digital talking book player. The National Federation of the Blind and VisuAide have agreed to work together, along with others, to submit a proposal for this design. We believe that we must work with technology developers to ensure that the interests and the wishes of the blind are considered when products for our use are in the design stage. Because the VisuAide company believes we can be helpful, we are submitting a joint proposal. The president of VisuAide will be with us during this convention to talk about the work of his company.

During the past several years we have developed a strong working relationship with Louisiana Tech University. The teacher shortage in the field of blindness is chronic, and we are taking steps to assist in addressing it. Louisiana Tech is planning to do joint work with us to increase the number of teachers of the blind graduating from college and to prepare innovative educational opportunities for those seeking to enter the field of work with the blind. Dr. Jo Ann Dauzat, dean of the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University, is with us at this convention and will be participating in our meetings and working with us in the years to come.

Our public education program continues. This year we sponsored a documentary about us entitled, "Fulfilling Futures: Helping the Blind Achieve," which aired on public television stations throughout the United States. It is available for use in local communities. We also created a fourteen-minute video called "Building Our Dream," which was presented originally at the Grand Opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. These two videos along with many, many public service announcements about our numerous programs have been displayed on television throughout the length and breadth of America.

Last August we convened at the National Center for the Blind an education summit to consider methods and techniques for enhancing educational opportunities for blind students. One proposal considered during that summit was the establishment of the National Center for Blind Youth, which will undoubtedly become a part of the program activity of our newly established Jernigan Institute.

The National Federation of the Blind is an active participant in the World Blind Union. For ten years Dr. Jernigan served as president of the North America / Caribbean Region, and I have also held that office. The World Blind Union brings together agencies for the blind and organizations of the blind. Because within the entities that make up the organization there are strikingly different approaches to the subject of blindness, this amalgamation of groups sometimes creates frustration. However, we learn much about programming for the blind from throughout the world, and we have an opportunity for interaction with leaders of the blind in other countries. Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I are the delegates of the National Federation of the Blind to the World Blind Union, and we will be participating in the General Assembly that takes place in South Africa later this year.

Through our Materials Center, we have shipped information to approximately a hundred countries. Over a thousand packages of literature and specialized products for the blind are distributed to individuals in our own nation and throughout the world each month.

Our recognition as the center for information about blindness is continuing to grow. More people have come to the National Center for the Blind this year than ever before in our history--over 3,600 of them.

This past spring we conducted the most successful conference for blind vendors that we have ever put together, entitled "Business, Leadership, and Superior Training." From all reports, the vendors had a blast. From this conference a five-and-a-half-minute video has been developed, depicting the energy, the resourcefulness, and the success of blind vendors.

We continue to operate the most extensive scholarship program for blind students of any organization of the blind. Through this effort we have encouraged blind people to enter professions previously thought closed to the blind, and we have stimulated academic achievement far beyond the program itself.

A little more than a year ago we initiated the NFB Corps, a mostly volunteer group to seek to build Federation chapters and affiliates. Although there has been an interruption in the activities of the Corps, reports from throughout the country indicate that there have been notable successes, and we will be re-energizing this effort within the next few months.

We continue to distribute the Braille Monitor, with a circulation of more than 35,000 each month; Future Reflections, with a circulation of more than 10,000 each quarter; Voice of the Diabetic, with a circulation of over 325,000 each quarter; the American Bar Association Journal recorded edition; and the newsletters of divisions, state affiliates, and local chapters. And we are sending people our Kernel Books, those small volumes of firsthand accounts of blindness that are a central element of our public education campaign. With more than five and three-quarter million of them now in circulation, these books have provided more information about blindness to members of the public than any other set of documents produced in the last quarter century. The twenty-fifth volume entitled Reach for the Stars was released last November; and the twenty-sixth, The Lessons of the Earth, is being released at this convention. Volume twenty-seven, entitled Imagine!, will be released before the end of 2004.

As I contemplate what we have done, and as I ponder the time ahead, I feel a thorough tranquility. The Federation is a boisterous, restless, tumultuous organization with a sense of purpose and an objective to be met. Within the past year we have done more than ever before in our history, but we recognize that this is only the beginning of what must be accomplished. The record of our performance since our founding in 1940 is one of astonishing growth, but the obstacles we have determined to overcome have been monumental. Despite the enormity of the task we have set ourselves, it is being met, and the record of our progress is clear. What we seek is the complete integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. Although we have not yet finished the job before us, we have been hard at it for more than sixty years, and in the past twelve months we have intensified the effort.

In the National Federation of the Blind we have a shared bond from me to you and from you to me. It is a bond of trust and a bond of faith. I believe in what we do, and I believe in you. You must share the belief that I have in what we are seeking to build, and you must believe in me and in each other. If we keep the faith--which we always have, which we always will--we will continue the extraordinary growth that is part of our heritage. I will not waver or equivocate in the effort to bring equality to us all, and you must not. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek began our movement along with a few others more than sixty years ago. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan carried the trust forward and passed it to us. We hold the future in our hands; the task to build tomorrow is our own. With determination to achieve independence, with the dedication to meet the task ahead, with the commitment that we must and will have freedom, we march to the future with joy. I have been throughout the Federation this year, as I have been for so many, and I tell you what I have observed. The National Federation of the Blind is a vital force that is moving forward at an ever increasing pace. Ours is a spirit that cannot be denied! This is what we know; this is what we are! This is my report for 2004.

Email: [email protected]
Posted: 2004